It’s easy to become cynical when the government’s response to controversy is to reach for a lifeline and order a “review.”
The controversy may simmer for a while afterward but it’s generally accepted that once a government calls for a review there is not much else to do except wait for the results.
That’s more or less what happened when Premier Bob McLeod shelved junior kindergarten in larger communities, including Yellowknife, last term. The government started getting into trouble after it became clear the school boards in larger centres were expected to pay for it. A review was called, another election held, and voila! Junior kindergarten was back on the table. Albeit this time, the GNWT found some cash to cover most of the expenses.
Now the GNWT is conducting a review of Aurora College. This comes after Aurora College announced the cancellation of its social work and teacher education programs earlier this year. The college cut these programs, which have been supplying the territory with homegrown teachers and social workers, after the GNWT cut its funding by $1.9 million.
The resulting uproar led Education Minister Alfred Moses to halt the cuts – after rolling the heads of the college’s board of directors – but the teacher and social education programs remain limbo while the foundational review lumbers on – now behind schedule and not expected to be complete until deep into the new year.
There is nothing wrong any government having a good hard look at what services its providing if the intent is to look for the best use of taxpayer dollars – which in the college’s case, would be to offer a place where NWT residents can be trained for careers that are needed in the North.
But the cynicism comes when the review appears designed not to improves services but to wait out the critics.
The alarm sounded by Dawn McInnes, NWT director of the Association of Social Workers in Northern Canada, suggests there will be no serious attempt to consult with the professional body these cuts would affect if they were to go ahead.
Of the 19 community groups listed for consultation in the review’s terms of reference her association is not included.
This is an inexplicable omission and does not bode well for the review’s eventual findings. As McInnes puts it, it’s the “writing on the wall” indicating the GNWT’s future plans for Aurora College does not include a social work curriculum.
If that it is true, then it is terribly short-sighted. Yes, the territory needs local training for mine workers. But we want our social workers to come from the North too. If they have to go south for their education, chances are they won’t come back.
The NWT has one of the highest child out-of-home care rates in the country – 30.8 out of 1,000 children, according to the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal. The rate in B.C. is 8.1 per 1,000 children.
Given the vast cultural and historical differences of this territory with the rest of Canada, why would the government want to hand this problem over to social workers recruited from Ontario and Alberta?
Perhaps we’re reading too much into the tea leaves splayed out before us but we’ve tasted this medicine before from the drink in which they have been steeped.