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YRDSB Leadership Crisis Builds As True Cost of Trustee By-Election Not Known

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers (right) Still Dealing with Massive Public Confidence Issues

This past week there was much indecision at the York Region District School Board [YRDSB] on how to fill former Trustee Nancy Elgie’s seat, punting the ball in an unprecedented move to the people of Georgina.  Trustee Elgie stepped down last month after being caught making a racial slur to a black parent in a meeting regarding systemic racism at the board.  The YRDSB has two options under law.  One is to appoint a trustee; another is to hold a by-election. Both options are being put to the people of Georgina in a “community consultation” process.

A report tabled on March 7th to the YRDSB listed the costs for a trustee by-election at a staggering $300,000. That may be an exaggeration Mind Bending Politics has learned.  In an e-mail to Mind Bending Politics, Georgina spokesperson John Espinosa stated that the estimate for the $300,000 that was provided to the YRDSB was a “very rough” estimate, and noted that the basis for the high costs was the 2014 municipal election in which was a full election of town council, school trustee, mayor, and not a trustee by-election. The breakdown of the by-election estimate provided to the YRDSB is displayed here.

YRDSB Chair Loralea Carruthers has been largely stating in media (page 7), that the approximate $300,000 is a lot of money to spend, and potential candidates for trustees would also be on the hook for thousands of dollars due to campaigning. Questions have arisen over whether the YRDSB is actively trying to deter the people of Georgina, and potential candidates away from the electoral process due to high costs.  In an e-mail to Mind Bending Politics, Carruthers replied:

I’m just speaking the truth – no agenda here.

It is unclear when the YRDSB plans on holding its consultations with the people of Georgina, or what form this consultation will actually take.  Several witnesses to last Tuesday’s meeting including some in media got the impression that these consultations will be in a town hall in person format, something Carruthers denied in her response to Mind Bending Politics when asked about the town hall style approach.

Carruthers stated to local media that the people of Georgina would have to fill a room in order to ensure that there is enough interest to justify the expense of a by-election:

With the board currently under investigation by the province as a result of a major loss of public confidence, can it be a realistic goal that the public will actually show up for a meeting like this in droves?  Realistically if people have lost confidence in the board itself, how can they not expect a low turnout for a meeting like this? An election is much different since campaigning and a good selection of candidates generates interest, something that is currently happening in Georgina’s Ward 1 by-election.

I’ve asked whether or not the costs of the trustee by-election to the Town of Georgina should be shouldered directly by trustees and staff (rather than taken from kids in the system) as a by-election would be seen as trying to regain public confidence in the board.  Carruthers replied:

I’m really not sure what this means.

When asked if appointing a trustee would be largely seen as sending the wrong message to the public regarding public representation, and public confidence at the YRDSB.  Carruthers replied:

I think we answered that [on Tuesday] by going to the public to ask them what they would like.

On the outside allowing members of the public to decide whether or not to appoint a trustee or go to a by-election looks to be a good idea.  On the other hand what seems to be transpiring is a lot of misdirection and misinformation to protect the board from criticisms over a decision to go to the polls, or to appoint.  If the YRDSB goes to the polls, then they are likely to get heat for spending any money on an election as a result of how current trustees have mis-spent tax payers money.  On the other hand if they appoint than it’s viewed as a detriment to the electoral process, and the democratic nature of the board.  What better way to avoid more controversy, than to punt the ball to someone else, in this case the people of Georgina.  That doesn’t really sound like leadership, it sounds rather representative of the protectionist nature of the YRDSB – a nature that has currently landed the board and all its trustees under a provincial investigation.

What’s even more troubling is that I sent Carruthers several e-mails to get her response on questions relating to the $300,000, and the by-election for this blog.  When none was offered I took to twitter, in which Carruthers told me she had not received any of my e-mails and asked that I delete any tweets suggesting she didn’t respond:

 

It seems to be clear to me there is no credible public representation at the YRDSB. Trustees have pretty much decided not to decide on how to handle the most basic of functions of democracy on the board leaving the decision to others to save the institution from more criticism – or worse – they are intentionally misleading the public on costs and manipulating a process to ensure a desired outcome of an appointment.

One thing is for certain though, the YRDSB seems to be in a lot worse situation that I had previously thought with its leadership. Can the board be justified whatever the outcome of this “consultation” is to appoint while in a crisis of leadership and public confidence?  Would anyone appointed be legitimate to their constituency under these circumstances? If an election is held, where will the money come from, and how much will it cost?

I have requested an accurate quote from the Town of Georgina regarding the actual costs associated with a trustee by-election, and I’ve asked Carruthers to provide me with an explanation as to why board staff have seemingly left out the fact the $300,000 quote was a very rough estimate, and essentially that the costs reflected in the $300,000 are the costs of the full municipal election in 2014.  I will post a follow up blog once I receive that information.

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The Circus That Is Our Unaccountable Education System Coming to A School Board Near You

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(Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Likely To Read From A Blank Book On School Board Accountability)

Over the past few months, the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) in Ontario has been embroiled in controversy surrounding governance, accountability, and racial tensions. The governing Liberal Party of Ontario promised to get to the bottom of these systemic issues at the YRDSB by appointing two “arm’s length” investigators to the board to look at recommendations on how to solve systemic issues, rather than using the independent Provincial Ombudsman who in 2015 was given the legal authority and jurisdiction to look at the specific issues the YRDSB investigators have been tasked to look at.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals who have a long history of throwing blank cheques at the education unions are all that serious about systemic change at the YRDSB which would require legislation with the ability to hold those in the system to account.

Two weeks into getting the investigation set up, the YRDSB investigators (Patrick Case + Suzanne Herbert), are already hearing from a staggering number of parents.  These two investigators appointed by the province seem to be ill-equipped to handle the sheer volume of complaints coming in, to which the province’s ombudsman would have been better equipped to handle.  I had a conversation with Patrick Case on twitter yesterday.  Here is that conversation:

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Both Case and Herbert are widely connected to the education sector in Ontario.  Herbert was a deputy minister in Ontario, including deputy of education (way to close to government for my liking), while Case served as former trustee for the Toronto District School Board which has had its fair share of problems.  While I don’t question these investigators credibility to pin the vast majority of problems with board governance on YRDSB Director J. Philip Parappally and a few “rouge” trustees implementation of more equality training board wide, and quietly sweep this controversy under the rug to avoid any drafting of accountability legislation to deal with systemic problems province wide; I do not see how this investigation would be beneficial to the kids the public education sector serves. The only beneficiary to this investigation as it stands right now would be the education unions who have deeply embedded themselves in Wynne’s government.

Racial intolerance in any profession or work place is wrong, against our values as Canadians, and most importantly against our civil rights in the charter of rights and freedoms. One of the root causes for racial intolerance at the YRDSB is the lack of accountability on staff, directors, trustees.  It’s a symptom of a much larger problem in the province.  The lack of accountability in the education sector is province wide, and if we are truly looking to send a message that racial intolerance is not accepted in our public school system, than it is law and legislation with teeth that is needed to hold those in the education system to account, not non-binding “recommendations” from a rushed, arm’s length investigation.

A much better more responsible approach would be to slow down, allow the community to appropriately respond to identify systemic issues, and ensure that the investigation is done in an independent way, rather than recommendations that in the end will duck any real legislative accountability and favor political donors over that of our school children due to the closeness of the investigators to the legislative process.  To do otherwise would only serve to pass the buck to the next school board to have issues due to the lack of legislative accountability, and put more of our children across the province at further risk.

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Ministry Responds To My Open Letter To Minister Coteau

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As many of you may remember I wrote an open letter to the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau regarding some concerns I had with the transition process, and with my son’s situation.  I was hoping for a direct response from Minister Coteau instead I received this (sorry for the chicken scratch, this is the number of the individual from the ministry that wrote this letter.  I was hung up on 3 times by the contact they gave me before I got to the program manager):

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For a Minister willing to meet with parents, Coteau seems extremely illusive to direct communication with those who are trying to reach him.  Apparently we’re getting busy signals.  As for my sons situation, apparently IBI still ends at 5 accounting to Cantkier, and she is unwilling to budge on giving my son the appropriate therapy he has been recommended by specialists and other medical professionals.  More soon.

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Brace Yourselves, The New Ontario Autism Program is Coming

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The Toronto Star recently sat down with the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau to discuss changes being made to autism services in Ontario.  A common theme is starting to emerge over the past few months since the announcement of the new Ontario Autism Program.  The way the process for “change” has presented itself, could see catastrophic consequences going forward as a result of tight budget constraints, lack of transparency and consultation needed to identify problems, analyze the system on whole and come up with sustainable solutions.  The end result will be a number of children and families caught in the cross-fire and shoved aside as collateral damage.

In the interview with the Star Coteau stated:

“My job now is to deliver a program that will be considered the best program in this country”

Also from the Toronto Star article:

“It’s going to be tough transforming a system overnight,” Coteau said. “This is what I’ve been mandated to do by the premier. It’s what’s required and we’re going to get it done.”

If the goal is to create a system that is the best in the country, it cannot be done “overnight”.

There are two ways of fixing problems in any system.

1)    Crisis Management
2)    Structured Problem Solving and Analysis

If you try to solve problems that arise in complex systems on a case by case basis, others arise as a result of trying to solve those problems. You fix those, and more will pop up.  It becomes a web of problems in large part because the extent of the problems within the system when you are using a crisis management type of approach is not known. You are not looking at the system as a whole.  It’s a “whack-a-mole” type of approach where you only look at the problems you’re facing, you don’t analyze the system to anticipate problems, and develop solutions to lessen the effects of catastrophic damage that will likely occur if you don’t know the extent of the problems within the system as a whole.  The end result if Coteau continues with a crisis management case by case strategy are kids falling through the cracks (like mine) and the system will end up in a much worse position than it was prior to the announcement.

Structured problem solving on the other hand, allows a much broader look into the system through analysis.  Since the Auditor General’s 2013 report on autism services there hasn’t been any call for a public consultation from the government, just tightly controlled committees looking only at small pockets of the system, and the government hand picking what it wants to sell through those committee reports.  The users of that system are way more knowledgeable of the problems within it because they are the ones dealing with it on a day to day basis, and you can’t have an accurate picture of the problems without first broadly consulting the users.

The system as a whole needs to be revamped.  The government has stated it’s committed to that, but their actions to date seem to suggest otherwise.  The expert committee laid down a path for forward, which the government is still refusing to follow because they don’t seem to want to commit the needed funds.  That’s quite clear on the fact that Coteau is still steadfast on only providing expensive intensive behavior intervention therapy to kids under 5, which the expert panel has since refuted as being anything but their recommendation.  The experts have also been muzzled by the government in participating in any public conversations on this public policy.  That runs counter to the mandate Coteau has been given, when open public participation in the democratic process should be facilitated if the goal is to make the system rise above others nationally.

The path forward should include broad system wide open and public consultation with parents and people within the system who are the users of the system and the most valuable part of the system on whole in order to provide a complete picture of the problems within it, along with complete transparency so that the experts and the implementation committee can publicly contribute to this public conversation and consultation.  Simply selecting a few hand picked people will not represent the extent of the problems, nor provide proper analysis.  Putting any kind of muzzle on these people strongly suggests the government is anything but committed to doing what’s necessary to make the system the best in the country.

The proper way to deal with this in which the experts alluded too in their letter to the Minister, back a few weeks after the announcement of the new program,  is to first start out testing the any new changes to system first as a “pilot project”, or in analytical terms, alpha and beta testing. I would add that alpha and beta testing commence after proper public consultation with users of the system and a proper plan has been developed as a result of those consultations. This gives the government the chance to test changes made to complex systems in a controlled environment to lessen the effects of problems limiting any damage the system might occur as a result.  This does NOT happen “overnight”!

If you’ve done open consultations with the users and know the full extent of the problems, you can anticipate those problems moving forward.  You need to first analyze the effects on the system in a controlled environment, work through the problems, and slowly expand those changes out, repeating the process. In a complex system like autism supports, it can take upwards of 2 years or more to fully role out.  Open consultation with the users again has not happened, and Coteau has no idea of the extent of the problems in the current system because he is focusing on small samples of the user base.

Simply rolling out changes to complex systems “overnight” without knowing the extent of the problems within it it, due to lack of consultation will create a tremendous amount of collateral damage, as the government is only interested in saving face and on a budget, rather than seriously looking at a massive systemic and sustainable change, and realizing this is about children not politics.  I’m sorry Mr. Coteau, but it is unacceptable in my books to use autistic children as collateral damage while your government plays politics and tries to cover up the extent of the damage you’ve already created since March by ignoring the advice of your own expert panel, and refusing to broadly consult with parents across this province which continues to this day.

The only good news is that Coteau is now looking at placing accountability mechanisms on regional service providers, and looking at their budgets.  Reallocating money within the system is a step forward, but will likely not produce the funds needed to restructure the system on whole, nor cover the costs of collateral damage that has and is about to occur as a result of the lack of consultations and understanding of the problems that will inevitably be serious moving forward.

So my message to my fellow autism parents if the status quo in the current process is allowed to continue:

“Brace yourselves, the new Ontario Autism Program is coming.” Expect massive problems and collateral damage.

We need a commitment to an open and transparent process, and one that has a flexible budget, if Coteau is at all serious in delivering his mandate of creating a system of autism supports that can be looked upon as one of the best in the country.  Not one child should fall victim to collateral damage as a result of political games being played by the Wynne Liberals to save face and a few bucks.  A lot already have as a result of how Wynne has handled this.  The government has a moral and ethical obligation to openly and transparently consult with stakeholders during this “transition” phase to ensure that no child is left behind when the new program is rolled out “overnight”.

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Why Is Premier Kathleen Wynne Misinforming Parents on The New Autism Program?

This question was asked by Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown in question period twice today, only to be asked by the speaker of the legislature to withdrawal the questions.  Question I would like to pose; why is the speaker of the Ontario legislature shutting down completely legitimate questions to the government?

This latest bought in the heart wrenching autism policy war for parents, comes a day after the Toronto Star released an investigative piece on a letter of dismay written by experts tasked to revamp the new autism program shortly after Wynne’s government announced the changes. In the letter the panel of 6 experts expressed concerns regarding the government’s position on removing kids over 5 from intensive therapy; a move in which the government has not back tracked on to date.  In the letter addressed to Tracy McCharles the Minister of Children and Youth Services at the time the panel stated:

The new program, as it has been described, treats children five and up as if their needs and capacities are qualitatively different from those younger than five years of age. There is no evidence to support this view.

The letter also expressed concerns regarding how the new program is being rolled out:

The autism program was “initiated prematurely, without sufficient consultation” with families, schools, professionals and the committee and should have been developed and tested first, perhaps as a pilot project.

The committee’s report cited by the ministry did not propose imposing an age cut-off. Instead, it envisioned an IBI program refocused on children ages two to four only if there were ample supports for older children provided in schools and through an enhanced version of the Ontario’s applied behaviour analysis (ABA) program.

What the Ontario Government has done is essentially stopped all treatment, and only paid some support for families that were on the wait list prior to April 1st, 2016.  Others while waiting for the new program to be put in place (there is still no details as to what exactly this new autism program will look like in June 2017) are left with no support at all.  A sentiment echoed by Brown today in his question to the deputy premier, in which he was not provided an answer.  It was also echoed by the panel in the statement above that this transition was not properly planned.  As a result, kids like my son who are over the age of 5 are falling through the cracks.

 

What’s more troubling is the fact that the speaker of the legislature quite obviously wants to shut down questions regarding the new autism program, and problems with this “transition”, and misleading statements by government.  I find that extremely interesting, and possibly an abuse of power. The panel of experts has had their tongues cut out in the form of confidentiality agreements, and refuse to speak on the matter even though they have an ethical and moral duty to do so.  I’m a Liberal, and this doesn’t represent the Liberal ideology of transparency in democracy.

I’m getting so sick of having to question Wynne as a Liberal at every turn, and getting sick and tired of seeing this woman play politics with not just my son’s future, but the future of many kids in Ontario.  She has done nothing but pile on enormous amounts of stress on the backs of parents at the expense of a failed approach to spin problems that are in crisis, rather than actually show true leadership.  To get this Liberal government to even acknowledge a crisis in policy is like slow Chinese water torture, while pulling your finger and toe nails out, and getting castrated all at the same time.  As such this is a government that has significantly lost touch with the people they represent since Wynne has taken over, and is obsessed with narcissistic behaviors rather than concrete viable policy.  It’s time for the Liberal Party of Ontario to re-boot its leader, and clean out the desks of the kids in short pants.

UPDATE: August 15th, 2016 10:45pm:

The Ontario Autism Coalition has just released a press release in which it is demanding an apology from the Minister of Children and Youth Services for misinforming parents, and will be holding protests outside the Minister’s office tomorrow.  In my view this also raises very serious questions as to why the speaker of the legislature today shut down Patrick Brown on asking the government why they have misinformed parents.  From the Ontario Autism Coalition press release:

 “It’s about openness and transparency,” says OAC President Bruce McIntosh, “and it’s also about trust. What little trust that may have existed (between the Liberals and the autism community) has been seriously shaken … by the news that a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was used to enable the government to promote and disseminate a false version of expert advice.”

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Are Ontario’s Service Providers Siphoning Money From Autistic Kids?

I’ve had several parents come up too me with their stories since last week’s post on my son’s situation.  There seems to be a large number of fights and battles with regional service providers like Kinark across the province that manage services for kids with autism too get kids the services they need.  It’s important to note that these service providers fall within direct oversight of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.  The Ontario Autism Coalition has been fielding complaints from parents regarding these service providers as well.  Too simply state that my son’s situation is an isolated incident would be to undermine the enormity and severity of some of the problems parents are reporting to advocates regarding regional service providers across the province. Kinark has been named one of the top three worst service providers in the province for parental complaints by the Ontario Autism Coalition.

In 2006, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s spouse Jane Rounthwaite worked as a consultant with Kinark.  According to ontariosunshinelist.com there was a spike in 2004 where the total number of employees at Kinark that were paid $100,000 or more reached 29.  Prior to when the Ontario Liberals took office in 2003, Kinark only had about 1 – 2 people making over $100,000.  When Rounthwaite was hired by Kinark in 2006, the total number of people employed by Kinark making over $100,000 was around 8.  In 2015 that number has ballooned to 22 people working for Kinark that are making over $100,000 (click image to enlarge):

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There was quite obviously a problem with this organizations management back in 2004 with ballooning overhead costs, in which I would think was the primary reason why the organization was looking for a contractor to “fix” the issue.  Somehow, Rounthwaite got the contract.  It’s still not clear why Rounthwaite was given that contract.  Wynne was the education minister at the time, and Rounthwaite was a principle stakeholder in the contracting company hired by Kinark.  To date the public isn’t clear on what Rounthwaite’s involvement with Kinark was.  Questions journalists had while investigating Rounthwaite’s involvement with Kinark have been repeatedly blocked by the government, and the issue hasn’t seen the light of day with the ethics commissioner for proper follow up either.

What we are seeing from an advocacy point of view;  a steady increase in people employed by Kinark making over $100,000 since Rounthwaite’s involvement, with a lot of complaints coming in regarding the treatment of eligible families for services in which Kinark oversees (full disclosure my family is one of those).

What’s worse right now is that there seems to be a lack of enforcement by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services regarding their own “guidelines”.  There seems to be a lack of legislation to hold these regional service providers in line with those guidelines and/or enforcement of these guidelines to ensure that families get the services they need.  The most recent issue that has come up, is that those parents who received money for their kids for transitional services while they wait for the new autism program to be implemented are being misled by these service providers in thinking the best option for services is to spend that money with them, instead of properly informing parents of their choices and rights to seek treatment outside of these providers as per ministerial guidelines.

There is a huge push right now in the autism movement to provide all families with immediate funding for services to get the kids what they need now while they wait for the new program too roll out.  By providing every family affected now with money to purchase services while they wait, it would be cheaper for the province in the long run, but also put the parents in charge of their kid’s therapies.  However there is also a problem that has crept up with that as well outside of many not receiving the money.

The province during its announcement to give families the support they need, upped the amount of money they were giving families for DFO to $10,000 until the new autism program would be in place.  It seems like kids over the age of 5 are not receiving the full amount (a proposal was sent to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to fix the issue yesterday), and some due to administrative issues with regional providers are ineligible to receive anything. Allegations are also surfacing by those that have received the funding that the government is tying their hands on what type of support and intensity of therapy they can receive with this money.

So as we go further down the rabbit hole, there seems to be an upset in the balance of accountability and enforcement where these regional service providers are not providing the services to the kids that need them, misinforming parents, ignoring ministerial guidelines, and what looks to be quite the issue with overhead costs of these non-profit service providers, along with government tying the hands of parents who are looking outside these providers for services with money provided to these families by government until the new program rolls out.

Pile on the fact only a select few got this money to begin with in which that process for eligibility is in the hands of these providers; it becomes a sick and cruel joke on all families and kids affected by this “transition” that need support NOW! All this at the expense of Wynne trying to save a few bucks, while these regional providers run insane overhead with no accountability or enforcement under the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

The plot thickens. Stay tuned…

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China’s Artificially Created Housing Bubble In Canada Set To Burst Warnings Suggest

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It’s been no surprise that Canada has long been in a housing bubble.  Foreign investors from China have been buying up property in Canadian cities for years, and reselling them to Canadians for way more than the property is worth.  China seems to be intentionally creating a housing bubble in Canada.  What Chinese investors are doing is buying up property, and immediately reselling the property to the highest bidder even before the closing date of the first sale.  This cycle can repeat as much as 3 or 4 times prior to the closing date of the first buyer, artificially driving up the costs of real estate property.  There are signs that the artificially created housing bubble is about to burst.

Last month the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (Canada’s financial watchdog) stated that Canadian banks need to be stress tested against a 30% drop in housing prices, echoing concerns from the Bank of Canada in June.  Last week Chinese media has been warning investors in that country to pull out of the Canadian real estate market, and is expecting a housing crash one that could rival or even be worse than the US housing market crash of 2008.

In 2010 the director of CSIS Richard Fadden warned Canadians in an interview with the CBC that the biggest risk to Canadian security wasn’t from terror groups but from foreign powers that are infiltrating Canadian politics and influencing public servants, fueling a growing concern about economic espionage.  Little was done to correct the housing bubble by the Conservatives when they were in power.  Little has been done by the Liberals either since they have taken control of the House of Commons last year. Vancouver recently passed laws to increase taxes on foreign real estate investors to help curb the growing concern regarding this artificially created bubble, however there are a lot of doubts whether or not it will work.

Why hasn’t anything been done to completely correct this bubble and warn off concerns of economic espionage? Governments of all levels seem to be cashing in on the taxes of these sales, that’s one reason.  The other is because any major correction in the housing market could see that bubble burst with fears of major economic instability.  This leaves Canada’s economic future purely in the hands of China, in which it seems they are now moving to burst this bubble intentionally by warning off that country’s investors.

Canada shed 31,200 full time jobs last month.  While our prime minister is running around the country shirtless, there has been no word on what our federal government is doing to curb the current housing crisis it inherited from the Conservatives.  As result of the current series of warnings and years of inaction, we could be in for a very rough ride ahead.  Ontario will be hit particularity hard.  A large segment of our population, and many businesses here in Ontario can’t even afford to keep the lights on. Gas rates set to rise as well.  There also has been absolutely no word from the Ontario government on what they plan on doing to also head this expected downfall in housing prices, and economic instability as a result.

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