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Ontario Canada: Proof That Poverty And Poor Education Equals Crime

Bleeding heart liberals like myself have been inclined to blame the social ill crime on a lack of educational opportunities combined with poverty among inner city children. Social workers, liberal politicians, and anti-poverty activists have used this argument for years to try and guarantee government funding for education and social assistance programs.

Unfortunately these arguments have been falling on largely deaf ears for the past decade or more, as politicians have become obsessive compulsive in their desire to cut taxes. By creating the picture of honest working people having their pockets picked by the shiftless poor they have justified a scorched earth policy of cuts to social spending in order to pursue their quest for their holy grail of the balanced budget and tax cuts.

People in Ontario Canada were one of the first regions in Canada to fall victim to the blandishments of the snake oil salesmen selling the panacea of tax and spending cuts. In 1995 they elected the Progressive Conservative party led by Mike Harris based on the promises of their "Common Sense Revolution". Included in the revolution was a reduction of the welfare allowance by 21%, standardising the public school curriculum so that every student in Ontario studied the exact same thing, eliminating a municipality's ability to collect property taxes for education without providing a significant alternative source of funding, and closing hospitals that "duplicated" services offered by other facilities in the same geographic area.

Promises weren’t limited to cuts to social programming; every Ministry in the government was forced to slash costs at the expense of jobs and programming. Privatization and layoffs were the favourite means of obtaining goals ensuring that tens of thousands of people either lost their jobs or were forced to do their former job at a highly reduced rate of pay with fewer if any benefits.

From the monitoring of water quality in municipalities to reductions in Legal Aid no area of public service was left unscathed. By the time Mike Harris' first term as Premier drew to a close the face of Ontario was irrevocably changed. He was able to win a second term due to Ontario riding an upswing in the economy, and the support of affluent suburban neighbourhoods that had received short term benefits from his policies.

As early as his second term in office the effects of the massive cuts started to show. Lay offs in the Ministry of the Environment resulted in faked reports on the water quality in the town of Walkerton Ontario to go unnoticed because of insufficient staff levels to double check test results. Because of this a full scale outbreak of E. coli. occurred resulting in the death of seven people and hundreds more becoming seriously ill.

But where we've really begun to reap the results of the Common Sense Revolution has been on the streets of our cities. Ten years ago Toronto Ontario was considered the safest of the major cities in North America. It was big city without the big city problems of urban crime and boasted an active and vital downtown core. Racially diverse, but free of the usual accompanying tensions Toronto was a favoured spot to visit by American's looking to take advantage of their strong dollar. Tourists would marvel at its cleanliness and their ability to go almost anywhere at anytime in safety.

Of course it wasn't as ideal as it was made out to be as there were pockets of trouble throughout the city. But as they were primarily confined to the housing projects of the poor they could be ignored or treated as isolated incidents. Even so the murder rate and violent crime were incredibly low for a city of over three million people.

In the last few years that has all begun to change as the level of deaths by gunfire has increased dramatically. The police say the majority of the problem stems from an increase in gangs and gang related violence. While politicians from all levels of government have blamed everyone from Americans for their lax gun laws to rap music and video games, they seem to have missed asking an obvious question.

Who are these young people in the gangs and where did they come from? Every generation for the past twenty or thirty years has been exposed to approximately the same amount of violence in the media, so why is this generation suddenly the one joining gangs.

Well how about that they were the kids who grew up in the inner city when the education system was being gutted and the welfare rates were being rolled back by 21%. These were the kids whose existence was marginal in the first place and if there ever had been any hope of them breaking out of the cycle of poverty the reductions in their standards of living and quality of education at early ages pretty much destroyed it.

There has been tons written about the sociological reason for kids joining gangs, sense of purpose, a place to belong, and feeling like you matter. Sure nobody's forcing them to become gang members and a lot of kids don't, but the fact remains that the conditions that increased the likelihood of it happening came about due to the policies of Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution.

It is said of Native Americans that when they made a major decision that they tried to work out its implications for the next seven generations. When Mike Harris proposed his Common Sense Revolution nobody gave much thought to the long-term implications of his proposals. Even when it became obvious that there were some serious problems developing nobody thought to look beyond the individual department that was effected.

In the space of only one generation since Mike Harris first came to power in Ontario life in Toronto, Ontario's largest city, has been changed for the worse. I'm sure there are those who will say that it's only a coincidence that a decrease in the quality of life for the poorest people in the city ten years ago has resulted in an increase in crime rate now. I'm not one of them.

I hate to think what other surprises are in store as legacy of the Common Sense Revolution.

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