Archive for category Public Services

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night … Bad weather, on the other hand …

Considering the union’s public relations efforts, Canada Post didn’t pick the best time to stop home delivery:

What happened to the mail?

It’s a question occupying the minds of Isabel Ward, a retiree who has yet to receive her Metropass; Peter Stiegler, an accountant in need of tax documents to help his clients; and Russell Bennett, a self-employed father anxiously awaiting cheques to pay the rent and support his family.

They are three people who live or work in three different Toronto neighbourhoods — all complaining that they haven’t seen a Canada Post mail carrier in more than two weeks. But they are far from being the only residents who have gone with empty mailboxes since just before Christmas.

This being The Star, it is obviously the fault of Canada Post, not its workers:

"Working during bad weather isn't in my contract."

“Bad weather isn’t in my contract.”

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has accused Canada Post of overworking permanent carriers by expanding routes, leading to sudden absences, and of not having enough temporary workers on standby.

“We’re seeing people booking off on stress at levels like we’ve never seen before,” said Gerry Deveau, national director for Ontario.

Is this the first winter these carriers have ever experienced? Didn’t someone tell them when they took this job that Toronto is in Canada?

“Stress” levels? Are these people for real?

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Snow job

With all due respect to the mayor, this should not be his first concern:

Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison wants to look at reducing speeds on the city’s freeway bridges after a car plunged off the Circle Drive North bridge and into the South Saskatchewan River.

A 23-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle while heading east on the bridge and her car jumped over the guard rail that had a window of snow built up around it. [emphasis mine–ed.] She escaped from her vehicle and was rescued off ice in the river, only suffering minor injuries in the process.

The guard rail didn’t build up the snow. City workers built up the snow along the guard rail, which changed a safety device into a ramp of death.

This unnamed woman should sue the city and any government ministry which implemented and enforced environmental regulations giving rise to this hazard.

She is lucky to be alive, no thanks to short-sighted government bureaucrats.

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No, No & Yes

One day, one paper, three stories.

Here’s the one about a retired veterinarian advocating for mandatory rabies shots in the city:

Hudson is scheduled to present a report on Thursday calling for the city to change its rules around vaccination. While pet owners are required by a city bylaw to license their pets, no rule requires them to get rabies vaccines along with their licenses. That opens people up to unnecessary risk of contracting the deadly and untreatable disease, Hudson said.

While no one in Saskatoon has been infected by rabies in years[emphasis mine, ed.], the city does have a serious issue with domesticated pets biting people, according to a public health nurse who works at the communicable disease control program.

Maggie Simm said 21 people had to have some kind of rabies vaccine treatment this year after they were bitten by animals.

Threats are not risks. They inform risks, they are not to be discounted, but if the probability of the threat is extremely low, then the risk is commensurate. Especially since rabies, pace Dr. Hudson, is treatable. And most especially when, as the article notes, people are usually treated for rabies even if they aren’t bitten by rabid animals.

The second story here is that the city is considering spending money on high-demand facilities:

Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison has some big ideas about adding indoor rinks to the city’s small number of aging facilities.

On Wednesday, Atchison said he would like to see a multi-sheet facility in the city and wants to start the discussion during next week’s budget talks. He acknowledged that securing the money to build one will either involve the private sector or higher levels of government.

ACT Arena, the newest city-owned and operated facility, added its hockey rink in 1981. The newest private facility, Harold Latrace Arena, added its most recent sheet in 1998. Saskatoon has five public arenas and eight private sheets with varying availability for minor and recreational hockey.

Ice sheets in Saskatoon are in such high demand that teams are heading out to neighbouring small towns to rent the ice for the kids. There is a market to be had, a significant one at that. While I appreciate the mayor’s concern over this, there is no reason why a private group couldn’t raise its own money and build a multi-sheet complex, taking both the risk and making their own profits, to the benefit of the users. I would prefer the city zone out some land in the growing suburbs for sports complexes and see who steps up to the table.

Finally, the great Les MacPherson gets it right:

Federal broadcast authorities in distant Ottawa have commanded and decreed that we have more than enough radio stations in the city as it is.

Proponents of a new station were told to forget it and don’t even ask again for two more years. In other words, piss off.

What is not so clear is why we need anyone in Ottawa to tell us how many radio stations Saskatoon can support. Why not let the market decide, as it does with every enterprise? Ottawa doesn’t tell us how many restaurants we need in Saskatoon, for example. That’s why we have restaurants in such profusion and diversity that we can’t keep track of them all.

If restaurants were federally regulated, however, we would have about five of them, all serving turnips.

That’s how it worked in the old Soviet Union. Authorities there tried to decide for everyone what they needed, in all respects.

It worked so well that barbed wire and guard towers were required to keep people from escaping.

Bang on, Les. There is no reason for the CRTC to limit the number of radio stations in this town. The CRTC should limit its function over the enforcement of bandwidth, if that, and allow spectrum to be sold to the highest bidder.

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And those who can’t teach?

Well, pace Woody Allen, they still teach.

I’m Facebook-friends with my old hometown high school science teacher, Steven Allen (no relation to Woody), who also doubled as a vice-principal at the time. He’s a nice enough guy and have nothing against him personally. But I never thought much of him as a teacher nor as a vice-principal. He always extolled the virtues of David Suzuki and the leftist cause (later he became very active in the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation), and his theories on student discipline were often dubious and occasionally mocked.

It was in no small part due to Mr. Allen that I left home and attended a private Catholic residential school (at considerable cost to my parents), which resulted in a dramatic turnaround in my academic performance and my eventual acceptance to engineering school. So thanks for that, Steve.

A couple of years ago, he sent a friend request, so I accepted. Because I’m friendly. He just posts the typical radical leftist drivel you’d see at any union rally, universities and other conformist progressive camps: “Harper is evil,” “Bush is evil,” “inequality is evil,” etc. Don’t get me wrong — reading this stuff doesn’t really bother me because I like to know how the other half lives and thinks. I just don’t agree with one iota of propaganda he’s pushing, and I tend to leave his commentary be.

Today, Mr. Allen linked to this opinion piece on how Bill Gates and his zeal for standardized testing are destroying education or something.

Mr. Allen posted a quote from the article on his Facebook page and, instead of getting into an argument on his Facebook page, I thought I’d paste the quote here and then rebut below:

Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agree that this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers.

So how do we identify good teachers or bad teachers? No one seems to know.

Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income.

Not “most especially” on what they do or how hard they try; it’s about the money, honey.

Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality.

If teacher quality doesn’t matter, then why don’t we outsource public education to Mexican immigrants and save us a few bucks?

Students are not randomly assigned to teachers.

No, just arbitrarily by the year in which they happened to be born.

A teacher of gifted children, whose scores are already sky-high, may see little or no gains.

What about those gifted students who are getting poor marks because of a lousy teacher? And what if sky-high marks are because of a certain teacher?

A teacher of children with disabilities may be thrilled to see students respond to instruction, even if their test scores don’t go up.

Because the primary goal of education is to “thrill” teachers.

A teacher in a poor neighborhood may have high student turnover and poor attendance, and the scores will say nothing about his or her quality.

Coincidentally, Mr. Allen criticized the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census.

But all will get low marks on state evaluation systems and may end up fired.

Because the other primary goal of education is to prevent teachers from getting fired.

Look, I’m no expert. I’ve worked with enough statistics to know that data is useless unless it’s treated carefully. It’s not the quantity or quality of information that’s available but, rather, how it is applied toward a particular end.

If standardized testing were the only method being used to evaluate educational performance then, yes, I’d agree that it wouldn’t be the best tool or even a good one. But I hardly would think that this data would be used in this manner.

If the data found, instead, that there were trends (key performance indicators or KPIs, in corporate lingo) which pointed the way to a possible problem and potential solution, then why not test to certain standards?

Put it this way: teachers already assign midterm and year-end finals, don’t they? Wouldn’t these tests be considered “standardized” if they are exercised annually by the same teacher using the same course material? Even if we recognize that these particular tests would be performed locally, they still would be used on different cohorts which, as Mr. Allen pointed out, may vary based on their composition. So what’s the difference?

The difference is, of course, that standardized tests could actually point out to taxpayers and parents that some teachers aren’t as good as others and, as Mr. Allen put it, we’d consider firing “them all.”

Another consideration is that teachers aren’t compared to their counterparts in comparative schools. Not only does this imply a lack of accountability, but it doesn’t also help the teachers who are struggling in their role, who might need more resources for skills training to do their jobs better or to provide a stronger educational environment.

After all, if an industrial corporation finds a lagging KPI, they don’t just fire the person responsible. They would look at the underlying causes, such as the person’s level of skill, oversight, or resources to do the job. This way, if the problem persists, the accountability would start from the CEO and work its way down to those implementing the program. The whole company would be invested in the solution.

But since teachers are told by their union that they’re somehow special, that these tried-and-tested methods don’t somehow apply to them, our schools aren’t going to get any better and the kids will continue to suffer.

And those shitty teachers will continue to teach until they exercise their defined-benefit pension plans.

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Letter to the Editor

I don’t know what it is about Mayor Atchison that Gerry “The Finger” Klein hates so much, as I’ve noted previously.

Last week, he takes issue with an exchange between the mayor and one of my other favourites, Darren Hill. My letter in response is posted below:

Gerry Klein calls out Mayor Atchison and other supporters of the proposed $170 road-maintenance flat tax for their supposed insensitivity toward the city’s poorer taxpayers. He says that this “regressive” tax would make widowed seniors “subsidize” wealthy residents of the suburbs and exurbs.

Where were Klein and the rest of the well-meaning councillors when they advocated and received an annual flat tax of $55 for homeowners to pay for their beloved recycling program? I recall no tears shed by mandatory recycling advocates on how well-off homeowners living beside The Willows (who were already recycling) would be subsidized by the poor, old widow living alone on a fixed income and consuming practically nothing.

One can debate the merits of using flat taxes to either keep roads safe and maintained or to put off the construction of a new landfill by a mere five years.

But, please, spare me the righteous and indignant hypocrisy.

Rob Huck
Saskatoon, SK

It was published nearly word-for-word the next day, a new record for me.


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Meandered standards

I simply don’t get the criticisms of standardized testing in public schools by anyone other than a union leader. Case in point, from last weekend’s StarPhoenix editorial:

The government doggedly is pursuing standardized testing to fix the underachievement by Saskatchewan students in some subject areas, even as other jurisdictions are moving away from such testing because of a plethora of problems that range from cultural biases to the inability of “a snap shot in time” test to gauge a student’s performance over time or what she actually knows.

Aren’t all school tests “a snap shot in time,” whether they are held in September, in March or in June?

And aren’t standardized testing supposed to capture deficiencies due to factors such as “cultural biases?” I mean, isn’t the point of public education to ensure that all students are prepared to enter the workforce or post-secondary institutions no matter their culture of origin?

The most bizarre thing about the criticism is that the government remains committed to implementing these testing even while putting a “pause” on other priorities, “including a do-over of the school capital priority list.”

Why do we need to re-evaluate the capital priority list? We all know that the rapidly growing areas in the province, including especially my own community, need new schools, stat, and only a couple of schools are typically funded in a given year, if that. More importantly, the education minister doesn’t set the capital budgets; that’s the finance minister’s job. One item doesn’t affect the other.

The editorial is just an aimless attempt at a cheap shot at Education Minister Russ Marchuk that could have come straight from the mouth of the teachers federation.

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Gooses vs Ganders

For Pat Atkinson, no amount of regulation for certain industries is enough (see here and here and here and here).

The former Saskatchewan cabinet minister says that a minister’s job is to ensure his or her regulatory “agency provides real oversight” over its area of responsibility, “to not be a toady for any lobbyists” and “to act in the public interest, not in the interest of…any other special interest group.”

Sounds like she supports a top-down enforcement solution when it comes to regulating industries and treating with special interests.

Except when she doesn’t:

It’s time for Wall to realize that his government is acting in a high-handed manner on a number of educational policy fronts. It’s time for the premier to restore Saskatchewan’s historic approach to public education.

The my-way-or-the-highway approach won’t work.

Indeed. Given these intellectual cartwheels, it’s no wonder she has yet to comment on these findings:

What happens when Saskatchewan’s teachers break the rules?

Most are dedicated educators with flawless records. But a StarPhoenix investigation has revealed examples of teachers still allowed to teach after conduct that would shock most parents – and a disciplinary system some experts say is flawed.

In 10 cases over 18 months, Saskatchewan teachers engaged in behaviour serious enough to cost them their jobs.

Documents from a Freedom of Information request show that some teachers still have valid teaching certificates despite conduct such as slapping a student’s buttocks, doing drugs at a party and driving impaired, and, in one case, a teacher uploading a nude picture of herself to the Internet.

Each case was referred to the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF), an organization charged with both representing and disciplining Saskatchewan teachers. It chose not to sanction four of those 10 teachers.

This brings up a few questions.

Pat Atkinson was Saskatchewan’s minister of education from 1993 to 1998. In that time period, how many teachers were cited for engaging in serious behaviour, and how many were fired and/or lost their licence?

Does Pat Atkinson still believe industries should not be self-regulating and, if so, will she call for third-party oversight of the education industry?

After all, it’s the kids’ safety at stake.

UPDATE: Pat Atkinson’s first column after the expose on teacher regulation? An unoriginal, mealy-mouthed attack on public-private partnerships. You’d think a former education minister who has railed against “self-regulation” might have an opinion on the last week’s call for third-party regulation in the education industry.

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