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Canada must address our bad education system and overreaching courts
The realm of higher learning is a tenebrous thicket of extravagance, faddishness and oppressive political correctness
by Conrad Black
Last week, I discussed deteriorating results in Ontario students’ mathematics tests, but had little space to lay out broader views on education. Apart from decertifying the teachers’ unions and banning the right to strike in the public service, and invoking the notwithstanding clause where necessary to vacate judicial decisions that would impede those steps, I think the school boards should be abolished as useless and redundant, the teachers’ colleges should be seriously reoriented, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education should be entirely repurposed, teachers and students should be tested objectively every year, and those who fail should be allowed to fail. Teachers have to be treated with respect as learned professionals, but they must also behave as learned professionals, and irresponsible emulation of industrial trade unions should be responded to by impounding their immense pension funds pending resolution of all material issues.
The realm of higher learning is such a tenebrous thicket of extravagance, faddishness and oppressive political correctness that it is almost a no-go area for anyone seeking any reforms. It must be established that any university that does not promote reasonable freedom of expression is ineligible as a recipient of taxpayers’ money and is liable to human rights prosecutions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The saga of my courageous and erudite friend Jordan Peterson, who has faced recurrent threats and demands that he conform to confected adaptations of language and restrictions, is now notorious. I have written here before that he must not be required to face this assault alone and the entire thoughtful community must support his right to free speech. Recently, Wilfrid Laurier University has been the scene of many spectacles of administrative and faculty cowardice before the juggernaut of political correctness, including removing a statue of John A. Macdonald because of the whining and carping of militant aboriginals.
School boards should be abolished as useless and redundant
Wilfrid Laurier did not agree with much of what the Salvation Army said, but he famously offered to lead their parade in Ultramontane Catholic Quebec in the late 19th century to establish their right to march peacefully and speak freely. The university that bears his name now regularly dishonours it.
Much undergraduate activity generally can be moved to the Internet at immense saving to the country, and the whole basis of post-secondary curriculum should be flipped from candidate preferences to labour market requirements. Instead of endlessly proliferating numbers of degree-bearing authorities on esoteric subjects, we should encourage more trades and crafts, and their status can be made more prestigious and lettered. Plumbing is almost as much an academic subject as business is, and these vital and skilled occupations are relatively under-populated and are reliably gainful. Our entire society is hobbled by an over-investment in service industry, and in too many activities and occupations that don’t add value to anything. Factory workers, farmers, those who extract and process or refine natural resources, and a significant number of white collar occupations, such as doctors, serious researchers, and competent executives, add value. But large numbers of consultants, lawyers, academics, do not.
Of course, we must be a society of laws and have enough lawyers to operate it, and a society that values and encourages all useful cultural activity. Higher learning and the arts must be generously supported and we must always be on guard against being or becoming an ignorant or professionally under-served society. We have substantially fewer doctors per capita than almost all other advanced countries, mainly because Pierre Trudeau and Monique Begin drove large numbers of our doctors out of the country by banning private medicine in 1984. The legal profession and legislative and regulatory authorities should be required to operate a constant statutory and regulatory consolidation service to moderate the steadily increasing profusion and complexity of laws and regulations and reduce society’s need for an ever larger number of lawyers, and incentives should be offered through a more flexible and less compulsively universalist health-care system to encourage the graduation of more doctors.
Plumbing is almost as much an academic subject as business is
We live in an era where technological advances create more rather than less unemployment, and new high-tech companies like Facebook have huge capitalizations but don’t employ many people. It is one of the best features of the last 30 or so years that there have been tremendous advances by democratic government and the free market, generally as a result of the Western victory in the Cold war and the rout of the international Marxist left. The pursuit of economic growth in China, India and Indonesia, representing about 40 per cent of the world’s population, has boot-strapped a billion people out of poverty and into productive economic life over that time. This has increased economic competition and Canada must respond to it. There has never been any excuse for Canada to have a lower standard of living than Australia and the Netherlands, and we should focus as goals on leading all indicators of economic strength (except size, which is unattainable to a country of 36 million people). This should start in the schools and require better performance from everyone, then move to the universities and generate what society needs in an academic atmosphere of traditional tolerance and not a fascistic pressure-cooker of politically correct censorship.
The country is at a turning point now, between a humane, planned drive for greater competitiveness and prosperity for the pursuit of a higher and fairer quality of life in this very rich country of exceptional achievement, or a politically correct, high-tax, highly regulated, government-heavy, benefit-addicted state effectively governed by the high courts, and a ring of judges swaddling themselves in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and reinterpreting legislation to accomplish public policy goals defined by the elected statist elite. This is the course Canada is now on, and it was highlighted last week by the Supreme Court Symposium and the address of the new Governor General, Julie Payette, to a science forum in Ottawa.
The symposium championed the interpretation of Section 7 of the Charter, which guaranties that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” subject only to “fundamental justice,” as the enabling text for the proclamation of positive rights, and particularly the promotion of aboriginal self-government, enforcement of climate change policy, and a redoubled assault on poverty. The theory of outgoing Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin is familiar; she considers her court to be the supreme legislator in the country, and claims the Charter makes it so. This is rubbish and was not intended by Pierre Trudeau, the Charter’s chief author; and of her policy goals at this valedictory symposium, only the attack on poverty is even desirable, but that is not the task of a court. The Governor General, in her address, denigrated any notion of a divine role in the beginning of life, and disputed that there was any possible argument against the belief that the world is getting warmer and that man is partly responsible for it.
Both the high court and the Governor General seem to be in lockstep with the federal government, but it isn’t going to work. Handing legislative powers to courts is anti-democratic and unconstitutional and the Governor General (an admirable person in this case) should not be aligning herself with atheism and antitheism, which are views the majority of Canadians do not share, and she should not be publicly skeptical of global warming doubters, since the entire allegation of global warming has effectively retreated into the less vulnerable and precise claim of climate change.
The federal government is urging or tacitly approving the outgoing chief justice and incoming Governor General to plunge into areas where they are mere and rather unenlightened trespassers. The government should reassert the law-making power of the high court of Parliament. Ultimately, the people will decide; appointed officials will not make up their minds for them as stars in a puppet show directed from the prime minister’s office.
First published in the National Post.