Monthly Archives: November 2008

Student union money is easily embezzled

The Concordia Student Union has a budget of about a million dollars a year (actually, it’s probably more than that now, but within an order of magnitude). That’s a lot of money, and it’s managed by amateurs who swoop in without any experience. So it’s unsurprising that eight years ago, the union discovered that one of its executives made off with almost $200,000 over a year and a half by writing cheques to herself and hiding the evidence from the bookkeeper.

When the executive discovered what happened (at first they thought it was more like $30,000), it was reported to the council of representatives in a super-secret meeting. The press release came out a week later. It took four years before she was finally convicted, though the union still hasn’t recovered all the money.

This month, history appears to be repeating itself, and the CSU has apparently discovered another “financial irregularity” about “misappropriation of funds” which was presented to a super-secret meeting. No dollar amount is given, but one would assume we’re not talking about a few extra beers in the expense account. No one is named, of course, but it would have to be someone with access to the money, either an executive or an accountant.

For someone to do this at the CSU takes balls (and “creative accounting” skills) the likes of which I have never seen. The union put rigorous financial controls in place after the first fraud, including new financial policies and the hiring of a financial controller. It will be interesting to see how these safeguards were foiled this time.

Meanwhile, a bit further west down de Maisonneuve Blvd., the Dawson Student Union has a financial scandal of its own. It seems one of its executives racked up $29,000 in expenses on her executive credit card (well, I assume it’s a her – if a guy is spending that much on clothes and jewellry, there’s bigger problems afoot).

Whose bright idea was it to give apparently limitless credit cards to 18-year-old CEGEP students? I mean seriously, did nobody consider the rather obvious possibility that this might happen?

What the CSU and DSU have in common, despite the fact that stealing from them is like taking candy from a baby (a baby with a trailer full of candy), is that both were accredited as official representatives of their students, meaning the schools’ administrations have certain legal obligations involving student fees, and can’t interfere in their affairs.

I’m not suggesting differently here, but this is clearly a systemic problem. CEGEP and university students can’t be trusted with huge bank accounts. Rigorous financial controls need to be put in place, and those controls need to be verified on a regular basis by an independent third party.

Perhaps the government should step in here. The same law that says universities must hand over student fees to accredited student unions should also require certain financial control measures be put in place, and there should be regular inspections by the government to ensure that they are respected. Miss your audit by a day and you get a visit from a government agent. Even if you don’t, you still get a visit. Otherwise things like this will just keep happening.

And all of this is completely separate from the misappropriation of funds by student clubs and smaller associations. It was rampant in my time and I doubt it’s gotten much better.

New now live

Take a look, take the tour, read the note from the editor.

The biggest change is that it’s wider (setup for 1024px instead of 800px) and it uses its own domain and branding. There’s also a lot of technology behind it that dates from this millennium, which allows you to comment on each article and see which articles are popular.

Feel free to comment there (or here, and I’ll pass them along) about the redesign, which took about seven months to complete, and is chain-wide (the Vancouver Sun site is also up, and the first review is positive).

UPDATE: See similar comment threads on redesigned Canwest newspaper sites:

UPDATE (Dec. 3): And if you need it in marketingese, that can be arranged. Nothing is more hip and in touch with young people of today than a press release quoting the general manager and senior vice-president of digital media saying that “Each execution will be customized and branded to reflect the values and personality of each local newspaper.”

Koodo: We don’t mean what we say in our ads

Paul Jay at called Koodo out over the fact that they call fixed-term contracts and system access fees “sleazy” in an ad when Telus, which owns Koodo, has fixed-term contracts and charges system access fees.

A day later, Koodo responded, saying they don’t really mean that the others are “sleazy” but they just needed to attract people’s attention in the ad:

I don’t think here we have any belief that there is anything really being done by any of the other carriers to trick or to be sleazy…

So there you go. Don’t believe Koodo’s ads, because Koodo doesn’t even believe them.

CTV cuts 105 jobs in Toronto

You all knew this was coming: CTV lays off 105 people in Toronto. The cuts are mainly at specialty channels including MuchMusic and Star!, as well as in its entertainment program eTalk, but it’s losing three on-air journalists as well.

The good news is that they’re not cutting jobs at CTV Montreal. Let’s hope they can breathe easier now.

UPDATE: Bill Brioux has more on layoffs at CTV, and points out that even though what started this wave of layoffs in television was the CRTC’s decision not to force cable companies to hand over money to conventional TV networks, it’s the specialty channels that are seeing the biggest cuts.

The honourable Zurkowsky

Herb Zurkowsky: Don't mess with him

Herb Zurkowsky: Don't mess with him

As everyone’s eyes were focused on the Grey Cup this weekend, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame honoured Gazette CFL writer extraordinaire Herb Zurkowsky by including him in its illustrious group. (The story is penned by a Canwest writer only because no Gazette sports reporter could write one without referring to their colleague as “Sunshine Zeke”.)

Mind you, next to story-that-writes-itself Tony Proudfoot, who was also inducted, Herb took a back seat in non-Canwest stories about the inductions (where such stories even existed at all).

But the honour was absolutely deserved. Like his compatriot on the hockey side Pat Hickey, Zurkowsky works like crazy churning out copy on a daily basis (and in many cases, two or three stories a day). But while there are hockey games every couple of days, there’s only one game a week for the Alouettes, so Zurkowsky has to dig deep to find stuff to write about. That usually comes in the form of feature stories about the individual players.

But what I like more about Zeke Herbowsky is that he’s not afraid to be a troublemaker. The players regularly get pissed off at him. General manager Jim Popp, who Zurkowsky heavily criticized last year when he was head coach, refuses to talk to him. And yet, Zurkowsky always has the scoop on the team, knows what management is thinking and what the players are doing. His access to the team, even having alienated the GM, is the envy of whoever else is left covering CFL football in Montreal.

Don’t worry though, Zurkowsky isn’t letting the award getting to his head. He’s not being a diva or anything (I’m kidding, of course – besides, he has some backup there).

Besides, his novels are long enough as they are. Last thing we need is him thinking he’s some sort of reporter superstar and start filing 1,500-word articles.

Quebec parties’ transit promises

Now that the debate is over, I guess we can assume that the party platforms are out there. I was interested in how each party is looking at public transit. Even though the economy and health care are the big issues, it’s never been sexier to be green.

From news interviews and party platforms, here’s what I’ve been able to piece together about what the parties have promised for public transit in Quebec.

The promises are about what you’d expect: practical but uninspiring from the Liberals, pandering and expensive from the PQ, non-existent from the ADQ and completely unrealistic from the Green Party and Québec solidaire.

Nothing radical or even particularly interesting comes out of the main parties (the PQ’s promises, in particular, involve many things that are already being planned), but it does give an idea of what portions of the electorate each party is targeting.

Liberal Party of Quebec

  • Increase the frequency of train trips to Laval and the South Shore suburbs by 35% within 12-24 months, an additional 230 train departures each week, or 264,000 seats
  • 10,000 new parking places at commuter train stations (a 35% increase)
  • Consider Montreal proposal for construction of tramways

Total cost: $260 million ($200 million through the province, $60 million from the AMT)

Sources: Charest promises increased transit to Laval, Longueuil

Parti Québécois

  • Extend blue line east
  • Build a tramway to Old Montreal
  • Create a direct rail link to Trudeau Airport
  • Create express bus lines on Henri-Bourassa Blvd.
  • Create an LRT from Brossard to downtown
  • Build a commuter train to Repentigny
  • Build a commuter train from Longueuil to Châteauguay
  • Create reserved bus lanes on Highways 13, 15, and 19
  • Increase public transit use 16 per cent by 2013 (double the current Liberal goal)

Total cost: $3.6 billion, not enough says Normand Parisien of Transport 2000

Sources: PQ promises $3.5B for public transit, Transit union boss backs PQ

Action démocratique du Québec

The ADQ has nothing in its platform (PDF) about public transit beyond a vague promise to “modernize its management”, though Mario Dumont has said in the past he would make public transit an essential service, removing from its unions the right to strike.

Québec solidaire

  • Reduced fare for low-income earners
  • In the long term, the complete elimination of transit fares
  • Encouraging the use of fully electric vehicles
  • Increase use of collective taxis in low-density areas where bus service is impractical
  • Unspecified extensions to metros, commuter trains and bus network on the island of Montreal

Total cost: $1.2 billion over five years

Source: Party platform

Green Party of Quebec

  • Create high-speed rail link between Quebec City and Windsor
  • Extend Montreal metro’s blue line east to Anjou
  • Build tramways in Montreal (including, apparently, on Pierrefonds Blvd. in the West Island), Quebec, Longueuil, Gatineau, Laval and Sherbrooke
  • Electrify existing rail links connecting Quebec City, Alma, Gaspé, Sherbrooke and Montreal
  • Reduce the cost of transit passes by 50%

Total cost: $40 billion over 20 years (includes non-public transport measures), financed by a carbon tax and road tolls

Sources: Party platform (PDF), Transport plan announcement

What do you think? Which party has the best public transit platform?

Why wasn’t the debate broadcast in English?

Richard Therrien points out that TQS was the only “généraliste” (read: broadcast) network that didn’t broadcast the Quebec leaders’ debate last night.

Well, that’s not exactly true. CBC, CTV and Global didn’t broadcast it either, even though all three are based in Montreal and have a duty to the people to bring these kinds of things to them. So the question is: Why didn’t they? Why wasn’t the debate broadcast on the English networks?

The basic answer, of course, is that it was in French. Rebroadcasting it would have required simultaneous translation, and wouldn’t have had as much of an impact on the voters. But does that mean it’s irrelevant? Unlike the federal leaders’ debate, we don’t have an English version to turn to. That was it. Two hours at a table was all we would get of the leaders facing each other directly, of the networks showing political programming that wasn’t paid for by the parties or filtered through news anchors.

The other argument you could make is that those who wanted to watch the debate could just turn to RadCan or TVA. But if that’s the argument, why bother having “broadcast consortiums” at all? Why not just leave it to Télé-Québec and CBC?

What’s worse is that anglos with cable couldn’t watch the debate translated either. While RDI and LCN carried it live, CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet didn’t. Even CPAC didn’t carry it live, though they repeated it later (it’s not on their online schedule, so I can’t tell if it’s being repeated again).

Of course, you could also argue that anglos don’t matter because they’re all going to vote Liberal anyway. So perhaps nobody but me is going to be outraged that a million Quebecers are being left out of this entirely.

But it bothers me that not a single anglophone television network, even those specifically devoted to news, could be bothered to show two hours of a political debate that will affect how this province is governed over the coming years.

Was simulcasting House really more important?

UPDATE (Nov. 29): CTV’s Barry Wilson touches on the lack of an English debate, without saying why his station decided not to show the debate live (or taped, for that matter) with translation.

RadCan gives us another pointless Twitter feed

I’m not a fan of Twitter, for a few reasons:

  1. It has artificial limitations, such as the character limit and the inability to include pictures. Rather than being faults, they’re seen as key advantages somehow.
  2. Most of the “tweets” as they call them are not worth your attention. They’re pointless status updates or what should be private conversations with other people
  3. Almost all URLs are in the form of TinyURLs (or its clones), obscuring the final destination.
  4. When big media organizations use Twitter, it simply inputs an RSS feed into a Twitterizer which spews out a headline and TinyURL link. Why not just give people the RSS feed?

RadCan’s latest Twitter feed on the Quebec elections is an example of No. 4. Some of the headlines are even cutoff midsentence. Why bother following that when I can just read their elections RSS feed?

Have I just not been drinking enough of the Twitter Kool-Aid? Do I not spend enough time with my cellphone connected to the Intertubes? What is the point of this?

And if making Twitter accounts out of RSS feeds is useful, why doesn’t Twitter just do this internally?

Underground Scavenger Hunt 2: Can you do better than me?

Winners of the second Montreal Underground Scavenger Hunt

For those of you who missed the underground scavenger hunt a few weeks ago, above is the winning team (they were also the only team with four players, which helped). But if you divide the score by the number of players to get a proportional score, I alone come out on top. So in a way I won.

In any case, there’s no real reason why you can’t try it out on your own if you have an hour and a half to spare. Here’s the list of stuff to find in the underground city:

  • Cinéma du parc monthly handout
  • One-cent stamp
  • Car rental company business card
  • Something with the Travel Cuts logo
  • La Mini lotto results from last night
  • Two medical professionals’ cards (must be two different doctors in two different offices) (2 points)
  • Chopsticks
  • A store reward card application
  • Underground parking stub
  • A packet of brown sugar
  • A beer coaster
  • A catering menu
  • Three spa treatment pamphlets
  • Something with the Bluetooth logo (your cellphone is not eligible)
  • Something Hanukkah-related
  • Something Halloween-related
  • Nightlife Magazine
  • Weekend edition of the Metro newspaper
  • The old Bell logo
  • A flyer for a Montreal-area attraction (must be in the 514 area code)
  • Four napkins from different coffee chains (must have establishment’s name on it) (2 points)
  • Something that smells like a green/granny smith apple (+1 if it is a granny smith apple)
  • A banking services flyer (2 points)
  • A bus schedule for a route with the number 3 in it (+1 if it’s bus #3)
  • A photo of an outdoor pool with people swimming in it (must have a member of the team in the photo) (5 points)

I got 15 points. Can you do better?

Quebecor source of CBC ATI requests, CP says

Canadian Press has put two and two together and concluded that the single source for all those access-to-information requests the CBC has been complaining about is Quebecor (the Journal and TVA).

On one hand, I’m glad it’s news media and not a politician making all these requests. On the other hand, the CBC has a point that Quebecor is abusing this right to get a strategic advantage on a competitor (and without TQS anymore, their only TV competitor).

Conseil de presse outs TVA for journalistic plagiarism

The Conseil de presse du Québec has denied an appeal of a decision which blames TVA for stealing a story from the biweekly Courrier Laval that studied the condition of water around Montreal.

The story made the Courrier Laval, which then ended up in La Presse, and was picked up by Patrick Lagacé, which is how I found it.

The TVA report repeated the conclusions of the investigation without attributing the source, which royally pissed off the journalist who spent months working on the story. Their argument was that the information from the newspaper was in the “public domain” and that no copyright could be attached to an idea.

Of course, the argument isn’t over copyright, it’s over journalistic integrity. Journalists can’t simply repeat what they’ve heard without saying where they heard it from. Without proper attribution, errors and misinformation can spread quickly. And no journalist should simply trust what another says is correct.

As Lagacé points out, though, this kind of thing happens all the time, especially with morning radio just reading the news out of the newspaper. The evening TV news is less underhanded about it. They’ll spend a day re-interviewing the same people and producing a story of their own, but it’s just as annoying when they won’t say where the idea came from and who reported it first.

Newspapers themselves aren’t completely without fault here either. They’ll re-report stories they found with the competition or what they saw on TV news the night before, sometimes using purposely vague attribution like “a Montreal newspaper” or “reports said.” But it’s not nearly as bad as what you see in broadcasting.

TVA’s transgression was particularly bad, but let’s hope this decision acts as a wakeup call for those journalists who think they can cut corners by re-reporting stories and are too shameless to give credit where it’s due.