Friday, March 30, 2012

A nickle for your thoughts? No more pennies allowed

Finally!!!  No more useless pennies. 

No doubt there will be  much hand wringing and finger pointing about today's federal budget.  There always is, especially during times of constraint.  Everyone's laundry list of things to cut is different, while some don't care whether the budget is balanced at all.  For the record, I do like to see our governments (be they federal, provincial or municipal) operating with at least balanced, if not surplus budgets.

Just because one individual or one party has a different set of priorities than others doesn't make that person or that party inherently evil, different strokes for different folks as the old saw goes.

But one thing I think we can all agree on is the wisdom in finally deciding to eliminate the lowly penny, sending it to the trash bin with other historical relics like half pennies and farthings.

It is being reported that taxpayers will save about $11 million per year, not much in the grand scheme of things, but we are dealing with one cent pieces here. 

I'd actually written about this before, back in March of 2009, going so far as to advocate eliminating the nickle as well and bringing in a $5 coin to go with our loonies and tooniess, (READ IT HERE).

Yes, it is a small measure for a small unit of currency.  Now everyone go back to debating the meatier aspects. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What the federal budget will say, and what it really means...cue Carlin

When Thursday rolls around Canadians will be finding out exactly what kind of government a minority of some 40% of us chose.  In  point of fact it might be well under 40%, depending on how many Canadians were sent to non-existant polling stations which might just have boosted Conservative numbers a tad. 

Isn't Floridahhhhh...errr I mean Canada great?

We're being told that the budget will focus on certain areas or themes.  Of course they'll positioned with nice flowery language, employing plenty of double speak, something politicians do very well.

In the interest of clarity here's my take on what we'll be hearing and what the actual impact will be.

  • Support for innovation and research
Sounds nice, but let's call it what it really is okay?  Corporate welfare.  Tax credits designed to ensure this nations wealthiest business pay even less in taxes than they already are.  Adam Smith preached the profit motive, companies competing against each other, researching and innovating to better their chances of survival.  Now we've got the corporate nanny state looking to hold big business' hand.
  • Overhauling of regulations for resource development. 
Again this sounds positive.  An overhaul is a good thing right?  Every machine needs an overhaul for it to keep running.  But what it really means in this case is allowing resource companies to avoid annoying things like environmental impact studies.  We'll find out how the environment was impacted by pipelines, mines and oil sands projects after the money has been made.
  • Investing in training and opportunity
Now who could argue with that?  Well folks, sorry to say it just sounds like more corporate welfare to me.  "Ya know those people you were going to hire?  We'll letcha stick taxpayers with their training costs.  Your business gets skilled workers to help you make even more $$$$, and you don't have to invest a dime.  Why invest your own capital when the government can stick it to Joe and Jane Sixpack"?

And finally the biggest bone job of them all: 
  • Insuring the long-term sustainability of major social programs like Old Age Security
Oh boy.  To sustain social programs we're gonna have to cut benefits and/or raise the eligibility criteria.  But you boomers nearing retirement don't have to worry, you guys vote and there are a s*** ton of you, so we're gonna stick your kids and grand kids with the bill.

For a primer on political double speak I give you the late great George Carlin:

Mulclair is a winner, cue the attack ads

He won the battle, Thomas Mulcair  is the new leader of the NDP.  Now he needs to win the war of bringing his party together.

I have no doubt that Conservative strategists are already burning the midnight oil, trying to come up with a plan of attack that will ensure the roughly 60% of electors who didn't support the Harper government remain a house divided.  Divided enough that the Tories can win another majority with about 40% support the next time we go to the polls in three or so years time.

I do believe the NDP chose wisely.  Yes, Thomas Mulcair will ruffle some feathers with the old guard, those who see the NDP as the conscience of parliament.  But if the NDP is serious about building a bigger tent, then they're going to have to reach beyond their traditional labour base.

I for one would love to see them ditch the 'New' and become Canada's Democratic party.  Like it or lump it branding maters, and selling Canada's Democratic party would be easier than convincing some to vote NDP.

So when will the attack ads start?  That's a good question, but I think any efforts by the Tories will be centred around keeping the majority of Canadians who vote centre-left divided. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Need to raise taxes or cut services? Hit boomers...

I was born in 1966, and by some warped definition I am somehow included in the post-war baby boom.  The baby boom is said to be the result of servicemen coming home after WWII and making up for lost time with their wives in an era that pre-dated birth control.  My father however was born in 1938, and at the conclusion of the war he was about 9 years of age, so obviously he wasn't returning home to father children.

Those on the front end of the boom, (they like to be called zoomers now I hear) are about twenty years older than I am.  I wonder how many twenty year olds consider themselves as being from the same generation as a forty year old?  Obviously I don't identify with the generation of which I am nominally a part. 

The baby boom has been like a cloud of locusts, moving through various stages of their lives and gobbling up everything in their path.  They continually elected the likes of Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, whose governments racked up a mountain of debt to pay for the services and programs boomers wanted and valued. 

Now?  The till is empty and all that's left behind is a huge bill.  But rather than hitting up those entering retirement, boomers are happy to see their children and grandchildren being smacked with what's owing.

Take the student protests in Quebec recently.  Sure, education was free or damn near when the boomers went through.  But all that lovely spending can't be sustained, and boomers aren't going to school anymore, so its time to jack tuition costs. 

So we need to raise the eligibility age for public pensions?  Tut tut, don't worry grandma and grandpa, you won't be affected, just your children.  I mean let's face it, your governments have being provided services to you guys for years on borrowed money, and it wouldn't be fair to expect you to be the ones to pay it back.

Yes, I might be a boomer, but I know by the time I reach 65 I'm going to be looking at Freedom 75, 85 or maybe even 95 and state funded health care will be a distant memory.  Fortunately by the time I'm 95 just about all the boomers will have zoomed to their graves. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Higher temps, higher gas prices...$1.40+ in Québec City

Ahhh what a nice warm spring, and it finally caught up to the micro-climate that is Québec city, or as the signs here proclaim it...the capital of "la nation". 

Oh there's still snow here, lots of it.  But with the mercury rising to somewhere around 17 degrees Celsius today, it won't be around much longer.  The rivers are swelling, buds will soon be sprouting, and it won't be long I'm sure before I see my first robin.

And of course there's another sure sign that spring is upon us with summer close at hand...gas prices shooting up.  Yep, from around $132.9 to over $1.40 in my 'petit coin'.   That's about $5.00 more to fill up my little four cylinder car, much more for you SUV gas guzzlers out there.

I sure hope our government can do something to help the oil and gas companies out, obviously they're hurting pretty bad if they need to jack prices this high.  Maybe some tax cuts and breaks on royalties or something?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Enough with the attack ads already, we get it....

Okay, okay...Canadians from coast to coast to coast should finally understand by now.  There is one, and only one person who is fit to serve as this nation's Prime Minister.  That person is Stephen Harper, message received.

Stephane Dion wasn't worth the risk, Michael Ignatieff was only in it for himself, and now Bob Rae ran up big deficits in Ontario.  Stevie is perfect!!!   There's no risk with the Harper government, our PM is in it for us, and we won't have deficits...well not big ones, uhm...well not for long.

Jesus Christ himself could take over the leadership of the Liberals and ads about His socialistic tendencies would be out within a week I bet.

If you missed it, from CTV's website: 

Conservative ads slam Rae as 'failure,' praise Harper

Really???  What a surprise.  Welcome to Canada, election mode 24/7. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dépanneur owner whose store was vandalized should learn to speak French

The owner of a Verdun depanneur had his store vanadalized after a series of events resulting from his inability or unwillingness to speak French.

CTV is reporting (HERE) that Anthony Williams, owner of a convenience store east of Montreal, has seen a drop in his business after a confrontation with a customer last week because he wasn't serving customers en français.

That apparently led to a call from a radio station, not identifying it as such, in which Mr. Williams went into quite a long rant about welfare cases doing nothing but smoking and drinking beer.  That rant was broadcast.   The business owner claims in the article that he'd been receiving as many of 50 harassing phone calls a day about his serving customers in English, and didn't know he was speaking to a radio station.

As for the vandalism, it was reportedly dog feces smeared on the a store window.  Thankfully it wasn't worse, like those idiots in Vancouver.  I am not condoning any act of vandalism no matter how minor. I'm merely making the point that at least no  property damage was done.  Obviously the person  responsible for the vandalism is either or child or has the mentality of one.

But the point that needs to be made here, is that any retail business operating in a predominately French area, of a province with French as its only official language....they really should serve French speaking customers in the frickin French language.  Duh!!!!

Imagine a convenience store setting up shop just outside of Toronto, say in Oshawa, with an owner/operator who only spoke Chinese.  How long do you think the place would stay in business?

Hopefully the residents wouldn't stoop to harassing phone calls and vandalism, but I bet there'd be precious few customers coming in for smokes if they had to ask for them in Mandarin.

Canada's Québecois have been recognized as a nation by the Harper government.  Given that status and the pride Quebecers have in their culture and language, this kind of reaction is perhaps easier to understand, although vandalism and harassment should never be condoned.

But French speaking Quebecers also understand the fragility of their language, given that they are but a small island in a sea of English, and unfortunately some over do go over the top. 

The solution is simple, shop somewhere else, $$$ is the language all business speaks. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kony 2012 - Grassroots campaign or manufactured outrage?

Disclosure, I haven't watched the Kony 2012 video.  I think I'm one of about 12 people in Canada who haven't. 

I did catch some of it on network news however, and like any person with a heart and a pulse, I was sickened.  It is unbelievable to me the atrocities that continue to take place all over the world.  And violence against children is always reprehensible.

With that being said, I was struck by something tweeted by journalist Eric Margolis back on March 8th:

Sadly Kony isn't the world's only war criminal, what that he were.  The Taliban is brutal and repressive, the Uzbeks are every bit as bad...oops, they're on our side.  Regardless, there are any number or countries that western powers, (primarily the U.S.) could police. 

But at least with the viral nature of this YouTube video, Obama has political cover should this latest foray escalate.  The fact that the U.S. is committing troops isn't really news in fact. 

Africa is a resource rich continent, and has been a battle ground for centuries.  As U.S. president Obama said recently:

"....deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy..."

All I can hope is that eventually children living in this area will be able to live in peace and security.  In many other parts of the world, they're still waiting.

Do Republicans want a religious extremist as their nominee?

The U.S. has troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and numerous other countries, and there's some definite sabre rattling happening right now in the direction of Iran from some quarters.  Often times western powers are battling with religious extremists, Islamic fundamentalist with an extreme interpretation of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

You might expect to see quotes like this from leaders in countries like Iran or from the Taliban in Afghanistan:

"This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war."

Oooops, that was from Republican presidential nominee Rick Santorum.  Okay, let me cite a quote from a U.S. right-winger then.  Something which speaks to what we've come to expect from the Theo-Con camp of the GOP.

"This is a war between two willpowers: the willpower of the people and the willpower of their enemies". 

Almost sounds like it was taken from a speech by G.W. Bush himself doesn't it?  Um, oops again.   That isn't Santorum or Bush, that quote is from Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah. 

Ah well, that's what happens when you try to sift through extremist rhetoric, its hard to tell the opposing sides apart because...well, with religious nuts, they're all convinced they have the All Mighty's blessing. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Think Ron Paul is nuts? Good, the MSM is doing its job...check out John Stewart

Ron Paul could easily drop out of the GOP race and coporate media would be very happy.  They've built up candidates like Rick Santorum, while working very hard at avoiding the Texas doctor and service vertran.

Don't believe me?  Check out John Stewart.  Pretty telling when Comedy Central provides more insight than major news outlets:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Americans can win back world respect by electing Ron Paul

I spent a bit of time growing up in the United States.  I attended kindergarten and grades one to three and a bit of four in NJ and all of grade six near Portland Oregon.  It is probably for that reason that I have enormous respect for our southern neighbours.  With that being said I have seen the U.S. in decline for generations now. 

Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama...Republicans and democrats, it doesn't matter, the slide continues. 

I wasn't born into the information age, but I've come of age during it.  I've watched journalism turn into hackery as media convergence has led to corporate ownership of almost all our media outlets.  Its not a healthy situation, in democracies like Canada and the U.S. news and information represents power and gives those owning it tremendous control.

When the United States was founded the press was free, and the marketplace of  ideas was open for business.  Such is not the case now.  We have media giants making donations to political organizations.  Does this sound 'fair and balanced' to you?

To those perhaps rolling their eyes and thinking, 'oh great, another conspiracy', don't be naive.  You would have to be incredibly naive to think that rich, powerful and influential individuals and organizations wouldn't use their wealth, power and influence to affect the results of things like elections.

You get what and who you pay for.  And as things stand right now, Ron Paul doesn't look like he's on the payroll.  And why would he be?

He advocates a return to a little thing called the U.S. constitution.  That would mean that declaring war on another nation would require an act of Congress.   Instead of just one man saying, "let's go" there could be actual debate.  War though is big business, the arms industry is massive.  If you're a company that makes billions from what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex, are you going to give a guy like Ron Paul a bigger platform to cut your profits? 

He's also for auditing and ending the Federal Reserve system.  How do you think the owners of the Fed feel about that?  Anyone who thinks the Fed is a government institution and not a privately held entity needs to do some research.  Just don't expect to see any in depth reporting on Fox News.

The United States became a beacon to the world by enshrining individual rights and freedoms.  When you hear the word liberty its hard not to think of the U.S.  But that liberty has been eroded by the badly named Patriot Act, and is still under attack with initiatives like SOPA.  Canadians should know a bit about this with the Harper government's invasive, police state style Internet legislation.

The mainstream media presents Dr. Ron Paul as something of a kook, it serves their purpose.  But younger people who are no longer tethered to MSM news are catching on.  Check out the videos they're putting out and listen to the message.  Liberty, individual rights and freedoms, a return to the constitution.  America threw off its colonial masters some 200 plus years ago in dreams of attaining freedom and liberty, its a never ending battle.  And to get back what they once had they'll have to throw off their corporate masters as well. 

Global multi-nationals don't care about the great unwashed, just a bigger and bigger bottom line.  And when their excess and poor management threatens to sink them, our elected officials toss them billions, stolen from people who can least afford it.  Corporate America isn't American, Corporate Canada isn't Canadian, they're global and they'll go wherever and wherever they can get the best return.

It wasn't always this way, and it doesn't have to stay this way.

Watch the videos:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tories to social conservatives...thanks for the votes, now bugger off!!!

Members of Canada's socially conservative religious right fraternity must be looking on the Harper government like the insurance salesman who attends church to drum up business.  I mean sure he's on the membership role and tosses his cheque in the plate every week.  But is he a true believer or just there to network?

From where I sit the issues of importance to social  conservatives are as follows:

  • A return of the death penalty
  • Abortion back in the criminal code
  • Ending the legal status of same-sex marriage
I'll state my opinions and bias up front as I often do.  I'm opposed to the death penalty in all cases.  While I consider myself ardently Pro-Choice, I would not be averse to some limitations being placed on late term procedures provided access would never be  impeded in cases of maternal health.  And as for same-sex marriage, I really don't give a rip, keep it legal or ban doesn't matter to me one way or another.

I'm not looking to argue any of these points, just giving you my opinion.  Ain't democracy grand?

I wonder though if some in the evangelical crowd are beginning to feel like they've been taken.  It must be like taking a whole life insurance package from that nice 'Christian' sitting in the pews every Sunday only to find out he's been trolling down Church St. in Toronto and availing himself of bath houses.

 Scannning So-Con blogs it seems our PM could be losing the flock.


Big Blue Wave

The Conservatives have a five year mandate, plenty of time to toss a core constituency a bone or two.  Otherwise principalled MPs might decide to leave and set up their own party.  Its happened before.


Are Canada's conservatives a house divided?

Here's a question dear reader. 

Are you conservative or liberal? 

It might seem a straight forward, but I imagine responses would vary widely based on the context of the question.  Are we talking about political parties, money, human rights...all three?

In terms of party politics, the Conservatives are hot.  Sure they're not yet garnering a majority of votes in any recent election, but their numbers keep going up and they are the single largest minority by a good margin.

If you're on the left hand side of the political spectrum you have a lot of choice in this country.  You have the Liberals who many consider to be fiscally conservative based on the Chrétien/Martin record of balanced budgets and paying down the national debt.  Then  there's the NDP for those who strongly support the labour or union movement.  The Greens present themselves as fiscally conservative with a strong emphasis on protecting the environment.  And Quebecois have the added choice of the Bloc, generally  speaking a very socially progressive party, albeit one determined to take Québec out of the country.

For conservative minded voters on the right...uhm, you've got Harper's cons or a few fringe parties with no hope of winning a seat anytime in the foreseeable future.  Sorry that's it, and that's all.

Stephen Harper has achieved electoral success by bringing in divergent groups into the Conservative tent.  Fiscal conservatives enraged at the Liberal Ad-Scam scandal, social conservatives looking for action on things like abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage.  Even libertarians who want to see government reduced to providing only core  bare bones services.

And from where I sit I don't see how any of these groups can be happy with the job our Prime Minister has done. 

So-cons have seen zero action on any of the initiatives on their agenda, with MP Brad Trost saying Harper isn't even Pro-Life, the PM's membership to an evangelical church notwithstanding.

Fiscal conservatives can't be happy with record setting deficits and the elimination of all the gains made in paying down the national debt by the Chrétien/Martin Liberals.

And the libertarian element of the party must be just thrilled with all the corporate welfare being doled out.  $2 million for a fake lake, I'm sure that went over huge with the less government constituency. 

The only thing that all CPC members can be happy with is victory, they've won the last 3 elections and now finally have a majority mandate.  But what is victory worth if the issues which drew voters and members to the party aren't being addressed?  At least with a minority mandate Harper had some cover.  The Conservatives had to appease at least one of the opposition parties to ensure they remained in power, such is no longer the case.

The saving grace right now is the damage they've inflicted on the Liberal brand with the constant stream of negative attack ads we've seen on successive Grit leaders.  Will conservative voters upset with the PM be able to bring themselves to support a party that has been so denigrated over the past several years?

Time as always, will tell.

Brad Trost says Harper is not Pro-Life and chastises the PMO

I just finished reading a Macleans interview with Conservative backbench MP Brad Trost. 

For those, like me, who've seen his name in the press about the issue of abortion, and formed the opinion that he is a one string banjo plucking the Pro-Life chord over and over...I strongly suggest giving it a read.  I think you'll find the interview engaging and perhaps find at least a modicum of respect for the Saskatchewan MP.  I did, and more than a modicum. 

On the issue of abortion he laments the fact that Canada is the only industrialized nation in the world with no laws whatsover relating to the termination of pregnancy.  He points to Sweeden and France as two examples, countries probably more liberal minded than Canada, yet they have legislation and we don't. 

Now, for those who like the status quo, and who have been fearful that the so called 'secret agenda' might include re-introduction of abortion to the criminal code, take a big relaxing sigh.  According to Mr. Trost, and I'll quote directly from the interview here, he says of the PM:

In all of his runs for leadership, or I even believe going back as a Reform MP, he’s never been pro-life.

He's not critical of the PM's opinion, in fact he speaks very respectfully of Mr. Harper, saying the Prime Minsiter is basically 'sticking with what he says'. 

Mr. Trost does however have some not so kind words for the Prime Minister's Office, again quoting from the interview:

It’s very hard to communicate with them. And they may not like it if you print that in there, but frankly, they need to have someone who can actually communicate with Members of Parliament and they don’t.

I think Brad should read the text of a 1997 speech Harper gave to the Council for National Policy, a Washington based neo-con think tank.  In that speech our current PM compared our house of commons to the U.S. electoral college, except that ours continues sitting whereas in the U.S. the college disappears after an election. 

You can read the full article at Macleans site HERE.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Taxpayers on the hook for almost $600 Billion in mortgage debt

Do you know anyone who has recently bought a house with less than 20% down?  I know a few myself, young twenty somethings with decent but not great income, who've decided to take the dive.  And why not?  Qualifying for a mortgage is easy, and if you're not good enough at handling money to have put away a piddly little down payment, the banks will rebate it to you.

Why waste money on rent when you can build equity right?  I mean its not like we're the U.S. where record levels of personal debt and ultra low interest rates caused the RE market to bubble and eventually burst. 

This is Canada eh!!!

Uh huh.  This is Canada where banks are covered by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a federal crown corporation.  So if a homeowner walks away from a property and declares bankruptcy, the bank isn't on the hook, its taxpayers.  So why not rebate the down payment to a kid with no money of his or her own to put into a house?  The bank has its rear end covered by you and me. 

The problem now is that CMHC is almost at the $600 billion limit imposed on them by the feds.  How keen do you think a bank will be to loan out money if they're the ones on the hook if the borrower defaults and goes for the financial white out with a BK filing?

The reality that we're living in a housing bubble is not up for debate, the only question is when will the balloon pop.  And how far will housing prices fall.

Obviously major centres like Vancouver and the GTA will be hit hardest.  But over indebtedness is not exclusive to big city residents.  There are people in every part of the country who have gorged themselves on cheap credit over the past several years.

At the end of the day its all about supply and demand, yes Mr. Green I did pay attention in Economics class. 

A recent Globe & Mail article cited a dearth of listings in the GTA market.  So while demand has eased as the economy sputters, so has the available supply...which has managed to keep prices up for the time being.

But spring is almost here, and that's when things normally heat up in the RE market.  Many people like to move in the summer, so buying in April or May for a July closing makes sense. 

Is the reason for the dearth of listings that many are holding off selling in hopes of a spring feeding frenzy?  We'll know before too long.  If listings do swell, we could be looking at the first buyers market in a long time. 

Around 70% of Canadians already live in a home that's been purchased.  So where buyers will come from to soak up the extra supply...I don't know, everyone keeps saying China.  I have my doubts. 

If you're not yet totally fed up with reading about the pending collapse in RE values in this country then here's a link to a Macleans article which compares Canada now to the U.S. back around 2005. 

Warning, its not a pretty picture.  (LINK TO ARTICLE)

Monday, March 5, 2012

CREA projects average house prices to dip

The Canadian Real Estate Association is predicting that the national average for house prices will drop in 2012, but not by much.  I wouldn't put too much stock in such forecasts though, before the U.S. housing market cratered so called experts were out to lunch on their predictions south of the border.

The elephant in the room, so to speak, is household debt.  The national average is pegged at over 150% of income with low interest rates being cited as the major cause.  And with so many buyers leveraging themselves to the hilt to buy into a bubble market, many Canadians are sitting on mountains of debt with very little wiggle room should the need to access capital arise. 

Right now we're where the Americans were before their housing balloon went BANG. 

According to the governor of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney, roughly 10% of Canadians are vulnerable financially.  And with home ownership at over 70% in this country there isn't a lot of demand left over when listings start to swell.

My opinion, worth as much as that of the CREA, is that once prices start to dip, that many who were thinking of selling will decide to hang on until things improve.  But momentum in any market is hard to stop.  When real estate prices were climbing the mob mentality took over, with many paying more than they could reasonably afford due to fear of being priced out of the market.

It will be like people who bought Nortel north of $150 per share after it started coming down.  Many will hang on thinking that a rebound is just a year or two away....yes, like in the U.S. 

All it will take for a U.S. style drop in prices is another recession or even a minor bump in interest rates.  And both of those scenarios are more likely than not to occur over the next 12-24 months.