Editorial: Black-focused schools a mistake

It should not come as a revelation that Toronto’s black students face challenges that other young people do not. It is estimated that at 16 years old, more than half of this city’s young black males have fallen behind in school, and as a result, they are much more likely to drop out.

In one way or another, our education system is failing these kids. The situation is so dire that the Toronto District School Board is seriously considering creating “black-focused” schools to cater specifically to the needs of the city’s black students. This would be a huge mistake.

Creating “afrocentric” schools will only entrench the cultural barriers that the TDSB is looking to address. A separate school system will divide students into artificial categories that do not reflect the realities of their identities or backgrounds.

The idea that all Toronto’s black people share a common heritage and therefore should share the same education is ludicrous. The term “African- Canadian” is completely inadequate because it ignores the incredibly diverse backgrounds of black people in this city. Are we to believe that people from Jamaica, Zimbabwe, France, or Halifax share the same culture simply because they have the same skin colour? To lump together all black people would be to accept the fundamental basis of all racist ideologies—that culture is essentially biological. That what someone believes, or how someone acts or learns, is basically ingrained in their genetic lineage.

The TDSB has already begun piloting “afrocentric” social studies courses to teach students in grades six, seven, and eight about African culture. Considering Africa is a continent made up of dozens of countries, thousands of language groups, and millions of people, it is difficult to understand what is meant by “African culture.” Students who go to existing black-focused schools in the U.S. are taught Swahili rituals. This seems ridiculous when one considers that most black Americans trace their lineage to West or Central Africa, not East Africa, where Swahili is spoken. In creating an “afrocentric” curriculum, the TDSB seems to imply that the 900 million people of the African continent share a common culture.

The belief that vague, artificial categories like “African” can define an individual are precisely the misconceptions that put black students at a disadvantage. Our school board should not reinforce these ideas.

Proponents of black-focused schools say it is vital to teach black students that black people in this country can and have been successful, that they can contribute to society and to history just as anyone else can. But isn’t it equally important that students of all backgrounds learn this lesson? Maybe if the history of the world’s numerous black and African societies were better understood by everyone in Canada, our teachers wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss black students as incapable. Our schools need to change. They desperately need to address the high dropout rates of black students, but this should be done through specialized, community-sepcific curricula, not ones based solely on race and a vague idea of “African culture.”

All members of society contribute to the ideas and attitudes that hold these students back, and accordingly changes should come to every school in the city. We all need to learn that “black” or “white” or “African” doesn’t adequately describe the culture, needs, or abilities of anyone.

Paris lights up Laurier

When a team has won their first two games of the season, it’s difficult to argue that they’ve lost more than they have gained. But after starting point guard Mike Degiorgio left Saturday’s game against Laurier with an injury, the Blues were faced with a major loss to their long term objectives. Degiorgio, the remaining starter from last years team is a dynamic point guard and brings everything one could desire: leadership, court awareness, and basketball IQ. Already without 2006 starters Ben Katz, Mike Williams, Mohammad Safarzadeh, and Dwayne Grant, who have maxed out their elgibility. Degiorgio, also currently in his last season with the Blues, was the one player the team could not afford to lose.

“Mike’s a leader at the point, and we had to struggle [during Saturday’s game] to find leadership and guys who could make plays. I’m concerned because we have to find or develop somebody who can play the point guard psoition,” said Blues head coach Mike Katz.

The Blues might get a taste of life without Degiorgio earlier than expected. as the ankle injury he sustained over the weekend may keep him out of games against Lakehead and McMaster this week. The Blues could have a completely new starting lineup from 2006, as they hit the road against some tough opponents. “Every road game is going to be difficult no matter where it is, so this trip should test our mettle,” said Katz following Saturday’s 73-64 win over Laurier. Without Degiorgio, Blues backcourt partner Rob Paris stepped up big time for the Blues. Paris, who won tournament MVP during the Naismith Cup tournament in exhibition play, scored 22 points on an efficient 10-16 shooting. After the game he was quick to shower praise on his teammates “I thought our big guys played exceptionally well. Nick Snow, Ahmed Nazmi and Andrew Wasik can crash the boards with the best of them. Their rebounding is very important for our team , as many of our Guards rely on their rebounding for easy transition baskets,” he said. Paris benefited from quick outlet passes from Toronto forwards as he leaked out on the break for easy baskets. He also hit two key three pointers late in the game to keep Toronto ahead. His defensive zone coverage was just as important, he was a ball hawk on defence and finsihed the game with two blocks and one steal.

Paris will have to shine again this weekend if Mike Degiorgio does not suit up for the Blues. Degiorgio who had a near-triple-double [12 points, eight rebounds, and 12 assists] against Waterloo in the Friday opener is the catalyst for the Blues offence.

Without the fifth-year point guard handling running the offence on Saturday, the Blues seemed out of sync at times. The Golden Hawks, who trailed 19-5 to begin the game, would capitalize trimming Toronto’s early lead to 19-16. Nick Maglas was thrust into Degiorgio’s role as ball distributor and played admirably. With the score 37-21 in the second quarter, he executed an excellent pick-and-roll that forward Drazen Glisic finished with a lay up. He also had a productive game overall with seven points, five rebounds and five assists. But his new role took him away from his strength of scoring and hitting shots from the perimeter, as he shot an uncharacteristic 3-12 from the field. On Saturday Laurier proved to be a young and inexperienced team. With a11 players in their first and second years, they relied mainly on their length and athleticism to keep the game close. They hounded Toronto with full-court pressure, forcing 18 Blues turnovers, and kept pace in rebounds with their more experienced opponent 36-39. In the end Toronto relied on brains over brawn, using smart play and good ball movement on offense to get easy baskets and open shots. The Blues had 21 assists to only 11 for the Golden Hawks, and shot 50 per cent from the field to 35.1 for their opponents. With the win the Blues are now 2-0 to begin the season. It was Laurier’s first trip to Toronto in 2007, but after their loss this weekend dropped them to 0-3 on the year, they will have a hard time forgetting Paris as well.

Our man in Pakistan

The “War on Terror” is touted by its proponents as an epic struggle between religious fanaticism and secular, democratic civilization. However, the striking lack of any real promotion of democracy in the West’s policy in parts of the Middle East brings to light the inconsistency between bellicose rhetoric and political reality.

The latest example is the West’s response to Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule on Nov. 3. Despite arresting thousands of his political opponents and forcibly detaining his main rival in her home, the West’s only reaction has remained one of muted protest. This reflects poorly on the Bush administration’s commitment to promote democracy in Pakistan, a country ravaged by a petty dictator for eight years. Our politicians’ cowardice undermines the bravery of Canadian troops dying in Afghanistan to support a democratic regime that is faithful to its people.

Pakistan has been a key ally in the United States’ campaign in Afghanistan, developing a regime that has been rewarded handsomely. In fact, Musharraf’s very survival as a leader is dependent on the financial support from the superpower. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Pakistan has received about $10 billion in U.S. foreign aid, consisting of direct cash transfers that are not subject to any oversight. It is estimated that only 10 per cent goes towards developmental aid and humanitarian assistance—even after the devastating earthquake of October 2005 that killed some 75,000 people.

It must be understood that improving the living conditions of Pakistani citizens, particularly those in the tribal regions, is vitally important in the struggle against religious fundamentalism. Musharraf’s mismanagement of these funds, directed towards increasing literacy and building basic infrastructure, contributes to the hostility of these tribal communities towards a government, and its Western backers, that shirks off any responsibility to improve the lives of its citizens.

It‘s obvious that the tin-pot dictatorship, to satisfy its western backers, is contributing only the bare minimum to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. How else can we account for the pitiful state of Pakistan’s 80,000 strong Frontier Corp, often equipped with little more than “sandals and bolt-action rifles,” whilst the enemy carries AK-47s and RPGs. It is little wonder that nearly 300 of these ragtag soldiers were captured by thirty Taliban fighters without firing a single shot earlier this year. The vast majority of the military aid provided to Pakistan is spent on big-ticket items such as harpoon missiles designed to sink warships, F-16 fighter jets, and howitzers that have to be towed into position; none of these weapons are used to root out the militants within Pakistan’s borders, and have been purchased with another target in mind: Pakistan’s traditional enemy, a democratic India.

The real danger of supporting Musharraf at this juncture, especially when Pakistan’s middle class is adamantly resisting his dictatorial authority, is to potentially nurture a whole new generation of disenfranchised youth, ones who resent the West’s support of the tyrant who oppresses them. Ordinary people across the world notice the hypocrisy in play even if we in North America pay little attention to it. This double standard damages the credibility of the West and hinders our ability to promote democratic ideals elsewhere. What keeps the leaders of the Burmese junta from validating their regime on the basis of this inconsistency?

One only has to look back a few decades to see how this scenario will play out. Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 stemmed from over two decades of American support for the Shah, who brutally oppressed his people. Repeating this mistake with nuclear-armed Pakistan will undoubtedly have graver consequences. As long as the West aids Musharraf in denying the country’s people their rights, we are set on a very dangerous course. The Middle East’s moderate majority, not its military dictators, needs to be supported by the West. Failure to do so risks the ascendance of extremism as the only political vehicle left available to the oppressed. In the epic struggle that dominates our generation, the forces of rationality must triumph.

Golden Hawks bite the dust!

After Saturday’s game against the University of Laurier, a somewhat subdued Amanda Van Leeuwen sat nursing a bloody elbow as teammates celebrated their fourth victory of the season. Moments later a Blues assistant coach would arrive on the scene to provide the best kind of medicine—laughter. Van Leeuwun, fresh off a gutsy 14-point and sevenrebound performance against the Golden Hawks, had no idea how she had gotten the awful gash on her arm in the first place until the coach told her, “You knocked out a Laurier players tooth.” The Blues forward couldn’t help but chuckle. She was an interior force for Toronto the entire evening, crashing the boards on the defensive end and clearing space on offense. She and fourth-year Laila Bellony (11 points, nine rebounds) provided much-needed toughness for a team that largely relies on the strong perimeter play of guard Allaine Hutton and the versatility of Christine Cho.

The team certainly has all the ingredients needed to make a title run this year: experience, talent, and good coaching, but players like Bellony and Van Leeewun are often termed “glue players” because they help keep all the puzzle pieces together with their rugged play and hustle.

“I feel like this team has such great chemistry,” said Van Leeuwen following Saturday’s 78-69 victory. “We come into games strong, confident, fearless, and wanting to win. We know we’re facing some really good teams in the future, but we always go out and give it our best effort.”

The effort has been there for the Blues this season, a 4-0 record can attest to that. Michelle Belanger, in her 27th season as coach, is happy with the team’s progress thus far, but remains outspoken about the need for consistency as they prepare to face their first major tests of the season, against Lakehead and McMaster on the road.

“Our team expectations are high,” said the Blues coach. “We want to get to nationals and win a championship. There are some great elements on our team, we just need to play consistently day in and day out, because that’s the sign of a championship team.”

Lakehead, the weaker of the two western division opponents after finishing 9-13 in 2006, currently sits in second place with a 3-1 record to start the season. They will play U of T in the Friday match-up. Saturday’s game against McMaster will be the ultimate measuring stick in this meeting of unbeaten teams. McMaster (4-0 this season) was 21-1 in 2007 before losing to York in the OUA final. Coach Belanger provided a report of their opponents: “We expect a very tough game. McMaster is a well-seasoned team with many veteran players. For us, it’s going to be about defending and getting rebounds for second and third shots on offense. I think we did well on the boards [against Laurier] and we just need to bring that same kind of effort.”

In Saturday’s game against Laurier, the Blues’ will and desire were also tested. The Blues ended the first half with a narrow 41-37 lead, but in the second, the Hawks would try to scratch and claw their way to victory. At 2:11 of the third quarter, Blues guard Illana Weisberger would be injured on a fl agrant foul from Laurier’s Kandace Baptiste. Weisberger would stay in the game long enough to hit both free-throw attempts, but would have to leave the game without returning as the Blues medical staff placed her left arm in a sling. With a key reserve down for the game, Allaine Hutton would pick up the slack as she has all season. The 2006 all-star would finish the game with 20 points and six assists, but also with six turnovers. After a Hutton steal lead to an uncontested layup for the Blues, Laurier would call a timeout to try to slow her, and it seemed to work. Coming out of the huddle, the Golden Hawks began to employ the full-court press, which threw the Blues out of sync. Instead of making smart passes out of the trap, the Blues guards often tried to dribble their way through, leading to a game high 26 turnovers for Toronto, compared to only 18 on the Laurier side.

“I thought my guards were a little apprehensive [against the trap],” said the coaches after the game. “We were over cautious and consequently we were turning the ball over because of it. We didn’t adjust well and got caught in all the wrong areas.” Van Leeuwen echoed these sentiments. “We’ll just have to be a little more aware and adjust quicker.”

Despite the late surge by the Golden Hawks and sloppiness on Toronto’s part, the Blues would go on to win 78-69 through some scrappy hard-nosed play. They simply outworked and out hustled their opponents, finishing with 40 rebounds to Laurier’s 32, and added four blocks, two from forward Laila Bellony. Laurier’s record is now 3-2 in 2007, while the Blues are 4-0 to start the season.

Pedalling in the right direction

The City of Toronto recently released a report examining the possibility of an east-west bicycle route along Bloor-Danforth. This is an exciting possibility, but unfortunately it’s also a chance to continue the lacklustre design of bicycle infrastructure in our city. Toronto needs an east-west route, but is Bloor the ideal solution?

Bicycle lanes on major streets are generally contentious, and often of dubious value. The College and Davenport bike lanes are excellent examples of poorly planned bicycle infrastructure. On both streets, the parking lanes are so narrow that even when parked snugly against the curb, an exiting passenger will certainly give a door prize to any cyclist unlucky enough to be riding by. College Street in particular is frequently filled with delivery vehicles and parked cars, to the point where the lanes become useless.

I’ve heard many cyclists argue for increased enforcement to prevent bike lanes from being blocked. This argument seems strange to me. It’s plainly obvious that increased enforcement won’t stop cars from idling in the bike lane, just as the thousands of parking tickets handed out every year don’t stop people from parking illegally. Of course they may discourage it, but increased enforcement only alleviates the problem, instead of solving it. Segregated bicycle lanes are the only real way to keep bike lanes clear. Montreal has learned this lesson: many of its bicycle lanes are physically separate from car traffic and often feature their own traffic signals.

Major streets are not necessarily ideal sites for bike lanes. Vancouver has constructed bike routes on quieter streets parallel to major thoroughfares, giving cyclists a convenient route away from car traffic. With this in mind, bike lanes along Harbord and Wellesley might be the ideal solution for the downtown area. Bike lanes could be created on Bloor’s east and west extensions.

Whatever the plan, radical changes need to be made to Toronto’s bike infrastructure. The mysterious gap in Harbord’s bike lane between Bathurst and Spadina is a typical indicator that the city is not serious about accommodating cyclists with a coherent network. Bloor West until Ossington is not nearly as congested and much of the Danforth already possesses a yellow-lined “no man’s land” in the centre of the road, which could provide space for bike lanes if moved to the side.

One easy step the city could take to improve conditions for cyclists is a drastic improvement of its signed routes—quiet streets designated as bike routes which sound good in theory, but in practice fall short of their potential. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I visited Berkeley and saw their Bicycle Boulevard network, which implements the principle much more effectively.

Instead of ascribing meaningless numbers to the routes as we’ve done in Toronto, Berkeley has taken the common-sense approach and simply named them after the streets they run on. In place of dinky signs indicating a signed route, Berkeley’s streets feature large cyclist outlines painted on the road, along with coherent signage. This not only reminds drivers to be on the lookout for bikes, but also eases navigation for cyclists. In San Francisco itself, many streets have signs reminding drivers that cyclists have the right to a full lane and to change lanes to pass.

Thankfully, Toronto’s bikers will soon have a dedicated, membership- funded advocacy organization to press the city to implement bike-friendly measures. The brainchild of David Meslin, the founder of the Toronto Public Space Committee, the Toronto Cyclists Union will launch next June. A so-called “CAA for bikes” will provide its members with services such as roadside assistance, but its primary mission will be to lobby city councillors to make changes in their wards.

Ultimately, any bike lane on a major street is better than no bike lane at all, but the city must become more creative and dedicated in its installation of bicycle infrastructure. City Hall also needs to recognize that measures to encourage cycling and walking will come at the expense of cars. And that’s a good thing, considering a recent report by the Toronto officer of health found that 440 Torontonians die every year from car pollution. Unless the city seriously changes its attitude towards cyclists, superficial changes will only create the illusion of safety while continuing the destructive, auto-centric status quo.

Alex Gatien is the coordinator of Bikechain, U of T’s free, educational bicycle repair facility.

Hot Topic: The Toronto District School Board is debating black-focused schools to combat dropout rates. What do you think?

Clockwise from top left

Fahima, fourth-year Poli Sci and History: I’m against it, of course! It just resurrects the segregation issue. This is Canada! We’re not a melting pot, we’re a tossed salad! Lea, first-year European Studies: Are you kidding me? Sounds like a pre- U.S. civil war kind of mentality. That’s just reversing the progress we’ve made toward multiculturalism.

Amy, fourth-year Peace and Conflict Studies: The Ontario government should pay attention to the communities this will be affecting. If they decide that’s segregation, the schools should remain the same. If they decide that new schools will benefit their children, then they should institute it.

Lea, first-year European Studies: Are you kidding me? Sounds like a pre- U.S. civil war kind of mentality. That’s just reversing the progress we’ve made toward multiculturalism.

Aubrey, second-year Biochemistry: Complete segregation is too big a step. Creating more programs geared toward black students in existing schools would make them more involved without alienating them.

Have your say: Comment below

What I want from our new Student Commons

Well folks, the referendum on the new UTSU student centre passed. If you voted “no,” like me, you may be disappointed. But hey, that’s democracy for ya. Now the question is, since we’re going to pay for this shiny new building for the next 50 years, what do we want from it?

That answer will be different depending on whom you bother asking. But there are a number of ideas that our students’ union should think about.

Whatever happens and whatever gets included, the centre must emphasize public space. That means a big, open design. I’m thinking of a well-lit, well-furnished central space that takes up the entire first floor of the building. Think of how pleasant the Toronto Reference Library is when you first walk in: a small pond (not a bad idea for the student centre, now that I mention it) and natural light pouring in from overhead. Let’s face it, who doesn’t look better in the sun?

The centre should emphasize usable spaces, not just study spaces. If I want to study, I’ll go to Robarts and lock myself in that dungeon for three hours. But if I want to rehearse, or play a game of snooker, I want to come here. The focus should be on spaces that can be used to perform: soundproofed studios with pianos in tune; maybe even a dance floor with a barre and mirror. Or how about a studio for visual artists as well? All these things should be taken into consideration.

The centre should NOT be an athletic facility. We already have Hart House and the AC—there is no need to clutter up space with exercise equipment and sweaty bodies. The design and function of this building should focus on relaxation and repose, not pumping iron.

Under no circumstances should UTSU or any other political group be given office space in the centre. You all already got what you wanted, no need to rub it in my face every time I try to hang out there. So don’t even think about it. I want you to stay in the building you are in now, where I can keep a close eye.

The centre should be, above all things, beautiful. If we are to have a place to go and unwind and commiserate with our fellow students, it should be pleasing to the eye. Don’t worry about breaking new ground by copying the ROM’s Crystal. Instead, find a design that brings in natural light and uses elegant materials to convey the importance of this facility. Beauty is so often rated below functionality. The result is usually something like Robarts, which as I believe I already made clear, feels like a prison. But if the building conveys beauty, people will want to go there and spend time in it. Even people who, like me, voted against this project.

These are just a few ideas to consider. Oh, one last thing—if it’s going to be 24-hours, you’d better have coffee and cigarettes. Certified organic and fair-trade, of course.

In his own words: Micheal Lee-Chin

Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica in 1951 to Chinese-Jamaican parents, Chin moved to Canada in 1970 when he received a scholarship to study civil engineering at McMaster University. He then went on to work at Investor’s Group before, in 1987, buying Advantage Investment Council, which had around $800,000 in holdings. He renamed the company AIC, now one of the largest mutual funds in Canada. He now lists as the 15th-richest Canadian on the 2007 Forbes List of Billionaires, with a reported net worth of $1.6-billion.

In his keynote address to 800 guests at the Weston Harbour Castle on November 9, 2007, Lee-Chin explained how he got to where he is today.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, good evening fellow entrepreneurs. This audience here reminds me of an evening in Toronto this past summer, where the Rolls-Royce and Mercedes Benz rolled up to the valet service in the parking lot. When this party got to its highest crescendo, the mischievous host said to his lieutenant, “Stop the music. Tonight, we’re going to have a contest and the contest will be between all the eligible bachelors. So bachelors, come on over here to the indoor swimming pool. We’re going to swim across the pool, and the first person to alight unscathed can either get my beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage or $1-million. So gentlemen, line up. On your marks! Set!” Just as he was saying “Go,” he said to his lieutenant, “Open the gates,” and in swam the killer sharks. He said, “Go!” No one moved. Go! No one moved, except this one fellow flailing away! Sharks jumping at his heels! Miraculously, he alighted from the pool unscathed.

I’m here tonight to say this to you: the killer shark that is chomping at every entrepreneur’s heels is complacency. My greatest fear as an entrepreneur is summarized in the following mantra: success begets complacency, begets failure. And so my fear is that I have to make sure, irrespective of how much success I may have at the time, I don’t become complacent, because complacency is anathema to success.

Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.” Isn’t this what we try to do every day as entrepreneurs? Care more, risk more, dream more, and expect more.

In 1962, my first day in high school—in Jamaica we went to high school at 10, 11. So I’m standing there, in my short, khaki pants, at attention and the Lieutenant-Governor of the province, was addressing us.

He said in a booming voice, “Boys and girls, opportunity knocks but once!”

A friend of mine eventually said “Look, he has got it all wrong. Every day there are opportunities. The key is, number one, to recognize them, and number two, more importantly, is to execute and do something about them.”

He also said, the Chinese definition of the word ‘crisis’ is an equation: Crisis equals danger plus opportunity. There cannot be an opportunity unless there’s a crisis. And there can’t be crisis without the opportunity. So it’s a matter of your perspective and attitude.

So entrepreneurs, I say to you: whenever there’s a crisis, ask yourself the question. You’ll feel awful, we all feel awful, you’ll tend to get paralyzed, to get negative. Remember the Chinese definition of the word. If there’s danger and you get paralyzed, you get depressed, it’s because you’re focusing on the danger component. Remember, there’s a second component, the opportunity.

What is necessary, I think, to be a successful entrepreneur? Aspiration. At age 10 I go out one day by myself, overlooking the harbour, and I’m thinking “How does the son of two clerks in a supermarket get to own the supermarket?” That is what I was thinking at 10. In other words, aspiration. We all have to have aspirations.

Aspiration transforms a set of ordinary people into extraordinary people. It provides mental and physical energy for people to convert plausible impossibilities into convincing possibilities. So entrepreneurs, make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.

Aspiration is number one. The second quality that a successful entrepreneur has to have is an enduring value system. When Warren Buffet was asked, “Warren, the most successful investor in the world, how come you’re so successful?” His response was, “To be successful, over the long run—and success won’t come overnight—to be successful over the long run doesn’t require a stratospheric I.Q—” Whoo! Thank God for that! “—To be successful in the long run doesn’t require a stratospheric I.Q., unusual business insights or any particular inside information. What’s needed, number one, is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions, and secondly, the ability to prevent your emotion from corroding your framework.” So we need, ladies and gentlemen, an enduring value system, one which is based on openness, honesty, integrity, meritocracy, fairness, transparency, and excellence. It will help us raise our confidence and give us courage to handle tough situations with confidence, and sacrifices will become easy and natural. That’s an enduring value system.

Successful entrepreneurs will need to know that persevering is a precondition to success. Calvin Coolidge once said, “ Persistence and determination are omnipotent.”

Performance—another precondition. *Performance leads to revelation. Revelation brings respect. Respect enhances power. *Humility and grace in one’s moment of power enhances dignity.

Another condition is leadership by example. In other words, role-modelship. Role models are a powerful catalyst in raising the confidence and enthusiasm and energy level of an entire generation.

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a three-step formula for success that will never fail you. Never fails, irrespective of what your endeavour is, whether your endeavour is to be the best editor, president, the best student, the best investor, the best parent, the best entrepreneur—this three-step formula will always work.

Step number one: identify a role model. Who before me the best in this job I’m trying to be successful in? Who before me has done the best job in the world? Identify a role model.

Secondly, kneel at your role model’s feet, and say, “Role model, please, I beg you, give me the recipe!” Study, watch videos, watch documentaries, read, get the recipe of success.

Thirdly, ladies and gentlemen, don’t put your fingerprint on it, don’t tweak it, don’t change it. Execute it faithfully until you’re better than your role model. Then you have license to change it, but until then, execute it faithfully.

The last precondition for success as an entrepreneur is that we all have to be risk-takers. As we all know, ships are safest in harbours, but they were not meant to be there. They have to sail long and hard, and face many stormy seas to reach the comfort of a desirable destination. Next, progress requires that you take calculated risks and bold moves.

How does a Jamaican immigrant whose parents were clerks in a supermarket come to Canada as an engineering student and within 1987 to 2007 achieve what you saw on the screen? When I look at that video, every time I think, ‘My God, how is that possible?’ Let’s talk about how it happened, from the get-go.

I started in 1977 as a personal financial advisor. I would go knocking on doors. That’s how I started. I thought to myself, “If I’m going to be a successful financial advisor, I have to lead by example. I therefore need credibility so that when I advise a client, they know that I’m not advising them for the commission to put my children through university or to buy a nice car. I’m doing this because I’m passionate about it.” So my job was to be the best investor in the world. So I started reading.

Remember the three-step formula? Identify a role model, get the recipe—so I started reading.

In 1979 I came across this book, it’s entitled The Money Masters, which chronicles the methodologies of the various money people in the United States. I came across a chapter on Warren Buffett in 1979 and I thought, “Eureka!” This, his methodology, I could execute it faithfully because I could train myself to see, taste, smell, hear, feel, recognize a great business.

Every single billionaire created his or her wealth according to these five principles.

I scanned the universe of what money managers were doing, and I superimposed their behaviour against what I call the gold standard, Buffet’s methodology. I noticed that money managers of mutual funds, by and large, displayed in their behaviour a sympathy for a concept called diversification.

Anyone own mutual funds here? When you go home tonight, look at your mutual fund, and count the number of stocks in your mutual fund, and you will see there almost 200 different stocks. That’s what I saw. That doesn’t make any sense. There’s a fundamental disconnect between what mutual fund managers are doing and what rich people are doing! Nobody ever became rich by owning 200 different companies, and a rich person understands what he or she owns. If you own 200 or 300 different businesses, it’s impossible to understand them all.

Understand. I’m going to dedicate my life to one methodology of investing that represents those this methodology, and that’s how they’re going to be differentiated. I’m going to persevere and convince everybody of the right way of investing, and that is what I did.

I started with a value fund. I bought a value fund in 1987 and I put $800,000 in it. I took a look in it, and it had 100 different stocks. I made a list of the 15 businesses that I understand. Over time, for the first five year, ladies and gentlemen, it was tough. What I recognized, early, was that everything has a gestation period: five years. You just have to get beyond five years. I don’t know where that number comes from, but you have to get by five years, and if you can get by five years, it’s like somebody says, ‘OK, you can come in.’ Right?

So I wanted to get by five years.

By the end of five years, we had the best five-year track record in Canada. Period. The assets started to pour in. In 1997 we had a record for sales in mutual funds that in Canada has not yet been broken: $4.3 billion in one year.

People began to realize that what we were doing was rational and they could see it in the performance.

But everything in life moves in cycles. In 1999 everybody wanted high-tech. Remember? Everybody wanted Internet, everybody wanted telecommunication, and as a consequence of that, nobody wanted the hardcore businesses like Loblaws, like TD Bank, like McKenzie Financial. The hard, cash-flow generators.

Everybody wanted Nortel, BCE that were creating at 200-times earnings.

You do not have a business, where the earnings remain constant, if it took you 200 years to get back your original capital, would you? No! That was what investors were doing when they paid 200-times price-earnings ratio in 1999 for BCE and Nortel. So we refused to get into those securities because we simply didn’t understand how to value them, and if you don’t understand what the value of a business is, stay away.

September 2, 1999 was a pivotal day in AIC’s history, because a Globe and Mail writer, his name is Andrew Willis—he still writes for the Globe and Mail—wrote “AIC Mutual Funds has no Bay friends.” I walked into the office that day greeted by this article:

At this time, said the article, nobody wants those old cash-flow generators. As a consequence, it claimed, my unit holders were redeeming. So, because he’s suffering from this redemption, this is how the article goes, he’s going to have to sell, and because he has a big share in those companies, when he sells, his behaviour is going to push those stocks down and drive the unit price of those stocks down. Which implies: “you better sell now before he sells.”

When I read that newspaper I thought, ‘My God, this is the end,’ and for the next hour I cried in my tea until it came to me. ‘Mike, come on. You didn’t really believe in the Chinese definition of the word “crisis:” danger and opportunity.’ So I changed gears. I though, ‘OK, where are the opportunities?’ Blank.

“Where are the opportunities?” Blank.

All of a sudden, it came to me. “Mike, you own the best securities in Canada, and because no one wants to buy before you sell, the price will be driven down…

“Great time to buy!”

That’s the opportunity. But where am I going to get the money to buy? I can’t use mutual funds to buy because I have to keep the cash from redemption. Two places: one, borrow from the bank. Two, your own private coffers. So I called up the bank.

I said, “Please, lend me $50-million.”

They said, “Sure, we’ll give you $50-million.”

I said, “Why don’t you put in 50 and I’ll put in 50 to make 100?”

That was September 2, 1999. The Globe and Mail called, they wanted my response. They said, “Mike, what’s your response?” I told them I’m going to buy.

I said, “Shirley, today I’m buying and I bought one stock. I’m going to load up on McKenzie because it’s cheap. It’s trading at 4.5 times earnings. So please put that in your newspaper.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your behaviour today is your history tomorrow. In those next six weeks I spent $100-million to buy one stock. It was a stock that I knew very well and I bought it because it was cheap, and it was cheap because there was a crisis and it was being given away.

Eight months later—so we now own 25 per cent of the company—eight months later, the company was in play to be taken over. We were the largest shareholder. CI dropped out when the bidding started—18, 19, 20, 21, 22—CI was a bidder, it dropped out—23, 24, 25—two companies were left: Investor’s Group and AIC.

Now I knew one thing: I started off at Investor’s Group as a financial advisor, and there was no way Mr. Desmarais, the owner of Investment Group, was going to let his lowly salesman to beat him. No way! So I let it continue: 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, at 30, I said ‘Have it.’

So ladies and gentlemen, in summary, our unit holders from that day, September 2, when there was a crisis, our unit holders made $400-million, we made $100-million in profits on $50-million borrowed and $50-million of our own, over a year.

We closed in 2001. In 2004 I’m having a meeting with the journalist who had written the article years earlier. In Jamaica there’s this saying: I’ve been sharpening my machete. It was like I had been sharpening my machete for three years. So for three years I’m sharpening my machete to meet this guy.

I said, ‘Andrew, come to Burlington, I have a story for you.’

He said, ‘What’s the story?’

I said, ‘Come, please, quick.’

He came to my office. Right at that moment—if you were choreographing the moment for three years, it would have been perfect—right at that moment he looks across my right shoulder and said “Mike, what a beautiful Annex!”

I said, “Yes!” We had just put on a new annex to our campus. I said, “Yes! We’re going to call it the Andrew Willis Annex.”

“What! What do you mean?”

I said to him, ‘Andrew, you may not remember, but on Sept. 2, 1999, you wrote an article entitled “AIC disadvantaged: no friends on Bay Street.” You probably wrote that article on Sept. 1, you gave it to your editor, and it was printed on Sept. 2, and as far as you were concerned, [wipes his hands] ‘that’s the end of that, next article.’ That was chapter one. I had to deal with chapters two, three, four, five, six, seven.” And I told him the story I just told you.

He said, “What? You made $400-million for unit holders, $100-million for yourself, half a billion dollars on a 75-cent newspaper?”

I said, “No no no, Andrew, that was then! I made half a billion dollars then. $400-million for unit holders, $100-million for us, of which I took $20-million and built that Annex. That’s the Willis Annex. And I took $80-million and bought a bank in Jamaica. That $80-million is now worth $400-million. So really, we’re coming close to a billion from that 75-cent newspaper. Andrew, please, go out and write another article.”

Your behaviour today is your history tomorrow. And the good news is, who controls your behaviour? Who?

You control your behaviour, so what does that mean? You are the author of your history. Isn’t that true?

Just before I’m about to sign that cheque to buy the bank, I’m thought “My gosh, how is it possible for the son of two clerks in a supermarket to buy the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica? This would be tantamount to you buying the Royal Bank of Canada. How is that possible?” This is what I’m thinking.

I thought, “Mike, it is possible for many reasons that you have nothing to do with!”

Firstly, I was born in a country, Jamaica, that nurtured me into a confident person. I’m the product of the country in which I was born. I didn’t choose the country in which I was born. I was blessed.

Secondly, I was born to parents who had high expectations of me. Who led by example and had integrity, high standards. I didn’t choose my parents. I was blessed. I could have got somebody else’s parents, who had no morals, no standards.

And then thirdly, I didn’t choose the experiences I had growing up, in my formative years. I didn’t choose the experience I had when I came to Canada, that nurtured me into being a successful, confident person.

And lastly, I did not choose the era in which I had been born. Had I been born 200 years ago, I would not have had the opportunity to own. I’d have been owned. I’d have been a slave.

Make sure these enormous blessings that have been bestowed on you, you don’t keep them and just store them for yourself. May sure you share them with people born in countries where they are truncated, who have parents who don’t lead by example, who are misfits because they are born in the wrong era. Make sure you use the podium to help all of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. .