Friday, May 29, 2015

Step By Step We Advance

Sometimes it is difficult to raise one's head above the continual media stress on gloom and doom. I understand this -- the negative focus allows for the money-making "positive" ads to shine more brightly -- but occasionally one must reach for examples that point the way to a saner future. 

Here are two examples.

The growth in transparency of things previously kept from sight is heartwarming. Where government is concerned, the role of an independent auditor has increased in power, something that in the public's opinion is a very Good Thing. Such reports from an auditor do much to dispel the darkness cast by kickbacks, deceit, and outright fraud.*

Buttressing an auditor's exposure of financial actions that at time border on idiocy are the actions of the public itself, via that invention that would have been stopped in its tracks had government any sort of strategic planning initiative. I speak, of course, of the smart phone, where countless examples indicate that it is becoming more and more difficult for wrongdoing (often by police forces themselves) to be kept from the public eye. In such cases, the words of Justice William O. Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court ring true: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

To be sure, there exist "Peoples' Paradises" where possession of such a device causes you to literally lose your head, or send you off to a lovely camp in the country to re-learn the joys of serving some glorious president. Yet I believe in time that this will change. The sun is not going to stop shining anytime soon.

Goodness, even that bastion of bribery, the Evil Empire of FIFA, has now come under attack.** Such courageous action recalls those brave prelates that undertook to reform the powerful Catholic Church during the Renaissance, and it is the Church that gives me my second example.

Ireland, ever since a certain saint, without the help of pesticides from Monsanto, drove out the reptiles from the Emerald Isle, has given unwavering support to the Church and all its teachings. Even today, abortions are non-starter.

Yet two days ago, in a binding referendum, the Irish populace voted to allow and sanction same-sex marriage. Two hundred years ago, had such a policy ever been put forward, the perpetrators would have undergone torture eagerly undertaken by the Holy Inquisition and then the convicted sent merrily to a fiery stake. Not so today, and the reaction of the Church was not proclaim a violent response, but to begin a massive sulk.

And the assault on the Church does not stop there. As a recent recipient of the Man Booker prize wrote, "Show me where it says in the Bible 'Purgatory'. Shows me where it says relics, monks, nuns. Show me where it says, 'Pope'"***

Woody Allen, as might be expected, goes further: "Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends."

Step by step we advance.


* At least one auditor, Andre Marin of Ontario, has been so effective that the public in a recent poll gave him massive support. This prompted the Premier, Kathleen Wynne, to indicate to the press that his contract would not be renewed.

** This action actually irritated the Godfather of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, a real first. (Previously, it was anathema to even link his name with the tawdry bribes occurring under his "reign".) Countries in Europe and North America won't be supporting him in his bid for re-election. Won't matter -- Russia, China and most countries in Africa give him their full (and paid for) support. A sad aspect of The Beautiful Game.

***Hilary Mantel in her novel Wolf Hall.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Only In Canada

Canada is truly blessed. At a time when all sorts of mayhem are breaking out here there and everywhere (as the Lennon/McCartney song goes) this lovely country decides not to fall into the pit of acrimony and despair, but rather embrace the inane.

Allow me to elaborate.

In the seas of the Orient, various grumbles and snarls can be heard as countries quarrel over several rock piles deemed "strategic", with the concomitant mobilization of navies (in some cases only a shrimp boat and a dinghy, but still....) and missile launchers pointed every which way.

The border between Ukraine and Russia continues to be a festering mess, with strange soldiers resembling Russians turning up here and there. "Certainly not ours" states Vladimir Putin fervently.

In the Middle East, the sub-humans that comprise the Islamic State continue their savage march through Syria and Iraq destroying priceless historical artefacts, killing all "infidels" and substituting the word 'woman' with the more Islamic designation, 'chattel'. Only the Kurdish Peshmerga cause the sub-humans to retreat -- real soldiers will have that effect.

Those masters of capitalism, the drug cartels in South America and Mexico, continue to flourish, and never mind the ghastly 'collateral damage' wrought on civilians. It is, after all, simply the cost of doing business in order that the United States be well served with the necessary 'uppers' and 'downers'.

As for our American neighbours, the worship of the god named "Gun" continues, sanctioned by a total mis-reading of the Second Amendment of their Constitution and illustrated by a murder rate that is appalling. Add in a black/white divide, and you have an ironic take on that wonderful song from the musical Hairspray, "Good morning, Baltimore!"

And now we come to Canada, which is currently in a state of upheaval.

The issue?

The hiring of a new coach, Mike Babcock, for that paragon of hockey ineptitude, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now I hasten to stress that it wasn't the hiring itself that caused the uproar,* but rather Mr. Babcock's statement that the Leafs were "Canada's team." This is something that every Canadian knows deep in his or her heart, but something you never ever state publicly.

The uproar went coast to coast immediately, and the air was filled with invective and retorts, including dire threats.** Even in Ontario, the continuing horror story of the Wynne government was put on hold. At least for a day.

My point, of course, is that no one is likely to get killed, violence will be kept in a verbal arena, missiles will be kept in their silos*** and life in Canada will continue to flourish.

As stated at the beginning, we are truly blessed.


* With the possible exception of Buffalo, who thought they had a lock on Mr. Babcock.

** Schwartz's Deli In Montreal has indicated that Mr. Babcock will not get to enjoy smoked meat in that hallowed venue.

*** Canadian silos only contain wheat, not missiles.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mind The Gap

The title of this week's missive may mislead. I am not arguing for a studied gaze upon a certain clothing store on a High Street or a mall, but rather something quite different, and much, much more important.

The 'gap' to which I refer is the distance between two sides, a distance that should not be there at all. Let me explain.

In a true labour negotiation, two sides are prominent -- union members and management. No gap can be seen between the two, and if the negotiation fails, one or the other succumbs. At its worst, the union is so successful that management folds, recalling a statement by General Wally Westmoreland on a Vietnam triumph, "We had to destroy that village to save it." If management is similarly victorious, workers will do the bare minimum of work, making life exceedingly difficult for management to the detriment of everyone.

It is for these reasons that negotiations are taken very seriously for both sides, and in most cases a successful compromise is reached. Most importantly of all, no third party gets hammered by being an innocent victim.

If, however, an entity should find itself, through no part of its own, caught in the gap, then that entity suffers dearly.

In certain cases, the government steps in and removes the innocent party from the gap by naming that party an 'essential service'. Fire fighters and police officers are good examples here. There is one other party that should be in this category, one more essential than any other, our children.

It is incredible that a teacher strike can, in the 21st century, still be allowed to occur with schoolchildren caught in the gap. As one noted educator has written, "Never lose sight of the fact that the child as learner is not only the centre of the educational system, but the very reason for its existence." *

Not the teacher, nor the school board nor even the government, but the child as learner. And if H.G.Wells was right when he wrote that "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe" ** then it becomes truly imperative that teaching be designated an essential service as soon as possible.



* Dr. R.W. Jackson, former Director of the Ontario Institute of Education, in Issues and Directions, Ontario Ministry of Education, 1980, p.1 -- Ed.

** H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Ch. 40 of the 1951 edition. --Ed.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Dead Go To Court

The dead can go to court and launch a lawsuit?

Well, apparently.

I have just learned that Manitoba's highest court ruled that the family of one Robert Sinclair could sue the Manitoba health authority for a breach of charter rights and privacy rights.

The specific incident? Mr. Sinclair died after a 34 hour wait in the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, where his medical stress was not attended to. Rights related to "prior care", the responsibility of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, were  stated to be ignored.

Before this ruling, lower courts had maintained that such rights died with Mr. Sinclair in 2008. After eight months of deliberations, however, the Manitoba Court of Appeals allowed the lawsuit to proceed. This decision raises some fascinating issues, not the least of which might be the following cases. The initials D.O. stand for "descendants of".

1) D.O. Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard vs. Tudor Inc.

This suit claims damages, financial and punitive, for wrongful persecution and subsequent beheading. Written testimony from Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell will be prominent in defense of the charge.

2) D.O. Joan of Arc vs. The House of Valois

The descendants want redress and financial compensation for cruel and unlawful use of arson against Jeanne d'Arc, with a focus upon the betrayal of Charles VII by illegally turning the prosecution of the Maid of Orleans over to the English.

3) D.O. Louis Riel vs. The Queen in Right of Canada.

The descendants in this case are any Metis currently existing. Extensive financial damages are sought, along with a heartfelt apology from the Queen, and the sanctioning of a charge of racism against any descendants of John A. MacDonald.

Thus Manitoba appears to have opened an interesting door, and any further action the initial case will bear close attention. Certainly I suspect that there will be any number of people "courting the dead". So to speak.

Friday, May 1, 2015

An Unholy Sandwich

Normally, our little outings at The Three Q's pub are characterized by pints of Best Boddingtons and quiet and considered discussion, along with the occasional verbal jab or witty rejoinder. Not so last evening.

Now I had not sought to write on this topic again -- my thought are well known -- but one of our group, a dedicated schoolteacher, was obviously distraught and at one point came close to tears. The issue? A looming teacher's strike.

She introduced the topic by indicating her support for unions, ignoring my shudder. However, she went on to say that in a strike situation, this support was conditional upon there being only two actors: the union and a firm's management. Negotiations between these two would either result in a compromise that worked for the two parties, or led to the firm going out of business. This result would mean, of course, that the union would be out of business as well.

A tough situation, to be sure, but one that has been with us for some time.

Then my teacher friend made a telling point.

The union / management negotiation, she suggested, breaks down when the two sides involved trap an innocent third entity between them. In a municipal strike, that third entity is the public; in the case of a teacher strike, it is schoolchildren.

"The whole mess," she stated, "resembles a sandwich with the innocent party caught between two slices of bread. Something has gone very wrong here. Why should the public or children be cast as victims in a struggle they had nothing to do with?"

I added that this struggle could continue for some time. After all, the entity termed 'management' in this case was a combination of elected politicians and civil servant managers, and would be unlikely to state that they were folding the enterprise the way a private sector company might.

After a rather protracted and heated discussion involving several more pints, we reached a sort of agreement on the issue, at least one worthy of further exploration. This would involve binding arbitration, with three players: a negotiator selected by the union, one selected by management, and a third agreed to by both. Non-financial matters would be up for decision, and the budget for the settlement drawn from public treasury would be capped and be approved by a respected auditor prior to the negotiation.

We all deemed the process worth a try, and the approach might even work. Certainly students, parents and taxpayers would be grateful. The problem would be that to bring this about would take a degree of courage on the part of politicians.

As Charlie Brown might say, "Rats."