Thursday, April 30, 2009

Job Loss....When The Economic Slowdown Hits Home

This was not enjoyable day at my workplace, not when a dozen people are called into a conference room to be told they no longer have a job. Twelve people who just had the downturn in the economy slam them square in the face. For these individuals thoughts about new purchases and summer vacations were quickly replaced with the prospect of job hunting and calculating how long their severance packages will last. Fortunately I wasn't among them...this time.

I work for a large Pharmaceutical concern, with offices and production facilities across the Greater Toronto Area. They also have operations in the U.S. as well as other countries, and from what I understand the job cuts extended beyond those occurring at our Toronto location. I've haven't even worked there for six months, yet I saw people with much greater seniority than myself shown the door. The reason? Simple, I'm a temporary contract worker employed through an agency....or as I prefer to call them, a pimp. As such I'm far more cost effective than those who are longer tenured and better paid. When they decide to let me go they'll simply call my pimp and have them tell me not to bother coming into work anymore.

Employers love temporary staffing agencies, there are no payroll taxes to worry about and absolutely no obligations to the temporary worker. I can be kept on at a lower cost without concern over increased severance costs when the time comes to show me the door. A gentleman with whom I worked, with over 10 years service, was among those let go today. A long standing employee with years of dedicated service is deemed expendable, while a temp worker is allowed to continue almost makes me feel like a scab.

I reconcile my feelings with the knowledge that if it wasn't me in this position, that it would be another temporary worker...and that regardless my longer serving colleague would have been out of work in any case. Still, it shouldn't be this way. Governments are supposed to be about more than helping corporate entities protect their bottom lines. But given the long run of business friendly Liberal and Conservative governments in both Ottawa and Queen's Park, I'm not surprised.

At times its easy to ignore the storm clouds that have been gathering on the fiscal horizon for the past six to nine months. There's the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a new baseball movies coming out, and a host of other diversions to take one's mind off our slumping economy. But when you see colleagues and friends being handed pink can really be a reality check. And to see how little is being done to help ordinary working people while banks and other major players are being handed billions in bail out should be a wake up call.

If I were a business owner I'd likely be applauding the efforts in Washington and Ottawa to stimulate the economy, and the calls for workers to lessen their demands. Many now feel lucky just to have a job, and concessions are increasingly becoming the norm.

But a word of warning to those who are almost gleeful at seeing workers like those in the auto sector having their wages and benefits pummelled....there's a good chance you're going to be next. Sure auto workers have negotiated some pretty sweet contracts, but now that they're caving...the rest of us are going to be easy pickings.

At least I don't have the Swine Flu.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking For An Inexpensive Night Out? Try Community Theatre

With the economy in the toilet even those of us still working are feeling the pinch. Who knows when the next shoe will drop, and where. Concern about money and expenses is forcing many of us to scrutinize our expenses and cut back, its only natural. But as the old saw goes, 'all work and no play makes Gordie lose what's left of his hair'...or something like that. Actually I don't worry about my hair any more, I shave the bastids off before they have a chance to fall out.

But rather than thinking about my ever shrinking hair line, I prefer to think of ways to entertain myself (and others) without digging too deep into the old wallet. One idea that might appeal to those who enjoy live theatre is to look at Community productions. A professional show can run $50 or more a ticket...and if you're into big ticket numbers like Phantom you'll be lucky to spend less than $200 for a pair. Community groups on the other hand charge significantly less, often in the $10 to $35 range depending on the show.

I've been in a number of plays with Community Theatre groups, but its been over a year since I did Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap" with Oshawa Little Theatre. I've also been on stage with Markham Little Theatre, Whitby Courthouse Theatre and another group in Pickering.

The great thing about Community Theatre is that the people involved are doing it because they have a passion for it...not because of a pay cheque. And while you might come across the occasional bomb, on the whole most who attend regularly find it highly entertaining. I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. If you're dropping $250 for a decent pair of orchestra seats to a major show, you're expecting to be blown away. But when you're only putting out $75 or $50, I think the bar is set lower.

A lot of the actors you see on stage with Community Theatre groups are people who work professionally when they can find the work. But when paid work isn't available they're happy to commit, hone their craft...and to entertain. At the end of the day being on stage is a rush, hearing the reaction of the audience and knowing when you've nailed a scene or a line just perfectly.

And if you've never attended a Community production you'll likely be blown away by the work done on things like costumes and set design. There's more to a play than actors memorizing lines and treading the boards. The stage has to be set and decorated, costumes have to be decided on and fitted...ushers are needed on top of people to work the bar at intermission. Then there's ticket selling and promotion, stage managers to make sure brain dead actors don't miss their cues. Community theatre has everything a professional show does, in a slightly dressed down fashion and without the same cost.

I decided to blog about this when I received notification that Oshawa's group is putting on a show in a few short weeks, ABBA Gold. Its a musical recreation of an ABBA concert from the 1970s, perfect for the boomer set...and those of us a bit younger who still remember Dancing Queen. And don't worry, I'm not in this production. The tickets are $30 per, which nobody who's ever heard me sing would ever consider paying. I actually have to fork money out to get people to listen to me warble. Usually tickets for a Community production are less, but I suspect there are increased rights fees for a show like this.

If Abba isn't your thing or if you're not close to Oshawa don't worry...there are groups in just about every part of the country big and small. Its a great night out that doesn't have to entail a big outlay. For those in Central Ontario you can check out 'The Association of Community Theatres of Central Ontario' or ACTCO for short. Who knows, maybe you'll get the acting bug and want to audition...or help with setting building, painting, costumes, front of house or any number of countless jobs.

Its a lot of fun.

(The picture is of the OLT's production of Mousetrap, I played Detective Sergeant Trotter)

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Enough Dithering - Bring Omar Khadr "HOME" Now

In Canada's system of democracy and government we are supposed to uphold what is generally referred to as the, 'Rule of Law'. Citizens of this country are assured of certain protections and rights written into our laws and upheld by our courts. Our Federal Court has ruled that Stephen Harper's Conservative government must ask the United States to send Omar Khadr home. Rather than act swiftly on this ruling our government is hemming and hawing and contemplating an appeal.

Take a quick look at the illustration I provided of justice. Its of a woman holding a sword in one hand and balanced scales in the other. After weighing the evidence, if guilt is determined...the sword of justice is applied. But also take note of her eyes, they're blindfolded. It doesn't matter the accused's skin colour, or his religious background. Lady Justice's judgement is based strictly on the evidence, nothing more and nothing less.

Everyone knows the story about Omar Khadr, about how this fifteen year old Canadian ended up being held in Guantanamo Bay. Taken to Afghanistan by his father to fight against the American led invasion, he is alleged to have killed a U.S. medic. He has not been convicted of anything however, instead he's been left to rot for 7 years. We've all heard the axiom, "justice delayed is justice denied"...well this young man has spent nearly a full third of his life being held in a prison notorious for allegations of torture.

When Khadr was brought to Guantanamo Bay he was severely injured with no assurance he would even survive. If he had died as a result of his injuries none of this would matter. There would be no need of a trial or even a formal inquiry. This young teenager could have simply been buried and tried posthumously in the court of public opinion. He would have been branded a terrorist without benefit of any defence and all would have been quickly forgotten. That didn't happen though, he didn't die. Our government though has decided to treat him as though he's no longer among the living.

We are now hearing further allegations against Mr. Khadr, or young Master Khadr if you prefer, given his young age when these alleged crimes took place. It is said he may have been involved in the making of road side bombs or IEDs, the same devices responsible for the deaths of so many Canadian soldiers. While this strikes me as an obvious ploy by the Conservatives to sway public opinion against Khadr's repatriation, in point of fact any further allegations are totally irrelevant.

We've given the United States almost 7 full years to bring forth a case in this matter, and they have failed to do so. If our American friends are unwilling or unable to bring this case to trial, then Canada should take responsibility for its own citizen.

If Omar Khadr is found guilty of any crimes, for the death of the U.S. army Sergeant or the making of IED's, he should be punished according to whichever laws and statutes apply. If he is found not guilty he should be set free, that's the way our system works. Our's is not a country of arbitrary justice, when the civil liberties of one individual are diminished we are all less secure.

The question is as basic as it is simple. Will Stephen Harper and his Conservative colleagues stand up for basic precepts of justice and the rule of law? If they don't we should all be worried about our constitutional protections, because they'll no longer exist.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Real Estate Prices Dropping On Increased Volume

The spin masters in our national media have been hard at work lately, trying to make the gloomy housing picture look brighter, while attempting to encourage would be home buyers from the sidelines. This past week was a strong case in point with the release of data which showed increased activity in the real estate market in tandem with falling prices.

If you're a market watcher this is not positive news. Nobody likes to sell a house for a loss, if you paid $200,000 for a home you're going to want to sell it for at least $225,000 or more to cover costs for real estate commissions, legal fees and moving. Only the seller has to worry about an agent's commission, about 5% which equates to $10,000 on a $200K home.

When prices move up or down on light volume it doesn't serve as a strong indication of the overall direction of the market. When volume increases however the movement in price can serve as a strong indicator of the relative strength or weakness in the commodity being traded. In the real estate market the downward movement in price should be troubling for those considering listing a home.

Of course our media, which takes in tons of advertising dollars from the Real Estate industry, is busy trying to paint the current environment as positive. Naturally sales volumes are up month over month, spring is the busy time in the real estate industry.

The Globe & Mail had this to say in an otherwise bullish article:

The burst of sales may be nothing more than the annual spring surge, aided by unseasonal warm spells in parts of the country. The more telling year-over-year picture was bleaker, with sales down nationally by 13.7 per cent. The national average resale price also dropped to $288,641 - down 7.7 per cent from a year earlier.

Job losses are continuing, hello Conquest Vacations, and it stands to reason that more houses will be hitting the market in the months savings and EI payments (for those who even qualify) peter out.

Garth Turner's blog 'Greater Fool' actually predicted that industry hacks would be at work this past week spinning the bad news straw into gold....they're in the business of selling this straw after all, so its in their vested interest to paint as rosy a picture as possible.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Britain's Got Talent - And Soul

I've never been a big fan of reality shows in general, or American/Canadian Idol in particular. With that being said I must admit I did get into one season of the Canuck wife called me to watch, and all the remaining contestants were playing instruments to a Gordie Lightfoot song. I love Lightfoot, but maybe its just a name thing. But typically speaking the Idol franchise is all about looks and marketability, talent too of course....but it has to be married with an attractive young face.

Britain's Got Talent on the other hand, it seems that show is about so much more. The recent airing of a show with Susan Boyle auditioning is a case in point. It touches a chord that I think is pretty universal...something a great many people can relate to. Here we're presented with a 47 year old woman, decidedly frumpy in appearance, a woman with the gall to expose herself to the world and attempt to live out her dream of becoming a professional singer.

If you haven't seen it, here's the link: Susan Boyle on BGT

Obviously she is a huge success, I wouldn't be blogging about it otherwise. Who among us doesn't have unfulfilled dreams and fantasies? Very few I would strongly suspect...especially those who are in or have lived through middle age. When you're young its different, there's time to fulfill those dreams. But as you age you come to realize that many of your dreams will remain just that, it can be a sobering realization.

Susan sings the song "I Dreamed a Dream" from my favourite musical 'Les Miserables'. It is a fitting song, while at the same time paradoxical. In the play it is Fontine lamenting the loss of her dream, how' life has killed the dream I dreamed'. Fontine had dreamed of a much better life, instead she was forced into a life of prostitution to support her child Cosette, after being abandoned by the father. And yet here we are presented with the same song...being sung by a woman using it as a vehicle to realize her own dream. I don't mind admitting choking up and feeling pins and needles.

Seeing someone break free of the obstacles and attaining their dream, or simply having the courage to awakens and stirs the soul. I wasn't writing this blog when Paul Potts appeared on BGT, but his story is every bit as compelling. A man lacking in self confidence, working at a job selling phones...with dreams of being an opera singer. You can see the looks of disbelief from the panel and in the audience, and an almost tearful look in the eye of the aspiring tenor. And his dream was achieved, he's a best selling artist around the world.

On this side of the pond we're left to admire the talent of young karaoke singers, but while they might have decent enough voices...there isn't anything that draws the viewer in the way BGT does with Mr Potts and Ms Boyle. I'm unable to embed the video of Susan Boyle, but here's the one of Paul Potts for those who might have missed it.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When the next recession hits...You're on your own!!!

We've grown used to the idea of periodic economic declines occurring every 10 years or so. Western countries have been experiencing cyclical downturns since the baby boom population started coming of age. The recession of the early 70's was brought on by OPEC and the oil embargo. When the 80's came along it was high interest rates which brought economic growth to a halt. The recession of the early 90's was the result of runaway deficit spending by governments during a time of excessively high interest rates. The ever incresing tax burden on citizens made growth extremely hard to achieve.

As the 90's rolled on however we entered into a golden age of prosperity. With the bulk of boomers in their maximum earning years the scale of economic expansion in Canada and the U.S reached levels unmatched historically. Money became less expensive as interest rates started falling rapidly, allowing governments to lower taxes. That was followed by the dot com meltdown of course, and now we find ourselves mired in a deep deep that some are comparing it to the early stages of the Great Depression.

But enough history.

There will be another recession after we dig ourselves out of this whole, and it might be coming sooner than many expect. Over the next 10 or so years we're going to be seeing boomers...who account for roughly one third of the Canadian population, sitting on the economic sidelines in retirement. Looking for a lucrative career? Think geriatric care my friends. If not that, then try the military...times of social upheaval historically bring conflict between nations.

The western world is throwing everything at this recession, to only modest effect. We're at full sail and our cannons are firing full blast at the enemy in front of us, but the one over the horizon will be even more devastating. The United States is already so indebted that they're borrowing money from their grand children's grandchildren. In another 5 years who in their right mind is going to be purchasing a U.S. government bond? I doubt even Bernie Madoff would be able to peddle goverment T-bills, but for early parole I'm betting he'd give it a shot.

In Canada I do see a way out of this mess, imigration of Biblical proportions. Forget learning French as a second language, instead try Spanish, Portugese or better yet Mandarin. Developing nations have plenty of people, but lack the infrastructure currently. We have the infrastructure, but soon we're going to be in short supply of people to run it.

The other option? It'll be every man and woman for themselves I'm afraid to say. Governments will be holding empty guns, all their ammunition spent in confronting the current crisis with nothing left in reserve. If it happens around December of 2012, I'll be converting to the Myan faith.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Haven't seen The Hannah Montana Movie? If you have a young daughter you will

My daughter is 4, so like a lot of parents I took her to see the new Hannah Montana movie on Friday...opening night. We got there half an hour early, and still ended up about 8 rows from the front, and off to the side to boot. If this little review comes across as a tad on the harsh side, please realize that its probably the result of my aching neck.

Not that my opinion counts for anything, to a pre-teen girl it will be as meaningful as my political commentary...but none the less here goes. I'll start with what I liked, seeing as it amounted to one scene. The 'Hoedown Throwdown' song is a toe tapper and Princess Raspberry (my 4 year old) was doing her best to: 'Pop it, lock it, polka dot it'....she got a little lost with the zig-zag and shuffling in diagonal...but it was cute as all get out.

I've seen enough of the show to understand the concept, Hannah and Miley, best of both worlds, teen sensation gets to lead an ordinary life with her dual persona....but this movie tries to make Hannah out as something of a super hero. Like Spider-Man fighting Doc Oc, Miley gives a concert and removes her wig (big gasp)....she can't do Hannah anymore. But the crowd tells her the world needs Hannah Montana, and that they'll keep her secret. The world needs Hannah Montana??? Why!?!? Of course I know why, this was the best the writers could do when trying to come up with a story line for a sure fire box office smash.

But rave review or total hatchet job, it doesn't matter. Every girl aged 3 to 13 is going to go see this movie...and many of the older ones as well. My 10 year old son was there as well, and he secretly liked the movie...just don't tell his friends. If your daughter or niece isn't yet old enough to go her own then there's a good chance you'll be going along it or not.

Actually it wasn't that bad, I've seen worse...Underdog springs immediately to mind. Besides, if it wasn't for Hannah Montana who among us would remember Billy Ray Cyrus aside from trivia buffs? Oh, if you want to practice the "Hoedown Throwdown" here's a video clip...nothing will turn your princess of a song quicker than seeing her parents trying to shake it like its 1999.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Let's Stop Kicking Auto Workers While They're Down

Schadenfreude is perhaps a word with which readers will be familiar, its defined as the malicious enjoyment of another's misfortune, a more apt term might be sour grapes.

In this recession it is auto-workers who are bearing a large part of the pain, not just in job losses and lay-offs, but in people's attitudes and comments. I've read it in the papers and heard it on the streets, unionized auto workers are grossly overpaid for the work they do. If this is their comeuppance, well too bad so sad, that's what a lot of people are saying . Unions have been falling slowly out of favour in much of our society and many people regard organizations such as the CAW and UAW as something of an anachronism. Some argue that the labour movement is no longer needed, that we've evolved to a point where union negotiated contracts do more harm than good.

Let's forget about unions for a moment, let's think in terms of human beings...that is what auto-workers are at the end of the day, human beings. And many of these human beings are losing their jobs, not just their jobs but their sense of identity and their dreams. Dreams that are sometimes grand, but more often simple and plain. Dreams of owning a home free and clear, of taking their families on a decent vacation, of having the financial resources to fund their children's hopes and aspirations. When someone loses a decent paying job, with little prospect of finding another equally remunerative, those dreams can vanish into thin air.

Is it the fault of auto workers that our economy has gone into the toilet? Was it auto workers who created complicated financial instruments that were built on little more than thin air? The men and women working the lines didn't create the hedge funds, they didn't fudge credit scores, they didn't remove government oversight from the high fliers of corporate finance. All they did was go to work and fulfill their obligations to their employers as negotiated in binding collective agreements.

Auto workers lived up to their obligations and responsibilities, unlike so many others whose companies are receiving billions in bailout money...and millions in personal bonuses to boot. If Wall Street's financial masters had shown the same simple dedication and honour as plain old auto-workers...we wouldn't be in this mess. If the executives running firms like GM and Chrysler had been more concerned with bringing the right kinds of cars to market, instead of purchasing private jets, maybe there would be a brighter light shining at the end of the tunnel.

But none of that matters now, its water under the bridge. Because of short sightedness by senior management companies like GM are in serious distress. Because of dubious financial schemes created by Wall Street's best and brightest, the prospects for a surge in demand for cars is at best weak. And so it is that those at the lowest end of the food chain are left holding the bag, while far too many above them continue to live in their ivory towers with marble floors.

Washington and the Federal Reserve have shown incredible resolve in battling this financial crisis, sparing no expense to keep the economy afloat. No amount of money is too large, trillions are being tossed around in direct aid and through other Federal reserve initiatives. The stores of cash come from a seemingly limitless supply. Yet we're being told there's not enough to prop up the auto sector unless the men and women on the line are willing to see their incomes cut by perhaps as much as half.

Maybe there's not much we can do, in many ways the die seems to have been cast. But instead of echoing the sentiments of those who worship at the altars of commerce and greed, I think we should stand up for the little guys in this fight, even if they make more money than many of us. Auto workers might just be the first target, and if nobody stands with might be you who is next.

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Is Quebec Separation Inevitable? I Think So

I remember back to the Quebec referendum of 1980, when Quebecers first had the opportunity to decide whether or not they wished to follow a sovereign path. The results strongly favoured the status-quo, with the "NO" side winning almost 60% of the vote. At the time I was only a teenager, but still I had a certain affinity for the separatist movement. Not because I disliked Quebec, in fact I've always loved it, but rather because the creation of a new nation state held a certain romantic appeal.

By the time the next referendum rolled around I was decidedly in favour of Quebec remaining as a province within a united Canada. I still had some empathy for the separatists, and had learned much more about Quebec's unique history. My change in attitude however was more a reflection of the cost that would accompany the break up of this country. I viewed it as being similar to a divorce, and I feared that a "YES" vote would bring incredible acrimony, and with acrimony comes both pettiness and spite. I could see English Canada trying to make separation as costly as possible for Quebec, with Quebecers doing the same to the rest of Canada.

The results of that second referendum were incredibly close, with the Federalists winning by less than one single percentage point. I had thought that after the first failure, that the separatist movement would lose a lot of people. How wrong that thinking was. I'd considered the separatist movement to be largely the domain of the young, unconcerned with the economic costs associated. I figured that as time marched on, with younger people making up a smaller and smaller percentage of the voting population, that the notion of a sovereign Quebec would fade to black.

I've since however changed my mind. I now view separation as merely a question of when, not if. Quebec is truly a unique province, with differences from the rest of the country that extend beyond mere language. Assuming separation does eventually come to pass, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to part as friends...and that we maintain friendly relations. Who knows, I might even move there at some point...there's a lot about Quebec's culture and society that I find preferable as compared to what exists in English Canada. Besides, I put a lot of time and effort into achieving a measure of bilingualism, so why not put it to good use and perfect it.

Our countrymen and women in la belle province are far more liberal than are people in any other part of the country by and large. Union membership is highest per-capita in Quebec, and their views on things like law and order are far more liberal as well. While most in English Canada hardly batted an eyelash when Stephen Harper's Conservatives cut funding to arts and culture, it was French Canada that got its back up and denied the Tories their coveted majority.

Change is typically something people tend to avoid, better the devil you know and all that. But Quebecers came within a whisker of endorsing a radical change back in 1995...making huge gains over the results from 1980. Obviously our Quebecois and Quebecoise friends are getting more comfortable with the notion of Quebec as a sovereign nation. Considering its geographic size, resources and population, Quebec obviously has all the necessary components for a successful country.

And if my prognostication proves accurate there will probably even be some celebrating in places like Calgary among die hard Conservative supporters. No longer having to focus on gaining votes among Quebecers, Tory prospects would skyrocket and totally change the dynamics of the political landscape in this country.

You know what...on more careful consideration I will almost certainly move to Quebec if they separate, especially if Stephen Harper and his ilk are still around. Or maybe those of us who are both progressive and more liberal in our attitudes...maybe we could join Quebec, then we could all separate together.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Is For Everyone - It Doesn't Have To Be Religious

Spring snuck up on me this year for some reason, I poked my head up from the daily grind to find the baseball season had started, and The Masters golf tournament on TV. Of course spring is about more than baseball and golf, its all about resurrection and renewal. The grass and the trees, seemingly dead for so long...springing back to life.

Growing up in New Jersey this was always my favourite holiday season, even more than Christmas. Sure I loved the presents under the Christmas tree, but late December is the most depressing period of the calendar year. Actually that's where the celebration of the Yule season started, marking the time when the days are shortest and the hours of sunlight the fewest. After Christmas though the days get longer, with light winning the battle against darkness, until finally spring arrives and the hours of sunshine overcome the hours of shadow.

In the little town of Glen Rock back in the 1970s all the kids would gather near the county pool, where there was big open field separated by a ditch. We'd all line up on one side of the ditch, and with the blowing of a whistle plunge into the ditch and climb up into the open field for the annual Easter egg hunt. There was a special egg hidden, with a particular identifying mark...the kid who found 'that' egg would get a really special chocolate bunny...solid chocolate all the way through and weighing something like ten pounds. In the four and a half years we lived there it was never me though...I had to content myself with the lightweight hollowed out version the Easter Bunny left in my basket Sunday morning.

Eggs and bunnies, age old symbols of fertility....of life. That's what makes this time of year special. As I've grown older I've come to have serious doubts about the whole Jesus story. The Good Friday tale about Jesus having the last supper, then being betrayed and brought before Pilate. The crowd being given the opportunity to pardon one prisoner, not once but twice...and then Jesus being crucified and dying on the cross. Getting all that accomplished in just the evening hours of one single day....everyone must have been running faster than Ben Johnson on steroids.

That doesn't mean the story doesn't have significance, things don't have to be literally true for there to be some moralistic merit to the narrative. The lesson I've learned is that life never ends. Science has taught us a lot over the centuries, one of those lessons is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, that it merely changes form. Life in my view is energy, when something springs to life it is the result of energy after all.

So I'll be enjoying this holiday time with my kids. We're going to see the new Hanna Montana movie today...and we'll be taking a hike hopefully through a nearby ravine.

Happy Easter everyone, enjoy this season of renewal.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Blog Has More FaceBook Followers Than...Rick Mercer's???

As many bloggers know Facebook has an application called NetworkedBlogs. For those who weren't aware it shouldn't come across as a big surprise, after all FaceBook has an application for EVERYTHING!!! I bet there's even one for 'Proper Toe Nail Clipping Techniques'....okay, maybe not. But there is one to help you determine which Tellitubbie you I haven't added it, I just checked for the dumbest one I could find and there it was.

Okay, after typing that last line I went and did the know, morbid curiosity. Turns out I'm 'Dipsy'....okay, the name seems about right. Which one is that anyway? Tell me its not the gay one...not that I have a problem with homosexual children's TV characters.

Now what was I writing about originally? Oh blog, Canadian Soapbox. I have more FaceBook followers than Rick Mercer's blog, and no I'm not making this up either. I have 24 followers on Facebook, while Rick Mercer only has 18!!!

Here...check for yourself: Canadian Soapbox Link, Rick Mercer's Blog Link

Of course keep in mind that those were the numbers, (24 vs 18) when I entered this post at about 5:30 PM on Thursday April 9th. I can just see it now, my followers are going to stop following me and start following Mr. 'I get to interview Michael Ignatieff and go skinny dipping with Bob Rae'. On top of that I'm one of the 18 following Rick Mercer's blog, but Mr Bigtime Canadian Showbiz hasn't bothered to follow mine!!!

And while I'm shamelessly plugging other blogs....I should mention Random Thoughts of a Fat Guy. That blog has 53 FaceBook followers. Hrrmmmmmm, obviously the number of followers doesn't tell you very much. That or maybe Rick Mercer and I need to put on some weight.

I'm still tweeting away on Twitter as CanukGord for those who wish to follow me there...21 and counting. I'm going to have a shower now, I feel so dirty.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How's the Recession Affecting Your Workplace?

One of the things about blogging is that it affords me the opportunity to tell my story. There are tons of bloggers (and newspaper columnists for that matter) who love to rant on about whatever issue is currently hot...with me being no exception. But it occurred to me that the bloggers and columnists I most enjoy reading are those who offer up a little glimpse into their own personal worlds. In that vein here's a small glimpse into the life of Gordie Canuk.

Right now I'm working for a pharmaceutical company in Toronto, however I'm employed through a temp agency. Last year that same temp agency had me placed at the LCBO warehouse in Whitby and I worked there for over a year. I've spent the majority of my working life in sales and sales management, and just prior to getting divorced I'd embarked on a career as a financial planner. Situation and circumstance however made that a difficult career to get off the ground while going through a marital breakup.

I get to see my kids regularly during the week by picking them up from school and giving them dinner two times a week...on top of having them every other weekend. To me that's part and parcel of being a Dad, I couldn't come to terms with the thought of seeing them just once every two weeks as happens to so many divorced men. But to accommodate that meant some difficult choices, I decided it would be best to work midnights...but there aren't a lot of sales type jobs looking for midnight employees.

I'm fortunate for the moment in that I'm working from 4 or 5 in the morning, til 1 in the afternoon...which allows me to pick up the kids and attend my son's basketball games. Unfortunately the company I'm working at is shutting down its Toronto operations sometime in June. There is another location in Whitby and some employees are transitioning to that site, but many are in limbo, waiting to hear if they'll be retained or not. The head of my department has made it known that he's trying to get everyone placed there, but of course there are no assurances...and with me being on a temp contract I'm not overly optimistic.

It occurred to me that there are likely a lot of employees who are going to be out of work. But nonetheless they're hanging in and working hard...hopeful that they will be offered the opportunity to work at the Whitby location. From a corporate perspective I can understand there being some reticence in telling people, "sorry guys...but come June 1 you're out of work". That would hardly be a moral booster, and would likely kill productivity. All the better to have people frustrated and on edge, working hard and hoping to be one of the lucky ones.

The LCBO is even worse....their facility in Whitby employs temp agency workers by the busload. No benefits, no job security...and shitty wages to boot. Dalton McGuinty can say all he wants about Ontario needing to attract decent paying, long term jobs to this province. But when an Ontario crown corporation exploits the labour market it rings awfully hollow.

For a lot of years the labour market in Ontario (and Canada as a whole) was pretty tight. Employers had to compete to attract and retain employees, and depending on the skill sets involved the competition could be fierce. Now I suspect many employers are loving the current climate, at least in terms of dealing with HR issues. HR...human resources, isn't that a lovely term. I'm just old enough to remember when it was "Personnel", in other words employees were we're resources. Human Resources, Natural know, basic commodities that are meant to be exploited for maximum profit.

Anyone else have a story to tell? Or any suggestions for this blogger who may very well be looking for work come June? Post a comment or if you like tweet CanukGord on Twitter.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Great Idea For Stimulating The Economy - Ban Smoking

In my never ending quest to make Canada a better place I offer up yet another suggestion, proposing that we ban cigarettes. Now before all you puffers start screaming, with thoughts of turning me into your own personal ashtrays, let me say this...I'm one of you. That's right, I'm a smoker, in fact I'm a pack a day man. So pull out a dart, light up and draw...and listen to what I have to say before you dash the cancer stick out on my keyboard.

According to Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, our nation has over 5 million smokers, about 21% of the total population. That's the only statistic I'm going to quote here, I'm not going to go on about cancer rates, cardiovascular diseases, or even the dangers of second hand smoke. We smokers know about all the stats, but that's not why we light up. The bottom line is we smoke because we enjoy it, and what if smoking cuts ten years off my life. From what I understand, its the last ten. So I miss out on dementia and incontinence? Big deal!

As far as I'm concerned the single biggest threat to a person's health is stress. Let's face it, just breathing these days is said to cause cancer. Stress diminishes the body's ability to fight off disease, and cigarettes are just one of the many things in our modern world with the potential to kill us.

But I'm still going to advocate banning cigarettes, not for the health benefits....but rather for the economy. Here in the GTA a package of cigarettes ranges in price from around $6 for a small pack of 20, up to near $10 depending on the brand. Let's assume that in Canada 4 million packages of cigarettes are consumed each and every day. If the average price for a package is at the low end and just $6, that means the buying and selling of ciggies results in economic activity of $24,000,000 each and every day.

And because smokers rarely take a day off....except when we're REALLY sick, that comes to a total of over $8.7 billion per year. Talk about stimulus!!! Imagine $24 million being injected into local economies each day. Its not like we're going to save that extra six or so bucks...we former smokers would be spending it on other things, probably gum.

Okay, I hear some saying our governments can't afford to do without the tax revenue that cigarettes generate. Well not any more, not when Ottawa and the provinces are busy cutting taxes and increasing spending to stimulate us out of this recession. Besides the obvious benefit of more jack in our pockets and purses, the health care system would be able to redirect spending into other underfunded areas.

Yeah yeah, I know some would ignore the law and drag away in basements or other out of the way law is ever perfect. Marijuana is illegal, but plenty of people still toke. And yet we don't hear a ground swell of public support for legalizing the selling of doobs do we? Sure smoking is an addiction, but if packages weren't available from every corner store and Indian reservation the vast majority of people would learn to get by without it.

If Ottawa isn't willing to take the lead maybe there's a progressively minded province that would take charge. Once initiatives like this take hold it isn't long before other jurisdictions follow suit.

I'm CanukGord on Twitter if you wish to follow me and this blog. I'll probably be losing some smoking followers after this post.

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Divorce and Dating For the Over 40 Set

Dating in your forties can be so much fun, instead of worrying that the hair on my head is neat and tidy...I'm more concerned with trimming the hair in my nose and ears. I posted my thoughts on Facebook a while back, before I'd started this blog...about the joys of dating in your forties, so I figured why not post them here.

By no means do I consider myself to be an archetype, after all everyone's situation is different. Obviously there are a myriad of life experiences that those of us in and around 40 have that those younger wouldn't understand. Being around 40 puts me in an interesting nexus. Some in this age range have young children, while others might be grandparents already.

Given our modern age 'Internet dating' is very popular with plenty of choice when it comes to sites that all claim to be the latest thing is ensuring that you'll meet the man or woman of your dreams. Almost all are 'free' when it comes to posting your availability, but if you actually wish to contact someone...well then there's usually a cost involved. One site charges nothing however, and its very popular. I've spoken to some women though who prefer what I'll call 'premium sites', the thought being that they attract higher quality men, ones who are actually willing to pay to talk to them. Some might take that as a commentary on the women themselves who prefer those type of 'pay' sites, but I'll leave it for each individual to decide.

A relatively common thread I've found amongst both men and women, particularly those of us who've found out our long term partners were cheating on us, is something I call 'revenge dating'. We might fool ourselves into thinking we're looking for a relationship, but in point of fact we're simply out to prove ourselves capable of still attracting and bedding a member of the opposite sex, or same sex if that happens to be one's preference. As a general rule I think it wise for those looking for something long term to avoid those who have recently ended a long term relationship... meaningful connections are not something that happen overnight.

As for other 'general rules' or guidelines...well there seem to be as many as there are individuals. I think women, being the more cerebral of the sexes, tend to have more rules. Among some that I've heard:

  • I'll never date a Scorpio/Leo/Aries/Pisces...(the sign of the ex)
  • I'll never date a "Bob"...(name of the ex)
  • Nobody in sales (job of the ex)

I think you get the idea. Men on the other hand, I think we have far fewer rules....our goals are much simpler. Finding a woman who can tolerate us, and one who will go to bed with us at least occasionally. I recall an episode of the TV show Frasier in which Daphne tells Frasier that its not just women who use sex to get what they want, that men as well will use sex to get what they which Frasier excitedly replies.

"Don't be ridiculous, how can men use sex to get what we want??? SEX IS WHAT WE WANT"!!!

Dating in your 20s or even 30s far different from being 40ish. When you're 20/30, for the most part, time seems to be on your side. If you're 25 and look down the road 20're looking at 45, which many still consider to be 'prime time'...(damn I love putting words in 'quotes'). At 42, in another 20 years I'll be 62...thinking about things like my Canada Pension and strategies for keeping regular.

I think those of us in and around this age bracket, that's there's a tendency to want to find short cuts. Strategies and questions designed to quickly weed out those who won't be a 'good fit'. With so many of us from broken marriages and relationships wanting that ultimate life partner...and with time seemingly at a premium, we're hoping to stumble up a magic formula for sifting through the dating pool. Again I find women are far more into this method, with a wide variety of 'rules' they've designed to help them zone in on that magic individual who will make them happy the rest of their lives. Guys? I don't think our expectations are that high, we're not looking for relationship Nirvana....its more a case of looking to avoid relationship hell.

A common thread seems to be 'the spark'. I've heard many times, "there has to be an initial attraction...a spark". For my own part I consider that to be very teenage thinking...that 'spark' is something called lust in my opinion, and its influenced by a host of random factors, not the least of which is how horny we are at the time of meeting.

Another frequent bromide is "he/she has to be into me". I've developed my own strategy when encountering this rule....RUN!!! I might be generalizing, but someone who wants me to be totally INTO them, they might just be a tad too needy.

In writing something like this....once you start its hard to sum everything up and tie it all up with a nice bow. And that's probably as it should be. As human beings we all prefer order to chaos, but anyone who says life is simple is either simple themselves or is residing in a mental facility.

At the end of the day I think the ultimate relationship involves 2 people who love and respect each other. Two people who have many common interests, but also areas of interest which are their's alone. And if they're lucky they'll be able to ride out the curve balls life inevitably throws at them, if not they can go back up to the plate hoping this time they'll get a pitch they can handle.

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Recession Takes A Toll On Marriages Too

Normally I have no problem deciding on a topic to blog on, there's usually so much to choose from. Politics, the economy, hot button issues like abortion...often I find myself having to choose just one because I don't want to do four posts in one 24 hour period. Such hasn't been the case the past few days, I've been wanting to write about divorce...and sometimes when an idea takes hold its hard to let go of it.

The difficulty though is this issue hits close to home. Like roughly fifty per cent of Canadians who get married, I am divorced. Marriage breakdowns have a myriad of causes, but often the underlying reason is one of simple economics. Money has a way of making small things big, or big things small. I think in general its easier for a couple to look past each other's obvious imperfections when things are going well. Conversely, when money is tight...small issues take on greater significance. I forget who said it, but an apt quote I recall is: "I've been rich and I've been is better".

With the economy in deep recession, and with no end in stands to reason that the strain of money worries will probably lead many to contemplate life without their partners. If you're looking for a prime example of the cure being worse than the disease, divorce fits the bill to a T. If people think divorce will solve their money problems they're dreaming. Divorce is probably the single greatest threat to net worth, with the ability to destroy even the most carefully laid out financial plans.

As human beings we are born to couple. Most people who divorce eventually remarry, often more than once. According to government data almost 50% of first marriages fail, and 75% of second marriages. For those taking a third kick at the quest for marital bliss, the failure rate climbs all the way to 85% (Statistics Here)

There's one thing I want to make perfectly clear here, I'm not talking about situations where there is abuse. No person, and its overwhelmingly the woman in the relationship who suffers abuse, should have to put up with any threats to their own well being, or that of their children. Ironically, and sadly, women who are abused often stay with their partners. Abusers so diminish a woman's self-esteem that she feels trapped, and stays in the marriage because she's convinced she doesn't deserve better.

But in a lot of cases I think our high divorce rate is due to an inability or a lack of willingness to put up with discomfort. In our society we're conditioned to believe that we should be happy all the time...well, maybe not "all" the time...but periods of pain and discomfort should be short and sweet. Feeling hungry but don't want to cook? No problem, call this number and they'll have food at your door in 30 minutes or its free. Half an hour too long? Then zap this package in your microwave and you can have a hot meal in less than 5 minutes. Feeling depressed, here's a pill, can't's another pill. Having trouble getting Mr. Happy to stand at attention big worries, there's a pill for that too.

Any couple that's gotten past the honeymoon period knows, that when it comes to marriage....there is often pain and discomfort. Everyone knows another couple who has the perfect marriage, they're the pair that always agree with each other and they never utter a harsh word. Of course they don't have the perfect marriage, they're just better actors than most. Obviously some unions are stronger than others, but I have yet to meet a couple who can honestly admit they never fight.

It would be nice to think that times of stress would bring a man and woman closer together, and in some cases it does. But when the problems centre around money, often feelings of anger and resentment get buried...and manifest themselves in other ways. Communication breaks down and instead of being man and wife, partners become more like room mates.

Especially heart breaking is when divorce involves children. Back in the 1960s and earlier, when divorces were much rarer, the popular wisdom was that 'staying together for the kids' was actually doing them more harm than good. That was before divorce rates skyrocketed, giving us statistics which show how damaging divorce can be to children.

Before any decisions are made, and while the lines of communication are still open...even if they're strained...I strongly recommend seeking out counselling. Many churches offer it, as well as various social agencies. And don't be concerned with the costs involved, at the end of the day its far cheaper than living in separate households to say nothing of legal and other associated expenses.

*** Hope you like the new template, I was never really happy with the old one. And I'm still tweeting a way on Twitter, so if you want to follow me and this blog feel free to add CanukGord.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Harper Winning The Chess Match Versus Iggy

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I have no affection for Prime Minister Stephen Harper whatsoever. With that being said, balanced commentary demands that one look past personal biases when taking stock of a situation. While bloggers tend to be very partisan in nature, most Canadians are not. I know there are some voters who will cast their franchise with the same party every election, regardless of the leader or political climate...but I've never been one to marry a single party. I've voted Liberal, Conservative and NDP in various elections over the past 20 plus years.

So...taking a step back from my own personal views, its hard to avoid the conclusion that Harper is besting Iggy right now in the political arena.

I've been waiting anxiously to see Ignatieff 'grow a pair' during his sparring with the Prime Minister. But every time his cajones seem to be swelling, they quickly shrink back to a pair of ball bearings. Ignatieff started off well after assuming the leadership, galvanizing his support within the party, and with chief rival Bob Rae providing a strong endorsement. Since then there's been a series of missteps, nothing catastrophic....but cumulatively they're beginning to add up.

It all started with the budget. Ignatieff initially said he would not be providing any input. He wisely insisted it was the job of the governing party to outline the direction, and that the Liberals would respond. This was a good move, because in a severe recession it wouldn't matter what initiatives were taken, there was still going to be plenty of pain to go around. But then surprisingly Iggy changed course and outlined several areas he said needed to be addressed. Harper and the Conservatives wisely included measures to assuage Ignatieff's concerns, thus undercutting the credibility of any future criticism.

Next came the $3 billion left over from the previous budget year. Ignatieff threatened to bring the government down if they didn't provide details as to how the money was to be spent. Calling the $3 billion a 'slush fund', the Liberal leader said his party would not issue the Conservatives a blank cheque....But again, Iggy backed down and let the Tories have their way, allowing them to spend first and provide details later.

Now its the gun registry. Harper is signalling that the Conservatives will introduce legislation to eliminate the controversial program. Ignatieff is once again sticking out his horns and threatening to defeat the government. On its own this wouldn't be a confidence vote, so the fate of the government doesn't necessarily hang in the balance. But if Harper wants to engage in yet more could. The Prime Minister could declare it a confidence motion, or conversely he could wrap in some budgetary measures making the matter of confidence automatic. Either way the potential for a snap election exists if the Conservatives use it as a matter of confidence and Iggy sticks to his guns.

The Conservatives have been in election mode for sometime now, with the Liberals just starting to catch up. Harper is making good use of events like the G-20 summit and his meeting with President Obama. While those who would never vote for Harper in any case bristled at his Fox News appearance, the fact is the Prime Minister looked good handling softball questions from the decidedly conservative network.

Ignatieff and the Liberals need to be very cautious about bringing the government down. Taking the bait on something as pithy as the gun registry could spell electoral disaster. Political junkies aside, Canadians are sick of voting in federal elections. With the economy in free fall we want our elected officials dealing with this crisis. Political games can come later.

If you use Twitter you can follow me and this blog by clicking here: CanukGord

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Give Me Your Thoughts On Obama - In Six Words

I've just put up April's polling question, asking readers how Barack Obama is measuring up to their expectations. I'd also like to generate some feedback via the comment section, but I've decided to throw in a small twist. I'm asking those who post a comment here, to use exactly six words in describing their thoughts on the new U.S. president.

I'd love to take credit for this idea, asking people to post their thoughts using just six words, but actually I've borrowed it from "Six Word Memoirs". That's a site that asks people to tell the world their story, in just six words. Some of them are hilarious, like this one:

"Mother in law joined Facebook...F##K"!!!

I'll start the ball rolling by posting my six word assessment first:

"Elected president, now a car salesman".

Yeah I know, its pretty lame. I'm betting there are readers and other bloggers out there who will top it no problem: No limitations, I don't censor and if you think of more than one feel free to comment away as often as you want.

If you use Twitter and want to follow me I'm CanukGord.

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