I became aware of Tom Kent a seminal figure in the development of Canadian social policy just after I moved to Halifax in the 1970's. At the time he chaired the Cape Breton Development Corporation establishing the model of regional economic development that still exists today. Next he chaired the Royal Commission on Newspapers where he addressed the undue corporate concentration of newspaper ownership. He didn't mince words.
FREEDOM of the press is not a property right of owners. It is a right of the people. It is part of their right to free expression, inseparable from their right to inform themselves.
His recommendations were tougher.
The ownership and control of most newspapers is today highly concentrated under interests whose business concerns extend far beyond the particular newspaper. Much of our press, consequently, is not itself dedicated exclusively to the purposes of the press, to the discharge of its public responsibility. Extraneous interests, operating internally, are the chains that today limit the freedom of the press ….We do find it essential that there be legislation to enable the press to grow out of the weaknesses fostered by extraneous commercial interests.
And here for an analysis of why his concerns about mixing news and entertainment were largely ignored. Too bad.
Only later did I come to appreciate his seminal role in establishing the Canada Pension Plan, medicare and the establishment of the Points System which selected immigrants on the basis of their abilities not country of origin. After he retired he began writing for the Caledon Institute for Public Policy producing a series of policy papers right up to his recent death. Here with their permission is Caledon's:
TRIBUTE TO TOM KENT
The inertia, short sight, neoconservatism of politics will not stand against a clear public will. What clear will requires has, however, changed. The responsibility of social activists has increased. It is no longer enough for them to formulate and popularize objectives. The political process will not take over from there, as it did in the 1960s. Those who want reform must themselves take the further step, sorting out priorities and formulating programs. They cannot stop at objectives. They need to formulate means as well as ends. And, for national social programs, the means require new techniques of cooperative federalism, new mechanisms of public action.
The process is underway through the work of some of the so-called think tanks, Caledon notably. It needs to go beyond the development of particular programs, to illuminate the priorities that can be embedded in a realistic, multi-year agenda. The dominant public wish is undoubtedly for purposeful national government. There is a policy vacuum waiting to be filled. The question is whether reformers can muster enough coherence of objectives and practicability of methods [Tom Kent, Social Policy 2000: An Agenda, 1999].
Tom Kent was one of the chief architects of postwar Canadian social policy. He played a key role in shaping the policies of the Liberal party during its 1957-63 opposition years and, as Policy Secretary to the Prime Minister and a Deputy Minister, was equally active in the implementation of those policies ˆ including medicare ˆ by the Pearson government.
Mr. Kent was born in Stafford, England, and graduated from Oxford University. He began his multi-career life in British military intelligence during World War Two, as a code-breaker. After the war he went into journalism, working on the editorial staff of the Manchester Guardian and as Assistant Editor of The Economist before coming to Canada to serve as Editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. Following his years in Ottawa as chief policy advisor to the Prime Minister and senior public servant, he ran Devco and Sydney Steel and headed a royal commission on the press. He then went into academic life, serving as a dean at Dalhousie University, an adjunct professor of public administration at Dalhousie, fellow-in-residence at the Institute for Research on Public Policy, and associate with the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University. Mr. Kent was founding editor of Policy Options and wrote several books and articles on a wide range of political and economic topics.
Tom Kent was that rarest of breed these days – a polymath, meaning a person of great learning in several fields. He was a codebreaker, journalist, editorialist, policy advisor to politicians, senior public servant, teacher and expert in a wide range of areas of public policy. He was, in the end, a true public intellectual, even if the self-effacing Kent might well have found that term all too grandiose.
Tom Kent's clear thinking is expressed in his prose, which is elegant, economical and pithy, pulling no punches:
It is not in the stars, not because of forces beyond our control, that we have faltered in national purpose, that our pursuit of the public interest has flagged. It is in ourselves, in the atrophy of our national politics [Tom Kent, Social Policy 2000: An Agenda, 1999].
Kent had a clear vision of the goals of social policy:
The foundations of social policy are a bone structure for the kind of society in which we wish to live. My short wording for that society is equable and equitable. By equable I mean a society in which people are secure in their equal rights; in which all can feel that they matter in the society and the society matters to them; in which it is natural to extend to others the tolerance, respect and help that the society accords to you. By equitable I mean a society in which government serves people according to their needs; a society in which freedom is not only the absence of restraint but opportunity for all to develop and use their talents; a society where public policies both ensure scope for entrepreneurship and offset the privileges, inequalities and insecurities of a corporate-dominated market economy [Tom Kent, Foundations and Future of Social Policy, 2002].
Tom Kent the writer was an editor's dream. You just read it, marvelled at the depth and breadth of his thinking, chuckled at his wit and printed it.
The Caledon Institute is fortunate in serving as one of Tom Kent's major outlets for his writing on social policy. Over the years, we published 10 of his articles, which are available on our website and also provided here in pdf form. These papers cover the waterfront of Canadian social policy: child benefits, Employment Insurance, welfare, pensions, programs for persons with disabilities, early learning and child care, tax reform, post-secondary education, immigration, housing, federal-provincial relations and more and the one area to which he kept returning, medicare:
For the past 20 years, medicare has been sustained by the public will. Most people had come quickly to like it. They may find some faults but in fundamentals they want it at least to stay as it was set up nearly 30 years ago: tax-financed, providing comprehensive physician and hospital care according to need, without charge to the recipient.
For this medicare, we owe no thanks to the present generation of federal politicians. It survives despite them. Though they pose, because of its popularity, as the defenders of medicare, in fact they have destroyed the financial basis on which their predecessors created it. That political betrayal is the root cause of the tension that, despite the public will, now pervades medicare [Tom Kent, Medicare: How to Keep and Improve It, Especially for Children, 1997].
You can access Tom Kent papers published by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy entering Tom Kent in the Publications Search here.