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U.S. college bribery scandal unlikely in Canada, but inequality persists

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  • The college bribery scandal is spurring discussion about the ways in which money greases the wheels of the U.S. admissions process — and while most acknowledge there are fewer shortcuts to securing a spot in Canadian schools, advocates say the system is slanted to give well-off students a leg up.

    American authorities have accused dozens of people of taking part in a $25-million bribery scheme in which parents allegedly paid to ensure their children’s enrolment in elite schools. Among the parents charged are Vancouver businessman David Sidoo, who has pleaded not guilty, and TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

    The selection process at Canadian schools is heavily weighted towards high school report cards, leaving less wiggle room for the sort of chicanery being alleged in the U.S., an admissions consultant says.

    “The competitive landscape is very different in the United States,” said Robert Astroff, president of Astroff Consultants, which helps students prepare for their post-secondary studies. “There’s much less opportunity to game the system in Canada.”

    Canada doesn’t have standardized admissions tests like the SAT or ACT, which some of those charged in the U.S. are accused of falsifying, said Astroff.

    Prosecutors also allege that parents bribed college coaches to recruit their children. In the U.S., varsity sports are highly monetized, Astroff said, so more emphasis is placed on athletics than in Canada.

    There are several other factors that can contribute to a student’s chances of getting into a U.S. school, he said: personal essays, letters of reference, class rankings and relationships with alumni.

    In Canada, the admissions criteria are less subjective, he said, and an applicant’s acceptance often comes down to whether their high school grades meet the minimum requirements.

    U.S. schools are sorted into a “tiered” system in which there’s a vast gulf between going to an Ivy League university and a community college, Astroff noted. There’s far less differentiation among Canadian universities, so the selection process is not nearly as cutthroat, he said.

    Admissions officials at Canadian universities also stressed these cross-border distinctions.

    Curtis Michaelis, admissions and recruitment co-ordinator at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., said the U.S. students he works with are often shocked at how “transparent” the Canadian system is.

    Richard Levin, executive director of enrolment services and registrar at the University of Toronto, said most programs accept 50 to 60 per cent of applicants, while acceptance rates at prestigious U.S. schools can be as low as five or six per cent.

    “It reflects the fact that we have larger public universities with a big breadth of programs that are generally pretty accessible,” he said.

    According to a 2017 report by Statistics Canada, the post-secondary enrolment rate of 19-year-old Canadians increased from 52.6 per cent in 2001 to 63.8 per cent in 2014 — with the largest gains being made among youth from lower-income families.

    But Eloise Tan, research program director of Ontario-based advocacy group People for Education, said schools and policy-makers shouldn’t be so quick to pat themselves on the back.

    “It’s not just about explicit paying or bribery to get your kid into school,” said Tan. “There’s other benefits to having a higher income, that the data shows those students are just more likely to go to school.”

    Tan pointed to a report released earlier this month by the provincially funded Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario suggesting that high school students who come from families where neither parent has a post-secondary degree are 33 per cent less likely to earn one themselves compared to peers whose parents completed a university or college program.

    Students from lower-income families were also less likely to pursue higher education than peers from more privileged backgrounds, the report found.

    Tan said parents are increasingly spending money on tutors to boost their children’s marks, but many students can’t afford those supports. And as Ontario educators struggle for resources, she said youth from higher-income families are more likely to attend schools that have the fundraising to offer extracurricular activities.

    Students from lower-income families are also less likely to have access to guidance counsellors, she said, and if their parents don’t have post-secondary degrees, the application process can seem overwhelming.

    “(The disadvantages) are almost invisible, but we need to make sure they don’t remain invisible,” said Tan.

    Even when universities try to level the playing field, they don’t always get it right, said one researcher with the University of British Columbia.

    Emily Truong-Cheung, a PhD student in sociology, said UBC changed its admission process in 2012 in an effort to diversify its student population. Instead of just looking at grades, it asks applicants about extracurricular activities and volunteer work.

    She interviewed 25 applicants and found that while upper-class youth have the time and resources for volunteering, travel and extracurriculars, working-class students often spend their extra time studying and working to support their families.

    “They were very embarrassed — ‘I don’t want to write about working at McDonald’s. That’s not impressive.’ “

    Working-class students also felt conflicted about answering a question on overcoming adversity, she said. They wanted to show they had triumphed against the odds, but they also questioned what it had to do with their potential success at UBC.

    The University of British Columbia said in a statement the school scores every aspect of an application, so administrators can “empirically” measure where every candidate falls relative to the pool of potential students.

    Truong-Cheung said she didn’t think the university should abandon the new process, but it should address the concerns of working-class students. She appreciates that the U.S. scandal has opened a conversation about class inequality in Canadian universities, she added.

    “I think what admission processes are trying to say is: We want the best. But what this news has shown is that the best looks a lot like someone who has a lot of resources.”

    Adina Bresge and Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


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    Davie, rivals square off over future of multibillion-dollar shipbuilding plan

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  • OTTAWA — The president of Davie Shipbuilding says he is confident the Quebec-based shipyard will be tapped to build two new ferries included in this week’s federal budget.

    But James Davies says it is time the federal government stop rewarding other shipyards for failing to deliver new vessels to the navy and coast guard, and officially admit his company into the multibillion-dollar national shipbuilding plan.

    The comment came late Wednesday as top officials from Davie and its two bitter rivals, Vancouver-based Seaspan Shipyards and Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, appeared one after the other before the Senate finance committee.

    Seaspan and Irving were selected through the shipbuilding strategy in 2011 as the two shipyards responsible for building what at the time was estimated to be $35 billion worth of new vessels for the navy and coast guard.

    Davie also competed but was passed over and has since been forced to fight for scraps outside the plan.

    That includes the provision of an interim resupply vessel for the navy and three second-hand icebreakers for the coast guard.

    Davies also told the committee he did not think any other shipyard could provide the two new ferries included in the budget. They will replace two existing ferries, one of which operates between Quebec and Prince Edward Island and the other between Nova Scotia and P.E.I. The budget does not provide any further details, including cost or when they will be built.

    Despite his sunny view of his company’s capability, Davies was clearly focused on getting his shipyard admitted into the national shipbuilding plan. He noted that, seven years after it was launched, both Seaspan and Irving are continuing to get work despite not having delivered a ship, and the plan’s overall costs have doubled.

    “A deal with no consequence of failure is toothless,” Davies said. “Consequence means that in the light of such failure, the government needs the ability to choose an alternative supplier for future contracts.”

    That includes potentially breaking up the work that, under the current arrangement, is almost entirely the purview of the other two yards, he said, and contracts not yet awarded.

    Davies specifically mentioned 10 large coast guard vessels that were promised to Seaspan in 2013 at an estimated cost of $3.3 billion, but construction of which won’t realistically start until sometime in the mid- to late-2020s.

    During his own appearance, Irving Shipbuilding president Kevin McCoy defended his shipyard’s work to date, telling the committee that the first of 21 vessels Irving has been tasked to build, an Arctic patrol ship for the navy, will be delivered this summer.

    Progress is also being made on five others, McCoy said, as well as the navy’s new, $60-billion warship fleet, which will be built in the coming decade.

    The original cost of those warships was estimated at $26.2 billion, while the first Arctic ship was initially expected in 2015, but McCoy nonetheless said there has been a lot of false information and rhetoric about the state of the plan — and of Irving.

    Seaspan chief executive officer Mark Lamarre similarly said a short time later that work is advancing on the West Coast as three fisheries science vessels for the coast guard are near completion after several delays, some of which were caused by faulty welding.

    Steel has also started to be cut on the first of two long-overdue resupply vessels for the navy, he said.

    Lamarre admitted Seaspan has faced challenges, but he said difficulties were inevitable given that it had been a generation since the government and shipbuilding industry launched such a massive project.

    Both sides have learned some hard lessons over the years that are now being applied, he added.

    While they didn’t mention Davie, the Seaspan and Irving officials also both pushed back against any suggestions of opening up or otherwise changing the national shipbuilding strategy, saying a fair competition was held in 2011.

    James Irving, co-chief executive officer of J.D. Irving Ltd., which owns the Halifax yard, said his company invested $450 million of its own money with the “good faith” understanding the strategy would not be changed.

    — Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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    National

    Winnipeg labour leader quits; cites sexist comments, treatment by men

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  • WINNIPEG — A labour leader in Manitoba has resigned from her job over what she says have been sexist remarks and dismissive treatment by some of her male colleagues in the labour movement.

    Basia Sokal surprised about 50 people at a Winnipeg Labour Council meeting Tuesday night when she announced she was resigning as president after two years on the job. The council is an advocate on municipal labour issues in the city and is part of the Canadian Labour Congress.

    “In the last 12 months alone, I have seen and heard and been experiencing some of the worst things that you could ever imagine,” Sokal told the crowd.

    “I’ve got about six pages of things that have been said to my face … and I just want to mention that these were all said by brothers — brothers in the movement, brothers of labour.”

    Some men made comments about her breasts, Sokal said. Others told her to just agree with what she was being told.

    “‘You women are all the same. If you don’t like what is going on, why don’t you just leave?'” she said one man told her.

    She did not mention anyone’s name.

    It became clear, Sokal said, that she was expected to keep her opinions to herself and defer to others.

    In an interview Wednesday, she said she took her concerns to the Canadian Labour Congress last spring and was told there would be some sort of followup. She also spoke to officials at Manitoba NDP headquarters about one man who was on a party committee, she said.

    Sokal was directed to the federal party, she said, which told her in February it was still looking into the matter but had been busy with other things.

    Sokal said she felt she was running out of options.

    “There are several people … higher up in the labour movement, that knew what was going on,” she said.

    “The systems don’t allow for change.”

    Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said he was surprised by Sokal’s resignation and suggested that workplaces need to improve.

    “Those are serious issues. They’re unacceptable. They’re wrong in the labour movement. They’re wrong in any kind of work environment.”

    The Canadian Labour Congress did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Sokal said she would like to see changes in the labour movement, starting with a more inclusive environment.

    “I want to see different voices at the table and not just the typical Old Boys club that it actually continues to be.”

    Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press


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    march, 2019

    fri8mar - 30aprmar 85:30 pmapr 30Real Estate Dinner Theatre5:30 pm - (april 30) 10:00 pm

    sat23mar10:00 am- 4:00 pmLet Them Be Little Market10:00 am - 4:00 pm

    sat23mar1:00 pm- 4:00 pmMAGSaturday @ the MuseumMAGnificent Saturdays welcomes all ages and abilities to participate in a fun art project every week! 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

    sat23mar8:00 pm- 10:30 pmA Night at the Movies8:00 pm - 10:30 pm

    sat23mar8:00 pm- 8:00 pmA Night at the Movies8:00 pm - 8:00 pm

    sat30mar - 31mar 3010:00 ammar 319th Annual Central Alberta Family Expo10:00 am - 5:00 pm (31)

    sat30mar1:00 pm- 4:00 pmMAGSaturday @ the MuseumMAGnificent Saturdays welcomes all ages and abilities to participate in a fun art project every week! 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

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