Home(r) Truths

Storytelling is important, whether it's a ruddy and robust town crier or Homer (I mean the Greek one but the other one counts too). The manner in which we receive information can affect us as much as the information itself.

The medium is the message. 

Hope from across the aisle

"Ontario P[rogressive] C[onservative] education critic Rob Leone is introducing a bill that would give employers a tax credit for helping workers go back to school and earn their high school diploma." 
Kristin Rushowy, Toronto Star

In light of the recent kerfuffle over the Job Grant Program and the history-making year we are having, this iteration of the Conservative penchant for tax cuts seems like an idea worth exploring.

"“The idea behind the bill is to encourage this idea of lifelong learning because it has positive implications not just for the economy … but also for families and children.”

Making History

For the first time in Canadian history, more than half of the federal government’s revenue in 2014 will come from personal income taxes -- a vivid sign that Canada’s tax burden is slowly shifting away from corporations and onto consumers. 
Daniel Tencer, The Huffington Post Canada 

And that is not because people are getting richer than corporations (see previous).

This article quotes an analysis of the federal budget by Toby Sanger.
The Harper government has already cut overall federal taxes and other revenues to the lowest rate they’ve been in over 70 years. Total federal revenues as a share of the economy declined to 14% in 2012/13, with tax revenues down to 11.5%. The federal government’s revenues and taxes haven’t been this low as a share of the economy since 1940.

That’s before Canada had national public health insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or unemployment insurance. ...

While the federal government’s tax revenues have declined as a share of the economy, many Canadians might not feel any better off, or more lightly taxed. That’s because there’s been a major shift in where the federal government gets its money. ...
The federal government’s revenues have increasingly shifted towards personal income tax (PIT). For the first time ever, personal income taxes are projected to provide more than 50% of Ottawa’s revenues next year in 2014/15, and keep rising. That’s up from a 30% share fifty years ago and even lower shares before then.
What’s come down is the share of the federal government’s revenues paid by corporations as well as other taxes and duties. These include estate taxes, excise taxes and custom duties. Despite record profits, corporations provide just 13.6% of the federal government’s revenues in corporate income taxes. That’s a third less than the over 20% share they provided during the “Golden Age of Capitalism” from 1946 to 1970.
Toby Sanger, The Progressive Economics Forum

This makes think about this 2006 article about spending cuts by Ellen Russel where she explains why the Harper government was making spending cuts in a time of a huge surplus.
The federal government may look rich today. But that $13.2 billion surplus announced recently relates to the last fiscal year — 2005/06. It was generated mostly when the Liberals were in government. Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power, he has been rapidly emptying the treasury.

How is Harper burning through a mountain of surplus cash? Tax cuts. ...

These tax cuts will deplete surpluses for years to come. ...

Paying for Harper's agenda will virtually empty the treasury this year — and for some years to come.
Why the Conservatives are cutting spending now,
Ellen Russel, Centre for Policy Alternatives

Toby's analyis might clear up some of the myths about income inequality and the mystery of the missing $10 billion.

Granfalloon notice: Toby Sanger and I went to the same high school at the same time.

Money Woes

Most Canadians have been completely sidestepped by the benefits of economic progress for a generation – precisely because of the erosion of the institutions designed to share the wealth (like income security, collective bargaining, and progressive taxation). Real incomes for the richest 1% doubled in the same period, and real incomes for the super-rich (the top 0.01%) tripled. So by the definition of relative poverty (being worse off than those around you … and, in this case, much worse off than those you read about and see on TV), poverty has indeed increased in Canada.
Jim Stanford in Income inequality in Canada: What’s the problem?
by Konrad Yakabuski, The Globe and Mail

I always choose the Jim Stanford quote because Jim Stanford is the gold standard for economists as far as I am concerned. 

This quote comes from a conversation published in the Globe and Mail about income inequality. The article is part of a series called The Wealth Paradox
Canada is at a crossroads. A gap has grown between the middle class and the wealthy. Now, that divide is threatening to erode a cherished Canadian value: equality of opportunity for all. This article is part of The Globe's Wealth Paradox series, a two-week examination into how the wealth divide is shaping Canada's cities, schools, social programs – and even its national sport.

And here is what Jim has to say about that cherished value of equal opportunity:
Lucky individuals do not take a place among that small, well-off group because they somehow deserve it. And there will be many millions of tech-savvy workers who are as poor and insecure as any of the rest of us – by virtue of their skills being subject to automation or offshoring. I do suspect that absent deliberate efforts to support mass prosperity, a situation much like what Cowen envisions will emerge. But the causation at work is not merit, it’s power. The top 1-2 percent will do extremely well thanks to their financial wealth and control over businesses. Another 10-15 percent will do fairly well thanks to (at least temporarily) unique skills or characteristics, proximity to those with wealth, or other fortunate factors. The rest of society will scrape by, and what we know as the middle class will largely disappear. There’s nothing inevitable or “economic” about this trend. It all reflects deliberate policy and political choices that have been made: about how we collectively choose to regulate our business , trade, and employment relations. Different choices* in each of these domains can also be made.
As this internet-famous quote from United States Senator Elizabeth Warren so eloquently posits:

And back to Jim to hear what he says about those *choices:
First off, government doesn’t have to spend a cent to start to address inequality. I would implement wage-boosting measures like the minimum wage, collective bargaining, sectoral wage standards to address the effects of precarious work. Pushing employers to stop devaluing work will do more for inequality in the long run, than trying to offset the social consequences of low wages through public subsidies. Then, with the surtax , I would target two measures: expanding the child tax benefit, and revitalizing supports for affordable housing.

Income inequality is receiving  some attention  here in Toronto because of a by-election in the riding of Toronto Centre. The Liberal candidate, Chrystia Freeland, and the New Democrat candidate, Linda McQuaig, have both written books about income equality: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else and Billionaires' Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality respectively. You can see all the candidates for this riding talk about the economy and other topics on this episode of The Agenda. The debate turns to income inequality at 20:30 and the conversation lasts about 19 minutes.

And because we are educators around here, I'll end this post with Jim Stanford on education:
I am a huge believer in public education, and we should collectively spend more on it. But don’t hold your breath hoping that education will moderate the rise in inequality. A greater share of Canadians already have higher education than in any other nation. That didn’t stop the income gap from growing. And a large share of new jobs in the future will not realistically require higher education at all. Among the career categories expecting the biggest increments in new positions are truck drivers, health care aides, and retail workers and managers. So unless we start paying truck drivers, health care aides, and retail workers better, the current trajectory will not change, no matter how well educated Canadians become.
So our challenge as educators is how, in a time when funders and policy makers are insisting on assessing success based on employment outcomes over academic attainment, do we sustain learner-centred, worker-positive programming? And how do we talk to our colleagues and students about our expectations for what we can accomplish together?


Here is what Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said yesterday about education:
 “We need to find space to focus on higher-order skills like creativity, collaboration, community and critical thinking,” she said. “Quite frankly, I know that many of you have been pushing for this for some time and fostering this learning in your own schools and boards."

Are you listening over there at the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework?

Money Wows

Canada’s budget watchdog is asking MPs to get to the bottom of why the Harper government is spending billions less than it budgets for, or Parliament authorizes.

The federal government held on to more than $10 billion it was expected to spend in 2012-13, with almost half coming from two departments, according to recently-published financial documents.

These were funds Parliament approved and Canadians were told they could expect through a slew of programs in dozens of departments, including the Senate Ethics Officer, disability and death compensation at Veterans Affairs, and weather and environmental services for Canadians at Environment Canada.

The total amount lapsed is almost $560 million more than Ottawa left on the table the year before, although it is down from a recent peak of $11.2 billion in 2010-11, according to annual Public Accounts of Canada financial statements.

When departments don’t spend all their money, Ottawa lets them keep some, allowing them another shot at funding the programs they were expected to.

The rest is dumped into the government’s general bank account, where it can contribute to paying down the deficit. 

This story has been on a slow roll since Monday. It is, of course, taking a backseat to the scandals in the Senate, the Prime Minister's Office and at Toronto City Hall.

I am very interested in this story because since the Conservatives took power I have had questions about what seems to me a huge discrepancy between announcements on literacy spending and what actually seems to be spent. I have asked many people in the field how we can find out what is actually being spent and no-one seems to know. We have all heard about the long delays between the Request for Proposal deadlines and any notice that a project might be funded - on one project I worked on, the gap between the RFP deadline and the roll out of funds was over two years.

In the old days of the National Literacy Secretariat, there was a list of funded projects online so that the field could see what projects had been approved and received funding in any given year. This transparency was helpful to those doing research in the field who wanted to find relevant research for literature reviews, to check for overlap when crafting their own proposals and for making connections and developing partnerships when working on projects. It also let us, and everyone else, know how the announced funding was being spent.

That list disappeared for a while. It seems to have resurfaced as a searchable database but information about projects prior to 2006 have been deleted.
Welcome to the OLES Project Database. This application has been developed to provide Canadians with a transparent and comprehensive reporting tool on literacy and essential skills grants and contributions projects funded since the program's creation in April 2006. The Database will be updated regularly.
A search for projects starting April 1, 2012 and ending March 31, 2013 shows No results found.

Searching for other fiscal year dates shows funding for National Adult Literacy Database (now Copian) and the Ontario Literacy Coalition (now Essential Skills Ontario). Searching by fiscal year dates does not capture projects with multi-year funding. For those you have to know the dates or at least one word in the title. I found the Learning and Violence project by searching "violence". And searching the word "literacy" returns nine pages of results but you have to click on each title to see in which year the project was funded.

This way of displaying funded projects is much less transparent than the NLS lists that corresponded to each year's RFP. It is not as helpful to a field trying to make decisions about research and trying connect research to an existing body of knowledge and it is not helpful to anyone trying to find out where the money went. I don't suppose this report from the Parliamentary Budget Office will help us plan and access research but I hope it will shine a little light on the mysterious spending practices of this government. I would think that the government would want that too; nothing like an information vacuum to start up rumours and conspiracy theories and I don't think they need any more of those at this time :)

Looking Upstream

"Our ability to realize what government is truly for, to improve the lives of people, is hampered by the terms of discussion. Whatever brilliant ideas may come forward to improve lives and health, whatever arguments may be brought forward, they are quickly dismissed if they counter the current frame."

Dr. Ryan Meili, Upstream thinking, healthy society and reviving Canadian democracy, Centre for Policy Alternatives

Sound familiar?

If this frustration is one of your frustrations, perhaps Upstream will be of interest to you.

"Upstream seeks to propagate a new frame, one that focuses in on the decisions that will make the most impact on the quality of our lives. By gathering the best evidence available, academics and advocates will promote decisions made on the basis of practicality rather than ideology. Using storytelling through multiple forms of media, Upstream will help to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice. By connecting individuals and partner organization through common language and goals, Upstream will help to create public demand for policies and actions consistent with the new frame, and ultimately mobilize citizens and our government to build a truly healthy society."


At a dinner to celebrate Tannis' graduation, her partner Susan Beaver told us a bit about the process of question-creating involved in the research and writing that Tannis has been doing for the past five years. She spoke of how the questions evolved but also how that evolution was not just an academic process but a spiritual and emotional one as well. I am not doing her eye-opening and compassionate insights much justice here but I wanted to give you a little context.

The day after the dinner, a Facebook friend linked to a comic called A Day At The Park about the relationship between questions and answers. I think I would have always found it interesting and fantasticbut it seemed especially relevant in light of Susan's words and the content of Tannis' doctorate that questions the questions so effectively.

Read A Day At The Park to find out why...

Tannis is our doctor now!

Here is good news for Literacy Enquirers! Our dear friend and esteemed colleague Tannis Atkinson has received her doctorate from OISE. Congratulations Tannis and congratulations to us for having this excellent ally in the academy.

Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Tannis that will show those of you unfamiliar with her work why it is so important to literacy learners and workers. Read more of Tannis' writing here: http://utoronto.academia.edu/TannisAtkinson

My dissertation examined how IALS (the International Adult Literacy Survey) -informed policies are changing what it is possible for educators to do when they meet adults who want to improve their reading and writing.  I’ve become convinced that it is vital to consider the historical and political contexts in which statistical accounts of literacy have come to dominance.

What happens when we turn our attention away from the calculations and statistics, and focus instead on the moments in which the numbers were developed?   We notice that calculative practices have been introduced as mechanisms for governing a host of other social realms, as discussed by post-realist scholars such as Higgins and Larner (2010).  We observe that the psychometric framing at the heart of IALS, despite its claim to be reliable “across cultures and languages”, carries forward a troubling history of efforts to rank people and justify inequalities at the heart of liberal democracies (Baum 2012, Fendler & Muzaffar 2008).  And we remember that the IALS statistics were developed to address concerns about shifts in the global economy. The explicit aim of these surveys was not to measure the relative access to information in print-saturated societies. Rather its goal was to inform a range of policies which would bolster the competitive advantage of OECD member nations. The relative wealth and political dominance of these same geopolitical regions, we would do well do remember, was itself historically produced in and through colonial relations.  That position was not substantially altered when colonialism formally ended (Duara 2004).

Perhaps it is possible for me to make these larger connections because I live in Canada. This settler-colonial state is in the midst of a process of truth and reconciliation about the devastating effects of residential schools designed to force indigenous children to adopt European culture and values. These schools were part of a broader strategy to construct Canada as a nation by dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land. Although there have been formal apologies for this history, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission faces daily battles over access to records, information and resources. The legacies of residential schools, and the ongoing colonial relations in Canada, get erased each time someone repeats the decontextualized ‘fact’ that literacy levels are “consistently lower” for indigenous people compared to non-indigenous people (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada). Such larger questions are not the focus of my research, but do provide essential context for my investigation. They remind me that it is imperative to continue to question what we take for granted about literacy. One powerful way to do so is to investigate the historical, political and economic contexts in which ideas—including the idea that literacy can and should be counted—have developed.

Canada Job Grant Monitor

It has been a while since we have posted anything over here. If you blog, I don't have to explain. It happens to all of us.

As this blog was following the Job Grant Program, I thought you might like to know that there is a Facebook page called Canada Job Grant Monitor. It was started at the end of October 2013 and is posting stories about the somewhat rocky road to implementation.

As the introductory post on the Canada Job Grant Monitor states, "Changes to the Labour Market Agreement impact many individuals employers, potential employees, labour/advocacy groups, service groups and employability and training providers. The Canada Job Grant Monitor looks to capture community perspectives on the impact to their programs to help influence LMA negotiations."

Jason Kenney (Canada's Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism) is facing blowback from provincial governments reluctant to give up the Labour Market Agreement dollars in favour of this privatised program, from labour organizations similarly reluctant about this funding shift and from some small business owners who are reluctant to pony up their share of dollars in required to benefit from the program.

Read about all this and more at the Canada Job Grant Monitor page.