Globe and Mail

FAMILY MATTERS

A year in the life of the Canadian family
BIRTH OF A SERIES

Saturday, September 11, 1999
EDWARD GREENSPON
Executive Editor
The Globe and Mail

It started with the searing family-tax debate last winter. Passions ran high in the country over the treatment in the tax code of single-income versus double-income families.

Then, in the spring, came the intersection of a series of seemingly unrelated events. Intellectual activist Fraser Mustard produced a riveting study on early-childhood development for the Ontario government. Suddenly, Premier Mike Harris, once the grinch who stole junior kindergarten, was spouting the benefits of investing in children. At the same time, the slaughters of high- school students in Littleton, Colo., and Taber, Alta., brought home the high costs of failing our children.

All spring, the conversation around The Globe and Mail newsroom was about kids.

Moreover, it seemed that the national debate was also moving onto the same terrain. Our governments were discussing something called a children's agenda. It looked as though children would be the major theme of the federal budget of the year 2000.

It started us thinking.

Newspapers have always been good at reporting on the institutions that provide the mortar for our society -- governments and school boards, courts and stock markets. But how could we get inside the institution that matters the most to Canadians: the bricks themselves, our children, our families.

We decided that this was so important that we would make an unprecedented editorial commitment to probing the state of the Canadian family: the joys and anxieties of the newborn child and newborn parent; the marvels of early childhood; the upsets of adolescence; the travails of teenagers. And, of course, the roller-coaster ride of hope and fear that is being a parent. We would devote a year to the task.

Then we needed the families to chronicle. We dispatched three reporters -- Alanna Mitchell in Calgary, Sean Fine in Toronto and André Picard in Montreal -- to scour their communities for families willing to throw open their lives to our readers.

Alanna attached herself to a host of families living around Chinook Park Elementary School in southwest Calgary; Sean found his motherlode on a single block in the east-Toronto neighbourhood of the Danforth; André tapped into families frequenting the Soares grocery store in the coat-of-many-colours district known as the Plateau.

Other reporters were enlisted to explain the ingredients of a children's agenda and tell us how other countries manage these issues.

To add sinew to our reporting, we commissioned the Angus Reid Group to conduct a massive poll. We surveyed 2,499 Canadians, asking each of them 41 questions. The data were then sliced and diced by Angus Reid vice-president Natalie Lacey, who cross-tabulated the results on the basis of region, age, gender, income, education, voting intention and whether the respondent had children at home.

We also got our Web-page people involved, creating a special Family Matters page on our Web site (http://www.globeandmail.com) We hope our readers will engage in a running national conversation on what it's like to be parents and children these days. Some of this material will be published in the newspaper on the weekly Family Matters page, which will appear every Friday, starting on Sept. 24.

Just as journalists broke down the doors of Parliament several hundred years ago, we hope this series will cross a new threshold, taking us into the homes of our readers and illuminating that part of their lives that is so much in the public interest -- the raising of their children.

Copyright © 1999 Globe Information Services