Thursday, January 15, 2009

SHOOT THE MESSENGER, or, How Lo Can They Go?

In Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People," one man with an unhappy message is isolated by the community.

In Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," the same message is played out in cartoon fashion with nobody at a resort wanting to hear about a dangerous shark. Bad for business, don't you know?

In Vancouver, at 12th & Cambie, when the Chief Financial Officer raises a number of questions about a large and costly development project, she is told, "Resign or be fired."

Not much new in the world.

Gary Mason continuing his first-rate coverage of the Olympic Village fiasco got his hands on the damning memo that reveals just how political City Hall really can be.

"The financial viability of the developer of the Olympic athletes village, the future of the city's credit rating, the increased risk to taxpayers and soaring construction costs were among the many concerns the city's former chief financial officer had months ago about the project, The Globe and Mail has learned.

In an extraordinary memo Estelle Lo sent to then-city-manager Judy Rogers in October, 2008, the since-departed CFO outlined a string of worries she had about the project - many of which have since been validated.

A couple of weeks after sending the memo, Ms. Lo was approached by Ms. Rogers and given an ultimatum: resign or be fired. Ms. Lo would resign with a one-year severance package, and Ms. Rogers would be removed on Dec. 12, 2008, by newly elected Mayor Gregor Robertson."

Globe writers Ian Bailey & Justine Hunter further report that Mr. Campbell will convene the provincial legislature a bit early to have a vote on amending the City's charter so that it can borrow money to cover this sinkhole.

"Government lawyers are drafting amendments to the Vancouver Charter to allow the city to borrow the money."

Is my cynicism showing when I ask the following?

Amend the City Charter to borrow money?

Is this an elaborate pea-and-shell game to amend the Charter to borrow money for many things many times because we are broke or going broke or afraid of going broke?

Is this the not-so-cleverly disguised license to institutionalize deficit financing to Vancouver?

Lack of Governance Kills


Lost man called 911 four times before dying in sub-zero conditions

This story in this morning's Globe & Mail is a tragedy, but it is also about malfeasance.

Not that anyone in office cares much, but the role of governments is governance.

The CRTC blithely hands out licences to print money by granting cellular phone companies the right to sell their devilish little toys, but what do they ask of these hucksters in the way of social responsibility?

Nothing, apparently.

Now we are being told, the cell corps have until 2011 to ramp up their 911 capabilities.


Today's story is hardly unique. This has been a growing file of deaths over recent weeks due to police and emergency teams being unable to track callers.

This should have been written into the original green lights, and now that the government has been woken from their slumber by the press - the Globe, in particular - the remedies should be fast-tracked.

The remedies are not the deepest rocket science and 3 months to comply would be more appropriate.

Excellent Comment on BCTF, Testing, Fraser Institute et al


You probably have more background on the role that the Fraser Institute has played in this ongoing dispute, but my quick look at their website today was informative. I'd be interested to know what their relationship is with the BC government and how it is that the FI gets the results of the provincial testing and is able to publish those results with the cooperation of the local press? Surefire way to get those educators riled up. Made me wonder if the FI has ever met with the BCTF to discuss their concerns about educational standards?

Of course there's nothing wrong with evaluating learning in all its forms and it happens in schools all the time. My wife and I happen to be raising a granddaughter who is in elementary school. My observation is that kids are learning more now than our generation ever did. And they are being evaluated frequently enough that we are aware of her strengths and weaknesses. And by taking the opportunity to chat with her teachers as we have, we are able to work cooperatively on improvements in her performance. I doubt that our experience is that unusual. Unless mutual respect is as dead as the proverbial dodo bird.

I'm a retired educator but my unsolicited advice to the teaching profession is to avoid even the appearance of a bunker mentality around evaluation and learning outcomes. This will not satisfy your "customers". My apologies if framing it that way is distasteful to any educators, but that orientation would be one that many parents would understand and appreciate.

Most working parents are subjected to increasing stresses in the workplace and it's a parental duty and obligation to help prepare children for an increasingly stressful world. Do educators need to develop more effective ways of explaining, and if need be improving, their instructional and evaluative methods? If the teachers are right that the current approach isn't "broke", then does it at least need "fixing"? Insisting on maintaining the status quo may have serious consequences.

In my opinion, the Fraser Institute's interest in publicizing test results may be the tip of an iceberg called promoting charter schools, a conclusion that's hard not to arrive at after reading the summary of their "independent" research reports on their website. The FI is quite forthright in acknowledging their "market economics" orientation. I would have thought that recent economic events would have made us a tad more cautious about jumping on that bandwagon again, particularly when educational reforms may be the agenda. Private or charter schools may fulfill a need for some families, but if they were to be expanded at the expense of the public school system, be careful what you wish for as most Grannies used to say.

Finally, if publishing educational test results is so benign, let's go the whole nine yards and evaluate the medical profession next. Got to do something about spiralling health costs, don't we? Let's get our friendly government to authorize patient evaluations of family doctors and publish the results in the Sun. Where's the possible harm in that?