Osgoode grad convinced US owners to build a bilingual eBay Canada

When Osgoode alumnus Jordan Banks (LLB ’94) joined eBay Canada in 2000, the company was already mulling over ways of boosting its presence in French Canada, reported The Globe and Mail Aug. 25. "In Quebec, we were grossly under-penetrated, versus the penetration we had in every other region of Canada," Banks said; that left the door open for a potential competitor, like a specialized local French-language auction site, to gain a foothold in the province. After becoming eBay Canada’s managing director in the summer of 2005, Banks made it his top priority to tackle the company’s Quebec problem.

Banks felt that many French users, while capable of navigating the Internet in English, were unwilling to conduct transactions in a second language, wrote the Globe. "We asked ourselves: ‘How many people are not using eBay now because they are not comfortable in English?’ And there were more than you think," Banks said.

In December, 2005, eBay’s executives agreed that the auction site needed to speak French in order to get more Quebeckers buying and selling, despite the high cost of the effort. "It was undoubtedly the right thing to do," Banks said. "The Quebec market is a very distinct market, and there was no way we could continue doing what we were doing in English Canada, if we wanted to attract new French users."

Ten months after launch, Banks said the move has paid off, even if eBay Canada in French is still operating at a loss. In June, visitors to the French site jumped 45 per cent year over year, and the growth in registered users now doubles that of the rest of Canada. Profits will come, Banks said, over the long term.

York’s Web site helps student overcome first-year jitters

Young people heading for first-year classes at university or college after Labour Day are still students and probably just as apprehensive as freshmen before them, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 25. Samantha Harber, 18, found York University’s Web site the most helpful in preparing for her first year of music and vocal jazz studies. Harber, a Guelph resident shopping for school at Ikea in Burlington yesterday, said, "All the questions I had, it (the Web site) pretty much answered them all."

Her mother, Penny, wasn’t so trusting of the Internet. She spent a great deal of time driving into York to hand-deliver her daughter’s information, records and registrations to ensure the University got them. She also found all the information, forms and requirements a maze. "I felt like I could have written, ‘How to register for college or university for dummies,’" she told the Spectator.

Mission to Mars

Just back from his trip aboard NASA’s Endeavour space shuttle, where he took a record-setting three spacewalks, Dave Williams might be the last Canadian to make such a voyage, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Aug. 27. The shuttles are retiring in 2010 and no Canadians are on the rosters for any upcoming flights. But Canada’s space effort is not in stasis. A large consortium led by York University is seriously planning an unmanned mission to Mars in 2009.

With corporate support, universities across Canada intend to use a Russian rocket to launch a spacecraft containing a lander and perhaps a rover to look for evidence of water and life on the solar system’s most Earth-like planet, and to help develop Canadian space technologies.

  • Brendan Quine, director of the Space Engineering Program in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about his Northern Lights consortium and its plan to send a privately funded space probe to Mars on Radio Canada International (Sirius) Aug. 24. The project was also featured on CTV News in Edmonton, Aug. 24.

The (new) idea of a university

To read these two books (Ivory Tower Blues and What’s Wrong With University?) is to get the unnerving sense that we are at the edge of some deep, dark abyss in tertiary education and, unless we do something substantial and soon, universities, and Canada generally, will simply disappear down this bottomless and standardless drain, wrote Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Allan Hutchinson, in a review for The Globe and Mail Aug. 25.

In rather breathless style, both publications compile a distressing litany of complaints: mushrooming class size; commodification of education; holding pen for aging adolescents; overemphasis on credentials; escalating cost; reduced public expenditure; extensive cheating; dumbing-down of course material; disengaged students and faculty; poor secondary school preparation; grade inflation; corporatization of university administration; and over-protective parents.

These problems are real and genuine. But this trio of authors overstates them to serve their own (and their publishers’) purposes. Canadian universities have their problems, and serious ones at that, but they are far from the crisis-ridden places that University of Western Ontario sociology professors James Côté and Anton Allahar, in particular, suggest [in Ivory Tower Blues]. Indeed, the neglected Rae Report on postsecondary learning in 2005 offers a less apocalyptic, but still grave, assessment of Ontario universities’ predicaments, wrote Hutchinson.

Suburbs doing little to curtail sprawl

Like molten lava burning a path through the landscape, profound development is consuming more and more farmland and forests in all directions around Toronto, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 26. It’s why the regions around Toronto fare poorly compared with the city in a new study that ranks municipalities across Ontario in terms of their physical design, liveability and economic vitality.

"There’s a significant threat on the horizon: no net population growth for Toronto," says Mark Winfield, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and project director of the study by the Pembina Institute, a national think tank on energy and environmental issues. "It means it’s going outwards, to precisely the places doing the worst in terms of urban form," Winfield says.

Meanwhile, the regions are bursting, wrote the Star. York Region, for instance, has grown by 163,000 in the same time frame. "This tells us," Winfield says, "that things are playing out worse than we had assumed…. It means you’re paving farmland, embedding auto dependent commuting which will compound congestion, which is already a serious economic drag on the region" in the range of billions of dollars.

More Canadians are working past retirement age

More than two million Canadians between the ages of 55 and 64 had a job in 2006 – 56 per cent of people in that age group – Statistics Canada reported Aug. 24. That’s more than double the number in 1976, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Aug. 26. The proportion of people between the ages of 60 and 64 in the workforce reached a peak last year while three-quarters of Canadian men between 55 and 59 were either working or looking for work. And demographers aren’t expecting the trend to reverse anytime soon.

Ronald Burke, a professor in York University’s Schulich School of Business, is both an example and an observer of the trend. "I’m not working for the money," says Burke, who has four grown children. At 67, he also does consulting work. He still enjoys the satisfaction and prestige of teaching and researching. And his age makes him a better worker than ever, he says. "When you work for 40 years, you work smarter."

But as an expert in organizational behaviour, he notes that examples of business enlightenment such as reduced hours or working sabbaticals designed to retain older workers are still relatively rare. Some business areas, including banking and insurance, still tend to see older workers in negative ways, he says. "There is a disconnect between the demographics and the attitude of employers," Burke says. "Corporate leaders still don’t see it. They think, ‘It may be true, but it won’t happen to us,’ because they don’t see it today."

The pot pendulum swings again

The federal Conservatives have earmarked $64 million for a new anti-drug strategy, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 25. Details and timing are still to be announced. Already, the sighs have started. Here we go again. "Two or three times there has been rigorous debate in favour of decriminalizing," says Alan Young, a criminal law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "Promises were made, then reversed."

Australia, and several European countries, including Britain, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, have decriminalized personal use in recent years. Canada was on the brink, again, says Young. "But this situation is like pushing a rock to the top of the hill only to have it roll down again."

Whether Pickton testifies in his defence could be clear soon

Whether jurors will hear Robert Pickton defend himself against accusations that he’s Canada’s worst serial killer could soon become clear after his defence lawyers begin laying out their case today, wrote Canadian Press Aug. 27. Pickton would be the most eagerly anticipated witness, but legal experts caution there are up-sides and down-sides to having an accused testify. "The risk is putting your foot in your mouth while the (benefit) is that the jury wants to hear two sides of the story," said Alan Young, a criminal law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Supporters rally to free Shawn Brant

A movement has started among Toronto leftists to get Shawn Brant, an activist from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, out of jail, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Aug. 25. How long people are held is determined by facts showing how dangerous they are to the public, said Shin Imai, a professor specializing in aboriginal law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. In Brant’s case, he is probably not a flight risk and his actions are predictable weeks ahead of time, said Imai, who has not read the court decision denying Brant bail. This gives him decent odds of eventually getting bail. "With Shawn Brant, you’re not afraid of a random act of violence," he said.

The question from an activism perspective is whether Brant crossed a line to make his point, Imai said, and "is it OK to push it to that point? His chief and council seem to think he crossed a line. Some members of his band seem to think he did…. I’m not aboriginal. It’s not up to me to decide where the line is," he said. "But I can see the importance of getting the message across when these legal avenues do not exist."

Rwanda has become a place of hope, spirit

I have just returned from a 3-1/2 month internship in Kenya through York University, during which I had the opportunity to travel throughout some of East Africa, wrote York student Stacey Tsourounis in a letter to the Toronto Star Aug. 27. Rwanda is the birthplace of one of my friends, and his courage and spirit in the face of all he has witnessed are what led me to Kigali. I noticed an incredible energy about the city, which seems to be on the verge of rebirth.

Reminders of the genocide are everywhere – from memorials to landmarks to people with glaringly obvious scars – but life continues. The environment is a priority (plastic bags are not allowed in the country), as is security, making Kigali one of the cleanest and safest cities in all of Africa.

However, what truly strikes the visitor to Rwanda is how people understand the need to work together. Most Rwandans have taken orphans of the genocide into their families, and the effort at reconciliation, as well as the lack of bitterness, is incredible. The humanity, strength and capacity for forgiveness of the Rwandan people are nothing short of remarkable.

Puppet show takes a look at children’s mental health

York alumna Marla Rosen (BFA ‘98) is bringing her Emotions puppet show and concert Canadian tour to Fairview library Aug. 25, wrote the North York Mirror Aug. 24. The free interactive show, geared toward youngsters two to 10, aims to raise awareness about children’s mention health and emotional intelligence, Rosen said.

Rosen, who has been performing the puppet show and concert for almost two years, took her show on the road in July, starting in Vancouver and making her way to Toronto, she said. "The shows have been packed with 200 to 300 kids at each stop," said Rosen, a graduate of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, performing arts educator and Montessori school teacher.

Israel sees an immigration of choice, not necessity

For Tanya and Alex Pomson, life was good in Toronto, where the British-born couple had moved in 1996 to advance Alex’s career, wrote The Leader-Post (Regina) Aug. 25. He became a tenured professor at York University and she stayed home to raise their four children.

But happy as they were in Canada, the Pomsons, who are modern-Orthodox Jews, felt something was missing. The answer, they believed, was in Israel. "Making ‘aliyah’ was something we had always wanted to do," Alex said in the living room of their Jerusalem apartment, using the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel. "There’s a real sense of being at the centre of the Jewish world. It’s extraordinarily intense here – sometimes a matter of life and death – but there is a vitality here I’ve never felt anywhere else."

The adult-education balancing act

Going back to school when you have a job and a family is a daunting prospect. When Pablo Heyman decided to earn an EMBA while he was working in marketing and sales with Cadbury Schweppes PLC, he knew it was going to be a struggle, wrote the National Post Aug. 25. The program he chose, at York University’s Schulich School of Business, demanded every other weekend over 18 months as well as intensive, week-long study periods that included trips to Chicago and Hong Kong. On top of that, he and his wife were expecting their first child.

Between school and his job, Heyman had little time left for what he calls "the third leg" – family life. "It’s like a marathon and you run on a kind of adrenaline," he says. "You just work harder because you’re motivated. But you can’t keep up that rhythm of life." But he was motivated. "I always wanted to do an MBA," says Heyman. "It builds your confidence, your ability to manage your time and your soft skills" such as leadership. What’s more, learning from other executives – both professors and other students – would expose him to real-life management lessons he could immediately apply to his job.

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at Glendon, spoke about Ontario francophones and the provincial election on Radio Canada (Toronto) Aug. 21.
  • Dirk Matten, Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility at the Schulich School of Business at York, spoke about recent recalls of toys made in China, on CBC Radio (Syndey, NS) Aug. 24.
  • York student Zainab Shnyin, an organizer of the Walk for Iraq held Aug. 25 in Toronto, spoke about the event on Citytv Aug. 25.