StatsCan boss acted with ‘great integrity’, says York’s Himelfarb

Fearless advice and loyal implementation isn’t as catchy as the rain, sleet and snow motto of the post office, but it’s beloved by Canada’s public service as their credo all the same, wrote The Canadian Press July 23. So observers say career bureaucrat Munir Sheikh had no choice but to count himself out as the head of Statistics Canada.

Though Sheikh disagreed with the government’s decision to do away with the mandatory long form census, he had been prepared to go ahead with it anyway. That’s the loyal implementation part of the code.

"He was very careful not to say how he sees things," said Alex Himelfarb, a former clerk of the Privy Council and now director of York University’s Glendon School of Public & International Affairs. "I think he acted with great integrity."  

  • Ivan Fellegi, who was chief statistician for 22 years before Sheikh and is still involved at Statistics Canada, called for a "sensible compromise", reported the Times & Transcript of Moncton, NB.

"There are a lot of choices. No one ever said the long form is immune from change," added Alex Himelfarb, a former clerk of the Privy Council and now director of York University’s Glendon School of Public & International Affairs.

"One could imagine sober reflection on this, and see if there’s some way of preserving the integrity and continuity of the time series data without denying some of the concerns," he said.

"There might be a way of doing that, a way of stepping back from the precipice and finding a way that keeps everything whole."

The mullet, the man, the mystery

Even if you work in the heart of Canada’s advertising industry, it is unlikely you have heard of the Advertising and Marketing Association of Canada (AMACA). That’s because it doesn’t exist, wrote the Toronto Star July 23.

Well, that’s not quite true. It seems to be active in Tehran.

At an Iranian news conference earlier this month the association’s head, Afshin Nemati, helped spread word that Iran is cracking down on unacceptable haircuts on men. He took questions on news clips shown around the world, explaining what sorts of haircuts will be acceptable in that country.

Nemati claims to live in Toronto and his business Web site states he has a doctor of business administration from York University.

But that’s not true either. York does not offer a doctor of business administration, and its Registrar’s Office has no record of Nemati.

Members of Toronto’s Iranian diaspora want to know why a group with such a name, and that uses the Canadian flag as its logo, would be advising the Iranian government about acceptable haircuts for men.

A York University business professor was equally confused that a man advising an Iranian cultural organization with ties to the government is using York credentials to establish his credibility. "That’s the only thing I can think of, it’s a credibility issue," said Schulich School of Business Professor Farrokh Zandi.

In the news clip from Iranian TV the reporter says, translated from Farsi: "Soon with the support of (Iran’s) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these beauty specialists will establish an academy in Canada for education and propagation of Iranian-Islamic (haircuts)."

The only explanation Zandi offers is that Iran’s government has created a fake Canadian organization to convince pro-western Iranians that the haircuts aren’t all bad.

The involvement of an apparently fake Canadian organization, especially one without any actual presence here, also concerns York political science Professor Saeed Rahnema of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

"Even the wording on the Web site, it’s all plagiarized," he says, referring to large segments of text from the AMACA Web site that York graduate students ran through Google. The organization’s "history" and "philosophy" are very similar to those of Calgary-based Start Marketing Inc. Even Nemati’s profile appears to have been copied, almost verbatim, from someone else’s profile.

"I read an article in The New York Times about the news conference and Iran’s new morality rules for men’s haircuts," Zandi says. "All of a sudden the man behind it claims to have a doctorate and be a graduate of Schulich? It’s quite shocking."

York researcher studied how class differences influence health-care policy

It’s safe to say that tuberculosis is not a subject of great interest for most folks – unless, of course, you or a loved one actually has it, wrote The Globe and Mail in an obituary. Often associated with filth, squalor and Dickensian living conditions, TB, at least in the industrialized world, is commonly, and erroneously, thought to have vanished with consumptive Victorians, and good riddance.

For Gina Feldberg, TB’s persistence and treatment were treasure troves, offering up mountains of information on social reform, middle-class values, personal hygiene, and public health policy. She believed that as with AIDS, tuberculosis served as a metaphor for other social ills, and that perhaps like no other disease helped shape modern North American values.

She was a historian of science, specifically of medicine and more specifically of infectious diseases. A probing, inventive scholar, she examined the interplay of illness, class, and the practice of medicine, and how those combine to affect the health of nations.

"If we want policy to be effective," she said, boiling it down, "we need to know why it looks the way that it looks and how we can change it."

At Toronto’s York University, where she taught in the Department of Social Science and for nine years headed the Centre for Health Studies [now the York Institute for Health Research], she also weighed in on a host of public issues, including women’s health, AIDS and Canada’s health-care system.

Feldberg, who died in Toronto on July 10 at the age of 54 following a four-year battle with multiple myeloma, focused on the differing American and Canadian approaches to the control of TB in the first half of the 20th century.

Battle for grocery shoppers heats up

In the marketing business, "targeting" is almost as hot a buzzword as "engagement" is when it comes to talking about consumers, and nowhere is that as evident as at Sobeys Inc., the no. 2 player in Canada’s fiercely competitive grocery retailing sector, reported the Financial Post July 23.

The Stellarton, NS-based company, which has been expanding throughout Canada for the last decade, has stepped up a campaign of targeting consumers with tailored direct and online mailings and has launched a new player in the burgeoning discount food segment to keep in tune with consumer demand, replacing some of its Price Chopper stores in Ontario with the FreshCo banner.

Tailoring assortments to local markets through flyers or store concepts is becoming more important for retailers, said Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, and is a pendulum swing away from last decade’s ethos that decreed consumers all wanted to shop at gigantic superstores with food and housewares under one roof.

"I think [creating the FreshCo banner] is a wonderful move fraught with risk," said Middleton – particularly in a discount category where staff cuts are the most frequent symptom of retailer cutbacks.

"The hard discount chains were all low on price so they have been forced to up the quality, and one of the key differentiators of that is fresh produce," he said. "Focusing on ‘fresh’ is bold, because it is a statement of quality – and that quality provides a huge threat to big incumbents such as Loblaws. The risk is, [FreshCo] better manage those sections very well" so it can live up to the promise of its brand name.

Province needs to rethink transit funding

You have to wonder if the province suffers from some sort of split personality disorder, wrote the Aurora Banner in an editorial July 22.

On one side, the McGuinty government seems to be doing all it can to get drivers, particularly commuters, out of their cars and on to public transit.

So why then, if benefits abound and ridership is rising, do our transit providers and the province itself continue to pull the rug out from under transit users?

King’s Paul Delaney, professor of astronomy & physics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, used to ride GO Transit’s Route 64 bus to and from the school. But with the route now shelved, he and fellow riders are left with alternatives they complain are more costly and significantly longer.

"I find this lack of planning by the transit authorities disheartening," Delaney says. "At a time when we are being urged to consider greener options, the current discontinuation of service by GO, with no well-defined alternatives from YRT, is very disappointing."

Fine arts grad exhibits in Welland

A chance encounter led Duncan MacDonald (BFA Spec. Hons. ’96) to be part of a group exhibition at a downtown art gallery that’s now celebrating its first anniversary, wrote The Welland Tribune July 23

MacDonald’s charcoal drawing, Boules de gui XVII, and bronze casting, Invader (Thistle), are two pieces in an eclectic and interesting collection of work by 14 artists at A Mano Libera Gallery, on Ontario Street.

MacDonald received a scholarship to York University in Toronto, where he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree. During his undergraduate years, MacDonald also performed in musical ensembles and bands.

Student films screened on City Hall

The winners of the city’s first student video contest were announced this week, wrote the Waterloo Region Record. They will see their videos projected on The Cube, part of the Berlin Tower atop City Hall, several times a night.

"I think it’s a really good incentive for other people who like movies to try it themselves," said 18-year-old Jamey Sinanan, whose film, Loss, won in the high school category.

Not only did Sinanan’s film get his work onto one of the most visible screens in town, it also got him into York University’s film production program, where he’ll start this fall. He produced the film as part of his admission package and threw it in as an entry to the city’s competition only at the urging of a friend.

50 years ago: York’s motto adopted

Tentanda Via – the way must be tried – was chosen as the challenging motto of Toronto-based York University, selected from more than 200 suggestions, wrote The Globe and Mail in its From the Archives feature July 23.

On air

  • Gail Fraser, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about news that portions of a Chevron emergency oil spill plan had been blacked out, on CBC Radio’s “Newfoundland News” July 22.