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Real Conservative

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's stance on human-rights violations against homosexuals in Russia and Uganda is to be applauded. I am less convinced, however, when he says that his position is the same as that of any conservative (or Conservative) in Canada (Baird Belies Conservative Image Through Defence Of Gay Rights Abroad – Aug. 9).

There are Conservative MPs on the front and back bench whom I have a hard time imagining defending LGBT rights as vigorously as Mr. Baird has done.

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Perhaps the House should adopt a motion when it returns in support of such rights as a public display of support. Then Canadians can see if Mr. Baird has the backing of "real" Conservatives.

Paul Rowe, Ottawa

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What could REAL Women of Canada possibly gain by taking a stance against John Baird's position on backing international gay rights? A real Canadian woman is one who promotes love, compassion, tolerance and a respect for basic human rights and freedom.

Thomas Howlett, Toronto

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Union numbers

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Re Unions' Political Calculus: With Numbers Come Power (Aug. 9): The shift to more women than men in unions is good news for women. Macro-economic indicators show unions improve women's hourly wages and annual salaries. Across the work force, women earned 86 per cent of men's hourly wage in 2012. Unionized women earned 95 per cent.

For full-time and year-round work, women earn 76 per cent of men's salaries, but in the highly unionized federal public service, where 55 per cent of employees were women in 2010, women earn 90 per cent of men's salaries. And for public servants under the age of 35, the gender wage gap is only 3.5 per cent.

Mind the gap? Yes, we do.

Paulette Senior, CEO, YWCA Canada

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The Globe reported private-sector union density (membership rate) to be only 13.4 per cent. This is based on the size of the total labour force, when the convention in Canada and elsewhere is to base it on the size of the private-sector labour force.

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Unfortunately, the Harper government has discontinued the periodical that reported this rate (as well as related data), and now makes the relevant data available only if one makes and pays for a "custom product request." However, the most recent publicly available statistic, for 2011, is 16 per cent. It is likely that the 2012 rate is roughly the same.

The availability and reporting of accurate union membership data can have important implications for ongoing policy debates. It is worrying that such data are no longer publicly available.

John Godard, Professor, Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

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HeLa unfairness

Re Researchers To Consult With HeLa Family (Aug. 8): The HeLa cell, derived from cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks, has ultimately made millions for the pharma industry and its shareholders, yet members of the Lacks family (who have always maintained their support of science) have not shared in that money.

Not getting permission from the Lacks family isn't as bad as not sharing the financial benefits – made possible by a cell that "belonged" to the Lacks.

Kathy Kastner, Toronto

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Firefighters, police

Re: A Nation Of $100,000 Firefighters (Aug. 8): In most Canadian cities, including Toronto, the average household pays less than a dollar a day to have highly skilled, professional firefighters at their door in minutes in virtually any emergency. That's a great value.

Here are some facts that don't make for a sensational news column: The only reason several Owen Sound firefighters made the Sunshine List last year was because of one-time retroactive payments after going three years without a raise; firefighters working a 24-hour shift actually work an average of 42 hours a week, which is in fact more than most salaried workers.

The drying up of good middle-class jobs in Canada is a big problem, which makes it harder to comprehend attacks on the few that are left.

Mark McKinnon, president, Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association

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Margaret Wente may very well be living in a city of $100,000 firefighters, but not a nation. Firefighters in many communities are paid a lot less. I am proud of the fact that two of my five sons chose to be firefighters, and yes, they work a 24-hour shift. In their off hours, they do volunteer work with war veterans, are air/sea cadet officers and participate in community endeavours for seniors and kids. I also have a son who is a journalism graduate. I am equally proud of him.

Ms. Wente has a point that public-sector workers are escalating municipal costs, but hitting on firefighters and police is just plain dumb.

Randy Clark, Sherwood Park, Alta.

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No blame, no shame

Re From Britain, Here's To Your Health (Aug. 9): In his excellent column, André Picard discusses important recommendations for improving patient safety in Britain's National Health Service. Many of these recommendations revolve around changing culture to empower patients and to increase transparency.

Those in health care have been struggling to change the old "name, blame, and shame" culture of the past, which denied the inevitability of human error and focused on punishment and humiliation. Present efforts focus on attempting to ensure that systems allow for a lack of perfection in performance, in order to ensure patient safety. However, this requires open, honest examination when errors are made.

The shift in culture has to go beyond health-care workers. It must include the public and the media. Vengeful reporting does nothing to improve the required transparency. We all need to work together to make change.

Allyn Walsh, MD, Hamilton, Ont.

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Foreign-worker rules

Re Rules To Cut Use Of Foreign Temp Workers Are In Effect (Aug. 8): The introduction of a $275 user fee for applications to recruit from overseas is useless. It will be buried in the legal fees for lawyers and certified consultants and nobody will notice its existence.

The construction and services sectors are crying out for workers and help. No bureaucratic conditions, including the others the government has imposed, such as increasing the time jobs must first be advertised in Canada, are going to change that reality very much.

It will be business as usual.

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah, immigration consultant, Ottawa

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What's in a name?

Re Not A New Cold War, But Things Are Definitely Different (Aug. 8): Isn't it ironic that an American-born citizen, Edward Snowden, has started this new cold war?

Douglas Cornish, Ottawa

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