Canadian Fed Watch!

News Across The Nation: Money in the Trees, Learning Ministers Petition Federal Government, 2003 Calendars, and Virtual Tree Planting - Virtual Idiocy THE VOICE October 16, 2002

Money in the Trees

The Minister of Natural Resources, Herb Dhaliwal, has announced $100,000 in scholarships, $5,000 each to 20 university students that are studying forestry (see: Tied to these scholarships is the requirement to pursue at least part of their research in a laboratory of the Canadian Forestry Service.

Unfortunately these scholarships, like so many others in recent months, are strictly post-graduate in nature. While certainly welcome, if the government requires excellence in forest research, perhaps what they should consider is offering scholarships at the undergraduate level that are tied encouraging programmes in forestry. An undergraduate scholarship would be multi-purpose in that it would help to ensure that those students most suited for careers in forestry are able to pursue those goals, while at the same time creating a larger pool of students to become post-graduate forestry researchers and thereby promote that the best students, regardless of their financial situation, have the opportunity to go further in their fields.

Learning Ministers Petition Federal Government

Provincial Ministers from various provinces and territories have met and created a report (see: that they have released to the Federal Government that calls for more support from Ottawa in meeting the need for post-secondary and labour-skills education. In the report, they identify four key priorities for action that they want the federal government to support.

These priorities are:
1. Enhancing the capacity of the postsecondary education sector
2. Strengthening workforce development
3. Providing funding for measures to help expand Internet access and meet the needs of each province and territory in regard to on-line learning connectivity
4. Encouraging the full integration of under-represented groups in the labour market.

Once again, we see that there is this focus on creating more “capacity”. Maybe this is just a wording choice, but it seems to me to imply the need to create more physical space for students. If studying at Athabasca University has taught me anything, it is that the need for an actual classroom is really quite minimal. If a professor must deliver lectures, they could just as easily be done over the television. Interactivity can come via phone or online means.

What is really needed is to increase the ability of people to take post-secondary studies. With a large enough demand, the Universities would find it worth their while to either increase “capacity” on their own, or would move to alternative means of course delivery. In either situation, we would find University expansion delivered more where the general public found it necessary rather than in larger and more grandiose buildings.

2003 Calendars

The Provincial governments of Alberta and Manitoba have both produced 2003 Calendars for their citizens. The Alberta Calendar (see: features various Canadian researchers and inventions while the Manitoba Calendar (see: contains tips for consumers and seniors to help them be better informed and avoid scams and cons. If you tend to procrastinate, like I do, this is a great chance to get a free calendar before the year starts. Usually I find that for the first two months of any year I’m wandering around wondering what the date is. This can be even more of a problem for home-study students as often there is little to differentiate one day from the next.

In any event, this is another government service that you’ve already paid for through your taxes; you may as well take advantage of it.

Virtual Tree Planting – Virtual Idiocy

One of the many events that Royal Watchers were treated to over Queen Elizabeth II’s stay was a Virtual Tree Planting (see: The Queen apparently pushed a button that started a program that would show the planting and development of a Red Maple tree. Visitors at various sites through New Brunswick could witness this event and add their names in as “assisting” the Queen in this planting.

Excuse me?

Was there any real point to this entire exercise beyond a waste of some programmer/animator’s time and taxpayer money in developing this virtual “tree planting”? I understand that some people think the Queen’s visit is something to celebrate, but surely even these people must be questioning the point of this.

Next time, why not have her press a button that at gives a green light to some worker on the field to actually plant a tree? A living commemoration to her visit would not only be much more dignified, it would actually be something somewhat useful. A virtual tree-planting is more of an insult to the environment than anything else – no tree is planted, but the people are allowed to feel like they have a concern for the environment, even though the very resources used to create this “tree-planting” will eventually be thrown out and actually cause damage to the environment.

At the same time, how much did this demonstration cost to set-up, and what does that compare to the cost of planting a sapling in a field? Even if we assume the project only took two hours of a programmer’s time, planting a real tree would only take a person twenty minutes at the most – and the person probably would be a volunteer at that. If people wanted to add their names as watchers of the event, this could still be done using freely available electronic guest-books or, though this may seem too advanced, real books with real pens and real signatures.

Now, there will be CD of the event displayed in an elementary school. Had they not decided to go “virtual” there would be an actual tree in the yard of the elementary school, which could be seen at any time by anyone, not simply during school hours. There could also be books with actual signatures present in the library of the school – something that could be shown to grandchildren generations on – the actual signatures of various relatives.

Sometimes the simple ways really are the best ones.

A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.