York prof is optimistic that Conservatives will now act boldly

Some conservatives and political observers say Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no longer constrained by a minority Parliament, has the chance to make bold moves to fix long-standing problems plaguing Canada on policy issues such as Aboriginal affairs, health care and innovation, wrote Ottawa’s The Hill Times June 17. But others say don’t hold your breath: Mr. Harper will stick with an incremental, no-surprises approach to governing because that’s what Canadians want.

"Virtually everything they [the Conservatives] did was political calculus. Whether it was good policy or not is another story," said Charles McMillan, a former policy adviser to former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and current professor of policy and international business with York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Parliamentarians will leave Ottawa this week for their ridings for the summer after sitting for less than three weeks.

"The question is what happens in the fall?" said McMillan. "Because too many big issues have just been on hold. It’s like if you have a car, and you’re busy, you’re running around and all that. But you haven’t taken it in for repairs, and the carburetor is not working and the engine is noisy as hell and the muffler doesn’t work; the government’s like that."

McMillan…is optimistic that a change in the Conservatives’ approach to governing is coming.

McMillan said he sees a need for the government to act on an Aboriginal strategy. "It’s shocking how we’ve let the Aboriginal file get so bad…horrible problems with education, water, public health, entrepreneurship," he told politicians, policy-makers and civil society members at a lunch event hosted by the Institute for Research on Public Policy earlier this month in Ottawa.

In addition, Canada’s business community needs an innovation boost, he said. More industries need to be opened to the world. The post office is a dying organization under current management and should be privatized, he said.

And Canada must keep competitive with the world and exploit its brand globally, he said. It could be a leader in tackling climate change or global health problems such as AIDS.

Conservative government out to undercut unions, critics say

Carla Lipsig-Mummé, founding director of the Centre for Research on Work and Society at York University, says she’s concerned about the potential for further federal legislation that restricts workers’ rights, wrote the Toronto Star June 17.

“I worry considerably because the government has shown itself to be so hostile to unions…. It indicates this government is ready to go to lengths we have never seen in Canada to essentially threaten unions. It’s a green light to companies – ‘You can behave as badly as you want and we will support you.’”

An internationally recognized expert on workplace issues, Lipsig-Mummé said she saw no reason to legislate against postal workers when its union offered to accept the existing contract and continue negotiations in order to keep the mail moving. She called the government’s actions “unconscionable and unwise.”

Lipsig-Mummé doesn’t buy the argument the Canadian public, hit by job losses, layoffs and reduced wages and benefits, has little sympathy for labour disputes. “There is a fairly ingrained sense of fairness among Canadians,” she said. “(The government’s actions) are not the way we work in Canada…. Here is a government that wishes to signal it will be tough on unions that undercut the Canadian economy but in neither case (Air Canada and Canada Post) can they show real damage to the economy.”

York graduation gets romantic twist

Maria Salcedo walked off the stage at her University convocation Friday with a degree that will launch the next stage of her life. She also got a diamond ring, wrote the Toronto Star June 17.

“I was in the first row to go up and receive our degrees,” says the 24-year-old York University graduate. “I was shaking everyone’s hand that was lined up, then I saw Alex on stage.”

She was already wondering how her whole family got into the ceremony after she received only three tickets, and how her mom and aunt got right to the front row. They were all there to see Salcedo get her bachelor of education degree – and watch her boyfriend propose.

Alex Vasquez, 25, says the idea came from Maria’s mom. “I thought there was no way it could be done. My first plan was to get my friend, who’s a pilot, to fly over with his plane right after convocation with a sign that said, ‘Maria, will you marry me.’”

Vasquez said he didn’t think York staff would allow his eventual proposal. “It had never been done. At first I was told it couldn’t happen.” But he was persistent. “Then I got an e-mail two weeks ago that said ‘congratulations’. York was amazing. They even let her whole family come, her brothers and grandparents.”

  • The story of Maria Salcedo, who received a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Alex Vasquez on stage at her convocation ceremony, was also reported on CFRB-AM Radio June 17.

Two boring years: Officials kick off construction of new subway tunnels

On Friday morning, a group of hard-hatted politicians gathered on the edge of a huge pit and, with the pull of a lever, officially announced the start of tunnel boring on the Toronto-York Spadina subway extension, wrote the National Post June 19…. It will be another four years before trains carry passengers along the extension, but as giant boring machines begin to chew their way under Toronto, Tristin Hopper examines what the long-awaited mega-project looks like thus far:

By the end of June, the first borer is set to begin digging towards the northwest, parallel to Keele Street – followed a month later by another borer digging a parallel tunnel. In the fall, two more borers will begin digging under York University.

As with Second World War bombers, it is a longstanding tradition to give tunnel borers a name; usually a woman’s name like “Laura” or “Elizabeth”, or maybe something tough like “Excalibore”. In naming its tunnel borers, the TTC put the question to an online contest. The winners? Holey, Moley, Yorkie and Torkie – as pitched by Toronto residents Rosa Rinella and [York Professor] Tom Cohen.

The noise level expected in certain York University residences as the borers pass underneath [is 50 decibels]. No louder than the sound of a humming refrigerator, the borers will be far quieter than even the tamest frosh party.

  • The subway will act as a gateway to Downsview Park, York University and Black Creek Pioneer Village, and as a link to GO Transit and York Region Transit, said Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, wrote the Toronto Star June 17.

Standing on the sidelines Friday, Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc, a member of the previous TTC board, said it takes a miracle to make a subway – “a political miracle to get this amount of money together and this amount of political cooperation.”

  • Targeted for completion in 2015, the $2.6-billion extension will include six new stations: currently known as Downsview Park, Finch Avenue West, York University, Steeles Avenue West, Hwy. 407 and Hwy. 7, wrote YorkRegion.com June 17.
  • With plans for the new extension to be operational by the end of 2015, Torontonians, and specifically future York University students, can breathe easy knowing that at the very least, in five years time, getting to the Keele and Finch campus will be that much more convenient, wrote thegridto.com June 17.
  • Among the six new stations that will be built is one at the Keele campus at York University, which is attended by just under 50,000 full- and part-time students, wrote CBC News online June 17.
  • Reports of the tunnelling machines were also carried on CP24-TV, Citytv and Global Television and numerous trade news websites.

We’re creating a race of uber-racoons

A recent study suggests that by trying to control the animals, humans are making them smarter, wrote The Christian Science Monitor June 18.

“One of the things we’re doing is providing them with bigger and bigger challenges so we’re actually shaping an uber-raccoon that is going to be able to compete in an urban environment,” said Suzanne MacDonald, the study author and a behavioural psychologist at Toronto’s York University [Faculty of Health].

MacDonald tagged five raccoons with GPS systems and traced their movements over several months. She found they stuck to a territory of about three blocks, which was usually defined by busy streets. She said they rarely crossed streets, and when they did it was at around 5am, when there was no traffic. MacDonald said that suggests the animals have learned what time is best for avoiding cars, which remain their biggest threat in urban areas.

Putt-Putt for the fun (and profit) of it

Sentimentality is crucial when trying to resurrect a brand, says Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, since successful brand revitalization depends on people’s positive associations, wrote The Globe and Mail June 20 in a story about popular brands from the past that have been remarketed.

Per cent vs. percentage

Confusion about calculating percentage increases and decreases is common. This can lead to money management problems, wrote Ellen Roseman in the Toronto Star June 20.

I asked Alan Goldhar, who teaches business at York University, if students know the difference.

“For business students, I’d guess about half would understand the concepts right away,” he said. “For non-business majors, I suspect one in five students would understand without explanations or examples by me. I’m usually amazed at how little most of them know about finance concepts.”

Relocate displaced Toronto housing tenants, says York prof

In what’s being called a crisis, the biggest challenge facing the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) is the dire state of its buildings and houses, wrote the Toronto Star June 19. The housing corporation’s $650-million repair backlog prompted departing interim manager Case Ootes to recently recommend that TCHC sell more than 900 of its single-family homes and plow more than $400 million into the backlog. City council approved the sale of 22 homes this week.

It may not be a bad idea, if it means a considerable amount of money can be poured into overall repairs, said Robert Murdie, professor emeritus of geography at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], as long as displaced residents are relocated. “That’s the big caveat here. That’s the concern I have. What happens to those tenants?”

Rules for weight-loss industry have been abandoned, says York prof

With fewer rules than the old Wild West, overweight Canadians are throwing money into a multi-billion dollar commercial weight-loss market, wrote the Toronto Star June 19.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, says Health Canada steps in only if there are complaints or a demonstrated danger to the public – but those instances are rare.

Regulations around marketing have essentially been abandoned and the sheer volume of weight-loss products makes monitoring almost impossible, he contends. The agency has the power to crack down, he says, “but it doesn’t.”

Kicking the bucket list

So what happens when you reach a certain milestone and discover that you haven’t done what you set out to do? wrote the Toronto Sun June 18.

Stephen Fleming is a professor of psychology at York University [Faculty of Health]. He explains that for some people, a traumatic event helps them to live bigger. "If your life is threatened by a disease or a traumatic event, that has the power to inform your life and transform your life."

While Fleming hasn’t come across research on the meaning of bucket lists, he says it morphs as you age. "The kinds of things you want to do when you’re 20 are not the kinds of things you want to do when you’re 40 and 60."

He sees life goals or bucket lists as part of a continuum that start as "for-me" items. The next level usually involves more than one person, such as fulfilling relationships and creating legacies. "The bucket list can be positioned in the timeline of that continuum. Some things relate to what you want to do in the world, and other life goals have to do with how you want to be in the world."

York prof plans to join Gaza flotilla

John Greyson’s smile didn’t waver for a moment as he answered questions and posed for photos, wrote the Toronto Star June 19, in a story about seven Canadians who are joining a flotilla of ships bringing supplies to Gaza.

But he admitted he is worried. “There is concern about what can happen,” said the Toronto filmmaker and York University professor [Faculty of Fine Arts] at Pearson International Airport on Sunday. “But I am also inspired by how big this is.”

Let the debt repayment begin

York grad Miles Ryan Rowat [MA ’05], now a survey analyst with Statistics Canada, says when he first applied for a student loan there was little instruction on what it all meant, wrote the Financial Post June 18. "I got a letter which said, ‘Here’s your debt repayment schedule. You’ll pay this much every month for 10 years,’" Rowat says.

He has whittled his debt down to about $5,000 after pushing it to about $36,000 following a bachelor of science degree from Queen’s University in Kingston and a master of arts degree in economics from York University.

Smartly, he immediately set about paying down his debt when he found a job. "I never used any of my tuition tax credits while I was in school. I banked them up and after my first year working for the federal government I was able to get a sizeable tax refund and paid off a portion of my student loans," Rowat says.

That plan was all his own, plus the idea to make payments every two weeks, as opposed to monthly, as most students do after graduation. Anybody with a mortgage knows biweekly payments, or 26 payments a year compared to 12 monthly payments, will knock down your debt faster.

"I was never offered that. I had to ask for it," said Rowat, who was also never told he could fix his [interest] rate.

Choreographer talks about life, art

Internationally celebrated choreographer Lata Pada [MA ’96] was the keynote speaker this morning at the Mississauga Arts Council’s annual Strawberry Breakfast, wrote The Mississauga News June 17, in a story about the York dance graduate.

The Erin Mills resident, who was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2008 and received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award (India’s highest honour for overseas Indians) earlier this year, had her troupe present TAJ in Toronto as part of Luminato 2011.

A past winner of a Mississauga Arts Award, Pada founded Sampradaya Dance Creations more than two decades ago. She’s originally from Bangalore, India, and has introduced many Canadians to the wonders of bharatanatyam, an Indian dance form.

Honorary degree recipient has recorded 30,000 songs

Bollywood playback singers, such as Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar [LLD ’95], recorded songs by the thousands – he 25,000 and she 30,000, which got her an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records, wrote Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star June 18, in an article about the success of the Indian movie industry in North America. She has been coming to Toronto since 1980. In a 1985 benefit concert for the United Way that packed Maple Leaf Gardens, the diva told me: “Music is my god. I live for it.” In 1995, York University conferred on her an honorary doctorate [vocalist].

Scholarships handed out

The Shirley Gurowka scholarships are presented annually by Peel Region’s Best Start Health Coalition in honour of Shirley Gurowka, who was founding president of the group in 1991, wrote the Mississauga News June 17. Gurowka died Dec. 7, 1996.

Peace Lutheran Church in Square One Shopping Centre was the scene as Best Start presented three $1,000 cheques to mothers who are furthering their educations, including Porcia Boateng, who attended the Malton teen prenatal supper club in 2008 and 2010. She is entering her second year in sociology at York University.

On air

  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about a contest to promote interstellar space travel, sponsored by the US Defence Department, on CTV News June 17.