Wednesday mornings, as I may have mentioned before, are generally my errand mornings. I have an early-morning meeting downtown and then look after things like banking, shopping, getting my watch battery replaced... and so on. Quite often, I walk along the Sparks Street mall as far as Elgin, then cross through Confederation Square to the Rideau Centre. Yesterday, however, I wanted to go to the public library, which doesn't open till 10 AM. So once I'd stopped at a bank machine and gone to the drugstore for a few things, there was still a bit of time to kill before opening time. I decided to go to the Second Cup at Slater and Metcalfe for a coffee and a chance to look at my Metro paper and do the Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

By the time I'd done that, it was around 10:10 or so. Crossing Metcalfe, I missed one walk signal because of the police cars zooming through the red light, sirens blaring. But I didn't really think anything of it. Downtown Ottawa is often like that on a weekday morning. Anyway, I went into the library without incident after that, browsed for perhaps forty minutes, checked out three books, and was at my bus-stop at Albert and Metcalfe, ready to head home, by 11AM. I wanted to be home by noon, as I was expecting a delivery then.

I made it, too. I was a bit surprised at the welcome I got when I walked through the door just after 11:30. "You just missed it," I was told. Had my delivery arrived early?

I had heard nothing about the incident at the War Memorial and Parliament Hill nor the rumoured incident that had the Rideau Centre in lockdown. The buses - mine, anyway - were still following their regular route at that point and the library had seemed to be carrying on with its normal routines. But I was soon to find out. It was yet another instance of being in the wrong place at the right time.

Interestingly enough, despite Harper's whole "tough on crime" agenda, there has been no talk of imposing the War Measures Act this time around. Even though we're probably more at war today, with our ISIL-fighting troops, than we were in 1970. Would it be unconstitutional this time around, now that we have our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Or maybe all the antiterrorism legislation implemented since 9/11 - regardless of whether it has built-in sunset clauses - has simply made that sort of thing unnecessary because the new legislation is far more draconian than the War Measures Act ever was?

Meanwhile, I just learned that Daniel J. Levitin has apparently cancelled his appearance tomorrow at the Writers' Festival as a result of the incident. Of course, Montreal has always been rather twitchier about these things than Ottawa. I don't think they ever got over their FLQ crisis, the bombs in mailboxes, the protests at St-Jean Baptiste Day parades, or even, perhaps, their fires at cinemas that for the longest time had them barring children under twelve (or was it ten?) altogether. To this day, I NEVER see on-street boxes for newspapers, whether the freebie ones or the regular papers like Le Devoir or the Gazette. They DO still have mailboxes... but it will certainly be interesting to see what happens after door-to-door delivery ceases and they need those community mail boxes on every corner! Even in Ottawa, those red mailboxes (where you post your letters, not where you pick them up) were preventatively removed from downtown street corners during at least one of the major international meetings (I think a G8 Summit) held here.

Of course, the obvious question to ask would be, "What precisely SHOULD we do?" And I'm afraid at the moment, my answer is, "I wish I knew." There's definitely a risk that the government will implement all kinds of intrusive screening procedures that if anything, lull us into a false sense of security or willingness to surrender our rights, freedoms, privacy and democratic principles, while doing nothing to track down or deter actual or would-be terrorists and preserve our personal safety and national security.
The yuppies of Ottawa's university neighbourhoods - The Glebe, Old Ottawa South, Old Ottawa East and Sandy Hill - are all up in arms about the subdividing of single-family homes into multiple dwelling units to serve as rooming houses for students. What gives? These NIMBY whiners were young and poor once themselves. Students undeniably need affordable housing. Is discrimination on the basis of studenthood (or other occupational status) the last bastion of acceptable human rights discrimination in this country?

Discrimination against students is nothing new, of course. I remember looking for a place in London, Ontario, in the mid-1970s and walking past all kinds of prim little notices that read "Students need not apply". The prejudice against students is based, in my opinion, not on any notion that students may default on their rent, but on the erroneous perception that they all want to party 24 hours a day, or at least the 12 hours between 8 PM and 8 AM. Was that EVER true of a majority of students? At any rate, that simply does not gibe with what I see of today's students.

When pre- and early Baby Boomers went off to university in the 1960s, they expected to be (and often were) part of a high-flying career path and high-earning elite once they graduated. But during those post-Sputnik years, it seemed nearly ALL kids who were in elementary or secondary school at the time, regardless of whether it was the best choice for them, aspired to go to university. Or at least, their parents (a majority of whom had not themselves had that opportunity) wanted them to go. I remember my grade eight teacher saying something like this: Virtually ALL the A-stream kids, MOST of the B-stream kids and about HALF the C-stream kids want to go on to university. It's not going to happen!

But to a great extent, he was wrong. Instead, grade and marking inflation took over. Standards were lowered. Streaming and acceleration and province-wide matriculation examinations were abolished. Students were automatically shunted from grade to grade and graduated from high school, regardless of whether they were literate, numerate or had met the expected standards. And almost everyone could find a way into an undergraduate university program of some sort, if willing to pay the fees.

So the baccalaureat became the new high school diploma, a kind of lowest common denominator, as middle and late Baby Boomers and subsequent generations flooded the market. Moreover, tuition fees and housing fees have all risen much faster than the rate of inflation over the past few decades. What's a poor student to do?

Well, get a part-time job, for one thing. Today's students are often working for a lot of the time they're not in class, giving them very little time for wild parties!

A couple of brief asides: First of all, I KNOW things weren't perfect in my young day. Streaming and IQ tests and province-wide exams - all ways of labelling and categorizing children and overencouraging competition and stress at what seemed like a shockingly young age - did have their limitations. But that's a topic for another time. Secondly, I have no doubt that young people today have just as wide an array of talents and intellectual levels as they ever did and many do manage to achieve remarkable things. It's just that this self-esteem business of saying that ALL children have done well, when that's clearly not the case, does nobody any favours. The kids who really are struggling do not get identified early on and given the extra help that they need. The kids who excel are not able to enjoy and understand their achievements or what further ones they may be capable of, when everyone else is being lauded too. And the ones who are somewhere in the middle, as always, get ignored so that they don't achieve their full potential either.

In my ideal vision, there would be many educational possibilities at many stages of our lives. University, at any level, is not for everyone. But for those who HAVE chosen it, for goodness' sake let's give them a break!



October 2017



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