Saturday, May 31, 2008

End of the World as We Know It?

Do you feel fine?

The environmental movement could not have come at a better time. With oil prices skyrocketing we should be conscientious of our use of resources, but there are those out there who turn to hysteria to guide us:

James Howard Kunstler isn't one to mince words about what's coming. "The suburbs will turn to slums, salvage yards and ruins," says the author of the book The Long Emergency. "Expensive oil will thunder through the economic system cutting a wide swath of destruction." As Kunstler sees it, sometime during this decade half of the world's recoverable petroleum will have been extracted. From here on out, we'll be living on a dwindling supply of hard-to-reach fossil fuels. This is the cornerstone of the "peak oil" theory and Kuntsler foresees apocalyptic fallout. It will become unfeasible for people to drive from the burbs to distant jobs, and as the petroleum refugees flee their McMansions, the sprawling cul-de-sacs will turn to ghost towns. As the global supply chains collapse, major importers like Wal-Mart will go out of business.

But do they have a point? I'm one of my few peers who have a car (a fairly economical compact car), but with gas prices at $1.28/L I feel less inclined to offer to drive people home after a meeting or get-together. Would I give up my car if I have to? Perhaps. Unlike many people in Ottawa though, I don't live, work, or go to school downtown though. If I could walk to school and work it would be nice, but its impractical to think our cities can be designed that way.

The recent anxiety about increases to food and gas make me feel uneasy. While I wasn't alive in 1970s, it does seem to be a repeat of history. It may be optimism or me being naive that we know more today, and combined with the environmental movement, we will be able to combat this better than they did back then.

The discussion of interest rates is also interesting. There is pressure to continue to lower them, because of the cost of everything else is going up; however, inflation is the other concern.

In the next 10 years I plan to buy my first home, get married and have my first child, but what kind of world would I be bringing a child into? While my partner and I will both have Master degrees, and will have the capital to weather the storm, not everyone will be as fortunate.

No matter what your political beliefs are, there must be an acknowledgement that inequalities between people financially will increase. But I believe that in the long run, capitalism will help solve the problems we are currently facing. The environmental movement has increased demand for ideas, innovation and new products to reduce and has made people more conscientious of their energy uses. This is all good.

Unfortunately capitalism hasit has also increased "trendy" products where companies/producers will use the buzz words of "green" "organic" etc... but they are just trying to sell their product or get people to consume, which is the exact opposite of what the movement is about.

Our governments need to support SMART alternative energy solutions not just carbon programs or taxes. Want people to have solar panels to heat their homes? Reuse rain water? Drive a car with alternative-fuel? Make it accessible and less expensive. Do you want out government to support more students to take sciences in university and support innovations to solve our problems or do you want them to give "equal" and "fair" support/incentives to all students, even if they get a useless English or History degree?

This needs to happen now, because if we continue at the current rate of price increases no one is going to care about the planet when they are living paycheck-to-paycheck trying to pay to live.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Tragedy in Calgary Reminds Us That Mental Health Issues Need Attention

I was at the CAHSPR conference this week and heard an excellent lecture from Gillian Mulvale on the Mental Health Commission. This story from Calgary just breaks my heart. The warning signs were there, family and friends were concerned enough to visit and talk but no one was able to stop this tragedy from happening.

CALGARY - Hard-working, devoted father Joshua Lall heard voices in his head and believed he was possessed by the devil before the mass killing that claimed his life and four others, sources told the Calgary Herald.
The fact investigators are focusing on Joshua Lall as the culprit is at odds with a lifetime spent making positive contributions.

He was a high-school valedictorian, track star and volunteer fundraiser for his local community association.
"Information is coming in by the minute, in terms of background information, family information," Slater said.

Another ominous sign that has come to light is a phone call Lall made to his parents in Ontario a few days before the killings.

The conversation was troubling enough to prompt his parents to book a flight to Calgary.

The flight, however, brought them to the city Wednesday night - too late to intervene before tragedy struck.

A close friend detected some anxiety from Lall during a visit a few weeks ago, but said it didn't appear to be more than what he and his wife could handle.
Lall was an intern architect at local firm Cohos Evamy, but called in sick on Monday.

On Tuesday, he asked for a week off.
Although people with mental illness often have a long history of psychiatric problems, experts said it's possible for some to not have any psychotic episodes until their 30s, brought on by anything, such as major depression, a thyroid disorder or other medical problems.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Debate about the role of government

As a public policy Masters student I am highly interested in learning the history of the role of government. My undergrad in Sociology and Canadian Studies also fuels my interest in thinking about how we should create our society. Paul Wells has an excellent article in Macleans about the debate that Dion and Harper will not be able to avoid in the next election: the role of federal government:

The Harper Conservatives will argue, in effect, that there is not much left to do. The fruits of Canadian governments' smart decisions over the past decade and a half are in danger precisely because governments will be tempted to get big ideas, to tax and spend us all into penury again with grandiose projects. The way to stop that is to get still more money out of Ottawa's hands and into yours with tax cuts.
The Liberals will argue that budget surpluses, high employment and relatively low taxes are a solid base from which to relaunch an era of government ambition. They have a tougher row to hoe, simply because activist government has fallen out of public favour while we've spent nearly a generation reining government in. But they have to make an argument for activist government, whether it's an easy sell or not. First, they can't outbid the Conservatives as fiscal managers because Paul Martin the prime minister was ingenious in finding ways to torpedo the legacy of Paul Martin the finance minister. Second, the road back to power lies in persuading the NDP voters of 2006 to vote Liberal in 2008 or 2009. Dion can't woo Harper's voters away from Harper, not yet, so he needs to unite the left.

I believe the government should create incentives or programs that do not create a state of dependency. I really believe the past thirty years since Trudeau's Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we as citizens have become too fixated about "rights" instead of our responsibilities as citizens. Politics has become subdivided into identity politics where people are just interested in what's good for their "kind" (in whatever form that make come in).

Why create social housing, and put more money into it doing repairs to them, when we should create more incentives and opportunities for people to own their own home. Of course this shouldn't be in the form of sub-prime mortgages, but it's common sense that people take care of things better when it's their own.

Why create a health care system (or any social program) that will not be sustainable with an aging population, and not enough younger people and babies (future tax payers) to sustain it.

Why create an education system sending students off to the next grade level without the grammar and social skills they need. Or allowing high school students to graduate without a course on economics, a topic that is at the forefront of every day news stories.

Why remove funding to national defense to pay for other social programs, and when disaster strikes (whether in the form of terrorism or natural disaster) we're stuck chartering out equipment.

We need 21st century leadership and solutions to the challenges our society faces.

I really don't think Stephane Dion offer this.

I didn't vote for Harper the first time around; I wasn't convinced he could lead the country. But he got my vote in Jan 2006 and he will get my vote in the next election.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Guy Giorno goes to Ottawa

I met Guy about two months ago at a Manning Centre for Building Democracy event. He was that week's guest lecturer for the Political Communications course I was taking with the MCBD. I thought he was a terrific speaker and observed that he does have passion in what he does. All of the guest lecturers for the 7-week course stayed after to meet and greet with the class of about 20. Guy was the only one out of 7 weeks of lecturers to take off right away. I figured he had a plane to catch or something, but like our other lecturers, they said so and apologize for only being able to stay for 5 or 10 minutes.

Now that these alleged characteristics of Guy are coming out, I can see the "introvert", but certainly not the Jane Taber axe job on him, caulking him up to be "an introverted, hard-core Conservative with a strategic mind and a deep religious faith is set to take over as Stephen Harper's top adviser."

Funny, if he was of any different religion would they be as fixated on his faith? Here comes another round of The chronicles of Harper's "hidden agenda"

Bernier in the news....again

Is that a cabinet shuffle I hear in the distance?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Reading: Diamond Shreddies and Marketing Brilliance!

Sure you've heard about the New Diamond Shreddies campaign. Macleans wrote an article about the background story, including the 26-year intern that came up with the idea.

When Hunter Somerville created the world's first "diamond Shreddie" in September 2006 by pivoting a piece of the waffled whole wheat cereal onto a 45 degree angle, he didn't have a clue it would inspire a landmark ad campaign destined to spark debate at checkout counters and win fawning accolades within the very industry it parodies — all while selling a truckload of cereal and revitalizing a sleepy brand. At the time, though, the virtuosity of his cereal play didn't summon a "Eureka!" moment. "I thought it was the stupidest, worst idea ever," he says.

Still, there was nervousness within Kraft's upper ranks that consumers might not get the joke. A trial campaign that spanned print, television, billboards and the Internet was floated in Alberta in the summer of 2007. A TV spot explained that a dire accident at the Shreddies factory had led to the extinction of the square Shreddie. A website offered prizes, a vote-in for "square" or "diamond," and recipes with the caveat: "If Diamond Shreddies cereal is not available, you can substitute with square Shreddies cereal." Not everyone got the joke. One perplexed man wrote the Edmonton Journal: "I am not usually the suspicious type, but don't the new Diamond Shreddies look like the original Shreddies just flipped on their side?" But enough did get it to lead to sales increases that far exceeded expectations.

It's a long article, but give it a read.

Unlike a friend of mine who thinks the new campaign is an insult to his intelligence (I tease, Justin!), I think it is a piece of marketing brilliance.

Growing up I was allowed to choice of 5 different cereals: Shreddies, Honey Nut Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, or Raisin Bran.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Mystery Illness on Via Train

Update: National Post is reporting that officials are ruling out a lot of the serious illnesses.

Dr. Williams also confirmed that the other passengers who fell ill had medical conditions unrelated to the dead passenger.

I hope the 6 o'clock news gives less attention to Maxime Bernier's private life and more to this mysterious illness on a Via Passenger train on its way from Toronto from BC that is now under quarantine and stopped in northern Ontario, after a passenger has died.

FOLEYET, Ont. - Health authorities remain puzzled by an unfolding medical emergency aboard a Via Rail train that has left one woman dead and others seriously ill.

Up to 10 of the 264 passengers were showing flu-like symptoms and have been taken by ambulance to hospital in Timmins, Ont. None of the other passengers are being allowed off the train.

"We are still trying to determine the nature of the medical situation," Health Canada spokesman Alistair Sinclair said.
Police, fire and ambulance officials are on the scene in full protective gear and two of the train cars have been sealed off pending assessments by public health experts.

After SARS, I'm pleased to hear that precautions are being taken.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tim Horton’s Employee fired for giving child timbit

[Update below she has since been rehired]

I am working on my Masters in Public Administration. I’m learning lots about the rules and policies when instead, we should be learning more about how to be a good manager, and as future (or current) public servants, how we should work within rules and policies.

Sure there was a rule broken.

But there are different approaches to managing the situation.

You can be an administrator or a leader.

So why can’t more companies work within these principles?

Pieces of legislation like any type of regulation or the accountability act leave no room for flexibility.

But should they?

Canadians can’t trust their governments to use their funds responsibly.

Recent announcements like the RCMP "raid" and the CBC execs living it up in $1000/hotels send a pessimistic message about the government's ability to use funds within the set rules/limitations.

In my line of work, we have an income level cut off, and those who make more than the level are ineligible to apply for financial assistance. If a person makes $28,000, but the cut off is $27,500 a part of me wants write a policy exception to help this person out. The problem is, if I write one policy exception, there are 100 more stories like her out there and the toughest part of my job is knowing we have limited funding and can’t help everyone. Sometimes rules are in place for a reason.

But there is a different between public and private organizations.

Private companies are a different story. They don’t have to be accountable to the public (aside from being good corporate citizens). They answer to their shareholders. Private companies have the flexibility to be innovative and are rewarded for taking risks, breaking rules and old ways of doing things and reinventing.

Sure, we’ve seen private-sector scandals like Enron and the like, but is a timbit really theft?

Now, I would have to consult my colleague who is studying law to know for certain, but (keeping in mind I’m not a law-student and I only have memories of grade 11 law, and movies like Legally Blonde), I think we should ask, was the crime of theft actually committed? Was there mens rea (guilty conscience)? Did this employee knowing it was against the rules.

We couldalso think about the "theft is theft” campaign like stealing satellite/cable or even downloading copyrighted music.

I remember when I was around 7 years old. I was in the grocery store with my mom in the produce section. She was buying grapes, but there was no sign to indicate the grapes were seedless or not. So the plunked a grape off and passed it to me to tell me if it was seedless or not. I remember refusing, raising my voice saying, “no mom, that’s stealing.” She wasn’t too impressed, but it wasn’t my intention to embarrass her in the store. But this story does make you think about how a child learns and sees honesty and theft.

Going back to the initial story, this Tim Horton’s employee gave a regular customer’s child a timbit. Tim Horton’s fired this employee. Why?

Giving food away free is against the rules, said Tim Hortons district manager Nicole Mitchell.
"Employees aren't allowed to give out free products and that's the bottom line," she said. "She gave out free product and it doesn't matter if it is a Timbit or a coffee or a doughnut or 10 sandwiches or what."
I think it does matter.

I'm sure there are people out there who will say, "well if that's the company policy, then that's the policy"

Sorry! Not good enough and just a poor demonstration of lack of leadership and management ability. It doesn't matter if this is what critics speculate as a "problem employee" and this was perhaps the last straw trying to find a reason to get her fired. It's not good business practice. I foresee that because they caught her on videotape, the managers were out to get her, as going through security cameras is a cumbersome activity.

Losing Nicole Lilliman is not what Tim Horton’s only loss.

If I was upper management, I would be pissed that this hit the MSM and blogs. Look what it has done for the image of the company.

Not only could they lose that regular customer, but now that the G&M picked up the story—and over 350 comments were generated in less than 12 hours—customers may not want to support a company whose lack of vision and rigid management and treatment of employees.

I’ve already made the switch to Starbucks. Yet another reason in my book!

Update: National Post reports that she has been rehired, but is working at a different location