Perspectives

What Have We Got Against Our Grandchildren? (Or children for that matter)
A Challenge to Retired or Close to Retired Teachers

By Myles Ellis
March 7, 2014

Any of us who have reached that point in life when people consider us Senior Citizens often find ourselves reminiscing about the past. We remember a time when things seemed simpler; we bask in nostalgia about the good old days. And they were good days, days of local community support and involvement, simple pleasures, decadence, if you could afford it, of ice cream on hot summer days.

I normally could not afford it. I would ride my old beat-up CCM bicycle along the country roads of Prince Edward Island and hunt for bottles. The spring was a cornucopia; the leavings of springtime melt a joy to a boy who would take his treasure to the local store; Hart Lidstone’s Grocery. To give you a sense of priorities for my father, we had a television eight years before indoor plumbing, and the local kids, many better off than we were, (with plumbing but no TV) would assemble quietly in front of the TV on Saturday night to watch All Star Wrestling, Don Messer’s Jubilee, and the greatest prize, Hockey Night in Canada. I did not know we were poor until we got the television.

I remember Dief’s Pork, meted out during the 1962 election. I hated it, barely edible canned stuff unless you fried the hell out of it. Only poor people got it, and you probably had to be considered a Progressive Conservative. Boy, there is an adjective I miss, “progressive” in front of the Conservative. I also remember my parents worrying about any of us getting sick and how we would pay for it. I remember my mother, God bless her, walking all day through the countryside, 15-20 miles in the heat of summer trying to sell North American Fashion Frocks to fellow poor country housewives, happy if she made a $2 commission for the day.

Why do I tell you of this? It is because I expect that many of you, urban or rural, had similar experiences, in that you share the fond nostalgic memories, but also memories of the poverty and hardship, if you are truthful to yourself. But we lived in the great age; The 60s and 70s saw probably the greatest advance for the middle class in Canadian history. With greater unionization and the advance of marvellous Canadian social programs came greater equality. Suddenly, more of us could afford a “middle class” lifestyle. We could dream of owning a home that didn’t sleep four to a bed. We could buy fresh fruit. A Christmas treat for me was finding a banana and an orange in the toe of my stocking. We could have indoor plumbing (yes, chamber pails still terrorize me). We could dream of helping our children attend college/university. And we could dream of not growing old in poverty as we increasingly were able to access good retirement plans. We supported governments who professed a belief in the tenet that every person in Canada should have an opportunity to be “under the same tent”.

So what happened to us? Does growing older make us more selfish and mean-spirited? I hear some of my generation speak with a measure of disdain about the new generation’s sense of “entitlement”, sniffing that if younger people really understood hardship they would not be so fussy about this or that. Entitlement? Was there ever a more self-entitled generation than the Boomers, the generation that, because of demographics, may cause a scuttlement of Medicare as we know it? Have we become so self-absorbed to be immune from reality?

There is a new reality, and it is called growing inequality. The United States, Great Britain and yes, Canada are among the world leaders in the growth of inequality. The gap between the rich and poor is growing; the middle class as we know it is being hollowed out. I think it is ironic that even the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has red-flagged the growth of inequality as being a matter of concern, with a negative impact on economic growth. In Canada, despite the fiction of the Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan advertisements, our projected economic growth has been downgraded this year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The numbers accessing food banks continue to grow. Despite an all-party promise in 1989 to eradicate poverty in Canada, there has been little progress in poverty reduction. And what are the prospects for our youth? The numbers are sobering and we should pay attention.

Compared to the 70s and my generation, these are the facts: this generation is far better educated than we were, yet they are already far greater in debt, with their income adjusted for inflation is 10% less. The jobs they can find are often McJobs with minimal benefits. And yet we support the Harper government, yes we. This comment from Nanos Research in response to a poll conducted in August 2012 illustrates what Nanos sees as voting patterns for seniors.

The survey suggests 28.4 per cent of Canadians feel the NDP is the party most sensitive to seniors' needs, compared to 17.4 per cent for the Conservatives and 12.1 per cent for the Liberals. Just over 14 per cent said "none" of the parties, while 24.3 per cent were unsure. The New Democrats have a significant advantage over the Conservatives," said Nanos. "This is very important because when we think of the winning Conservative coalition, the coalition that put them into majority territory, a bedrock of that coalition has been seniors."

Seniors are among the most supportive demographics voting for the Harper government. And some of them are retired or soon to be retiring teachers. What has changed us? Do we like attack ads? Are we so self-absorbed that we can turn a blind eye to what has happened to Canadian democracy? As teachers do/did, should we not defend that as a principle with all our heart and soul as when we teach/taught?

And finally, what about our grandchildren? What kind of country do we want them to grow up in? I remember it well in the 70s, Canadian kids travelled the world and were often surprised, amused, and proud that fellow youth travellers from the US would sew Canadian flags on their back packs, preferring to be perceived as Canadians. Today? Just google John Baird speaking to the United Nations about Israel and Palestine (Youtube November 29,2012: Canada’s Ruined Reputation). He was THE only person who did not receive an iota of applause from the delegates of the world: it was humbling, embarrassing. Our MPs are cowed, our scientists are muzzled, practically any organization that might tell any truth that would be negative to the Harper mission, and it is a mission, has lost funding.

And jobs? This government does not want your kids/grandkids to go to university! They want them in the trades, and they don’t want them in unions. The greatest opposition to unions in Canada is the Merit Contractors Association, a non-union organization, which is spending large sums of money to promote anti-labour laws federally and provincially. They have the ear of the Harper government, and are working furiously to make Canada a “Right to Work” country. The facts don’t bother them. In the United States, roughly half of the states are “Right to Work”, which means that unions have little or no profile in bargaining. The workers in those states make on average $1,500 a year less than states with unions. Right to work alright, right to work for less…

So I ask again, what have we got against our children/grandchildren? Should they not have the same chance at prosperity we had? Are we so fearful of a taxation system that allowed us to prosper and access the benefits of a social welfare state? Are we so caught up in aging and/or self- indulgence that we are prepared to park our principles at the door, hold our noses and continue to vote for Harperism, because there will be another after him. Will some of us continue to vote for an increasingly anxious, dog eat dog society pitting class against class?

My last comment is that if we do, then we do so at our peril. Thankfully, gloriously, the young possess the same understanding of right and wrong that we do/did. They are smart, they are not all the entitled lazy bums that some of us believe. They want their chance to share in the benefits of this great country. And they will have their day. God help us if, when they take their turn at generational power, they remember the Boomers as the generation that stood in their way.

Myles Ellis is the Acting Deputy Secretary General at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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