Standards agency lost accountability under Harris Tories, says York prof

The Conservative government of Mike Harris created the Technical Standards & Safety Authority in the mid-1990s, moving safety inspections and oversight in a host of areas from what was then known as the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations to a non-governmental body, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 14 in a story about the authority’s previous inspections of the propane company involved in the Downsview explosion Aug. 10.

“It’s not part of the government, so all of the accountability structures that go with being that have disappeared,” said Mark Winfield, a professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and co-author of a 2000 report critical of the move.

Being able to operate “under the radar” means the organization is not subject to review by the auditor general, has final say on freedom of information requests about its operations and doesn’t have to answer directly to politicians who make policy, he said.

“There’s a vacuum in terms of where the buck really stops,” Winfield said in an interview. But more importantly, he said, it makes for a “cozy relationship” between the regulator and the industry, and poor practices such as more self-regulation and reporting, rather than on-site inspections.

Aside from reducing the prevalence of industry members on the TSSA’s board of directors, Winfield said the Liberals have done little to change the way it operates.

York graduate students allowed to do projects in aboriginal language

Starting this fall, York University will allow all of its graduate students to write and defend major papers, projects and theses in an aboriginal language rather than English or French, wrote the National Post Aug. 14. The University says the initiative is a first in Canada.

“A lot of aboriginal languages are disappearing,” said Barbara Rahder, dean of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, where the plan was started. “Language is so closely tied with knowledge and culture that to lose the language means to lose that culture as well.”

Students will have to submit proposals in English and find advisers outside the department who understand their language of choice to supervise their projects. Rahder admitted the format will involve some “negotiation,” and could include a simultaneous interpreter or working around words and concepts that cannot be translated precisely from the more than 50 languages belonging to 11 major families among Canada’s first peoples. There are 15 First Nations grad students at York and approximately 400 Aboriginals attending the University.

  • “These are Canadian languages and I think we have a responsibility to the native peoples of Canada to help them essentially preserve their languages and their culture,” Rahder said in the Ottawa Citizen Aug. 14. “It’s a social responsibility.”

“This is definitely a good step, it’s an overdue step,” says Paul Chartrand, director of the Aboriginal Governance Program at the University of Winnipeg, who suggests his institution will eventually make a similar proposal.

York business prof pushes new debt security, the ‘Trill’

A Canadian business professor and one of the most influential economists in the United States are calling on the federal government to create a new debt security that would give investors a direct stake in Canada’s economic growth, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 14.

In a report issued by think tank C.D. Howe Institute, finance Professor Mark Kamstra of York’s Schulich School of Business and Yale University economist Robert Shiller proposed the introduction of “trills” – so named because the coupon value of each security would be equivalent to one-trillionth of Canada’s gross domestic product. With the coupon representing the amount of income each trill would generate annually, income from the security would rise as GDP rises.

“Similar to shares issued by corporations paying a fraction of corporate earnings in dividends, the trill would pay a fraction of the ‘earnings’ of Canada,” the authors wrote. Kamstra and Shiller argued that trills would provide an attractive long-term yield for retail investors and pension funds, and would serve as protection against inflation.

Age-defying athletes and celebrities are reshaping our vision of personal fitness

Forty is the new perfect 10, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 14 in an article on Dara Torres, the 41-year-old Olympic swimmer and mother of a two-year-old daughter. Norman Gledhill, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, said normally, as people age, they lose power and have better luck competing in longer events that rely less on aerobics. “(The 50 metres) is a fairly powerful event,” he said. “You’d expect her to move to some longer events.”

Canada’s drift toward legalizing pot may be coming to a halt

The pushback against smoking marijuana has grown strong enough that some veterans of the legalization debate are taking a breather – at least until the pendulum swings back their way, wrote Maclean’s in its Aug. 25 issue. “The opportunity seems to have been lost,” says Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, who has represented medical marijuana users and challenged the constitutionality of Canada’s pot laws. “It will resurface, because [criminalization] is an ignorant public policy. But one of the reasons things don’t change is because people get tired of debating the same old story."

Companies are moving to focus on their master brands, says York prof

Companies invest enormous amounts of time and money in building up their brands, wrote Maclean’s in a story about changes in marketing strategy by some of Canada’s most well known companies, in its Aug. 25 issue. Dominion has been in Canada since the 1920s. Bell’s beavers enjoyed the kind of fame most mascots can only dream of, and Sympatico is now a household name. So, why toss all that down the drain?

The answer lies largely in the cost savings of consolidation. Particularly for grocers, there are huge efficiencies in operating under one banner, says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. For starters, having just one brand can help avoid customer confusion. It also means Metro can focus on marketing one kind of store and one shopping experience, better positioning itself against national chains like Wal-Mart and Loblaws. For Bell, whose new ad campaign focuses on the company name, there’s a similar strategy. Both companies, says Middleton, are “cleaning up to much fewer points of focus to get their marketing activity behind their master brands.”

Alumna and her husband dive into the luxury water market

A little over a year ago, BC’s Tim and Andrea Bates (BSc ’88) tapped into the lucrative niche market with a high-priced water sourced in the province’s Coast Mountains range, wrote Maclean’s in its Aug. 25 issue. Priced at $38.50 a litre internationally, or 5,000 times the cost of tap water, 10 Thousand BC launched at last year’s star-thick Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Today, it’s sold at exclusive health clubs, restaurants and hotels, including Claridge’s Hotel, the London landmark, which, last year, introduced a “water menu.” Already, water connoisseurs – admittedly, still a rare breed – rank the emerging brand among the market’s most prestigious, and pricey, bottles.

The Bateses bought the source rights to the glacier in 1999, and sat on the holding, waiting for the luxury market to emerge, says Tim. The couple, who have two teenaged sons, met in the ’80s, when he was training with the Canadian national track team and she was attending York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering; the high-end water is their first business venture together.

Studying Judaism pays off for young people in trip to Israel

Jonathan Young, a student at York University who works part-time at a liquor store to pay for school, admits feeling uneasy about taking money to learn about his religion, wrote The Canadian Press Aug. 13, in a story about an Orthodox Jewish educational network based in Israel that offers students willing to learn about their faith a payout of up to $250 or a $300 subsidy for a trip to Israel.

The son of a Christian father and a Jewish mother – Young calls his family a “Chrismukkah household” – he was eager to learn more about his Hebrew roots. He also received the $300 Israel stipend, but what he discovered was a deep longing to learn more about Judaism, he said.

“I really felt I had something I could relate to,” said Young, 21. “For me and for a lot of people, there’s a sense that religion can be backwards, but this shows it in another light.

"And," he added, “the money doesn’t hurt.”

Former student reveals the inspiration for his impressive debut film

There’s nothing like the impending birth of a first child to inspire one to complete sensible things like home renovations or financial planning, wrote reviewer Jennie Punter in The Globe and Mail Aug. 14. But for former York student Shane Belcourt it was time to throw caution to the wind and finally write and direct that feature film he had always talked about.

Tkaronto had its world premiere at last fall’s imagineNATIVE and has since played several festivals north and south of the border, receiving awards and critical kudos for its emotional resonance, standout performances and relaxed, improvised feel. “There is an immediacy to the film that was not under control, since I had nine months to get the whole thing together,” laughs Belcourt, now father of an 11-month-old daughter.

Belcourt likes to call himself a film-school dropout, but well before setting foot on York’s Keele campus he had already learned many tricks of the trade. In high school, he worked on educational videos for aboriginal organizations dealing with such topics as fetal alcohol syndrome and domestic abuse.

Former instructor’s play charts his/her transformation

Her new play might be called The Silicone Diaries, but York graduate and former instructor Nina Arsenault (BFA ‘96, MFA ‘00) swears that her one-woman show is far from an hour-long ode to surgery, wrote the St. John Telegraph-Journal  Aug. 14.

“I’ve often had some of my most intimate or spiritual experiences wrapped up in my adventures in cosmetic surgery,” said Arsenault, who underwent 60 operations and travelled the world in an eight-year quest to become the woman she always dreamed of being as a young boy.

“Silicone says that it’s about cosmetic surgeries and becoming beautiful, because that’s certainly been a part of my journey. But the Diaries part is, your diary is what you tell your deepest, darkest secrets, your secret thoughts, your secret loves. You talk about your emotions.”

  • A famous transsexual is coming to town, wrote Canada East’s HereNB online news Aug. 14. Wrapping up their Theatre on Edge Festival, the Saint John Theatre Company in partnership with Port City Rainbow Pride, is premiering The Silicone Diaries, a one-woman tour-de-force written and performed by well-known author, actress and transsexual Nina Arsenault.

Arsenault’s honesty and candidness is part of her charm. A former teacher of theatre at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Arsenault is best known for her film work in Sugar and Soldier’s Girl, and her appearances on Showcase’s “Kink” and “Train 48”.

York student volunteers for United Way in Owen Sound

Up to 1,400 children in Grey-Bruce could receive a backpack of school supplies from the United Way – more than twice last year’s number, wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times Aug. 14 in a story that included a mention of York student Paige Phillips, a summer student working with the United Way. Phillips fills the backpacks and contacts local businesses and others asking for assistance. “I knew there were people in Owen Sound who needed (this program),” said Phillips, “but that many, in the entire area? That was very surprising to me.”

On air

  • Ken McBey, professor in the Disaster & Emergency Management Program in York’s Atkinson School of Administrative Studies, spoke about problems with storing propane in residential areas, on Oakville’s TWN-TV Aug. 13.
  • Ira Jacobs, chair of York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, spoke about US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, on CBC Radio (Calgary) Aug. 13.
  • Student Edward Fenner, publisher of York’s Existere Journal of Arts and Literature, discussed Existere and the upcoming 2nd Annual Words Alive Literary Festival, on CKLN-FM’s “In Other Words” Aug. 12.