Monday, July 30, 2007

It's about the policies, people!

Allow me a moment to draw your attention to this post by my former hallmate and colleague Andrew Nurse, a Canadian Studies prof at Mount Allison University. Andrew, a good socialist if ever I met one, speaks to a lot of the frustration that I'm feeling right now as a left-leaning swing voter, frustrated by the lack of policy options being presented on the Canadian left.

As I note in the comments on his blog, I share his frustrations at the new "politics of honesty and accountability" which appear to have been substituted for policy discussions. Moreover, while I think parliamentary reform is necessary, I'm not willing to vote for a party or candidate on the sole basis that they support this initiative. I'd like something more concrete in terms of policy debate to win my next vote.

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Post-secondary Education - Demographic Challenges

According to this morning's Globe and Mail, the three Toronto universities - U of T, York and Ryerson - are expecting their admission demands to continue to rise over the next two decades. This is a sharp contrast to virtually every other region of the country, where enrollments are expected to either plateau or drop. According to the article's author, this demand is being driven largely by immigration trends to the city.

The manner in which this article is couched seems to imply that this situation entails a crisis for the three universities and that an appropriate response would be to further both inncrease admissions at these institutions and expand their campuses. I'm not convinced that this is necessarily the route to go, and am worried about the sustainability of this option.

Part of my thinking about this issue reflects the fact that I'm not convinced that students should have to attend university in the city they grew up in. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for attending a university which has program offerings that better meet an individual's needs - and a fair bit to be said for getting out of the family home and striking out on one's own. Moreover, there is also the question of what dropping enrollments at other universities means for the future of those institutions. Throughout the Maritimes, for example, universities are already unable to meet their enrollment targets. Eventually, this may mean shrinking faculties and a decline in the quality of education available at these (and other) institutions. A better approach might be to look seriously at student loan/scholarship programs to allow students to attend universities in other cities.

I also look at this from the perspective of students already at the Toronto institutions. I did my undergrad at U of T in the 1990s, and it was already too large for the comfort of most students. Class sizes are out of control in first and second year courses, and I worry what even larger student body numbers would mean for the experience of the students (and the faculty, for that matter). At a certain point, the quality of education at these institutions is likely to suffer from over-expansion.

Two other points come to mind. The first is that there are numerous universities (McMaster, Guelph, Brock, Laurier, Waterloo, Western, Trent, Queen's) within a 2-3 hour drive from Toronto, which could accommodate some of this projected demand, and are close enough for weekend trips for those students reluctant to move too far from home.

Finally, did I read correctly that there are plans for another university in Sault Ste. Marie? This strikes me as a spectacularly bad idea. The northern Ontario universities already have terrible problems with faculty recruitment and retention, and I doubt this institution will fare any better. Again, I think it would be better to make it easier for northern students to afford residence fees than to build yet more new institutions which are local, yet lack the amenities and faculty calibre of their southern equivalents.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More news is good news, in both languages

I'm quite pleased by this decision of the CRTC, ordering cable companies to carry both CBC Newsworld and RDI as part of basic cable services. While this is being justified, and rightly so, on the grounds that official language minority communities should have access to news in their own language - it will mean that Franco-Ontarians have access to RDI, for example - I'm thrilled about this as a bilingual news junkie. RDI often provides better coverage of Quebec-based events, including elections and leaders' debates, than the English-language networks do, if they cover them at all.

It also means that viewers can watch political debates and politicians speaking in their original language, rather than through an interpreter, which can be awfully frustrating for bilingual viewers.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Moose and Grapefruit: A linguistic public service announcement

Through occasional checking of SiteMeter, I've discovered that my blog gets some rather odd hits based on Google searches.

Consider this a public service announcement for those hunters:

The French word for moose is "orignal", which is a masculine noun - so one would refer to "un orignal".

Also, if you want to say in French that you are sorry, but you don't speak French, you would say "Je suis désolé, mais je ne parle pas français."

Finally, the French word for grapefruit is "un pamplemousse".

That's all. Go about your business. I'm not finding tons to post about during the summer silly season.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

An end to the Sheppard line?

What a fiasco! Apparently, the TTC is planning on slashing its services, including closing the Sheppard subway line (which cost $1 billion and took 8 years to build), in an effort to cut $30 million from its budget this year, and $100 million next year.

It is truly a travesty that Toronto's transit system is in the shape that it is right now. With traffic clogs increasingly snarling the highway infrastructure, the GO Train system woefully inadequate on the non-Lakeshore routes, and urban sprawl continuing to expand the metro area's boundaries, it is disgraceful that existing bus and subway services within Canada's largest city would be cut.

I am particularly stung by the chance that the Sheppard line is on the chopping block. I lived mere blocks away from Sheppard throughout my childhood, praying for the day when Mel Lastman's dream of a Sheppard line would come through. It wasn't until I had moved downtown to go to university that initial construction even began. I've only had one opportunity to ride it since it opened (which was after I moved away from Toronto). I hope that it won't end up being the only time.

It makes you wonder what future there is for McGuinty's planned transit expansion. I imagine that the York University subway line is in serious jeopardy.

This smacks of an ugly power-play, and I hope that these announced measures don't go through!


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