Getting it right at the ballot box

Why do we continuously see governments that break their promises? Why are tuition fees rising, even though 80 per cent of Ontarians believe that post-secondary education is already too expensive? Why is our government failing to take on climate change, despite the overwhelming support for decisive action by the vast majority of Canadians? To put it bluntly, why are our voices being ignored by our elected officials?

The answer to these questions is simple: our electoral system is broken. Currently, we elect our representatives through a system called First Past the Post—or for those policy wonks, SMDP—a winner-take-all system where your vote doesn’t count unless you voted for the winning candidate. For most of us, that means our vote doesn’t count most of the time. In other words, the most cherished principle of representative democracy is consistently broken. The idea that every citizen has an equal voice, and that every citizen has the right to representation, is simply not refl ected in our current voting system. We have a democratic defi- cit, and it starts at the ballot box.

In the last provincial election, the Liberals got less than half the popular vote, but they were rewarded with 70 per cent of the seats in the legislature. In that election, millions of Ontario voters went to the polls demanding a different way forward; instead, the system created a phony majority government. In effect, approximately two million Ontario voters, or half the voting population, cast a wasted vote. The same broken system exists at the federal level. In 1993, the federal Progressive Conservative Party earned 16 per cent of the nationwide vote and received only two seats in the House. In 2006, the Bloc Québécois won 51 seats with 1.6 million votes, while the NDP received 2.6 million votes and won 29 seats. The results speak for themselves: every Bloc vote was worth more than four NDP votes. Clearly, when we operate in a system that systematically ignores the expressed will of the voters, it’s time to rethink our approach.

In 1865, political scientist Ernest Naville remarked that “the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all.” In an age of political revolution, it was a timely statement. Yet today in Ontario, over 100 years later, Naville’s statement has yet to be realized. We need to create a system of government that is truly representative and can legitimately claim to have a mandate from the people.

Fortunately, times are changing. Last year, 103 randomly selected Ontarians came together under the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to devise a better system. Following the lead of 75 other advanced democracies, the Assembly is recommending that we bring proportionality into our voting system. More specifically, they’re suggesting that we adopt a mixedmember proportional (MMP) system. Under the new system, you’ll get to cast two votes: one for your local MPP and one for the party of your choice. With the new system, your vote will never be wasted—every vote counts.

The opportunity for change is rapidly approaching. On October 10, Election Day, you can make history. The new proposed voting system is going to referendum, finally allowing the majority of Ontarians to have a say over how we elect our politicians. Support for MMP is growing from across the political spectrum. Hugh Segal, Stephen Lewis, Ed Broadbent—even Sylvia Bashevkin, the principal of University College—have lined up in support. More importantly, grassroots organizations from across the province are working hard, getting the message out, and mobilizing for change.

With the momentum building, now is the time for action. Get involved with the UTSU campaign on electoral reform, or visit voteformmp. ca. This is our best opportunity to fix our distorted, broken, and archaic voting system.

A vote in favour of MMP won’t fix every problem. It won’t automatically make our schools better, clean our air, or take guns off the streets. It will, however, return us to the principal of majority rule. It will bring more women and minorities into the legislature, and it will force governments to produce policies and legislation that our society demands. By voting for MMP, we’ll create a better government, and that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

A dangerous shift in control

In October 1992, our political, academic, and media elite united behind a fundamental change to the foundations of our democracy. But after a mostly one-sided campaign, Canadians, displaying greater foresight and a better sense of reality than their leaders, voted “No” to the Charlottetown Accord.

Fifteen years later, the elite are again united behind a fundamental change. And I suspect that after this mostly one-sided campaign, Ontarians will exercise similar good judgment and vote “No” to proportional representation.

The basic argument in favour of a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system is well known: the percentage of votes a party receives will roughly equal its percentage of seats. In this way, MMP is said to give voters more “control.” But that control is mostly illusory.

Who we send to the legislature is, of course, important. But what really matters is what those people do when they get there. This is something that supporters of MMP neglect to discuss. Instead they have list after list showing the difference between vote share and seat share in Ontario elections in the 1950s or between women in Parliament in New Zealand (32 per cent) and in Ontario (25 per cent). To supporters of MMP, electoral systems are merely about who the politicians are.

Here in the real world, electoral systems are concerned with how our province is governed. In Ontario, as in any democracy, government is about compromises. Under our current system, the voters decide these compromises; to get elected, parties must appeal to a wide range of citizens by creating platforms that are at once coherent and unifying. In an MMP system, by contrast, parties get themselves elected by carving out core bases of support and then defending that group’s unique interests. Compromise gives way to politicians horse-trading in back rooms. This is a dangerous shift of control from voters to politicians— one that could do irreparable harm to Ontario’s democracy.

The shift will have important ideological implications as well. Currently, parties cannot run on ideas that are vastly unpopular amongst the majority of the population. If they did, they would force too many people out of their “big-tent.” Under MMP, more “ideologically pure” parties will form and elect members. Because the support of those parties will be required to maintain coalition governments, they will be in a position to demand legislation that the majority of the population opposes. Instead of being governed by big parties with moderate positions on all issues, our province will be governed by patchwork coalitions with extreme positions on at least some issues. Which extremes on which issues? That will be decided by the politicians.

Voters will lose authority under MMP in numerous other ways. One of the great virtues of our current system is that no matter how powerful politicians are, every four years they must answer to about 110,000 individual Ontarians. To maintain the confidence of their constituents, these politicians must knock on doors, go to barbeques, speak in schools, attend community festivals, and generally remain in touch.

MMP’s party list members would face no such constraints. While opponents of MMP are probably wrong to suggest that the list candidates would be a bunch of party hacks, it is true that they would be free to coast for four years at Queen’s Park before riding the coat-tails of their party to re-election. MMP shifts power from voters to politicians and from individual representatives to party leadership.

MMP is not guaranteed to deliver all the practical benefits its supporters promise. It will not make more people vote: in New Zealand, voter turnout improved by three per cent in the first MMP election, but fell nearly 10 per cent below pre-MMP levels in the second and has still not recovered. It will not eliminate the problem of liking the party but not the local candidate: what if you like the party but not the list candidate? It will not eliminate strategic voting: supporters of parties that rarely get topped off with list seats will cast their second ballot strategically. It will remain true that in politics we can’t always get what we want.

MMP assumes that if we send political parties to Queen’s Park in the right proportions, everything else will take care of itself. Fortunately, voters recognize that it’s not the politicians that matter in a democracy, but the compromises we make with each other. On October 10, we must refuse to cede control of our democracy.

Losing our religion

Ready, set…suck! Yup, it’s that time of year again. The time when Torontonians are rewarded with rising seat prices for their loyalty to a perpetually inefficient product. No, I’m not talking about the seemingly annual TTC fare hikes. I’m speaking, of course, of the start of the NHL season for our Toronto Maple Leafs.

Starting in October, die-hard and fair-weather fans alike will once again don their blue and white jerseys and swear to anyone within earshot that this will be the year the Leafs bring home the Stanley Cup; our losing season last year was an aberration, but this year will be different. Leafs fans will point to some new addition to the lineup, or a key trade, or a healthy Matt Sundin as evidence of ensuing glory. Then, when April rolls around and our heroes find themselves out in the cold, the old familiar excuses and clichés will circulate—“we’ll get ´em next year!”—and the cycle of mediocrity will continue, while ticket prices continue to skyrocket.

All of this begs the question: are the Leafs still relevant, or are they a relic of a bygone era, an anachronism in a time when the Raptors and Toronto FC are increasingly capturing our collective imagination? New York has the Yankees, Dallas has the Cowboys, and Los Angeles has the Lakers. A sports team should play a special role in representing the city’s phallic pride and testosterone, especially now that we are no longer home to the world’s tallest free-standing structure. Thanks, Dubai.

Historically, hockey culture in Toronto has played a vital role in pumping lifeblood into the city’s heart, especially during the glory years of the 1940s and 1960s. In the firewagon days of the 1980s, the Leafs sucked, but always played with passion and thus were endearing—a sort of Bad News Bears on ice. These days, with the omnipresence of corporate sponsorship gutting sports culture of its romanticism, when nostalgic names like SkyDome and Maple Leaf Gardens are replaced by the sterile ones like Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre, the Leafs have become little more than a successful business venture. Between 1998 and 2006, the Leafs franchise increased its revenue by 147 per cent, while player expenses increased only 65.3 per cent. Sticking it to loyal fans who will pay to see the Leafs play no matter what isn’t sadistic—it’s good business.

Although Toronto teams like the Blue Jays and Argos have enjoyed recent success, they have never quite dominated our sports culture the way the Leafs have. But the Raptors and Toronto FC offer an exciting alternative to the Leafs, showcasing two sports—basketball and soccer—that better represent the city’s multiculturalism and diversity.

As a die-hard hockey fan, I cringe at the suggestion that some lesser sport will take the place of hockey. However, if all the Leafs have to offer are high prices and certain failure, maybe that isn’t such a bad idea.

Culture Vultures

Now in its second year, Toronto’s annual allnight art expo brought out hundreds of thousands of nocturnal revellers with installations that left The Varsity both inspired, and a little underwhelmed (not to mention sleep deprived).

Event Horizon (Front Campus)

This was, by far, the fakest UFO crash I’ve ever witnessed. While the actors in character and the emergency response vehicles were well-done, the subject of the whole installation— the downed alien spaceship—just didn’t look cool or real enough. If you looked closely you could tell it was made out of painted wood, which doesn’t fly in space—or with me. A great idea, it’s too bad they couldn’t quite land it. —JORDAN BIMM

Deeparture (Isabel Bader Theatre)

This piece was completely compelling. I normally find video art installations to be fairly uninteresting, but watching a deer and a wolf in such an artificial environment really captured it for me. The focus of this short was not on the power dynamic between predator and prey, but on forcing the audience to reconstruct their perception of the “natural” environment in which we usually see these animals. I loved it. —MM

Three Readings (Hart House Squash Courts)

Did I miss something here? Entering squash courts and expecting them to look like a lecture hall, I found only a speaker producing the sound of… a squash game? Seriously? What could have been a clever re-assignment of space (culture jam style) was a disappointing installation that didn’t make me think of anything except my irritation at sound art. —MM

The Ghost Station (Lower Bay Station)

If you were willing to wait in the long line-up, it was totally worth it to see this hidden piece of urban Toronto folklore. Seeing so many people taking an interest in their city made this one of my favourite exhibits. —MM

Aurora Readiness Centre (Faculty of Architecture)

When you walk in and see helpful pamphlets on how to survive a nuclear attack, it is at once a comical and depressing experience. Then there’s a 1960s civil defense video, produced by the city of Toronto, that only heightens those feelings. (Duck and cover!) Patrons were invited to contribute paintings of their own about the nuclear world, making this a great experience for viewers and another of my favourites. —MM

Nightless City (Church & Wellesley) In fine fashion, this was a huge street party— complete with red lights and leather-clad window-dancing sadomasochists. The “gaybourhood” is always a good time if you’re out on the town, but it was exceptionally fun for Nuit Blanche. The lines to get into clubs were long, but the best part was out on the street anyway. Whip me and pour hot wax on my chest: this was a great time! —MM

Transmutations (H. G. Phelan Playhouse)

If you were one of the lucky ones who got to see the work of Atom Egoyan’s master class, congratulations! The performances on the verandah outside were respectable, but not overwhelming. I felt the performers were hampered by the video that was playing in the background, and would have preferred more scene work from the actors and less focus on a poorly integrated video. —MM

Night School (Hart House)

Most of the installations were lackluster, although Slow Dance With Teacher was a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to hear soft rock favourites blasted in the Great Hall? The rest, though, were conceited, and relied on free food early in the night to attract crowds. I had high hopes from the great exhibition here last year, but I was disappointed this second time around. —MM

Emergency Room Recruitment Centre (UC Art Centre)

Visitors were asked to write something they consider an emergency on a bandage that was then tied around their head. EERC gets top marks for trying to make visitors into artists, but when audience participation doesn’t reach critical mass, the situation is just awkward.— JC

Balloonscape (The Eaton Centre)

A fun idea, if underwhelming, this blob of tied-together tube balloons was smaller than I expected, though a photo of it now has pride of place as my desktop background. —JC

Femmebomb (Lisgar & Queen)

The parts of the Beatrice Lillie Health Centre that peeked through its one-night-only cladding of pink fabric and crochet looked more ominous than usual. Beyond that, though, neither the use of the domestic arts as a medium nor its subsequent association with the feminine seemed entirely meaningful. —JC

Incursion (Dovercourt & Queen)

Easily one of the highlights of the night, Craig Walsh proved the success of a simple concept done well. A film projected onto the inside of a storefront window, viewers on the street thought they saw gigantic fish overtaking an everyday landscape—exactly the visually mesmerizing incursion Nuit Blanche is supposed to be about. —JC

Abomasum (Trinity-Bellwoods Park)

What was more intriguing, the chocolate stag sculpture or the crowd, vegetarians among them, ravenously eyeing this big horned bonbon? Cries of “Kill it!” “Why do you have to do that?” and “Butcher the hecklers!” made the wait for my own taste of chocolate venison entirely worth it. —JC

Canard Development Group (Courtyard at McKinsey & Co., 110 Charles St. W.)

This representation of a mobile sales office (a red tarp held airborne by big yellow helium balloons) was perhaps a little too abstract. The fact that the office existed “off the grid” was admittedly a nice pun, but the installation only held the viewer’s attention for a minute or two at most.—RD

Metropolis (Charles & St. Thomas)

It was a downer that this installation was completely fenced off, because spending the evening running through what appeared to be a playground of bomb shelters just north of Victoria College was a surprisingly attractive prospect.—RD

From the Ground Up (Gardiner Museum)

The Gardiner Museum was a complete madhouse, deservingly so considering the free admission and the traditional Chinese acrobats spinning a red table in the air. Also adding to the spectacle was artist Ben Oakley’s brilliant electrical-tape mural, Mansion Cabin.—RD

Secular Confession Booth (35 Hazelton Ave.)

This innovative idea garnered some serious buzz in the daily papers leading up to Nuit Blanche and got people talking—about their darkest secrets. Occupying a small, softly-lit Yorkville chapel resonant with ambient music, a reassuring shadow behind a curtain listened to a seemingly endless series of revelations from anyone who had something on their mind.—RD

String of Diamonds (Trinity College Field)

U of T’s own feel-good visionaries Newmindspace put together a visually stunning string of blue lights that lit up the sky above Trinity College Field, turning it into one of the best places to take a breather between exhibits. Once the wide-eyed public got their collective second wind, they had the option of joining the impromptu rave going down in the adjacent parking lot.—RD

DSM5 (Royal Ontario Museum)

It’s good to finally see the ROM getting some use out of their expensive Crystal, as it was used as the backdrop for this performance by DVJ artist Charles Kriel, attracting a huge group of revelers to the museum’s doors for the rare spectacle of “a rocking dance party meets cultural institution.” A bizarre combination to be sure, but whoever said museums were just for stuffy old artifacts?—RD

ThunderEgg Alley: A Dumpster Diver’s

Paradise (Alley behind College & Spadina) Forgot to book a room (the only room) at the most exclusive dumpster hotel in town? Haul your aching bones up onto the dumpster’s outer wall and peep longingly at the folks inside, languidly lounging in white bathrobes on the very comfortable-looking bed. Swintak’s installation was executed beautifully, complete with professional, somewhat forbidding concierges and a cleaning staff who worked in between 10-minute sessions. Hanging out in the trash has never been so fun. —JANE BAO

Everybody Loves You 2 (Dundas & McCaul)

Passers-by entered this pink-and-red heartshaped structure, uttered those three little words, “I love you,” which were then broadcast on a flat-screen. With deliveries ranging from shy and giggly to surprisingly sincere, Daisuke Takeya’s exhibit was cute, but didn’t exactly evoke—as its introduction suggested—“ a rather funny Japanese pop manner.” —JB

Eat the Food! (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art)

MOCCA served up tasty wall paintings, portraits, and video installations about food— how we grow it, and how we consume it. Shelly Rahme’s Greasy Strata, a mound of shortening topped with three layers of potato chips, was particularly tempting, but patrolling security guards ensured that hungry patrons went outside to purchase freshly-made delicacies instead.—JB

Alluring Contradictions of Consumption (AWOL Gallery)

Lotion bottles, luxury watches and other goods adorned the dress of a figure drawn on plexi-glass. Though attractive from afar these became dizzying up close, overwhelming the distorted female figures. Carrie Chisholm used transparent materials to great effect, highlighting how images are skewed and commodified through consumerism. Overflowing garbage bins outside the gallery (unintentionally) added to the effect. —JB

The Gateway (Dufferin & Queen Bridge)

Parkour, the French art of jumping between buildings, was supposedly on display at this installation. Opting for a theatrical rather than an athletic show, the bits of jumping—from a billboard to a wall, running along a bridge, then over a fence and down the wall—were impressive, but ultimately too few and far between the uninspiring narrative of a man in dressed in orange stalking the jumpers.—JB

The arts scene keeps it green

Unquestionably, art can be an effective tool when it comes to delivering a message to audiences. Alongside the various contemporary art installations and galleries that make up an arts festival, there are invariably many different viewpoints concerning a wide array of subjects. Among the almost 200 exhibits at Nuit Blanche, several installations had a simple message to deliver: save our planet.

A performance piece curated by Mark Neremberg of the Faculty of Music dealt with a pressing ecological concern: the health of our forests. Using logs and branches obtained from the City of Toronto—no trees were cut down for this event—the lobby of the Edward Johnson Building was transformed into a living forest. Students from the Faculty of Music delivered an improvised and organic soundtrack using a wide array of instruments, including cellos, violins, flutes, and even branches hit upon a table. Named Awakening the Electronic Forest, the exhibit had poetry and artwork (including a stirring image of a fetus with trees sprouting from its surface) on display. Wandering amongst the artificial forest, members of the audience observed a large group of talented musicians create a hypnotizing and droning sonic atmosphere. The exhibit expressed appreciation for Canada’s forests as well as worry for the state they are in and the wildlife they shelter.

Appropriately, the Bata Shoe Museum showcased an interactive display called Footnotes, designed by Talia Erlich. The exhibit challenged participants to consider the size their ecological footprint by allowing them to trace their feet on biodegradable cellophane or tinfoil and write a positive environmental message in the space. The museum was packed with people, and by midnight many rolls of cellophane with silver outlines of feet were hanging from the central staircase. Many of the messages were positive—“Hopefully my footprint will be as small as this one”—and it was interesting to read what others had written. But, it was difficult to tell how receptive people were to the idea, as messages ranged from bleak—“I hope we still have air to breathe in 100 years”—to sarcastic: “Save tinfoil and plastic.”

Although the environmental message was similar, it came across with varying degrees of strength. Boldly titled WHAT WILL YOU DO?, an exhibit on Queen Street allowed viewers to send text messages that were then displayed on a large screen. Intended for responses to the question “What will you do to stop climate change?”, most people used it as a public joke forum. With humourous messages like “I will call upon Captain Planet,” “I will stop using the moon as a backup plan,” and “I will move in with Al Gore,” the purpose of the exhibit quickly became diluted. Most passers-by found the messages amusing and it seemed as if many saw the display as a hypocritical waste of energy. This notion was confirmed when someone sent in the sarcastic message “I will erect a screen that displays text messages to the public.” Many seemed to enjoy watching the screen for a few minutes and getting a few laughs, but it was unclear if the message that the curators intended to communicate got across.

Environmental accounting is never a simple matter and is further complicated by the difficulty in measuring the impact of any environmental message. Having environmentally- conscious exhibits is clearly positive, but more could be done. Handing out pieces of a chocolate sculpture in plastic cups (although recyclable) is a wasteful counterpoint to green messages. Still, the clear concern and potential solutions for our sickly planet embodied in physical installations and interactive events is a good sign. Especially if half a million viewers take part of that message home with them.

Flight of the honeybees

In late 2006, honeybee keepers across the United States began reporting inexplicable behaviour in their colonies: for no apparent reason, bees were leaving their hives and never returning.

Puzzled scientists and worried beekeepers were anxious to figure out what caused the bees to act so strangely. Hypotheses about the cause of the die-off, dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), soon began to surface. Theories blamed everything from mites to pesticides to cell phones but the only point of agreement was that bees were vanishing, at least until recently. A study in the journal Science points to Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) as the most likely cause of CCD. Researchers compared genetic samples from beekeeping operations that had reported CCD with samples from unaffected operations. They found the virus in all of the CCD stricken colonies and only one of the healthy colonies. As well, it was found that IAPV caused an increase in a hive’s risk of CCD. The researchers propose that Australia is the source of the virus, as they found relatively high concentrations of IAPV in a sample of imported Australian bees.

Dr. James Thomson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto, has been studying bees for 30 years and was not involved in the study.

“This [study] to my mind is a pretty good smoking gun for [CCD] being a viral disease and that’s more or less what people were saying,” said Thomson. “It had to be some infectious disease that would move around quickly.”

The researchers point out that, due to the infancy of their research, they have not explicitly proven that IAPV is the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. They do, however, maintain that IAPV is a very good indicator that a honey bee operation may develop a disease.

Some scientists have taken a different approach to the CCD problem. Instead of seeking the cause of the bee disappearance, they are trying to find a means of pollination that could be used in its place. Currently used for the commercial pollination of certain crops, solitary bees and bumblebees offer a prospective solution.

In a study published late last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, two researchers from the University of California showed that honeybee sunflower pollination efficiency can increase when wild bees are also present. “We found that behavioral interactions between wild and honeybees increase the pollination efficiency of honeybees on hybrid sunflower up to five-fold,” wrote Sarah Davis and Claire Kremen.

Kremen also worked on a study that looked at the relationship between wild bees and watermelon pollination. The study, published in Ecology Letters, proposed that watermelon farmers might be able to use wild bees instead of honeybees to propagate their crop.

Using wild bees to supplement honeybees is not as easy as replacing one with the other, however. Honeybees are convenient pollinators for large-scale, conventional agriculture because they live separate from the crop site, allowing for large quantities of pesticides to be used on crops without worrying about killing the bees.

“You can create a biological desert in your fields and then just truck in honeybees for the week that you need pollination,” explained Thomson. “Then they get trucked somewhere else and pollinate for someone else and you don’t have to create a healthy ecosystem that can support wild bees throughout the year.”

As well, many people raise honeybees for a living, either as pollinators or as honey producers. Wild bees do not make marketable quantities of honey. “A big bumblebee nest might give you a teaspoon full on a good day,” said Thomson.

Investigations regarding the disorder are still in their early stages and there is a lot of research to be done concerning the root of CCD. One thing is certain: more hard evidence is needed about both CCD and wild bees before anyone can be sure of the severity of the bee die-off.

Further information is needed about colonies that have suffered from CCD, especially concerning the magnitude to which their corresponding bee operations have been affected. Until a greater sampling of CCD-affected hives has been tested for IAPV, no one can be sure that it is the cause of the bees’ mysterious behaviour. It is also unclear how much of the honeybees’ work wild bees could do. This stems partly from the fact that the ecology of most wild bees has not been studied in depth enough to accurately predict how much of the load they could bear.

“There is some redundancy and some ability in the system to be resilient and to take up slack,” said Thomson. “But clearly it’s deeply worrying when we see species winking out across the landscape—especially when we don’t know why.”

Can-con 2007: Part II

The NHL season opened this weekend in grand fashion, with the Anaheim Ducks facing off against the Los Angeles Kings in London, England—a first in NHL history. Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, the other NHL clubs will have to wait until Wednesday to officially kickoff their opening night festivities. With that in mind here’s a last minute primer on what the Canadian clubs out West were up to over the summer.

The Calgary Flames

The Flames’ most significant off-season change took place not on the ice but behind the bench, when GM Darryl Sutter replaced assistant-turnedhead- coach Jim Playfair with Mike Keenan. By most accounts, the Flames underachieved in Playfair’s first and last season as head coach, with a roster that looked talented on paper and posted the league’s third-best home record, but struggled at eighth-worst on the road and barely squeaked into the playoffs after a late-season collapse. Sutter is hoping that “Iron Mike” will restore the team’s tough, defensive identity after a year in which the normally fiery Flames were too easy to play against.

Calgary’s nucleus remains intact after locking up captain and former Rocket Richard-winner Jarome Iginla and defensive stalwart Robyn Regehr for the long term. The Flames lost forwards Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Darren McCarty and Byron Ritchie— none of which should be a significant loss—as well as defencemen Roman Hamrlik and Brad Stuart to free agency. Third-year blueliner Dion Phaneuf will be without partner Hamrlik for the first time and is likely to be paired with newcomer Cory Sarich, inked to a fiveyear deal with Calgary. Sarich should add some grit to the team and improve its penalty kill, a disappointing 22 in the league last year.

Sutter swapped defencemen with Chicago, trading Andrei Zyuzin for Adrian Aucoin, who is a risky pick for the Flames and may only be a shadow of his former self. Aucoin who struggled with injuries multiple times last year, would have been a healthy scratch on the roster, as a $4-million player and team captain to boot. Sutter also signed the injury-plagued Owen Nolan, who at the age of 35 is unlikely to regain the offensive touch he had in the past. Yet another question mark is how winger Kristian Huselius—who had a breakout season in 06-07 and set career highs in goals, assists, and points—will fare under Keenan, since the two butted heads while with the Florida Panthers. If Keenan is a good fit in Calgary, the team should fare better this year and will challenge for the divisional title.

The Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton is looking to recover from a season of disaster and injuries (at one point eleven regulars were out of the lineup), in which the team lost heart-and-soul winger Ryan Smyth at the trade deadline and won only two of their last 19 games. This year seems to be getting off on the wrong foot with 2006 playoff hero Fernando Pisani out indefinitely with colitis, but it would take an explosion in Edmonton’s black cat population (an unforeseen consequence of climate change, perhaps?) for the Oilers’ luck with injuries to be as bad as last season’s.

GM Kevin Lowe faced another difficult off-season when Edmonton’s reputation as a Canadian Siberia hurt his ability to lure free agents to the city and prompted talented playmaker Michael Nylander to back out of a deal at the last minute. The Oilers did, however, manage to land free agent defenceman Sheldon Souray, whose booming slapshot should give Edmonton’s 27thranked power play a much-needed boost. The defence corps is also bolstered by the return of Dick Tarnstrom after a year in Switzerland, and the acquisition of the young Joni Pitkanen, who has loads of potential and is expected to produce more offence from the back end.

After a failed attempt to pluck restricted free agent Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres, Lowe ruffled the Ducks’ feathers by submitting an offer for 29-goal-scorer Dustin Penner, drawing the ire of Anaheim GM Bryan Burke, who declined to match the fiveyear, $21.5-million offer. Penner will likely play trigger man to playmaking winger Ales Hemsky—who has a lot of talent but is coming off a bad season— and is expected to help fill the void left by the departure of Edmonton’s leading scorer, Petr Sykora.

The team will need its veterans to take leadership roles after losing Smyth and hard-nosed captain Jason Smith, who was traded to Philadelphia with Joffrey Lupul for Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson. Sanderson could provide some veteran leadership but after a disappointing season with the Flyers, this 35-year-old’s best years are probably behind him.

There are a few open spots in the Oilers’ lineup and there’s a chance that former OHL star Rob Schremp, NCAA standout Andrew Cogliano, or even 2007 sixth-overall pick Sam Gagner could make the team. The Oilers’ 07/08 lineup looks to be better than last year’s, but not enough to turn them into contenders, and come playoff time the Oil will likely be on the outside looking in.

The Vancouver Canucks

When the Canucks traded for goaltender Roberto Luongo in the summer of 2006, he turned out to be everything they’d hoped for and more, earning nominations for the Hart and Vezina trophies while leading his team to the Northwest Division title. Coach Alain Vigneault won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year after a successful first season behind Vancouver’s bench, and 26-year-old defenceman Kevin Bieksa—a pleasant surprise on a strong blueline corps—had a breakout year. GM Dave Nonis bolstered Vancouver’s already stingy defence over the summer by adding veteran rearguard Aaron Miller, and top defensive prospect Luc Bourdon stands a chance at making the team and making an impact.

That being said, Nonis has done little to improve the team’s struggling offence. Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin had a breakout season in 06/07, and both posted new career highs in scoring, but Brendan Morrison and captain Markus Naslund did not live up to expectations, and the team ranked 22nd in the league in goals for. Nonis signed forwards Brad Isbister, Byron Ritchie and Ryan Shannon, but they won’t light up the scoresheet and are not a significant improvement over the expendable forwards Vancouver declined to re-sign.

The ‘Nucks are still a playoff team and their offence could improve if Naslund and Morrison return to form or if any of the new acquisitions demonstrate some hidden goal-scoring talent, but given the productive off-seasons of Vancouver’s divisional foes, the Canucks will be hard-pressed to repeat as Northwest champions.

Who’s responsible for IT at U of T?

If you had trouble logging onto the Blackboard Portal at the beginning of the year, you aren’t alone. According to a recent estimate provided to the Resource Centre for Academic Technology, who manages Blackboard, the the system has up to 40,000 student users, all of whom were unable to access the portal during intermittent outages during September.

Over the past several weeks, the RCAT staff have worked overtime and flown in Blackboard experts from Washington to stabilize the system. Blackboard is now stable, but the cause of the glitches are still unknown, in part because new hardware was installed at the same time as the software update.

It’s a situation that Linda Murphy- Boyer, director of RCAT, isn’t entirely happy with. “We’re being very cautious how we run the system right now,” she said. For this reason, planned blackout periods have been installed between midnight and 5:00 a.m. That window of time allows analysts to look at what went wrong and update the system. Murphy-Boyer is apologetic for these blackout periods, recognizing that the hours after midnight are many students’ peak work time. RCAT is currently trying to reduce the blackout periods so that they fall later in the morning, between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m.

You’re also not alone if you hadn’t even heard of Blackboard until this year. Two years ago there were 12 to 15 course management systems operating at U of T. Until recently, the system best-known amongst Arts & Science students was CCNet. Information collected by RCAT shows that in the 2004-05 school year, 1,856 courses used CCnet, whereas only 150 courses, mostly in the Faculty of Medicine, used Blackboard.

In January 2006, U of T decided to use Blackboard as the school’s centrally-supported courseware system. A pilot phase began in September 2006, in which all former WebCT users, new faculty, and original Blackboard users were moved to the new system. During that phase, Blackboard had 600 courses and communities, and 18,000 student “seats”.

RCAT currently has only nine staff—“We could use more,” said Murphy-Boyer—and the outages may not have been caused by the software update itself. The university is currently attempting to reduce redundancy by cutting down on the number of systems being used. Whereas a June report to the provost by the administrative review committee on University ITS (ITS Review) identified 128 different e-mail systems being used across departments, administration is now pushing hard for all interactions between students and the university to be over UTORmail. But with that consolidation of IT resources comes greater dependence on centrally administered systems. The Blackboard outages in September raise the question of who is ultimately responsible for IT at U of T.

According to a June report prepared by the Office of the Provost, U of T spent approximately $68 million on Information Technology Services (ITS), including salaries, hardware, software, and services in 2005-06. Of this, about $24 million was devoted to central IT services, such as Blackboard. Yet, the report noted, these are probably conservative estimates of the amount U of T truly spends on ITS. For example, the provost’s office knows of 509 U of T staff with IT-related job titles in central and divisional departments, but it is harder to track the IT services performed by staff without these job titles.

Putting a dollar figure on central ITS is also difficult because several portfolios manage central ITS at U of T: the VP business affairs manages Administrative Management Services (AMS), while the provost is ultimately responsible for RCAT, ROSI, Central Network Services (CNS), and the Office of Space Management (OSM).

In addition, there are several noncentral IT services at the divisional or departmental level, such as UTSU’s Information and Instructional Technology Service, UTM’s Computing Services, the Engineering Computing Facility, and CHASS. An administrative review committee on University ITS, undertaken by the Office of the Vice-President and Provost in July, recommended a central group, overseen by a chief information officer, to oversee the various services and portfolios, like systems at other schools. The CIO’s tasks would include providing accountability to members of the university on ITS matters.