|News from MCL|
LITERACY ACTION DAY (LAD) 1999 was bigger and better than ever! 82 MPs from all 5 parties, as well as several Senators, met with 65 lobbyists from the six national literacy organizations - ABC CANADA, la Fédération canadienne pour l'alphabétisation en français (FCAF), Frontier College, Laubach Literacy of Canada (LLC), MCL, and the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD). The MCL team this year included a strong contingent of 15 lobbyists from the Ontario Literacy Coalition (OLC).
The lobbyists who came to Ottawa to speak on behalf of literacy practitioners and adult learners across the country worked hard to contact their own MPs, or at least MPs from their own provinces, before they arrived in Ottawa. That spadework paid off in a large number of engaging meetings during the Daymeetings that made good political sense to everyone involved.
But the breakthrough this year was not a much in the number of MPs met as in the fact that the lobbyists and their partners within government managed to open up solid working links with officials in Human Resources Development Canada, Health Canada, Justice Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada. These meetings represented a major shift around the content and maturity of Literacy Action Day.
Readers of literacy.ca will recall (see Vol. 1, No. 2) that we made a special effort this year to engage both departmental officials and MPs on specific questions around federal policy and programsto find out more about federal initiatives that bear or should bear on literacy and to open discussions of how those initiatives can be strengthened. (A copy of the final briefing and background notes used during LAD 99 can be found on the MCL website. Our thanks go out to the individuals across the country who sent in their suggestions for improving these notes. That kind of grassroots and expert input is our effectiveness during LAD.)
The meetings with officials took place both on the Hill and in government offices across Ottawa-Hull. All of the meetings were highly informative and demonstrated that there is major support for literacy within the government as well as outside. Our notion of who constitutes the "literacy community" had to shift given the visible presence of so many passionate advocates for literacy coming from within government, on both non-political and political sides.
Officials from Human Resources Development and from Justice were so enthusiastic that they made a point of coming over to Parliament Hill to have their meetings. Their presence among the lobbyists in "Literacy Central" (our base of operations in the Aboriginal Peoples Room in the Senate Block) led to creation of a new feature for LAD: seminars on the Hill. In the morning, HRDC's Debra Mair led what turned into a "standing-room only" seminar on the Department's Essential Skills project. The same thing occurred in the afternoon with Cathy Chapman and Eileen Hornby from Justice. They made presentations on the Government's crime prevention and youth justice initiatives that led to excellent discussions on literacy and justice.
LAD 99 fell within the same week as the federal budget. That made our interventions timely, but it also made it difficult to line up our traditional meeting with the Minister of Human Resources Development, the Honourable Pierre Pettigrew, who is responsible for literacy. Mr Pettigrew nevertheless found time to meet with representatives of the literacy community at the beginning of the day. The exchange between the Minister and representatives of the six Nationals (including learner spokespersons from each linguistic community) was warm and energetic, as usual.
All five federal parties again sent representatives to the LAD Reception to express their support for the literacy cause in Canada. Speakers included Senator Joyce Fairbairn representing the Government and the Liberals, Diane Ablonczy for Reform, Bernard Bigras for the Bloc Québécois, Peter Stoffer for the New Democrats, and Diane St. Jacques for the Progressive Conservatives.