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All In Hand

Rae Daze

Miss Vicky Tue Feb 8, 2005

You know, I'm not even sure why Bob Rae bothered to hold his "consultation". We all could have written his report before his process got started. In fact, Miss Vicky and some education policy wonk buddies sat in a local resto-bar before Christmas and discussed the likely recommendations. Lo and behold, most of our expectations were met.

Higher tuition? Check
Income Contingent Loan Repayment plan? Check
Dissmissing the concept of universality in postsecondary education? Check

All covered in a veneer of pseudo-social-democratic rhetoric, with a twist of Tony Blair? Check. And Check.

Why is it that Rae reminds me of that song "The Cat came Back".... he just wouldn't stay away.... Certainly not as long as there are Liberal governments ready to use his NDP credentials to do their dirty work. And they love to do it, too, don't they? Because it makes New Democrats squirm.

Sure, Rae's review calls for more funding. Well, duh! The system has been starved for years. And who could disagree with statements about the importance of an educated population to making Ontario and Canada more competitive? But it's the fine print of the report that worries me. And it worries student groups as well.

In addition to a renewed commitment by government, Rae makes it quite clear that he believes students should bear a greater portion of the cost of postsecondary education. His support for a tuition freeze has a time limit. And while he doesn't come out and say ICLRP, he does call for a loan repayment scheme that is "income-sensitive", dismissing years of research about the failure of such programs in other countries.

Rae also calls for the restoration of grants. Of course, Rae's government eliminated the grants program in the first place, but whatever. His report recommends such modest grants as to render the program pretty meaningless, as you have to have a family income under $35,000 to qualify. And since he also calls for deregulation of tuition, those folks who can't afford the elite universities will have to make do with the second tier institutions or the cheaper programs. Rae's rhetoric of excellence - of wanting to cultivate "the best" - is simply justification for creating a postsecondary system which privileges some institutions while starving others.

The Webgeek just asked me why I'm not posting this in Vicky's Vitriol. I dunno. Maybe because the report is still sinking in. And I want to see what McGuinty's government decides what to do with it. Because getting mad at Bob Rae is exactly what they want us to do - they picked him to do this report so they could deflect criticism on to him (a New Democrat premier, no less - I can hear them chortling in those shiny boardrooms as I type this). Well, I don't want to play that game. If McGuinty wants to implement a package of short-sighted reforms to our PSE funding and student aid regime, then he's going to have to take responsibility for it.


Vote early, vote often

Miss Vicky Tue Feb 8, 2005

I am still sifting through former Ontario premier Bob Rae's review of post-secondary education funding. Fear not, the vitriol is forthcoming!

But in the meantime, the Glib and Stale is running one of those internet poll-thingys, asking Canadians whether university education should be provided free to Canadian students. When Miss Vicky voted, it was 50/50!

So if you're reeling from Rae and drowning in despair about deregulation, vote here!

Take this yoghurt tub and....

Miss Vicky Mon Feb 7, 2005

Ok, I imagine you're all disappointed that the first piece of vitriol is about such a banal subject as recycling. But really, when you eat as much yoghurt as Miss Vicky those plastic tubs do tend to pile up. Used to be our fair city's recycling program would pick up all kinds of plastics... then last year's budget crunch hit. We were forced to reduce, but not in a good way. Plastic bags, margarine containers and other annoying plastic packaging now goes to the landfill instead of being recycled.

I didn't think the kind of Smart Growth we Ottawa folk were looking for referred to the addition of several unnecessary layers of of recyclable plastics in our landfill sites.

People got ornery. And rightly so. So the Mayor and many Councillors promised to reverse the decision for the 2005 budget. Lo and behold, I get an email today from an environmentally-minded compatriot pointing out this promise has not been met. Apparently the new budget restores funds for leaf and yard waste recycling (stuff people could be composting themselves), but not plastics.

What's up with that? I'm told by folks in the know that there are local places that can take the products. Surely it's in everyone's best interests to reduce the amount of waste we're putting out.

Rest assured, dear readers, this is only my first post on this subject. I will be writing my councillor (as should you all: you'll find the addresses here ), and doing some digging to get to the bottom of this. I still have to have a more thorough peek at the outcome of last week's budget debates (serves me right for going out of town. You just can't leave city council to its own devices, can you, citizens?)

In the meantime, if you have suggestions for creative uses for yoghurt tubs, please feel free to share them!


Adventures in the Eastern Townships

Miss Vicky Mon Feb 7, 2005

Well, my faithful legion of readers may be wondering where Miss Vicky has been the past few days.

Turns out, it's hard to blog when you're on the road for work. In this case, that thing I do for my employer took me to Quebec's Eastern Townships. It was a busy weekend with few opportunities (well, NO opportunities) to go online.

But I have to say, it was a great trip, for work-related and personal reasons. Watch the Ringing Endorsements section for some spots I discovered in my travels.

Participatory wha'?

Miss Vicky Thu Feb 3, 2005

It’s budget time in the City of Ottawa. Last year’s budget deliberations were marked by anxiety, animosity and a great deal of grassroots activity. There were large demonstrations by a coalition of groups representing the arts, social services, health care and other community groups and smaller (but vocal) expressions of discontent from taxpayers opposed to an increase in the property tax. Lawns and windows sported signs expressing support for spending on culture and actually calling for council to raise taxes.

(For a minute there, it was like the nineties never happened. Fraser Institute? What Fraser Institute?)

In the end, most folks accepted an increase in their taxes, it seems, because they value the services we get from our city. They want a strong, healthy, liveable city and that means investing in culture, heritage, libraries, child care, social services and all those other great things we urban dwellers value. It also means sharing resources and ensuring people get the support they need.

Of course, we all knew this was going to be an ongoing discussion, and the city decided to do things a bit differently this year. Through surveys, town halls and other meetings, they sought citizens’ input on budget priorities. Then another speedy round of public meetings to discuss the draft budget.

A few years ago a lot of folks were abuzz about participatory budgeting, a process used to some success in Porto Alegre and other parts of Brazil. One particular Ottawa councillor attended the World Social Forum and came back energized and ready to bring some of the lessons from Brazil back to our community. Some of that energy and enthusiasm, perhaps, fueled the city's attempts to open up the process this year. But how participatory was it, really?

I attended the first meeting hosted by my city councillor. And I have to admit, it was a little strange. It began with a presentation by city staff which was aimed at setting the context of the budget discussion. It was selective in the information it provided, however, and served to limit the scope of what we were discussing considerably. It also sent a very clear message: that the city already had a sense of what could or could not be accomplished in this year's budget, and that there was really very little we citizens could accomplish apart from agreeing to a tax increase, or some balance of tax increases and cuts, and if we wanted to cut, we were only able to discuss cuts to a few areas. The rest of the meeting we were taken through the city's budget workbook. It was hardly a forum where we could discuss creative solutions, or even indicate what it is we value about our city that we think councillors and staff should take into account as they make the tough choices ahead.

Now, there are all kinds of ways to consult, and not all of them are meaningful. I couldn't shake the feeling that this process was little more than PR, a way to manufacture consent to a predetermined outcome (a small tax increase coupled with cuts to the least politically-charged areas). So much for participatory budgeting.

Now council is debating the draft budget and the city seems to be responding with a yawn. Somehow I don't think it's because we're satisfied at the level of input or comfortable with the direction the city seems to be taking. I rather think it's because many have written off the process entirely. Another victory for cynicism.


Miss Vicky Wed Feb 2, 2005

Everyone knows February 2 is Groundhog Day. But it's also James Joyce's birthday, and the day on which Ulysses was published. The perfect day for a virtual pint at The Brazen Head, a site dedicated to all things Joycean. Or as they put it, "a ball of electronic twine to aid you in your travels through the labyrinth of Daedalus".

Ottawa is home to some fine Irish pubs. Pick one and hoist a glass. Maybe read a few passages from the adventures of Leopold Bloom to your compatriots. Would Ulysses have made Oprah's list, I wonder....?

And after a few pints of plain, who cares whether we have six more weeks of winter?


Today's TV Parable

Miss Vicky Wed Feb 2, 2005

You know that commercial for McCain Triple Chill ice cream cakes, where the big sister is doling out portions of the yummy snack to visiting friends and (much to her frustration) her little brother? She gives nice big slices of ice-creamy goodness to her two buddies, but a tiny little crumb to the bro?

(Let's put aside, for the time being, how Miss Vicky behaved toward her little brother. Although I would like to say I was always committed to sharing everything with my smaller siblings, I do know my mother reads this forum and may be moved to tell you otherwise. And we wouldn't want to shatter your image of Miss Vicky's finer qualities, would we?)

Anyway, I was reminded of that commercial by the coverage of the campaign to oppose the new same-sex marriage legislation. Sure, they say, we’re not opposed to same-sex couples making life-time commitments to each other. Just don’t call it marriage. The old “we’re all equal, but some of us are more equal than others” argument.

So if the Conservatives get their way, gays and lesbians would be handed the token crumb - a civil union - to make them think they’re getting the same slice of cake the rest of us get. Of course, in the commercial, the big sister (prompted by the semi-scolding voice-over) grudgingly hands over a big slice to match the others. She may not have liked it - heck, she may have even lost some face in front of her giggling, privileged, cake-eating pals - but she did it anyway. Because it was the just and fair thing to do. And it’s not like she had to take any of the ice cream away from her friends who already had some ... there was plenty to go around, right?

So, everyone...now it’s our turn to play the part of the voice-over. Because our government is faced with a choice - an equal slice of rights, or a tiny morsel?

Opponents of equal marriage are mobilizing, capitalizing on fear, intolerance and ignorance about what this legislation would actually mean. Canadians who value equality need to mobilize too. We need to write, phone, fax and visit our members of parliament and tell them how we feel.

Be the voice-over. Let your MP know you want our government to make sure everyone gets a big slice of cake. Even our littlest brothers and sisters.

Words that don't exist...but should

Miss Vicky Tue Feb 1, 2005

Last night we celebrated the (unmentionable) birthday of a very good friend of mine. Six fabulous women descended upon a local resto-bar for an extended multi-course supper (Miss Vicky's choices: Coquilles St-Jacques, followed by beet, goat cheese and walnut salad and steak and frites. Insert sigh of contentment here.)

As we waited for our main courses and enjoyed the house red (Italian), one of my friends (who passed on the appetizers) expressed some frustration at the time her meal was taking to arrive. Mostly, she was concerned about the amount of bread (with white bean and basil spread) she was consuming in the meantime. But she was also looking forward to tasting the trout she had ordered. We cautioned her to be patient, and the Birthday Grrl gave me an opportunity to use my favourite word-that-does-not-exist-but-should: anticipointment. As in, "you don't want to be anticipointed".

Haven't we all experienced anticipointment? That heightened sense of disappointment when something we've really been looking forward to falls far short of our expectations? Like that first kiss with someone (perhaps someone you've been wanting to date for quite some time) that just falls flat? That long-awaited new release from your favourite director with the worst casting choices imaginable? That first cup of coffee, only to have your milk curdle?

The Birthday Grrl offered up her own wanted word: thrival, a combination of "thrive" and "survival". Apparently she (unwittingly) used it at an intervention at a meeting once and has been wanting to spread it ever since.

Another one of our company offered warful, perhaps as a descriptor for George W.

So, Dear Readers, a challenge: do you have a word or phrase you'd like to introduce to the English language? Share them here!


Miss Vicky Tue Feb 1, 2005

I must admit I'm a little emotional today. I mean, this is a momentous occasion. For Miss Vicky, anyway. Of course, it poses its problems as well. So many things to consider....

What does one wear to a "launch"? Especially a virtual one? Is the boa too much?

And why call this a launch, anyway? I much prefer "debut".

And what to serve? Tea? Champagne? Cocktails?

If only my gran were here to advise me. You remember her - married to a Brigadier General, Gran was quite the hostess. She could whip up a tray of canapes with a snap of her fingers. She had a true gift. My mother tells me I've inherited what she likes to call "the gran gene" (hence my request for a food processor on my 21st birthday and my obsession with table settings). I do hope she's right.

So, dear readers, welcome to the debut of Miss Vicky's Offhand Remarks. I hope you will find this space stimulating, entertaining, diverting and challenging. And I invite you to participate. Although I admit I am a tad independent, I do hate to be the only person talking at a party. I much prefer conversation to monologue. So feel free to jump in, suggest topics, throw out questions. And please, have fun!

Now.... Tea? Champagne? or Cocktails?

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