York consortium bidding for GTA research facility

The National Research Council, the federal government’s primary vehicle for promoting R&D, has 24 institutes and centres spread out across Canada. Not one of them is in the Greater Toronto Area, home to a large proportion of the country’s R&D. In an attempt to correct this apparent oversight, the NRC is engaged in active talks with two different consortiums over a facility for the GTA, reported the Toronto Star’s Ian Urquhart in his At Queen’s Park column Dec. 12.

A University of Toronto consortium proposes to build a $10 million biomedical research facility downtown.  York University, in partnership with IBM, the Town of Markham, and Sunnybrook hospital, among others, proposes to build a $20-million facility in Markham to combine research into computer software with medical devices, such as computer-assisted wheelchairs for the aged. The facility would work closely with small- and medium-sized businesses in the area to commercialize the research. The hope, says Stan Shapson, York’s vice-president of research & innovation, is that the collaboration would lead to “the next Boston Scientific”. That’s a reference to the American medical device firm that has grown from its formation a quarter-century ago into a company with more than US$5 billion in annual sales.

The two consortiums insist they are not competing with each other and say there is no reason why the NRC could not fund both of them. But given both the scarcity of dollars and the apparent similarities and overlap between the two bids, the NRC has asked the two consortiums to talk to each other with the goal of finding areas where they are complementary. The end result may be that the GTA gets two NRC facilities.

Fringe parties bring people back to the ballot box

Because of a major change since the last election, Canadian law now practically encourages the creation of fringe parties. The result is electoral democracy that is not only healthy but visibly healthy, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 11. Fred Fletcher, a political scientist in York’s Faculty of Arts, says small parties “can act as safety valves that prevent people from taking other forms of action.” He holds up the Green and Christian Heritage parties as ones that offer perspectives that are not well represented in the established parties. Ensuring they have a means of articulating their views through elections “helps keep these people in the system.”

Canada’s first black female MP bows out

Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected to the House of Commons – and a member of York’s Board of Governors from 1991 to 1994 – was clearing out her Parliament Hill office last week, preparing to leave Ottawa after 12 years as the Liberal MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the riding now being sought by Michael Ignatieff, reported the National Post Dec. 12. Augustine arrived from Grenada in 1960, under a special program to provide home help for wealthy Canadians. In return, domestics were fast tracked to landed immigrant status. She studied, became a teacher, a school principal, a community activist, a member of numerous charitable boards and chairwoman of the Toronto Housing Authority. In early 1993, then-Liberal leader Jean Chrétien asked her to run in the Tory-held seat. She won by more than 13,000 votes, a majority she maintained, more or less, through the next three elections.

New law gives aging workers freedom to choose retirement

“Future historians will see the passage of Ontario’s Bill 211 earlier last week as a marker of when Canada became old. The legislation ends compulsory retirement at age 65 and reflects a reality that, much like old age, has slowly crept up on us,” wrote York political scientist Thomas Klassen, Univesity of Western Ontario sociologist David MacGregor and Ryerson sociologist Terry Gillin, co-editors of Time’s Up! Mandatory Retirement in Canada, in a Toronto Star opinion piece Dec. 12. “Consider Canada’s prime minister is 67 years old and the Queen, our head of state, is 79. Neither is thinking of retiring. The greying of our leaders mirrors the aging of our population.”

They conclude: “In the next decade, an unprecedented number of workers will reach retirement age. This inescapable demographic reality is causing Canadians to confront and change ageist stereotypes. In doing so, workers will gain the freedom to decide the terms of their own retirement early, later, gradual or partial, but always with dignity. Ontario’s legislation is an important step in this direction.”

Web site aims to help medical journalists

Journalists are bombarded daily with studies heralding miracle cures, and not all of them are sound. What are journalists supposed to do? asked the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 11. Be more vigilant, according to the masterminds behind a new Canadian Web site called the Media Doctor (www. mediadoctor.ca), which was recently launched with the mission to improve medical reporting – at least the reporting that appears in Canadian newspapers and on television. The Media Doctor team consists of academics and doctors from the University of British Columbia, York University and the University of Victoria. Many of the names behind the group are well known, including Dr. Joel Lexchin, an expert on health care reform and a professor at York’s School of Health Policy & Management.

The real urban demons

“The case Doug Saunders makes for demolishing public housing projects (Extreme Makeover: Slum Edition – Dec. 3) is based on a flawed interpretation of urban social problems,” wrote Douglas Young, a York environmental and urban studies student, in a letter published Dec. 10 in The Globe and Mail. “To attribute the riots in France, terrorism in Britain, extreme politics in eastern Germany and gun crime in Toronto all to the existence of social-housing projects sidesteps crucial issues of racism, unemployment and the general attrition of social welfare in our cities.” He suggested that the “real urban demons of racism and unemployment won’t be solved by providing poor families with middle-class, home-owning neighbours. That would require a different kind of extreme makeover apparently not on Saunders’s radar of possibilities.”

Diva dishes on Messiah

Toronto has an annual battle royal over who offers the city’s best Christmas performance of Messiah, the great 1741 oratorio by Georg Frideric Handel, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 12, and polled four Toronto jazz divas with Messiah connections. Jazz singer Bonnie Brett, who teaches jazz performance part time at York, said, “I’ve never sung it from end to end,” she said. But she “grew up in choirs” and has sung most of the choruses. Brett pulled out her old copy of the score and listed favourite choruses. “‘Worthy is the Lamb,’ that just brings me to my knees, all that Handelesque bombast.”

Dofasco bosses doing what’s expected, says Cragg

Dofasco’s president will become a multi-millionaire if the company is sold to a German industrial giant, reported the Hamilton Spectator Dec. 10. Regulatory documents show Don Pether will profit almost $17.7 million from the deal. He leads a roster of senior executives and directors of the company with heavy share holdings or options to buy shares at prices as low as $25 each. Ethics Professor Wesley Cragg of York’s Schulich School of Business suggests Dofasco managers were doing what’s expected of them – getting the best possible price for the company. “Options are a well known way of rewarding management for doing a good job,” he said. “Dofasco certainly has a reputation for corporate social responsibility and sustainability.”

On air

  • Richard Weisman, sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, and a volunteer with Circles of Support and Accountability, was interviewed about the group, which helps sexual offenders reintegrate into the community, on CBC Newsworld’s “Weekend Edition” Dec. 11.

  • York MFA student Jennifer Lefort won the Joseph Plaskett Foundation Award for her abstract paintings and Canadian photographer Larry Towell (BFA ’76), the French Prix Nadar, reported CBC Newsworld’s “Weekend Edition” Dec. 11.