Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Many years ago, I taught a student who became, for various reasons, a serious challenge to me in my attempt to teach in a particular class. For reasons of anonymity, I will not use her name, nor will I provide any clues as to when she was in my class, or what grade it was. I don't normally write about experiences with students because I don't wish to cause emabarrassment or shame ... to either the students or to myself. But, I wish to prove a point with this anecdote.

The student in question had many issues, serious and real. She had been a challenge to other teachers before me, and, I suspect, long after me. It became increasingly more difficult to teach not only her, but the other students in this class because of her inappropriate behaviour. I used all the tried and true methods of class control and tried several interventions involving her parents and the school's administration. Everyone concerned became increasingly frustrated with her behaviour.

It got to the point where she would not be able to last more than a few minutes in the classroom before she displayed some type of inappropriate behaviour. I would have to take some kind of action, and, inevitably, she was sent to the office frequently. The particular vice principal who handled her case was also at wit's end. Nothing seemed to work.

And then, a miracle happened. The student apologised for a particular behaviour she exhibited. It was the first time she had done this. Everyone was pleased: the vice principal thought it was a real breakthrough, the student's parents were encouraged ... even I was at least mollified to some degree. I agreed to let the student come back to class, in the hope that the apology was the educational equivalent of the conversion on the road to Damascus.

We had, I recall, about three days' relative peace. Then, another inappropriate behaviour. I was inclined to give the student a bit more slack because of the previous breakthrough, but it was merely a futile hope. Her behaviour deteriorated to the point where I had to, once again, remove her from the classroom and send her to the office in order to be able to continue my lesson with the rest of the class. Predictably, I was called to the office at the end of the day, where the student was in the office of the vice principal, crying and acting so contrite. Another apology flowed forth. I looked at the VP, who looked back at me with eyebrows upraised, as though in surrender.

Back into the class next day, and we had at least a day of peace. Then, another breach of classroom etiquette, another reprimand, another trip to the office, another meeting, another apology. Back to class, where another breach of classroom etiquette followed, with another reprimand, another trip to the office .... you get the drift.

After about a month of this, the VP got the hint and withdrew the girl from my class and set her up in a special ed situation in order to get her to try to earn a credit. I breathed a sigh of relief, my class became an actual pleasure to teach because the other kids settled down, and I listened with great compassion to the spec ed personnell who had to deal with this student. I understand the student frequently apologised for regular breaches of classroom etiquette in the spec ed room.

Apologies are easy. For some people, it becomes apparent that saying sorry is all they have to do in order to continue to act the way they want. They become finely attuned to the inability of a system or even society in general to effectively deal with abberent behaviour. The words of apology become perfected with practice, the body language suitably shrunken, even the tears look real. But they are only words and acting. Anyone can learn to do this.

And, once learned, the act can be repeated ad nauseum in order to get what the practitioner wants. Inevitably, the goal for the practitioner is attention. Why? For it's own sake. The habitual apologist is a narcissist par excellence. In order to feed this narcissism, bad behaviour is repeated in order to get a reprimand, in order to perform the neatly choreographed apology and have all eyes and ears on the narcissist. Success !!

I do not truthfully know what became of this student. I do know that she was in our school for at least one more year after my attempt to teach her, although never again in my class. It was the strangest thing. Every time I passed her in the hallway, she had the biggest smile and the warmest greeting for me. In front of other students, she actually said that I was her favourite teacher. My sarcasm radar was going into overdrive with all of this. But I could never actually detect any sign or hint of sarcasm or cynicism or negativaty in her voice, her expression or her actions. I was not convinced of her act, of course. But, I had to admit, this kid was good.

This leaves us with rather unsettling questions. When is an apology enough to settle a dispute? How does one actually know when an apologist is actually sorry ? Are words alone enough ? Or must some kind of act of contrition accompany the words ?

There are no answers. But, to the majority of us, when a person continually apologises for repeated bad behaviour, words are most certainly not enough.

Monday, October 28, 2013


You can learn much by walking. It is not only a physical exercise, but an opportunity for meditation on the huge issues dominating life. And it is the best way to observe things, especially how things change.

I live in a wonderful town, Newmarket Ontario. Recently, Money Sense magazine declared Newmarket to be one of the ten best places to live in Canada. Such things as median income, employment rates, schools, traffic, and other "quality of life" criteria were taken into consideration. Residents of this historic town have known of Newmarket's excellence for some time.

For me, walking from Newmarket's historic heart reveals how the town grew. Like a tree, there are rings of growth. The oldest part exists along the Holland River and Fairy Lake. The old Main Street is the core of this area, and the lovely homes and buildings, many proudly displaying plaques of the original owner's name and year of construction cluster around the core. Many buildings pre-date Confederation.

As the walker moves east, changes are evident. Many homes in the next outer ring are of the "post war" style, simple bungalows on large lots with corner stores and laneways behind houses. Move further out and the "surveys" of the 60's and 70's come into view: larger homes, many multi-story and with shorter and shallower front yards are the style. Then, the streets become a jumble of cul-de-sacs and crescents as the 80' and 90's emerge. Now, the new millenium arrives and houses become huge structures on postage stamp sized lots. And in the future ...? Will a walker find younger, stronger, fast growing rings decades from now?

The town is currently involved in a process which will determine how the town will grow in the next eighteen years. In that time, Newmarket will add upwards of 21,000 new residents. Where will they live? How will they get around? What will our town look like in 2031? To deal with all of this, a plan, known as the "Town of Newmarket Urban Centres Secondary Plan" has been formulated and was discussed at a public meeting at the new town hall. In a nutshell, the plan identifies areas where growth will occur and will need to be managed, with new streets, new transit, new infrastructure, and new buildings to house people and allow them to conduct their businesses. The plan is ambitious, wide-ranging, daunting, expensive, and will completely change the face of Newmarket forever. 

Many people voiced concerns about the draft plan. Some of the main growth areas in the plan involve the Yonge Street and Davis Drive corridors. Several developments include provisions for the construction of high rise mixed use buildings, some going as high as ( potentially ) thirty stories. People raised genuine concerns for the appearance of such construction, the problems with density impacting traffic ( already bad in the corridors ) and safety of pedestrians, school children and seniors. People who live in quiet neighbourhoods voiced concerns about the shadows of high rises looming over their homes. And people quibbled about the difference between "absolute" height limits and "bonus" limits. Developers were regarded as though they were sharks circling our town, ready to devour it and all who live there.

For me, I share the concerns of residents .... to a point. Unfettered growth is dangerous, and, to be sure, developers are motivated by one thing only: profit. Those who voiced concern about the greed and lack of concern for quality of life must be listened to. But some people are undoubtedly motivated by "Nimbyism" ... the "not in my back yard" syndrome.  I would certainly be concerned if one of these towers were build overlooking my yard. But Nimbyism is narrow and selfish. It is motivated by only thinking and being concerned about oneself and one's own interest, without paying any attention to the greater good. It denies growth and believes that one can put a halt to growth permanently and, thus, preserve the status quo forever. Nimbyism is utter nonsense. Growth is coming, whether Newmarket likes it or not. The population estimates are based on trends. But what if the projections are wrong? What if more than 21,000 people choose to live here before 2031? What then? Will Newmarket drown in a chaotic mess of poor development and lack of services? Will we stagnate in a town where it is impossible to even get around? Will current respectable neighbourhoods become over-crowded ghettos as middle class people move out to quieter places like, say, Sharon or Holland Landing?

The fact that Newmarket has a plan is encouraging. The fact that the plan is public and allows for public input is laudable. And, most importantly, the fact that the plan allows for future generations of Newmarket residents to prepare for further growth is not only appropriate, it is truly visionary. Thirty story towers are not going to be built in the next five or ten, or even fifteen years: but twenty or thirty years from now? The need for them may well be pressing. For a group of residents or for the current town council to put permanent caps on growth, handcuffing future town councils and preventing them from managing the changes that they will face looking forward to the next hundred years would not only be short-sighted, it would be destructive and plain stupid.

One wonders how the townspeople of Newmarket in the 1840's ( the time when my beloved Grey Goat was built as a well-to-do farm house ) might have felt about the construction of the homes and businesses that comprise the current core of the town. They would probably be horrified to think that their little settlement of a few dozen souls could grow into a town of a couple of thousand people. Imagine how they would react if they could see Newmarket today? They would probably cry havoc and try to prevent the changes that allowed the growth to occur that created today's town.

Similarly, we in the present cannot allow our immediate concerns to cloud our judgement. Certainly, common sense has to prevail. Appropriate priorities need to be established and adhered to. But Nimbyism cannot ever be allowed to stop the inevitable.

Newmarket, like the venerable old maple trees that grace the front yard of the Grey Goat ( probably a hundred years old, at least ), will grow new rings. We must accept that, and embrace the growth. It will happen no matter how we feel about it now. We can't stop it. So, let's plan for it and do the right thing. Let's grow tall, strong and smart and grow with vision and hope for a better future.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Now that the weather is turning colder, many people are becoming wistful for summer. They bemoan the loss of heat and humidity. They look out of their windows into an October sky and comment on the arrival of winter. People look to coop themselves up, put on layers and wait out the upcoming weeks until spring.

Not me.

I love all the seasons, but I now have a special spot in my heart for autumn. When I was working, autumn was an enemy: it signalled the return of the work year and the loss of complete freedom that a summer brought to a teacher. Oh well ... that was then, this is now.

I have had the opportunity, between the sighs and curses of friends and family, to recount what I have been able to do this autumn. I've been to Algonquin Park twice, once to kayak on a quiet and serene lake and river and behold a lovely waterfall by myself. The other time to Algonquin was with my wife and my mom to take in the absolutely spectacluar display of colour in the hardwood forests.

I have also been boating with a couple of good friends on Lake Couchiching. Again, the lake was completely deserted. The fish weren't biting, but it didn't matter. The weather was cool, but we were dressed for it. We had good conversation, good companionship, and time slowed down to a nice rhythmn as the breezes ruffled the waves.

I've seen some good football, both live and on TV. This is the time for "football weather", and the cool, sunny days allowed for some incredible displays of athletic prowess. In fact, October is a sports fan's paradise. Football, both Canadian and American, professional and college, is in full swing. Baseball is in its post-season. Hockey is starting up, with all the promise of early days' success. Golf, tennis, auto sports, horse racing, soccer ... they are all going strong at this time. There is no better time of the year for a sports fan.

We have been able to enjoy our family. We celebrated Thanksgiving here in Newmarket with a traditional turkey dinner. We marvelled at our sister-in-law's talents at an art show in Toronto. We celebrated a truly fun and unique wedding of my second cousin and caught up on all the family accomplishments.

Lou and I took a long and enjoyable road trip through the Canadian and American mid west. Technically, the trip took place in summer, but I count it part of the autumn since much of it was in September. We saw some wonderful things, enjoyed the pleasures of great cities like Winnipeg and Chicago and ran into some good friends.

Autumn always brings back wistful memories for me. Many years ago, when my dad was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually claim his life, we went through a terrible time as we watched him grow weaker and sicker. And yet, I remember that the weather that autumn was wonderful, and the colours absolutely fantastic. I tried to spend as much time with my dad as I could. I went home every weekend and sat with him in the back garden talking and enjoying the sunshine. Even though I knew he was slipping away from us, I think of those last days and weeks as the "golden days." We had many wonderful talks which I will carry with me all the days of my life. My dad finally grew desperately sick and died in the winter, so, for me, that last autumn was truly "golden."

When I take long walks along the trails here in Newmarket, I begin to think of my own life. I guess it's true to say that I have now entered the autumn of my own life. I like to think of myself as still youthful in my outlook: I am still in pretty good shape: I enjoy all the pleasures and aspects of life. Yes, I still think I'll live forever and never change. Until I look in the mirror. The signs are unmistakeable. Just as the weather grows cooler, the sun's light grows paler, and the trees' colours more remarkable, I see someone changing into something other than young. I'm not angry or depressed by this: it's natural. And, just as though the best pleasures of the year are in autumn, I truly believe that the next few years will be incredible for me. I have health, a wonderful wife, a loving family, truly good friends and , well, a little money to do some things. Winter is a long way off yet.

It really has been a great autumn. The weather has been unusually mild, the colours fantastic and the family and friends so warm and precious. So what if it rains a little, or the leaves are starting to fall, or the temperature is in single digits now?  It's truly great to be alive !! 

Friday, September 27, 2013


Pffffttt.... NO ! .... get serious.  Maybe next year, as always !

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Like everyone else, I was surprised by the quick exits of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings. It's not easy to explain why this happened. In the case of Pittsburgh, it was obvious that the Boston Bruins surprised them with their toughness and willingness to battle along the boards and in front of the nets. The Penguins didn't know what hit them until game three, where they launched a determined effort to win, but were stymied. The same happened in game four, with the confident Bruins rolling. In the case of Los Angeles, it was too much reliance on their goalie, Jonathan Quick. The Kings mounted some serious challenges to the 'Hawks, but Chicago had too many answers.

So now we come to the match-up I predicted way back at the start of the playoffs: Chicago vs Boston. An "Original Six" series, between two teams who have never met in the Cup final before.

Chicago is riding the wave of confidence that started back in January with the beginning of this strange and short hockey season. In the playoffs, they are getting stellar goaltending from Corey Crawford, who nobody counted as an elite goalie before. The 'Hawks also have sold and mobile defencemen, skill on the penalty kill and power play, and good efforts from their role-players. When their stars finally start scoring like they should, this team becomes a scary force.

But the Bruins are no slouches themselves. After their first-round scare from the Leafs, the Bruins have been gaining in confidence, poise, and skill. Tukka Rask has emerged as a front line goalie, the defence, which has been decimated by injuries, remains solid, and the forward core is tough and willing to battle along the boards. Like Chicago, many of their top forwards have not been scoring as they should, but the back line has contributed important goals.

In the playoffs, it is often the unsung players, the ones who labour anonymously throughout the season, who come to the fore. The stars are checked into the ice by the tougher grinders and get bogged down in frustration. The role players, bred for this type of competition, start scoring in place of the stars.

In this series, it is easy to hope for a long and intense competition. I expect it will be that way, Initially, I said Chicago would best the Bruins, but now doubt has crept into my predictions. I'll stick to my guns and say Chicago will emerge as Cup champions, but will add that if Boston breaks through to win, I won't be surprised. The only surprise for me will be if one of the teams loses its way and the series ends in only 4 or 5 games.

Sit back and enjoy, hockey fans. This will probably be the best Stanley Cup final in many years. Go 'Hawks !!

Thursday, May 30, 2013


There was some excellent hockey played over the last few days, as the quest for the Cup continues. I must admit, I am quite impressed with my predictions. I am getting the series winners mostly right, and getting close on the number of games and quality of play. Here's the round up for round two and how I see round three going:

Bruins vs the Rangers

I said this would be the best series in round two, and, boy, was I wrong. I correctly picked Boston as the series winner, but thought it would go 7 hard fought games. Instead, the Rangers barely showed up and were lucky to win a single game. I started thinking "what might have been" ... had the Leafs hung on in the first round and gone up against this woeful Rangers squad, they could easily have made round 3. Oh well ...

Penguins vs the Senators

I correctly picked Pittsburgh to win here. The Sens played pretty well, but were no match for the super-charged Pens. It was nice to see Spezza and Karlsson play for Ottawa... there is much potential for this Sens team down the road. But I was disappointed in Daniel Alfredsson's comments before the elimination game. He is done in Ottawa and it was too bad for a good career to end like this.

Kings vs the Sharks

I said the Kings in 6 and it took 7 hard fought games. I didn't see any of the games live, but Jonathan Quick looks like he is absolutely unbeatable right now. Los Angeles is serious about its Cup defence and are ready to roll.

'Hawks vs the Red Wings

I watched pretty much all of this series. I predicted Chicago would win in 6 and it took 7. It really was a tale of two teams. Detroit looked ready for the upset based on Jimmy Howard's amazing performance in goal. But then Howard played a little less than spectacular in the last two games, and the Wings ran out of gas. The 'Hawks simply out lasted them. But the 'Hawks performance was still impressive. This was a good, hard fought, old fashioned hockey series. Wings look like their "re-tooling" is ahead of schedule and they will be a force again next year.

As for round three:

I am sticking to my guns for the predictions.

Chicago will beat the Kings in 7.  Chicago have already faced and beaten a hot goalie, so Quick will present a challenge, sure enough, but not enough to derail the 'Hawks. This could be another tough series.

Boston will shock Pittsburgh in 6 games. The Penguins are highly ranked based on their firepower, but the goaltending of Tomas Vokoun is OK, not brillliant. Boston has had a few days to rest up their battered warriors and will attempt to physically beat the Pens. But the Pens are no sissies, and this could be the toughest series of the entire playoffs.

I still like an original six match up for the Cup: Boston vs Chicago. We'll see !!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Two of the first round series presented problems, which has now altered my Stanley Cup bracket significantly. Here is a quick summary of how I did in my predictions, and what will happen next.

Chicago 4, Minnesota 1

Nailed this one. Chicago looks ready to reclaim the Cup

Detroit 4, Anaheim 3

I had the number of games correct, but picked the wrong team. The Wings proved there's life in the old boys yet. But they get Chicago next and, well, let's just say they've done better than perhaps they should have.

San Jose 4, Vancouver 0

I picked the Sharks, but I thought they'd do it in 6 games. This proves that Vancouver needs a big overhaul in the off-season.

Los Angeles 4, St. Louis 2

Nailed this one too. It was, by all accounts, a good series. Kings are ready to defend their Cup ( not their jockstraps )

Pittsburgh 4, New York Islanders 3

I picked Pittsburgh, but in 4 straight. The Islanders have proved that they are a good young team with a bona fide superstar in John Tavares, and they will be heard from when they move to Brooklyn.

Ottawa 4, Montreal 1

I picked the Senators, but in 7 games. Montreal folded like a cheap suitcase .... looks good on them !! Now I can cheer lustily against the Senators, whom I hate almost as much as the Habs.

New York Rangers 4, Washington 3

I had the number of games right, but went for the Caps. Just goes to show, never underestimate New York teams. Their goaltender was the difference.

Boston 4, Toronto 3

I am heartbroken over this one. Oh, what might have been ..... Boston looked tired and uninterested, while the Leafs, like the Islanders, have served notice that they are a team on the rise. They were the youngest team in the playoffs. I had the Bruins in 6, but the Leafs fought hard. Proud of my boys.

Round Two

Chicago will dust off the Red Wings in 6 games. This will be a nice original six match up, but the 'Hawks have too much for the re-tooling Wings.

Los Angeles will crown the Sharks. The Kings are ready to defend and their goaltender looks like he's ready for more playoff hockey. This will take 6 games.

Pittsburgh will defeat the Senators. Penguins got a scare, so now they are taking this seriously. Senators are from Ottawa, so they will mess up.

Boston will beat the New York Rangers. Another original six match-up. Bruins got a big scare and are now ready for the playoffs. Injuries might tell the tale, but they should have enough to beat the Rangers, although Lundquist is a superb goalie. Might take 7 games, and will be the best series of the second round.

Round Three

Chicago will beat the Kings.

Boston will beat Pittsburgh.

Stanley Cup

Chicago will beat Boston in the fourth original six match-up of the playoffs.

Monday, April 29, 2013


With the coming of spring in Canada, with the melting snow and gathering of people to shiver on patios with the slightest hint of sunshine and warm temperatures, we turn our thoughts to the great ritual of the new season: NHL playoff hockey. Hockey is supposed to be a winter sport, but the truly meaningful games are now played in spring, when we should be thinking of baseball .... wait a minute, the way the Jays are playing right now, bring on the Cup!!

I know that there are many readers ( 2 or 3 of you ) who are not hockey fans, but who really need to participate with your fellow Canadians in this ritual. I humbly offer to you these predictions as to who will win the various playoff rounds and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup itself.  This service will make even the most hockey illiterate person sound like a reasonable version of Don Cherry. ( If you aspire to such lofty heights of hockey red-neckism ) Read on, gentle puck-head !!


1) Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild

The 'Hawks had a season to remember ... well, 48 games to remember. They have a top 5 that is, arguably, the best in the league, and a solid defence and goaltending. The Wild are an NHL team ... that's about all I know about them.

'Hawks in 5 games.

2) Anaheim Ducks vs Detroit Red Wings

Nobody saw any Anaheim games on TV, but apparently they are a good team. Getzlaff and Perry ( not a law firm) had good seasons. Bruce Boudreau is the coach and he swears a lot. Detroit had to get used to losing their best player and one of the greatest defencemen in NHL history this year and had an up and down year. But they've been good lately and have lots of veterans and a hot goalie.

Ducks in 7 games. Could be a really good series.

3) Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks

Vancouver seemed to survive the goaltending controversy quite nicely, but they are a team with a reputation of not really delivering the goods. San Jose is also a team that is usually in the playoffs but haven't gone far or deep since Arturs Irbe was their goalie. Still, I don't like Vancouver, so I'm picking

Sharks in 6 games.

4) St. Louis Blues vs Los Angeles Kings

Kings are the defending champs and still have a good young team. They seem to save their best for the playoffs ( just ask Brian Burke ... hockey fans will get that joke ). St. Louis has always been a miserable team as far as I'm concerned, but I like Brian Elliot as a goalie because he's from Newmarket.

Kings in 6 games.

5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders

Penguins have an abundance of star players, and if they get Crosby back, they will be hard to stop. The Islanders are looking for Denis Potvin and Chico Resch to see if they're interested in lacing them up again. Actually, the Islanders had a good season, coming back from the NHL version of purgatory, but it ends this week.

Penguins in 4 games.

6) Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators

In my version of the hockey universe, both teams would lose. However, since that's not possible, I must grudgingly admit that this has the potential to be the best series in the first round. Habs had a great season ... I have no idea how they did it. Ottawa survived injuries to key players and just kept grinding away. Karlsson is back and Spezza is rumoured to be close. This could be really good.

Senators in 7 games.  Seven games in overtime ???

7) Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers

Capitals sucked for most of the season, then went on an outrageous roll when Ovechkin realized that he was still a good hockey player. The Rangers struggled at times, but have some stars on their roster. This will be close and could be a good series.

Capitals in 7 games.

8) Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Leafs in the playoffs ??? Wow !! Both teams are tough and sometimes violent, but there are some good skilled players in both lineups. It really depends on the goalies, Tukka Rask for the B's and James Reimer for the Buds. Phil Kessel needs to rid himself of the timid play in Boston, and the Bruins need Chara and the defence to shut the Leafs down. My heart says Leafs, but my head says

Bruins in 6 games. Might be the bloodiest series ... Don Cherry will go apoplectic.

SECOND ROUND     ( I hope I have these match-ups right )

9) Chicago vs Los Angeles

'Hawks have too much for the Kings. 'Hawks in 5 games.

10) Anaheim vs San Jose

I might watch them in this series for the first time this year. I'm guessing Ducks in 6.

11) Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

The Sens will be inspired in the 2nd round, but the Pens have too much. Penguins in 6.

12) Washington vs Boston

Toughness wins out here. Washington need to really grow a pair, but they won't. Bruins in 6.

THIRD ROUND      (now, I'm really guessing !! )

14) Chicago vs Anaheim

Potentially a great series. Depends on injuries at this point. Still the 'Hawks are scary good. 'Hawks in 7.

15) Pittsburgh vs Boston

If the Pens stay relatively healthy, they have the skill edge. But don't count the Bruins out. Bruins in 7.


16) Chicago vs Boston

An Original Six match-up. This will be close and hard fought. 'Hawks will win in 6 games.

Now you know. Let the debate begin. Enjoy !!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


We have been going to Cuba since 2000. We have fallen in love with the island, the people, the music, and the culture. We affectionately call the resort we go to every year in Holguin  our "Cuban cottage." It is a place where we escape the confines of an Ontario winter and enjoy being pampered by our wonderful Cuban hosts.

We are under no illusion, though, about the reality which exists just outside the resort's gates. While we get to choose our dinner items, which are plentiful, varied,  and generally of good quality, an average Cuban gets by on a diet of rice, beans, some meat if he knows someone who raises pigs or chickens, and coffee. We have learned that Cuba is among the world's leaders for type 2 diabetes, mainly because of their diet. Back at the resort, the electricity is mostly realiable, and we enjoy power for our air conditioners, hair dryers, televisions, the bars' refrigerators, the restaurants' freezers, while average Cubans put up with regular brown-outs because the main grid is old and prone to failure. We can obtain some consumer goods if we need them, or if we forgot to pack them prior to departure, while an average Cuban is never certain what kinds of goods will show up at the local store. If we wish to travel within the country via air or bus, we can do so easily because our seat is taken away from a Cuban who would have been on the plane or bus. We can go to baseball games and sit behind home plate and have beer served to us, while Cubans sit on benches along the baselines or in the outfield. We can sit around the pool bar and engage in lively political discussions about any country in the world, but a Cuban can criticize his government only at great personal risk.

In short, Cuba is no utopia. But things are changing and we have taken notice of the new direction.

Recently, the CBC's documentary series, "The Passionate Eye", aired a piece on the changes taking place in Cuba. It was originally produced by the BBC and is called "Last Chance to see Castro's Cuba". Lou and I watched it this month and found the items contained in the documentary interesting. We have experienced some of the changes directly.

Cubans now have the opportunity to create their own businesses and run them for personal profit. This was unthinkable as recently as four or five years ago. We first noticed this phenomenon a couple of years ago when we were on the bus ride from Holguin airport to our resort. Several fruit stands were erected along the side of the road. We looked at each other with amazement. Such a simple thing, something kids do back in Canada, was the thin edge of the wedge in Cuba. Farmers were actually able to sell some of their produce to anyone who wanted to buy them, for whatever price they wanted to charge and pay, and keep the profits themselves. We were told that the bulk of the crops produced on Cuban farms still had to be turned over to the government for distribution to the population and continued to be rationed ( a hold-over from the near catastrophic "special time" in Cuban economic history), but a certain percentage could be sold privately.

We also know of Cubans who have begun to own and operate private restaurants out of their own homes. One ambitious restauranteur has printed up business cards which he freely distributes to tourists. We know of a man who has his own car and will take people on private tours of local cities and towns. All this in a relatively small backwater of the island.

The documentary showed Cubans, mostly in Havana, who were selling such things as plumbing supplies, food, operating restaurants, and perhaps most dramatically, selling real estate. Cubans are now able to sell and buy homes and apartments privately. Previously, all homes and land were owned by the government, and people, if they wished to move, had to apply to local officials to do so. Now, presumably, they are in charge of their own residential destiny. The documentary showed people gathered in parks conducting trade and negotiations for property. One home was reputedly selling for more than $800,000.00, although onw wonders what Cuban could possibly afford such a place.  People could also operate businesses in such things as construction work, automotive sales and repair, hair stylists, clothiers and a wide variety of other jobs. The most bizarre job approved by the government was that of "dandy" .... a Cuban gentleman dressed in "typical" Cuban attire, smoking Cuban cigars and offering to pose for pictures ... for a price!

The documentary, in its 45 minutes of air time, painted a rosy picture of the budding Cuban entrepreneurialism, captured in its infancy, about to rise from the ashes of a "failed" revolution, and ready to save Cuba from its past and launch it into a brave new capitalistic world. That's when my spidey sense started to tingle.

There is no doubt that Cuba is a very poor country, at least from the standpoint of a Western observer. There are the shortages and discomforts described above. There is also the truth of a nation that imprisons its citizens, not allowing them to travel or leave permanently. There is the reality of stifled aspirations: if a Cuban is creative, inventive, or ambitious, he typically had to find expression within the confines of the single party political system or not at all.

But the revolution is hardly a failure. Despite their disadvantages, Cubans are among the best educated people in the world. Their health care system is world renowned. The arts and sports flourish, albeit completely funded and administered by the government. And they are proud people, because of their achievements. They feel that they have stood up to a vast imperialistic power and have not been defeated. And they are right to feel that way.

So, why has capitalism been allowed to begin in this socialist society? The documentary confirmed what we had known for the 13 years we have been going there. The American embargo had forced them to seek help from the only alternative they had in the 1950's and 60's: the Soviet Union. When the USSR died in 1990, there was no external support for Cuba. The "special period", from 1990 until 2000 was extraordinarily difficult for Cuba and the people suffered badly. The recovery during the first decade of the 21st century was slow and painful. There seemed to be little choice for Cuba. Adapt or die. Embrace the system so vigorously denounced for decades, or watch the island sink into absolute and irrecoverable poverty the like of which is seen only in the worst countries on earth.

The documentary seemed to suggest that Cuba will very soon become a capitalist haven. Implied in this is the impending arrival of the United States to reclaim its former dependency. We have a different slant on this. The amount of change in Cuba is happening very, very slowly. The Cuban government is still in charge. And if the Cuban government wants to stop this experiment, it can and will do so any time it wants. And let's be clear: the Cuban government and, we believe, the majority of the Cuban people still regard the United States as an enemy. They will not soon let Americans come into their country in waves of free-enterprise hordes, buying and exploiting all resources, including the people,  in the country.

No, if Cuba is going to change, and there is no doubt it will, it will be done on terms dictated by the Cubans themselves. Does that mean that we can still go to the island and not run into packs of American tourists? Yes, we think so. Does it mean that we can still buy T-shirts with Che on the front? Yes. And does it mean that the unique Cuban culture, complete with its beautiful music, dance, literature and philosophy will continue unadulterated? Yes.

At least, we hope so.

So, as the documentary says, buy your ticket now to see the last country in the world where there is no McDonalds, where it is almost impossible to get a can of Coke, where '48 Studebakers and '57 Chevys still prowl the streets, where salsa music is played simply but with a genuine passion, and where children play baseball on rock-filled playgrounds with sticks for bats and a wad of tape for a ball, and turn the most remarkable double-plays and base stealing. 

The clock is ticking.

Monday, March 25, 2013


A good friend of mine sent me an email this past week and asked if I'd read it over and give him my thoughts. When I saw the title "Enough is Enough Movement", I began to cringe, knowing full well what would follow. I was not surprised by the contents of this document.

Democracy allows for a wide diversity of opinion, and gives each one of us the right to voice our ideas. However, there are limits on what a person can say. There are libel and hate laws, prohibiting people from spouting off on topics that are designed to disparage an individual's reputation or integrity, and preventing the spread of ugly and offensive hatred directed either at individuals or groups. Often, those among us who harbour strident or unsavory opinions attempt to hide behind the "free speech" shield and come dangerously close to commiting one of the offenses described above. I fear "Enough is Enough Movement" comes too close to those errors. You can judge for yourself.

The author of this piece is unknown: the article is unsigned. This is usually the first clue that what follows is pretty bad stuff. As you may have guessed, the document is a person's response to the "Idle No More" movement. Here is the opening paragraph:

I am getting really upset with all this native crap and politicians that are only concerned about their own gains while in office, and have no guts to deal with this native issue once and for all.

Hmmm ... that would be scanned. The "native crap" in question is undoubtedly the protests that have sporadically appeared in several Canadian cities throughout the winter. Our writer seems to have a strong opinion on the protests, using the word "crap", which denotes a feeling that the protests are somehow invalid or illegitimate. Further evidence of that opinion is the phrase  "deal with this native issue once and for all." Are we talking about a "final solution" here? It's been tried before, in Germany in the 1930's, with a rather unpleasant result. I suppose one could claim that the writer simply wants a fair and long-lasting settlement to the many native grievances, but the tone is off-putting and threatening. And what "gains" is the writer referring to? Are there politicians who have become wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice because of the "native crap"? But the writer continues:

On a very serious note and regarding the "Idle No More" movement.
Over the years we have all listened and watched as successive Canadian governments have tried to deal with the residue of our colonial past. On the evidence, a wide range of policies, and a huge amount of our money ( tax payers ), has failed to solve a seemingly insolvable problem of abortive aboriginal treaties, perceived entitlements, and social disaster.

If, like me, you are a lover of the written word, you must be cringing now ... rather like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. But, style aside, one must really wonder just what it is that has our writer so worked up. I'm not sure I know what the "residue of our colonial past" is, but I suspect our writer is trying to invoke our long history of being a British or French colony, and how the British and French were rather unsuccessful in living up to the treaties they negotiated with several First Nations. If the Canadian government has not been able to "solve a seemingly insolvable problem", do we blame the British or French, our former colonial masters, or the "successive Canadian governments"? If the problem is "insolvable" in the first place, then why would anyone attempt to solve it, since it is impossible to do so? And why blame anyone who nobly tries to solve an "insolvable" problem? At least the effort was there.

Furthermore, I believe our writer means to say "aborted" instead of "abortive" treaties: "abortive" implies that the treaties, once negotiated, had a shelf life, and would self-destruct, much like the tapes used by the Impossible Missions Force in "Mission Impossible". If that is the case, then surely the blame for the "native crap" must lie at the feet of our colonial masters and the successive Canadian governments who created these flawed and short-lived treaties? But perhaps I am being too harsh. As for "percieved entitlements" and "social disasters", our writer is probably referring to aspects of the Indian Act and the various social problems faced by many First Nations people who live on remote reserves. But who know for sure? One thing is certain, though .... our writer is mighty pissed off. There really is a bee in his bonnet and we need to know what's bugging him. He continues:

The only consistent result of over 100 years of wasted time, money and lives is the fact that, for many, being a treaty aboriginal has become a business in and of itself; Aboriginal Incorporated has become a way of life, a leadership management philosophy, a negotiating tool, a public spectacle, and a very lucrative business model, at least for a few. The latest public display of Chief Spence and her Aboriginal Inc. handlers has backfired and, with the release of the audit report on her financial management of millions of tax dollars, we see what really is the issue: The criminal misappropriation of funds intended to help the social ills of an important but socially failing segment of the Canadian population.

Ah, now I see the crux of the problem. It's all those damn Aboriginal millionaires out there using the hard-earned tax payers' money to buy their Lear jets, vacations in Mustique, champagne lunches and Hugo Boss suits. And shame on you, Chief Spence! Our writer is on to you, and is not fooled by your "spectacle" of the hunger strike. I'd like to know if it is possible to buy shares in Aboriginal Incorporated: sounds like an iron-clad investment opportunity !!

Of course, the writer is, in his/her rather ham-handed way, attempting to criticize the bureaucracy that has grown over the years due to the failed law known as the Indian Act. Fair point. But where is the righteous indignation over the inflated federal and provincial bureaucracies that bedevil the mainstream of Canadian society? Could it be that a caucasian bureaucracy is preferred over an Aboriginal one?

I really shouldn't mock our writer, he/she is so earnest. And, thankfully, he doesn't leave us hanging, but thoughtfully provides solutions. Observe:

This has to stop. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over, and over, while expecting a different result. A failed policy approach is a failed policy approach and over 100 years should be sufficient evidence that enough is enough. We need to start from first principles:

Before I deal with his/her "first principles", I'd like to remind our writer and indeed everyone else, that "definition of insanity" is exactly what the Idle No More movement is trying to get across to the mainstream of Canadian society. If our writer is pissed off at the lack of progress on the "native issue", imagine how First Nations people feel ! They are not advocating the status quo at all, and are trying to convince all of us that the time for a real solution and for social justice has long passed. But, I think our writer may have missed that point. The tone of his/her document implies that the First Nations are just fine, thank-you, with things the way they are. Now for his/her "first principles":

1) No one in Canada is above the law of the land.

An obvious statement, isn't it? That also applies to corrupt and foot-dragging politicians and unscrupulous non-Aboriginal people who have swindled, tricked and out-right lied to Aboriginals for personal gain. But our writer undoubtedly is referring to people like Chief Spence who is blatantly breaking the law against hunger strikes, or the thousands of protesters who have assembled in shopping malls and public places to protest ... as per their constitutional rights according the Canadian Charter of Freedoms.

2) Your economic well-being is your responsibility. It is not the government's job to pay you to fish and hunt.

Say what?  You can get paid to fish and hunt? Well, it seems to be OK for citizens on the East Coast of Canada to fish commercially for a living and, when the cod stocks diminish, to be paid for NOT fishing. But I suppose our writer is offended by federal money going to help people who live in remote communities survive when the hunt or fishing is not good. Better they should starve ? Now, THERE'S a solution.

3) Employment rules apply to everyone. If you can't get a job where you live: Move.  Idle No More at our expense!

I totally agree. Now, all you young Canadians under the age of 25 who can't find a job, you know the rules!! Everyone move to Alberta ! Now !!!  Better yet, all of us must now move to China or India or Brazil, where all the jobs are !! Get off your lazy asses and find work ! ( And just what the hell does "Idle No More at our expense" mean? No more social assistance, I suppose. Does he/she mean for all Canadians or just the Aboriginals?)

4) If you receive public funds; you are accountable. Penalties apply.

Two minutes for inappropriate use of the semi-colon. But, seriously, this is the first part of the document that actually makes sense. There needs to be accountability in all areas of public finances. If our writer had only based his/her remarks on this point, I might be inclined to climb on board the train. But the other stuff derails him/her. And, since the budget for Indian and Northern Affairs comprises a whopping 3% of federal expenditures, I am sure our writer would want this "first principle" to apply to the other 97% of government spending: but I wonder why he/she zeros in on this issue. Oh, of course: it's "native crap".

5) Theft is theft; see 1) above.

Well, who can argue with that?

6) If the funds are badly spent or the recipients do not care for the infrastructure and benefits provided; the funds will not be replaced.

So, if the Aboriginals don't like their Lear jet, they can't get another one?  Again, seriously, our writer ignores the rather sad fact that the "infrastructure and benefits" are simply not there in several First Nations communities. So, how can the people "not care" for something that they do not have? As for funds being "badly spent", does our writer want the same principle applied to funds in mainstream Canadian society not being replaced if they are "badly spent"? And just how do we define "badly spent"? I agree that building a curling rink when people are living in poverty is wrong, but let's not confine this practice to the category of "native crap" ... there's plenty of corruption and inefficiency to go around.

This is my favourite:

7) Treaties will be respected in the context of the date of the treaty and the standards of the day.

This is our writer at his best. In other words, the mainstream of Canadian society is only responsible to live up to the literal terms of treaties negotiated in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. And the "standards of the day" means that swindling, lying, cheating, and confining First Nations people to the land no one else wants when they had stewardship to the entire continent is OK, since that was the standard of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Now we plainly see the underlying reason for our writer being so upset. We are not acting as responsible 17th, 18th and 19th century British, French or Canadian racists. We must turn back the clock and all of us must respect the "standards of the day". Now I get it !!

8) Your administrative costs and the pay of your local leadership will be set by the people that fund your operation.

I believe that's already happening. If not, then our writer would have us believe that the First Nations leadership simply tells Ottawa what to pay them and how much they need to administer their particular jurisdiction. That would explain all the Lear jets. This simply cannot go on .... or more to the point, why didn't I, as a teacher, tell the provincial government that my own personal services would cost the taxpayers 85 billion dollars .... annually? I really missed the boat on that one.

9) As our minicipalities are governed by provincial rules; so the reserves will be governed by federal rules.

Again, this is already the case. But I'm glad our writer got to use another semi-colon.

Now the piece de resistance:

I believe this list is a good start but is clearly a work in progress. I further believe that a valid counter to the "Idle No More" movement needs to be a strong "Enough is Enough movement." Plainly said, "We have had enough!".

What is plain to see is that our writer is upset with protest. Why? One wonders if he/she has lost his/her job because of Idle No More. Or perhaps he/she has been physically threatened or abused by some of the protesters. It is possible that our writer has lost personal property to the protest. Or could it be that he/she has been under the control of corrupt and abusive Aboriginal bosses who force him/her to hand over his/her rights and privileges as a Canadian citizen?

Or maybe, just maybe, our writer is doing what all "free speakers" do when they do not like protest: play the blame game. The reason Idle No More is protesting is not because of problems caused by us decent, hard-working, tax paying, law abiding Canadians .... no sir, it's those damn Aboriginals who have never had it so good, and are just being greedy and want more, more, more !!!

I, too, say "enough is enough".  Enough bigotry, enough racism, enough playing the blame game when we should pay attention to the concerns of Idle No More and work toward a realistic solution. We don't have to agree with everything Idle No More proposes. But surely no one is advocating keeping things the way they are. That's why Idle No More simply has to exist, and has to rattle a few cages to get people to pay attention. Well, our ridiculous writer has paid attention. Unfortuntately he/she has completely missed the point. But the semi-colons were nice !!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


In the hands of a skilled writer, historical biography can be a most enjoyable and enlightening experience to read. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and with the right approach, a biographer can bring a long-dead historical figure to life and make the events and achievements in his or her career read like an exciting novel. It can also bring some of the more difficult and frustrating events in our modern world into greater focus, and bring the reader to the unfortunate and inevitable conclusion that most, if not all of the great figures in history were completely off their nut.

One of the eras in history that particularly appeals to me is the time period in the United States from roughly 1755 to 1820: this represents the end of the colonial period in the US, the Revolution, and the difficult and turbulent early years of the republic. So much mythology has arisen about the period and, in particular, the people ( often known as the Founding Fathers ) who shaped the events. Modern biographers have, thankfully, made fascinating attempts to strip away the glorified stories, and present them to us as real people, with remarkable achievements and glaring weaknesses. I have just finished reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, written by the brilliant historian Ron Chernow. It was a long, but absolutely enjoyable read.

According to Chernow, Hamilton is the least well-known, and perhaps the least understood of the Founding Fathers. Unlike Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Monroe, Hamilton never became President. Unlike Franklin, he was not held in almost universal veneration for his scientific discoveries or inventions. And he has the rather dubious distinction of being the only Founding Father to be killed in a duel ... by another Founding Father, and the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr.

Hamilton was one of those people who was both greatly admired and even worshipped by many, and also held in complete and utter disrespect and fear by others. Needless to say, Burr was not a big fan. But Hamilton had aggressive detractors in Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and especially Adams, all of whom were political rivals and believed that he was becoming too influential over Washington and was gathering too much political power for himself. Because of their particular animus towards him, Hamilton was constantly attacked for being pro-British and a secret monarchist, despite his heroism in the Revolution ( he played a pivotal role in storming a British redoubt in the war-ending Battle of Yorktown ), a cut-throat capitalist ( despite his personal generosity towards friends and strangers, particularly orphans, and political generosity towards parts of the new republic that needed federal help ), an elitist ( despite his humble beginnings as an orphan born in the West Indies ), and much worse.

Chernow painstakingly shows Hamilton's greatness. In addition to his courageous and impressive war record under his mentor and good friend, George Washington, he  helped pave the way for the creation of the US Constitution by initiating the enormous political science project known as the "Federalist Papers", most of which he wrote himself. (Ironically, his most important collaborator was James Madison, later to become a political enemy.) When the Constitution was finally ratified, he became President  Washington's first Secretary of the Treasury and single-handedly created not only the first Bank of the United States ( later to become the Federal Reserve ), but managed to wipe out almost all of the debt incurred during the Revolution, and begin the massive and impressive build up of the new American economy, dragging it kicking and screaming from its rural and agrarian roots into a modern industrial entity that eventually dominated the world, and still does so today. He helped Washington face some early and dangerous challenges in situations such as Shays's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, both of which threatened to end the infant republic before it really had the chance to get going. And he became one of New York's most famous trial lawyers, handling several famous cases, and contributing legal arguments which came to serve as important precedents in the republic's early judicial history.

But, as any good biographer must do, Chernow also shows the dark side of Hamilton, and these episodes are the more revealing and interesting. Perhaps most fascinating of all is the combative side of Hamilton's personality. He lived his life with a constant chip on his shoulder, perhaps stemming from his humble origins, which were often mocked and ridiculed by his adversaries. Hamilton claimed to be against duelling, but challenged several rivals to duels. He ultimately lost his eldest son, Philip Hamilton, to a duel a mere 3 years before his own "interview" with Burr. And, Hamilton claimed to be a devoted family man, married to his wife Eliza and father to eight children: yet, Hamilton clumsily and foolishly maintained an affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds in a strange and public way that scandalized society. Despite being a heroic soldier in the Revolution, he carried a publicly acknowledged admiration for Britain and a deep and abiding suspicion for France, despite France being America's staunch ally against Britain in the Revolution.
And, worst of all, for a man who wished more than anything else to unite the states together in a lasting and harmonious republic which was to be the model for the entire world, he engaged in some of the most vicious, ugly, and petty partisan attacks against some of the leading figures of the age, especially President John Adams, who was the subject of a long, whining and childish pamphlet written by Hamilton. All of this was conduct most unbecoming for a man of his stature and reputation.

The lessons are jarring and revealing. Hamilton was a man who suffered from several character flaws, and was unstable, erratic and dangerous to know or be around. He may well have been bi-polar, certainly not a crime, but enough to give pause to any claim to greatness. Yet, he is considered a great historical figure. And, in our own hyper-partisan and hyperbolic age, where verbal attacks on a person's reputation and even a person's ethnic background passes as enlightened discourse, we realize that, despite the more than 200 years since Hamilton's passing, not much has changed. Hamilton was a train wreck of a human being, yet he rose to be one of the great leaders of his age. We must try to learn the lessons of history: we have Hamiltons among us now. For better or worse, these people shape our current and future destinies. Chernow's excellent biography tells us that we had better pay close attention to those we elect or appoint to lead and guide us. God help us all.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Hello? Hello? Is there anybody out there ?  ( sound of the wind ) Anybody ......???  Hmm, guess not. Oh well.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Ummm.... well, actually, .... (sound of crickets) .... there are none. Sorry.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Last spring, the Toronto Marlies went on an improbably deep run in the American Hockey League playoffs. The team captured, however briefly, the attention of victory-starved Toronto sports fans by making it all the way to the Calder Cup finals, before losing to the Norfolk Admirals. I had the opportunity to watch a game in each round of the playoff run, and enjoyed the terrific atmosphere in the Ricoh Colliseum. Fans were actually having fun and dared to dream about a championship. It was not to be, but the ride was a good one.

In the summer, the Toronto Argonauts, after having engineered one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent CFL history, lurched through a mediocre season, finishing 9 and 9, only to go on a similar playoff run to the Marlies. The Argos, Toronto's oldest professional sports franchise, knocked off Edmonton and Montreal before demolishing the Calgary Stampeders at home to win the Grey Cup, and become the first Toronto team to win a championship in a few years. True, the CFL has lost some of its lustre in the GTA over the years, and is a small league, but the enthusiasm at Grey Cup time was fun and exactly what the city needed.

This weekend, the Toronto Rock opened the NLL season with a rare two-game road trip to Alberta and swept both games, defeating the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday night and squeaking out a win against the Edmonton Rush on Sunday. The Rock are perenial powerhouses in the NLL, although last year was a disappointment, exiting the playoffs early: this early fast start indicates that the Rock are going to be in the thick of the battle again this year. A championship is, right now at least, a real possibility.

In the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays have made several significant moves, acquiring several good-calibre players in trades and free agency. They have reached into the recent past to re-hire John Gibbons to manage the team. Gibbons's strength as a manager, apparently, is in managing pitchers, especially the bull pen, Toronto's problem area for the last few years. With the new manager, new players, and a talented young core of returnees, the Jays have been installed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as the early favourites to win the World Series. That's a long way off, to be sure, but the early signs are good.

All this seems to bode well for long-suffering Toronto sports fans. With one championship already in the bag, good possibilites in the NLL and AHL, a promising baseball season ahead, do they dare dream of turning around the constant pall of losing ??

Sports is nothing if not an exercise in optimism. There's always another game or another season to strive for redemption. If only life were really like that.

Oh yes, the Leafs, Raptors and FC .... well, for the Leafs, it's a short 48 game season. Last year, they were a good team for about the first 50 games until the wheels fell off, so maybe, just maybe they can duplicate the performance and actually make the playoffs. The Raptors, after an abysmal start, are playing with much more confidence and, as of this writing, are roughly 6 games out of a playoff spot.  It will be a long shot, but the playoffs are possible this year. And as for FC ... the less we talk about a losing team in a 4th rate soccer league, the better.

Keep the faith, Toronto. We just might be taken seriously as a "big league" city after all. Dare to dream !!

Friday, January 11, 2013


DISCLAIMER:  The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. I do not presume to speak for any former colleague, or current or retired teacher. Nor do I presume to speak for any teacher union. If you agree with my comments, great. If you disagree, take it up with me , and leave the teaching profession alone.

Now, for the post:

According to Webster's Dictionary, the definition of a contract is "a binding agreement between two persons or parties." In order for the contract to be binding, the agreement must be entered into freely, and with no coercion or threat involved.

I bring this to your attention in order to try to help any of you outside the teaching profession to try to understand the level of frustration and anger that must be percolating within the profession. The current Liberal government of Ontario is claiming that any political protest by teachers would constitute, in effect, a breach of contract and would be met by punitive measures. The contract in question here is the one imposed upon the profession by Bill 115, which has seriously impacted the collective bargaining rights of the teaching profession. The contract in question was not entered into freely and was the product of coercion and threats on the part of one of the parties, namely the provincial government. The current Liberal government went to the Ontario Labour Relations Board when the public elementary teachers threatened a day of protest ( which was to have occurred today, Friday Jan. 11 ) to declare the protest illegal and, when the Board ruled in the government's favour, the teachers called off their protest and the secondary teachers subsequently called off their protest which was scheduled for next Wednesday.

The smile on Education Minister Laurel Broten's face was of Cheshire-cat proportions. Clearly, the government feels that it has won. The question is whether they have won the battle, or won the war.

My view is that this is far from over. The unions will undoubtedly challenge the root cause of this unrest, Bill 115, in the courts. They may win a court challenge: they may not. But the entire way of teachers going about their business is ruined forever. And here's why:

The elephant in the room, the thing that nobody talks about publicly, is that teachers are absolutely angry. They have every right to be angry. They have been the whipping boys for society, not just in Ontario, but elsewhere, for too long. Society talks a good talk when they say they value teachers, and respect them. But they don't walk the walk: in fact, society is lying, and, sadly, fooling themselves. Much of society dislikes teachers for the standard reasons: teachers are overpaid; they have too much time off; they have gold-plated pensions and benefits plans while I ( the poor working stiff ) have none of these things; the unions are too powerful and hold us to ransom; blah, blah, blah. Society always loves it when a government decides to get tough with teachers, and this is the case here, with a Liberal government desperately trying to gain favour with the voters after several botched initiatives with such things as the horse racing industry, wind turbines, air ambulances, and disputes with doctors.

Well, it goes both ways. Remember, I'm speaking just for myself, but I imagine many still in the profession feel this way. Teachers are angry with society, too. Not just with the government, but with most of society, which just might mean you, the reader. Why? Consider these items:

1) Society is woefully and deliberately uninformed about the current issue of Bill 115, and with all past issues of concern to teachers. To society, it is all about money, vacation, benefits and pensions. Why? Because these issues are easy to think about. Society cannot be bothered to listen to the real reasons for the dispute. It would involve too much thinking, and about things that society has never really thought about before. Most of society works in the private sector, and, therefore, must work under some rather unfortunate conditions. They don't have the wages, vacations, benefits, pensions that they would like to have, and are enjoyed by many public sector workers. Rather than agitate to get better conditions for themselves, many private sector workers want public sector workers to lose their good conditions so that we can all be miserable together. Teachers, society believes, have the best of everything, so society doesn't care when there are real issues. Just take on the teachers, they believe, and everything will be better.

2) Society never supports the teaching profession the way it should be supported. Teachers do an important job, and are entrusted with society's most valuable assets: our children. I'm not saying this is the most difficult job in the world: perfoming surgery, or flying a jet airliner come to mind as being incredibly difficult. But teaching does have its challenges, and I have heard many of my friends outside the profession claim that they could never do the job because the job requires some pretty important and delicate skills. Because of this, teachers need the support of society if they are to do their jobs well. It has been said that good working conditions for teachers means good learning conditions for students. This is absolutely true. Society should not simply open the vaults and pay teachers millions of dollars: nobody is seriously advocating this. But society should try to support teachers  in return for good service. Notice the bold words. This is true in any line of work, in any work environment, or in any profession. Supported workers, workers whose efforts are truly appreciated, workers whose concerns are understood, are more productive, more involved, and prouder of not only their own work, but in the entire job itself. Yet society chooses not to give teachers the support they deserve, and, sadly, often gives teachers criticism, derision, sarcasm, and, worst of all, neglect.

3) Society doesn't want to be inconvenienced. The angry words from outraged parents reported in various media outlets prior to the planned day of protest made it sound that the lost SINGLE day of schooling would be tantamount to a nuclear meltdown. Yet, these are quite possibly the same parents who will keep their kids out of class in order to extend a vacation at Christmas or March break, or sign their kids out of school in order to attend a hockey tournament on a Friday, or take their kids shopping on a Friday to buy a prom dress ( remember that ALL schools have some type of prom now, even for "graduation" from kindergarten ), or when hunting or fishing season opens, etc etc etc. But announce a planned day of protest, and parents start griping that they have to arrange daycare, babysitting, or take a day off work. It's not the issue they gripe about, it's the inconvenience.

Teachers are public sector workers. This means that they work for society.

Well, if that is true, then teachers have a bad boss to work for. Imagine private sector workers who work for an uninformed, deliberately ignorant, unsympathetic, hypocritical, hostile boss: would they be angry? Yes, they would.

So, now you understand the anger felt by teachers. Officially, the anger is directed at the provincial government. But, make no mistake, it's directed at you too. Why? Re-read my comments above.

And that's why this thing isn't going to go away. It won't go away until you, society, do something about it. I suppose you could get mad at my comments and suggest we fire all the teachers and destroy the unions. But that won't solve anything. So, I suggest that you do the right things: get yourselves informed about the real issues, support your teachers, put pressure on the government to do the right thing, and don't gripe when an inconvenience happens.

Have a nice weekend.