Every Ontarian should have equal access to information, especially in the digital age (the implications of cutting funding to Knowledge Ontario)

If you live in Ontario, no matter how big or rural the community you live in, you have access to the services of Knowledge Ontario through public libraries and schools. The organization has been helping strengthen libraries by delivering innovative and leading-edge services, managing digital content, creating digitally-savvy users and learners, and providing equal access to information for all users since its creation four years ago.

Unfortunately, with the announcement last month that the Ministry of Culture will not provide it with funding for 2010, Knowledge Ontario is in jeopardy, and it will take Ontarians to change that. KO needs about $4 million to sustain its current databases and to keep its commitments to future projects, but its request for additional funding from the ministry was denied. Instead, the government has pledged $2 million for electronic resourcing but only to be administered to Ontario public libraries through the Southern Ontario Library Service and Ontario Library Service – North.

Services that KO provides that are in jeopardy are:
Connect Ontario
Learn Ontario
Our Ontario, and
Resource Ontario .

Knowledge Ontario is particularly important for students in rural Ontario communities who, when denied resources other more advantaged communities have access to, may not be able to reach their full potential education-wise and may even end up dropping out of school. The more access each Ontario student has to quality digital resources, the easier it is for him or her to learn and to be successful.

Of course, it is not just students who will be affected. One of KO’s key mandates is to ensure consistent digital resources, services, and tools to include all Ontarians, regardless of which part of the province they live in or if they attend school.

As KO states on its website: “If part of the population has the digital tools and resources and part does not, there can be no expectation that students will succeed, that people will achieve more, work more productively or contribute to knowledge and innovation. Knowledge Ontario’s initiatives are critical in overcoming the digital divide and enabling Ontarians to develop the digital literacy needed to succeed in the 21st century.”

Here is an editorial from a writer at The North Bay Nugget about the importance of KO’s services to rural/small-town libraries.

In addition, more than 85% of school boards in Ontario currently use KO services; licensed databases in particular are used heavily by boards.

News of the funding has many people up in arms, and bloggers are working hard to spread the word about the implications of this announcement as well as what outraged members of the community can do about it. Go here to find some of the tools they’re using to speak out and to let their elected officials know how they feel.

Here’s the question: What are the implications of the Ontario government denying funding to an organization that is providing equal access to educational resources and tools?



Filed under education & schools, libraries

Tories to extend amnesty for long-gun owners

The federal government will once again offer a one-year amnesty to long-gun owners who have yet to register their firearms with the federal gun registry, Treasury Board president Vic Toews said last Friday. (Long-guns are rifles and shotguns, which are legal if the owner has the correct licence the guns require–either nonrestricted or restricted licences.)

Speaking in Winnipeg, Toews said the Conservatives still intend to do away with the registry, which was brought in by a previous Liberal government and has been relentlessly lampooned by the Tories as a bloated bureaucratic boondoggle.

The second extension, Toews said, will “encourage compliance and reduce the administrative burden” on lawful gun owners as they work to comply with the registry.

“We are preventing the pointless criminalization of non-restricted gun owners,” Toews said Friday.

The government is also waiving fees for licence renewals for another year, as well as allowing eligible holders of expired licences to apply for a new one within a year.

The amnesty was first introduced by the Conservatives in 2006 and was extended in 2008.

Last month, the Conservative government introduced a bill in the Liberal-dominated Senate to abolish the long-gun registry — an unusual move as 98 per cent of bills are presented in the House of Commons.

Any move to abolish the registry would require the support of opposition parties in the current minority Parliament. All three opposition parties have said they support the registry remaining in place.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s successive minority governments have never brought a bill to abolish the registry to a Commons vote. Instead, the government has reduced the registry’s budget along with introducing fee waivers and amnesties.

The Tories have argued the costly registry penalizes law-abiding citizens, while doing little to curb crime.

But the registry’s proponents say it helps police crack down on crime and have accused the Conservatives of trying to dismantle gun control in Canada.

In a release on Friday, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said the amnesty actually serves to enhance public safety because the last extension encouraged an increase of gun owners registering as licensed firearms owners.

–From CBC News

If Harper tries to make this an issue in a future election, he is going to be putting himself in a difficult situation. Many Canadians are going to be nervous about certain gun owners being exempted from registering their firearms, and they may fear this will lead the Conservatives to eliminate the federal gun registry altogether. Canadians are especially nervous when they see what goes in the U.S. (where there is virtually no gun control). However, it is true that a registry rarely prevents criminals from acquiring guns, so it makes one wonder if the money spent on the registry is having much of an impact on crimes involving shootings.

Here’s the question: Do you think Canada should allow long-gun owners to not register their firearms with the federal gun registry?

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Filed under crime, gun control

Aboriginals in Canada face ‘Third World’-level risk of tuberculosis

A new federal report reveals the TB rate among status Indians to be 31 times higher than that of non-aboriginal Canadians. Among the most susceptible of aboriginal populations are the Inuit, for whom the TB rate is 186 times that of Canadian-born non-aboriginals.

The new data from the Public Health Agency of Canada come as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to put child and maternal health in the developing world at the top of the agenda when he hosts the G8 summit later this year.

Inuit and First Nations leaders say the visitors should know that Canada’s aboriginals are battling a preventable disease due to overcrowding in mouldy homes. Inuit housing and social services are almost entirely reliant on transfer money from the federal government.

“I think they’ll be interested to see we’ve got Third World conditions here in Canada,” said Angus Toulouse, the Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, who is responsible for health issues.

Gail Turner, the chair of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s national Inuit committee on health, said there is a clear link between the child health problems on the G8 agenda and TB among the Inuit.

“We have the highest birth rate in Canada,” she said. “Currently in the Inuit regions, we have some quite alarming statistics around rates of infant mortality, some of our birth outcomes and, in particular, our rates of respiratory illnesses in young children. And all of these can feed very naturally into TB.”

Ms. Turner said the new figures are significant because it has been very difficult to obtain clear statistics on TB rates among the Inuit population. The health agency data are part of a preliminary release of information in advance of a larger report on tuberculosis in Canada.

Tuberculosis is a contagious infectious disease that enters the body through breathing and settles in the lungs. It can then spread through the central nervous system, infecting bones and joints.

The disease is entirely curable by taking prescription medication for several months, according to the Canadian Lung Association, which describes TB as a worldwide epidemic that kills two million people annually.

The data reveal TB rates among non-aboriginal Canadians have decreased from one per 100,000 in 2003 to 0.8 per 100,000 in 2008, yet rates for aboriginals are climbing. The increase is particularly dramatic among Inuit, for whom the rate climbed from 22.1 cases per 100,000 in 2003 to 157.5 cases per 100,000 in 2008.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the first Inuk to be sworn into the federal cabinet, told reporters last week that her government is working with the provinces and territories to curb the spread of the disease among aboriginals.

New Democratic MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis on Wednesday submitted a request to House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken asking for an emergency debate on the TB findings. The request was declined.

Officials continued to warn Ottawa about high TB death rates in residential schools for at least four decades after Dr. Peter Bryce, former chief medical officer at Indian Affairs, who sounded the alarm over shockingly high rates of deadly tuberculosis in government-funded Indian residential schools, penned his first report on the situation in 1907.

–From The Globe and Mail

I think this yet another shameful example of how the country has failed its aboriginal population. How hypocritical of us to plan on talking about health concerns in Third World countries at the G8 summit when we have tuberculosis numbers among a segment of our population that are just as bad as those countries. Perhaps the embarrassment if this is talked about internationally while the summit is taking place will finally force the government to actually take action.

Here’s the question: Is it hypocritical for Canada to be putting “child and maternal health in the developing world at the top of its agenda” at the G8 summit when it has failed for decades to curb the number of aboriginals contracting tuberculosis?


Filed under aboriginals

Quebec warned to close language loophole

The guardian of French in Quebec is warning the government to crack down on immigrants who send their children to English-language schools or face “social deconstruction” and the end of many years of linguistic peace.

The Conseil supérieur de la langue française, the provincial government’s advisory body on language, proposed in a report released last week that the Charest Liberals remove a loophole in the province’s language law that has allowed immigrants to send their children to anglophone schools.

“To allow things to continue without restriction would shake the linguistic balance forged over the years and threaten the desire to live in French in Quebec and the will of the Quebec people to build a French language society in North America,” the report stated.

Following the recommendation could upset Premier Jean Charest’s anglophone supporters. The council said failing to act decisively could create social tensions throughout Quebec.

The problem dates back to 1977, when the Parti Québécois government excluded non-subsidized, private English-language schools from provisions of the language law known as Bill 101. The exemption allowed parents – mainly well-off immigrants and francophones, whose children would otherwise have had to attend French schools – to circumvent the law by enrolling children in non-subsidized private English schools. Having attended the so-called “bridging schools” in English, they could then be transferred to the English public system.

Under the law, anglophone children were exempted from attending a French school if a parent or older sibling received most of their elementary or secondary instruction in English in Canada. Temporary residents and children with serious learning disabilities were also exempt.

In 2002, the law was changed to stop people from using bridging schools to get their children into the anglophone system. Last October, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the change.

The government was given a year to comply with the ruling.

Yesterday’s report served as a basis for a response to the court decision.

The report said that use of the loophole more than doubled between 1998 and 2002, going from 628 children to 1,379.

The minister responsible for the Charter of the French language, Christine St-Pierre, said yesterday that the government will indicate in the spring how it plans to comply with the Supreme Court decision.

–From The Globe and Mail

Here’s the question: Would allowing Quebec immigrants to send their children to anglophone schools be detrimental to the province’s culture and cause “social deconstruction”?

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Filed under education & schools

Alberta may test Internet voting

Somehow this doesn’t seem like a great idea to me…

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and his government are rejecting key recommendations from Elections Alberta — including adopting fixed voting dates and leadership finance rules — but want to allow testing of online voting.

Bill 7, the Election Statutes Amendment Act, was introduced last week and responds to 182 recommendations made by former elections boss Lorne Gibson following a 2008 election that was plagued by long lineups, record-low 41 per cent turnout, and a voters list missing about a quarter of eligible electors.

The province will allow advance voting for any reason; strengthen third party advertising standards (demanding disclosure of contributions and that all ads placed by anyone other than a political party include name and contact information); give prisoners the right to vote; and have the elections boss and legislature consider testing new voting technologies — such as Internet voting — during a byelection.

“I do hope that through the course of the amendments that we’re making, and some of the debate that we’ll have, it will … hopefully encourage people to be engaged in (the voting process),” said Justice Minister Alison Redford. “It’s to try to make it more open and flexible and responsive.”

“We’re certainly pleased that they’ve taken a number of our recommendations into consideration, and we’ll just have to wait and see what the assembly decides,” said chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim.

–From the Calgary Herald

Here’s the question: Would voting via the Internet work for elections in Canada?


Filed under politics

Atlantic lobster industry gets $2.2 million to innovate

The Atlantic lobster industry will get almost $2.2 million to develop new processing technology and lobster products, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced last week in Charlottetown.

The money is part of an effort to find long-term solutions to industry problems, and help stakeholders in the lobster industry (including harvesters, buyers, and seafood processors). The money will go toward opening new markets and investments in new technology.

Lobster prices in the region dipped to below $3 a pound last season, a 20-year low.

Shea already announced $417,000 for Atlantic Canada’s lobster industry to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy.

The latest money will go to the PEI Seafood Processors Association to invest in projects to develop new lobster products, and develop new processing techniques and equipment to lower production costs and increase labour productivity.

The federal government is contributing $1.6 million, while the P.E.I. government will provide $500,000. The PEI Atlantic Shrimp Corporation is contributing $95,000.

The lobster industry employs about 50,000 people in Atlantic Canada.

I wonder if some of that money might be better spent helping the Atlantic provinces develop new industries that aren’t based on primary resources.

–From Yahoo! Canada News

Here’s the question: Should the federal government be providing almost $2 million in public money to the struggling lobster industry?


Filed under food & agriculture

Premier Williams seeks medical treatment from U.S. hospital

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams left a U.S. hospital last week, after receiving heart surgery there earlier this month.

Newfoundland Deputy Premier Kathy Dunderdale said Williams decided to go to the U.S. for surgery after weeks of consultation with his doctors. The treatment he was seeking was apparently not available in his home province.

However, there doesn’t seem to be any answer as to why he couldn’t go to another province to have the surgery done — provinces like Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia surely also have the same medical expertise and highly-skilled surgeons working at their hospitals?

Not surprisingly, this has turned into a bit of a PR nightmare for the premier. One school of thought is that he has the right to receive his medical care wherever he wants to, and the fact that he is a premier should not matter. Others think that it sends a bad message to the rest of the world (especially to the U.S. where there is an ongoing health care debate going on) that the provinces’ health care systems are not up to par.

It has not been made public where in the U.S. Williams went for the surgery.

Here’s the question: What does it say about health care in the provinces if someone like Premier Williams is heading south to receive medical treatment?


Filed under health care, politicians, politics