The Art of Conversation

Since I began blogging initially for the municipal election back in 2006; I’ve met a tremendous number of people with experiences to share and stories to tell.

While I note the irony while I blog , tweet and cross post this entry to Facebook; it was the personal face-to-face contact with the people who make up our great city that enriched my own experience.  

In a day and age whereby communication has been diminished to 150 words or less; or updates on the status of painting one’s toe nails – the art of communication is being lost – along with common decency and respect.

I will not stand on a pulpit and preach as some are apt to do, for I am equally guilty of this from time to time as I fire-off an emotionally charged response before considering the impact it may have.  In the electronic age, it is all too easy to launch a missive – factually based or not – and continue to play Bejeweled or Farmville oblivious to the impact our hastily written words have had.

But standing face-to-face with someone sharing their thoughts and beliefs; engaging in mutual understanding, or friendly debate – nothing comes close to this.  Body language, facial expressions, a light touch of a hand – all add meaning and depth to the near extinct art form of conversation.

Sitting in one of my communication studies classes two years ago; the discussion led to then popular Microsoft Messenger and the impact that was having upon social skills development.  When asked how I prefer to communicate, I simply said I saw no use for Messenger.  If I wanted to talk to a friend or family member, I’d call them.  Or better yet, spend a couple of hours on their front porch sipping our choice of beverage, and saying hello to neighbours.

My statement was met with the expected derision – but for me, there is something to be said for the warm welcoming voice of a loved one or friend over cold impersonal text on a glaring screen void of any emotion.

Throughout the semester I observed how my classmates interacted with each other and discussed the issues (if you can call it that).  I was astounded by what I was hearing for it may just as well have been typed in a moment of anger and sent off without thought.

Pervasive in the discussion was this sense of entitlement; that theirs was the only opinion that was right; and everyone was wrong – laced with quick little quotes from philosophers to justify their statement.  Plain and simple, end of debate.

Of course, I do not blame such applications as Facebook, Twitter, MSN, or Yahoo! – they are only a tool.  The over reliance of these tools, in my opinion, is what is causing the slow and gradual breakdown social interaction over the past decade.

If you disagree with me, that’s okay.  I’ll just Tweet your phone number to all my followers and have them call you.

But I’m sure you’d prefer if we sat down over a nice hot coffee or iced tea and actually listen to one another.

Active Children – A Community Challenge

16,500 steps per day

Carol Kosowan LL.B., B.A. (Law), B.A. (Policy)

What is the significance of 16,500 steps per day? It is the Canadian physical activity guideline recommended for children and youth. The guideline suggests that children and youth between the ages of 6 and 14 years should work toward adding 60 minutes of moderate physical activity and 30 minutes of vigorous activity to their day.  This is roughly equivalent to 16,500 steps per day.

The statistics on our children’s poor health and the consequences thereof are disturbing. The Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth  (2010), reports that excess weight and obesity are becoming more common even among children of pre-school age.  Citing national data that indicates that 15.2% of 2-5 year-olds are overweight and 6.3% of them are obese, the Report raises serious issues. Children who become obese before the age of 6 are likely to be obese through childhood and some estimates suggest that they are four times more likely than their normal weight peers to become overweight as adults.

Studies of activity levels in early years child care settings have shown that generally, children’s physical activity levels are low while their levels of sedentary behaviour are high.  “In fact, long periods of inactivity in this age group are common, with one study reporting that 89% of the day was spent being sedentary.” 

 Faced with statistics such as these, communities are increasingly expected to play a part in providing solutions to this growing problem. Ontario communities lack comprehensive programs that provide affordable after-school physical activity and healthy living instruction. Only 12% of Ontario’s children meet a daily level of physical activity that is optimum for maintaining health and fitness.

Even where good community programs exist, children from low income families are far less likely to take part in these programs since registration and equipment costs are prohibitive. A community that focuses solely on providing mammoth, centralized ice parks, ball parks or playing fields for organized sports teams puts the cost of activity and fitness beyond the reach of low income families.

Recognizing that healthy active living is a shared responsibility that must be addressed by all levels of government, community organizations, schools and health care providers, the Ontario government created the Healthy Communities Fund to provide grants for community initiatives that undertake a collective plan to provide healthy living strategies. The Fund requires coordination and cooperation across community sectors and provides more opportunities for provincial and local organizations to apply for funding.

Municipal governments, more than any others, play a pivotal role in providing facilities that will engage their citizens in a healthy living strategy. Policies at the local level not only provide programs and facilities but more importantly, shape community infrastructure. For what good is a park if it is impossible to access it? How does one walk in safety if there are no sidewalks or crosswalks in your neighbourhood? Why go to a park if there are no facilities in it that encourage active play?

 Municipalities can make the greatest contribution to healthy lifestyles simply by auditing existing and proposed new zoning by-laws and other policies using a matrix that assesses them through a physical activity lens.

Through the use of actual trials geared to all age groups, municipalities can accurately assess whether or not by-laws support or detract from opportunities to be active.

For example, a survey conducted by the University of British Columbia in 2008/2009 indicated that bike paths that are separated from traffic noise and air pollution by a physical barrier contribute to a cyclist’s feeling of safety and comfort which in turn encourages more people, especially women, children and older citizens, to cycle.   Yet, cities continue to rely on crude on-road cycling lanes that serve the small segment of the cycling population not deterred by large volumes of traffic, traffic exhaust and a well-placed sense of physical vulnerability.

Similarly, though cities create parks that are meant to provide children and families with recreational opportunities, the facilities are underutilized because they are either age inappropriate, boring, skewed toward male users or perceived as unsafe by parents because the route to the park or the conditions at the park indicate that children cannot go there or be there without their parents.

Parks and playgrounds should be tailored to the characteristics and demographics of individual neighbourhoods. Staffing playgrounds with outreach workers and recreational leaders can alleviate parents’ concerns about safety and should become the “new normal” for all park planners.

Municipalities across the country are becoming the architects of healthy living strategies that not only seek out and engage community partners, but take a creative, sometimes unorthodox approach to solving community problems that have formerly been seen as intractable. The result has been community plans that make use of local resources, even if at first blush, there seems to be no obvious link between the partners.

     Consider the ingenious solution offered by community gardeners in Portland, Oregon. Volunteers with a local organization called Youth Grow started after-school garden clubs and summer garden camps for children of all ages, dug out and planted school gardens and conducted  parent/child workshops on gardening. School grounds that normally lay fallow and unused during the summer vacation became community gardens, tended by children and their families. Not only did families learn how to grow their own vegetables, they also met many of their like-minded neighbours and shared a harvest of fresh produce.

     Municipal partnerships will necessarily be broadly based and will differ from place to place. A successful local strategy will take a population-wide approach, promote active transportation, focus on the built environment and have a continuous monitoring system in place that evaluates the successes and the failures.

     According to the The Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth  2010, municipalities get a grade of “D” for municipal policies and

regulations that address barriers to physical activity even though there is widespread official recognition that the built environment can either promote or hamper such activity. There simply has not been enough emphasis placed on using tools such as density bonuses, fee waivers, fast-tracked permits and other incentives to assist developers that meet active living guidelines for youth, families, women and seniors “aging in place”. While some communities have been leaders in this regard, most have a great deal of catching up to do.

Learning through living

Now that I am settling into my new digs at the Windsor Square, I have been pondering as to what to do with this blog space.

I want to personally thank all the individuals who have offered their support now and in the past.

Through blogging I have met many individuals who I may not have otherwise have had the priviledge to get to know.  Their insight, as well as their own perspectives, whether we agree or not, have and will continue to have an impact upon my own.

After all, that is what life in our community is really all about.

So what to do with this blogsite?

My political columns and upcoming reporting will appear on the Windsor Square which paves the way to make this blogsite a little more personal.

Even though there have been only 37 years to my life’s experience – there is a wealth of knowledge to be shared through my own experiences or encounters with with friends, neighbours and perfect strangers.

Several years ago before succumbing to long battle with cancer, a close friend of mine said to me that there is purpose, some obvious and some not so, to every random encounter we have in life.  

His last message to me before he died was to live everyday for tomorrow.

It’s such a simple statement that has a much deeper meaning for me – and I thought, what a great blog that could make.

Whether its planning issues in our city or a random encounter with a homeless man begging for change – everything that we do has an impact on another.

And whether we learn or not from these life lessons dictates whether or not we are capable of change, or doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Some will be discouraged from returning to this blogsite and that is fine.

For the rest, I hope you enjoy the ride, because I have no idea where it will lead.

So welcome to Living for Tomorrow Today – a site dedicated to sharing our collective experiences in the hopes of learning for tomorrow.

Too Much Pavement

Recent flooding of cities and towns across the world has attracted the attention of an eclectic group of environmentalists, ratepayers and municipal governments.  As our cities have expanded, natural surfaces have been covered by vast swaths of pavement and asphalt. The urban collection of wide roads, driveways and super-sized parking lots has turned our landscapes into waterslides and sluices that quickly deliver storm water overland to rivers, lakes and streams.

Our attempts to make water submit to our will have resulted in the creation of and reliance upon curb-gutter-sewer systems that are supposed to collect the rains and divert them for treatment before they enter the waterways from which we get our drinking water. Yet the legacy of curb-gutter-sewer systems is downstream flooding, erosion, effluent dumping as a result of sewer overflows and ultimately, water quality degradation. They have also been responsible for disrupting the natural hydrologic cycle, reducing groundwater recharge and stream baseflow, while turning self-cleansing systems like filtration and sedimentation into things of the past.

Other sources of water contamination such as industrial discharges, seeps from landfills and dumpings into our waterways have been the target of regulators for decades. While these traditional sources of water contamination have not been completely eradicated, programs to monitor, minimize and moderate have reduced the impact of these practices on water contamination.

But while we were busy minimizing the impact of industrial dumping, urban runoff became a significant source of water contamination. In fact, authorities now cite storm water runoff as the second-largest source of pollution for Great Lakes shorelines.

     Communities are recognizing that the “end of pipe” solutions they once relied upon are failing them in significant ways and are horrendously expensive to install and maintain. Now some communities are attempting to replicate the natural systems that existed before we covered everything with pavement and other impervious materials. These communities are incorporating urban features that retain water, such as rooftop gardens, wet ponds and dry ponds. Any early Canadian farmer or woodsman would be familiar with the techniques that are now being promoted as “green” best management practices.

Unfortunately, our understanding of these practices is sophomoric – we promote the practices without fully understanding the problem. In every municipality one can find self-styled authorities who delight in donning the environmentalist’s green hat. They call for  expanded road surfaces to provide bike lanes; green roofs that are good for moderating a building’s temperature but don’t make a dent in cancelling out the hydrologic damage caused by a Walmart parking lot; and accept without question our apparently insatiable appetite for paving over bio swales, treed lots and vegetation while eschewing helpful options like permeable pavement, eco grids and increased buffer zones as standard development requirements.

One need only look back at our historic development practices and their legacy of a sprawling network of expensive infrastructure along with the ongoing burden of maintaining and upgrading it to realize how wrong-headed our accepted practices have been. Abandoning the field to environmental dilettantes and hobbyists is no substitute for a system wide approach to earth friendly decision making.

Heading to The Square

“In a country that has allowed so many newspapers to be owned by a few conglomerates, freedom of the press means, in itself, only that enormous influence without responsibility is conferred on a handful of people. For the heads of such organizations to justify their position by appealing to the principle of freedom of the press is offensive to intellectual honesty.”

The Kent Commission, 1981


I’ve always been a big supporter of citizen journalism. 

With the mainstream media becoming increasingly concentrated  into fewer and fewer hands – alternative viewpoints are difficult to comeby on issues of importance – particularly when it comes to local news coverage.

Through my media studies at the University of Windsor, I’ve studied various models as well as outcomes of citizen-led journalism projects.  Sadly, many have failed because the entry costs into print media are so high in addition to the deep pockets of the media barons.

However, the internet – as you know since you are reading this blog – has facilitated the development of news portals and micro-media projects offering varying perspectives and at times, in-depth reporting absent in many of the smaller mainstream news outlets across Canada.

Having said this, I was approached a few weeks back about writing for The Windsor Square – and have agreed to do so.

Other than opinion; I hope to offer news coverage of local events – and more – in the weeks and months to follow.  I’ll be writing in full force beginning in September bringing local news coverage as well as opinion you have come to expect at Sound-Off with Chris Schnurr.

I’m excited about this prospect as it will only augment the information you and I have access to in Windsor-Essex.

This blog will still operate – though its focus will shift as I will concentrate my efforts at The Windsor Square on municipal politics as well as the upcoming municipal election.

So I’ll see you at The Square  – Windsor Square!

All that’s missing is the sex and video tapes

My goodness you would think the discussion as of late as to whether or not Mayor Francis would break another of his election promises from 2003 and seek a third term was on par with the Rapture.

Frankly – and I’ll be blunt – I could care less about this contrived little spectacle.  

I responded to an acquaintance of mine last month when he asked whether or not  Mayor Francis would seek a third term that of course he will – the ‘indecision’ was blatant political manipulation and the oldest campaign trick in the book – and it seems to be working.

One doesn’t have to read tea leaves to put the pieces together either. 

From the perfectly timed announcements of new investments – just months before the polls open – to council’s sellout over the “non-negotiable” tunnels of Greenlink after instilling fear about the death and destruction the W.E. Parkway would bring, miraculously resolved with a fistful of cash and 50 meters of greenspace all pointed to the predictable announcement.

However, my question from September 2009 still stands:  If not Eddie then who?  Of course, with the Windsor Star essentially endorsing the Mayor before he even announced, to me, was a dead give-away as to the strategy of the local operators of the Star.

No Mayoral candidate stands a chance with either the majority of the editorial board or their opinion columnists – though to Chris Vander Doelen’s credit, he was pretty much upfront back in April at the Candidates Information Night at Phog back in April:

Laying bare his strategy, Mr. Vander Doelen proceeded to inform potential candidates that incumbents would garner the most media attention because, “they have a name” and “that’s just how it is” in the media world. Funny how that wasn’t reported in the Star’s coverage of the night…

…That is the choice the Windsor Star has made – and a convenient one at that which was perceived that night by some as an attempt to shore up support for incumbents while casting doubt upon every single municipal candidate – unless of course they come out against our friends, neighbours, and family members. I”m sure we’ll read a lot of about those candidates.

And the proof as they say is in the pudding.  Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t read about our Mayor’s eating habits or what he bought at the grocery store considering the non-announcements announcing a future announcement.

But more revealing to me was the online star chat with the Mayor – all that was missing was the fireplace – though there was plenty of fire after the Mayor left. 

Funny that.

Unusually quiet the Mayor actually didn’t say much – however what he said spoke volumes.

On the Arena & The Cleary

Mike, here’s the reason the arena got moved to the east end, early in 2004 we were part of discussions wit the OLG and the province of Ontario and Windsor Casino Limited as it related to their plans for expansion.

In 2004, their plans did not contemplate a 100,000 sq. ft. facility and did not contemplate the Colleseum as it is today as an entertainment centre. Through our discussion with the parties we had indicated to them that if they built a proper convention centre, we would get out of the convention business and we did by transffering the Cleary to the college, which in turn brought 1,000 students downtown,

Furthermore, we understood that if the casino was going to build a 5,000 seat entertainment complex with big name acts, that city building an arena downtown would’ve been killed and 99.9 per cent of the residents would have chased us out of town for building another white elephant. So as not to repeat the mistakes of the past we came up with a plan that allowed us to mover forward with an arena on the east side, which was made financially viable by consolidating Adstoll Arena, Riverside Arena and the Edward St. Community into the WFCU Center.

Had we not done that, we would’ve spent another 30 years talking about the arena and most of the people typing in today would be saying don’t vote for the mayor because he can’t get an arena built.

I’ve never ever heard that reason uttered out of our local elected officials mouths.  In fact, quite the contrary.  

Mayor Francis said back on March 10, 2007:

“I would like to thank everyone who is involved on the city side as well on the college side,” Francis said.

All of the employees and everyone is well aware that this started a year and a half, two years ago, they came to us with an idea and thanks to the dedicated and commitment of parties on both sides of the table were able to come up with the reality today.”

And on June 15, 2006:

Mayor Eddie Francis described the negotiations as “tough” because the Cleary’s substantial annual losses were well known in the community. “We wanted to be sure the city and the college were equally getting the same benefit.”

But the city is pleased with the deal because it is one more piece in the urban village puzzle. A thriving downtown with hundreds of students will attract other businesses such as bookstores, cafes and shops.

But nope, the Mayor clarified during his online chat the real reason:

“if they built a proper convention centre, we would get out of the convention business and we did by transffering the Cleary to the college.”

As to the arena – I haven’t forgotten Mayor Francis’ pledge in 2003:

We need to revive the idea of public/private partnership for a new arena. It is the only realistic strategy available that will ensure that this project will become a reality.

The case for a new arena has been made over the past several years by numerous groups. We need to move forward, recognizing what other municipalities already know. London, Mississauga, and Sarnia all have new structures that have become successful entities and address community needs. Their example is worth noting: a multipurpose facility cannot be built by public nor the private sector interests acting alone. The synergy created by the private/public partnerships gives better service to the taxpayer, and allows a much needed multipurpose facility to be built in our City.

The partnership protects the asset to make sure that it continues to serve the community for the long term by attracting trade shows and conventions and by fostering new economic activity. It provides diversified management experience and substantially reduced taxpayer cost, and encourages a broader spectrum of usage.

A public/private partnership is the key to our arena’s ongoing success and viability. Council has already allocated the required money and land for this project – we need to aggressively seek a partner.

The required money and land for the project – some $15-million and the downtown Super Anchor Site which then morphed into paying $4-million for the land in the east end; as well as the give-away of prime riverfront property valued at $2-million to a private investor.  

This is in addition to the costs of expropriating all the land in the Super Anchor site for the purposes of an arena.

As the Windsor Star reported on June 5, 2005:

The city has earmarked $15 million for such a project but has never been able to reach agreement on either a public-private partnership or a go-it-alone project.

“I’m very cautious about being optimistic because we’ve been there before,” said Francis. “But, on the surface at least, the difference between this and other proposals is that the city in this case would be an investor and would not assume any project or operating risk.

That proposal – Project Ice-Track.

5 years later – taxpayers were on the hook for $70-million as well as project and operating risks and three arenas that remain unsold and a current arena not meeting financial expectations. 

 Unfortunately, I was proven correct as was Chris Kruba of Project Ice Track:

Kruba said the group hired the auditors Sept. 23, the day after the arena report was released, because the information contained in the report was disturbing. For instance, the Ice Track group did not understand why its proposal for a one-time payment of $15 million from the city was lumped in with the cost to build an east end facility to serve community ice needs in Riverside and Adstoll. By being dragged into that scenario, the $15 million cost of the Ice Track Project shot up to $48 million.

“As soon as we received the administration report we thought it was suspect,” Kruba said. “One of the reasons we wanted to get out of this is because we didn’t want to be part of the process if it was a flawed process.”

Mmm.  $48-million versus $70-million – a number project ice-track floated as to the cost of the city’s go-it alone initiative:

The report says the Collavino proposal “that Mayor Eddie Francis has been publicly promoting” as returning an approximate $500,000 profit “will actually result in a net loss to taxpayers” of about $1.6 million.

Capital costs of the proposal will be almost $70 million, which is about $15 million higher than stated in the arena report.

But the real reason the arena went to the east-end:

“We understood that if the casino was going to build a 5,000 seat entertainment complex with big name acts, that city building an arena downtown would’ve been killed.”

No mention of that publicly in the great arena debate.

On the Ambassador Bridge

Obviously, there are some people who read my blogs – more specifically, my blog entitled, Twinning by Stealth?

One commentator wrote:

This is of great concern sir can you please tell us if you have been twinning the Ambassador Bridge by stealth?  Do you have further plans for Huron Church from Mill st. to Industrial Drive?

Well, not quite what I wrote as my concerns were directed at the Federal Government, however the Mayor’s answer to this question was most intriguing:

I haven’t had to anything vis a vis the Ambassador Bridge. They haven’t filed the paperwork and the city isn’t the one that approves the permits for the Ambassador Bridge, that’s federal.

Good to know the Mayor finally understands the International Bridges and Tunnels Act.  But what I found intriguing about his response was the total and complete cop-out reminiscent of the sell-out of Greenlink.

And strangely silent on the issue given his stance of over three years ago with respect to a possible twinned Ambassador Bridge:

When you consider the environmental impacts, the cultural impacts, the neighbourhood impacts, the community impacts, it doesn’t work.

If it doesn’t work for the private sector, it won’t work should the Federal government purchase the Ambassador Bridge and twin it to meet up with the US side’s gateway project that can accommodate two spans.

Unfortunately for the commentator, the Mayor left the scene at 1:30 – just before the really interesting questions surfaced.

You didn’t answer my question, with the demise of the tourist info and the location of boarded up Edison homes and widening prince road and the bridges allready built plaza and approach ramp are you saying you know nothing of twinning the bridge by stealth? Please answer.

But an even more interesting statement was the following with respect to the boarded-up homes on Indian Road:

Indian Road homes — It is despicable and deplorable that the Ambassador Bridge as a corporate citizen would use their property, that they own, to attack people’s right to live in a safe, appealing neighbourhoood and community.

ON a number of occasions, we have invited the bridge to come forward with a plan and apply for a demolitio permit so this issue could be dealt with.

They refused.

Just last week, the Ambassador Bridge asked for a delay in a September OMB hearing so as to wait for the matter to court. This is the most depicable form of blockbusting that we’ve seen.

However, according to my inside sources – the city agreed to the delay – nice try Mayor Francis – but why?

Gee – I know, because the city has conducted and created a Heritage Conservation District through a bylaw  that encompasses some of the homes owned by the Ambassador Bridge Company.

I would think allowing these “heritage homes”  to be torn down would place the city in quite the legal predicament because how can the city claim heritage value of the homes and then allow them to be torn down?  That would make a mockery of council’s actions and bring into question the purpose then of including homes owned by the Ambassador Bridge Company in the Heritage Conservation District.

This is the primary reason why I could care less if the Mayor announced or not. 

I’d rather focus my attentions on supporting new councillors with new ideas and more importantly, a back-bone to keep in check any individual who assumes the Mayoral chair.

Because in the end, from my perspective, the Mayor has been permitted to manipulate, divert and divide the electorate by at least 6 willing members of council.

Dear Margaret Wente…

Over the years you have written a boxful of articles on how our school system has failed to fulfill one of its most basic mandates – teaching children how to read. I have quietly agreed with you every time, cut out the articles and stored them away in the aforementioned box, always meaning to write you about my own painful experience with the school system.

When my daughter began grade school, she began as most children do, full of that mixture of fear and curiousity with which children usually approach the world. Since she was a bright, funny child, I assumed that she would make her way through school without any problems, learning to read, write and ‘rithmetic with the rest of them.

When she was in Grade Two, it became clear that something was going wrong. My daughter could not recognize simple three letter words, and she could not sound them out because she was completely unaware that certain letters made a certain sounds. She would make a great show of reading to me, and since she was blessed with a prodigious memory, she could “read” a book verbatim after I had read it to her once or twice.

Proudly she would rattle off the stories in her Dr. Seuss books. The real test came when I stopped her, pointed to one particular word and asked her what that word was. Of course she didn’t know. So I would suggest we sound it out together. That was the heartbreaking part. Somehow this child, obviously capable of listening, understanding and memorizing, had not been taught the basic code that one needs to learn in order to be able to read.

Thus began my crusade against the Provincial Government’s stubborn insistence that somehow, they knew how to teach children how to read. If they could not teach a child who was avid and had above average intelligence, I reasoned, clearly something was wrong with their methods or their assumptions, probably both.

Before I came to that conclusion I of course approached my daughter’s teachers – the front line troops who, believing that one year of teacher’s college magically turns them into professional educators, have a tendency to treat Moms and Dads like they are utter morons. “Don’t worry” they would say, “children learn at their own pace. Your daughter is just a little slower than the rest of the class.”

Like most parents, I am an authority on my own child. I cared for her, played with her, spoke to her, cuddled her and interacted with her for many years before she started school. If I knew anything, I knew what she was capable of. When my daughter passed into Grade Three, vocabulary and spelling became the new enemies that she confronted every day. If she could not sound out words to read them, how could she spell them? Hours of our family time were now being consumed preparing for the spelling test every Friday. I would devise new ways to improve upon her poor scores – I invented games, offered rewards, threatened and cajoled – to no avail.

I contacted my Member of Provincial Parliament, I wrote to a succession of education Ministers, I accosted them at functions – regardless of their political stripe I wanted to know why the school system was unable to teach children how to read. During my campaign I became aware that I was not the only one who was going through this particular hell. As I started being more vocal about the problem, I found more and more parents who agreed with me. Not that that impressed the many government members that I had words with. They seemed supremely unconcerned about my tale of woe.

In the meantime, my daughter was running out of time. As a result of her desperate struggle to read and spell, she had been placed in a remedial reading program at school. This was the best solution that the Ontario school system could offer my daughter, but it became very clear, very quickly that this program was not “remediating” her problem at all – it merely placed her in a downward spiral of ineffective methods that were not moving her forward.

One day, as I was reading the Globe’s Report on Business magazine I came across an article about a small company on Canada’s East coast called SpellRead (Phonological Auditory Training) Their program is based on the idea that the best way to learn language skills such as reading and spelling requires that students be taught to use the 44 individual sounds of the language. These are called ‘phonological skills’. They are rarely acquired naturally, even by those who have English as their first language. Phonological skills must be explicitly taught.

The skills that Spell/Read offered sounded suspiciously like the skills that my daughter needed. After further investigation I took her out to Halifax to be tested. Not only did they assure me that my daughter was bright and capable of learning, they guaranteed that she would learn with the Spell/Read system. The cost was substantial, but I was prepared to give up much so that my daughter could read. Over the course of two summers I took my daughter out to the East coast, where we lived while she took their program.

That ten-year old girl, the one that the Ontario school system could not teach and indeed had given up on, has just graduated from high school, is completely bilingual and has been admitted to the University of Toronto with a 93.7% academic average. She has won a coveted spot at U. of T’s Trinity College, writes and directs plays in French and English and remembers all too well the shame and confusion she felt when she realized that she could not read and no one seemed to care.

As for me, I still wonder why I pay taxes to support an education system that cannot teach every single child how to read well. It is the sine qua non of education. Even though the Ontario Government’s own Early Learning Strategy recognized the importance of phonemics back in 2003, there was no definite requirement to use it. The result is a system that allows individual teachers to apply curricular tools as they see fit. (

Allowing this much discretion to individual teachers is a discussion for another day and thankfully, it is not my battle to wage. But my daughter’s story is a cautionary tale to other parents who would be taken in by the oily assurances of government ministers and their puffed-up “experts”.