Saturday, January 30, 2010

New York Daily News on the pot Olympics

You knew it was coming....

Progressive laws in Vancouver make next month's Winter games the Pot Olympics

Saturday, January 30th 2010, 4:52 PM

Ross Rebagliati is best known as the Canadian snowboarder who won a gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, then tested positive for marijuana.
Ross Rebagliati is best known as the Canadian snowboarder who won a gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, then tested positive for marijuana.

Gold, silver, bronze … green?

The Winter Games commence Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia, the most marijuana-friendly host city in Olympic history, a place where restrictions on pot are loose enough to allow "consumption lounges," some of which are extending their hours to accommodate a wave of jet-lagged international visitors.

Read more:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bureaucrats bungled privacy breach, review finds

The first reviews into a major privacy breach last year paint a picture of government bumbling that's so bizarre it's literally had to believe.
Imagine the police show up at your workplace and arrest an employee. That's what happened in the Ministry of Children and Families in Victoria last April 7.
They took him away and, armed with a search warrant, went through his house. The next day, the RCMP told the ministry they had found government files with names, addresses, social insurance numbers and other personal information in his house - everything needed for identity theft.
Anywhere I've worked, that would be a big deal. For sure, the bosses all the way up the chain would be told about it by the line managers.
Not in government. His bosses told him to stay home for a few days and then he was sick for a couple of weeks. His manager met with an HR person and talked about the kind of files found in his home. They never noticed, apparently, that the files were actually from the Housing Ministry, which the employee had transferred from 18 months earlier.
So they concluded he had just taken some work home. He was back on the job April 27.
They weren't the only ones to know about the investigation. The Finance Ministry risk management officers had been told in February. They never took the issue anywhere near senior management either.
That's baffling. Either those involved were incompetent, government bureaucracy is incredibly rigid or people have decided its best, for whatever reason, to keep the senior managers in the dark. Or they were hoping to cover up the problem. (The last assumption is supported by the fact that even though managers were advised to report the breach to the privacy commissioner in July, they didn't.)
Three weeks after the employee returned to work, his managers and the HR people got around to a meeting to talk about why police had arrested him.
The issue wasn't just about the files. The government had hired the man as Richard Ernest Wainwright. But the RCMP found had two drivers' licences, the other in the name of Richard Perran.
At the May meeting, he was asked about that. He wanted to distance himself from his past, Wainright said. But the stunningly incurious managers didn't ask him why. They didn't ask why he had the files at home. They seem, based on the review, quite useless.
By July, the managers knew more. As Perran, he had a criminal record from 2006 for fraud and identity theft.
Again, most managers might have considered that, those files and the RCMP investigation and, even if they didn't do anything, alerted more senior managers - probably the deputy minister, the top manager in the ministry.
But they didn't. Wainwright was a good employee so they decided to support him.
Finally, in August, an assistant deputy minister in the housing ministry was briefed on everything - the criminal record, the files, the fact there was no reason for him to have them. The ADM did nothing and didn't act on a recommendation that he notify the Ministry of Children and Families.
On Oct. 16, finally, the employee was suspended without pay.
On Oct. 20, Citizens Services Ben Stewart - and the Public Affairs Bureau - were notified. The employee was fired. So was his wife, who also had a sensitive job.
But the public wasn't told about any of this.
And it took until Dec. 4 - and a lot of pressure - before the government announced reviews of all this.
They found, unsurprisingly, that had been a big mess.
"The entire course of events is illustrative of a series of missed opportunities and inaction, related to gaps in information, mistaken assumptions, limited knowledge and insufficient awareness," the review found.
There were lots of meetings, but departments didn't share information, managers didn't seek answers to obvious questions and no one acted. No one would be fired, because no one did anything glaringly wrong, the government says.
Read the reviews on the citizens' services ministry website. You'll feel much more nervous about government's competence.
Footnote: These were internal reviews. A more useful report could come from the province's privacy commissioner. But that has been delayed, in part because the government hired commissioner David Loukidelis as deputy attorney general but failed to have a replacement acting commissioner in place immediately.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Your chance to take the influence of big money out of municipal politics (and maybe provincial politics)

The writing is truly atrocious, but the municipal election task force has a consultation website up and anyone who cares about the political process in B.C. should take the chance to provide comments.

The task force, headed by Community Development Minister Bill Bennett, is looking at possible reforms to the municipal election process.

A lot needs to be done. As I set out here, there are now no limits on campaign donations or spending. It would be easy, not that expensive and cost-effective to install a loyal council if you had special interests, as a developer or public sector union or anything else.

Visit the site. Do some research. Make a submission. If you like, e-mail me a copy and I’ll post it here.

Municipal election reform is desperately needed. But it will also be hard for the government to continue allowing unlimited donations to provincial parties by individuals, lobbyists, unions and corporations if it concludes they are corrupting influence on politics.

The writing on the site is inexcusable though.

I ran a random section, on campaign donation limits, through the standard Flesch-Kincaid readability test. It indicates the grade level a person will have to have reached to comprehend the text and scores the reading ease.

“A high score implies an easy text,” the guide notes. “In comparison comics typically score around 90 while legalese can get score below 10.”

The section scored -1 for reading ease.

And the test found people needed a university degree plus four years of postgrad education to comprehend it.

There is no excuse for that in a public consultation document in a province where about one-third of the adults have a high school education. (My last column was at Grade 11 and 41 per cent reading ease; still not great.)

The government should get its money back from whoever wrote the consultation document.