New Brunswick, 2007

There were two news stories that caught my eye today - both front page on our local paper.

One was about our Premier sticking to his plan to demote our city's sole university to a community college. This is part of an overhaul of New Brunswick's post-secondary education system. It's especially newsworthy because of the large and continuing public protests against this move. People in Saint John believe that, once lost, the university will never come back.

But, Premier Graham believes this is something that must be done for our province and our community. He has taken the bold stance that political leadership involves more than making only popular decisions. The news story quotes him as saying, "Real transformation doesn't happen by tinkering around the edges. It doesn't happen by clinging to the past. We must be bolder, braver, and even better than we've been before." I think he's wrong, but I don't have all the facts, and nobody elected me to government.

I could almost respect Premier Graham and his determination to see this through... were it not for the other story in the news.

There's a trial going on, and details are emerging about the death of a little girl in New Brunswick. Her parents have been charged with criminal negligence causing death. I don't want to talk about whether they're guilty or not; that would be beside the point. Because what we have learned is that, once again, the Department of Family and Community Services knew there was trouble in the household but did not adequately intervene.

I say "once again" because this is not new. It happens about once a year in this province. A child dies, the Department wrings its hands and talks about lack of resources, and - if the case gets enough attention - a report is written recommending, again, that more resources go to protecting children. (If the case gets national attention we usually build a playground and dedicate to the memory... etc.)

This news story begins: "A mere week before a New Brunswick toddler died of alleged neglect a group of social workers in the Department of Family and Community Services asked their director if 'someone need to die' before much-needed staff and resources were poured into the department."

It was a silly question. As the director knew, kids have already died. In the past, the deaths of poor kids - whom FCS were monitoring and worrying about - hasn't had much impact in the larger picture of resource allocation. There's no reason to suppose this will change.

But it could change. It could change tomorrow morning. All it would take is for Premier Shawn Graham to decide to act, and to act with the determination he has shown in the area of post-secondary education.

Sometimes, when I'm trying to make sense of senseless things, I fall back on a Marxist template: follow the money, look to see how power is created and maintained.

When I stick that template on today's news, I see that the Premier may indeed believe in making popular decisions. The key question is: popular with who? Because those "hard choices" he's making about our university are very popular with certain bankers, industrialists and big business types. These men (they're almost all men) seem untroubled by how the unwashed masses treat their kids or whether those same kids fall though the torn holes in our social safety nets. Their mantra, oft repeated, is keep taxes low, focus spending on highway development and hand-outs to breweries or the forest industry... let the rest fend for themselves.

"Officials within Family and Community Services," the newspaper story continues, "won't comment on the case, or the department's role in it, while it is before a judge." In fact, before a judge is the only place they will comment. They wouldn't talk about it before hand - not even to the province's Child and Youth Advocate - and they won't be talking about it this time next year.

And the worst news of all? Nothing in this case is causing anything like the uproar the plan to close a university has caused.

Does anybody care about poor people's kids?

1 comment:

ballet girl said...

i have just read this post, and the post for thursday january 3 2008 (with the presumably-latin? title) - i found both on the same page by clicking on your tag : despair.

i enjoyed reading both of these.

thank you.