Charles Pascal was an amazing person. Over my 50 years of activism, I’ve seen many people who started out as grounded activists get captured by the system, either the power, the money or the limitations of politics but not Charles. As long as I knew him, he was in a position of power, first as Deputy Minister of Education in Ontario and next as Executive Director of the Atkinson Foundation. Whatever his position, he was always on the side of social change. He was never captured by the system.
I write here because Charles, who passed away on April 24, was central to our ability to launch rabble.ca back in 2001, when most people in positions of power, even in the labour movement, thought publishing an online newspaper was a fool’s errand, Charles could see the possibilities. This was before social media, before most unions even had websites. Charles could see the future in rabble and managed to get us a significant grant from Atkinson, even though it was arguable that we qualified in formal terms. Without the Atkinson grant, I doubt we could have established rabble with a full staff, an office and the capacity to reach out across North America. Many others supported rabble too, especially our individual rabble-rousers but it was Charles who made it possible.
At the Celebration of Life for Charles on Tuesday, May 2, there were many like me whose lives were changed by Charles’s support or wisdom. Probably his most important contribution was in education where he supported the introduction of all-day Kindergarten and junior Kindergarten.
This was the most important advance in public education in many years and Charles led its implementation.
Sue Colley, a long-time childcare advocate, now working with another group Charles helped to fund, B2C2, said in their recent newsletter “From the point of view of early learning and child care, Charles was instrumental in so many projects. Some of the examples include setting up the Premier’s Council on Health which acknowledged that child care was a fundamental component of health and well-being. ‘In late 2007, Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed Charles as his Special Advisor on Early Learning. In June 2009, Charles released his seminal report, With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario inspired the Ontario Government to move ahead with the rapid introduction of free full-day kindergarten for all four and five-year-olds in Ontario with early childhood educators as part of the teaching teams (the first such program in the country). Many parents are still eternally grateful for this achievement.”
While education is the area he is best known for the Atkinson Foundation posted a beautiful obiturary explaining how as the first full time director, he worked to transform what a progressive foundation could be.
“Charles wrote this insightful retrospective in 2009 entitled With My Hand On the Doorknob: In Search of Strategic Philanthropy. Under his leadership, Atkinson’s goal was “to move from reacting to proposals for ‘good works’ to becoming a proactive organization, working with partners to advance evidence and ideas about how the future could be more just.” Key to achieving this goal was channeling energy and moving money from “bricks and mortar” to “the architecture of ideas” — big ideas with the power to drive change in political culture and public policy.”
Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN and former Ontario Premier, was a close friend. He traveled to Toronto to speak at the Celebration and like many others who spoke with great love pointed out that as wonderful and supportive as he could be, Charles could also be a real tough guy.
About ten years after rabble was founded, I was working with people across the country to establish an activist school. We had organized a cross country coalition of grassroots education groups and wanted to work as a collective. Charles was excited about the project but he was not willing to fund a collective. Unless I was willing to take on the role of ED, we wouldn’t get a grant from Atkinson. We didn’t give in to this patriarchal view and the Activist School never happened.
Even still my feelings for Charles are positive. And that was another one of his great qualities. He could disagree with you but never cut you off or ended contact. Almost everyone who spoke at the celebration talked about his passion for justice and his stubborn streak that sometimes helped your cause and sometimes didn’t. Charles Pascal was an extraordinary man who made all of our lives better. We are grateful to him and for his contribution. Condolences to all those who loved him. Rest in power Charles. We won’t forget you.
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