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Friday 17 October 2014

Ideas + 1

For the next installment of my short series on ideas to make NL a better place to live I thought I should explain the two types or levels of ideas that I like to talk about. First is the practical on the ground and generally tangible type. It could be a simple Gov program, a new funding source, a slight shift in approach or adding a new planning angle to something that is already in operation. These ideas tend to be easier to implement and cost comparatively little as well. The other type of idea is on a larger scale that could involve a significant directional shift in how we do things. This ideas can be much more difficult to implement and potentially very expensive. In this piece I'll provide one of each.

Homemade Bread to Baker's Fog 
Today I'll start with an idea that has been brewing in the back of my head for quite a long while. I have read and heard about how people feel that Newfoundland and Labrador is such a unique and wonderful place because of the unusual economic and cultural landscape that encouraged our independent and resourceful spirit. Besides a few very rural and tourism related exceptions that unique culture and the related skills are being lost at an alarming rate. I think we need to raise the level of importance of our cultural heritage and start actively preserving it.

Can you bake a batch of bread from scratch? How many students who graduated high school this year can bake bread, or knit a par of socks, split a cod, pip a squid, play an instrument, spin a yarn? Or even understand some of our basic traditions, history or language? Unless we work to continue to spread those cultural attributes they will be lost to history. Now I'm not saying that those skills are essential for survival, however they can still provide important cultural lessons and transferable skills that we should celebrate.

What we need is a Newfoundland and Labrador Cultural Institute. This NLCI could capture and offer these key aspects of our history and culture and offer them up in various formats for those who wish to learn more. I want to learn to knit, but I don't have any immediate family members who are able to teach me. What if there was a place I could turn to where I could learn to knit a pair of mitts or vamps? It could be a combination of digital and concrete resources that would act as a repository of information and a learning resource for everyone. The focus would have to be on collecting and sharing the skills, stories, history, pastimes, languages and anything else that has helped NL become the place it has become. And yes I do include Labrador specific and aboriginal specific information. Why not collect and share all that amazing cultural information? This idea needs more fleshing out and I'm certainly not clear on every detail, but I do think it is certainly worth the time and effort to take a closer look at it.

Close to Home
It seems to be the general idea that many successive governments in NL have felt that consolidating services and offices is the best choice because it saves money. I would argue that saving money is not always the primary goal of government services. So over the years as we have seen decision making bodies move further and further away from the people who are most directly impacted, we have seen both the level of service and the quality of the decisions made erode significantly. I think that what we have seen is quite the opposite of what we need. Our decision making bodies should in fact be as close to those impacted as practical, and most of my larger scale ides focus around that very theme; as local as practical.     

One of the most ridiculous moves the current Government has made that is the complete opposite of my line of thinking was the consolidation of the school boards. There was a time when important school decisions were made by those in the community where the school was located. Then it moved to a regional basis with some consultation with communities, and now local community leaders and school administrators wait together while bureaucrats in the capital region decree the latest mandated changes.

Of course the Department of Education must set main education criteria and province wide policy, but with the English school Board taking in 99% of provincial schools why do we need two giant bureaucratic administrative bodies with so much overlap? Why not just scrap the school board and let the Dept of Education handle it all? Or why not do the proper thing and go back to the sensible approach of letting local people make decisions about local schools? It may cost a little more but isn't it worth it? Healthcare and education are always chosen as the top two priorities of taxpayers, so if we're going to spend the money then why don't we get some real local value out of it?

Stay tuned...     

You can read Ideas Part I here.

Monday 6 October 2014


There are many characteristics that a good leader can possess, and one of the most important is the willingness to explore new ideas. Albert Einstein supposedly said "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." If that is indeed true then we need to change the way we seek to make our society better. We must not focus on our problems and then try to solve them, but instead look at our assets and explore what we can achieve with them.

As the next election draws near I hope we hear new ideas that will help develop and improve our society. Even a simple idea can have a profound impact over time. I have certainly voiced my share of complaints about the current government over the last number of years but on a couple rare occasions they have been willing to try something new. The highway moose detection system was actually an idea worth exploring. It should have been only a trial in one location and all additional costs should have been borne by the company who completed the installation, but it was worth exploring. We must be willing to explore and attempt new things if we hope to improve our society.

In the vein of sharing ideas in an attempt to improve our province I thought I'd post a couple of thoughts here over the next few days and see where they go.

1. Provincial Government Help Line.
Those who live in St. John's would be familiar with the 311 phone number as a first point of contact with the City. Its not always perfect but at least its a starting point for contact. Having worked with the Provincial Government and having dealt with various departments I can easily say that the key to getting proper help is knowing who to talk to. For many residents their first point of contact is their MHA's office, and while that can work it's adding an extra step that shouldn't be required. Having one contact number for the Province where you could reach an office dedicated to helping you reach the proper person or office could provide a simple direct link between residents and their government.

2. Idea Warehouse.
Even when I was a manager with the Provincial Government I found it very difficult to find any real interest in new ideas and approaches. In fact it was the continued resistance to ideas for change that eventually led me to resign. Even understanding the politicized nature of government there should always be a sincere and open forum for people to bring forward new ideas. We need every opportunity to explore every idea that could benefit us as a province. We should have a public repository where everyone is invited to submit and comment on ideas that could improve services, save money, or benefit any part of society.

3. Substitute Teachers on Retainer.
Currently substitute teachers are all tossed into a pool and schools develop a call list of teachers that the use on a semi-regular basis depending on their availability. For a few lucky teachers this can lead to good relationships with one school that can develop into replacement or even full time work eventually. Unfortunately for most substitutes it simply leads to years of jumping from school to school without any real ability to develop a proper relationship with students. What if substitutes were hired on a retainer basis with a school? They would make a base amount for being on retainer and then extra money for days when they were called into work. They would consistently be dealing with the same staff, school and more importantly the same students. It would help reduce the disruptive nature of bringing in a new substitute and help develop the teacher - student bond.

Those are the first three that I'm throwing out there for discussion. Of course they need to be developed more fully but they are a starting point of looking at some things a little differently. Could they work? I certainly think so, and I'm open to discussing any thoughts any of you might have.

Note: If you have any interesting and unique ideas you'd like to share please feel free to post them in the comments section or send them along in an email and I'll post them if you'd like.