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Learning from the past

Recent debate regarding proposed unpaid Fridays for civic employees as a means to balance the city's budget is very different than consideration of the very same subject matter 20 years ago.

In 1993, the former Filmon government passed legislation imposing 10 days without pay, so-called Filmon Fridays, on provincial employees. The legislation enabled the same treatment on the broader public sector, including the City of Winnipeg.

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CUPE Local 500 and the city sat down to discuss the budget pressures of the day. Both parties rejected the option of reducing services to the citizens of Winnipeg. We arrived at an agreement that addressed both parties' needs and did not include forced days off without pay.

As discussed in your June 22 editorial Wyatt Fridays?, there are other options to consider, chief among them, in my view, is dialogue between the city and its unions, versus the less-thought-through approach we are currently witnessing.


Canadian Union of Public Employees



CUPE Local 500 City of Winnipeg employees did receive a 6.6 per cent increase in salaries and benefits, but over a period of four years, not all in one year.

In 2011, union employees accepted a zero per cent increase. It appears to me that civic employees deemed "non-essential" are once again the scapegoats for previous City of Winnipeg budget decisions.

Ask Calgarians which civic services they deem "non-essential."




Depending on bees

Re: Insecticide killing off bees: study (June 24). Bee health is an important issue and one the plant science industry takes very seriously. Our industry depends on bees to pollinate many of the crops our products are designed to protect. Bees and pesticides both play a vitally important role in agricultural production, ensuring that we have a healthy, abundant and affordable food supply in Canada.

Seed treatment insecticides have been used safely in Canada for more than a decade. These products offer significant advantages; they are targeted and applied directly to the seed limiting any exposure to non-target organisms while providing valuable protection to the crop.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that neonicotinoid residues are not a significant factor in overall bee health decline.


CropLife Canada



It certainly comes as no surprise that a study that points to neonicotinoid as causing a higher mortality rate for bees is being pooh-poohed by its producers and sellers of the product as being anecdotal.

For those of us old enough to remember, DDT opponents were vilified by the maker of DDT as being alarmists and fear mongers who had no scientific evidence to back up any claims.

We all know now how that turned out. DDT has been banned for years, and rightly so. Now the same kind of thing is happening again. A big chemical company is selling a product that threatens an insect whose presence is absolutely necessary to help produce various crops.

We got along fine before neonicotinoid, but we won't get along fine without bees.




Calculators have downside

In his June 21 letter, Right idea of math, wrong way to get there, Neil Dempsey, who seems to be opposed to all standard algorithms, declares the long-division algorithm to be arcane and ill understood. Instead, he recommends the use of the calculator.

That puzzles me. I do not understand how the calculator works. I know there are mysterious circuits inside, but I have never seen a circuit diagram, and I am not sure I would understand it if I did. Does this mean I should not be using the calculator either?

The calculator and the algorithm both produce answers. I agree that the typical student in Grade 4 or 5 does not understand how either of them work. However, when students use the long-division algorithm they get to review and reinforce all the number facts, and also practise a lot of estimation. When using the calculator, all they get is the answer.

There is also a good chance that they will eventually understand how the algorithm works. The understanding of concepts deepens as we continue to use them. Many understand the division algorithm for the first time in Grade 10 when they learn how it can be used to divide polynomials. There is less chance that they will some day understand how the calculator works.

That is not to say that I am opposed to the use of the calculator. There is a time for doing calculations by hand, and a time for using calculators. Many higher level examinations (such as the Grade 12 standards test) have a calculator section and a non-calculator section. That is very reasonable.

My years in education have taught me to be suspicious of those who take extreme positions, declaring one thing good and another bad, refusing to recognize that both have merit. All too often the best practices of today are firmly condemned tomorrow.




Falling behind on transit

The continuing saga of drama regarding the frustrations around the university transit line point to the political ineptitude of our municipal government. For years, we've argued about the merits of light rail, adopted by dozens of North American cities, versus bus rapid transit, a cheaper alternative.

In light of that, we've suffered delays on this project. We now look like a second-class city, and the cheaper and inadequate project has yet to even be completed.

I'm not surprised that the province has failed to step up to fund a project that is lacklustre and is unlikely to efficiently move Winnipeggers across our fair city. This incarnation of city council should move to shift the focus to LRT, gain the appropriate funding and begin construction on not only the university lines, but the other lines outlined in Our Winnipeg, the city's master-planning document.

Winnipeg needs political leadership on this issue if we want to be considered a world-class city, and that time is now, more than ever before.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2013 A14

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