Fair for all

For twenty-five years Access Copyright has gathered payments from sources that use written or visual content produced by Canadian writers and artists and then distributes those monies to the writers and artists who created the original work. It isn't a huge amount, but not insignificant. Last year my payment was $995 for material that I had produced, mainly in books, material on which I hold the copyright. This year the amount was $770, a drop of 23 per cent.

Did certain of my material suddenly evaporate or did the copyright expire? No, some users of the material decided they'd no longer pay. In the last eighteen months nearly every Canadian university, college and school board (outside Quebec) has decided they're not going to pay for published Canadian content that's distributed to students either in photocopied or digital format.

Coursepacks, as they are commonly called, are handed out free by profs in place of a list of textbooks students have to buy. So if each member of an MBA class receives a copy of the chapter in my book Manulife about CEO succession in 2008 when the board chose Donald Guloien or a chapter from BlackBerry on how an entrepreneurial Mike Lazaridis dropped out of the University of Waterloo to launch Research In Motion in 1984, those chapters now cost the institution nothing.

I'm all in favour of keeping costs down for students, but this is institutional theft. Surely no educator would condone students stealing music by downloading a singer's songs for free, why is content I produced now placed in the same open-to-abuse category?

Educators like to call what they're doing "fair dealing," but as Access Copyright notes on its site, "Nothing in the new copyright act or recent Supreme Court decisions suggests that 'fair dealing' for education extends to the deliberate, systematic copying of published content for aggregation and delivery to support student instruction."

It's entirely possible that individual teachers and profs are unaware that they are stealing, which is my definition of taking something that belongs to others without permission or payment. But administrators know exactly what they are doing and should immediately cease using Canadian artists, writers and publishers as a crutch to cut costs. Fair dealing should be fair for all. 

A hit and two misses

Too busy writing until recently, I finally found some time to read. Two out of the three books I just finished were disappointing. The first is by Gord Pitts: Fire in the Belly: How Purdy Crawford Rescued Canada and Changed the Way We Do Business. Here was a case where I was a fan of both the writer and the subject yet came away empty.

My first complaint is in some ways petty. Normally, subjects are referred to by their surnames. Pitts didn't do that. Sometimes he called him "Purdy" which is a tad too friendly for me. Sometimes he called him "Crawford." Sometimes he referred to him using both "Purdy" and "Crawford" – in the same paragraph. That's poor editing and, after a while, just plain irritating.

Second, I was looking forward to understanding at last exactly how Crawford solved the problem of $35 billion in third-party asset-backed paper that suddenly was worthless in 2007. I've never understood how that worked, and after all, this is the supposed core of the book. After I read that section I was no further ahead on that nor how he "changed the way we do business." I agree that Crawford should be celebrated as a lawyer, leader in corporate governance, and mentor, but the promise of the book's title isn't sufficiently backed up.

My second disappointment was Allan Levine's Toronto: A Biography of a City. The book starts in the dim past with Etienne Brule, wanders its way through the nineteenth century, and goes right up to modern times. Everybody and their uncle contributed, read, or helped on this book, which is a daunting read at 496 pages. (Levine kindly cites my book on the Eatons.) Even so, Levine's coverage of the powerful individuals and institutions based in Toronto seems unusually limited. Toronto is, after all, the financial capital of Canada.

There is, for example, precious little on the Big Five Banks or the people who run them, arguably the country's single most powerful oligopoly. Nor is their much on investment bankers, mutual fund companies, insurance firms or any aspect of financial services. As for the Toronto Stock Exchange, Levine even gets the location wrong, saying it's at King and Bay although it moved from Bay Street in 1985. And who, I'd like to know, has ever referred to the Eaton Centre as the Eaton's Centre? 

A much more thorough and thoughtful book is Roy McMurtry's Memoirs and Reflections. McMurtry takes the reader through an ever-changing Toronto and Ontario from his days on the University of  Toronto Varsity Blues, through his time as attorney general in the Bill Davis government, to his years as Chief Justice of Ontario. Despite its prodigious 534 pages, if I had been the editor, I wouldn't have deleted a word.

McMurtry's advice after a lifetime of service and leadership is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Other authors should heed those words.

The silence of the lambs

We are living in a bizarre time of mixed morality messages. The National Football League suddenly gets tough on players who are wife-beaters. Campuses are giving wholesome talks on the meaning of 'yes' and 'no' while dating. Both of those feel like good steps. 

Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, who twerked on last year's MTV Video Music Awards have had very different outcomes. Cyrus is widely admired as a rebel; her career has taken off. Thicke is pilloried as philanderer; his career has cratered. Even his "forgive me" album for his wife flopped with sales of less than 50,000. The video of Wrecking Ball, sung by a naked Cyrus, has been viewed more than 700 million times. Women are ascendent, man down. After all these years, maybe that's good, too. 

Then the CBC fired Jian Ghomeshi for sins real and imagined. The one thing all eight women (and counting) have in common who accused Ghomeshi of despicable behaviour, other than being abused, is that they kept silent until now. Some for as much as a decade. Each was embarrassed, worried she wouldn't be believed, or feared public punishment. So much for the advancement of women in Canada. We are little better than India where families of young rape victims are so ashamed they've been known to kill the woman who was assaulted. 

I stopped today at one of those movie sets with a block-long line of trucks on a Toronto street and asked what was being filmed. Man Seeking Woman, I was told, a sweet and absurd look at life. How odd, I thought. That doesn't sound like real life at all. 



Innocence and experience

The events at the War Memorial and in Centre Block on Wednesday are a reminder that the veneer of civilization is thin. If one individual decides to take a gun and do harm, he can do so with impunity – at least for a few minutes. You'd need dozens of armed guards in the area to stop the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo or the crash-through arrival of the gunman on Parliament Hill. No less a well-defended place as the White House also recently had menacing intruders.

Of all the comments on Wednesday's events, surely the most foolish was by Senator Jim Munson who said, "Our days of innocence ended today." The days of innocence, if ever they existed, ended forty-four years ago this month. On October 5, 1970, James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner, was kidnapped from his Montreal home by a cell of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). Five days later, another FLQ cell kidnapped Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. Ottawa ordered 3,000 troops to guard high-level individuals and government buildings.

I was working on Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a commanding presence. On October 13, Trudeau was leaving through the west door of the Centre Block when Tim Ralfe of the CBC and Peter Reilly of CJOH stopped him with questions. The banter about troops everywhere turned bruising when Ralfe asked, "How far would you go with that?" "Well, just watch me," Trudeau famously replied.

This was the same west door where my wife would park the car a few feet away at 6:30 p.m. when she came to pick me up. Our son, Mark, who turned five that month, would leave the car, stand near the door, and talk to passing parliamentarians while waiting for me. His interest in politics and public policy began early. After the War Measures Act was declared on October 16, more troops flooded the streets, but even so, Laporte was strangled the next night and found in the trunk of a car. 

Troops were even dispatched to sit in parliamentary offices. I well remember our young private, sitting uncomfortably with his rifle at the ready, in the reception area of 409-S, the office of my boss, Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield. If Stanfield so much as walked the five minutes to the Chateau Laurier, he had to be accompanied by an armed guard. The soldiers were ordered out of the parliamentary precincts after Gordon Aiken (PC-Parry Sound-Muskoka) made the point in the House of Commons that security on the Hill was the domain of the Speaker, not the army.

The high alert only ended when James Cross was released by the FLQ in December. The FLQ never held the same sway again. The future of homegrown Islamic terrorists is unpredictable. But one thing is sure. We may be vulnerable, but we're not innocent, and haven't been for a long time. 

Get a job

I wrote this a while ago, shared it recently with a young job seeker, and thought others might benefit, or have a daughter or son who would. Here are my top ten steps for getting a job.

Step #1: Figure out what you want to do. I can’t tell you what that is, but make it something you enjoy. There’s nothing worse than working with duds, accomplishing little of consequence, and having no fun.

Step #2: If you’re a humanities grad, many will say you’re fit for nothing. I say you’re fit for everything. You can research, write, talk, and analyze. Those are wonderful qualities. People at your new workplace will show you all you need to know to be able to function there.

Step#3: Get three people to act as referees. They don’t need to write a letter, just let you use their name. If a letter or a phone call is required, you can arrange that later. And, while you’re asking for that backing, see if they’ve heard of any jobs for which you might be suited.

Step#4: Use every avenue to get the word out. Join LinkedIn. Fire off tweets. Do blogs. Make a list of people you know who have jobs at places you’d like to work and contact them. Think about family members, friends or the man in the bar last week, and ask for help. You’ll be surprised how often they will help.

Step#5: Make a list of places where you’d like to work or people you’d like to work for. Then parcel them out to yourself at the rate of three or four a day and do serious research on each. You can’t just show up and hope for the best. The key in any job interview is to talk about how you will use your skills to accomplish their goals. The interview is not about you – it’s about them.

Step#6: Cast the widest possible net. Don’t assume you can just send resumes then wait for job offers. No one will reply. Knock on doors; ask to meet specific people. It’s easy for potential employers to hide behind voicemail or delete an email. Dealing with an actual body on the premises is far more difficult. You may spend a lot of time in reception areas, but if you can get a one-on-one meeting with a decision-maker or find someone who will advocate for you, then you’re way ahead of all those folks whose resume is buried in some forgotten pile.

Step#7: If you have an interview that’s a dead end, before you hang up or leave that room, ask, “Who can you recommend I can talk to about a job?” Most people will offer names just to get rid of you. Then you can say to that new contact, “So-and-so said you might have a job for me.”

Step#8: Dress for success. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true. You don’t have to buy new outfits, but wear your best. You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Step#9: Be prepared to negotiate. I’m not a fan of unpaid internships, but what if you’re with a potential employer who says, “I want to hire you, but I just don’t have the budget right now.” If this is the place you really want to be, then say, “I’ll work free for three months. Then, if you don’t like what I’ve done, I’ll walk out the door.” If the interviewer agrees, nine times out of ten you’ll be on the payroll after one month.

Step#10: Persistence and hard work pay off. People who hire for a living pay the most attention to those who demonstrate both qualities because that individual is the most likely to be successful in life. Good luck!