|Posted on February 11, 2015 at 11:30 AM|
The 2014 EWA First Prize Award winning film: "REBIRTH New Orleans" is available for viewing on Netflix. This film discusses how Hurricane Katrina’s devastation actually served to rescue a failing public school system. The State of Louisiana undertook an ambitious experiment to transform public education by taking control of the schools away from the school board and putting in the hands of the parents.
I highly recommend the documentary to anyone interested in improving Ontario schools.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is facing its own disaster - but this one is man-made. After years and years of mismanagement, urban schools are failing into a state of disrepair. This time, the Province of Ontario is refusing to rush in with cash to bail the TDSB out.
The Education Minister, Liz Sandals, is telling the TDSB to submit plans to address the almost 130 schools that are underutilized (as defined by enrollment levels being less than 65% capacity). The message to the TDSB is clear. The Minister would like the TDSB to close these schools, sell them off, and then use the funds to refurbish the remaining TDSB schools. The majority of these schools are located in Toronto’s lower income neighbourhoods.
There are shortcomings to this strategy. Foremost among them, selling an urban school will likely result in intensification of certain neighbourhoods. This is likely the reason why Toronto Mayor John Tory is demanding to be included in any discussion about selling school properties. Where there was once green space, neighbourhoods can expect high rise condominium development. All politics is local and Mayor Tory doesn’t want the impending headache of 130 Toronto neighbourhoods fighting intensification.
There is a much more practical solution. Let’s recognize the elephant in the room and admit to ourselves that the TDSB is a failed organization. Turn over the 130 underutilized schools to the Province of Ontario to be repurposed as Charter Schools. Give parents options to the TDSB run public schools with Charter Schools offering unique curriculum in order to give urban students the kinds of advantages and success New Orleans has been seeing.
I expect that these underutilized schools will quickly fill to capacity, as it's up to the Charter Schools’ administration to attract students. If the school cannot fill up their classes, then the Province can withdraw the charter and close the school. By contrast, there is no pressure currently on public schools to attract students - and that's part of the problem with low attendance figures.
What we can take from New Orleans’ success is that it's the responsibility of the Province to set very high standards for giving out a Charter, study and learn from the mistakes of other jurisdictions - and then step back and measure the results.
We may never have a more ideal time to introduce Charter Schools in Ontario than right now. The mess that exists in the TDSB appears to be the perfect opportunity to reinvigorate a flagging public school system. Education Minister Liz Sandals must work with Toronto Mayor John Tory to find every way possible to keep these schools open. Let’s hope that Charter School legislation is part of the solution.
I have been in contact with the producers of REBIRTH New Orleans about arranging a public viewing and discussion of the film and charter schools. I would love to hear from anyone who is interested in participating in such an event.
For more information on how Charter Schools can reinvigorate children's education, see http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/
|Posted on February 1, 2015 at 2:35 PM|
Parents across Ontario are upset this weekend as Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, announced that as many as 600 schools have been identified as “under utilized” and facing closure.
The more cynical among us will say that any decision to close schools has more to do with Ontario’s stubborn $12.5 Billion deficit than educational efficiency. Without a doubt many of the targeted schools sit on prime developable land and are of substantial value to developers.
But even for those who aren’t parents of school-aged children, what is most worrisome is the sheer number of closures and what affect it will have to our overall public education system. According to Ontario government statistics, Ontario has 5000 schools and employs 115,000 teachers. The closure of 600 schools represents approximately 12% of all the schools within the education system and could impact as many as 13,000 teacher jobs. These staggering statistics show the enormity of the decision that lies ahead for Ontario.
This weekend, parents everywhere are asking what can be done to save their neighbourhood school.
To avoid closure, Minister Sandals is encouraging school boards to work together to share facilities. For example, to avoid being closed altogether an underutilized public school may share its school building with a French language school, or even a Separate school. In some cases, such an arrangement may very well make sense.
I believe an even more practical solution, one that will keep the schools open and keep teacher jobs secure.
It doesn’t go without notice that while our public system is closing schools down, private schools in Ontario is a burgeoning industry. According to the Fraser Institute, Ontario has approximately 700 private schools serving approximately 5% of Ontario students.
In a province where there would be hue and cry in the streets if two-tier health care were to be introduced, nobody seems to bat an eye at the fact that we allow parents to opt out of a public education in favour of private school or home schooling.
Let’s look at the reason why these alternatives to public education exist. The parents of these children have left the public education system in order to pay tens of thousands of dollars towards a private education or to educate at home due to the simple reason that the public system didn’t offer choice in how their child was educated.
Frankly, I don’t begrudge parents from making this choice. What school administrators sometimes forget is that a child’s greatest educator is their mom and dad. If teachers and schools want to be “partners” in educating a child, they would be wise to remember that they are “junior partners” at best. It is wrong (and arrogant) to believe otherwise.
Parents need to know that there can be effective alternatives to home schooling or expensive private school tuitions for those who insist on having a say in how to best educate their child.
In the U.S. and in Alberta, charter schools have been used to give students a unique pedagogical experience while remaining within the public school system.
In a charter school, parents establish the parameters under which the school operates and the principal is given more leeway over hiring of teachers. For example, schools may have a charter that focuses on arts, or enhances the focus on maths and sciences, or maybe even a focus on applied skills and trades. The list of possibilities in pedagogies/curriculums is virtually endless and recognizes that our children are unique, learn differently and have their own interests. It is time that our public education system recognizes that one size does not fit all.
Based on the experiences of charter schools elsewhere, I can guarantee that if Minister Sandals were to set aside any number of these 600 under utilized schools as charter schools and put the parents in charge of their children’s education, the enrollment at these schools would be filled to capacity.
The benefits of creating legislation for charter schools at this time for Ontario are almost too numerous to list: keeping schools open, securing teacher jobs, parents engaged in their child’s education, children learning more effectively, and a more robust public system are just a few of these benefits.
I believe that given a choice between have a local school shut down for good, or breathing new life into a school with an invigorating charter structure, the decision is an easy one. Let’s hope that Minister Sandals addresses this serious shortcoming in our public education system and restores choice in education to parents via charter schools.
|Posted on January 28, 2015 at 11:55 AM|
As PC members, we are right to point out lapses in the judgment and integrity of our Liberal counterparts.
In 2003 (and again in 2007) Dalton McGuinty pledged not to raise taxes in Ontario. The legacy of the McGuinty/Wynne era are outrageous tax grabs - health care levy, HST, and carbon tax to name a few – and record public debt. As PC members, we cringe at the brazen audacity of Premiers McGuinty and Wynne, who will say anything during an election campaign to mask their tax and spend agenda.
But as the saying goes, those who live in glass houses can’t throw stones.
My own experience with seeking the PC nomination in Newmarket-Aurora demonstrates what was wrong with the PC Party under Tim Hudak’s leadership. In March of 2014, I received an email from the committee that oversees nominations informing me in no uncertain terms that Tim Hudak himself intervened to block my candidature.
A few weeks later, while under intense media and public pressure, Tim Hudak showed his real colours. During a visit to Richmond Hill to promote Vic Gupta’s campaign, Hudak denied his intervention in my nomination review to the media, and tried to distance himself from the decision to block me.
Rather than stand by his decision, Tim Hudak prevaricated and told a white lie to escape from the pressure he was facing. The voters of York Region saw right through it and the results were entirely predictable. Going into the election, the PCs hoped to make breakthroughs in Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Markham-Stouffville (all three ridings are Conservative federally). Not only did we lose all three, we also lost Newmarket-Aurora - and thanks to a recount that overturned the original vote count, we held on to Thornhill by just a whisker of a margin of victory. Federally, Thornhill and Newmarket-Aurora are also held by Conservatives.
In the process of handing over York Region to the Liberals, Tim Hudak handed Ontario over to a Liberal majority.
All of this because he failed to stand by his decision.
The reason Hudak refused to sign my papers: his feelings were hurt because I was critical of his direction in the media.
The irony: each candidate at Monday’s leadership debate all but admitted I was right.
On Monday night, Christine Elliott stood in front of a packed room of PC supporters and categorically denied in a debate that she had no prior knowledge of the Hudak plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs. The problem with that statement is that it isn’t true. That’s because documents leaked to the media show that she did in fact sign off on the public sector job cut platform.
It doesn’t matter what she does next to try and distance herself from that revelation. The facts are that she was Deputy Leader of the PC Party under Hudak, and she signed off on his austerity plan that voters soundly rejected. Now she’s attempting to convince us she didn’t support Hudak’s plan.
As a consequence, she’s painted a very large target on the PC Party in 2018 should she be elected leader.
Remember the federal campaign in 2004? The Paul Martin led-Liberals held on to govern by labeling Stephen Harper as having a “secret agenda”. They succeeded at making Conservatives seem scary to voters and not trustworthy.
Christine Elliott’s signature of approval on Hudak’s 2014 job cuts plan is all the evidence Liberals will need to recycle the “secret agenda” scare tactics against the Ontario PCs in a 2018 campaign. In 2018, expect the Liberals and their allies in the Working Family Coalition benefitting greatly from a PC Party led by Christine Elliott.
But what continues to amaze me are those who are critical of Patrick Brown for raising this flaw in the Christine Elliott leadership campaign, claiming it’s an “attack” on the party and disrespectful of the caucus.
The message smacks strongly of Hudak’s failed one: you’re either loyal to the leader or you’re a defector. Elliott’s campaign message that PC’s need to be united under one big, accommodating, welcoming umbrella is an empty one if she can’t accept criticism of her record.
Contrast this to Alberta politics, where the PCs have been in power for over 40 years. In Alberta, when the PC Party finds itself with a leader who threatens the success of the province, such as Ed Stelmach and Allison Redford, the party replaces them - and then moves on cohesively.
There was plenty of talk about Tim Hudak’s failings as leader in 2013 - in particular his Hudak-bunker mentality towards outsiders - but rather than showing him the door, his leadership was wholly supported by the likes of Christine Elliott, Lisa McLeod, Vic Fidelli, and Monte McNaughton.
They were loyal to their leader even as their leader drove the grassroots off a cliff.
When I compare Ontario PC politics to our conservative brethren in the US, where those vying for the Republican presidential nomination undergo intense scrutiny by opponents during a grueling primary schedule, I am frankly concerned.
Just as pressure on coal makes diamonds, so too does a candidate transform into a leader while facing pressure. As a PC member I want to know about the flaws of any potential leader during the leadership race as opposed to during a 2018 general election campaign.
That means questioning their leadership, their values, their records, and yes, even their integrity, is all fair game. These things are not “attacks.” These things are the stuff campaigns are made on: vetting the best leader.
If the candidates want to repeat the Hudak-bunker mentality of “us” (caucus and their loyalists) vs. “them” (grassroots members) by silencing fair challenge, we’re heading down the same disastrous path Hudak led us.
Real “in-fighting” takes place behind closed – not public – doors, and it’s why Hudak lost.
Finally, PC members would be wise to follow the Toronto Star’s reporting of the PC Leadership race before deciding who to support as leader. The Toronto Star is unabashedly biased towards the Liberals as per the paper’s corporate policy and its Atkinson Principle. The paper is also overtly supportive of Christine Elliott and very critical of Patrick Brown.
Why would an admittedly pro-Liberal paper support Christine Elliott over Patrick Brown? I think PC members know the answer to that question.
To be clear, I have immense respect for Christine Elliott, who is an incredible asset to the PC party, and I do not question her integrity an iota. But I think if she were reading this, she would agree that encouraging grassroots members to speak from their heart during a leadership campaign is good for the party’s growth. This is after all, her campaign message.
For the record, I am enthusiastically supporting Patrick Brown as the next leader of the PC Party. I believe that his message of modeling the provincial party after the success of the federal Conservatives is the way to victory. The federal Conservatives have 100,000 members in Ontario and a campaign war chest that is ready to win this fall. By contrast, the Ontario PCs have just 10,000 members and are almost $8 million in debt.
The Ontario PC Party has to regain fighting form in time for 2018 and I believe only Patrick Brown has the ideas, the initiative, and the plans to ensure that we return to government.
Since 2003, Ontario voters have been telling us that they soundly reject the leadership representing the PC Party elites, insiders, and consultants. Frankly, there is too much baggage and voters simply don’t trust the “establishment’s candidate.”
Members are wise to seek an authentic, grassroots driven leader who is from outside the Queen’s Park elite to lead Ontario.
I believe that Patrick Brown is that person and I hope that you will support him too.
|Posted on December 30, 2014 at 8:15 PM|
Winston Churchill famously complained: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
And Churchill isn’t wrong. Democracies have elected some real jackasses to public office while great statesmen have known electoral defeat. Churchill made this particular statement in the context of having won WWII for the British, but then being defeated in the subsequent general election.
In New York City, the NYPD are upset that Mayor Bill De Blasio admitted that he and his wife were concerned for their bi-racial son, revealing: “because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we've had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him."
In response to De Blasio’s parental concerns, a coalition of current and retired NYPD employees released a Boxing Day statement which included the following message:
"We no longer have confidence in Mayor De Blasio, nor in his ability to lead New York City and promote the values that both the NYPD and the good law abiding citizens of the city hold dear. Mayor De Blasio turned his back on us long before we turned our backs on him."
And now we are hearing the police union is telling police offices not to respond to any calls unless there are two units available. The union is saying this is out of concern for the safety of its members as a result of De Blasio’s comment, but the real effect is that of a wild cat strike. Unless the City is prepared to double the amount of cars on duty, there simply won’t be enough officers available to respond with two units per every call.
As citizens, New Yorkers have the right to judge the appropriateness of the Mayor’s comments. Individual police offices too, share in this right.
And as citizens, New Yorkers also have the right to judge the appropriateness of the NYPD’s response. It is not disrespectful to the NYPD to be asking about issues of racism within the force, or if there are ways to reduce instances of lethal force being applied. In a healthy democracy, these sorts of debates need to happen.
What I find appalling is that the public safety in New York is in jeopardy because the NYPD force has decided not to allow meaningful debate. The message is clear. New York politicians must acquiesce to what the NYPD wants or else all New Yorkers will suffer the consequences of a police job action.
Here’s the reality that the NYPD seem to have forgotten. The police work for the people and they have been given extraordinary power (up to and including lawfully taking someone’s life) by the people for the sake of public security. No other city employee – not the fire department, the sanitation workers, or any city clerk – has been given anywhere near the power as police officers have. With this power, the NYPD must accept that they have greater responsibilities than the average city employee has.
The people have elected Bill De Blasio to represent them. The NYPD may not like Bill De Blasio but they are accountable to the citizens of New York and should always show respect for the Mayor’s office. Regardless of the man or woman who wears the Mayor’s chains, the police must never forget what those chains represent.
Imagine the public outrage if American troops were to turn their backs to the American flag in a protest. This is, in essence, what the NYPD has done. Those uniformed officers who turned their backs to the Mayor have also turned their backs on people. Mayor De Blasio is the representative of the people of NYC and it is time for the NYPD to end their protest.
I’m not saying that while off duty and out of uniform, police officers can’t or shouldn’t protest. But once the uniform is on, each officer must respect the authority that the public has given and the people who allow such power.
Respect, not protest, is what is expected of each on duty officer.
|Posted on December 21, 2014 at 1:45 PM|
Maybe it’s because of the Ontario PC leadership race, or perhaps the meltdown of Danielle Smith in Alberta, but I’ve been pondering about the importance of great leadership. In my previous post about the Wild Rose Party of Alberta, I used football to illustrate a point.
Venerable organizations need to do soul searching to ensure that candidates for leadership possess the experience and attributes required to face the challenges of tomorrow.
And since politics and sports go hand in hand, I’m going to weigh in on the latter.
With the announcement that Mark Cohon will be leaving as the Commissioner of the Canadian Football League once his contract expires in April 2015, the CFL is undertaking a search for his replacement.
On paper, the CFL appears to be in great shape. New stadiums have debuted in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Ottawa - along with an expansion of Montreal’s stadium. Ottawa’s expansion in fact, has gone extremely well off the field and at the gate. The CFL has been able to work out solid television deals with TSN and ESPN. And most importantly, attendance at an average CFL game is third highest amongst professional sports in North America.
But there are serious challenges that lay ahead too:
1) The Toronto Argonauts need a new owner and a new stadium. A move to the BMO Field would be disastrous for the team.
2) With the Buffalo Bills staying in Buffalo, the time has come for CFL to return to the bargaining table with the NFL.
3) The CFL needs to plan for the renewal of their television contracts as well as explore other media opportunities.
4) Merchandising needs to be stronger.
I’m not on the search committee.
But that won’t stop me from proposing a name of someone who I think would make a brilliant CFL Commissioner.
He’s American, but we’ve had Americans lead the CFL before. Nobody comes with a better resume for building a sports event into a must see spectacle, or with his experience in television and media.
When Bischoff lead the World Championship Wrestling during it’s rivalry with the WWE, his company was initially seen as “second-rate” to Vince McMahon’s product. Yet Bischoff didn’t shy away from the challenge. By capitalizing on the strengths of his company, he had garnered a higher gate and television viewership for WCW events.
Imagine if we had a Commissioner who also capitalized on the strengths of the CFL game and sold the excitement of 3-down football to outsell the NFL.
It’s been done before and it can be done again.
The CFL game needs to be re-introduced in Vancouver and Toronto especially to young fans. A reinvigorated CFL fan base in Toronto and Vancouver will go a long way to bolstering the CFL brand across North America.
Many markets in the CFL cannot support a 50,000 seat stadium; but if there are two that can, it’s Toronto and Vancouver.
With Eric Bischoff of the helm, with his marketing savvy and his television production experience, the CFL can return to the glory days of the past.
We just need the owners of the CFL to make the right hiring decision.
Like politics, sports are all about getting people’s attention.
The CFL needs the right person to do just that.
|Posted on December 16, 2014 at 6:00 PM|
I never thought I’d see this day.
In Alberta, it’s becoming clear rumours of a Wild Rose Party/Progressive Conservative marriage of convenience are a reality, despite the party leader’s refusal to speak to it’s members.
And though some Albertans might tell us Ontarians to mind their own business, I for one won’t. Like many Ontarians, I have been jealous of Albertans having the option of voting Wildrose .
That’s because in our sleepy little province, run by a government who is nothing short of blatantly corrupt, we looked up to the spunk and passion the Wildrose represented.
You gave us hope.
I call Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s choice a marriage of convenience, rather than a merger, because I continue to believe in the principles that led to the creation of the WRP. Unlike the PC’s, who have grown elitist and self-important after decades in power, the WRP membership held loyal to the principles of grassroots democracy. I see it nothing short of a betrayal to those grassroots members for any WRP caucus member who decides to cross the floor.
When Stephen Harper and Peter McKay united the Conservatives federally, it was for a noble cause; for the purpose of forming a party that would eventually govern and lead Canada back to prosperity. The merger of the WRP and PC’s is not about governing. It’s being proposed to advance the personal ambitions of Jim Prentice, Danielle Smith and others. Their excuse about concerns over how Alberta deals with falling oil prices is nonsense. All parties in the Alberta legislature are concerned about oil prices.
The WRP caucus seems to have forgotten that they were given the privilege of representing their riding via the support of their local membership and the votes of the people. The people of Alberta elected a legislature that was to have the PC’s govern and the WRP act as the Official Opposition. Did voters get it wrong? Of course not. Nobody sees the provincial Liberals as worthy or capable of fulfilling the duties of the Official Opposition. The WRP has done a brilliant job of keeping the government accountable and on track. Has Alberta forgotten this is the party that removed two premieres from office?
That’s an outstanding achievement.
Unlike many other pundits, I personally know what it means to sit in opposition. I know that it can be very hard work and for very little reward, or even recognition in the media. I understand how it feels to be told by constituents that I am always too negative and too aggressive in my criticism. I also understand how it stings to lose an election.
Being on the government side is a whole lot easier and, frankly more enjoyable. To use a sports analogy, the linemen do all the hard work while the quarterback gets to date the head cheerleader.
Yet, when the WRP caucus was elected, they were given a great privilege by the voters of Alberta to do the toughest job in the legislature. Is it tough to be in opposition? Absolutely. But is it important work? Without a doubt it is. The legislature does not function properly without a strong, principled, and loyal Official Opposition.
There’s no shame in sitting across the aisle from government either. Holding governments to account is one of the most noble of tasks. It can take decades to build a party and win over people. The Wildrose just shot themselves in the foot.
In Canada, the true north strong and free, opposition in government is the fundamental principle behind democracy.
If you think opposition is beneath you, then elected office might not be such a good vocation for you after all.
It’s a simple tenet of free market economics that competition makes us all improve and thrive. By being an effective Official Opposition, the WRP made the PC’s become a better government with all Albertans benefitting.
If the merger goes through, although some current WRP MLA’s may find themselves enjoying their career more, Albertans will see an end to effective debate, as they see themselves suddenly left with ineffective opposition lead by the 5-member Liberal Party.
What a disaster.
It’s my hope that WRP MLA’s will forego their personal ambitions and re-commit to fulfilling the jobs they were elected to do until the next election.
If at the time of the next general election they wish to change colours and run for the PC’s, they are free to seek a mandate from the voters.
And from a party that is known for it's common sense, transparency and grassroots respect, this makes complete sense to me.