It seems that there is a missing educational/informational component in how our Canadian form of democratic government works.
When we hear the word ‘education’ it generally first brings to mind our own experiences and achievement in elementary, secondary and postsecondary school. We tend to limit our understanding of education to what occurs within the classroom setting, lab or lecture hall. Most often our understanding of education starts and stops there. However, if we try to expand our definition and understanding of education in its entirety, few would likely be surprised to learn that experts say there are in fact no less than three forms of education, namely formal, informal and non-formal.
In a nutshell, formal education generally takes place in a school setting, depending on the level. Formal education is delivered by trained professionals who expose people to basic knowledge of the world around us, general health, hygiene and self-care, academics, and trade skills. It begins in pre-school to some degree, then elementary and secondary school. Some extended their education by attending college or university.
Informal education is delivered through a conglomeration of sources. Such learning happens when you are not in a school setting and does not require any particular method or format. Informal education can be either preplanned or spur of the moment. It can occur when reading books, journals, news or websites, at home or anywhere, even while shopping. It is not achieved in an institutional setting.
Nonformal education is not quite the same as informal education. It includes adult basic education job skills. It can take the form of individualized or self-learning. In general, there is great flexibility in this form of education but it is also important that it lend itself to accepted or standard practices within one’s society or job/skill standards.
However, speaking only from my own experience in politics, I think the argument can be made that there is, or at least could be, a fourth form of education – that of political education. Let’s be honest, when it comes to politics, so much of it is up to interpretation – even laws and policies that are written in black and white. Needless to say, this is to be expected and, actually desirable to some degree. Because of the fact that people don’t always agree on goals and methodology, it leads to discussion and exchange of ideas.
While the above reflection that varying ideals in political education are truly desirable attributes, my experience has led me to believe that here in Ontario, and perhaps all of Canada for that matter, it frequently seems apparent that there is a missing educational/informational component in how our Canadian form of democratic government works. The Ontario education curriculum includes instruction on our system of government and civics at several grade levels and there is no doubt that teachers adhere to the requirements. However, it seems that perhaps over time, Ontarians’ understanding of the general divisions of powers between federal, provincial and municipal become blurred and confused. In truth, I can understand why there is confusion about which level of government is responsible for creating legislation and policies and also for overseeing many sectors.
Now, clearly, there are already in existence countless papers, documents and volumes of books all on the division of federal, provincial and even municipal powers. It is impossible to cover the whole subject here. Instead, the point of providing this bit of background is to help make people aware that the affairs, comments and policies of the prime minister or provincial premier, their cabinet ministers and others at one level of government do not necessarily reflect those of their counterparts at the other level of government. It will surprise some readers that even ideals, opinions and comments from elected officials who share political party affiliation might have differing policies, opinions and goals.
In other words, policies, concerns and statements made at the federal and municipal levels of government may have absolutely no bearing upon what happens in the Ontario Legislature. My constituency office team and I often hear from constituents who are seeking assistance on an issue of some importance. Whenever their concern is about a matter that falls under provincial jurisdiction, we welcome the opportunity to help them in any way we can. That’s why we are there. And nothing but nothing makes our team members feel better at the end of a day than to go home knowing we did something to make someone’s life a bit better or resolved an issue.
Many constituents reach out to my office for assistance or to express their concerns about matters that actually fall under federal or municipal jurisdictions. My office team and I are happy to try to help determine the appropriate office to call and will even provide the contact information. We believe that redirecting constituents to the proper channels is also an important part of our duties to the people of Algoma-Manitoulin.
If people call our office because they are uncertain which level of government they need to contact, that is what we are there for. On the contrary, what does greatly concerns my team and me are those individuals who DON’T reach out to us concern for clarification. Some voters who take an active interest in politics contact my office to offer their voice as to what bills they think I should support or vote against. I truly value such input and consider it in debate. But not everyone chooses to take such an active part in politics. Some prefer to just talk at the dinner table with family or over the back fence to neighbours, which is their option. What concerns me is people who are mistaken or unclear as to which level of government has jurisdiction on an issue. It is troublesome when they share misinformed views and lay responsibility on the shoulders of the wrong decision-makers.
Those who read last week’s column will recall the discussion focussed on how our society seems to have lost the ability to listen to each other to better understand alternative views. Across Canada, including here in Ontario, we are witnessing a growing intolerance and unwillingness to consider other points of view. In the last 6 to 8 years it seems people are quick to make a judgment after receiving minimal information and immediately throw up tall barriers to vehemently set themselves apart from those who disagree with them. Long before I got into politics I maintained that it is up to all of us who believe in democracy to stay informed about our political affairs at all three levels of government. I encourage people to develop some degree of interest and involvement - even if it is only every four years taking the time to listen and learn before they vote.
Now, as an elected official, my belief in this has only grown stronger.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député