On behalf of the Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Centre, I would like to extend our Seasons Greetings to all and our best wishes for a fruitful New Year. These are turbulent times, marked by dramatic changes, which affect us on a personal level and on a societal level. As the New Year approaches, I would like to share excerpts from the keynote address, Rebuilding Community Life: Challenges in Hard Times, given at the Council’s 1997 Annual General Meeting. The thoughts of Professor Marvyn Novick, a prominent intellectual reflecting on the future of our communities and of civic society, will capture your interest and induce you to ponder the paths, we as a society, appear to be taking. Marvyn Novick, Professor of Social Work at Ryerson Polytechnic, is the co-author of ‘Crossroads for Canada – a Time to Invest in Children and Families’. He is consultant to the Children at Risk Program of the Laidlaw Foundation, policy advisor to Campaign 2000 on national strategies to prevent child poverty, and a principal contributor to social indicator development with the Ryerson Research Network. For the past three decades, he has been an active contributor to social planning initiatives in Toronto and to the social policy field in Canada. I am pleased to share with you some of his rich and thought provoking ideas.
Core Canadian Values
Professor Novick suggests that we reflect on our core Canadian values to reconfirm our understanding of what is important to us as individual members of a society that must express such values in its social and economic development.
“The most precious thing that we have to draw upon in our work is core Canadian values.”
“What are the core Canadian values? Take health care. When Canadians are asked which should be the priority, the highest quality of service or Canadians having a common level of service, Canadians significantly opt for having a common level of service. That’s core Canadian values [equity]. Over 80 % of Canadians worry about the society divided into haves and the have nots. These Canadians project that ten years from now, the economy will be stronger and inequality will be greater.”
“Significantly more Canadians would see their taxes increased for social programs of value than Canadians who would ask that their taxes be reduced. Those are Core Canadian values.”
“These Canadian Core Values are critical because they are the raw materials with which to work. They contribute to a sense of hope. Canadians take genuine pride in the quality of civic life in this country. Ours are the kind of communities and cities that are world models. We know this and do not need the United Nations to tell us.”
Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Creation of Wealth
Professor Novick suggests that complementing our core Canadian values of equality and equity are the important concepts of social cohesion and social capital and the practices nurtured by both in the social and economic development of our community.
“This is the challenge that we face, because if there is to be a community life, it is to rest on something called social cohesion. Social in the sense that there is some notion of common membership, common stakes, common missions; that there is a broad “WE”
“Economists looking at how wealth is created have identified something known as social capital, which are levels of trust and reciprocity. These are critical not just for economic cohesion but for strong innovative economies. Their conclusions point to the importance of talent, of learning, of the diffusion of ideas, of incubation – the unpredictability of those different ideas and assets that go into particular innovation. A sense that the richness of talent in a community is the great economic asset of communities that want to innovate.”
“The World Economic Forum in 1995, defined one of the characteristics of a competitive society, reinforced the point that societies that will innovate, that will have high value added work and products to sell [in the global economy] will be societies with social cohesion. They will be connected because it is in their connection that the talent and places of innovation and incubation will exist.”
Disengagement and Divisions are a Threat to Community Life
Without social cohesion and social capital, Professor Novick argues that processes of disengagement from responsibility for the collective occurs and simultaneously the divisions among people grow. Social divisions undermine community life.
“The depletion of the community services area was one of the first things the Ontario government did when it came into power. There is clearly a disengagement taking place [which is a threat to social cohesion].” “A recent survey indicated that 42% of the respondents think the economy is great and the future is great. Forty-four percent of the respondents fear losing their jobs in the next two years. You can’t get more polarized than that.”
“The strategies of division being pursued in Ontario are based on a pessimistic perception: the only way we can deal with the conditions of globalization is to create a low wage, low tax regime. They are pessimistic, they do not believe that we can create a society in which there is a place of worth for everyone. There is almost a resignation that the world we face will be a competitive world that people have called the 40/ 30/ 30 society. [This means] that 40% of the people in the Western world will be secure, advantaged, 30% will be contingent, they will sort of be “in and out” of this mainstream world, and the other 30% will be redundant, they are the disposable. The philosophy is to build your own strength by weaning away those parts that you deem to be the weakest.”
“This strategy of a low wage, low tax regime has been pursued over the last 15 to 20 years, and it has failed miserably wherever it has been attempted. It has failed in the United States where record income disparities have been generated– the largest since WW II. The United States has the lowest unemployment rates in the industrialized world and the highest poverty rates. Because what the low wage, low tax strategies have succeeded in doing is moving people from social assistance and income support poverty into labour market poverty. The United States has one of the largest pools of low wage jobs.”
“This disengagement is quite profound and quite serious. It is part of an agenda of creating a sense of division amongst people. That is what the Government of Ontario has succeeded in doing, creating a WE and a THEY. WE are the more advantaged and secured members of the community. We need incentives in order to thrive, so we get tax cuts. THEY, need motivation in order to thrive so they get Workfare and reductions in social assistance level. We have gifted children and we will raise standards in schools for children who we think are gifted. They have dull children, we will identify them at an early age and if necessary “wean them, stream them” and have them repeat if necessary.”
“Workfare is a disengagement from any commitment to advancing the life prospects of people who are disadvantaged, it’s throwing some of our most vulnerable people into the struggle for subsistence, telling them that whatever they are offered and whatever they get is a benefit to them. Disengagement also in terms of allowing university fees to rise to a point in which working class and lower income young people will really have a life of massive debt to consider in terms of the option of post-secondary studies.”
“This division amongst people [resulting from] this kind of politics and polarization is probably the greatest threat we have to community life.”
Post-deficit Investment in Our Children and Youth
There are choices to be made today and in the future which will affect the nature of our society and the health and well-being of people. However, as the Halton Social Planning Council recommended to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (October,1997): “that the ‘unprecedented restraint measures’ has not served ‘to raise all boats’. We believe that those–the poor, the disabled, seniors, young families etc,–those who have borne a disproportionate share of the burden of deficit-reduction, have a prior entitlement to a meaningful share of the dividends that are anticipated.
“We have reached a moment in Canada where we are at a cross roads and that the possibility of new national and civic options may be emerging. The deficit phenomenon hung over this society for the last ten years and created a sense of an imperative. But we are moving into a post deficit period. The Federal and Provincial Governments of this country are projecting a balanced budget by the turn of the century. We will have national options for the first time because once the budgets were balanced we could do three things: (i) cut taxes, (ii) accelerate the reduction of the accumulated debt or (iii) undertake social investment.”
“For the well being of Canada, it is important to invest in our children and youth, particularly on the issue of child poverty, to give us a national early development and child care program, to remove single parents with preschool children from social assistance, to put them on to a federal family care program, to create public endowments for modest working class and lower income young people so they will not have to leave university with debts.”
“We have a tremendous compounding of inequality that is occurring in our university and college classrooms today. If you are a young person of a working class or low income background, your life chances are different. You pass through university or college with debts of $20,000 to $30,000 a year before you have received your first job, this before you have formed a family and have taken on the capital requirements of family life with little familial support to draw upon.”
“The compounding of disadvantage is one of the greatest violations of democratic values in our society because it reinforces the genetic accident of birth as the determinant of life chances. To reduce that inequality is part of our social investment plan. There should be a public endowment waiting for every modest and lower income child saying to them that if you do well in school (as every advantaged child knows) then there will be $5,000 waiting for you to help pay for your education.”
“We know from life chance research that if young people, as they enter secondary school, do not believe that there is an opportunity for them to have access to post secondary studies and training, they will begin to lower their horizons accordingly.”
“The option of public investments [in the social realm] in Canada is now on the table and it is possible to talk once again about it. And not just for children and families but for home care for seniors and possibly to talk about extending Medicare to include prescription drugs.”
Strengthening the Civic Foundation of Care and Support
Professor Novick comments on the role of community social planning councils in assisting the people in a community to move through the veil of doubt that shrouds us in these times of great change and confusion. The shedding of doubt is necessary to create the capacity in our community to hope, build leadership and develop new options. At our Annual General Meeting, he challenged us to strengthen the civic foundation of care and support.
“Social Planning Councils have been one of the most critical institutions in Ontario. They have historically helped to shape the civic foundation of care and support, to generate that great fusion of public services and voluntary agencies, to shape a system in which each person has a significant role to play.”
“The challenge to Social Planning Councils is to recreate common missions in a sense of the ‘We’. I can’t think of anything more important. What are some of the ways in which these common missions and the sense of the ‘We’ may be regenerated? I talked about child poverty as a multiple indicator. Poor families are not a special population. Poor families represent the most extreme forms of hardships that have been experienced by growing numbers of modest and middle income families.”
“Child poverty is also a multiple indicator for the fact that there isn’t a place for everyone. We discovered 58 % of poor families in 1994 had been in the labour market. We didn’t find a motivation problem, we found a survival problem in the labour market.”
“There is a sense of vulnerability of families who are modest to middle income and there is a sense of apprehension even that advantaged parents have of what will happen. What are the prospects of their young sons and daughters? Particularly those who did all the things that they were supposed to do and now discovered that the places are not there to use their talents. The labour force data show that they are employed, but they are employed outside of the context of their human capital. The department store where I shop has the best educated labour force that you could imagine. I bought my shirt from a young man who has a history degree from York. I bought a microwave from a young man who graduated from the business school at the University of Western Ontario. My microwave was carried to the car by yet another young man who has a degree in Political science from the University of Toronto. There’s never been a greater squandering of human talent than in today’s labour market – the young man who carried my microwave to the car had been doing it for seven years.”
“Developing a common mission around a life cycle focus on children and youth, is what we want for all of our young people. I think that it’s an area for SPCs to give serious consideration. It’s an area in which to build this stronger sense of the ‘We’. It is also a way in which one can rekindle the foundations of community life. We need employers who have a civic sense of responsibility, such as, first jobs for young people. We need to reinvigorate local organizations, churches, service clubs because they can do things that public programs can’t do such as mentoring and other forms of support.”
“The other area is through monitoring. It is crucial that SPCs maintain their role as sources of social reporting. It is important to report in a way that is compelling to people. It is important not just to report risks and defects, the things that are bad, that separate us, it is important to report the things that will help all children. We have to be able to undertake the quality of community life indicators that touch the aspiration that people have for children and youth.”
SEASONS GREETINGS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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