Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Enough of the Economic Action Plan ads, buy Canadians a Tims instead

Sick of all those ads for the Harper government's Economic Action Plan?  You know what I'm talking about, the never ending spots telling Canadians what a great job the federal government is doing in building prosperity.  Its ironic that their first inclination when the global financial crisis hit was to do nothing.  It took the threat of a budget defeat and a loss of power to get them interested in fighting the recession. 

But fight it they did, taking their cue from the opposition parties they converted to the idea that government can take an active role in steering the economy.  In fact they're absolute zealots to the cause now, borrowing tens of millions of dollars to tell us all about it.

Listening to a CBC radio interview this morning, the cost of this....uhm, Adscam (?) is somewhere between $60 and $65 million. 

Even simple minded idiots like me realize all this advertising is little more than propaganda, designed to help Harper and his merry band win the next election.  All governments engage in this crap.  

What blows is that they're paying for it on the credit card, our credit card.  The feds haven't had a balanced budget for ages now.  Finance minister Jim Flaherty has replaced surplus budgets with massive deficits and has Canada sitting with the largest accumulated federal debt in our history.

So it occurred to me as I was listening to the radio and sipping my Timmy's this morning.  If the government is willing to borrow this kind of cash hoping that I and other Canadians will re-elect them in a couple years, why not skip the ad agencies and just buy Canadians some coffee from Tim Hortons. 

Sixty million will buy a lot of coffee, surely more than enough to give every person of voting age their java fix.  And with it being roll up the rim to win time, there are added spin offs with vehicles, barbeques and prepaid credit cards to be won.

Sure the ad agencies and broadcasters wouldn't like seeing the gravy train come to an end, but that's life.  Media types can vie for another prize in the form of cash for life the next time the Prime Minister starts cramming the Senate with friends for Pam and Mikey to play with.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

One Anglo-Quebecer's take on the language debate

The anglophone community has deep roots in Quebec, I however do not.  

I moved to Quebec back in October of 2011, so that's less than two years that I have been residing here in the provincial capital of Quebec City.  When it comes to opinions on Quebec's never ending language debate the views of anglophones are as varied as the community itself.

This is mine.

A bit on my frame of reference.  Prior to moving here I had already attained a fair degree of fluency in the French language.  I studied French throughout high school and into university, and I spent six weeks the summer I turned eighteen on New Brunswick's Acadian Penninsula taking a French Immersion course.

My facility in the language was  sufficient enough for me to find employment in customer service, sales and account management positions in the Toronto area.   I never, and still have not, attained what I consider perfect fluency, but I do consider myself more than functionally bilingual.

Suffice to say I place a high degree of value on bilingualism and have more than a bit of sympathy for those who strive to protect and promote the French language in Quebec.   I embraced the opportunity to move here, and I love living in Quebec.

The two issues dominating discussion of late are limiting access to English schools for Quebec students and the  removal of bilingual status from some municipalities.

It goes without saying that Quebec is a French island surrounded by an ocean of the English language.  If the French language is to survive and thrive in this environment, then barriers need to be constructed to protect it from being flooded.  The damn protecting la langue française is already showing major cracks on the island of Montreal.  A French speaking Quebecer can go into a west island convenience store and find they have to speak English at the counter.

The debate comes down to individual rights versus that of a society as a whole.

Quebecers have elected a government which places a high priority on protecting and promoting the use of French and is proposing legislation which reflects the direction in which they wish to take the society.

In terms of education, those parents whose kids are denied access to an English public school can still enroll their children in a private school that is English.  Some consider that unfair, and argue that they're being denied a fundamental right.  But does the overall society not have a fundamental right to defend itself from being assimilated?

Its a difficult question for sure.  The same issues apply to municipal governments losing their bilingual status which would result in the loss of English language services.

Our federal government  protects the entertainment industry with content rules that prevent our marketplace from being overrun with programming and music from the United States on our public airwaves.  Quebec is acting in similar fashion, but here it goes beyond programming and extends further in an effort to protect the language.

If the French language is to survive here, I would argue that it is needed.

Now for those who might point to the tenuous minority status of Quebec's  PQ government and the mere thirtyish percent of the popular vote they garnered, I would suggest a closer look at the numbers.  In addition to the Parti Québecois there are two other nationalist parties here, and combined with the PQ they garnered in the neighborhood of forty percent of the vote.  No where close to a majority certainly, but still significant.

Given the minority situation Quebecers will likely have a chance to pass judgement on Mme Marois' governance and initiatives sooner rather than later, that's democracy.  At that point it will come down to a decision about which direction Quebecers want this province to take, and on how much of a priority protecting the French language represents.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Macleans' weighs in on the stock market, screams BUY!

Today's trip to the mailbox brought me Macleans' magazine's latest edition, with the cover offering up a three letter, bold, all caps assessmet of the stock market, complete with an exclamation point.  


Citing the fact that markets have been on a massive bull run since March of 2009, the article cites 'experts' postulating that we "may" be entering a period of substantial and sustained growth in the capital markets, one that "could" run for another decade.  

Putting on my well worn cynics cap I focus on words like may and could.  That which may, may not.  Something that could happen, it stands to reason, also could not.  If prognostications prove faulty the authors of said advice can point to the fact that they didn't predict what will happen, only what might.

Kind of like reading a horoscope, not much difference really:  Today may bring lucrative opportunties, or it may not.

My market opinions tend to the contrarian side, that is to say when everyone says to jump in the pool, I have a tendency to look for my towel.  My views centre around simple market dynamics, that a market needs two things to function, buyers and sellers.  

If one person is buying then another must be selling, and vice versa.  People who were running scared from the markets back in 2008 and dumping their holdings, they had to be selling to someone.  And now with a publication like Macleans' screaming for Canadians to buy, it follows that there are others willing to sell. Quite likely some of the same parties who were bargain hunting when the herd stampeded out of the equity markets.

I'm not going to offer up an opinion one way or another.  I do hope we are in for a decade of market appreciation, our economy needs it, I'm just cautious and conservative about such things.  

A writer whose overall market analysis I respected was Joseph Granville.  He divided bull and bear markets into a total of six phases:  Early, Mid and Late for both bull and bear cycles.  He also divided investors into smart and dumb money, saying when the smart money is selling high the dumb herd is buying, and the reverse when stocks tank.

The trick of course is to know what cycle the market is in, and after a four year bull run I feel pretty confident in saying this isn't an early bull market.  In fact I think we might very well be a year or two away from an early bear cycle, maybe even sooner.

Things are tough, real estate is no longer providing the returns people became accustomed to over the past 20 or so years, interest rates for fixed income vehicles are pathetic, and now major media outlets are proclaiming a bull stock market after four year gains in the neighbourhood of 100%.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Can the French language survive in Québec?

Bonjour mes chers lecteurs, greetings dear readers.  This blog posting comes to you from a Tim Hortons in the north end of Quebec City, one with wifi access.  I ordered myself a grande café with un crème and un edulcorant, I also had a beigne.  For those scratching their heads, that's a large coffee with one cream and one sweetener, and a doughnut.

French in this part of Quebec is very much la langue de la rue, the language of the street.  Oh I still would have gotten my coffee and doughnut if I'd ordered them in English, but it would have been difficult, and I probably would have sugar instead of a substitute in my coffee, but I'm not diabetic so it wouldn't threaten my health.  

For the here and now, the French language is a alive and well in Quebec.  But will it last?

You may have come across recent news about Québec's PQ government looking to strip some municipalities of their bilingual status.  Having that status allows local governments to provide services and things like newsletters in both English and French. Removal of bilingual status would leave uni-lingual anglophones constantly in consultation with their French - English dictionaries.

Is this needed?  As with many things, it depends on your perspective.

French has been spoken in Québec for over 400 years, although I doubt Samuel de Champlain would recognize the variety I hear on a daily basis.  Comment vas-tu 'la' Sam?  French has evolved and adapted to our changing world, as it must.  But as we travel further and further into the hyper connected information age I can't help but thinking that the French language is doomed in North America.  I'm not talking in my lifetime, or even the in the lifetimes of my children,  but maybe in another one hundred or so years.

I don't think it can be stopped, but it can be slowed.  Initiatives like the removal of bilingual status from some jurisdictions, or limiting access to English schools, that will slow the erosion of the French language certainly.  But stop it?  I don't think that's possible.

The Québecois of today are different from their ancestors. Quebecers aren't satisfied with being citizens of Québec, they aspire to be citizens of the world.  And given the provinces geographic position on the planet, its a 'nation' surrounded by the English language, and people are adapting.  

I've spoken to many parents who are worried about being able to enroll their children in an English school.  Like parents everywhere Quebecers want to give their children all the advantages possible in our increasingly competitive world.  And with the planet shrinking every day, parents realize that the door to opportunity opens easier with the language of Shakespeare than with that of Voltaire.

A candidate who speaks, reads and writes English perfectly will have a decided advantage over his French only competitor, although right now French is still essential in most of Quebec outside of Montreal.  

That's not to say that there isn't a value to bilingualism, it is a huge benefit.  Especially considering that French is going to be a fact in Quebec and in Canada for many years to come.

In this blogger's opinion the PQ is fighting the good fight, but its a battle ultimately doomed to failure.   

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Politicians afraid of the abortion debate - But are Canadians?

Many of Canada's elected representatives are scared to death of the abortion debate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Federal minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose among them.  Both are on record as saying that Canadians don't want this debate re-opened, or words to that effect.

Uh huh, right.  Obviously they don't want any debate to take place, and its easy enough to understand why. Its a vote loser no matter what they say.

Come out in favour of any restrictions whatsoever and you inflame the Pro-Choice camp.  Advocate for keeping the status quo and you run the risk of alienating voters more closely aligned with the Pro-Life side.  A politician can't win, which has left our federal Conservative government walking a tight rope.

Much of the Tory base is socially conservative, and their votes will be needed during the next federal election.  How do you keep the religious right voting Conservative while at the same time not alienating the greater majority of socially progressive Canadians?  It helps that the NDP, Liberals and Greens don't offer much is the way of an alternative to social conservatives, but they could just stay home and not vote. 

So what to do?  You play both sides, carefully, that's how. 

Witness the recent vote, (defeated) about creating a committee to examine the point at which a fetus becomes human.  Or the upcoming vote which calls on parliament to condemn the practice of abortion being used to terminate female pregnancies.

Then there's the more recent letter sent by three Conservative MPs to the RCMP asking them to investigate possible 'homicides'.  These alleged homicides were the result of abortions which were conducted that resulted in a live birth.

Why is all this happening?  One reason is that Canada has no laws with respect to abortions whatsoever, unique among all developed nations.  In Canada a child has no legal rights at any point during pregnancy, and is not accorded any legal recognition until it has emerged alive from the mother's womb.

Politicians might be afraid unwilling to discuss abortion, but such is not the case with all Canadians.