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University of Toronto Professor Brad Inwood photographed while teaching his Ancient Philosophy Class Sidney in the Smith Hall of U of T, Oct. 4, 2012. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
University of Toronto Professor Brad Inwood photographed while teaching his Ancient Philosophy Class Sidney in the Smith Hall of U of T, Oct. 4, 2012. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

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Oct. 8: Tackling postsecondary reform and other letters to the editor Add to ...

The piecemeal reality

In the launch of a two-week series on “our postsecondary system” (The Learning Curve, Reinventing Higher Education – Oct. 6), there is an underlying assumption that there is a Canadian universities system.

There are some explicit clues sprinkled throughout; the singular “postsecondary system” is used on the front page, ‘we’ is used a number of times, the editorial (Liberal Arts And Commercial Utility – Oct. 6) refers to Canada adapting to a German model, etc.

But there is no operational reality that deserves the term “system” for the collection of universities and colleges in Canada. There is no federal ministry of education in general, or postsecondary education in particular. The top level of policy, planning and operations for education consists of 13 jurisdictions, the provinces and territories. And, within each jurisdiction, big or small, there is great institutional autonomy.

For better or worse, this is the reality of the framework of Canadian postsecondary education. It is substantially different from, say, Germany. I do hope that the coming articles in this series can comment on how some of the perceived ills can be addressed in the reality of our situation.

Bruce Simpson, Waterloo, Ont.


Just how elite?

Having elite universities that compete with the best in the world, attract the best talent and conduct cutting-edge research certainly is a worthwhile goal (Canadian Universities Slip In Rankings – Oct. 4).

There is an alternative strategy, however: having a broad base of excellent universities (if not in the top 20), which educate and prepare broad swaths of the populace for 21st-century living. This could be a better strategy than attracting and educating a smaller number of people to the very highest level.

The two options aren’t mutually exclusive, but, with fiscal restraint and global competition, they’re worth debating.

Scott Williams, Madoc, Ont.


Pray tell, in prison

I’m confused. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is establishing an Office of Religious Freedom. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is effectively eliminating non-Christian chaplains from Canadian prisons (Government Cuts Non-Christian Prison Chaplins – Oct. 5).

Do Mr. Baird and Mr. Toews sit at the same cabinet table? Do they ever talk?

Sylvia Bews-Wright, Victoria


Public Safety Minister Vic Toews could have saved himself a lot of time just by paraphrasing Henry Ford: Prisoners can have the services of a chaplain of any faith as long as they are Christian.

Brian Caines, Ottawa


I share Doug Saunders’s concern about Canada opening an Office of Religious Freedom (Sending The Wrong Message To The Wrong People – Oct. 6). By its very existence we are limiting freedom. A large portion of Canadians have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Their right to be free of religion is being impinged upon by the creation of such an office.

Better to pour money into educational programs that remind us of our common humanity rather than setting up an office that will surely serve no other purpose than to set up one religious group against another.

Rev. Linda Hunter,Wild Rose United Church, Calgary


Tainted: then, now

Contrast the way in which then Liberal agriculture minister Lyle Vanclief and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency handled the BSE crisis, and the way CEO Michael McCain and Maple Leaf Foods handled the listeria crisis, with the way that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, CFIA and XL Foods are handling the E. coli outbreak.

Mr. Vanclief and Mr. McCain recognized the issues, assumed their responsibilities, kept the public briefed and were transparent in how they dealt with it.

Mr. Ritz and CFIA have evaded and delayed; Mr. Ritz has avoided Parliament and accountability, instead of holding the feet of his officials to the fire. Instead of ministerial accountability, the approach is to ignore questions and obfuscate, using PMO-scripted responses, delivered by designated talking heads rather than the minister concerned: 1984 in 2012 – maybe Allan Gregg was right.

Richard Cooper, Ottawa


Obama’s ammo

Barack Obama played it cool in last week’s presidential debate, no loud talk or waving of arms. He left that to Mitt Romney, who spent a great deal of time explaining how he was going to bring about an economic recovery (Mr. Obama Needs To Show More Heart – editorial, Oct. 5).

I suspect Mr. Obama is using an old military tactic: feinting attacks/retreats to draw the enemy into a prepared ambush. Mr. Romney expected Mr. Obama to come on strong. It didn’t happen. Mr. Obama let Mr. Romney fire off all his rounds (complete exposure).

The next round is Mr. Obama’s – who now has all the ammunition he needs.

J.R. Kenny, Calgary


Not-so-dire straits

In assigning blame for the dire straits in which the Liberal Party finds itself, former prime minister Brian Mulroney fingers two 800-pound gorillas in the room: the national energy program and the patriation of the Constitution. But the fingering doesn’t quite fit the facts (Mulroney In His Own Words – Oct. 4).

Yes, in the wake of the NEP, the Liberals won only two seats west of Ontario in the 1984 election. But they won only two seats in Western Canada in the 1980 election, too.

And yes, Pierre Trudeau’s decision to move unilaterally to patriate the Constitution was denounced by Quebec’s National Assembly. After a year of tough negotiations, however, the federal government did not move unilaterally. The final deal gained the approval of every provincial government except that of the Parti Québécois, who never would have signed anything.

Nor, as Mr. Mulroney asserted, have the federal Liberals “gone down in a steady unbroken line” since then. They won 19 seats in Quebec in 1993, 26 seats in 1997, and 36 seats in 2000 with more than 44 per cent of the popular vote. The Liberals’ major problem there, I suspect, has been their opponents’ success in twisting history to suit their own purposes.

Ron Graham, Toronto


The fun part, if former astronaut Marc Garneau won the Liberal leadership race (Leadership Race Stirs To Life – Oct. 4) would be the Harper government attack ad: “Marc Garneau – he didn’t come back for you.”

Craig Sims, Kingston, Ont.

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