Drivetest: Everything That’s Wrong with Ontario

When I think back to the late ’80s (the last time I had to involve myself in driver testing), I recall reasonable wait times, full time employees invested in what they were doing and a general sense of competence.  I left with my driver’s license feeling like my time wasn’t wasted and the people there knew what they were doing.

The lost souls trapped in the beige, fluorescent lit hell that
is Ontario’s Drivetest Centre.  I got in trouble for taking
this picture, I hope you like it.

Since going back for my motorcycle license in 2013 I’ve had to attend Drivetest Centres several times and each one has been worse than the last.  The stone eyed ‘funployees’ of Drivetest struggle to handle massive wait times and angry citizens whose time doesn’t seem to matter at all.

While waiting for more than ninety minutes yesterday in an overcrowded holding area I looked up Drivetest and discovered a poster child for why Ontario is failing like it is.

Up until 2003 Driver training was handled by MoT employees.  These would have been unionized, government workers who make enough money to pay a mortgage and tended to stick around, meaning they have a vested interest in what they’re doing.  In 2003 Mike Harris (aka: ass-clown of the century) decided to privatize driver training in Ontario (because the mess they made giving away the 407 wasn’t enough).

In a matter of months hundreds of full time employees were laid off in the name of efficiency.  At the time the six week waiting list to get a license was considered proof of government incompetence and the private sector would come to our rescue!  The current backlog is over sixteen weeks.  Feeling that private efficiency yet?

At the Drivecentre yesterday I heard one of the employees say that they have a lot of people away on vacation so they are short handed at the busiest time of the year.  Another came back after taking only 10 minutes for lunch.  While reveling in this Kafkaesque corporate efficiency I thought I’d look up who we pay millions to now for driver testing.

Privatization seems to feed into globalization.  Just as he sold off the 407 for a fraction of what it’s worth to a Spanish company, so Harris sold off driver training to another overseas firm, in this case Serco, a billion dollar a year multi-national out of the UK.  Their spiel on the Drivetest website is exactly the sort of MBA drivel that makes me sick in my mouth:   

Positive change and continuous improvement! All’s good in corporate speak fun-land! Based globally? That sounds tricky.

Ah, the countless possibilities.  Fortunately, thanks to Serco’s crap-tastic personnel management I had a lot of time to consider countless possibilities.  The Ontario Government is supposed to oversee the efficiency of this subcontract, but like most privatization they simply turn away from what IS the role of government and takes no responsibility for what has been and continues to be an out and out disaster.

You’d think it would be fairly easy to make licensing a zero-sum game.  You charge for licenses whatever it takes to cover the cost of licensing and you keep that money in Ontario instead of shipping off millions of dollars overseas.  You then offer bonuses based on accident rates of new drivers and the wait times in Drivetest Centres.  The lower the rates and better the wait times, the better the bonus.  Or… you could just give it all away to an off-shore concern that couldn’t give a damn about Ontario citizens, their safety, or their time, but sure knows a lot about business.

Meanwhile, we’re all sitting here wondering why Ontario is in the biggest financial mess in its history.  Efficiency doesn’t mean off-loading responsibility and doing things cheaply unless you’re in the private sector, then that can be your reason for being.  Efficiency and cheapness are not the same thing, though the private sector and conservatives often confuse the two.

Get your finger out Ontario.  Stop off-loading important government services to incompetent multi-nationals and keep our money in-province!  Fix this!


The Dark Side of Privatization
Who we’re paying to administer Ontario Driver Training
Serco quality
We should farm everything out to these guys!
Actually, just do a google-news search of Serco and revel in the excellence

The real costs of privatizing hydro
Privatization: generally a really bad idea
The 407The 407 again, The 407, it never ends, The 407, WTF?

Post Election Rants (best of facebook)

10:12am, May 6: ‎61.4% voter turnout. Positive tax returns should be automatically applied to the national debt if voters can’t bother to do this simple thing.
11:15am, May 6: Wow, the conservatives even won our student vote. The future’s so bright, I’ve got to start building a post apocalyptic shelter!
… the mob that elects politicians is only interested in their own affairs, they are incapable of looking at the greater good. We’re at the pinnacle of mob run society (call it democracy if you want to). In a thousand years, assuming there is anyone around to write about it, democratic capitalism will be described as the engine that (hopefully almost) destroyed human civilization.
Any society based on self interest and greed is doomed, it’s just a matter of time.
Nature never rewards mindless voracity, it seeks balance.
In response to “it’s better than if the NDP or Libs won it”
Go for a walking tour of Northern Alberta, you might think differently. Ask anyone one internationally connected how Canada’s reputation has dropped, especially over environmental misdirection.

Somehow, in the past 24 hours, 24% of Canadians have implicitly endorsed Parliamentary contempt. Perhaps we should just chuck the system entirely, if the ruling party ignores it, and the opposition parties are worse… Canadian democracy’s a sham!

Ive got to stop reading factual, science based books on climate change ( No one else will care until it’s too late, they all want cheap gas and business as usual. Our business as usual is making slaves of our grand children. We’re not even intent on trying to find a way out, the majority just want things to stay the same.

Any aliens monitoring facebook? I”m ready to go back to the mothership!

May 3rd, 10:53pm: After another epic failure of the first past the post system in representing actual voter interest, think we have any chance of seeing a fair and representative system with King Stephen? I wouldn’t hold your breath. Can’t wait to see the voter turnout next time around. We’ve got to have one of the only democratic systems that actually encourages voter apathy.
More Responses (to it’s pretty much business as usual with a stable government, so why worry):

One in four people just voted for parliamentary contempt. In one riding a complete turd burger who openly lied to everyone got re-elected (nice one Oda). One in four Canadians have open contempt for our governmental system and support a party that does too (and now has a majority). If our democracy’s based on parliament, then it’s a sham.

Canada won’t become a dictatorship, but it will continue to be a shifty, lying international presence that says one thing, does another and makes slaves of future generations in the process.

Oh, and more than one in three Canadians couldn’t be bothered to vote at all. It’s not really a democracy, is it? It’s more like gangs of roving political interest groups in-fighting and self aggrandizing themselves (I say that about all of the parties).

No Heroes & Distractions

Originally published on Dusty World in June of 2014

I suspect the general public thinks that teaching is easy.  I’m not talking about classroom management, that everyone agrees is difficult, but teaching, the process of enabling learning, is generally seen as easy.  Anyone can tell someone else what to think, right?  Pretty much everyone has been through school, so they all know what it is and how it works.

I’ve talked about the terrifyingly vast concept of pedagogy before, but most lay-people have never heard the term and so don’t know or care about its complexities.  Strangely, few teachers or administrators seem to want to talk about it either, but that’s for another post.  The process of creating a rich learning environment is subtle, ever changing and very difficult; reflection is a good teacher’s best defence against this challenge.  By constantly reflecting on our teaching, we hope to cull bad habits and maximize the learning environment around us.  Honest reflection isn’t something that seems to come up much in PD either.

Normally pedagogy would be my focus, one of the joys of my job is how intellectually challenging it is.  I use this blog mainly to try and tackle the challenges of pedagogy in a rapidly changing technological situation, but for the past month I and many teachers I know in Ontario have been distracted by politics.  We have to be because the circus that is modern politics oversees our profession, and we are one of their favourite whipping boys.

Unlike heroic police officers, firefighters and doctors, teachers don’t get a halo.  If the internet doesn’t convince you of the banality of teaching turn on the TV.  How many heroic teacher shows do you see on there?  Emergency services are protected by their halo, and since we’re all public servants it’s pretty obvious who is going to get thrown under the austerity bus.  Whenever the political class decides to vilify public servants to collect some vapid public support we know it’ll be us, hence the distraction.

The public perception is that teachers are overpaid, under-worked and largely clerical in what we do.  Unlike those men (and women, but let’s face it, the hero professions have a male face to them) of action, teachers are presented publicly as female, supportive and administrative rather than as action heroes.  Any time a government wants to take a swipe at public servants teachers make an easy target, like last year when teachers across the province had their wages and benefits illegally stripped even as the OPP enjoyed big year on year raises; it’s a financial emergency, but not for everybody.

In a climate like this our unions urged us to carefully consider our votes in strategic terms because the Ontario Progressive (sic) Conservative party had adopted tea-party American ideologies and was prepared to cut Ontario to pieces while following Michigan and the rust belt down the rabbit hole.  That urge to strategically vote worked very well encouraging many public servants to participate in this election, it also unified and focused non-conservative votes.  The result deposited the morally bankrupt Liberal party into a four year majority.  This was the same party that stripped contracts and forced work conditions through illegal legislation.  It’s also the same party that will do what Hudak and the PCs promised, they just won’t do it on an election year.

It begs the question, is it better to be stabbed in the front or in the back?

Teachers seem to be relieved by the Liberal win, but our profession with its poor public perception will be the first (again) to be thrown under the bus by Wynne and the Liberals.  It’s ironic that the meritocratic Liberals are going to throw a world-class education system under the bus because of optics.  If we do our difficult job well it won’t matter because ignorant people think we’re lazy and poll chasing politicians can use that.  The social and political environment we’ve been draped in for the past two years makes basic positivity difficult, let alone cultivating an attitude of improvement, and improvement is where we have to be if we want to maintain our excellence and keep up with the technological revolution happening all around us.

There are a lot of ways we could make education more efficient in Ontario rather than just cutting people’s wages and benefits and worsening their work environment.  When I first started teaching there was a guy who ran the Simpsons in his class and then sat in the English office eating his lunch at 10am.  He later got suspended for over a year while they reviewed claims that he’d slept with a grade 11 student.  They are a small minority in the system, but there are teachers who are incompetent or simply unsuited for the profession, and the system as it stands makes it almost impossible to remove them.  As a Liberal (that’s a large L Liberal who believes in the values of liberalism rather than blindly voting for a political party) I’d be all for making the removal of incompetent teachers easier, though not if it’s done by administrators who haven’t been teaching for years or pencil pushers who have never taught a class in their lives.  Peer review by a group of experienced, working teachers would be a fair way of doing this, but if it ever does happen it’ll be forced on us, probably by illegal legislation that punishes us for political advantage.  It would be nice to work in a system focused on excellence instead of political gain.

Then there is the whole weird duality of the Ontario public school system, but no one will touch that… the optics are bad, and you’ll never pry a publicly funded private religious system out of the hands of a majority, even if the UN does object.  It’s hard to consider hack and slash politics like Bill 115 fair when the system protects incompetent teachers and encourages very one sided religious favouritism.

There is a storm ahead for educators in Ontario and it’s going to be hard to focus on the complexities of pedagogy, the challenges of technological change and all that social work that we do as people with little or no understanding of education make decisions based on optics rather than reason or fact. 

Doctors and nurses won’t be expected to justify their profession, police officers and firefighters will continue to produce heroic television, and I’ll be painted as a lazy clerical worker doing a job that anyone could do.  While all that’s going on I’ll do everything I can to prepare my students to hack a technocratic neo-liberal future that makes it harder and harder for young people to find good work and become independent.  The same thing stepping on our profession is stepping on our students.