Egerton Ryerson, Where Art Thou?
Federal election campaigns often bring many hot button issues to the forefront. Case in point is Stephen Harper’s proposed new ‘get tough with crime’ law and order agenda.
I recall a period when Ontario was faced with a similar predicament : In the mid-to late 1800s, rapid immigration, combined with tough economic times, gang violence, bad housing, poverty, religious and ethnic strife, were all causing Ontario to be torn apart ,and the threats to public order were very real.
The tax payers and wealth creators of the day were asking the same morally, racially, religiously, and socio-economically-tinged questions about what to do about the situation as we are today.
A Methodist minister and educator by the name of Egerton Ryerson, who was a strong believer in self-improvement through education and faith, came onto the scene. He sat the taxpayers of Ontario down. There were two options available, both of which entailed raising taxes. Either hire more soldiers, police, and lawyers, build more jails, court houses, and so forth to contain the violence, or invest in a top-notch universal, publically-funded education system.
Guess which option the taxpayers of Ontario chose? The result was the School Act of 1871, which paved the way for the longest period of peace and prosperity in the history of Ontario. Most of this period was overseen by PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE governments provincially and LIBERAL governments federally.
Maybe Stephen Harper has not learned the lessons of history. There’s an old adage, made popular by George Santayana, which says that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it’. I think that the litany of Jane and Finch shootings, which are spreading to other regions of the GTA, are an indication of just how little Stephen Harper understands the issue of law and order.
Safe communities come from people who are taught early on to respect the law, and who have a safe place to go after school to do their homework and get involved in leisure activities while their parents tend the family store, or work the graveyard shift somewhere at a job others don’t want to do.
I think if the people of Toronto, Ontario, and of Canada want to get back to a more progressive policy on law and order in their neighbourhood, they should vote for someone else than the Conservatives. I think Egerton Ryerson would agree.
Peter Stuart, Québec City, QC