The Myth About Sick Leave and Public Servants

October 21, 2014 10:09 am
office time

Well, here we go again. The summer is on its way out and public servants everywhere are making their way back to their workplaces. They are preparing for a year that, according to many Public Service (PS) unions, promises to be a banner bargaining round—one where some unions say sick leave is the line in the sand and will not be on the table. No doubt Treasury Board President Tony Clement has other ideas about that.

The sick leave issue has been referred to as a $5-billion liability (the estimated value of the unused, banked public service sick leave). Or, to put it another way, the equivalent of pay the government would have to foot if every public servant left work sick on the same day and never came back. Does anyone really believe that this is possible? While even a union president, past or current, would have to admit, as in any workplace, abuses take place. However, the vast majority of public servants will leave public service life with literally years of sick leave credits in their bank, never to be taken.

So, if sick leave is not the liability the government says it is, and if there is not really any “real” money/liability attached, then why is this government pushing the sick leave bargaining agenda? The answer is it is part of its shell-game playbook. It is not the real issue.

The Conservative shell game is very effective in dealing with its public service unions. Its strategy has been deviously simple. First, get the public pumped up against public servants by making them out as societies “haves” and pointing to things like their huge (but irrelevant) sick leave banks. Second, appeal to Canadians with a platform of fixing the public service. Third, go after the real money, the kind of money that is invested in the current defined benefit pension plans, all the while garnering public support with the public focus on nonsense like sick leave. A perfect deception.

The truth of the matter is sick leave is not a real issue at all. In a shell- game, it is not what is happening in the hand that you see, the interesting stuff is happening in the hand you don’t see. A case in point is the erosion of the public service defined benefit pension plans across the board and as-of-yet articulated impact on society. The government’s shedding of liability and responsibility is a real money grab like no other, far more pervasive than a sick leave.

In December of last year, the Alward government of New Brunswick repealed the N.B. Public Service Pension Act, which essentially eliminated any liability on the government’s part for paying its employees’ pension indexing and cost of living allowances— promises made to past and current public servants. This repeal is being fought in court by the N.B. Pensioners Coalition but, astonishingly and disappointingly, not by the PS unions. This will mean there is no guarantee of indexing for pensioners, higher premiums and lower pensions for current public servants. This new shared-risk model is misnamed. Perhaps more appropriately called the no-risk-to-government model, it will see government hand over the management and investments of funds to private sector interests who will take a healthy commission off the top, while reducing—or even eliminating—indexing and cost of living allowances. There is no shared risk. Risk is transferred to the employees and pensioners.

New Brunswick is just the tip of the iceberg the tide is pushing aground. In August, firefighters and police “disgraced themselves” (not my words) in Montreal when they shut down city hall to protest Bill 3. This bill was introduced by the provincial government to close a municipal pension gap approaching $4-billion. Bill 3 would override existing agreements in 1,100 municipalities and affect some 216 existing defined benefit pension plans, leaving unionized employees to retroactively contribute far more to their pension premiums while having to share the cost of any plugging past deficits. Existing pensioners would no longer be guaranteed cost-of-living increases while the province refers to its power to order binding arbitration if an agreement is not reached within a set deadline.

Sound familiar? Is it a model that Treasury Board is looking at? You can bet your salary on it. The reality is that this is happening and it is likely coming to the federal public service plan. It could make one ill enough to want to take a sick day or two.

Economical with the Truth

May 24, 2013 1:25 pm

If this spring’s federal budget is a prescription for what ails Canada and its economy, it should come with a bright, red warning label: “This budget will do nothing to address job creation, tax evasion, environmental protection, or public safety.” That at least would have fulfilled the government’s obligation to speak truthfully about the budget’s consequences. But as former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page revealed, Conservative budgets have little to do with the truth.

Take, for example, the Conservatives’ proposal to “connect” people to jobs in a budget that largely holds the line on austerity – including ensuring that the unemployed don’t get too comfortable receiving the reduced benefits to which they’re entitled. The plan is unlikely to produce anything remotely resembling the surge in employment that’s envisioned or needed. What’s needed is a real job creation strategy. What the budget offers are more weak gestures towards creating the right incentives for private sector employers to produce jobs? Ask any unemployed Canadian (especially the young) how that’s been working out for them and you’re likely to find growing disillusionment and resentment. Austerity doesn’t grow an economy. Just ask the International Monetary Fund, which last October broke with convention by acknowledging that austerity in Europe has led to higher unemployment, slower growth and lower government revenues. Turning Canada into the lowest corporate tax haven among G8 countries hasn’t produced credible growth in job numbers (much less government revenues), and the government’s latest dating service for jobs is unlikely to improve the situation.

Then there’s the government’s new Stop International Tax Evasion Program, announced with great fanfare in the budget, which is intended to recoup what the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) says is over $4.5 billion in accumulated unpaid taxes. As one private tax lawyer recently pointed out, it’s unlikely that this government will recover even a fraction of the expected amount. For one thing, CRA’s Voluntary Disclosure Program is already under-staffed and the agency is still absorbing over $300 million in cuts, $60 million of it announced in this budget. For another, the threshold for proving tax evasion is extremely high, which suggests the need for more, not fewer, professional staff capable of undertaking such investigations.

The problem with a government intent on controlling its message is that it ends up communicating very little, even to its own employees. Economic Action Plan 2013 follows a now- familiar pattern of big announcements with disturbingly little detail. In effect, Budget Day has become meaningless. In announcing this spring that a further $33 million will be cut from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the government refused to deviate from its non-communications strategy. Instead, the party line was that the cuts won’t affect frontline services. The last time DFO was told that was just before this government closed the famed Experimental Lakes Area, the only large-scale outdoor research program of its kind and credited with providing the data that led to legislation reducing acid rain production. We also heard it when it was reported last year that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was to absorb $19 million in as-yet- undisclosed cuts to its Food Safety program.

In fact, if there is any warning to take from this and previous Conservative budgets it is that public servants – and the public generally – will be kept uninformed about the real impacts of government austerity as long as possible. There seems always to be some previous funding commitment that is repackaged as this year’s investment in infrastructure, or some “operational efficiency” that disguises the death of another world-renowned Canadian program. Is it any wonder why public servants are more than a little sceptical about the government’s latest action plan to “ensure that the public service is affordable, modern and high- performing” by proposing “changes to the labour relations regime?”

In the final analysis, the enormous cuts in the wake of previous “Economic Action Plans” are taking their toll and far outweigh the few, small spending increases announced this year. The promise to get tough on international tax cheats is as ineffective as the commitment to reduce national unemployment numbers. As former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page forecast in his last year, the 2012 budget will actually slow economic growth in 2013 by nearly 1 per cent and result in 69,000 fewer jobs in the public and private sectors combined. This year’s budget does nothing to change that trend. But then the Conservatives no longer have to contend with Kevin Page, and it’s uncertain how long the Parliamentary Budget Office will remain a force for accountability. Truth, as far as this government goes, is an “operational efficiency.”

Part Two: Norway Shows Canada a Better Way

August 14, 2012 4:23 pm

Continued from: Norway Shows Canada a Better Way

On the entire issue of environ-ment policy, the Norwegian and Canadians are polar opposites. In Norway, the Cities of the Future project is a collaboration between the government and the 13 largest cities in Norway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the cities better places to live.

Today, cities are home to half of the world’s population and are the biggest consumer of energy, responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Norway’s Cities of the Future are densely built. This means people can walk and cycle instead of using cars, reducing pollution. Fewer cars and roads make more room for bike paths and parks. This makes the cities prettier and makes people healthier. These 13 cities in the project are: Oslo, Brume, Drammen, Sarpsborg, Fredrikstad, Porsgrunn, Skien, Kristiansand, Sandnes, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø. I visited Oslo, Drammen and Tromsø. For the project, the government has policies to avoid building workplaces where there is no tram or bus. The focus is on building cities where people want to live. Cities of the Future is a catalyst to make sure this cooperation takes place.

Norway’s Cities of the Future are densely built. This means people can walk and cycle instead of using cars, reducing pollution.

These municipalities share their climate-friendly city development ideas with each other and with the business sector, the regions and the national government. In Drammen, the local school board has built the Marienlyst School which is the most energy-efficient school in the world, saving the school board hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs each year. In Canada, we can’t seem to agree on or provide reasonably cost-effective mass transit services for Ottawa and Toronto and we let developers determine our cities’ fate and this involves cars and ugly, sprawling suburbs.

If you talk to many Canadian Conservatives, they will argue that this is all social engineering, the underlying assumption being that social engineering is bad. It seems to work in Norway. I put the question to Norwegian Conservative Member of Parliament Andre Oktay Dahl. He said the problem with this is perception. “In Norway, conservatives and liberals will disagree on many things. But we all agree on science and facts and we all agree that we need to protect our environment.” He also notes that Norway has much more “open-minded” reflections on social policy. We are more libertarian in that way. “We believe that people should be free to live their lives as they see fit and make their own choices. The state policy can be used to achieve protecting the right or for others not to interfere with these rights”. Dahl, an openly gay Conservative MP, is much respected in Norway for his Parliamentary work and for his business and finance views. When I point out to him that there are several gay ministers in the Harper government who have key positions but who have not “come out,” I ask him if this is hypocritical. “No, not at all. That is their right. They should only come out if they want to. In Norway we respect a person’s privacy. The only time I could see where you would force them to come out is if they are being hypocritical. You know – imposing a social idea that is counter to their being gay or their own reality. Otherwise they should be left alone. Many conservatives are gay but they are still conservative in their political belief. They prefer to be defined as a conservative who happens to be gay, not a gay conservative.”

So what Canadian conservatives sometimes derisively call the welfare state is anything but. Norway undoubtedly has one of the best welfare systems in the world, making sure that people who are sick and unable to work, or who are unemployed for whatever reason, are not left out in the cold, but are given support so they can live with dignity. This, coupled with strong public education and health care systems, has led to a society in which it is easier to bounce back from a difficult situation.

NEXT ISSUE: Norway’s Social Policy: Equality Rights and Rights for the Disabled

Public Servants Series: Norway Shows Canada a Better Way

9:20 am

In Canada, we have much to be thankful for. But as a society we still struggle with equality rights and, as wealthy as we are as a nation, we don’t provide a guaranteed standard of living to all our citizens, most notably many of our aboriginal people who still live in squalor and abject poverty. Many Canadians balk at the idea of universal day care. Opponents feel the state has no role in the upbringing of children and that this should be the sole responsibility of parents. Proponents believe universal daycare helps families and parents cope. Canada is having an identity crisis when it comes to environmental issues. Even with all the scientific data, many still question climate change.

After a recent trip to Oslo, Norway, it occurred to me that Canada can learn much from Norway’s political system and its values, which place an emphasis on caring for its people and treating the environment with respect. Norwegian values are rooted in democratic ideals. The United Nations’ Human Development Index consistently ranks Norway in the Top 3 of the world’s most prosperous countries and best countries to live in. So it makes sense to see what we can learn from a country that is obviously doing a lot of things right.

Like Canada, Norway is a constitutional monarchy. The Norwegian king and his family have no real political power, but are an important symbol and mean a great deal to the people of Norway. This was clearly evident in 2011 after the Anders Behring Breivik massacre that killed 77 people and wounded dozens more. Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja led the nation in mourning at an emotional memorial mass that helped the country begin the healing process. In Canada, the importance of the monarchy has been reinforced in the past year with the outpouring of support for the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Anniversary and the visit of the young royals, William and Kate, in the summer of 2011.

Norway’s secret as one of the world’s great liberal democracies is that it values hard work, a strong work ethic and free enterprise. However, Norwegians also want the chance for prosperity for all their citizens. For them, this means having as few people suffering as possible, healthy children and crime-free streets. Collectively, Norwegians have developed an egalitarian model to achieve these goals. This model, delivered by the Norwegian government, manifests itself throughout Norwegian society in many ways. Norway was one of the first nations to give women the right to vote. Norway was also among the first countries in the world to elect a female prime minister. Today, 40 per cent of the representatives in Norway’s Parliament are female.

“In Norway, our most cherished value and our real wealth – is our children," Trond Gabrielson notes.

Gender equality has changed the Norwegian male’s role as a father. Norway has a paternity leave quota, so that fathers can take extended time off to be with their children. This has helped make the mixing of careers and family a lot easier. In Norway, it is not uncommon for a man to make arrangements to work flex time so he can spend longer periods with his family or leave work early to pick up children from school or daycares. There is no financial penalty for doing so. In fact, this process is applauded and rewarded in Norway and professionals have embraced it.

While in Oslo, I met with Trond Gabrielson, a thirtysomething advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His wife works professionally as a journalist in Oslo. Gabrielson has the duty of picking up his kids from daycares each day at 4pm. He leaves his office at 3:15pm and takes a commuter train 30 kilometres north to the picturesque village of Drammen. He then goes to a small day care centre to pick up two of his children and walks up the street to pick up the youngest at another daycare. (Daycares in Norway are also subsidized by taxpayers.) Then they all walk home. The kids are excited to see their dad and tell him about the day. Gabrielson said he cherishes these moments in his daily routine. The trade-off is that he must take the early train each morning – his wife has drop-off duty for the children. Gabrielson finds he is more efficient at work because he has to make that train at 3:15 for the kids. He notes that there is no professional penalty for leaving mid-afternoon and if a meeting is scheduled that he cannot make, his colleagues will brief him later via email. Gabrielson says it is quite normal for everyone in the office to have a similar experience. Work doesn’t suffer. Home life is better and time with the children is increased. “In Norway, our most cherished value and our real wealth – is our children,” he notes.

Like Canada, Norway has relied heavily on primary industries such as forestry, agriculture, fisheries, oil and gas, and mining. However, in recent years, Norway has led the world in investing heavily in research and development, resulting in its emergence as a world player in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, automotive, hydrogen and renewable energy. At the same time, its traditional industries such as agriculture and fisheries products have spun out lucrative new industries in organic foods and aquaculture. In addition, Norway’s oil and gas production continues to grow and it is now the wealthiest energy export country in Europe and 14th globally.

Norway is constantly developing its natural resources to produce energy for home and for global export. Unlike Canada, the Norwegians are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental protection and innovation and the fight against climate change as part of their overall energy strategy. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute (NMI), with main offices located in Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø, has over 500 employees and another 650 paid observers of various kinds around the country who provide weather forecasts for Norway and its coastal waters as well as more specialized services such as ice monitoring in Arctic areas, oil spill detection, and search and rescue forecast. NMI marine forecasts are issued commercially to assist oil companies and more generally for the public. Stale Skramstad – a security and emergency planning manager at NMI, says that “NMI’s mission is to protect life, property and the environment, and to provide the meteorological services required by society.”

Norway has led the world in investing heavily in research and development, resulting in its emergence as a world player in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, automotive, hydrogen and renewable energy.

Contrast this against the Canadian Conservative government decision to cut hundreds of millions of dollars to meteorological and climate change research and sustainable develop-ment planning and research. The elimination or severe reduction of funds for research into climate change and the Arctic has especially serious implications, given that the Canadian Arctic is warming faster than almost any other region on earth. Scientists say that these sharp cutbacks will mean a drastic shortage of funds to monitor huge environmental changes in Canada’s Arctic, including melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, a rapidly changing tundra environment, and widespread impacts on fauna and flora. When I asked Stale Skramstad what he thinks of Canada cutting these services, he looked at me perplexed and said: “To what benefit are they doing that?” I, of course, can’t explain.

Later I meet Oyvind Aaring, a project leader with Norway’s Ministry of the Environment. Aaring points out that Norway has established a climate and energy fund to promote technological advances in industry. The aim is to develop technology that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The fund will be increased from $1.2 billion in 2013 to $8 billion in 2016. He notes that the fund and a strict sustainability policy are key to Norway’s global competitiveness in the fisheries and energy industries. “These industries are important to Norway – they sustain our quality of life. We feel we must protect the environment to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resources and the future generations in Norway.” When I comment that some argue that these types of government projects sometimes waste money or cause delays, Aaring is very matter-of-fact. “Yes, if they are not run properly. We believe in science and facts in Norway and you need experts to determine these things.”

In Norway, the government has significantly strengthened rules relating to its fisheries protection, environmental assessment, endangered species, and national parks, whereas in Canada, the Harper government has greatly weakened these rules. For example, Canada’s Fisheries Act will no longer be focused on habitat protection; instead, it will restrict itself largely to the commercial aspects of resource harvesting. In Norway, protection of fish habitat is the ministry’s number one priority. Ministry personnel see it as the underpinning of everything else they do. This policy has made Norway the most successful fishery in the world. In 1990, there were 17,000 registered vessels in Norway. Twenty years later, the number has been reduced to 6,000. The number of fishermen has also been substantially reduced. Nonetheless, the catch volume and the value have increased. In addition, the Norwegian fishing fleet remains diversified – with large and small vessels along the entire coastline.

In Norway, protection of fish habitat is the ministry’s number one priority.

In a speech in Oslo last year, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, said that “the principle of sustainability is a cornerstone of Norwegian fisheries management. Based on previous experiences of fish stock being reduced, we all know that the fishery resources are limited and need to be managed accordingly. I believe that Norway is on the cutting edge of fisheries management. We have implemented a scientifically-based management, where the precautionary principle is crucial.” So why has the Canadian government gone in the opposite direction? Four former federal fisheries ministers also question the government’s reasons behind these changes to the Fisheries Act: Mulroney-era Conservatives Tom Siddon and John Fraser, and Liberals Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson, who both served under Jean Chrétien, said in an open letter in June 2012 that they don’t believe federal ministers have given plausible explanations for these changes. It is indeed perplexing. It’s almost as if the Conservatives don’t trust science.

Just as odd is the Harper Conservatives’ recent decision to change ocean dumping to allow the Minister of the Environment to make decisions on permitting. In Norway, this would never be allowed, as citizens believe any dumping into Norwegian waters must be highly regulated and controlled and never left to be resolved by a politician.

Continued in Part Two: Norway Shows Canada a Better Way

Canadian Apprenticeship Forum Tackles Skilled Trades Worker Shortage

August 3, 2012 4:11 pm

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum-Forum canadien sur l’apprentissage (CAF-FCA) is a national body that brings together all players in apprenticeship training. A national, not-for-profit organization working with stakeholders in all regions of Canada, CAF-FCA influences pan-Canadian apprenticeship strategies through research, discussion and collaboration, sharing insights across trades, across sectors and across the country to promote apprenticeship as an effective model for training and education. Ottawa Life recently interviewed Sarah Watts-Rynard, Executive Director, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

How bad is the shortfall in the trades sector? How does Canada acquire all the plumbers, electricians and carpenters it needs after generations of attrition in favour of white-collar jobs?

Sarah Watts-Rynard: Baby boomers are aging and moving on. They take a lot of specialized knowledge with them. In harsh economic times, businesses lay off their younger employees. In many cases, these are apprentices… they are the last hired and the first to be let go. They are the ones with the least experience. But when you do that, you lose the group that could replace people who are retiring.

In Ontario, we see many trades, particularly those related to the manufacturing sector, are letting people go.

This is a big challenge, because right now we see that different parts of the country have different trades that are in high demand. Alberta and Saskatchewan have booming economies and a huge need for skilled tradespeople in sectors such as oil and gas, mining and forestry. In Ontario, we see many trades, particularly those related to the manufacturing sector, are letting people go. So skilled trade shortages depend on location and what trades. (There are 150 designated trades across the country). Construction is looking at shortages across Canada – about 300,000 people in the next 10 years. That takes into account people who are retiring and it also takes into account any growth and new construction projects. The thing that is difficult, particularly with apprentices, is that if you started an apprenticeship in one part of the country and then were looking to finish your apprenticeship some-where else, it’s not always easy to take your on-the-job hours and technical training to a different jurisdiction. Apprenticeship is regulated at the provincial and territorial level, so is somewhat unique in each jurisdiction.

How big a window of opportunity does Canada have in which to eliminate the skills gap? What happens if Canada doesn’t succeed in doing so?

Sarah Watts-Rynard: I would say we probably have another five to 10 years in which we still have enough journeypersons in the workplace to serve as mentors for young apprentices. So now is the time to start training the next generation of skilled tradespeople. There are a lot of other obstacles. It’s not just a matter of having enough people who are available for training. How many young people are interested in learning a trade? In most trades, it takes about four years to learn all aspects of the job. If we have a five-to-10-year opportunity, we have to be working on it now in order to have certified journeypersons ready by the time we’re really hitting a huge proportion of the baby boomers retiring. There are huge gaps in experience levels. It’s not as though there is a large group of people waiting to take the place of the boomers who are retiring. There aren’t, because we left a hole somewhere in between the younger and older generations, reflecting a time when apprenticeship training wasn’t a priority for employers and skills shortages were not yet a significant issue.

What are the key issues that affect apprenticeship training, including per-ceived barriers to training?

Construction is looking at shortages across Canada – about 300,000 people in the next 10 years.

Sarah Watts-Rynard: CAF has identified nine key barriers. Negative perceptions and lack of knowledge about apprenticeship by young people is a big one. Employers need to be aware as well. Our surveys show that even those employers who work in apprenticeable industries aren’t always aware of apprenticeship training (about 50 per cent). Those who do will sometimes identify cost as a barrier. They feel that the cost to train an apprentice is a hindrance. You have to register with the province; you have to assign a journeyperson who has the experience to work with the apprentice. Some employers have identified lost productivity and the burden of administrative costs as barriers to apprenticeship training. A lot of CAF’s work in the last few years has been around the return on training investment, to be able to show skilled trades employers that for every dollar they invest, they make on average a return of $1.47. We’ve been able to undertake studies in 21 different trades to come to that average. We have been able to convey this information to employers, apprenticeship authorities, and labour representatives. Stakeholders across the country use this data to convince employers about the value of apprenticeship training.

There is a different perception of the value of the trades as a career option in some parts of the world. The trades are generally held in higher regard in Europe. Here, if students don’t do well in high school, they may be encouraged to learn a trade as a last resort, undervaluing the skills required to be in the trades. You want smart people in the trades, people who will be your high performers. We have to turn this negative perception around. There are many advantages to being a skilled tradesperson – portability of skills being one advantage.

Have government education policies changed as a result of your work?

Sarah Watts-Rynard: I think so. Apprenticeship is regulated by each of the provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Every jurisdiction has its own apprenticeship system and its own way of going about regulating apprenticeship. CAF’s work has been more around influencing policy than changing it. I think one of the most effective things that we are able to do is to have provincial and territorial governments looking beyond their own experience, to be able to gain insight into some really innovative practices that are happening in another part of the country that they might not have known about.

Federally, there are apprenticeship grants and tax credits for tools that are available. While I certainly couldn’t say that CAF has been responsible for those being in place, I think that we have been able to bring a national profile to apprenticeship so we don’t have a federal government that says… “oh, that’s just a provincial matter that has nothing to do with us.” By bringing the stakeholders together, across trades, across sectors, across all the provinces and territories, we’ve been able to showcase how this is a national issue vital to our economic well-being. For example, resource extraction is inextricably linked to skilled tradespeople.

What message would The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum most like to emphasize?

In most trades, it takes about four years to learn all aspects of the job.

Sarah Watts-Rynard: From my point of view, we still need to be talking about the value of skilled trades to Canada and that it is a great career choice. We have to be telling the next generation that there are good careers here. If you love working with your hands, that is not a bad thing. That is not substandard. More parents are starting to realize that plumbers and electricians make really good wages and these would be good career paths for their children. And the skills are portable, so if you lose your position, the chances are excellent you’ll find another job in short order. Once you have your certification as a skilled tradesperson, you can work anywhere in Canada or around the world. There are opportunities for advancement to managerial or supervisory positions. Many tradespeople also pursue entrepreneurship and are able to be their own bosses.

Three Extraordinary African Women to Share the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

November 29, 2011 10:48 am

Norway is known for many things but its most visible trait is being the country that awards what has been called “the world’s most prestigious prize”. The Nobel Peace Prize is an international award given annually by the Norwegian Nobel Committee according to guidelines laid down in Alfred Nobel’s will. The will states that the Peace Prize should go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. The prize includes a medal, a personal diploma, and a large sum of prize money (currently 10 million Swedish crowns or 1.5 million Canadian dollars). The Peace Prize is one of five prizes that have been awarded annually since 1901 under the auspices of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm for outstanding contributions in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.

Alfred Nobel

On October 7, The Nobel Institute in Oslo announced that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be shared between three extraordinary women. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee are from Liberia and Tawakkul Karman is from Yemen. Johnson Sirleaf is a Harvard-trained economist who was elected president of Liberia in 2005, making her Africa’s first democratically-elected female president. The Nobel Committee noted that “since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women.”  Gbowee, a renowned Liberian peace activist and women’s rights advocate is a trained social worker, known for her work on peace building and truth and reconciliation in Liberia, as well as her efforts to advance women’s rights across Africa. Gbowee was cited by the Nobel Committee for her efforts in organizing women “across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections.” She was also commended for her advocacy efforts and her push to enhance the role of women across West Africa. Karman is a 32-year-old activist and chair of Women Journalists without Chains who has been working to promote human rights in Yemen for years. She was arrested in January 2011 after demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the creation of a democratic government. Many credit this event with starting the civilian uprising in the country against the dictatorial government. When the announcement was made, Karman was in a protest tent in Change Square in central Sanaa, the capital of Yemen which has been the symbolic centre of the continuing uprising.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee

Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told Ottawa Life Magazine that “this year’s prize sends a message to the Arab world about democracy and women’s rights.” He said that the Nobel Committee hoped that the 2011 Peace Prize winners would “help bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.” Geir Lundestad, Director of the Oslo-based Nobel Institute said a record 241 nominations were put forth for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Of the nominees, 53 were organizations and the rest individuals. The tally surpasses last year’s record of 237. The names of the nominees are not disclosed. Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the prize in 2010 for his work to promote human rights and democracy, an award that was denounced by authorities in Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama won in 2009. The Prize is awarded at a ceremony in the Oslo City Hall annually on December 10, the date on which Alfred Nobel died.

Eli El-Chantiry, Vern White and Steve Boucher, do the honourable thing: Resign.

January 6, 2011 12:34 pm

Ottawa is in the midst of a serious confidence crisis in its police force in the wake of disturbing video footage in which citizens were brutally treated by a few police officers. Furthermore, the actions of three of its critical stakeholders have elevated the temperature to the point where it is seriously damaging the reputation of the Ottawa Police Service and, by association, other police forces in the region. This, at a time when policing across Canada has been tarnished by incidents of improper conduct. The common denominator appears to be the result of poor judgment, poor training, poor leadership and weak oversight of the police forces in question.

Here in Ottawa, we should all be concerned that Councillor Eli El-Chantiry remains as the Chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board. El-Chantiry freely admits he is friends with Ottawa Police Chief Vern White and that he attended Chief White’s wedding in Finland. While this, in normal circumstances, would be of little consequence, it does raise issues of judgment and cronyism. At the time of his wedding, Chief White had apparently just offered his resignation over his mishandling of several incidents involving inexcusable police conduct (including the now infamous assault on Stacy Bonds.) A hearty pat on the back and toasts over champagne were probably not what the people of Ottawa were calling for when they demanded closer supervision of our police.

Rather, White’s resignation should have been accepted to restore confidence in our police force. Did Chief White present his resignation to the full membership of the Ottawa Police Services Board or just to his good friend the Chairman? If it was considered by the entire Board, the Board should resign for bad judgment. Mayor Watson should also demand Eli El-Chantiry’s resignation to restore confidence in the oversight authority of the police in Ottawa.

What is also disturbing about Stacy Bonds’ case is that no one seems to have asked Chief White when he first saw the video of her assault. If he did not see it before it was shown to the judge, he is completely incompetent. If he did, it means upon seeing it he did nothing which is even worse!

The inappropriate behaviour of Chair El-Chantiry and, by extension, of the Ottawa Police Services Board, is breathtaking. It discredits the professional police officers on the Ottawa force and taints them all with the same brush. This is the consequence of the failure of the Board to act, of the Chief to resign voluntarily and of Mr. El-Chantiry’s poor judgment.

On the subject of poor judgment, consider the actions of the President of the Ottawa Police Association, Steve Boucher. In responding to Justice Lajoie, who, in his ruling stated that Stacy Bonds’ treatment by Ottawa police was an “indignity to a human being,” Mr. Boucher stated that he believes (and I guess he is speaking on behalf of all Ottawa Police Association members) that the judge’s comments led “to the negative press and the wedge it has driven between us and the community we serve faithfully day in and day out.”

I can honestly say that in all the years I have been covering Ottawa issues I’ve rarely heard of a more arrogant and self-serving statement. We live by the principle that the police are not above the law. By ignoring the facts and attacking a judge who was doing his job, Mr. Boucher has besmirched his entire organization. Worse, he has defended improper police conduct and re-victimized a woman who was brutally assaulted by what I can only describe as a rogue group of constables in the Ottawa Police Force. He has clearly aligned himself and his union with this rogue element. Every one of them should be dismissed.

The only thing that is driving a wedge between the Police and the community they serve is the deafening silence by the Police Association membership in not challenging Boucher’s outrageous remarks.

This is what has deeply undermined the credibility of all members of the Ottawa Police Force. This is where the wedge between the Ottawa Police Service and the community stems. My dad was in the policing business for 38 years. He trained police and he served. He tells me that there are probably many police who are serving in the Ottawa Force who are equally appalled by both White and Boucher. Well, their silence is deafening. Supporting our police officers and demanding they conduct themselves with a high level accountability and professionalism are not mutually exclusive propositions. After all, we provide them with extraordinary powers and discretion under the auspices of keeping our community safe.

As a starting point to rebuilding the trust of Ottawa residents in their police services, Steve Boucher, Vern White and Eli El-Chantiry should all resign. Before they do, however, they might each wish to sign a letter of apology to Stacy Bonds.

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