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Firefighters rake at the site of the Résidence du Havre in L’Isle-Verte, Que., Jan. 28, 2014. Canadian investigators sifted painstakingly through the charred ruins of a Quebec seniors’ residence, seeking clues on what caused a massive blaze last week that authorities fear killed 32 people. (MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters)
Firefighters rake at the site of the Résidence du Havre in L’Isle-Verte, Que., Jan. 28, 2014. Canadian investigators sifted painstakingly through the charred ruins of a Quebec seniors’ residence, seeking clues on what caused a massive blaze last week that authorities fear killed 32 people. (MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters)

WHAT READERS THINK

Jan. 29: Smoking in retirement homes – and other letters to the editor Add to ...

Elderly smokers

Re A Desperate Leap To Safety (Jan. 28): Tougher regulations to ensure all retirement residences are equipped with sprinklers are extremely important, but preventive measures are equally necessary. There will always be defiant smokers, so all rooms should be equipped with alarms that sound if someone lights up.

A senior with a history of sneaking cigarettes into his or her room should be permanently expelled, thus preventing other seniors from having to jump from upper floors to flee fires or death.

Lenna Rhodes, Burlington, Ont.

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I was saddened to read that elderly residents of the home in L’Isle-Verte were forced to go outside to smoke and were not allowed to do so after 11 p.m.

Is it too much to ask that the elderly, who probably have smoked all their lives and who have contributed much to this country, be allowed to enjoy a cigarette in a well-ventilated room?

Brian Tracey, Gatineau, Que.

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Let’s sign a deal?

Re Put It To A Vote (editorial, Jan. 27): A solution that would preserve the rule of democracy in Ukraine is to hold a referendum on the issue of signing a trade agreement with the European Union. If the majority want the deal, the President, who was elected to serve the people, would be obligated to sign it.

Bohdan Skrobach, Toronto

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Principled approach

Re Harper And The Jewish Vote (Jan. 28): Margaret Wente’s naiveté on this issue is surprising and disappointing. “Israel is basically a good guy” seems to be the crux of her analysis. Do “good guys” seize land, destroy homes and fields and build walls, all the while violating international law and several UN resolutions?

No mention of these issues. Has Ms. Wente taken a page out of Stephen Harper’s “principled” approach of criticizing Israel in private but not in public? And which principle is that, exactly?

Michael Poliacik, Toronto

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Jews vote en masse? Put four Jews in a room and you get five opinions – and food!

Marty Cutler, Toronto

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I don’t think Stephen Harper’s trip was an attempt to court the Jewish vote.

As Margaret Wente notes, the size of the Jewish population in Canada is simply too small for that to be his primary strategy.

Ms. Wente suggests Mr. Harper wanted to bolster a popular position of supporting democracy in the Middle East. I think his trip was more about attracting the anti-Muslim vote, while at the same time changing the channel on the Senate scandal.

I suspect he succeeded at both.

Ian Kamm, Toronto

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Freedom at risk

Re Why The Silence Around Privacy? (Jan. 27): Two of the most basic internationally accepted privacy principles are consent and accountability. There are exceptions to requirements for consent, including national security. But it is absurd to think the wholesale collection of personal data implied by electronic interceptions (e.g. phone and e-mails) of millions of Canadians can be justified by a targeted and reasoned concern about national security.

We might think that overly broad interceptions effectively leave the average person protected; after all, it would be so much trouble to collate and make sense of it. But Big Data analytics, such as Palantir, can now tie multiple sources of information together to create an individual’s personal and financial profile.

As for accountability – there should be no exceptions. It is fundamental to any democracy and the exercise of power by the state.

Margot Priest, Almonte, Ont.

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Motivating teachers

Re The Best Teachers Should Be Paid Better (editorial, Jan. 27); Merit Pay? Bad Idea (letters, Jan. 28): As a former human resource and compensation professional, I’d like to reassure those who are concerned that it would be impossible to set performance criteria for teachers or that it would inevitably lead to a loss of collaboration or a “popularity contest.”

Nonsense.

There are hundreds of industries around the globe, each unique, that are able to create fair, effective performance criteria that support their businesses. A well-designed performance culture will create greater levels of engagement and job satisfaction and attract talented teachers.

It is absolutely correct that most teachers (in fact, most people) are not just motivated by money. Rather, they crave and respond to a culture of meritocracy, reward (not solely monetary) linked to performance, collaboration, development and growth opportunities, constructive, meaningful feedback and a sense of team and purpose. The exact things a performance culture is designed for.

Jennifer D. Howard, Oakville, Ont.

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Most teachers are not motivated by money, a premise backed up by studies into jurisdictions where merit pay has been tried. Rather, teachers are motivated by their care for children. They want students to be successful, to develop an independence and a love of learning. Effective teaching is based on peer collaboration. Rather than incentives that set up a culture of competition, continued investment in professional learning and respect for teachers’ professionalism are far better means to promote excellence.

Ontario teachers must go through a rigorous evaluation process. Those deemed unsuitable are subject to mandatory professional development, scrutiny by disciplinary bodies, or termination of their jobs.

Sam Hammond, president, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

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Pay workers better

Re More Reforms Planned For Foreign Worker Program (Jan. 27): There are few worker shortages in Canada in most fields that would not be solved by an appropriate increase in wages and benefits.

No one talks about bringing in temporary foreign workers as, say, lawyers or police officers, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of foreigners willing and able to do such work for far less than Canadians are paid. The reason is that lawyers have a professional association and police officers have unions, so they can defend themselves. Hotel workers and computer programmers often have neither, so they are vulnerable. The median salary for a computer programmer in Canada is about $49,700, while hotel workers are at or near minimum wage.

The principle needs to be that work in Canada must be done by Canadians. Employers will adjust.

Jim Paulin, Ottawa

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Marmite, shmarmite

Re Pass The Marmite (letters, Jan. 28): As any red-blooded Aussie knows, the real deal when it comes to yeast-based spreads is Vegemite. Granted, it is a bit of an acquired taste, but on toast it blows the doors off Marmite. In the post Second World War years, my father built our two-storey family home on a steady breakfast diet of Vegemite and milk – making his own bricks to boot.

Ashley Walkley, Toronto

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