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VIBERT: Education’s the defence for job loss

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

The bottom line drives the decision, and the company says, “these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back, to your hometown.”

Oshawa’s the hometown, and GM’s the company. But the story’s old and familiar, like the Springsteen lyric from ’84.

Politicians fulminate and union leaders rage, this time with some justification.

It’s been less than a decade since the U.S. and Canadian governments saved GM with a $60-billion bailout. Stephen Harper’s government kicked in more than $10 billion and Ontario another $3 billion.

But that was then, and this is now, and when news came of GM’s plant closures and job cuts, the company’s share price jumped 7.8 per cent on Wall Street before closing up, almost five per cent for the day.

That’s the bottom line: a good day for GM shareholders that couldn’t get much worse for about 15,000 of its workers.

General Motors says the pain in Oshawa, where almost 3,000 jobs will disappear, and in four hometowns in the States, is necessary. The company needs to cut costs and invest in the technology that’s changing the sector.

The workers in Oshawa are the best GM’s got, but their plant makes sedans and people want SUVs and trucks.

The companies change, but the reasons stay the same. They can’t make money here; or they can make more there; or they need to streamline production; or new technology makes these workers obsolete. Pick any, or a combination.

Meanwhile, governments keep the money spigot open.

The University of Calgary's School of Public Policy published a paper this year in which the academics estimated government subsidies to businesses in just four big provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia – total $29 billion a year.

Yet, when the business case says close a plant and cut the workforce, that’s what happens. To the workers, it’s thanks for the memories; to the taxpayers, thanks for the money. The company’s responsibility is to the owners, the shareholders. We get that, right?

Governments won’t stop chasing jobs with ready cash and businesses won’t stop pulling up stakes and going down the road for a better deal.

Don’t blame the governments. They’re caught in a trap and can’t walk out because others are bidding on the same jobs.

So what’s a province or a nation to do?

The government’s responsibility is to the workers, to cushion the blow to families that are losing their livelihoods.

But the government’s greater responsibility started long ago and continues on. Springsteen’s lament for a hometown lost, gives way to a plea from Graham Nash almost 20 years earlier: Teach your children well.

The best, likely the only defence today’s kids and tomorrow’s breadwinners have – or ever had – against sudden job and income loss is an education that sets them up for the next gig. An education that teaches them well; teaches them to think and to learn.

In Nova Scotia, the Liberal government fast-tracked wholesale changes to public education that came hard on the heels of almost three years of barely contained chaos in the province’s schools.

School boards are all but gone, and with them, much of the accountability for what’s happening in classrooms of the province.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union is convinced Education Minister Zach Churchill and his department are making a hot mess of the critical recommendations that came from the commission on inclusion earlier this year.

Behind closed doors, Churchill meets with a select group that replaced the seven elected English language school boards, whose members met right out in the open until the government put a stop to all that.

Now it’s up to Churchill to fill the vacuum he created.

He owes Nova Scotians a full accounting of the state of Nova Scotia’s public schools and progress on the improvements to classroom conditions promised earlier this year.

Have all the teaching assistants and education specialists that the commission said are so desperately needed been hired? Not yet? What’s the province doing to recruit the trained resource people Nova Scotian kids need for success?

Let’s hear exactly how the government’s changes are ensuring every Nova Scotian child gets the best public-school education money can buy. Anything less, and the province is failing the kids, now and for the rest of their lives.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

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