Friday, November 04, 2005

Parks' legacy honoured

BY JENNIFER PELLEGRINI
Review Staff Writer

NIAGARA FALLS - There are a number of Ontario Heritage Foun­dation signs found throughout the Niagara Parks Commission lands, commemorating various individuals and occasions.
On Friday, it was the commission itself that received one of the blue-and-gold plaques marking its 120 years of "preservation protection" along the Niagara River.
"We couldn't be more pleased or honoured by the acknowledge­ment," said parks chairman Jim Williams, who was one of the guest speakers during the presentation. "Protecting and preserving are important parts of our mandate and to have us acknowledged for good stewardship of the parts we manage is a fine tribute for us."
The occasion was marked with a plaque unveiling and a reception for several dignitaries, including former Ontario Lt. Governor Lincoln Alexander who is now chairman of the Ontario Heritage Foundation."It's like a history lesson every time I come here," Alexander said, noting the many diverse contribu­tions Niagara Falls has made, such as Nikola Tesla's contribution to hydroelectric power and the Abolitionist movement in Canada which helped free Blacks from slavery in the United States.
The commission was first touted for its own sign in December and learned of the honour in June, said spokeswoman Sarah Wood.
Williams said while the honour was received in 2005, it belongs to everyone involved with the Niagara Parks Commission.
It belongs to anyone who has served as a chairman or as a com­missioner in the park's 120-year his­tory.
"It's really their honour, too, he said. "They left us a wonderful legacy."

SNOW REMOVAL IMPROVEMENTS A PRIORITY

More staff, new shifts, part of plan to streamline cleanup of roadways
BY ROBERT LAPENSEE
THIS WEEK
NIAGARA FALLS — More staff, new shifts and a dose of Big Brother on all city snow plows are just a few of the changes the city will be using to bring its snow removal program up to an acceptable level.
Stating its response to the seven winter storms in 2004-05 was inad­equate, staff reviewed city operations and put together a plan for 2005-06 to handle winter road maintenance, local politicians heard in a report at its community services committee meeting this week.
The winter maintenance program is the first of the city's service pro­grams to be overhauled as part of a navel gazing exercise designed to look at where the city can improve on the services it provides to taxpay­ers. A survey of residents found that only 62 per cent of those contacted were satisfied with snow clearing on roadways, and even less (46 per cent) were happy with how the city handled snow clearing on sidewalks.
Staff said a big problem was not gelling employees to respond to calls after hours when winter storms were happening In the evening. Of employ­ees called in to work overtime to clear snow from roads, six out of 10 responded. But only a fifth of employ­ees called to clear sidewalks showed up.
As part of their contract, employ­ees are allowed to refuse overtime.
"Our current response rate was unacceptable," said Dale Morton, of the city's municipal works depart­ment, during her presentation to politicians.
Staff is looking at splitting shifts, keeping its regular 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift and adding a midnight to 8 a.m. shift Monday to Friday. The shifts still leave 4 p.m. until midnight and weekends without any staffing, but Morton said in her report those can be supplement­ed with call-ins and contract workers in the event of a storm.
The report also calls for making eight former seasonal positions permanent and adding three more seasonal posi­tions, and for the use of one-person plows instead of those using a second "wing man."
"The obvious benefit is that we will have people out there already and we won't be paying overtime," said John MacDonald, the city's CAO. The city paid out about $227,000 in overtime last year.
"And while we are waiting for people to come into work, we won't have a meltdown," MacDonald said.
Routes will be standardized and optimized to improve the efficiency of operation and satellite tracking equip­ment will be installed in all winter maintenance vehicles to allow senior staff to monitor the fleet's productivity, routing and salt manage­ment through a live feed.
MacDonald said the city will spend about $43,000 more on the winter main­tenance operating budget in order to do the things proposed, like installing the satellite system.
"We hope to recoup that with our cost savings," said MacDonald.Council unanimously approved the recommendation of making the eight sea­sonal positions permanent at a cost of $21,000. Aid. Victor Pietrangelo said he was very much in favour of the standardized routes and the satellite system, adding snow removal is a "high pri­ority issue."
"I like how the account­ability here has been increased," said Pietrangelo. "There are a lot of neat fea­tures."



Tuesday, November 01, 2005

OPSEU president predicts confrontation with Liberals

BY JAMES WALLACE Osprey News Network
TORONTO - The union represent­ing Ontario college teachers has launched a campaign to force the Liberal government to allow 16,000 teachers and employees working part time in post-secondary institu­tions to join a union.
Leah Casselman, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said her union will do "whatever it takes" to change the law - including making the next provincial election campaign miser­able for Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"The existing law is unfair ... and we are telling Premier Dalton McGuinty it must be scrapped immediately," Casselman said.

Ontario is the only jurisdiction in the country that bars part-time col­lege employees from joining a union.
Casselman said her union is organizing meetings with part-time college teachers, support staff and other workers right now and will step up public pressure on the gov­ernment in coming months.
She also vowed McGuinty will face protests in "at least 24 commu­nities, probably more like 60 com­munities" in the 2007 provincial election campaign unless the current law is scrapped.
"I'm talking about Mr. McGuinty's big issue - post-secondary educa­tion, he wants it to be one of his flagship issues," Casselman said.
"Well, this is the big, burning hole right in the middle of it, so we will be there unless they take action."
Improving post-secondary educa­tion is a major part of the McGuinty government's ajenda and the gov­ernment's significant investments in this area will play a prominent role in Liberal re-elecion plans.
However, Chris Bentley, the minis­ter responsible for training, colleges and universities said the provinceisn't currently considering changing the law to allow part-timers to unionize. I
"Our record with respect to post-secondary education to invest in colleges and universities
"Right now, we are looking at how to invest the more than $130-million extra this year we're going to have for colleges!" he said.

"That will allow colleges to improve the quality of education and it will allow colleges to make longer-term commitments to their programming and to the people who teach.
"I think that's the right direction to proceed in," Bentley said.
Casselman said while the Liberals are investing in "bricks and mortar," more money needs to be dedicated toward improving classroom condi­tions.
"From an economic point of view, we want to keep jobs in those com­munities, good jobs," Casselman said, noting 24 Ontario communi­ties have colleges and many more are home to satellite campuses.
Casselman said part-time teachers don't have the same job protection as full-time employees and are often forced to teach bigger classes.
The province has allowed colleges to expand the use of part-time teachers. Casselman predicts over time, classroom standards will erode, despite record new investment.
Unless the government changes its mind about unionization and part-timers, Casselman predicted increasing confrontation.
"There will be an election in about a year and a half," she said. "This will certainly be one of those front burners for this government coming up to that next election."


James Wallace is the Queen's Park bureau chief for the Osprey News Network. Reach him at jwailace@ospreymedia-group.com or at www.ospreyblogs.com.