Canadian Commentary: Society

Hats Off: Good Ideas

1999

So often, the media focuses on criticizing bad ideas and reporting disastrous events - and this site is no exception. Every so often, however, someone comes up with what is simply a good idea, or does something that truly makes the world better, or at least more interesting (which is almost as important). The rest of this site is focused on meting out criticism where it is needed; this page is be dedicated to spreading praise where it is due.


B.C. Premier Glen Clark has recently instituted a pilot program in which University students will have their tuition fees covered if they do volunteer work in the community for a certain number of hours. It is a great idea - it increases accessibility to university, it provides community groups with energetic, enthusiastic and intellingent assistance, and it gives students valuable experience which will both expand their horizons and help them get employment when they graduate.

Hats off to Glen Clark.


One of the best things about the London Underground (subway system) is their "Poetry on the Underground" program, in which short poems are put in the advertising spaces in subway cars. This program has now been introduced in Toronto by various thoughtful and enlightened parties in conjunction with the TTC. Poetry is perfect for a subway, where the eyes and mind are desperate to be occupied by something. It is short, but entertaining, and yields more and more beauty and meaning the more it is read (i.e. the longer the subway ride is). At the same time, the program exposes a wide variety of people to Canada's sadly obscure poetic tradition. I, frankly, had no idea our poets could be that interesting - so far, all of the poems I've seen have been enjoyable or thought-provoking. An appropriate bonus is that many of the poems are about Toronto, and a few even mention individual subway stations. TTC rides now have the potential to be enjoyable rather than simply useful.

Hats off to the TTC and everyone else involved.


Volkswagen deserves everyone's thanks for the introduction of the new Beetle. Over the last two decades, cars have become ever more dull and similar, all trying to achieve a certain "aerodynamic" look. Even the sports cars that used to have distinctive features, such as Jaguars and Mercedes, had begun to blend together. The Beetle not only makes our roads interesting again, but it shows that truly original and interesting design is in demand and will bring rewards to the company that invests in it. With any luck, other car companies will follow suit, and our roads will be graced with genuine variety again.

Hats off to Volkswagen.


John Kelly, CEO of a Canadian software company, has proposed a way of addressing the problem of Canadian students, educated at taxpayer's expense at Canadian universities, heading off to the States to work as soon as they graduate, lured by high salaries and big signing bonuses: if students leave Canada before they've worked here for four years, they should have to pay back the subsidies they received for their education. The proposal needs some work, but its basic principle is fair. After all, Canadian taxpayers subsidize university expecting to develop citizens who will contribute to Canada in return. If American firms end up benefitting, Canadians should be reimbursed. Furthermore, the high salaries and bonuses available in the U.S. are precisely a response to the fact that U.S. graduates will have high student loans that need to be repaid. To ask Canadian students getting these salaries to repay their education costs would simply level the playing field.

On the other hand, Canadian high-tech firms also have some contributions to make to the problem. Most of them don't actually hire graduates right out of college, instead requiring several years' experience. The proposal would not work unless Canadian firms changed their habits. Furthermore, it is hard to see why Canadian firms cannot simply offer more competitive salaries, since they are basically operating in the same market as the U.S. firms. The proposal would only be fair if the Canadian high-tech industry met the students half-way.

Despite the reservations, though, hats off to John Kelly for putting the proposal on the table.


Evelyn Waugh's grandson, Alexander, has launched a venture in Britain to sell pocket-sized copies of short stories in vending machines. This is a marvellous idea. Short stories are often written to stand alone, and easily available, short, inexpensive writing - something to read on a short journey or during a necessary wait, that can be kept in a pocket (unlike a magazine) and pulled out when needed - would be terrifically useful. Furthermore, the short story has been in decline as a literary form for years, largely because it lacked an appropriate medium, and this venture should help to revive it.

I hope the venture makes its way to Canada soon. Canada has many very good short story writers, and anything that increases the availability of good writing, especially good Canadian writing, is to be welcomed.

Hats off to Alexander Waugh and his associates.

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