Canadian Commissionaires Go Beyond Security

January 14, 2016 1:45 pm

You probably see a Commissionaire or two every day. You may even spot one when you’re travelling through an airport. They stand out with their white or blue crisp button down-shirts, sweaters and epaulets and you may notice that some are wearing military medals too. That’s because Commissionaires are primarily former members of the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP or police departments.

Commissionaires, the organization, was founded in 1925 following the First World War, when many returning veterans were unemployed and lacking a social safety net. Out of this need, Commissionaires was born. Initially operating in Montreal and then expanding to Toronto and Vancouver, the organization provided returning veterans with meaningful transitional or permanent employment.

Throughout the years, Commissionaires have expanded across Canada, into more than 50 offices, in every major city and 1200 communities. Over 90 per cent of revenue is driven back to members by operating a self-sustaining enterprise. The business is a not-forprofit private company employing more than 20,000 men and women. Currently Canada’s leading security services provider, Commissionaires offers more than just security guarding. Business services now include noncore police services, mobile patrols, training and process serving, in addition to identification services (fingerprinting, electronic criminal record checks, oaths and affidavits and pardons/record suspensions).

Veterans play a very important role with Commissionaires. Currently, Commissionaires is the largest private employer of veterans in Canada.

The thriving business provides services in federal and provincial buildings and facilities, as well as with utility companies, hospitals, airports,  campuses, condominiums, ports, municipalities and more, typically delivering guarding, access control, bylaw enforcement, crime scene security, photo radar, and traffic control. Veterans play a very important role with Commissionaires. Currently, Commissionaires is the largest private employer of veterans in Canada, and offers veterans full-time, part-time and casual employment.

Dec2015_Comissionaires2Canadians care very deeply about helping our veterans. In a survey commissioned by Commissionaires in 2014, over 96 per cent of Canadians believed that our country has an obligation to help veterans find meaningful employment once they have completed their military service. Commissionaires do just that, providing essential training, development and advancement for veterans to ease the transition into civilian life and employment.

Each year, Commissionaires hire more than 1,000 former members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP. The skills and training that veterans bring to the organization allow Commissionaires to serve a variety of both private and public sector clients, such as air and sea ports, border crossings, commercial enterprises, government facilities and institutions. Commissionaires provide an important service assisting and protecting people and property, but the organization’s mission is to provide meaningful employment to those who have served our country.

The next time you see a Commissionaire at your office, campus, condo, airport or government building, thank him or her for contribution to Canada.

The Canadian Forces Today — Post Afghanistan

January 13, 2014 10:00 am
Canadian Forces1

The recently released Strategic Profile consolidates important demographic, economic and military data into a concise document that allows for a quick yet detailed overview of where Canada stands in terms of defence and development. The work was completed by the Strategic Studies Working Group (SSWG), a partnership between the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) and the Canadian International Council (CIC).

The data compiled by the 2013 Strategic Profile identifies some notable changes and trends. First, on an economic level, there is a steady westward shift of wealth in the country. Between 2011 and 2012, Alberta’s GDP per capita rose from $70,826 to $78,155, an increase of 10%. Even more impressive was the growth experience by Saskatchewan, rising from $60,877 to $70,654, an increase of 16% over the same period.Canadian Forces 2

Population growth also continues its gradual westward march, though not as striking as GDP numbers, as Western Provinces continue to see the strongest population growth, Ontario and Quebec grew at slower paces, with population growth in the Atlantic Provinces remaining fairly static.

The total number of Canadian Forces numbers remained stable from 2011 to 2012, increasing by 1,500 to a total of 67,205 in 2012. While the number of Canadian Forces personnel increased, the defence budget decreased from $21.8 Billion to $20.1 Billion as a result of government wide budget cuts. Afghanistan continues to be the largest theatre of operation for the Canadian Forces with 950 CF personnel; though troop numbers are much lower than during Canada’s combat mandate.

Along with data on a variety of topics, the Strategic Profile also ranks Canada with other OECD member states to provide a comparison of where Canada stands with other industrialized economies. Canada’s GDP per capita was ranked 7th in 2012, while its GDP growth for the same year was ranked 4th. Canada has the 5th largest Primary Energy Supply in the OECD and is the 4th highest producer of Carbon Dioxide emissions percapita.

The complete 2013 Strategic Profile is available online at


Mr. Immigration Minister, It’s Getting Heavy: An Open Letter to Jason Kenney From Lainie Towell

January 1, 2010 10:40 am

Dear Honourable Jason Kenney,


I wanted to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to appear on CTV’s Canada AM, to discuss immigration/marriage fraud.

After I spoke on Canada AM about my fraudulent ex-husband who misrepresented himself to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA )and myself in order to gain entry into Canada, you said that my situation is far from uncommon.

“Marriages of convenience are one of the most frequent forms of immigration fraud in Canada,” you emphasized. In order to deal with this frequent form of immigration fraud, you explained that: “Canada employs skilled migration integrity officers to try to root out would-be fraudsters before they can get their foot in the door.”

Mr. Kenney, I hate to burst the bubble, but prevention is not working. If it were, marriage/immigration fraud would not be so frequent in Canada. It is unacceptable that marriage fraud is as common as you suggest, and yet Canada’s so-called “special preventative measures” do not even consistently happen.

In my case, the Canadian government never interviewed me as a sponsor. Nor did anyone pre-interview my ex-husband Focle Mohamed Soumah, during his application process. Canada’s skilled integrity officers never could have “rooted out” the lies that only became apparent to me, and later to the CBSA and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), after my ex-husband landed. (How could they have when nobody was rooting?)

Minister Kenney, if prevention is the only measure in place to reduce the risk of fraud, should interviews with skilled migration integrity officers at Canadian embassies not then be mandatory…for all spousal immigration applications? (OLM readers and taxpayers, what do you think?)

I decided to call CIC to ask why there were never any interviews in my sponsorship application process. The call centre agent told me that family class marriage applications are the quickest and least stringent ones to process. She explained that if applications appear authentic, officers often issue visas without any further questions. Minister Kenney, this is alarming if, as you say, marriages of convenience are one of the most common forms of immigration fraud. How can the government claim that it has special preventative measures in place to combat this type of immigration fraud, especially since in many cases, spousal immigration applications are processed so quickly? (My ex-husband’s case took eight weeks).

The Canadian government needs to do better. I know, I know. Canadians need to be vigilant when marrying abroad — and I agree. However, we are talking about love. When you love someone and trust that you are loved back, it’s hard to fathom that you are being conned and lied to. In most cases, it only becomes apparent once the fraudster has obtained permanent residency status in Canada.

On March 24. 2009, my ex-husband was issued a removal order from Canada at his admissibility hearing. He now has the right to appeal this decision. Minister Kenney, can you explain why I am still being held as my ex-husband’s sponsor during this appeal process? It has been proven in a court of law that he lied to me, and to the government, to get into Canada. So why is the government still holding me financially responsible for him? My sponsorship obligations should no longer apply at this stage.

Currently, Canada’s spousal sponsor–ship agreement is set up to protect the rights of new immigrants should their sponsors desert their responsibilities. However, there is nothing in the Act to protect the rights of sponsors if they are abandoned, victimized, abused, or defrauded. By ignoring the rights of Canadian sponsors in the aforementioned circumstances, the current policy is one-sided and unfair. The system is set up so that the rights of the sponsored immigrant automatically take precedence over the rights of Canadian sponsors — even when they have been abused!

A balance needs to be found to encompass the rights of new immigrants and the rights of their sponsors. Citizenship and Immigration states on their website that “everyone is responsible for ensuring that their marriage is genuine.” However, as policy stands now, only one party in the marriage partnership is being held responsible: the sponsor.

Minister Kenney, I sincerely hope that my ex-husband’s appeal process does not drag on. Lengthy hearing and appeal wait times cost Canadian taxpayers millions ofdollars in support payments, legal aid costs and health care while illegal immigrants remain in Canada. Do you not agree?


Lainie Towell

Ottawa, Ontario

By: Lainie Towell

Our City, Our Children: The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CAS) Answers the Call from Families in Need

October 1, 2009 9:57 am

Our children are our future. They need our protection, and as citizens it is our responsibility to provide it. Yet so many children fall through the cracks unnecessarily. In many cases, they don’t get the help they need because people aren’t aware of the opportunities and services available for help. Throughout this series, we’ll shed light on the options you have to seek assistance, report a suspected case of abuse or neglect, or contribute your time as a volunteer, foster parent or adoptive parent.

In Ottawa, the primary resource for child welfare is the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CAS). The Society’s mission is to protect the children of our community from all forms of abuse and neglect. One of 53 child welfare agencies in Ontario, the CAS is a beacon for Ottawa parents in need of help, and for children who can’t find the support and care they need at home.

As an Ottawa resident, you’ve probably heard of the CAS. But according to a 2008 survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, most people in the community don’t know exactly what it is the agency does. In fact, the survey revealed that 60% of Ottawa residents base their opinion of the agency solely on media reports. That finding is cause for concern to France Clost, Communications Officer at the CAS, who explains that many media reports have led to misconceptions about the agency.

“Only the contentious cases make it to the media, and we can’t respond because of confidentiality restraints,” says Clost. “There are so many good news stories, so many. They far outweigh the bad news stories.”

What, then, does the CAS do? “We’re here to help families,” says Clost. The agency provides service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, responding to situations where children up to 16 years of age may be at risk. Like the other 52 Ontario child welfare agencies, the CAS is legislated by the Provincial Child and Family Services Act. When someone calls with a concern, trained intake workers follow a Differential Response (DR) model that uses clear standards and guidelines to determine the kind of support and service needed to protect the child. That support includes referring the caller to another community service, arranging counseling for parents in need of assistance, and — in very rare cases — apprehending a child by court order as a Crown ward. Under the Child and Family Services Act, if a child is made a ward of the Crown, the Crown assumes the rights and responsibilities of a parent for the purpose of the child’s care and custody.

According to Clost, one of the biggest myths about the CAS is that it serves largely to take children into custody. That couldn’t be further from the truth. “We get 25,000 calls a year,” says Clost. “Of those, 6,500 end up as investigations… and of those, only one percent result in children having to come into our care (as a Crown ward). With the majority of the families we work with, the children remain at home.”

Keeping children with their families is a big priority for the CAS. The agency firmly believes that that is the ideal outcome of any investigation, provided the parents can provide a safe and healthy environment. Apprehending a child is seen as a last resort, and is only carried out if the child faces an immediate risk by remaining at home. As Clost explains, the CAS staff is made up of child protection workers who have degrees in social work. They consult closely with supervisors before making any decisions about a case. In the event that they decide a child isn’t safe at home, the CAS is required to support its case to the Ontario Court of Justice and await a final decision from the judge.

Many of the calls that come into the CAS are from parents facing poverty or parenting issues. In these cases, the agency often directs callers to other community organizations, such as the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa, Crossroads Children’s Centre, or Healthy Babies Healthy Children, as well as family service centres, centres, food banks and services organizations.” A lot of the time, the parents just aren’t aware of these outside services,” says Clost.

When calls come in that require the CAS’s involvement, the agency works with the families to ensure that they can provide adequate care for their children. The CAS connects parents with community services, talks to them about their history, supervises some of their interactions with their children, and guides them towards positive parenting.

Clost emphasizes that most of the parents who call in aren’t calling because they’re bad people. They’re calling because they’re struggling and are looking for a way to make their families’ lives better. The majority of children who come into the agency’s care have parents with mental health problems or addictions that leave them incapable of meeting their children’s needs. “(Those mental health and addiction issues) lead to things like neglect and abuse,” says Clost. “Most people don’t want to hurt their children. They need help and that’s what we’re there for.”

In the rare cases where the CAS decides to take a child into custody as a Crown ward, the agency arranges temporary foster care within the community. All foster parents go through extensive screening and training before they’re approved to care for children. The CAS makes sure that prospective foster parents will be a good fit not only for the child, but also for the agency. As Clost explains, the agency’s priority is to work towards sending the child back home whenever possible. Once a child is in the agency’s care, every effort is made to help the child remain connected to the child’s biological family. “So we really need to find foster families who understand what it’s like to work with a child welfare service, and who are willing to work with the biological families,” says Clost.

Foster families are incredibly important to the process. They provide a temporary refuge for abused or neglected children, and do their best to help these children return home. But Clost makes it clear that foster care isn’t seen as a permanent solution.

“The important thing for us is really making sure that (the children) don’t linger in foster care,” she says.

When going home isn’t an option for Crown wards, the CAS tries to find permanent adoptive homes for the children. Each year, the agency places approximately 70 children into adoptive families. Most of these children are school-aged or in a sibling group that can’t be separated. Many have emotional disabilities; others have physical, mental or developmental disabilities. All need the love of a permanent family, and the CAS is committed to helping them find that. “We’re more than just a safe place to stay,” says Clost. “(We try to facilitate) the lifelong bonds and relationships that these kids need to build.”

Childhood abuse and neglect affect our entire community. The CAS is vital to ensuring that our children remain safe and protected. Without the agency, Ottawa’s children and parents wouldn’t have anywhere to turn when family life becomes too difficult. Throughout the Our City, Our Children series, we’ll give voice to people who have been through the child welfare system — parents who have experienced parenting struggles, children who have suffered abuse and neglect, and the professionals who have helped them through it.

For too long, the issue of child welfare in Ontario has been surrounded by confusion and mystery. With Our City, Our Children, we aim to heighten the transparency and demystify the system. “It’s so unfortunate that the misinformation in the community may lead to people not calling. That’s tragic for those kids,” says Clost. “I completely understand how difficult it is for someone to pick up the phone. But I think people might feel more comfortable if they knew what we did when we picked up that phone —we find out what’s going on and help the family and make sure the child is safe and cared for. That doesn’t mean going in and taking kids away… We work with families to ensure that they can provide for their children.”

By: Amanda Sage

Sustainable Populations

12:22 am

When he thinks of the future, David Graham, Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs, at Montreal’s Concordia University, is struck by the fact that in 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion.

“That’s five times what it was when I was born,” muses Graham.

That’s a lot of people competing for the planet’s finite resources. How they will be able do that — and do it sustainably — is a major challenge, one that is galvanizing thinkers, governments and NGOs worldwide.

“It’s not just about saving the planet but also about rethinking our relationships with one another and with nature as we develop public policies,” says Louise Dandurand, Concordia’s Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies.

For example, Dandurand says a stable, cohesive society is more capable of facing change than one that is unstable. Researchers are looking for ways to keep conununities both economically viable and socially cohesive.

“In today’s economy, the most valuable commodity is information,” says Reza Soleymani, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Concordia whose work focuses on improving wire-less and satellite communications.

He says if large amounts of data can be transmitted reliably and at low cost, it improves the viability of small communities while reducing the need for commuting.

In a global context, the advanced satellite communication techniques could allow people in the developed world to teach in developing countries without having to travel there.

Ensuring stable, cohesive social structures is not as easy as it might seem, says Edward Little, chair of Concordia’s Department of Theatre. He works in community-engaged theatre to help people reconnect with their neighbours.

Rights Here! Theatre and Law for Human Rights, for example, was a 2007 initiative aimed at encouraging youth to become more active in raising awareness about human rights in a culturally diverse neighbourhood. Like sustainable populations, successful theatre depends on people being able to resolve their conflicts and find ways of working together.

Concern over sustainable populations isn’t just confined to North America — it’s a global issue.

Graham says people in developed nations have an interest in encouraging economic development everywhere, partly because people tend to reduce family size as their economic situation improves. Theoretically, reduced population growth could also reduce the bur-den on the planet.

But that’s no easy task, partly because resources are not evenly distributed, says Graham. And the need for vital resources, from water to oil, has the potential to lead to conflict — yet another factor influencing population sustainability. Graham says he believes that when the economy, the environment and communities are sustainable, the population will be as well.

“The real trick,” he says, “is to see population sustainability as the natural outcome of other sustainabilities.”

Micronutrient Initiative: Fighting World Hunger

12:16 am

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, one child will die from hunger-related causes by the time you reach the end of this sentence. Overall, 25,000 people die daily due to hunger and malnutrition. In fact, the number of people who don’t have enough to eat—a terrifying 923 million—is larger than the combined populations of Canada, the United States and the European Union. Malnutrition and starvation are a global problem, and a non-profit organization right in Ottawa’s backyard is doing its part day by day.

The Micronutrient Initiative (MI) is an independent Canadian organization that wishes to see a future world free of hidden hunger. Launched in 1997, today’s MI is one of the most successful international development programs to come out of Canada.

“The Micronutrient Initiative focuses on some of the most impoverished regions of the world,” says Venkatesh Mannar, the initiative’s CEO. “We help women and children receive and consume the vitamins and minerals that they need to survive and develop their full potential.”

The problem with nutrition is that many of our essential nutrients—like iron, vitamin A and zinc—are consumed through food. However, deficiencies quickly develop in areas where people don’t always have access to nutritious food. Acute deficiencies can result in numerous diseases and health risks, and can be lethal.

MI focuses on these deficiencies through micronutrient products that are portable, cost effective and easy to transport to the developing world. Examples include Nutri-candies, vitamin mixes, and a powder additive that can be sprinkled on food to give it an instant vitamin boost. Many of these products are developed right in Canada with some of our country’s top universities and scientists. The products are then sent out to regions that need help the most.

“We have a big focus that children under five have two high doses of vitamin A every year,” says Mannar. Vitamin A deficiencies are the chief cause of child blindness in developing countries. “That sounds fairly simple…but as you can imagine, just the logistics…to get to every child is quite a challenge,” says Mannar. “We distribute about 500 million capsules of vitamin A produced here in Canada…to UNICEF and other partners, and our people work with them on the ground from the national capitals to the settlements and districts.” The numbers quickly add up. In 2007, MI produced its five billionth vitamin A capsule.

The end goal is a sustainable plan to solve nutritional deficiencies. “The main thing we want to do,” says Mannar, “is do [micronutrient distributions] in a way that takes hold within countries’ systems and help build a network so it becomes a part of what they do so that we can withdraw and they can do it on their own.”

“We have a fairly clear mission,” says Mannar, explaining the passion that drives himself and his colleagues. “We know the issues we’re trying to promote, and the fact that we’re reaching so many people. No two days are the same. Life is very exciting around here.” Many MI workers combine office work with field work, and get a chance to see MI’s projects making real, tangible differences. On a recent trip to India, Mannar saw how MI’s vitamin program quickly solved deficiencies in one salt-farming area. “The changes are dramatic,” he says.

MI is distinctly Canadian and an exemplary organization promoting Canada’s international work in child development. “Canada’s leadership is something that’s unmatched,” says Mannar. The initiative is breaking the poverty cycle and saving lives with its micronutrient products. And that’s positive news on a mega-scale.

By: Joshua Duvauchelle

The Soaring Loonie

August 1, 2009 9:47 am

The rise and fall and rise again of the Canadian loonie can be confusing in its implications. When the loonie achieved parity with the American dollar early in 2008 there was a sense of euphoria among some commentators, as though Canada had finally matured as a country. Since then the loonie’s value relative to the greenback has fallen back to 79 cents but is now rising again, hovering around the high eighties or low nineties mark. The euphoria this time around has dissipated, perhaps because more serious questions stemming from the loonie’s strength are being considered. What is fuelling the loonie’s rise and what are the implications for the Canadian economy? The answer to the first question is sometimes difficult to pin down, even for seasoned economists. The answer to the second question depends on what part of the country we’re talking about.

The rise in oil prices and other commodities is an important source of the loonie’s recent ascent. When fuelled by rising commodity prices, a strong loonie will not dampen growth in Alberta and other oil rich provinces. Oil sands projects recently stalled due to the global economic slowdown are again on the threshold of profitability. If oil prices continue their upward trend, Alberta’s challenge will not be rising unemployment, but rather managing accelerated growth and the environmental consequences of oil sands production. Indeed demand for labour in the high-wage oil sector will likely leave coffee shop owners and the like scrambling again for employees. Housing prices will stabilize and then increase. The number of people joining the ranks of Alberta’s middle class will continue to swell.

In Ontario, by contrast, the rising loonie will merely exacerbate the movement of manufacturing to lower cost destinations, resulting in more job losses. Canada’s most recent employment statistics bear this trend out. Ontario’s unemployment rate increased to 9.4%, whereas the rate in every province west of it stabilized or actually decreased. Most of Ontario’s job losses were in manufacturing, and although there will continue to be an auto-manufacturing sector in the province, it will employ a small fraction of the people it did only a few years ago and at wages considerably less. The tiering of Ontario’s economy will thus likely intensify. To be sure, there will still be high salaried and high wage industries, but there will continue to be a proliferation of low wage industries as well, prompting even more pressure on the province’s middle class. From this perspective, the loonie’s rise may thus stimulate a form of uneven development of the country’s economy. At the very least, a westward shift of economic power will continue.

This is precisely why the Bank of Canada has expressed concern over the loonie’s rise and may take steps to curtail it. But the American economy remains the wild card when ruminating on the loonie’s future and by extension the fate of Ontario’s economy. A growing number of commentators are suggesting that America is in real danger of merely recreating the conditions precipitating the current recession. Consumer and mortgage debt are fueling this recession. Governments everywhere have responded to the slowdown with investments designed to stimulate the economy. Although the resulting deficits have reached record highs in many countries, they remain a manageable percentage of GDP (gross domestic product). In the United States, by contrast, the levels of spending are so high that government debt may sooner or later prompt another severe economic contraction. To complicate matters further, the staggering levels of consumer debt will likely quell the likelihood of a strong consumer led recovery.

If this is so, there is a strong likelihood that the loonie’s rise relative to the American dollar will not be temporary. Fluctuations will continue and the Bank of Canada will attempt to temper its rise, but the long-term trend is likely upwards. This trend combined with stagnant growth in the American economy will merely tighten the squeeze on Ontario’s beleaguered manufacturing sector. Pressure is thus growing on Ontario’s provincial government to be at once reactive and visionary. On the one hand, bailouts to car manufacturers save jobs in the short term. On the other hand, the public money invested comes at a time of a shrinking tax base and growing spending burdens. Ontario’s deficit this year is in the many billions of dollars and will likely increase in the coming years. And there remains a lingering sense that the auto industry and manufacturing as a whole will continue to shed jobs in the long run. Navigating the provincial economy through such choppy waters is the Liberal government’s greatest challenge.

Classroom Assessments: the Best Report Card Parents Can Get

9:40 am

Elementary teachers focus on doing what is best for their students. That is why many teachers have reservations about the wide-scale use of standardized tests which are mandated by the government of Ontario.

EQAO Established

In 1996, the government established the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) to design new tests for grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 in reading, writing and mathematics; manage the administration of these tests; report results to the public; and collect data to help determine the effectiveness of Ontario’s education system.

Parents want to know how their children are doing at school, but do the EQAO tests give them the answers they are looking for?

What Are Teachers Concerned About?

As elementary teachers, we feel strongly that standardized tests such as the EQAO’s grade 3 and 6 assessments do not give parents a true picture of their child’s progress. There are many reasons for this.

Students are often confused and experience a great deal of stress due to the inflexible schedule and abnormal classroom environment. The tests therefore cannot be a realistic measure of a child’s overall achievement. A more realistic indicator is what happens on a daily basis in classrooms across Ontario. Here students learn more about life, their relationships with others, and the environment than a test given once a year can ever measure.

The tests do not assess the whole child or the whole curriculum. They provide only one assessment, at one point in time. As well, test data are subject to misuse and misinterpretation. They do little to provide real help to students, parents, or schools.

Resources used to create, administer and mark the tests would be better spent supporting students and teachers in the classroom. The EQAO’s most recent annual report indicates their expenses were $32.9 million in the 2006-2007 fiscal year. If that money was spent on education instead of on standardized testing, it would have provided almost 740 new teachers, more than five new schools or 165 classrooms for 3,300 students.

Overall, multiple-choice tests do not accurately assess student knowledge, critical thinking ability or many of the skills and knowledge outlined in the provincial curriculum. They are only part of the answer among a broad range of indicators. If politicians insist on continuing the use of standardized tests to meet their political needs, a sample-testing regime should be introduced so that the educational lives of fewer students are interrupted for political expediency.

Teachers Know Students Best

The basic premise for standardized tests is that they provide valid measures of student learning. Teachers know that this assumption is not always correct. Daily assessments by teachers can more accurately evaluate what students have learned. Tests measure how well students do on that test on that particular day. They provide only one assessment, while teachers know that good program decisions require many assessments.

Each child has a unique learning style that cannot be captured in a single assessment. That is why teachers use a variety of methods to determine what each child knows and is able to do. These methods, which can include oral and written reports, written tests, journals, portfolios and student work, reflect the different ways your child learns.

When it comes to assessing the learning of the whole child, teachers know best. Teachers know that classroom assessments are at the heart of good teaching and student learning

Classroom assessments are invaluable because they:

• Support student learning;

• Assess the whole child;

• Measure a variety and levels of skills;

• Determine student progress • Are appropriate and responsive to student learning needs.

Good classroom assessment improves learning and supports teaching. It does this by motivating students to learn more effectively, by helping teachers make important instructional decisions and by involving students in setting goals for their learning.

Parents have the right and the responsibility to ask questions about how their child is doing in school. Take advantage of opportunities to talk to your children’s teachers about their day-to-day learning and about their progress.

Helping Students Survive Standardized Tests

As a parent of a grade 3 or grade 6 student, you should know that you could choose to withdraw your child from the provincial achievement tests. You can do this by simply writing to the school principal. However, if you choose to have your children write the tests, help them cope with the process by telling them to relax and just do the best they can. The tests are not about their progress; the tests are about the education system. If your children are worried about the tests, talk to their teachers.

Much more important than how children do on tests is how they learn. You can help your children learn by listening to them talk about school and about what they have learned. Remind them that what they learn and how they feel about school are the most important things. Be interested in what they care about, in their school, in their progress and in their security. Read with them, play with them and learn with them.

By: David Clegg

President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

Teams in Action: Primary Health Care Teams for Canadians

9:34 am

Joe, 60, has diabetes, high blood NO pressure and arthritis. He says that shuttling around town to various health appointments is like a full-time job.

“I’m never sure how much these people talk to each other,” he adds. “I worry that something’s going to get missed somewhere.”

Health concerns — and sometimes just anxiety about his health — have driven Joe to the emergency department more than a few times. His wife adds that Joe doesn’t always follow what he has been told by the different health care professionals about taking care of himself. “I think he’s overwhelmed and depressed,” she adds. Joe isn’t alone. This scenario, and others similar to it, face Canadians across the nation every day.

There is, however, a model of care in Canada that would likely benefit Joe -and many others suffering from chronic health conditions: The Primary Health Care Team. On April 30, the Health Council of Canada released its latest report, titled Teams in Action: Primary Health Care Teams for Canadians, in an attempt to shed light on the state of teams in Canada.

In 2004, as part of a nationwide health accord, all governments committed to ensure that 50% of Canadians have access to multidisciplinary teams for primary health care by 2011 — only two years away. Governments have recognized that, as our population ages, chronic conditions are becoming (and will become) more and more of a challenge for health care delivery. Millions of dollars have been earmarked to support the new model of care.

Broadly speaking, teams are described as two or more health professionals working together in a coordinated, integrated effort to provide a patient’s basic health care.

Research has shown that team-based care offers more comprehensive care and faster access to a range of health care professionals, all working closely with one another and coordinating the services you need. In addition, doctors who are part of a team can focus their time on specific medical issues, allowing other health care professionals to provide their own expertise. This may include areas like patient education on healthy living, or how to manage chronic conditions over time more effectively.

Patients who receive care from teams report that they are more satisfied, knowledgeable, and better skilled in managing their own health conditions.

Now, what do teams REALLY look like across the country?

It’s hard to give a simple answer. The specific makeup and definition of a primary health care team varies among the provinces and territories, with innovative and promising efforts in place across Canada. Many teams are in place in rural and remote areas and many are used to provide after-hours access to care. Every province and territory has developed teams tailored to managing chronic diseases, like diabetes or heart disease. There is also a significant level of activity to use teams to reach out to vulnerable or high risk populations struggling with problems such as poverty, language and cultural barriers, or disabilities.

But with so many different approaches, and varying combinations of health professionals serving on the teams, it’s hard to reach conclusions about which types of teams are most effective. The theory behind team-based care is that with increased health promotion and chronic disease management provided by teams, Canadians’ health will improve and their use of other health services, such as costly hospitalizations, will be reduced.

Some results show this certainly can happen. In B.C., for example, team-based diabetes management has led to a drop in diabetes complications and, therefore, fewer emergency visits and hospital stays. As a result, provincial costs for diabetes care dropped from an average of $4,400 per patient in 2001/2002 to $3,966 in 2004/2005.

There is enough promising evidence from B.C. and elsewhere to be able to recommend that teams be used to improve the way chronic diseases are managed and to care for people with mental health issues. Many provinces and territories are doing this. What we do not know yet is whether teams offer similar benefits to the general population.

Governments need this information to know how to use team-based care most effectively — to make sure it is being offered to the people who will benefit the most. And they need to know whether teams offer good value for money to the health care system.

The Health Council of Canada believes that team-based care has significant potential to improve the health of Canadians. Nevertheless, governments need to make sure that their current efforts are evaluated to determine what types of teams work best, where they offer the greatest benefit to patients and where they provide the most value for money in the health care system.

The Health Council would like to hear from patients and their families about their experiences with and opinions of teams. We invite Canadians to join the discussion at See you there!

By: John G. Abbott

CEO, Health Council of Canada

First Nations Health Issues: From Poverty to Wellness Interview with AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine

June 1, 2009 12:10 am

Take a close look at some recent I statistics for First Nations. Overcrowded, modest houses crammed with multiple families abound. There is mould growth and unsafe drinking water in 44% of homes. Tuberculosis rates are 29 times higher than that of others born in Canada; life expectancy on average is between five and seven years less than everyone else plus there are higher levels of asthma, rashes and allergies in children. Moreover, another statistic that is particularly poignant, population growth for First Nations is booming to the tune of about double the Canadian average. Absent of change and with an increasing population, these health issues will become a larger problem for First Nations and Canadian society as a whole.

AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine

The March report, The State of the First Nation Economy and the Struggle to Make Poverty History, declared that “in 2009, First Nations communities are still, on average, the most disadvantaged social/cultural group in Canada on a host of measures including income, unemployment, health, education, child welfare, housing and other forms of infrastructure.”

There is no question that there is a significant correlation between socio-economic status and health. It is true the world over, across all societies and populations, that the economically disadvantaged have poorer health.

Canada’s First Nations are no exception and as Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine explains, the situation for First Nations is compounded by two factors unique to First Nations communities: “inter-jurisdictional barriers to health care and inequitable funding.”

First Nations are one of a handful of groups in Canada that receive their health care directly from the federal government. The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada has an annual budget in the range of $1.8 billion, which serves over 700,000 First Nations clients and 40,000 Inuit clients. While it may sound simple, it isn’t. As Fontaine points out, “First Nations patients often have to deal with three health jurisdictions: federal, provincial/territorial and First Nations. When health care systems don’t work together, patients fall through the cracks.”

Take the astonishing case of Jordan Anderson. Jordan, who died when he was five, spent his whole life in a hospital, not because he was too sick to leave but because of inter-jurisdictional squabbling over who would foot the bill for his care if he returned to his community. A recent study found close to 400 such cases of kids caught in such jurisdictional disputes.

Currently, Fontaine says, there are steps being taken to address this issue by Health Canada through a cross-jurisdictional policy framework allowing First Nations to become full partners with federal and provincial governments. This will definitely improve the situation but the point stands that these are issues that non-First Nations Canadians (of any income bracket) just don’t have to worry about.

More funding and better coordination are part of the solution to improve the wellbeing for First Nations, but as in every other sector of society, innovation rules and First Nations are brimming with innovative ideas just waiting to be tapped. Fontaine points to the Bigstone Cree First Nation as an excellent example of how First Nations can improve their own health care. “The Bigstone Cree First Nation is a remote community approximately 400 km north of Edmonton and consists of seven settlements, Fontaine says, “It has an impressive Health Centre that contains medical offices, a dental clinic and a pharmacy. The pharmacy not only creates employment but it generates profits that the community reinvests in health care.”

Investing in education is another extremely compelling way to improve quality of life and health for First Nations. “Education provides hope and opportunity,” says Fontaine. “Part of the problem we encounter with education that fuels the dropout rate is the fact that we are not investing a fair amount in First Nations education.”

According to the AFN, 42 First Nations do not actually have schools and twice as many have schools that are in terrible disrepair. On average, First Nations schools receive $2,000 less per student in educational support than students in provincial schools, which clearly puts them at a disadvantage.

Improve education and health will follow. From the engaged, educated youth will come health care professionals from the region and as Fontaine underlined, according to a 2004 report by the Canadian Medical Association, health professionals from remote communities often return to these areas to practice. This could only be good news for the future of First Nations communities — on many different levels.

Wings Of History

April 1, 2009 3:41 pm

The fragile biplane rotates in a slow circle above the visitors who wander through the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa. Stephen Quick, the associate director general, smiles as he looks up at the structure made of balloon cloth, wood, and steel tubing.

“It all started here.”

Shadows from The Silver Dart’s cloth wings sweep over Quick as he gestures to the airplane.

“This is where it all started in Canada”

The Silver Dart was the first airplane to take flight in Canada. A young engineer named J.A.D. McCurdy flew the aircraft across the frozen Bras d’Or lake in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, on February 23 1909. One hundred years later a replica of the aircraft serves as an introduction to the Canadian Aviation Museum’s Centennial of Flight project.

The project’s goal is to raise awareness of all that aviation has contributed to our country since McCurdy’s short flight a century ago. Today, flight provides Canada with a transportation network, an industry and an air force. The museum is in collaboration with 17 other organizations across Canada, such as Nav Canada, the Air Force Association of Canada and Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. Each has created events and programs to commemorate the centennial. Quick says that the museum added some new exhibits in order to give context and attract a wider audience.

Four new interactive galleries are spread out between the aircrafts. Each gallery represents an era: Getting into the Air (1902-1918), Tying the Country Together (1919-1938), Industry and War (1939-1945) and Shrinking the World (1946-Present). Artifacts like gramophones, cars, and motorcycles are scattered across the floor to show what was happening on the ground while planes flew overhead. In one corner, children can dress up in pilot goggles and helmets.

Quick strolls beneath the nose of the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker as he explains that bush planes opened up all of northern Canada and connected the country.

“We’re a small population set apart by huge distances,” Quick says.

The Pacemakers were used mainly for aerial photography in the 1920s and 30s.

The walk from one end of the museum to the other shows just how far aviation has advanced in the past hundred years. At the front sit airplanes made from wood and that traveled at 70 km/h; at the back are sleek jets that break Mach 2. The nose of the Avro Canada CF-Manufactured in 1957 in Mahon, Ontario and first tested in 1958, the sleek and elegant Avro Arrow was a technical masterpiece at the forefront of aviation engineering during its time. The delta-winged interceptor aircraft held the promise of Mach 2 speeds and could exceed altitudes of 50,000 feet. Designed at the height of the cold war, the Avro Arrow was meant to be used by the Royal Canadian Air Force to intercept and destroy Soviet Union bomber planes. However, in 1959 the Canadian government decided the threat from the east had diminished and ordered all completed Avro Arrows to be destroyed. Only five ever made it off the ground, and then only ever during test flights.

The nose of one of the Avro Arrows is all that remains of this legacy in Canada’s flight history. The Institute of Aviation Medicine donated it to the Canadian Aviation Museum in 1965.

Quick says that the airplanes are just one part of Canada’s flight history.

“It’s the stories of the people who flew them that are really important.”

Don Gregory was a pilot for half a century and has stories to share. He stands a little straighter as he points to the first and last plane he ever flew. It’s a bright yellow North American Harvard II, and in 1953 Gregory was training for the Air Force the first time he ever got behind the controls. After fifty years of piloting all types of makes and models, it was that familiar bright yellow plane that Gregory flew for his final flight in Hamilton in 2003.

Today Gregory volunteers at the Canadian Aviation Museum, where he imparts his wisdom, experience and love of flight to visitors.

“I can tell you stories you can’t read on the story boards,” Gregory said.

He chuckles as he reveals that the North American Harvard II can do aerobatics – rolls and loops in the sky – but doesn’t say whether he knows this from personal experience. Gregory gestures with his hands as he talks about the importance of flight in Canada. He points out that Canada manufactured its own mail planes and war planes, and that today Canada is the third largest producer of civil aircraft in the world.

“More people should learn about this part of our Canadian history,” Gregory said.

A series of events hosted by the museum provide learning opportunities all summer. Biplane and helicopter rides are offered starting in May. Artflight, an aviation-themed art competition, begins May 14. This year’s theme is Miles, Milestones, and Moments. The museum will also host a classic air rally on August 29 and 30. The Centennial of Flight exhibition is ongoing.

The museum has also published a Children’s book called “The Fantastic Flight of the Silver Dart” which can be purchased in the gift shop or online.

Quick, a self-described “propeller head,” says he is happy to host a commemoration of Canada’s history of flight_ To Quick, airplanes are pieces of art whose beauty lies in both their manufacturing and their function.

“There’s the romance of the flight,” Quick said.

“Being in another element – the air – is amazing.”

By: Natalie Stechyson

The Funding of Mental Health Care in Canada – Not Caring Will Us Cost More

1:53 pm

In August, the Federal government 1 pledged $130 million over ten years for a Canadian Mental Health Commission mandated with elaborating a national strategy for mental health in Canada. But despite such efforts, it remains that mental health care funding, like any type of health care funding, is an issue of provincial jurisdiction, relegating the federal government’s role to funding research, promoting best practices and providing health care to certain communities, such as First Nations and Veterans.

Distress centres in some Canadian communities have seen a spike in calls lately, the economic downturn and subsequent job losses have taken a toll on citizen’s mental health in manufacturing communities.

Important layoffs have not been a major source of stress in Ottawa, says Arianne Richeson of the Ottawa Distress Centre, but the city’s mental health was greatly affected by another recent “situational spike” as a result of the OC Transpo bus strike.

While mental health needs differ from one community to another, whether in manufacturing based cities affected by job losses, or government towns suffering extreme stress, one critical factor in mental health support remains the same across Canada: the need for funding of community services such as phone-in distress centres, mental health services, and mental health support groups is vital.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, which urged the federal government to create a national mental health system during the past federal election, Canada is the only G-8 country without a national mental health strategy. It estimates a meagre 5% of the country’s health budget is spent on mental health services.

“Canada loses some $51 billion dollars a year on lost productivity due to mental health problems. And, studies continue to reveal that one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness sometime during their lifetime”, noted Dr. Taylor Alexander, the Association’s CEO.

The Association did praise the government’s funding for a Canadian Mental Health Commission, which was confirmed this past August; one year after the creation of the Commission was officially launched by Stephen Harper.

Former health Minister Tony Clement announced the government would fund the Commission, whose creation was recommended by a Senate committee as early as 2005, at the level of $130 million over the next ten years.

The Commission is chaired by former Liberal Senator Michael Kirby. He was at the head of the Committee that recommended such a Commission, and that produced Canada’s first national report on mental health, mental illness and addiction, Out of the Shadows.

Three of the Commission’s key initiatives are to conduct a 10-year anti-stigma campaign, to build a pan-Canadian Knowledge Exchange Centre, and elaborate a national mental health strategy for Canada.

The federal government also committed $110 million to the Commission for research on issues of mental illness amongst the homeless.

The Commission’s importance was also underlined by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the largest mental health and addiction organization in Canada. During the election campaign, it urged all parties to confirm the government’s funding to new organisation, and also advocated the implementation of a national mental health strategy.

Although efforts such as the Commission’s bring recognition to mental health issues in Canada, and may contribute to fighting the stigma often associated with mental illness, little federal funding and few initiatives actually trickle down to services needed by the population, such as the local distress centre and health care.

“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen provincially” sums up Douglas E. Angus, director of the PhD in Population Health and Master in Health Administration programmes at the University of Ottawa.

Despite the federal government’s efforts and the fact that the creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada was endorsed by all provinces except Quebec, Mr. Angus underlined the fact that the federal government has no jurisdiction in provincial health care.

The federal government does have jurisdiction in matters of First Nation’s health funding, but it cannot, for example, obtain details on where and how health care funding is spent by the provincial governments, or require that a certain amount of resources be devoted to mental health by provincial governments.

There are differences, he says, in how neighbouring Quebec and Ontario fund, provide, and organise mental health services. The fact that health care is of provincial jurisdiction is thus a major barrier to the establishment of a national mental health strategy. Douglas Angus cited the results of the Romanow commission as an example: it was impossible to force provinces to implement recommendations.

In Ottawa, Bruce Kennedy, Clinical Director, Mental Health, at the Ottawa Hospital, who oversees the funding of the Ottawa Crisis Line, confirmed that the federal initiative was not expected to translate into funding for services such as the Crisis Line, provided through the Ottawa Distress Centre.

He explained that it was up to the provinces to decide how they spent their health money, and that the federal government assisted them through different initiatives, transfer payments, and the Mental Health Commission.

The federal role, he said, is one of strategy and policy framework.

In the province of Ontario, the provision of services is fragmented even at the regional level, he added, noting that other regions were encouraged by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to come see how things were done in Ottawa, as services in the region are efficient, cost effective, and easy to access in terms of timeliness.

Manufacturing areas hit by job losses may not have the same mental health needs as cities such as Ottawa, where a recent major stress factor was the bus strike. Mental health needs and practices vary across different provinces.

Are federal initiatives in terms of mental health too far removed from the nation’s actual funding needs?

“Being able to respond locally is important. Being able to respond within a global framework is also important”, sums up Mr. Kennedy.

By: Rita Devlin Marier

Cuba-Canada Relations are Strong, Comprehensive

February 1, 2009 1:24 pm

Canada has had a friendly relationship with Cuba for nearly a half century. Canada first befriended Fidel Castro when former Prime Minister Trudeau to a visit to the island nation in the mid 1970’s. Since then Canadian business and investors have been active in the country and Canadian Tourists have made it a destination spot each winter. Conversely, the United States imposed a full trade embargo and blockade against Cuba in the early 1960’s that is still in effect today. Experts on this issue believe the new Obama regime will usher in an era of renewal and cooperation between the United States and Cuba. If this happens Canada may play an important role in that re-engagement process. Over the next 6 issues of Ottawa Life Magazine, we will explore the underpinnings of the Canada-Cuba relationship and shine a light on modern day Cuba as it carves its niche in the 21st century.

On a cold slushy winter’s day at the end of November, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade, his Excellency the Hon. Raul de la Nuez Ramirez and Her Excellency Ms. Teresita de Jesus Vicente Sotolongo, the Cuban Ambassador to Ottawa, returned from meeting with Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Gerry Ritz and the new Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas), the Hon. Peter Kent.

Following the meeting, OLM caught up with the two Cuban Officials to get a sense of the state of current Canada-Cuba relations. Raul de la Nuez Ramirez is a genial soft-spoken man with an engaging personality and a serious sense of purpose. He has spent much time in Canada, having resided here from 1995 to 2000, when he was the CEO of a joint venture in Alberta’s Nickel Refinery business. He is well versed in the nickel, mining and coal industries and has a great respect for the Canadian business sector which he describes as being made up of, “global leaders, innovators, good employers and partners.”

When asked how the meeting with Peter Kent faired – he responds that “both Mr. Ritz and Mr. Kent are very informed about Cuba — very well briefed.” Ms. Vicente adds, “Our relations with Canada are strong, comprehensive, solid, mature and diverse. We have constant contact with Canadian officials and continue to encourage Canadian interest in partnering in joint ventures with Cuba.” Ms. Vicente is a seasoned diplomat with a friendly personality and a deep understanding of geopolitical affairs. “Canada and Cuba has worked together on many projects both in trade, business and at the government level. We engage in many exchanges and delegations at the Deputy Minister Level and the relationship between us is really a very good situation. We respect Canadian diplomats and officials very much.”

Mr. Ramirez observes that “Mr. Kent’s grasp of Cuban issues was very impressive and Mr. Ritz has a very good knowledge of our food industry and our agri-food base. We discussed areas where there may be opportunities to cooperate in the future.”

When asked for their perception of current relations with the USA and their thoughts on President-elect Obama and how his new government could affect USA-Cuba affairs, Ramirez says that, “Cuba has publicly expressed a readiness to engage in discussions to improve the relationship with the United States since 1996…by the way …Canada is Cuba’s number 3 trading partner and is the number country for tourism to Cuba. The American’s are missing that opportunity. Like Canada – we are members of the World Trading Organization (WTO) and we believe in trade and business and tourism. This will evolve.”

Mr. Ramirez says one area he is concerned about is the fact that while Canadians have the largest number of visitors to Cuba annually, “there are no Canadian companies operating tourism resorts or involved in joint ventures in tourism in Cuba”. When asked about the common perception in Canada that if a Canadian company wants to set up a business in Cuba they must enter a joint venture with the Cuban government – he responds, “This is not true. There are many different types of joint ventures in Cuba; some are majority owned by the Cuban government and many are majority owned by the other joint partner. And there are some cases where the business is 100% owned and there is no involvement of the Cuban government in the partnership. In any venture, the goal of the Cuban government is to ensure the “objectives of our interests are satisfied along with the partner.” He explained, “We have a Foreign Investment Act called Law, No. 77 that regulates foreign investment. It works well. We have Canadian companies involved in power generation and oil and gas and nickel production, some are involved in construction and we have French companies involved in ventures in the rum business. Many Spanish companies are involved in Cuba in the Tourism industry. As a government, we are very pleased with these investments and businesses and believe there is much more room including a significant opportunity for Canadian business and investors. It works and there is much opportunity.”

Ms. Vicente notes that “Cuba is open to investment and joint venture partnerships in tourism, particularly in the golfing sector, and in the redevelopment of heritage areas to be reconstructed into hotel and tourism ventures. Currently, there are opportunities in Havana and many in Santiago, as well.” She explains that if Canadian firms are interested in doing business in Cuba they can contact the embassy or bring a proposal to the Cuban Foreign Trade Ministry. All proposals are evaluated and the process appears to be an entrepreneurial system of joint venturing with opportunism in tourism, construction, oil and gas and development, in agriculture and the food industries. There are also new ventures possibilities in Cuba’ telecom business.

Mr. Ramirez observes that, “Cuba is like any country- the business culture has its own peculiarities. Don’t show up with a tourist visa in Havana and say you want to open a business. That is not our process. In Cuba you must contact the Ministry or the Cuban Chamber of Commerce or work through the Cuban Embassy, first. It will save you much time. We are very actively assessing many projects that exceed a 50% ownership for non-Cuban entities so this is a good time to be involved. We are part of the WTO and active in the organization and respect the rules of trade and commerce.” Ambassador Sotolongo adds that there are exciting new joint-venture opportunities in the east part of Cuba and the north coast-in Santiago and elsewhere. We have contacts and resources in all areas of Cuba who will work with a joint venture partner to make their experience a good one.”

On a final note Ramirez reflected that Canadian and Cuban businesses work well together, “We want to build on our past successes with your country”.

A Government That Puts People’s Needs First

12:52 pm

Canada is facing its worst economic storm in decades. People’s jobs, pensions and savings are at risk. But instead of the stimulus plan that economists advised, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a partisan plan to sell off public assets and roll back workers’ and women’s rights.

For recklessly failing to protect Canadian families from today’s economic crisis, Stephen Harper has lost the confidence of the Parliament you elected.

Canadians lost 71,000 jobs in November — the biggest monthly job loss in 26 years. The devastating news underlines the human cost of the Harper government’s failure to address the deepening economic crisis. This is a time for leadership from government to put people’s needs first. Countries around the world have already introduced their stimulus packages.

An NDP-Liberal Majority Coalition is ready to deliver the economic stimulus Canada needs. This Majority Coalition would provide 30 months of stable, effective government.

The opposition parties, despite their fundamental differences, came together to put people’s needs first and form a coalition government that would immediately deliver an economic stimulus to help people in this time of economic turmoil. The coalition government’s top priority is a stimulus package to address the financial crisis, to accelerate existing infrastructure funding and invest in substantial new infrastructure projects to create jobs.

Such a government will provide rapid support for those most affected by the economic crisis by making changes to Employment Insurance, lowering the minimum required RRIF withdrawal for 2008 by 50 per cent, reform bankruptcy and insolvency laws to better protect pensions, and implement an income support program for older workers.

As finances permit, the coalition government will improve child benefits and work with the provinces to move forward with an early learning and childcare program, support culture, and fight for fairness by implementing immigration reforms and reinstating funding to non-profit economic development organizations. We also need a government that will work with international partners to address climate change and take a leadership role in creating an effective new global financial architecture.

Instead of protecting your job, Mr. Harper is desperately clinging to his. To that end, Conservative spokespersons have launched an aggressive propaganda campaign against the coalition. Their desperate tactics began with the interception of the private discussions of the NDP caucus.

Then there was the flag flap. Stephen Harper’s assertion that there were no Canadian flags at the signing ceremony of the coalition accord was not true and showed the length that this group would go to hold on to power.

They undermine Canada’s constitution by questioning the legitimacy of a coalition government, when the constitution is crystal clear about the possibility of a coalition government in our parliamentary system.

Moreover, Conservatives tried to further undermine the majority coalition by attacking the Bloc, conveniently forgetting the fourteen confidence votes when their government relied on the Bloc support to survive. Pitting one region of this country against the other may save Stephen Harper’s job for now, but it does nothing in protecting your job. Canada cannot afford these delay tactics.

More jobs hang in the balance. Precious pensions and savings are bleeding. Families face difficult choices as the economy worsens. From Japan to the US, from France to Australia, our G20 counterparts are moving to kick-start their economies and protect families from harm. Canada needs to join them now.

While Stephen Harper has locked the doors of your parliament, we should work in our community to make sure parliament works for all Canadians. We will talk to our neighbours about the economy and what needs to be done to survive this crisis together. Sign petitions, write letters to the editors, call the Prime Minister’s office, and demand change. Enough with the ideological games — it’s time for a government that puts people’s needs first (

By: Paul Dewar

NDP MP Ottawa Centre

Why Should Ottawa Be Supporting The Conservatives During This Time of Political Turmoil?

12:27 pm

On October 14th, Canadians elected a strengthened Conservative government led by Stephen Harper. They did so, believing — rightly — that the Prime Minister is the best person to lead our country through the challenging economic times the world is facing. People in the Capital region apparently felt the same way. Voters here gave our team the mandate to deliver for Ottawa and we are.

Construction is proceeding on a new Ottawa Congress Centre. This $140 million project creates construction jobs now and will be a real boost to our tourism, hospitality and retail sectors once it opens in 2011. Projects to protect the Ottawa River from unacceptable dumps of raw sewage are underway or in the works. Federal leadership was key to this action. And we are committed to helping secure Ottawa’s mass transit future (expect an announcement on that soon).

We are able to do all of this, in part, because of the unprecedented influence the National Capital Region has at the federal Cabinet table. Four local Conservatives take their seats at that table each week and fight for the interests of Eastern Ontario and West Quebec, as well as for Canada as a whole. Our approach to government has seen us establish strong relationships with provincial and municipal politicians of all stripes, allowing us to accomplish a great deal in a relatively short timeframe. We are keen to work on projects of mutual interest with the Liberal governments of Ontario and Quebec and are a counter-balance to them.

On January 27, Finance Minister Flaherty will deliver the 2009 federal budget. It will propose new economic stimulus measures. It will also build on the work our team has already done to help safeguard Canadians and the Canadian economy — tax cuts, more protection for seniors and pension plans, and a record level of targeted spending on infrastructure.

At a time of global instability and economic uncertainty, Canada and Ottawa need strong leadership. Only the duly elected Conservative government can deliver.

There is much that our government wants to accomplish for Ottawa. We want to invest in infrastructure like the Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge. We’re committed to delivering budget help for Chief Vern White and the Ottawa Police Service by covering the costs of policing the national and international events Ottawa hosts as a world capital.We’ll continue to push for a more open and accountable National Capital Commission and give it the resources it needs to keep from selling off cherished green spaces.The Conservative government delivered for the Ottawa region in its first term and we have the team to keep Ottawa moving forward in a time of economic uncertainty.

The alternative is a coalition that binds federalists, socialists to Liberals. The denominator among coalition members is power that was denied to them by voters.

My hope is that Opposition parties will support the steps our government has taken — and will take — to protect our economy, including pension protection for seniors and tax relief for all Canadians.

The government has shown it is willing to accommodate Opposition concerns We invite them to put partisanship aside and work with us to present ideas and deliver real results for our economy.

It is incumbent on each of us in the Parliament you elected to put aside ideological differences and work together (or — work with the government elected by Canadians less than three months ago) for stronger communities and a stronger Canada.

Rest assured, we on the government benches will continue working our hardest to deliver real results for the people of Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

By: Hon. John Baird

Government is Answerable to Parliament

12:09 pm

The past few weeks on the political stage have been interesting, to say the least. The recent showdown between government and opposition has grabbed the nation’s attention in an unprecedented way. Those who once thought Canadian politics boring were now faced with a national political saga with events unfolding almost on a daily basis. For those of us on Parliament Hill, it has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.

Most columnists and political commentators place the starting point of the recent series of events at the governement’s delivery of its economic statement on November 27th. I, for one, believe that the stage was set much earlier than that. In a move that opposition parties did not anticipate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper violated the spirit of his own fixed-election law, precipitating an election a year earlier than planned. He believed he could win a majority in the House of Commons. We know the results.

However, on the way to the polls on October 14th, 2008, something happened. A worldwide financial crisis erupted. Markets plummeted; savings, pension funds and RRSPs were savaged. The US economy – and ours – entered into recessionary territory.

After his re-election, Mr. Harper went to Washington for the G-20 summit. He also went to Lima, Peru, for the APEC conference. He opined about the necessity of deficits, the fear of deflation. He was preparing Canadians, we thought, for his government’s economic and fiscal statement.

Despite promises to work with opposition parties in order to provide Canadians with government aid during tough economic times, the autumn statement delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was little more than an ideologically driven move to cut spending in ways that, ultimately, would have a negative impact on the country’s economic situation. It did not provide any stimulus for the ailing economy or any help for families struggling to make ends meet. It did contain unwarranted attacks on labour, women’s rights and democracy. In short, it was an irresponsible gesture from the government, and it would have been even more irresponsible for the opposition to allow it to pass unchallenged. Once the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP all said they would vote against the economic statement, it became apparent the government would fall.

Much has been written and said about the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition. Canadians has uncovered a great deal of misunderstanding about the way our political system functions. Far from being a “power grab” or “undemocratic” as Conservatives have labelled it, the agreement between the Liberal Party and the NDP to provide Canadians with an economic stimulus package is perfectly constitutional. In our parliamentary democracy, Canadians elect Members of Parliament to represent them in the House of Commons. After a general election, the leader of the party with most elected MPs becomes Prime Minister and forms the government. The party with the second largest number of MPs becomes the official opposition. The Prime Minister governs for a set period of time (a maximum of five years), as long as the confidence of the House is maintained. However, anytime a government loses the confidence of Parliament, the Governor General may decide to either call an election or give the opposition a chance to form a government themselves, especially so soon after a general election.

Mr. Harper forgot one of the most important precepts of our parliamentary democracy: that the government is responsible and answerable to Parliament. He lost the confidence of the House of Commons and could no longer govern. Instead of facing a no-confidence vote, he sought to suspend Parliament, thereby suspending democracy.

It quickly became apparent to Liberals, however, that a new leader had to be in place when Parliament resumed in January. Mr. Dion made the right decision to accelerate his departure. After consulting with Liberals from across the country and on the unanimous advice of the caucus, the national executive of the Liberal Party of Canada appointed Michael Ignatieff as interim leader. The choice of Mr. Ignatieff will be confirmed in May at the national convention to be held in Vancouver. Mr. Ignatieff’s calm and poise, as well as his analytical character, will be assets in the weeks and months to come. I am confident he will prove himself to be an inspiring leader, under which our party will fare well.

The Liberal-NDP agreement, while controversial, has already achieved a great deal. It forced an otherwise stubborn Prime Minister to relent. In January, Mr. Harper will table an early budget which we hope will contain a number of vital economic measures. The very existence of the coalition agreement means that Stephen Harper has to listen more closely to the opposition and to Canadians. The agreement does not mean that the opposition will necessarily vote against the government’s budget; that will depend on the content of the budget itself. The lesson here, hopefully, will be that when political parties collaborate, the ultimate winners are Canadians themselves.

By: Mauril Belanger

P.C., Liberal MP Ottawa-Vanier

Canadians Think Their Country is at War in Afghanistan. It Is. With Ignorance and Poverty

December 1, 2008 11:48 am

The success of the war that Canada s fighting in Afghanistan is going to depend on the intelligent use of weapons but not the kind that kill people. All of Canada’s automatic rifles, rockets and grenade launchers will have been wasted if Afghans don’t soon gain access to the weapons they need the most: education, justice, and job opportunities. When I entered Afghanistan with four other members of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, I had real doubts about Canadians fighting a war on behalf of a population so clearly in disarray; riddled with corruption; saddled with a medieval mindset and skewed by a drug trade running wild. When I left Afghanistan four days later my primary image was no longer of brave Canadians trying to prop up an ineffectual government and a hopeless society, and I believe my colleagues also came away with a new impression. Yes, we saw brave Canadians, a most impressive array of young folks from across the country, most of whom care deeply about their mission but we also saw courageous Afghans preparing to take incredible risks to escape decades of misery. Those Afghans that have managed to survive have lived under power-hungry warlords, brutal Soviet invaders, and the demonic Taliban. For those that live in provinces like Kandahar, where the Canadians are posted, the next decade represents their chance — probably their only chance — to taste some semblance of sane and civilized lives.

Of course this may not work. The challenges are staggering and the window of opportunity may close. However, what is clear is that there is no hope of progress for these people unless development programs and projects sponsored by countries like Canada take hold. Right now there is no chance of them taking hold without our troops holding the Taliban at bay while Afghans take chances to study, work and build new lives.

We talked to students who have been threatened. Education, especially for women, is a huge threat to those who need the continuance of blind obedience in order to rule. We learned that, even during the reign of the Taliban, covert schools existed —even for girls, even in deeply religious Islamic communities. There is a thirst for education in this impoverished wasteland. We talked to Afghan workers on a Canadian road-building project who had to change the times they came to work in the morning. The Taliban were picking off these workers because they knew that if they were making their way somewhere at 7 a.m., they were probably working for foreigners.

Someday, everyone hopes, the Afghan army and the Afghan police will be both strong and fair, and development projects will be able to take place under their protective wings …but not yet, certainly not in provinces like Kandahar. We met one woman, helping reform the prison system, who required three military vehicles and a dozen personnel to get her safely to where she needed to go. When Afghans run Canadian-sponsored development projects (and because of the security situation nearly all projects in Kandahar are run by Afghans) they put their lives at risk. Canadian aid directors, cooperating with the Canadian military which itself must do some of the aid work, are doing a good job under incredibly difficult circumstances_ Their mantra is consultation. They don’t go ahead with projects unless they have been deemed priorities by community councils. That is important, because we are there to enable Afghans to get where they want to go, not to direct them where we want them to go.

Presently, our enabling can’t be done without military support. Which is okay according to the Afghans we talked to when Canadian officials weren’t present. Maybe some of them were telling us what they thought we wanted to hear, but many expressed heartfelt appreciation for both Canada’s development efforts and the military efforts that make the development possible.

Canada has subscribed to various aid theories over the past four decades as we have tried to do patch jobs in scores of countries around the world, sometimes with little lasting effect. The two theories that have always made the most sense are focusing on a handful of countries rather than try to serve every country in need; focusing on the poorest of the world’s poor; staying on site long enough that donors and recipients understand each other well enough to ensure progress than can be sustained.

Afghanistan is as poor a country as you can get, with as mournful a history as any country in the world. Canada is right to focus on this place. Not because Osama bin Laden is holed up somewhere in this part of the world, but because Afghans desperately need us. Canada is currently number 1 on the list of development donors to Afghanistan on a per-capita basis. Our aid program recently got a huge boost when Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s progressive minister of education, asked Canada to take the lead in advising the government on coordinating education across the country. Canadians are always going to want to be helping somewhere. Despite our Committee’s doubts over the past few years and our criticisms of the Canadian International Development Agency, right now we’d have to say that there is no better place for Canada to be focusing our aid than this. We are distributing weapons to Afghans of the very best kind.

By: Colin Kenny

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