|Posted on July 29, 2015 at 9:20 AM|
With impending work to rule labour action planned for September 2015, many parents are expressing their frustration with Ontario's government run education system. The Teachers' unions are planning to withdraw services, specifically targeting the most vulnerable of students. No more extra help provided if your son or daughter struggles at a subject. No comments provided to parents to guide them in identifying that their child may be falling behind. And no more after lesson time parent teacher interviews. The unions want moms, dads and children to pay the price for their inability to negotiate successfully with Queen's Park.
But even if the teacher labour dispute gets settled with little disruption, parents know that problems with government run education persist. Bungling mismanagement, budget failures, and low enrolment at the Toronto District School Board has hundreds of schools facing closure. The effect of these potential school closures will be far reaching in many communities within the city.
As the recent sex-ed curriculum roll out shows, in a province where common people cherish diversity, government run schools really have no tolerance or respect for cultural differences. Our government run schools are the quintessential melting pot where a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter model has undermined our multi cultural mosaic. Activist government intervention is meaning for all students to comply with certain ideological standards, and outliers are labeled as intolerant, or with words ending in 'phobe'. Canada has a painful history with attempting to 'modernize' indigenous peoples through the education of children. The Ontario government's use of schools for social engineering attempts to force western mores on the children of recent immigrants. At the very least, the Premier and Education Minister need a history lesson on residential schools before repeating the same mistakes with intolerance towards other cultural communities.
As frustrated as parents are, they need to be assured that there are alternatives to labour strife, school board mismanagement, and the homogenization of our current government run school system. In jurisdictions across the continent, parents are working with educators to improve the quality of education.
As parents, we don't need to tolerate work to rule actions that target vulnerable children. Parents shouldn't have to sit idly by and watch a school board fail as badly as the TDSB has done with its finances; forcing them to close neighbourhood schools. We need to demand that our public education respect the cultural diversity of Ontario.
Washington DC, a government run school system that was considered so bad that even a progressive like President Obama opted out of, sending his daughters to private schools instead, have made tremendous strides through reforms.
The Teachers unions don't like these reforms. Longer work days for teachers and ineffective teachers losing their jobs is not something that labour unions support. Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the Washington DC school system, had the courage to fire 165 teachers who received poor job performance appraisals. While that system today is much improved because the dead wood was cut out, this mass firing would eventually force Ms. Rhee to resign due to political pressure exerted by unions.
Despite what the unions say, parents and students in Washington DC are seeing the results. And Ontario voters need to decide who should benefit from the investment we make in public education. Is the purpose of public education to see students achieve? Or is the primary goal of our investment in public education to see teachers work less hours and enjoy greater job security - despite current levels of record high unemployment numbers for graduates?
Click on the link below and let's start a discussion about reforming Ontario's government run school system.
If you want more information on how charter schools are working in the US, you can also watch a documentary entitled Rebirth: New Orleans, which is available on Netflix.
Canada's only charity dedicated to the improvement of public education, The Society for Quality Education, is pushing for reforms in our schools, including offering school choice and charter schools. You can help with our advocacy by donating to the Society for Quality Education. As a registered charity, all donations are tax deductible. If you want to be part of that change, help us by clicking this link to donate online: http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/index.php/donate/
|Posted on July 23, 2015 at 9:45 AM|
City planners and the Ontario Liberals have long been demanding that what precious money is left in infrastructure reserves be used for financing public transit. With commuting times around the GTA rivaling the worst in North America, you could forgive commuters for thinking that more highways are needed to alleviate their traffic woes. But no, in excess of $50 Billion is slated into expanding existing streets to put in bus lanes and light rail instead.
Unfortunately, the reserves for infrastructure as they are today, can't cover that tab. That means Kathleen Wynne, Steven Del Duca, and Charles Sousa are dreaming up new and creative ways to take that $50 Billion from your savings and savings belonging to every other Ontarian. Their plan will mean more taxes. You will see an increase in user fees. Tolled-HOV lanes - and we've have seen a taste for how much Toronto drivers enjoy HOV lanes during these Pan Am Games - will sprout up on major highways, which will exacerbate existing bottlenecks all over the city.
Gas prices, which are currently nearing $1.20 per litre, will have new taxes added to increase the cost of filling up.
Is this war on the car worth it? Will new public transit actually help solve the traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars and on to public transit?
Recent history says no.
The Union to Pearson Airport train, during an anticipated "peak usage time" of the Pan Am Games, runs almost empty.
The Sheppard subway line, anticipated to carry 14,000 riders per hour, only draws 5,000.
The new bus rapid way on Highway 7, called Viva Next, is not seeing anywhere near the Metrolinx estimates in terms of ridership according to commuters.
With these completed projects failing to meet expectations, has the government learned its lesson in terms of building new commuter lines?
All evidence suggests, No.
When I was a councillor, I confronted York Region about these woeful statistics. Their response was "people will eventually come around."
In my home town, Newmarket, hundreds of millions have been spent constructing a rapid bus transit lane along Davis Drive running just a few kilometers in length. The project has gone well beyond scope both in terms of time and money. When completed, it will connect the Southlake Hospital to the Upper Canada Mall. The rest of the route, just a few years ago bustling with strip plazas and other activity, is now lined with vacant buildings and despair. Construction has decimated these local businesses.
Except for those who have the need to commute to either the Hospital or the Mall, there is little need to pay the $4 fare - among the highest in the nation - to ride this bus line; a project that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. It was conceived with the notion that Newmarket would host a post secondary campus. No campus is forthcoming, because the province decided to build one in Markham instead; and with local businesses shutting down, this bus line has locally gained the reputation as being Newmarket's version of the Springfield monorail.
With that experience to guide them, Metrolinx wouldn't make the same mistake twice, would it? Apparently so. Construction is being started on a second rapid bus transit way in Newmarket. This one will connect Davis Drive to Mulock Drive. On this new line, there is nothing at the Mulock terminus that would draw commuters. At Yonge and Mulock, there is no major employer, no facilities, or any other reasons why scores of commuters would need to get to this particular intersection in "rapid" fashion.
And in the City of Brampton, plans to build an LRT on Main St. seem to based on the same faulty thinking by planners. Unless the province plans to build a post secondary facility in Brampton, there is simply no good reason why commuters would travel this line.
Why is the province investing hundreds of millions into transit lines where there is no need to commute to? How does lines to the Main Street Brampton or to the intersection of Yonge and Mulock in Newmarket get people out of their cars and into buses or trains?
Shouldn't commuters who are bearing the brunt of financing these expensive projects be demanding better results from Kathleen Wynne, Steven Del Duca, and Charles Sousa - and from their local councils? Bringing trains and buses into areas that people commute to may get people to leave their cars. But building lines where people have no need to travel to just doesn't make any sense.
We have yet to see any evidence that the Wynne government knows what it is doing with the public transit file. If current plans continue, Ontarians will only be spending record sums of money on white elephant projects, and traffic congestion will worsen.
|Posted on June 2, 2015 at 3:45 PM|
Hours ago, Premier Philippe Coulliard announced that the head quarters of the Caisse de depot will be renamed in honour of Jacques Parizeau, the former Quebec premier who passed away yesterday. It is the right gesture to honour a man who served his province with fierce pride.
But another honour, a state funeral, seems just wrong.
Traditionally, state funerals in Canada are held for sitting Prime Ministers, Premiers and members of cabinet who die while in office. Occasionally, cabinet will extend the honour to someone of particular importance, such as when Stephen Harper bestowed a state funeral on Jack Layton, then the leader of the opposition.
At the federal level, there have been 34 state funerals. All but Jack Layton were former Governor Generals, Prime Ministers, or cabinet ministers.
At the provincial level, 10 state funerals have taken place. 7 of the 10 happened in Quebec with the most recent one being Jean Beliveau, former Captain of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Parizeau's funeral will be the 8th Quebec state funeral.
There can be no doubt that Jacques Parizeau was deeply committed to the people of Quebec. Among Quebec nationalists, he expressed a belief that an independent Quebec could find its place within North America. He came within a single percentage point of realizing his dream of nationhood in the referendum 20 years ago.
And famously, he blamed "les autres" for his loss.
While everyone waxes nostalgic over Parizeau's passion for Quebec, let's not gloss the fact that he was also a racist. In his bitterness after the defeat, he believed that the Quebec nation was stolen from him by "ethnics;" and attempted to divide Quebec society resurrecting "pure laine" sentiment against english-speaking and immigrant voters.
It's the bitterness he expressed towards "les autres" that disqualifies him for a state funeral. Canada is a country of tolerance. We respect and honour differences in race, culture, sexuality, and creed.
Giving a state funeral to a man who never respected the fabric of Canadian culture, who exploited differences for political ambitions, and who encouraged distrust between neighbours does not measure up.
This isn't to say he doesn't deserve to be honoured in other ways.
But a state funeral? That's a mistake.
|Posted on May 7, 2015 at 12:50 AM|
MacLean's columnist, Paul Wells, wrote a book on Prime Minister Stephen Harper entitled "The longer I'm Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada 2006 --." In this book, the author warns that as the years pass with Harper in office, Canada is being radically transformed.
Truthfully, Canada is being transformed because of Stephen Harper's government in Ottawa - just not in the way that Paul Wells anticipated it would be. Wells pictured our federal government being fashioned into a reflection of a Reagan-esque Washington, where an enduring small-c government will be his legacy.
If Wells is right and that was Harper's goal, then he hasn't accomplished it. Canada's Economic Action Plan was one of this country's largest ever public spending policies and Harper's government has run deficits each year in office, except for the last budget.
But Stephen Harper has changed Canada, and in at least one case irreparably, because of his influence on Provincial politics.
Over the course of the past 50 years, provincial leaders have postured during campaigns that Ottawa has been unfair to their province. Trudeau's National Energy Policy was pure gold to the Alberta PC's led by Peter Lougheed. Anti Liberal sentiment has endured and kept the PC's in power for more than a generation after Trudeau left office.
Canadian voters inherently understand the need for checks and balances by electing a Premier who promises to guard against the power of the federal government.
The trend in Ontario is if the Prime Minister is a Liberal, then the Premier will be a PC - and vice versa. This trend has been going on for generations.
In reaction to Stephen Harper being Prime Minister, Ontarians have sleep-walked into re-electing Liberals who have put in place policies that have devastated the Ontario economy. Seven years have passed since the great recession and Ontario shows scant few signs of recovery. The crown jewel of the Ontario economy, it's manufacturing sector, has left Ontario after years of artificially high energy costs and unnecessary red tape. Local economies once buttressed by auto manufacturing are left reeling under Kathleen Wynne's government.
The longer that Stephen Harper remains Prime Minister, the deeper the chasm for Ontarians created under provincial Liberal mismanagement. With public debt loads skyrocketing, it will soon be impossible for the next generation to find its footing after a decade of reckless waste.
What is going on in Ontario today under the ardently left wing government of Kathleen Wynne should be a splash of cold water in the faces of Albertans who voted to give a majority mandate to the NDP last night.
Alberta had 42 years of provincial PC power. During that time, they saw four conservative Prime Ministers, Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, and Stephen Harper. (Clark and Campbell held power for only a few months and they had little impact on provincial politics.)
When Mulroney won his massive majority by piecing together a winning coalition of conservative voters in Alberta and Quebec, his government elicited a jarring reaction from Alberta voters. Rather than change the provincial government, Albertans birthed a new federal party, the Reform Party, and booted all of the federal PC's out of the province in the next election.
And the provincial vs. federal dynamic played a role in last night's Alberta election results. A former high ranking cabinet minister in the Harper government, Jim Prentice was soundly rejected by voters, ending the PC dynasty as the party moves from first to third in the provincial legislature. Simply put, Jim Prentice was too close to Stephen Harper. And when Alberta's only sound opposition, former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, shocked her party to join Prentice in an attempt to "strengthen" forces, we saw the idea backfire magnificently in last night's results, with a crushing Orange wave. Alberta voters did not trust Prentice to provide the checks and balances that will see the province through the economic crisis brought on by low oil prices.
Does an Alberta Orange Wave mean that Stephen Harper's support in Alberta is waning? Will we see prominent cabinet ministers defeated on October 19th?
Anti-Harperites might think so but there really isn't a chance the CPC will lose seats in Alberta this time around.
Alberta has an Albertan Prime Minister. Many of the most powerful cabinet ministers are also Albertan. When Harper retires, his successor will likely also be an Albertan.
Alberta voters have people in Ottawa that they know they can count on.
On the other hand, the two other federal options can be easily discounted. Mulcair and Trudeau are both from Montreal and each have a checkered history with Alberta oil interests.
Rather than change the Prime Minister, Alberta voters decided that they will change the provincial government instead last night.
Checks and balances will be restored in the voter's minds.
|Posted on February 24, 2015 at 2:15 PM|
(photo credit Toronto Star)
I was a speaker at this morning's rally organized at Queen's Park. This rally was organized in an effort to give Ontario parents a voice in speaking to the premier's introduction of a new sex education curriculum. I thank organizer Sandra Hamill and the many who helped. I also want to thank the media today for giving me the opportunity to speak about our children's education. Our children's education is an important subject, regardless of the issues.
Below is a text of my speech:
Like many of today’s speakers, I have devoted much of my time to my community. I am a television commentator and a newspaper columnist. I have served in elected office. I am the President of the York Region Taxpayers’ Coalition and I am the Vice President of the Society for Quality Education. But the job title I like best never gets printed on a business card. I am a mother. And I’m speaking as one today. Almost 16 years ago, I brought my first child, Jack, home from the hospital. I remember thinking how small and vulnerable he was. And as a first time mother, I was struck by the fact that this tiny little person was completely dependent upon my husband and I for everything he needed. Under our care, our three boys learned to walk, to talk, to use the bathroom, to dress themselves and how to behave socially. And then we sent them off to school. What a shock it was for me to learn that Ontario had a school system who believes that it knows what my children need better than I do. What a shock to believe that a school system knows what’s better for any child than their own parent does. Gregg Bereznick is the Superintendent of Education at the Waterloo Region District School Board. He wants you to know the important roles that educators play in raising your children. Back in 2012, he told the media that he believes teachers and principals are actually “co-parents”. That's right. Co-parents. Ronald Reagan once said that that the most dangerous words in the English language are, “Hi, I am from the Government and I am here to help.” Not so long ago, we used to believe that the government served the public. In a democracy, we are told, the power of the government comes from the people. But, my how that has changed. Premier Wynne and her government in the building behind us believe that they know what our children need better than what us parents do. They tell us that the way we raised our children is outdated. They believe that we are failing in our responsibilities as parents. We are told that the traditions of our Society must give way in the name of progress. The problems of the 21st century are far too complex for people like you and I to understand. And if we don’t understand these complex issues, how can we possibly teach our children about them? Let's discuss sexual education in our schools, Madame Premier. Premier, perhaps you can tell me how to explain to my boys about some of the gender differences they are experiencing at Ontario Schools under your government. I want to know why boys graduating from an Ontario high school today are statistically less likely to attend university than their female classmates. I’d like you to explain, Premier, the gender gap in EQAO test scores on literacy and mathematics. Don’t our boys deserve the same opportunity to succeed in school as our girls? Does your government’s new sex education curriculum provide any explanation on the statistics regarding the gender of those who underachieve at school? Because when the Premier is talking about preparing our children for the complexities of the 21st century, surely she can predict the social and economic consequences of a school system that is displaying all the symptoms of gender inequality. Reading, writing and arithmetic – taught with equality and accessibility for both genders – this is the kind of sex education that needs to be improved on our childrens' curriculum. These are the subjects that need to be a part of your conversations. This is what parents are demanding from you, Premier. Now I know that there are people who think we are ignorant for speaking out against this new curriculum. There are people on television, radio, and in the newspaper who will say that issues like sexting, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases, homophobia, and so on require government intervention. Look, if I saw a scintilla of evidence of the government being successful at resolving any human misery, then I might agree. But the government hasn’t solved crime, or poverty, or homelessness, or hunger. The government hasn’t stopped racism, sexism, or ageism. Believe me, for almost 100 years, various governments have tried many times to eradicate social problems and every single attempt has failed. Government is never the answer. As parents, when government fails to solve any of society’s problems, we also know what works. What works in eradicating hunger and homelessness; in ending discrimination, inequality, and especially the challenges our youth face today, is a strong family. The strong family is the foundation for everything else in a child’s life.
Mr. Bereznick, no matter how well meaning you think you are about my children, you will never be their co-parent. You will never have anything that compares to a parent’s bond with their child. You will never commit the way that a parent is committed to giving their children the very best.
Today, as evidenced by your presence, we are hearing the voices of strong families.
Thank you for lending them in your support of strong Ontario families.
And thank you for challenging Premier Wynne's attempt to undermine families.
Like many of today’s speakers, I have devoted much of my time to my community. I am a television commentator and a newspaper columnist. I have served in elected office. I am the President of the York Region Taxpayers’ Coalition and I am the Vice President of the Society for Quality Education.
But the job title I like best never gets printed on a business card.
I am a mother. And I’m speaking as one today.
Almost 16 years ago, I brought my first child, Jack, home from the hospital. I remember thinking how small and vulnerable he was. And as a first time mother, I was struck by the fact that this tiny little person was completely dependent upon my husband and I for everything he needed.
Under our care, our three boys learned to walk, to talk, to use the bathroom, to dress themselves and how to behave socially.
And then we sent them off to school. What a shock it was for me to learn that Ontario had a school system who believes that it knows what my children need better than I do. What a shock to believe that a school system knows what’s better for any child than their own parent does.
Gregg Bereznick is the Superintendent of Education at the Waterloo Region District School Board. He wants you to know the important roles that educators play in raising your children. Back in 2012, he told the media that he believes teachers and principals are actually “co-parents”.
That's right. Co-parents.
Ronald Reagan once said that that the most dangerous words in the English language are, “Hi, I am from the Government and I am here to help.”
Not so long ago, we used to believe that the government served the public. In a democracy, we are told, the power of the government comes from the people.
But, my how that has changed.
Premier Wynne and her government in the building behind us believe that they know what our children need better than what us parents do. They tell us that the way we raised our children is outdated. They believe that we are failing in our responsibilities as parents.
We are told that the traditions of our Society must give way in the name of progress. The problems of the 21st century are far too complex for people like you and I to understand. And if we don’t understand these complex issues, how can we possibly teach our children about them?
Let's discuss sexual education in our schools, Madame Premier.
Premier, perhaps you can tell me how to explain to my boys about some of the gender differences they are experiencing at Ontario Schools under your government.
I want to know why boys graduating from an Ontario high school today are statistically less likely to attend university than their female classmates.
I’d like you to explain, Premier, the gender gap in EQAO test scores on literacy and mathematics.
Don’t our boys deserve the same opportunity to succeed in school as our girls?
Does your government’s new sex education curriculum provide any explanation on the statistics regarding the gender of those who underachieve at school?
Because when the Premier is talking about preparing our children for the complexities of the 21st century, surely she can predict the social and economic consequences of a school system that is displaying all the symptoms of gender inequality.
Reading, writing and arithmetic – taught with equality and accessibility for both genders – this is the kind of sex education that needs to be improved on our childrens' curriculum. These are the subjects that need to be a part of your conversations. This is what parents are demanding from you, Premier.
Now I know that there are people who think we are ignorant for speaking out against this new curriculum.
There are people on television, radio, and in the newspaper who will say that issues like sexting, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases, homophobia, and so on require government intervention.
Look, if I saw a scintilla of evidence of the government being successful at resolving any human misery, then I might agree. But the government hasn’t solved crime, or poverty, or homelessness, or hunger. The government hasn’t stopped racism, sexism, or ageism.
Believe me, for almost 100 years, various governments have tried many times to eradicate social problems and every single attempt has failed.
Government is never the answer.
As parents, when government fails to solve any of society’s problems, we also know what works.
What works in eradicating hunger and homelessness; in ending discrimination, inequality, and especially the challenges our youth face today, is a strong family.
The strong family is the foundation for everything else in a child’s life.
|Posted on February 13, 2015 at 10:40 AM|
It was the only national media outlet that covered stories which mattered to a significant number of Canadian viewers.
Only the Sun News challenged American consumers on the issue of Canadian "dirty" crude oil. Unlike oil from the Middle East, Canadian oil isn't mixed with the blood of American soldiers.
While the pundits on the other stations scratched their heads in disbelief amazed at how Rob and Doug Ford could maintain 35% popular support in the polls despite the vicious media attacks on them, only Sun News invited the brothers on the air to tell viewers, in their own words, about their vision for Canada's largest city.
Sun News was the only media to cover Ben Levin, the former Kathleen Wynne kitchen cabinet member and former Deputy Education Minister who stands accused of sexually exploiting children. While the rest of the networks sent teams of cameras to Jian Ghomeshi's arraignment, none of them could be bothered with the man behind Kathleen Wynne's controversial sex-ed program.
When the RCMP betrayed our constitutional rights by invading homes during the Calgary flood to steal fire arms out of lawfully kept gun safes, it was the Sun News Network that held our national police force to account.
And in a number of very humorous clips, it was Sun News alone who covered protests by exposing the hypocrisy and/or ignorance of those holding the placards. The other networks covered the Line 9, Occupy Toronto, and Teacher Union protesters as serious, thoughtful dissenters. Sun News Network exposed some of them as clowns who would actually fart in someone's face as a "protest".
On any given day, Sun News was the only national news station that could be counted on to tell the stories that the other media outlets simply ignored:
And while the public broadcaster mused about offering childcare as a solution to their inability to find female commentators, Sun News Network had scores of smart, opinionated, and confident women both as hosts and commentators offering a perspective seldom seen on the other channels. It isn't that female commentators aren't available that the public broadcaster had difficulty with. It was finding a woman who espoused the desired opinion, or who would toe the "company line" of the public broadcaster, that made them so elusive.
I don't blame the management, staff, or format of Sun News for the ultimate failure of the channel. The people and ideas of the station were always top notch.
Sun News Network failed because of the government rules and regulations that inappropriately picks who wins and who loses in this highly competitive business.
Let's not forget this is a station that failed under a Conservative government. I have yet to see any Conservative MP make a statement of regret about the collapse of the Sun News Network.
There is bitter irony that a conservative network failed under a conservative government because of their own red tape - it choked and killed a private media enterprise right from under their collective noses.
That should concern us all.
To David, Ezra, Brian, Michael, Adrienne, Jerry, Faith, and all of the SNN personalities; to all of the hard working producers, to the many who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make a difference, and to all of the many wonderful SNN guests and commentators, I want to express my thanks. When I was in studio with you, I felt part of something really special. Canada may not see the likes of another Sun News Network any time soon. The station was a rare diamond in the history of Canadian media, and it was my honour to have been associated with each of you.
|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 10, 2015 at 12:35 AM|
Last Wednesday was a momentous evening for taxpayers in York Region.
After my election, I was approached by the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition because, as good advocacy organizations do, they had followed some of the shenanigans that have been going on in municipal councils across Ontario - Newmarket included - for quite some time now.
The organizations’ president Matt McGuire, proposed an interesting vision to me: a “coalition” of sorts, an expansion of the organization to include other cities and towns in Ontario; one that truly represents grassroots at the most local level of government – municipal government – and of which currently has the least amount of transparency and rules over all three levels.
Most of you likely didn’t know that, so I’ll repeat it here: Ontario has the least amount of transparency and regulation in municipal oversight than any other province in Canada.
I was up to the challenge, so we decided to organize a panel, “Closed Doors”, which focused on municipal oversight and which turned out to be enormously successful. Along with media personalities Jerry Agar and Adrienne Batra, our panel featured the esteemed Ontario Ombudsman himself, Andre Marin. Marin is the provincially appointed Ombudsman and through his work on oversight, has been the outspoken advocate for taxpayers across Ontario. He continues to push for strong legislation holding councils, hospitals, Children’s Aid and Universities accountable to the public.
He has enormous influence. That’s why we wanted him.
He also happens to be the most beloved bureaucrat in Ontario.
At the panel last week held at the Sheraton Parkway in Richmond Hill, the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition announced I would head up the new York Region Taxpayers Coalition. I knew this was going to be a success judging by the guests who lined up with their donations to help us represent you.
We will have more to say in the coming weeks as we organize. In the meantime, I’m thrilled with this new role.
But now I’d like to bring your attention to an article I read in this weekend’s Newmarket Era regarding a public complaint brought towards Newmarket’s regional councillor, John Taylor. The article explained the integrity commissioner hired by Newmarket council would not proceed with an investigation.
The complainant alleged regional councillor John Taylor was running a charity out of municipal office (something that is explicitly forbidden in the majority of municipalities, but only implicitly forbidden in Newmarket), and then using that charity for influence peddling.
In fact here’s what Ontario’s Justice Hackland had to say about charities and municipally elected officials in 2012:
“...it is common for a person who has blurred their roles to have difficulty “seeing” the problem at the beginning. It often takes others to point out the problem, especially in a case where the goal (fundraising for football programs for youth) is laudable. The validity of the charitable cause is not the point. The more attractive the cause or charity, the greater the danger that other important questions will be overlooked, including who is being asked to donate, how are they being asked, who is doing the asking, and is it reasonable to conclude that a person being asked for money will take into account the position of the person asking for the donation. Where there is an element of personal advantage (in this case, the publication of the Councillor’s good works, even beyond what they had actually achieved), it is important not to let the fact that it is “all for a good cause” justify using improper methods for financing that cause. People who are in positions of power and influence must make sure their private fundraising does not rely on the metaphorical “muscle” of perceived or actual influence in obtaining donations.”
This happens to be the first blog that I’ve written about Newmarket Council since last years’ municipal election.
I’ve moved on. I’ve used a good chunk of my time to continue to do what I’ve always done: advocate for the things I believe in, which is fair and transparent government.
Some of those things, for example, is head up the new York Region Taxpayers Coalition and help organize wonderful events for the public such as the one above.
And while I have absolutely nothing to do with the complaint issued towards Mr. Taylor, he seems to believe because it was my husband, John Blommesteyn who did, that somehow by association I am the mastermind of his downfall.
I was appalled when, this weekend, I read an article quoting regional councillor John Taylor attack the integrity of myself and my husband simply because my husband followed a legislated public council complaint process that Newmarket Council themselves created.
Of note: even though the writer of this article, Chris Simon, included Mr. Taylor’s copious opinions about how the complaint had to do with myself, he never once called me (as most good journalists would) to ask for my own opinion.
It’s not the first time this arrogant man ruthlessly (and ultimately, to his own detriment) went after any individual who challenges him. Taylor reminds me of the Stasi Police in East Germany that my own father fought against: complain about your government, and we will get you.
Thankfully, most of us have become enlightened since then.
John Taylor has been quoted a lot this week in the local paper. In one article he vehemently defended a $12-15,000 secret weekend get away meeting held at a swanky resort in York Region for York Region Council: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/5324166-why-spend-15k-on-york-region-council-retreat-york-u-professor-asks/ This is the same meeting that the provincially appointed Ombudsman Andre Marin deemed was held illegally: http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/5327365-ontario-ombudsman-andr-marin-slams-york-region-council-retreat/
I’m not surprised then that this man and his cohorts in the corridors of Town of Newmarket offices continue to protect him by using venues such as the local paper, the town CAO, and a very special integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig.
But I am surprised that Mr. Taylor would go as far as to attack the reputation of two private citizens, especially when one of those people has all the evidence needed for the public to judge his behind the scenes activity for themselves. It's unfortunate, to use his own words, that he claims this complaint was motivated "politically." However, if he would like to make it political, I'm up for it.
We are not surprised Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig wrote a report that she had no jurisdiction to go after the regional councillor last week. Remember: this is a woman who was once hired by this man and told her salary for recommending in a 2013 report to remove my pay would personally be paid for by each council member (it wasn’t – it was paid by your tax dollars). The exchange for writing a glowing report for the council who hires her is a handsome pay cheque. (It should be noted that while many municipalities opt for actual solicitors as their integrity commissioners, Ms. Craig herself is not a lawyer). One of Ms. Craig’s reports regarding a closed door meeting that chastised me was even deemed to be incorrect by a different investigator in 2012 hired by the town of Newmarket. Unfortunately, that never made the local news.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin himself referred to the hiring of certain “integrity commissioners” for municipalities as being “lapdogs” for councils.
And we are not surprised that Mr. Taylor spins that the complaint brought forward by John Blommesteyn was a waste of taxpayer dollars. His hypocrisy is well noted. This is a man who personally brought forth 3 integrity commissioner complaints in an attempt to humiliate me – all paid for by your tax dollars - over the entire period I served office. One complaint was for “name calling.” Another complaint was thrown out by a different investigator.
In fact, Mr. Taylor had an opportunity to save thousands of our tax dollars by simply appointing the Ontario Ombudsman as the town’s investigator a few years ago free of charge to you – but he refused, believing instead that billing Newmarket taxpayers for his own personal choice of integrity commissioners was a better use of our money.
Nor are we surprised that the regional councillor takes aim at me despite the individual who initiated the investigation happened to be my husband. However If Mr. Taylor is so fond of using connections, I would ask him to be more focused on the connections he has with certain developers, or organizations, or auto dealers, or consultants, and how they play a role in his elected office on town business that is essentially the highlight of the complaint.
Perhaps the biggest irony is Mr. Taylor’s attempt to seek sympathy from the public that John Blommesteyn should be ashamed to attack his charity work. In no way was this ever the intention of the complaint. Blommesteyn notes in an article dated January 8th “I am not asking anyone to judge his sincerity towards his charity work. I am simply asking whether he is in compliance with the Newmarket bylaw.” http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/5248330-code-of-conduct-investigation-launched-in-newmarket/
Rob Ford was removed from office Monday, November 26th, 2012 for almost identical allegations against Newmarket’s Regional Councillor John Taylor. Taylor made a snide remark in council chambers that same evening about then Mayor Ford having deserved the punishment. I would have posted the video here, but Rogers TV seems to have taken it down.
That's right. Mr. Taylor apparently believes he is above reproach. Newmarket taxpayers should beware. Filing any complaint against this man and his friends on council will earn you retribution or for your good name to be defamed by his friends at the local paper. It's how the mafia operates, or communist countries such as North Korea.
You don’t need to take my own word for any of the above allegations though. Below I’ve published evidence of those allegations -something the local paper refuses to do and that Suzanne Craig explained she was not allowed to investigate by Newmarket CAO Bob Shelton. After you read it, you can see why.
Please judge for yourself.
Regional Councillor John Taylor is using the town municipal offices and resources to run his charity:
Ms. Craig explains Taylor had “no willful desire to improperly use town resources.” I’d like to hear what she has to say about the regional councillor “willfully” removing evidence on his website that he is using town resources immediately after the complaint was lodged (see right hand corner under his photo):
Prior to complaint:
Immediately after complaint:
If there was any doubt that John Taylor is using the town offices to run his personal charity, see the Canada Revenue Agency form below (by the way, that’s been removed from his website too): The following developers (and some businesses) do business with the Town of Newmarket on a regular basis. In fact some of them are slated for future developments as per the town’s new Secondary Plan, which Taylor endorsed last year. There are dozens of agenda items regarding some of the listed sponsors requests to town council (too many to post here, but all are listed publicly and can be requested by the clerk’s office) that Taylor has an obvious conflict of interest on. I believe Regional Councillor John Taylor is willfully using elected office to pedal influence over elections: Regional Councillor John Taylor failed to declare pecuniary interest over certain items he has direct influence. For example, here is evidence he lobbied council support behind closed doors to ensure his charity would not have to pay site plan fees for his charity’s work at Maple Leaf School. The fact that he would even present this motion himself to benefit his charity is appalling, especially since he failed to disclose that he was president of the charity. (For those unfamiliar with the legislation, lobbying councillors in this manner must be done in council chambers). The Town of Newmarket Clerk verified John Taylor’s charity was not connected to the town nor was it endorsed by councillors:
I believe Regional Councillor John Taylor is using elected office to pedal influence over developers:
Watch him discuss the work he’s done in specific wards during his campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CF3z3BSC8j0
John Taylor ally Kelly Broome-Plumley (the new ward 6 councillor) praises his charity for raising funds for her ward during the 2014 municipal campaign:
When questioned openly by another councillor, he responded secretly to that councillor alone in his concern about "the optics" of his charity:
CAO Bob Shelton admitted wrong doing by John Taylor when I brought this issue to him in 2012 by citing a conduct code that the town does indeed have regarding using personal charities to influence office. This somehow didn’t make integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig’s report:
John Taylor, wanting retribution to the council member who was sniffing around, replied with this (check out the Clerk’s response):
There was only one formal complaint brought to the town about using municipal office for influence peddling. But think John Taylor is the only one using town offices to run charities? You can judge for yourselves if Mayor Tony Van Bynen is playing the same game. It seems the local paper, The Newmarket Era, knew about it all along:
So there you have it folks. This is just a taste of what I’ve always said: the cover-up is always bigger than the scandal.
If there was any doubt that John Taylor is using the town offices to run his personal charity, see the Canada Revenue Agency form below (by the way, that’s been removed from his website too):
The following developers (and some businesses) do business with the Town of Newmarket on a regular basis. In fact some of them are slated for future developments as per the town’s new Secondary Plan, which Taylor endorsed last year. There are dozens of agenda items regarding some of the listed sponsors requests to town council (too many to post here, but all are listed publicly and can be requested by the clerk’s office) that Taylor has an obvious conflict of interest on.
I believe Regional Councillor John Taylor is willfully using elected office to pedal influence over elections:
Regional Councillor John Taylor failed to declare pecuniary interest over certain items he has direct influence. For example, here is evidence he lobbied council support behind closed doors to ensure his charity would not have to pay site plan fees for his charity’s work at Maple Leaf School. The fact that he would even present this motion himself to benefit his charity is appalling, especially since he failed to disclose that he was president of the charity. (For those unfamiliar with the legislation, lobbying councillors in this manner must be done in council chambers).
The Town of Newmarket Clerk verified John Taylor’s charity was not connected to the town nor was it endorsed by councillors:
|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.