Tuesday, August 9, 2016

UNELECTED TRUSTEES TO VOTE AGAIN TO CLOSE WHITBOURNE ELEMENTARY

NLESD SITE
Round three of the battle by the NL English School District and the provincial government to close Whitbourne Elementary kicks off at a special meeting of the unelected board to table a notice to close the school at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Parents and community members won a court challenge against the board just a few weeks ago.  The decision by Liberal government appointees to close the school as of June of 2016 was quashed when Justice Valerie Marshall ruled that parents did not have enough time and were not given all requested information to prepare a proper a rebuttal to the closure motion.   She also ordered the board to pay the parents legal costs.

In April, the unelected public school board  trustees voted to close five schools in province despite pleas to the provincial government, and the board, to hold off any decisions on the future of schools until an elected board was in place.

The good news for the community is that the school will be open for the upcoming school year. The bad news, they are back in a fight for the schools survival for the third time in five years. 

Whitbourne was the only community to launch an appeal.

Obviously, the board is determined to close the school  and is allowing plenty of time for the review process this time.  

Frankly, with an election promised by the current Minister of Education scheduled for this Fall, I do not understand why any further school closures would be discussed by unelected trustees. The trustees were originally appointed in 2013 as a temporary measure. 

As well, why is the government not requesting changes to the flawed process including providing financial resources to allow independent research and verification of the boards data. It would also be an ideal time to eliminate the option that allows for secret ballot votes on school closures to permit accountability and transparency.

I must put together a ATIP request for correspondence between the Department of Education and the board regarding the court decision. 






PENCE HAS TIME TO SHOW TRUMP TO THE EXIT

As an avid political watcher, and sometimes partisan participant, the lack of timber in the political wood pile is disheartening.  What ever happened to supporting a candidate or party based on what they offered in terms of leadership and policy - instead of accepting the lesser of two evils. 

The ever changing political landscape in the United States, the worlds last remaining superpower, looks like something created by Mel Brooks. Unfortunately, for the world, and Americans in particular, the pieces are set. Never before have the contenders for President been so viscerally disliked even hated, by so many voters.

This might have been a race between the establishment candidate and a reformer determined to change the status-quo by kicking the merchants out of the synagogues. The infiltration of the Tea Party, the inability of the old Republican machine to prevent Donald Trumps hostile takeover or protect local candidates for towing the line has truly left the party of Lincoln flayed and possibly headed for an historic defeat against a disliked Democratic candidate.

Of course anything can happen in the ninety days remaining in the campaign. Surely, there are many political mine fields to come for Clinton, but as long as Trump remains on the ballet, the race will be all about hate, anger, distrust, sexism and racism - perpetuating the polarization of extreme positions and fermenting domestic discord.

After a slight reprieve and a small bump from the farcical Republican National Convention, Trump is in free fall and the Republican Party is in a fix. The ugly pragmatic reality of  "outsiderdom" has been revealed to all.  Only the most rabid feel Trump is Presidential. 

I don't know a great deal about Trump's running mate Mike Pence except that he might be the Republican Party's last chance to save face and perhaps offer Americans an alternative. This would require Pence telling the egomaniacal Trump that he needs to relinquish the presidential nomination or accept the resignation of his running mate.

Such a scenario would give the not-so-Midas touched Trump a way out of what is beginning  to look like an electoral rout and the Republicans a Hail Mary pass that might shift focus back on Clinton's image issues. 

Frankly, there are no great political plays left for the Republicans, but commiting  Harakiri for  fascist emperor Trump should not be an option. 






VIOLENCE AND CRIME PREVENTION INVESTMENT BEGINS IN SCHOOLS




The "gangster" lifestyle depicts a life full of sweet rides, cool clothes, hot girls and a lots of "easy money." The glorification of which, through pop culture, seems to be influencing the imaginations of many of our youth. 

The violent life of crime found in shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, or video games like Grand Theft Auto, are anything but glamorous or fun. The predominance of this pop culture is having an impact on youth in their most formative years - when they are trying to figure out who they are, who the hang out with, how they dress and how they behave.

I am not suggesting that every teenager that listens to gangster rap, plays Grand Theft Auto or views Breaking Bad is going to adopt a criminal  lifestyle. However, the influence of pop culture on maturing teenagers can not be dismissed. For too many youth it provides self-definition, a distorted review of respect and self-esteem.

The pressing issues of youth violence, addictions, bullying, mental health are amplified when government is not responding to the real life needs of our educators, parents and children. For a decade the Federation of School Councils in this province has been lobbying government to act proactively to help those most at risk. We have been virtually ignored.

We desperately need more guidance councillors in our schools. The federation has asked that the ratio be changed from 1-500 to 1-330. We have asked for more addiction and mental health assets, we have lobbied for changes to the Mental Health Act to empower parents who have been disenfranchised by a system that has emancipated youth at 16 to make their own decisions on addictions, mental health and living arrangements. 

We are failing those  most at risk of the lure of violent crime and addictions. Teachers, parents and guidance councillors are stressed and not given the tools and resources needed to successfully intervene and prevent these children from going down the wrong path - or taking their own lives.

A failure to implement policies that meet the needs of our youth only condemns many to poor self-esteem, poor choices, poor education and personal/societal outcomes that can be prevented.

Needs based education is well worth the investment as an ounce of prevention is  worth a pound of the cure. Lets stop failing those in need and deferring the societal costs to the next generation. 

We not only can do better, we must.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

HYPOCRISY MAKES THE POLITICAL WHEEL SPIN

Conservative pundit and pollster, Tim Power's latest article for The Hill Times takes aim at the discourse and hypocritical positions espoused by the front leaders for the Conservative Party Leadership regarding the divisive Brexit vote.

The former cabinet ministers have been exposed for abandoning the free trading ideology of the Mulroney and Harper eras in favour of pandering for a few votes.

Power says " Hypocrisy is often the bed-mate of a politician in search of opportunity to advance his or her own ambition. But putting your finger in the wind to find out where it is blowing and knowing it represents a storm of no good is an altogether different type of shallow—Tony Clement and Jason Kenney, I am talking about you."

The lack of ideological consistency in our public officials is disheartening but even more dramatic, it is so pervasive that we seemingly accept it as part of the process.

Politicians lie, promises are just snapshots in time and circumstances. It is a cancer, corruption and arrogance that serves harm democracy and trust, further eroding our democratic institutions. A flip-flop is part of doing business today. 

The official hypocrisy of the new premier, much of his cabinet and the Liberal caucus who were elected on a misleading platform, which has been all but abandoned, is only eclipsed by the hypocrisy of the now opposition Progressive Conservatives who created the fiscal crisis we are facing. 

Where does it all leave the voter who gets to vote once every four years but is saddled with sticker shock and buyers remorse with no recourse?

Before we start lighting torches and marching with pitchforks in hand, we should consider our individual roles, do voters  act just like the representatives they elect? Who is to blame - look in the mirror  Until we challenge this approach, stand united against it or reform our electoral process , we will continue to get hypocritical governance.

We have the ability to eradicate poverty, to end our reliance on fossil fuels, to share our wealth, to forget about national interests and pursue global solutions to the environment nightmare that we are punting to future generations so we can preserve our quality of living today. 

We should not bury our heads in the sand but seek to understand the role hypocrisy plays in the bigger picture of our robust federal democracy that demands flexibility, horse trading and party solidarity for the big picture. 

Politicians are pulled in all kinds of contrasting directions by public opinion, donors, party lines, personal leanings and local politics - all of which are often temporal - changing with time and the tide.

What ideological  lines would you refuse to cross, no matter the dealmaking, partisanship, or personal incentives involved? 

At would point is the active political agenda just a distraction from the big picture? 






Wednesday, June 15, 2016

OPEN LETTER TO PREMIER BALL

Dwight,

I do not envy your position at all. We had a number of conversations leading into the Fall with regards to provincial expenditures.  I know that I am not an economist, but just following the quarterly charted banks quarterly reports, budget estimates and oil prices clearly indicated that the deficit was going to exceed $2 Billion. It was obvious that the next administration was going to have to make tough choices because the last one failed too.

The province really has limited choices - raise funds, borrow funds or reduce spending. Our current debt load severely impacts our borrowing. It is not rocket science but there is no real understanding in the public domain and the fact that spending was permitted to increase has created confusion.

While I have been vocally opposed to cuts in education - preferring a consultative approach - I agree that there is no alternative but to make decisions that may not be liked by all. It would be impossible to find a consensus option that would please everyone.

I have always been impressed by your listening and engagement skills, which is why I am confounded by the communication SNAFUs that plaque your administration. I believe you are truly empathetic to people but living in the bubble of political partisans who treat every bit of constructive criticism as treachery, resulting in a reactive bunker mentality.   I am not one of those who think you should throw in the towel. I believe that you have an uphill battle to regain the credibility needed to wage this battle to reform government spending and deflate people’s expectations on how and where government services are provided.

I believe that frank conversations offering a clear vision of the light at the end of the austerity tunnel, picking one or two social  sectors  (i.e.. education, mental health) that you ensure are the best in Canada, despite financial situation will help clear the way. People need to know their personal sacrifices are worth it to the collective good. They also need to know that those they elect are making sacrifices as well.

I keep hearing from my political contacts, inside and outside of caucus, that one of the major issues you are facing is communications people left over from the last administration.  While there is no doubt many of them were hired by the tories, I do not think replacing them with partisans solves anything. I do not share the opinion that you are being sabotaged from inside the bureaucracy  rather I think you need to rethink those who helped you win the party leaderships ability to help you govern in these perilous times. You require a much different skill set. Governing does not have to be a zero-sum game.

In the dying days of the Grimes Government, we could not do anything right, despite the many positive initiatives brought forward on social and economic fronts. Without Voisey’s Bay or the Liberal offshore Development Agreements,  I can not image where we would be today. For my part, I will never forget struggling to assist in getting candidates nominated, knowing in my heart that public opinion was not going to swing, as needed.

The real challenge is winning the respect of a public that are confused, scared and angry. That can only be accomplished by being more strategic in purpose and approach. The long term play is crucial to our very survival. You can not let the opposition and other groups define you, or capitalize on amateur, undisciplined and unnecessary mistakes.

I would suggest you need to pick the right tool for the job at hand. Choose the wrong one and the result may not be pretty. What is the core competency you need? All good intentions may not be good enough to overcome a lack of skill or ability.

You must be seen to be consistent, humble, in-touch, in-control and responsive. It is too easy for any group to vilify motives and actions when they do not have to defend their positions or face the scrutiny that government does. That is why it is so important to have people around you that are not only loyal, but honest,  who can express opinions outside of the groupthink bubble without fear of being labelled as enemies or of not being team players.

This does not mean governing by the polls, it just means being smarter and reigning in the arrogance of political neophytes who have neither the political insight or ability to assist you with the delicate task ahead. They fail to see that this is not a game. Great leaders are not born, they are created by exceptional circumstances. I sincerely hope that you can turn this province around and earn the confidence of the 60% of the public that are not pure partisans.

I am very disappointed that we are not working together as partners in education but what unites is much greater than what divides us.

Peter Whittle