Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Take back our public services

In light of recent events, I thought it would be timely to re-post an updated version of this op-ed, which won third place in last fall's Western Standard editorial contest.

In Montreal, a city roads crew was caught spending just six minutes of its nine-hour shift fixing three potholes. In British Columbia, teacher unions are contemplating another illegal strike, just four months after their last one. In Ontario, CUPE President Sid Ryan threatened that municipal workers who clean schools, plow roads and pick up garbage would walk off the job, in protest against the McGuinty government's pension legislation. (A last-minute resolution averted the wildcat strike.)

Organized labour has some clever slogans about all the good it has done for society, such as “Unions: the people who brought you the weekend.” But what have they done for us lately?

Think of the state of our roads, the quality of our education and health care, the cleanliness of our streets. The overall tax burden has grown, but this has hardly been matched by an increase in the quality of government services. Yet the wages and benefits of public sector workers continue to rise. Of course they do: by their very nature, public sector unions tend to drive up the costs and size of government. Union dues – themselves a cost driver – go to employ officials whose full-time work consists of filing grievances, lobbying the government for more workers, coordinating with other unions and supporting sympathetic candidates.

Much of the impetus for contracting out the delivery of public services stems from roadblocks faced by politicians attempting to meet the demands of taxpayers or deliver on good-faith election promises. Unions label such activity "privatization," but it's not. From their point of view, it's de-unionization. Scratch the surface of any of the recent campaigns against health care reform, and you will find that most are organized and funded by unions. They oppose health care reform because they are afraid it will result in new services or facilities outside the current unionized health care sphere.

Of course, nothing is preventing unions from attempting to organize workers in non-unionized facilities, but after 30-odd years of public sector unionization, a sense of entitlement takes hold. And it's easier to protect existing union turf by holding citizens and politicians hostage through work-to-rule and illegal strikes, than to convince non-unionized workers it's worth handing over part of their paycheques to Sid Ryan et al.

Since public servants began to unionize, the public has gradually lost control of its public services. Some have argued for outlawing strikes by teachers and other public sector workers, but this would be mere tinkering. The only way for the public to take back control of the services it owns is by decertifying public sector unions and restoring a direct employment relationship between government workers and democratically elected governments. Here’s why it makes sense:

Once the public has decided that a particular service is to be provided by the government, then that service is, by definition, essential. Many try to make a distinction between services that relate to safety and other government services. But public schools, transit and most other public services are legally or effectively monopolies, in that most citizens have no practical alternative when those services are not available.

Public sector collective agreements take away the public’s democratic right to decide what public services are to be delivered and what terms of employment are to be offered (provided those terms comply with employment standards laws and the common law). The wages, benefits and working conditions of public sector workers should be open to the democratic process as are all other aspects of government. They should not be decided in backrooms in negotiations from which the public is barred and on which the public’s elected representatives are forbidden to comment.

It is not the role of government to engage in unfair labour competition with the private sector. Some people think it is noble for the government to “set an example” for the private sector through higher wages and benefits. Such people don’t understand economics. The increasing taxes that those business will have to pay to support the government’s “example” mean that they will be hard-pressed to pay the employees they already have, let alone pay them more.

Thousands of private firms have policies and procedures for dealing fairly with employees; so would a union-free public sector. If the public through their elected government provides wages, benefits and working conditions that can’t compare with private employers’, then it will find itself with fewer and less capable employees.

Public sector workers would continue to be free to advocate for themselves through the democratic process. But those who interfere with the provision of government services will, like private sector workers, be subject to the appropriate civil or criminal sanctions. Those who fail to show up for work will not be "on strike," they will have quit.

Let’s put the “public” back into the public sector, by putting citizens and their elected representatives back in charge of our public services.

Friday, February 24, 2006

My sister would relate: man kills neighbour over door slamming

I noticed this item on Drudge, about a Florida man whose motive for killing his neighbour was apparently her slamming of her door late at night.

When I lived with my late sister in a townhouse in Mississauga, our next door neighbour would slam the door loudly when he left for work in the morning. I rarely noticed it, but it really irritated my sister, who slept in the front bedroom. I never contemplated killing the guy, but my sister probably did.

This neighbour was a rather bizarre fellow who once gave me the fright of my life when I spotted him walking his dog in full Klingon regalia (him, not the dog). On another occasion, my sister and I arrived home to find his Hyundai in its parking spot, with its front wheels on blocks and the engine running at full tilt in park (or neutral?). I wondered aloud what the purpose of this was, and my sister speculated that perhaps he was trying to get it into warp drive.

On the morning of her funeral -- which was a Saturday -- I had to leave very early to meet my family at my mother's house. In my sister's honour, I slammed our door as loud as could. I hope it woke him up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

McGuinty Memory Lane on Illegal Strikes

In October 1997, Ontario teachers staged an illegal strike (which they billed as a "political protest") against the Harris government's Bill 160. The bill was designed to move education dollars from administration to the classroom by, among other things, requiring teachers to teach an additional half-class per day. The teacher unions' spin was that the bill was designed to allow the government to cut education funding (a specious argument: the government did not require legislation to change the level of grants provided to school boards).

Dalton McGuinty had been leader of the Ontario Liberals for less than a year. Seeking to establish his credibility on education (and perhaps curry favour with teacher unions) McGuinty wholeheartedly endorsed the illegal strike, even appearing at a teacher union rally at Queen's Park. The teacher unions, sensing public support was waning, ended the illegal strike after two weeks.

That was then . . .

"I understand it's not easy. But take heart in knowing you are doing the right thing."
--Dalton McGuinty, Teachers' Rally at Queen's Park, October 29, 1997

". . . I'm . . . saying right here before you that I'll be with the teachers. . . . This strike may very well be technically illegal. . ."
--Dalton McGuinty, Focus Ontario, Global TV, October 18, 1997

"If they walk out, I'll be with the teachers."
--Dalton McGuinty, Focus Ontario, Global TV, October 18, 1997

. . . This is now

I believe that CUPE in particular has every right, and I fully respect and support that right, to protest any action on the part of our government, but at the same time, I think it is wrong to engage in an illegal activity to register that protest.

I think it's wrong, because you're angry with the government, to take it out on Ontario families. I think it's wrong, because you're angry with the government, to keep kids out of school. I think it's wrong, because you're angry with the government, to stop plowing our roads. I think it's wrong, because you're angry with the government, to stop picking up our garbage. I think it's wrong, because you're angry with the government, to stop providing those important services we all count on.
--Dalton McGuinty, Question Period, February 21, 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006

Conflict of Interest Complaint re McGuinty Appointee

David Onley is an anchor at news channel CP24 and long time advocate for the disabled, being disabled himself. He is also the recently-appointed (as of December 2005) chair of the McGuinty government’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, a part-time position paying $225 per diem.

Unfortunately, doing both jobs puts him in an obvious conflict of interest as a journalist. Clause 5 – News of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council says:

“It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. . . . Broadcasters shall refer to the Code of Ethics of the Radio and Television News Directors of Canada (“RTNDA”) for more detailed provisions regarding broadcast journalism in general.”

According to Article Six (Conflict of Interest) of the Code of Ethics of the RTNDA, “Broadcast journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.”

Being a paid advisor of a sitting government you report on sounds like a clear conflict to me. But if journalists and news outlets won’t behave ethically, then somebody has to bring their behaviour to the attention of the bodies whose job it is to ensure that they do.

You can e-mail your complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council here and the Radio-Television News Directors Association here. I sent the following complaint:

To: the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and Radio-Television News Directors Association:

I believe that cable news station CP24 is in violation of the RTNDA’s Code of Ethics, due to the fact that one of its anchors, David Onley, has accepted an appointment to advise the Ontario government, yet continues to read news and conduct interviews on CP24, including interviews with ministers of the government that appointed him.

The position is Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, an appointment made by the Minister of Community and Social Services, for which Mr. Onley will be paid $225 per diem (it is a part-time position). The details of the council and Mr. Onley’s appointment are at the website of the Ontario government’s Public Appointments Secretariat (http://www.pas.gov.on.ca/scripts/en/BoardDetails.asp?boardID=141221). The December 13 release announcing his appointment is at the website of the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services (http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/CFCS/en/newsRoom/newsReleases/051213.htm.)

On the afternoon of Friday, December 16, 2005, Mr. Onley conducted an on-air interview with Ontario’s Minister of Health. On the afternoon of February 7, 2006, Mr. Onley conducted an on-air interview with Ontario's Attorney-General. As of February 20, 2006, Mr. Onley was still performing anchor duties at CP24. The Code of Ethics of the RTNDA states, under Article Six, “Broadcast journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.” I believe that Mr. Onley’s provision of paid advice to the Ontario government is a clear conflict of interest with his duties as anchor on a news channel.

Thank you for your attention.

Joan Tintor


With a sizeable cohort of former broadcast journalists on staff (e.g. Matt Maychak, newly-anointed Toronto-Danforth candidate Ben Chin, Leon Korbee), odds are the McGuintyites know this is less than copasetic, but think they can get away with it. Onley’s on-air interview with McGuinty’s health minister George Smitherman three days after his appointment suggests that Onley thinks he can get away with it too.

This situation brings back memories of McGuinty’s first hire after he was elected Liberal leader in 1996: his kid brother Brendan. Ontario Legislature rules are explicit that MPPs can’t hire relatives. McGuinty tried to get around it by making his brother an employee of the Liberal caucus services bureau, though he made it clear that Brendan would be working directly for him, telling reporters, “he’ll be of great assistance to me, to have somebody on staff who will be completely truthful.” (I guess his non-sibling staff were all liars), and “I can always count on him ... to tell me when I’m doing something stupid.”

After it blew up in his face, McGuinty cancelled his plans to hire Brendan and blamed the public, telling the Toronto Sun “I regret that I underestimated the extent to which my brother’s appointment would be misinterpreted.” Brendan eventually ended up back in Ottawa, where he spent several years as a top staffer to Ottawa mayor and former Liberal MPP Bob Chiarelli.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Update from a soldier serving in Iraq

Note: 1st Lieutenant Micah J. Garrison has been serving in Iraq for nine months. He and his unit hope to be home by the end of May. He came to my attention through a piece he wrote for AccessNorthGa.com, in response to comments by Senator Hillary Clinton about body armour.

Hello everyone. I hope all of you have had a happy Valentine's Day. I'm sure Hallmark has had a pleasant February 14. Today marks our 14th month away from home and our 9th month in Iraq. It's hard to comprehend how much time that is. My wife Tara put it into perspective in a recent conversation. We bought a house in May of 2004 and in September bought a Boston Terrier puppy to keep her company while I was deployed. Tara recently said, "It's sad that Bailey (our dog) has lived in our new house longer than you have." It's kind of funny to me when I look at it like that. We're definitely looking forward to coming home, but we still have a lot of work to do here.

At times it is very rewarding and we feel great about what we do and at other times it is extremely frustrating and makes you angry. I and two of my men were on a recent three day mission (yes, it was extremely cold) to try to catch insurgents putting in IEDs (roadside bombs) in an IED heavy area. We watched in frustration and anger when, less than twelve hours apart, two different patrols were blown up right in front of us because they wouldn't listen to what we told them on the radio. We were less than 400 meters (about 1 1/3 football fields) away from them when they blew up.

The two IEDs resulted in three casualties, one of which was fatal. It was frustrating because the IEDs had already been put in before we got there and we missed our chance to take out the bad guys. It was also frustrating for us because the patrols didn't listen to what we tried to tell them and we had to watch as they got blown up. We did help call in security and medical assets on the radio, so we did what we could to help afterward. This makes several IEDs we've been very close to when they exploded. The explosions were quite large and very loud. At least now I'll have something to blame my selective hearing (oops, I mean hearing loss) on when I get home.

The reason I've been sending these e-mails is because the most common question I get is "what is it like to be there?" While I'll never be able to fully put into words or express what it has been like, I have tried to explain and describe some of the things Infantry soldiers experience over here and what it takes to insure the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. I hope that I have portrayed some of these feelings and experiences to all of you. Tara said that at least I'll have some new stories to tell when I get home, but I'm sure she'll get tired of them soon enough. We're not exactly sure when we're coming home yet, but we're fairly confident that we're down to a double digit number. We've already started some of the initial work required before we can return (equipment accountability, countless inventories, etc), so we know we're finally getting close.

Our lives have been changed forever by everything we have seen, done, and experienced here. We also realize that we will never take so many things in our lives for granted ever again. It is hard to explain to people how truly blessed we are as Americans to live in the states and enjoy the freedoms we have. If everyone in the states could have walked in our shoes for the last year they would definitely to some re-prioritizing in their lives and wouldn't take so many things, both large and small, for granted.

A quote I read and shared with some of you earlier in my deployment says it best. It says, "You've never lived until you've almost died. For those who fight for it life has a flavor the protected will never know." I hope all of you have a great spring, I'm looking forward to seeing all of you when I return home. Take care, and don't work to hard. Micah.

Update/correction: Several people have asked if the patrols we saw get hit were from our unit. No they weren't. Also, the best way I can describe how it felt would be if you had a front row seat to a train wreck back home and could do nothing about it. We were 300-400 meters away. Obviously that is 3-4 football fields, not 1 1/3 football fields like I said. As a teacher I had in high school used to say, I was just seeing if y'all were paying attention.

1LT Micah J. Garrison
HHC TF 2-130 Infantry
Recon Platoon
APO AE 09381

Monday, February 13, 2006

Smart of NDP to take a buzz saw to Hargrove

I am not normally in favour of political parties stripping people of membership (and in light of recent events, it's lucky for some of us that the Conservative Party and its predecessor entities didn't make a habit of it).

But even though it doesn't reflect well on the New "Democratic" Party, I think it was smart of the Ontario NDP executive to strip Basil "Buzz" Hargrove of his membership, for violating the party's constitution regarding provisions against endorsing other candidates. The move also automatically revokes his membership in the federal party.

You can't blame the NDP for being fed up with Buzz taking a buzz saw to their interests in two general elections in a row now. Hargrove did the exact same thing to them in the 2003 provincial election – advocate voting Liberal to defeat the Tories – which may have played a role in the Howard Hampton-led New Democrats falling one seat short of party status in the election outcome. After enduring 11 weeks of negative publicity for refusing to agree to grant some kind of status to the NDP, Dalton McGuinty relented and allowed the NDP a reduced standing and a research budget. A few months later the NDP got their full status back by taking a seat from the Liberals in a Hamilton by-election. That status is again at risk with the resignation of Marilyn Churley to run (unsuccessfully) in the federal election. The NDP has to win her seat in Beaches-East York to retain their party status.

Buzz Hargrove was also a considerable pain in the bum to former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough during her tenure. She must be smiling today.

In January, I wondered why the media treated Buzz's endorsement of Martin as big news, considering it was Buzz's second time at the Liberal party, and suggested that the NDP should have a nice bag of quotes next time to inoculate themselves against yet another Liberal endorsement from Buzz. Turns out they decided that wasn't good enough.

No doubt the provincial NDP made the move with an eye to the next Ontario election, scheduled for October 2007. If Buzz tries to pull the strategic voting stunt again, perhaps it will have less impact.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Day Five – A way out or two . . .

David Emerson’s floor-crossing and elevation to cabinet is not evidence of deep-seated hypocrisy on the part of the Harper regime. Nor is it fatal to the Conservative party. But it is a misstep that can and should be fixed, thereby minimizing its long-term effects. Here are two ideas of how to fix it.

Read the rest at Elect Emerson.

Day Five -- Media notes

On Thursday night, TVO’s Fourth Reading – primarily a show devoted to Ontario provincial politics – briefly dealt with the Emerson issue. One of the guests was Senator Hugh Segal. Segal said that he is in favour of legislation that would require floor crossers to seek the approval of their voters, and that he would vote for such legislation, but noted there is no law now.

Read the rest at Elect Emerson.

Day Five -- Media notes

On Thursday night, TVO’s Fourth Reading – primarily a show devoted to Ontario provincial politics – briefly dealt with the Emerson issue. One of the guests was Senator Hugh Segal. Segal said that he is in favour of legislation that would require floor crossers to seek the approval of their voters, and that he would vote for such legislation, but noted there is no law now.

Read the rest at Elect Emerson.

Day Five -- Former Stronach riding president calls Emerson appointment “a mistake”

An Aurora Era-Banner story quoting Stephen Somerville, president of the Newmarket-Aurora Conservative association, is posted at www.electemerson.blogspot.com.

Monday, February 06, 2006

ElectEmerson.blogspot.com

I have started a blog focussing on the need for David Emerson to be elected as a Conservative, including ideas for action. Check it out at www.electemerson.blogspot.com

Friday, February 03, 2006

“How dare u speak to me like that?”

Okay, it’s not quite up (or down) to the level of “Kiss my ass” as Scott Brison was reputed to have said to Sandra McGrath, a long-time Nova Scotia Grit who felt entitled to be reappointed to a government post.

But – as reported in today’s Ottawa Sun – it was Brison’s response to an e-mail from one of his own staffers, who is apparently unimpressed with Brison’s efforts to learn French:

An e-mail message from his personal assistant Adele Desjardins, obtained by the Sun, scolds the outgoing public works minister for falling behind with his French lessons.

"I know you are the best to lead the Party and I am ready to work hard," reads the terse exchange with Brison. "But I am not a machine, and co-operation is needed."

The e-mail, sent out with the subject line, "You will never learn French the way you are doing it," included an angry response from Brison: "How dare u speak to me like that?"

I don’t know what sort of French program Brison is following, but so far his fluency has been best demonstrated by his habit of calling female reporters “mon petit chou” (or should that be ma petite chou?), which he apparently thinks is funny. The female reporters, I’m guessing, not so much (not all women over 30 are fag hags, Scott!).

Despite the intemperate BlackBerrying Brison does have a point. Political staffers who find themselves working for an MP considering a leadership bid need to ask themselves whether they can wholeheartedly support the MP’s campaign, not the other way around: an MP should not have to earn the support of his own paid staff. If the staffers are not inclined to work for their boss' leadership, they should leave the MP’s employ under their own steam. That’s a position I found myself in once upon a time, and I left of my own accord (without telling the MP why).

On the topic of another former Conservative pondering the Liberal leadership, Belinda Stronach’s “En Anglais, s’il vous plait” seems to have set a new bar for the number of words it takes to sink a leadership bid. Last night on TVO’s 4th Reading, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson added his name to the list of reporters who think Stronach’s campaign is over before it has begun, thanks to her unilingualism.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Sign of Four*

Thanks to Damian Brooks, I’ve been “tagged” with what I guess is the blogospheric equivalent of a chain letter, but fortunately there is no money involved. So here goes:

Four vehicles you've owned:
I’ve owned only one vehicle, a 1985 gold Honda Civic that I bought in December 1988. I drove it for 10 years and probably could have driven it for more, had I not smashed the front end five years in.

Four jobs you've had:
Mac’s Milk in high school, legal secretary (at various times), freelance journalist, staffer to a Harris-era cabinet minister.

Four places you've lived:
New Toronto, Mississauga, downtown Toronto, west end Toronto.

Four vacations you've taken:
Sauble Beach (childhood – thanks Mom!); Washington, D.C. (high school); Montreal and Qu├ębec City (1980s sometime); Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine (which conveniently turned out to coincide with Trudeau’s funeral – so I missed all the sick-making hero-worship and revisionist history. Trudeau loved regular people? Yeah, right!)

* Also a Sherlock Holmes story