Issues that are important to me, a series pt.3: fiscal responsibility and the ethic of care

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Fiscal responsibility is one of those hot button phrases that has the danger of categorizing one into a political paradigm. If one takes the position of ‘cautious spending’ the label of right-wing or conservative is quickly applied. If the alternate position is taken regarding ‘expanding service’ and ‘spending’ a candidate can be quickly dumped into the left-wing or socialist category. As most of us know, life, and politics are never so black and white.

At the root of this are really ethical positions to dealing with policy and decisions. Utilitarian and Deontological ethics are at the core of much political thought. John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics are familiar to most. In the most simple terms: ‘what’s good for the majority is the best decision’, or has the most utility. In contrast Immanuel Kant’s deontological  ethics prescribes rules that society should abide by, terms like ‘thou shall not…’ are typical of this position.

Of course ethics is a philosophical topic that is a lot broader and more complex than the above summary. However at the core of politics we often find these approaches used to justify political platforms and give voters a sense of candidates’ ethical, or ‘moral compass’. Rules like, thou shall not increase taxes for service, or a South End rec centre has more utility than a downtown main library are probably familiar positions to this municipal election. The problem with this approach is that there are always winners and losers and usually alienated citizens.

An ethical theory put forth by Carol Gilligan in her book, In A Different Voice, called the ethic of care has impacted my life and way of decision making for the majority of my adult life. The ethic of care calls for the individual to make decisions in terms of how they impact the various relationships they affect.

How does this all relate to fiscal responsibility and my ‘moral compass’? I wanted to preface how I approach fiscal responsibility with the above background to hopefully get past labels and get to the real issue. Fiscal decisions need to be made with consideration to all the impacted stakeholders.

Whether you are raising a family, have raised a family in Guelph, or are not yet in that phase of life, as a community member, parent, grandparent or taxpayer the school board election has a significant impact to our communities.

As a taxpayer there is a component of your property taxes that go to the board regardless of whether or not you have a child in school. The operating budget of the Upper Grand District School Board is near $400 million, which is larger than the entire city of Guelph. This is a significant accountability. As such it is important that you vote for a candidate you are comfortable with managing this fiscal responsibility.

Applying the ethic of care and my ‘moral compass’ I hope to provide some insight to how I would approach this responsibility using the recent example of the Portable reduction mandate by the Ministry of Education

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/new/2013/SATAppendices2013.pdf

When eliminating portables in say a Toronto, the impact may not be significant. Children may be relocated but they may move from a 1 block walk to an 8 block walk. There are many schools in Toronto where reducing portables and leveraging the bricks and mortar of an existing school that isn’t fully utilized makes sense.

In a smaller community, such as ours, removing portables may reduce community access to education where families will need to drive, or the board will need to provide bussing service to families. This mandate could shift capacity numbers in schools which, on paper, could even justify building a new school. Finally these changes in a smaller community can alienate families and make logistics, if children are spread across two schools, near impossible. Families become disengaged and change schools to a different public board or go private. This mandate has created numerous local issues that may impact community engagement.

Adding a bus costs the board near $40,000 this is more in a one year than building a portable. To compound this additional expense, busing will need to continue across multiple years where the portable will not have the same ongoing fiscal impacts.

Families that leave the board take their tax dollars with them. Although the immediate impact may not be felt, about $800 per year per household, this has impact over the long term. Schools are no longer hubs of the community and become drop off points creating more pollution and congestion. The end result is a more expensive system that is losing some of its sources of revenue by alienating the community it serves. Placing stress on the school system to do more with less is usually not a sustainable model. The solution may have been stronger local advocacy for options that make sense to families and taxpayers. One that keeps community schools intact and reduces environmental waste and urban congestion. This is my ‘moral compass’ on how I approach fiscal responsibility. Development isn’t a bad thing if it is the smart thing. But development for the sake of development at the expense of community, families, taxpayers and environment does not.

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