Tag Archives: Head Start

Column: Invest in people to curb crime

My latest column in The StarPhoenix.  I know this generally gets posted on Monday’s but the internet at Arlington Beach was unusable and by the time I got home, the work week was upon me.

The StarPhoenix Saskatoon is second only to Regina in Canada’s crime severity index, despite our crime rate dropping for the seventh straight year – a reduction of nearly 11,000 crimes annually from the peak of 2003. However, there’s still is a lot of crime on Saskatoon’s streets, with 25,600 events reported.

Whose fault is it? Police Chief Clive Weighill says crime is a reality of prairie life: "Until we can change the social contributors to crime we’re not going to see decreases across the Prairie provinces," he said in an interview with The StarPhoenix.

"We have a large segment of our society that’s marginalized, living in poverty, poor housing, reduced availability for employment. Unfortunately, crime is a linked outcome to this.

It’s going to take some big changes to the social strata across the Prairie provinces."

I agree. What’s troubling is that no one has much of a plan to deal with it. How do you change the culture of a community away from criminal or anti-social behaviour once it has become the norm?

A lot needs to change.

The Americans have been trying to tackle this problem for decades, with limited success. The Head Start program, whose goal is to prepare for kindergarten children growing up in poverty stricken neighbourhoods, has been around since 1965. Some cities have been known to fire all of the staff in a school if test scores are too low.

In Saskatoon, we see our community schools trying to make a difference by providing food and clothing programs. While both Head Start and our community schools have had some success, both are too limited to tackle the wide range of issues that contribute to poverty.

The Harlem Children’s Zone has taken a different approach. It’s an education/ housing/crime prevention approach that provides assistance to children from birth all the way to the job market – a much larger commitment compared to providing preschool education or lunch programs.

The Harlem project is a 22year commitment to ensure that those with the most obstacles to overcome have a reliable support system.

The family traditionally has played this role. However, as we see the disintegration of stable family structures in some parts of our society, someone else needs to step up. Would you rather have the Terror Squad or a Harlem Children’s Zone stepping into that gap

The latter is tackling all the issues that stand in the way of a child’s success – housing, education, public safety, health care, transportation and food safety.

The interconnected problems that Chief Weighill mentions need a comprehensive solution. The idea is to help children as early in their lives as possible, and to create a community of adults around them who understand what it takes to help children succeed.

This is an option that doesn’t rely on new capital projects or resources, but moving people out of silos to become part of an integrated solution. If we are honest with ourselves, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Even if we started today, the payoff will be more than a decade away.

Saskatchewan does not have a poverty reduction strategy. So, while a variety of projects are undertaken, they seem to fall under the category of, "Let’s spend a lot of money and hope it works."

Slightly more than 15 per cent of Saskatchewan residents fall under the poverty line, among them 35,000 children. Poverty reduction conversations often resolve around the need for governments to provide more in direct payments, but there are many exciting economic empowerment ideas across North America that are providing sustainable jobs.

Housing is my area of interest, but I know that without an integrated plan of training, job creation, food security, health and safe, affordable housing, you won’t achieve the results required to make another big dent in the 26,000 crimes we see in Saskatoon.

The greater the investment upstream in poverty prevention and giving people good economic opportunities, the less money you spend downstream on policing and corrections.

Police have made great progress in crime reduction. It’s time for the provincial government to step up and work on the rest of the factors that will make Saskatoon and Regina safer cities to live in.

The challenge of Saskatoon—Humboldt

Saskatoon Humboldt In Saskatoon—Humboldt  there has been a lot of controversy over incumbent MP Brad Trost’s pro-life view and his statements to a pro-life rally that Planned Parenthood had been defunded.  I’ll let the Globe and Mail give you the details.

“Do you support a woman’s right to choose for an abortionist to kill her unborn child?” Denise Hounjet-Roth, 53, a retired teacher and staunch Roman Catholic, asked the candidates.

Such sentiments are what have sent Mr. Trost, a 36-year-old geophysicist, to Ottawa. He won a narrow race in 2004, when just 435 votes separated the Conservative, New Democrat and Liberal candidates. Since then, he’s won easily.

Naturally, his opponents are targeting his beliefs, saying the riding is filled with voters who are no longer stirred by questions of abortion and same-sex marriage.

This has been a complex issue for a long time for me.  At my heart I am a libertarian but I am also an evangelical Christian (albeit a part of the evangelical left)  I have spent years pondering the issue and now more than ever I believe life begins at conception.  On a personal level Wendy and I had that decision personalized when Oliver’s birth jeopardized Wendy’s life.  There was a question at one point of who do we save? (you have never made a hard decision until you have been asked that one)

A couple of years ago Warren Kinsella made a comment on his blog about right to life people in both parties and I replied in the comments, “there are those of a liberal political ideology who do believe that life does begin at conception”.  Just as there are committed Christians who believe that women have a right to choose.  I am not sure if the question will be relevant in Heaven but if it is, we may have to wait until we get there to find out.

Years ago I had a conversation with Tony Campolo who pointed out that during Clinton’s presidency, abortion levels in the United States dropped sharply, this was during an era which made it easier for women to get safe abortions.  So access to safe abortions was made easier and yet the number of abortions went down.  Campolo credited an era of relative prosperity, a rise of income among lower class, the rise of Promise Keepers who preached that men need to take responsibility for their actions and embrace fatherhood, and a variety of initiatives that made it easier for women to take care of their children.

He (along with Jim Wallis) wrote the Democratic Party platform on the area of abortion in which they called for ways to reduce abortions rather than overturn Roe vs. Wade.  Ever since I became aware of Roe vs. Ware, I have long wondered if the resources targeted towards electing conservative candidates and presidents, lobbying for certain judicial picks and lobbying for certain Supreme Court justices had been instead allocated into programs making it easier for women to bring the babies to term…

That’s where I am at.  Personally I hate the idea of an unborn child being born but we live in a country that has decriminalized it.  I worked on the campaign of the Minister of Justice who paid a tremendous price for doing it (and we as a family lost some friends because of our support for the former Governor General).  Instead of trying to turn back the clock to 1984 (when Tories could be red), how about working in the context that we live in now?  This is where the social conservatives drive me crazy with their inconsistency.  Paul Begala says it this way.  If you are going to be pro-life, be consistently pro-life.  Feel free to oppose abortions as Begala does but also be against capital punishment, euthanasia, and be a pacifist.  Work on policies that make a difference for those who are afflicted.  Most social conservatives are fine with Canada going to war and capital punishment and I don’t see a lot of policies easing the afflictions of poverty.

If you are going to be pro-life, be pro-life.  This isn’t just about Trost, it’s about evangelical Christians who love to preach about abortion but spend a pittance in supporting projects that make a real difference.  I am reminded of Duke theologian Richard Hays remarks in a Cutting Edge interview in which he said one of the reasons that evangelicals go on and on about homosexuality is that it doesn’t cost them anything.  I think the same can be said about the opposition to abortion, especially from men. It’s something to get upset about, it raises money, and it offends very few people (or so they think) in the pews.  Even when churches do take action it isn’t action.  A church I know of takes an offering of loonies and toonies to support local poverty initiatives.  The idea is that your real offering goes to the budget of the church, the change in your purse or pocket can go to these other people, a theology that I really struggle with.

The same conversation I had with Tony Campolo about abortion, he told me about a conversation he had with then President Bill Clinton and his veto of some anti-abortion legislation.  Campolo pointed out that the Senate should and would send the abortion legislation right back at him (he used a lot more colorful language than that).  Clinton laughed and told Campolo he was beling naive.  The Republicans will wait until the last possible moment… when it helps then nominee George W. Bush and hurts Al Gore the most.  Clinton was right.  It was at that time that he realized that many members of the Senate don’t care about abortion as a moral issue but as a wedge political issue, a thought that has stuck with me ever since then.

So here is my deal.  I’ll start to pay attention to any politician that takes a stand against abortion, not as an electoral issue but works hard for legislation that helps those at the most risk of having abortions and for those children who are having their future stolen away because of living in extreme poverty, lack of education, FASD, unsafe foster care (I’m talking to you Saskatchewan Party and Saskatchewan NDP MLAs), and even swings a hammer or hangs some drywall at a Egadz MyHome.  I’ll pay attention to politicians who fight for the elimination of child poverty, fights to ensure that schools on the west side of the city have the same resources as those on the east side, and fight to make sure that food safety programs are funded.  As long as I see kids (and I mean girls younger than the age of consent) on the streets because their parents put them there or because there isn’t any food in the house and I don’t see you fighting whoever is standing in your way, I will never take you seriously.  For years I grew up grimacing when I saw the orange NDP lawn sign on my pastor’s lawn.  As a kid I was thinking, “They are pro-abortion.  How can he support that?”  I never clicked in that progressive policies towards eliminating poverty make a far greater difference than restrictive legislation any day.

It’s not just the politicians.  It’s churches, it’s pro-life groups, it’s anyone who wants to use this as a wedge issue.  The fact is that many abortions take place because women don’t feel that they have an option.  Taking away that doesn’t solve the problem.  What we need to do as a society is to create more choices which allow women to carry the kids to term and know that they will have a brighter future whether in their home or someone else’s home.

Now regarding the defunding Planned Parenthood that is (supposedly) happening in Canada and other jurisdictions in the United States where they elect Republicans.  Planned Parenthood clinics use the government money for pelvic exams, breast exams, safer-sex counselling and basic infertility counselling, among other things.  Things like this…

So what’s the point of the video?  STI’s are not an issue in the small conservative towns that make up the rural parts of Saskatoon—Humboldt but it is a big part of Saskatoon’s inner city where we have some of the highest STI infection rates in the country.  In some age demographics, well over 50% over sexually active women have HPV.  Any one night at work, we house numerous, numerous men who have both diagnosed/undiagnosed and treated/untreated HIV/AIDS.  Support for them and the prevention is also being unfunded.  It seems like an attack not only abortions but also a women’s right to chose birth control or the right to have safe sex.  From here you have upper class men telling women how they can live their lives, even how they can have sex. 

There is another way.  Fund Planned Parenthood.  Even if you have to hold your noses while doing it.  At the same time increase funding to places like the Saskatoon Food Bank… even set up special programs there for infants… fund programs like the Saskatoon Friendship Inn and others that do a good job in helping people make ends meet.  Fund Catholic Family Services and a bunch of other programs that make life easier for those who at the most risk of having an abortion and give women other viable options to get through tough times, expand their education, get good jobs, have support while working.  Maybe it will take universal childcare, a version of Head Start or  maybe you may have to chat with Liberals and NDP to get ideas but take those steps to create a Canada that is pro-life (and not just anti-abortion) for everyone and abortion numbers will drop.

When Conservative (or Liberal) politicians want to start working on a true pro-life agenda, an agenda that values all lives, I’ll start to talk and even listen, until that, I just see it as wedge politics, something that works in a riding as polarized as Saskatoon—Humboldt.  Wedge politics work.  Karl Rove made it into an art form.  You may win pulling it off, actually if you chose correctly, you will almost always win but the country or your riding is worse off because of it because it creates winners and a lot of losers.

The funny things is that Trost doesn’t even have to win this way.  Before the topic of abortion and social conservatism came up, he had developed a reputation as a MP that worked hard on constituent concerns and was the guy that saved us from Jim Pankiw.  That has now changed.  Hopefully in the next parliament, Trost will expand his worldview and focus on more than defunding Planned Parenthood and instead focus on creating a Canadian culture where everyone has a chance at a better life.