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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 9 November 2012

Justice For Mental Health - Now, With a Justice's Endorsement


School discriminated against boy by cutting special-needs program: top court

The Globe and Mail
Jeffrey Moore, the boy at the centre of a discrimination case based on his learning disability, became an adult and a successful plumber in North Vancouver in the years it took his case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. (John Lehmann /The Globe and Mail)

A landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision has put schools on strict notice that they cannot evade their responsibility to accommodate children with special needs.
Waving aside the financial woes of a North Vancouver school board, the court concluded on Tuesday that it had discriminated against a dyslexic child who was not given adequate help to attain literacy.
Madam Justice Rosalie Abella ordered school authorities to reimburse the family of Jeffrey Moore for several years of costly private education they sought after Jeffrey fell far behind in school.
“Adequate special education is not a dispensable luxury,” Judge Abella said for a 9-0 majority. “For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”
Advocates for the disabled were overjoyed by the judgment. They said that school boards that cannot furnish compelling evidence to justify under-funding must henceforth provide genuine help to children with learning disabilities.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Yude Henteleff, a Winnipeg lawyer representing the Learning Disability Association of Canada. “This is a profoundly important victory. Time and time, school divisions say: ‘We can’t afford this.’ Well, now they can’t afford not to.”
Mr. Henteleff said that parents of any child with a learning disability can demand action from their school board. “If they don’t get it, there will be a plethora of actions all across the country,” he said.
Rick Moore, Jeffrey’s father, expressed elation. “This case is about the thousands of kids who can’t afford a private school education and ... are stuck in the public school system; who end up dropping out and become a burden on society,” he said.
Mr. Moore, a bus driver in Vancouver, said that his family scrimped to pay Jeffrey’s private school tuition. Aided by the Vancouver Community Legal Assistance Society, they simultaneously waged a 15-year war with the school system that led them through human rights tribunals and law courts.
The family’s lawyer, Frances Kelly, said she focused the case not just on Jeffrey’s plight, but on the high price society pays when frustrated children fall by the educational wayside.
“We had evidence that jails and welfare systems and hospitals are full of people who have learning disabilities that were never properly addressed in the education system,” Ms. Kelly said.
Now a 24-year-old plumber, Jeffrey Moore recalled losing his confidence as he struggled to complete school assignments. “I had no idea why everyone in class was moving forward and I was on the sidelines,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to put a word together.”
He said it is immensely satisfying to have helped future generations. “Kids won’t be left in the dark,” he said. “They are going to get the help they need before the damage is done; before they feel stupid or that they are unable to do anything.”
One of those children – nine-year-old Griffin Lajoie – has waited many months for Toronto school authorities to provide resources that will help him rise above a visual-spatial learning disorder that was diagnosed last year.
“I am over the moon that the Supreme Court has ruled that our kids will have access to resources that they need,” said Griffin’s mother, Lesley Sargla. “It is a basic right. It is a reasonable expectation that children with learning differences be held to the same academic standards as their peers and that our kids graduate from public school being fully literate.”
Governments fought hard at the Supreme Court hearing to prevent judges from taking a role in setting educational spending priorities. An Ontario government brief also warned that reimbursing the Moores for their tuition expenses could badly skew educational priorities.
“If this remedy is upheld by this court, private school tuition payment orders will be a widely sought and sanctioned alternative to requiring boards to provide appropriate accommodation within public schools,” it warned.
A. Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor, said that the court has left governments a certain amount of wriggle room to reduce spending on special-needs programs – but only if they can show that their budgetary concerns are truly pressing.
Prof. MacKay said it was unusual for the Supreme Court to intervene in a policy area such as education, particularly with a decision that has serious cost implications.
“In my opinion, this may be the most important human-rights case in the last decade or so,” he said.
With a report from Caroline Alphonso

Fordian Slip?

It's actually not such a big deal that Ford has a complex - we all do.  People all over the world think that they have the dominant share of common sense, etc.  Why wouldn't they?  They view the world through a specific lens; the world they see is defined by their complexes.
Here's the catch - like going on a diet or breaking a habit, everyone is capable of changing their perspectives, adding to it from others.  To do so, you first must accept you don't own the market on righteousness and you kinda gotta be curious.  When you start to ask how others look at the world, you expand your own perception and expand your communication and action options.
That's not a threat to identify - that's a competitive advantage.
Anthony Morgan

The City of Toronto's Mayor, Rob Ford, recently took to the regular radio segment he hosts with his brother, Doug.
This time, it was to defend himself against allegations that he has been using city-funded resources (cellphones, cars and staff) to manage his youth football teams. The Mayor defended these actions with the usual stubbornness that girds the cavalier, unapologetic and arrogant attitude with which he always rebuffs his critics -- no matter how legitimate their concerns.
Anyone who has been following the follies of Ford's mayoralty would not be surprised by the Mayor's reaction to these latest allegations which come on the heels of a conflict of interest court case that could see him removed from office. However, what did come as a surprise was the revelatory insinuation by Doug Ford that the Mayor's psyche is infected with what's generally known as a "white saviour complex," specifically in relation to the mostly black youth that he coaches.
The suggestion that the Mayor harbours a white saviour complex came from none other than his brother when, during this radio segment, Doug boldly proclaimed, "There's no one that helps black youth more than Rob Ford," which he followed with, "These are kids who have nothing."
That's right, Doug Ford actually said that the black youth whom Mayor Ford coaches have NOTHING, without Mayor Ford. Permit me to use my historical memory to translate Doug Ford's words: "dem po' black kids ain't got a damn bit'a nuthin widdout dat gud suh and Massa, I means, Maya, Robs Fowd..."
In political terms, Doug Ford is an extension of Rob Ford's brain and vice versa (though Doug is arguably the more astute, if not, the more collected of the two) and so it's not at all unreasonable to assume that at the moment Doug revealed the taint of his and his brother's white saviourism, he was expressing exactly what was on Mayor Ford's mind and drives the Mayor's work with his football teams.
So what is the white saviour complex? Most popularly perpetuated within the plots of any mainstream films featuring whites alongside blacks or other racialized groups, the white saviour complex is best described in the following way:
"[A] white person coming into the lives of a person or people of color who are often low-income, troubled, and/or severely oppressed. [...] [where] the white saviour comes in, quickly sympathizes with the problems of the people of colour, learning what needs to happen to solve their problems, and in doing so, wins their favour and becomes their hero."
The white saviour complex which Doug Ford's assertion suggests that the Mayor possesses is, in effect, a psychologically insidious manifestation that consciously or unconsciously infects and corrodes the minds of some people (of all racial and cultural backgrounds), and which maintains that blacks and other racialized minorities are fundamentally, if not, inherently incapable of achieving any measure of success or overcoming obstacles of any sort without the help of a benevolent white person. For examples, consider the movies The Help, The Last Air Bender, or more classically, To Kill A Mockingbird. Also see the Kony2012 fiasco.
So what does all of this mean about Mayor Ford and the underprivileged black youth he coaches and has coached over more than a decade? It means, or at least it strongly suggests, that the Mayor of Toronto actually thinks that black youth are hopeless, irredeemable nobodies and total zeroes without Ford's football teams. With the deep-seated belief in the hopelessness of black youth cancerously entrenched in the Mayor's mind, of course it makes sense to him to abuse public office, break the law and misappropriate tax-payers' funds to save these otherwise incurably destitute and indefinitely despondent black youth.
With some reflection, it seems that Mayor Ford's white saviourism might also explain why in the wake of the brazen public shootings that seized Toronto earlier this summer, the Mayor, dismissed community-led support programs and was instead most adamant about securing public funding for more aggressive policing initiatives targeted at disadvantaged Toronto neighbourhoods.
As the Mayor's thinking seems to go, why work to change the underlying and collectively manufactured structural conditions that entrench and legitimize the perpetual impoverishment and marginalization, out of which violent crime naturally flows, if the black youth engaging in such crimes are incorrigible miscreants?
So, am I saying that any and all work done by white people to help black people or other racialized minorities is inherently corrupt and should be stopped? Absolutely not. Such a position is totally ridiculous and fundamentally un-Canadian. After all, part of what makes our country great is expressions of our general commitment to helping residents of this country (except for Canada's First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis peoples) enjoy standards of living that are consistent with not only the immense wealth of our country, but also consistent with the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. Our robust, publicly-funded social-support systems, which include health care and education, are ready examples of this.
What I am saying though, is that when a white person holds the belief, as Mayor Ford seems to, that his fellow community members of racialized backgrounds, in this case black youth, have and presumably are "nothing" without their assistance, such otherwise welcomed, laudable and noteworthy community service goes from an example of fulfilling a civic and social duty to equalize the playing field, towards being a menacing act that gives permanence to relations that support white privilege and racial hierarchies of power and domination with white people unquestionably on top of the socio-economic pyramid.
"Charity" of this sort is misguided and harmful, regardless of one's intentions, because it is not offered as a way to reconstruct society so that the conditions that create racialized socio-economic disadvantage are broken down and eliminated. To the contrary, it prolongs racialized social injustice, and does so in a way that demoralizes and degrades the individuals being helped. It does this by inflicting the receivers of such assistance (and also infecting the acts and minds of the person "helping") with the psychic trauma of believing in the racial superiority of white people, a.k.a. white supremacy.

In other words, if Mayor Ford really does hold the view that the black youths he helps have "nothing" without his football program, he is only furthering the sentiment that no matter how hard black people and communities work or how committed they are to bringing themselves and their families out of poverty and into hard and fairly-won prosperity, they still have "nothing" if their self-help, hard work and perseverance is not supported by a white saviour.
There are few better ways to cultivate a culture of dependency within Toronto's black youth and families than having a Mayor who thinks this way and worse, who is backed by tax-payers who demonstrate a latent willingness to fund expressions of this mental dysfunction.
The City of Toronto's official motto is "Diversity Our Strength." Ford's comments about black youth having nothing without Mayor Ford's football program is really making me wonder who exactly in the Mayor's mind the "Our" in the city's motto is meant to include (and exclude) and how his thinking on the question may be fundamentally corrupting his capacity to lead Canada's most diverse city.

Warren's Where's Waldo Method of Engagement

I can't imagine Warren Kinsella is a big fan of Carly Rae Jepsen, being a punk and all - but he clearly understands the value of a catchy meme.  He has started to roll out endorsements for the Ontario Liberal Leadership Candidate he supports (can you find who it is in the picture above?) but instead of just feeding his audience names and title that might not have meaning for them, he's challenging his readers to identify who the endorsers are themselves.  This accomplishes four things:
1) It engages readers in his candidate; figuring out who backs that person becomes a viral campaign, creating a community of engagement around them
2) It motivates his audience to take the lead in identifying the supporters, ensuring everyone has a chance to know who they are...
3) ... but as that information is crowd-sourced, the information comes from the community rather than being delivered to them by the campaign itself.  This adds an automatic level of accessibility and authenticity to the endorsements that biased political staff would be hard-pressed to achieve on their own
4) Letting the crowd do the work and handing out gold stars to those who find the info first builds competition, which gets people more active, but it also rewards the experience of participation with a dopamine rush, the same sort of thrill you get from winning at bingo (but also the same neurochemistry that can get you hooked on slot machines)
Of course, there's a whole science to this; someone with an NLP background or even a rudimentary knowledge of how cognition works can tell you why people react this way.  With a bit of practice, it's not difficult to proactively shape those responses by managing the stimuli your audience receives, creating the sort of community experience you're looking for.  Kinsella's great at doing this in person - he'll engage crowds directly within the first moments of a presentation, getting them to clap for themselves, etc. to make his talks their experience, not just his.
There's nothing new to these tricks of the engagement trade.  Religion has done this for agesGreat artists or speakers (like politicians) use these tools to their advantage all the time.  Conversely, poor leaders do the reverse - instead of creating communities of experience, they block external stimuli and trigger fear rather than engagement.  These are the cultists, setting themselves up as saviours from troubles lapping at shores and holding you to that fear and dependence on their protection, trying to foster a kind of crowd Stockhom Syndrome.
What's perhaps more recent a phenomenon is the internalization of these techniques through things like Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  These sorts of practices work kind of how exercise or yoga does, except from the inside out rather than the outside in.  These conscious exercises provide effective methods to manage emotional disorders or to overcome duress (though not always in exclusion).  When you become aware of how your own neuropsychology works, you begin to see how external and internal conditions shape your mood and thoughts the same way any drug would.  That's when they become your tools to use, rather than someone else's to abuse.
Of course, all of this requires a lot of thought, time and discipline.  Why bother?  Wading into the fine print of brain function is boring.  You get a decent rush from playing the game right in front of you and besides, consequences are things that happen to others
Keeping track of where Waldo's at is enough to keep anyone occupied and entertained.

Bridging Ontario's Islands of Excellence - Nov. 16 and 17 in Downtown Toronto

There is a lot of justified concern out there about the state of Ontario's economy, the sustainability of our health care sector and the effectiveness of our education, social service and justice sectors.  That's a lot of big problems requiring complex, daunting solutions.  It's more than any one person, agency or even one sector can solve on its own.
At the same time, there are leaders, innovators and socially-minded entrepreneurs creating pieces of the solution we need to keep moving forward.  School principals are changing the design of learning spaces.  Private ventures are making it easier for private and not-for-profit companies to harness public funding.  New approaches are being devised to facilitate information sharing and how to foster greater workplace productivity
These islands of excellence are creating tomorrow's answers today - but all too often, they are working in isolation or within individual sectors.  As a result, exciting opportunities are being missed; partnerships that could spin off whole new industries and effective solutions to our social and economic challenges aren't being realized. 
Islands of Excellence: Make Waves bridges that gap.  By bringing together the best community builders, thought leaders and entrepreneurs in the province into one space, Islands of Excellence creates a community of opportunity.  That's opportunity for Ontario - and opportunity for you as well.
On Friday, November 16th and Saturday, November 17th you have the chance to join this community, add your piece to the puzzle and meet some fantastic new partners.  It all happens at The YMCA Academy, a short hop from both Queen's Park and the MaRS Discovery District.
You can register here.
Let's bridge the gap; let's build tomorrow's solutions today, together.
I look forward to meeting you there.


Friday November 16
6 pm     Pecha Kucha Social - Islands Of Excellence Edition
 - Innovational speakers
 - Unparalleled access to Ontario's thought leaders

Saturday November 17
10 am - 5 pm - Discussion Topics:
 - Provocateur - Pushing our Comfort
 - Morning - Who are we in the system?
 - What is the future of education, today?

Thursday 8 November 2012

Go Fast, Go Alone - Go Far...

“Mr. President, We want you to succeed. … Let’s challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us.”
I'm a rational optimist, so I know it's possible for people of opposing views to find and build on common ground.  I don't think people are fixed - I believe in evolution, both genetic and social.  When we focus on similarities, we always find we have more in common than not.  It's a good place to build.
There will be partisans on both sides who refuse to give an inch and who push for partisan victory, biting extended hands at the expense of the national interest.  The greatest test true leaders face today is to resist the urge to jump on selfish, short-term gain, fueling our political tragedy of the commons and to set the example for the more rabid partisans in their midst.
There is no challenge we can't overcome, no mountain we can't move, when we're all pushing in the same direction.

Capitalism and Feudal Employment

From an email sent to a friend yesterday:

Getting work today is a bit of a catch 22, isn't it? Big firms have their internal hiring mechanisms and tend to be pretty good at proactively finding talent to meet their HR needs. It's the small-to-medium employers and franchisees that are the best bet for people without inside contacts to find work.
The problem is, these employers aren't necessarily the ones willing to take any risk by bringing on folk they aren't already familiar with. Plus, given the glut of bodies on the market, there's no particular incentive for them to hire up; the competition is pretty much one-sided in their favour. It's the students out of school who will work for relatively low wages and longer hours that are more likely to land jobs - people with experience, some age and familial responsibilities are the new expectant mothers in how they're being stigmatized.

In the defense of these small/medium employers, it's hard to invest in highly qualified/experienced labour for the lower-wage positions they can afford; employers can only assume that these types of folk will leave as soon as something better comes along, leaving them in the lurch after having invested in training. This doesn't help the qualified job-seekers desperate to find means to feed, clothe and house their families, though.

Crafty employees take advantage of this reality and turn to a kind of occupational feudalism; they might offer their space and brand to prospective employees, but the expectation is that those people have to create and sell their own business, with the would-be employer taking their tithe. If these people don't have the skill or experience to close a deal, their indebtedness mounts, leading to an emotional indentured servitude.

For those who do land salaried/contact positions, how often are they being told that they must develop new lines of business, convince employers they have value, then create products/services and sell them - but without adding risk to the employer's brand?

This is what an increasingly polraized and competitive market is doing - it allows for the most aggressive to get ahead and dominate those who are less so, regardless of where skills lie.  Think Rob Ford.  The incentive here is not to care about anything but one's own interests. It's the same in politics - Parties are circling the wagons and putting internal partisan interests ahead of social interests, resulting in an increasingly fractured society. Ayn Rand would be proud.

It's no wonder we have an occupational mental health crisis.

The way out of this workplace morass isn't more brow beating or straight-up charity, but the provision of opportunity, mentorship, collaboration and accomodation. Leaders, Parties, Government, the Private Sector, companies and employers have to realize it's their action, not inaction, that will make or break our economy. Hoarding resources is just fueling a tragedy of the commons.

This kind of pro-social approach isn't going to happen on its own. Lord knows Flaherty has had no luck shaming the Private Sector into hiring. Shame, fear and micro-management lead people to close off, not expand. It takes hopeful, inspirational leadership to do that.

It's promising that the Federal + Ontario leadership races are shaping up to be hopeful affairs, but they need to add incentive for business to follow suit.

This is where the real opportunity lies; there is more than enough evidence out there about how you can motivate innovation and increase employee productivity through environmental and mental health supports. It's killing two birds with one stone, adding a solution to the mental health crisis and positioning the workforce for success in the knowledge economy all at the same time.

The big question is - do our would-be leaders see this?

Republicans Need to Look to Canada to See How Conservatives Can Win (John Ibbitson)

Alas, the Globe & Mail is telling me my free online access is coming to an end, which means I won't be able to read and help promote their stories much longer.  Lessons abound for everyone, I guess...
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, right, and vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan are seen on the stairs of Mr. Romney's campaign plane after they met up in Cleveland, Ohio, on Nov. 6, 2012. (BRIAN SNYDER /REUTERS)
Canadian political strategists of every stripe regularly travel to the United States in search of the latest tips, techniques and technology for winning elections. It’s time to reverse the flow.
Republicans need to come to Canada, to learn how a Conservative government has put together the very coalition that eludes the GOP, which has now lost the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential contests.
What do Conservatives get that Republicans don’t? In a word: immigrants. It’s fascinating to study how and why.
Dick Morris, the rabidly conservative pundit and pollster, confidently predicted that Mitt Romney would win a landslide for the Republicans right up until the polls closed, Tuesday. Wednesday, he ate crow.
“I mistakenly believed that the 2008 surge in black, Latino, and young voter turnout would recede in 2012 to ‘normal’ levels,” he wrote. “Didn’t happen. These high levels of minority and young voter participation are here to stay. And, with them, a permanent reshaping of our nation’s politics.”
As Mr. Morris accurately (for once) observed, African Americans accounted for 13 per cent of the vote on Nov. 6; 10 per cent of the vote was Latino; 19 per cent was cast by voters under 30. All three groups voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama, “accounting fully for his victory,” he concluded.
Mr. Morris had based his projections on the assumption that the high voter turnout among these groups in 2008 was a temporary phenomenon, caused by excitement over electing America’s first black president. Voting levels among blacks, Hispanics and the young, he confidently predicted, would drift back to previous levels after four years of a presidency that had its share of difficulties.
“I was wrong,” he acknowledged. And then some.
Compare this with the Canadian election of 2011. The Conservative coalition in one respect mirrored its Republican counterpart: It was rooted in white male voters in the conservative heartland – in Canada’s case, the Prairies, plus the rural parts of British Columbia and Ontario.
But the Conservatives also did well among immigrant voters. In fact, middle-class immigrant voters who dominate the suburban ridings surrounding Toronto and, to a lesser extent, Vancouver were key to the Conservative victory.
Of course, the Tories only took 40 per cent of the vote in the last election, so one conclusion the Republicans might draw is that they should encourage a third party that would split progressive support.
But the more practical lesson the Republicans could take from the Canadian example is that it is possible for conservatives to win over minority voters by following these two simple steps: 1) Trumpet responsible fiscal conservatism; 2) Lay off everything else.
Conservatives, like Republicans, believe in low taxes, minimal regulations and balanced budgets. Many immigrants to Canada are attracted to that message. They came here to escape the corrupt or tyrannical governments of their native land; they are attracted to a party that promises to mind the store and avoid expensive commitments.
But Canadian Conservatives, unlike American Republicans, are pro-immigration. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has made it his life’s work to win over immigrants to the Conservative cause. Immigration levels have remained robust on the Tory watch.
The Republican base, on the other hand, forced Mr. Romney to oppose any reasonable compromise in creating a path to legal status for illegal immigrants, or at least their children. The party at every level presents a hostile face to newcomers. Yes, part of that is because many of them arrive illegally. But the impact on the electoral result is nonetheless proving fatal.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also avoided promoting socially conservative issues such as abortion or clawing back gay rights. While many immigrants are socially conservative, they also recognize that intolerance toward another minority could also mean intolerance toward them.
Bottom line: If Mr. Romney had put forward a Canadian Conservative platform of low taxes, balanced books, robust immigration and social tolerance, he might be on his way to the White House.
There was one result from Tuesday’s election that Canadian political strategists from all parties should consider. Across the Western world, the young represent a smaller share of votes cast than their numbers warrant.
But in the United States, that’s no longer the case. In 2008, voters under 30 made up 17 per cent of the American electorate, yet accounted for 18 per cent of votes cast. On Tuesday, they accounted for 19 per cent of the vote, with 60 per cent of them voting Democrat.
A new generation of young Americans has decided to become politically engaged, because they believe in Barack Obama and what he stands for.
Someday, a politician may emerge in this country who appeals to young Canadians, who embraces their beliefs and who speaks to them through their (social) media. If so, a new generation of Canadian voters could begin to shape the outcome of elections.
The question is simply: When and where will that politician appear?

Do The Right Thing: Political Staff At Their Best

"It is critical that folks wake up and see their provincial government acting in accordance to their own values and views."
   - Laura Miller
The desired effect of this CBC article is to try and pull a gotcha headline out of a disaster that has negatively impacted the lives of many up in Elliot Lake.  The subtext that people will latch on to, as they always do, is "gasp! Political staff were weighing consequences of actions and worrying about messaging when lives were on the line!  The horror!"
That's how news, or at least news stories work - stir up controversy and get tongues wagging.  The Opposition will no doubt seize on this as an opportunity to portray Dalton McGuinty and his inner team as, what, political or something.
Sure, that's good headlines, but it's missing the point.  What this story really represents is an inside look at how the right decisions get made by people who care.
Think it through - the Premier and his team, based on the assessment of experts, were looking to respond to a crisis in an appropriate manner.  The experts had cause; the mall was a death trap to any who might try to enter.  Did the involved staff stop there and start finding ways to justify inaction and find some way to attack Opposition Parties to avoid responsibility or change the channel? 


First thing they did was listen, not just to the experts but the people and the press - and even to the local MPP, who is an Opposition Member.  It's not a bad thing to be concerned about the reaction of the people.  Parliament is supposed to be their voice, after all; government is supposed to serve in their best interests.  To the people, hope and care for the wounded came first.  There were people willing to risk their lives, soldier-like, to ensure that nobody was left behind.
Colin Powell, an expert on leadership if ever there was one, tells us "Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard."  That's what these Liberal staff did; that's the advice they gave to the Premier and the Premier responded to.  The experts aren't leaders - they are advisers.  When it comes to making tough calls, there are more factors than just cold hard facts to consider; there's the social-emotional piece, which cannot be underestimated.  These staff, this Premier and local MPP Mike Mantha understood that leadership is about hope; so long as hope remains, whatever the risks, there is room for action.
They made a tough decision - put the lives of others at risk to save people who may not even still be alive.  It was the right one.  Then, they had to communicate it.  This led to another series of reactions to be proud of.  Laura Miller focused on the values of the people - not "get the fucking Indians out of the park" or communicating that "a political truth is different", but what mattered to the people who put the McGuinty government in office.  Scratch that - people who put an Opposition MPP in office.  That didn't matter to the Premier's team - the will of the people, regardless of who they've awarded politically, came first.  There's nothing dodgy about communication - it, too, is an essential component of leadership.  Leaders inform, inspire and guide, which is what happened here.  The people's will prevailed, despite the best technical advice of the experts.  The Premier, supported by an outstanding, committed staff, delivered.
Yes, this is a gritty look inside how political decisions are made and yes, a cynic can easily find ways to portray this chain as a negative.  Put the partisan and pundit interests aside, though, this is a fantastic example of how political decisions can and should work.  The experts were listened to and considered.  The Opposition was listened to and respectfully kept in the loop.  The people were listened to and their values shaped the decision made.  I am proud to know many of the staffers who were involved - people of integrity first, political savvy second who err on the side of doing what is right, not what is politically convenient.  These folk embody the concept that ethics matter.
Last thing - you can judge a leader by the company they keep.  The quality and commitment to values of these backroom staff who are paid to serve their bosses, not the people, speaks to the ethics of the man they serve.  They are of the highest quality, indeed. 

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Five Reasons Leaders Hire Veterans (by Meghan M. Biro)

It's not just about helping those who've served our country transition to civilian life - it's good business.

5 Reasons Leaders Hire Veterans

Meghan M. Biro

It’s almost November 11th. Pop quiz: does the holiday honor Armistice Day, the day when WW1 officially ended (although hostilities continued for some time)? Does it mean Veterans’ Day, the US recognition of Armistice Day meant to honor all veterans of all foreign wars? Or Is it just a day off between Halloween and Christmas, without the pesky relatives?
It’s why you hear drummers practicing in the distance as you sit in your city apartment or country home. There are always wars, always veterans, always heroes, but there aren’t enough of us to recognize their sacrifice. And right now, they particularly need our help as they navigate the course from military service to civilian life and new careers.

I travel quite a bit these days. Walk through a major airport and you sometimes see military people eating alone, sometimes at the lowest-cost burger joint in the place. Go into a doctors’ office, especially here in the elite Northeast and many other places across the country, and you’ll see a military officer waiting his or her turn calmly while all eyes slide away from contact, as well-dressed parents block their kids’ view of the person in uniform. I’ve seen this happen and not many years ago – as in recently. I would like to think we are far beyond these old school stereotypes; sometimes they are alive and well.

A year ago I would have called it awkward but unavoidable. Now it’s seeming more like a scandal in process, largely because we have still not, as a nation, formulated a way, as a country and a people, of bringing our veterans back into the fold of day-to-day life not only with honor, but also with dignity, and paying jobs.

Some companies have taken action, notably Jobvite, with its Apps for Heroes initiative; Johnson & Johnson; J.P. Morgan Chase, and Amazon, all of whom have pledged to employ returning veterans. Of course the government is in the mix with the Defense Department’s Military to Civilian Skills Certification Program, designed to provide vets with work certifications and credentialing necessary to secure private-sector jobs after long military stints.

How can we bring people back home? How can we recognize their service to our country, and us, with honor without conflating this simple and gracious recognition with our own personal and political beliefs about war and militarism? Creating jobs is not about politics – it’s much larger than this and impacts all of us.

It is really pretty simple. Soldiers are people in uniform. ‘People’ is the key word – they are our brothers and sisters and friends and leaders. We may not agree with wars, politics and military budgets, but we can at least agree on this: we are all human.

It turns out many CEOs, who are people by the way, have military backgrounds or training. The founder of FedEx, Frederick Smith, was a marine forward air controller in Vietnam. Smith came from a well-off family and went to Yale before Vietnam. But it was in Vietnam that he came to understand logistics. He went on to found FedEx in 1971.

The military trains people for complex tasks that seem simple in day-to-day life. We think nothing of fixing a drain or putting in storm windows, but imagine the task of repairing fighter aircraft in the field. Many of the skills required are the same – inventory management, planning, supply chain management.

Or repairing a vehicle in the field – machining, welding, supply chain management. Or moving food and medical supplies to forward lines – negotiation, supply chains, people management, security assessment and management. Setting up IT and communications links between forward lines and supply lines? All skills necessary in many IT roles– and skills in which our veterans have been trained that are valued in technology roles.

We learn job skills from many experiences. Military service is one, and one we should recognize as a resume-worthy citation.

Here are five key skills veterans may have which other job applicants may lack:

1) Leadership Platoon leader, group leader, team leader: military veterans work in a highly team-oriented and hierarchical environment. This means they know how to take orders – and when to give them.

2) Grace under pressure If you’re on the front lines in a war, you need to stay calm and function under extreme pressures. It makes some HR and management calamities look trivial – after all what we do is HR/people management, not ER.

3) Performance and results-oriented When you’re in uniform you have a mission, one on which lives may be dependent. Performance and results are non-negotiable. You know how to get things done and you do them.

4) Self-sacrifice I talk a lot here about self-awareness but not often enough about self-sacrifice. Leaders in the military have to watch out for their teams first and themselves second, which is a leadership scenario not always encountered in the Fortune 500.

5) Communication and goal-setting Effective communicators build teams. Leaders set goals and teams accomplish them. You can’t have one without the other.

How can we bring our vets back, find them jobs and acknowledge their service and sacrifice? By treating them as humans first. By recognizing skills for their value, not judging them for where they were acquired. By being bigger hearted, by rejecting small-minded and simplistic views. By being real people working with real people.

It’s almost November 11th – Veteran’s Day. You don’t have to serve in the military to understand the importance of military service, and of treating veterans well. Being a leader means truly understanding and being educated on the angles. So open your hearts, minds and job openings to veterans and their considerable skills and training. Do your part. And work for peace. Honor these leaders by taking action and making a real difference.

Getting Trumped on Election Night

America may run on Foreign Oil, but it's Guinness that fuels the President

How many likes does this guy deserve?

Guinness?  You're welcome.



Justice For Mental Health

No one should be meant to feel they need to suffer in silence.

Think your life is hard?  Suck it up - it's a tough world.  Boss too hard on you?  Maybe you're just not up to the job.  Trouble at home getting you down?  Nobody cares - leave your baggage at home, where it belongs.  Never tell people how you really feel, 'cause nobody cares; if you do, they'll just avoid you.  The people you deal with annoying?  Maybe you're being to soft on them. 
That's common wisdom in on our streets, in our places of business, in our homes and on the playground.  Emotional responses are for weak-kneed, bleeding hearts and rage-o-holics.  Those aren't the kind of people you want working for you - right?  The worst employment advice I've ever received was also the most practical - when someone asks how you're doing, always answer "living the dream."  They aren't asking because they are sympathetic, but because they want to judge your usefulness in that moment.

But here's the thing - everyone has limits.  When they are pushed, something gives.  Nearly every majorly successful person I know has suffered a collapsed family, harbours deep-rooted narcissistic self-doubt or partakes in substance abuse.  Frequently, it's all of the above.  This shouldn't come as any surprise, because stress is stress, whether physical or mental.  We have designed our society from top-to-bottom to facilitate work, not people.  The something that's giving is why we have a growing mental health crisis on our hands - and it's costing us.
This is most observable among two groups - those with mental illness who are coming into contact with the Justice system on the one side, and First Responders on the other.  Police, Nurses, EMTs, Paramedics, Teachers, parents, spouses and yes, bullied children are the canaries in the cognitive coal mine.  People are chafing, falling, dying because we refuse to realize how harmful our social "suck it up mentality" is.
But it doesn't have to be this way.  There are tools, internal and external, that can be applied.  There are mental exercises people can do to nurture resiliency and better manage stress.  Simple things like stopping and counting the positive things in your life can reshape your thought patterns, resulting in more broadly positive attitudes.  There are external solutions like drugs, walks, music and laughter that salve emotional strain.  There's nothing corny about this - it's scientific fact.  Just as eating junk food is bad for your physical health, constantly thinking negative thoughts is harmful for your brain.  The reverse is also true - the entire field of positive psychology was developed around this concept.
There are also environmental changes that can be made - innovative workplace designs and work schedules that not only reduce stress, but enhance productivity.  It's the next labour revolution and it's already begun to happen - some players are just ahead of the curve.   
We get that planned physical exercise strengthens, but sudden blows or repetitive stresses are harmful.  Some people are designed to be faster or taller or more prone to illnesses than others, physically; the same applies mentally.  
Sometimes, pushing against a closed door even harder isn't the solution - sometimes you need to try and give it a pull instead.  That's not being lazy, or weak, or a quitter; it's being smart.
Mental health is a pull door that we are still collectively pushing on, to our own detriment.  It's time we stop working against our cognitive natures and proactively, collectively pull the door open.  There's a whole world of opportunity on the other side - we just need to be conscious of this.


Barack Obama Victory Speech 2012

Courtesy of the National Post, which likes its pictures big:

AP Photo/Jerome DelayPresident Barack Obama speaks at his election night party, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.
That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.
That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBarack Obama speaks at his election night party Wednesday.
But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers. A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.
We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this — this world has ever known. But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.
REUTERS/Adrees Latif Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden after the president gave his acceptance speech in Chicago Wednesday.
We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward. That’s where we need to go.
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesPresident Obama Holds Election Night Event In Chicago
Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

REUTERS/Larry Downing

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.
I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbours, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.


I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm. And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.
I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own. And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.
And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.
We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.
I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.
And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.
Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

Obama and What Comes Next

I was standing on a roof at Daisy when Barack Obama won his first presidency.  There was a sense of pervasive hope in the air - a good man had won.  More than that, a good black man had won in a country where racism was (and is) still prevalent.  It seemed that the American dream - work hard, work together and you can achieve anything, even the presidency - was actually becoming reality.  Complete strangers, even competitors, high-fived each other and let out whoops of joy.  Life was good.
That was four years ago.  The world's a starkly different place today.  We have a global economic crisis, rising ethnic tensions and hot spots of conflict around the globe, growing hotter with each passing hour.  Opportunities are scarce and good, capable people are struggling to keep roofs over their heads when they could be focusing their energies on solving some of our societal problems.  I don't look forward with a sense of enthusiasm any more; there remains, however audaciously, a strand of hope.
The reason we have our economic, our ethnic, our legislative and our national challenges is easy to comprehend - people are refusing to work together, to find common ground, to put the well-being of the whole ahead of the well-being of the individual or the tribe.  Partisanship rules the day, at the expense of policy.  Those at the top aren't sharing; those at the bottom are giving up on the system and taking their frustrations to the streets.  It's as true here in Canada as it is in the US - and it's certainly true in many other places in the world, too.
Obama first won on a cry of hope that the world responded to.  In global polls, it was clear that he is the President the world wanted this time, too - not to make America weak, but to set a positive example of inclusive leadership that all can follow.
The challenge President Obama now faces isn't his alone - Congress, the Senate, partisans friends and partisan foes all must bury the hatchet and start working together.  They must try to find common ground rather than undermine the positions of their foes.  How Obama inspires that cooperation (or not) will define his second term and his legacy to the world.
It's a big challenge, one no single man or woman can overcome alone.  Obama is right - we rise and fall as one people, not just Americans, but citizens of a global village.  Let's rise to the challenges of today, together, and build a better world not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
Let's move forward together.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

A CONSCIOUS SOCIETY: Post-Secondary Education

Ideas for a Conscious Society

I'd love to hear your ideas and opinions; please drop them in the comments section or build your own platform!


Here's a fact - people entering the workforce today are less likely to hold one job their whole lives than any generation previous. Not only will tomorow's employees cycle through multiple jobs; those jobs will straddle completely different employment sectors.  Core competencies today need to be more nuanced to stand out among tough competition but equally broad enough to be applicable to various fields.  The only way to build that kind of organic flexibility is for the workforce to have more direct ownership of its own labour.  The employers of tomorrow will be more like teachers than CEOs, motivating success rather than simply paying for it.

While the importance of education will only increase, it will no longer be enough for students to learn one or even two trades in post-secondary institutions, a process that with the traditional model would see them amass debts that would burden them for years. Workers need to be able to adjust rapidly to changing work conditions and opportunities, rebranding their skills and themselves multiple times over their careers.

That level of flexibility can only be built around a core of confident self-worth and an intuitive, communicable understanding of one's values.

Post secondary education needs to go beyond today's specialized information dump model and nurture sales skills, critical thinking, resiliency and above all, critical communication skills.

The nature of certification needs to change, too. While job postings might refer to "education or equivalent experience" there's no question that education trumps.  Employers rightly feel more comfortable knowing that a potential employee's skills have been certified by a reliable body.

Having said that, the Internet has changed the way information is distributed and absorbed. Varied life and work experiences provide valuable skills by osmosis. There are likely thousands of self-taught individuals who, with a bit of direction and some additional learning, could be adding greater value to our economy in high-need fields.

The hurdle they face is that we tie certification for specialization to specific curriculum.  Even the Second Career program, while a great concept, occasionally puts people in the position of having to replicate the wheel in order to get their papers.   Degrees in a given field obtained from different institutions will result in slightly differing skill sets, but all degree holders will equally be considered professionals. 

We need to uncouple certification from traditional education and make it easier for people to get recognition for the skills they have amassed and creating more opportunities for them to get work in their trades of choice.

Where's the best place to enact these changes and provide these opportunities? Online. We're already offering public services online. The US has a Road Map to create an entire digital government. Innovative post-secondary institutions are embracing both the possibility of online content and the opportunity to crowdsource ideas and engage students where they are - on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

Government must lead the way and empower greater online training and data exchange - an important step in transition positioning Ontario for success in the knowledge economy.


- Laurentian University is truly embracing the potential of online student and stakeholder engagement.