Friday, October 25, 2013

No statue for victims of Canadian Capitalism in Bangladesh?

Our federal government, suddenly flush with cash it seems, has earmarked $1.5 million for a group called Tribute to Liberty so they can build a statue to honour victims of communism.  (Story Here)

As mentioned in the linked article, a twitter row ensued between the Green Party's Elizabeth May and Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney.  May wanted to know if there were plans to build a statue to honour victims of capitalism.  Kenney responded by saying that "Perhaps that's because no one was shot in the back while risking their lives to flee eastward over the Iron Curtain ".

No, perhaps not, but more than 1,100 people (including children) died six months ago when the factory they worked in for slave labour wages collapsed on them in Bangladesh.  The factory was making clothing for, among other companies, Canada's own Loblaws.  You can read about the tragedy HERE.  

Why are people...again, including children, working in conditions like this for wages equivalent to roughly $2 per day or less?  Well, that's unabashed capitalism for you.  The market is a competitive place, and a store that's able to sell things like t-shirts at a better price than its competitors is going to be rewarded with a higher market share and a better bottom line.  Consumers like it, shareholders like it and so we're all in some way responsible.  

So why are we spending money to build a statue for victims of a system Canadians didn't create while ignoring victims of a system we actually endorse?  Simple, its all about optics and feeling good about ourselves.  Its kind of like the millions being wasted on the Economic Action Plan ads, they don't do anything other than boost our self image. 

There have been victims of communism and victims of capitalism. But you don't get a statue if your cause makes people think and reflect, at least not in today's Canada it seems.     

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Québec's values charter, starting to win me over

Like anyone I can be prone to knee jerk reactions, its normal. When Québec proposed values charter was first put forth I was opposed.  I cheered when I saw an Ontario ad seeking to attract employees of the Islamic faith to Lakeridge health centre in Oshawa with the tag line:  

"We don't care about what's on your head, but with what's in your head"...or words very close to that effect.

The charter struck me as xenophobic and intolerant.  My view however is changing.

Religious extremists are anything but tolerant.  Men who insist their wives cover their faces, and in some cases their entire bodies, are not viewed as models of inclusion and open mindedness...quite the contrary. Religious extremists of any faith seek to subjugate anyone who doesn't adhere to their interpretation of the almighty's will.  

I still can foresee a myriad of problems with enforcing such a charter, but the debate it has created is very much worth while.  Bravo to my home province and to the Parti Québecois for having the cajones to put something like this out there for public discourse.  Other parts of Canada I think would be too timid for fear of offending.

Debate is a positive thing, and only cowards run from controversy.  

For those who can read French here's an excellent article from LaPresse, wondering what is the opinion of Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, the only Muslim member of the Québec National Assembly.  Unfortunately while she has spoken out against extremism in the past, on the charter she is silent.

On aimerait vous entendre, Fatima Houda-Pépin

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Are public sector unions a fair target?

I have no issue with workers organizing collectively to increase their bargaining power in an effort to maximize what they receive in pay and benefits.  

That's capitalism. Business seeks to maximize its return, so why shouldn't workers?

And if unions are perhaps too successful, and the wages and benefits being paid are more than the employer can bear, then everyone loses.  Mutual survival is a strong incentive at the negotiating table.  Ask for more than what the marketplace can support, and instead of standing on a picket line you'll be lined up for unemployment benefits.

But that\s the private sector.  What about the public sector?  

A different ball of wax entirely, the dynamics aren't the same. Unions aren't negotiating with a business that has to earn a profit when dealing with government.  Instead its taxpayer money and deficit financing that governments must rely on.  

Here in Quebec City the current mayor is running for re-election and is expending enormous political capital in taking on unionized municipal workers, seeking a mandate to negotiate major concessions in the area of pension benefits.  The point is made that with the current funding deficits, taxpayers with no pensions will be seeing their tax bills increase to pay the pensions of retired civil servants.  

There are no easy answers to this question.  Nobody likes to see gains made over the course of years lost, whether its in the public or private sector.  Private sector employees, many unionized, have seen their pay and benefits frozen, eroded, or even lost completely.

Everyone should share in the good times, but likewise when resources are limited no single group should be completely immune to economic reality. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Charter of Québec values - Racist or pro-feminist?

There's a bit of a divide in this Québec household, my wife and I disagree over Québec's proposed values charter.  Given that you're reading this I'll assume you know about the proposed law, so I'll refrain from rehashing it.  

My view is that this law is an ass and unenforceable, besides which it is inconsistent en tabernac. It allows the wearing of a "small" crucifix and does not include the removal of the very large crucifix hanging in Québec's National Assembly.  So a huge crucifix remains in a public government place, and I guess we'll have public employees going around with rulers to measure the size of crosses worn like jewelry. 

My wife views the wearing of a head scarf as another attempt by men to dominate women by forcing them to cover their heads.  I don't disagree with her, yet I know there are Muslim women who wear the hijab of their own volition.  My issue is with enforcement.

What if a woman working in the public service wears a head scarf because of hair loss due to something like chemotherapy?  Is that head scarf okay because it doesn't have any religious significance? Could a Muslim woman claim that the head covering she is wearing is about fashion and has nothing to do her faith?

Banning kippas and turbans?  I guess that was a requirement to avoid being totally inconsistent with this law. One couldn't very well ban head scarves on women without the same type of measure being applied to men.

My view is it takes time, that legislation of this type won't work. Women have been fighting an uphill battle to be treated equally for centuries.  Heck Québec women didn't get the right to vote until 1940.  Muslim women suffering from a male dominated culture need to take up the battle themselves, as women did here with the suffrage movement.  Having the government telling citizens what they can and can't wear on their heads is as bad as men doing the same thing with their wives and daughters.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Garth Turner finally admits he was wrong about real estate....

There are a couple of old bromides that circle around the investment community.  One is 'even a broken watch is right twice a day', the other is 'even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut'.  The meaning is obvious, keep saying the same thing, over and over and over....and eventually you'll be right, you'll stumble on that acorn.

Garth Turner, who has been predicting the imminent demise of Canadian real estate for over 5 years now, has finally admitted he got it wrong.

After years of saying things like, this will end badly, and this is your last chance to sell at the top of the market, Mr. Turner finally has woken up and smelled the Java.  

Don't expect too much humility when reading his blog though, he still needs to attract sheeple to his investor seminars after all.  And he may still turn out to be right, Canadian real estate may correct.

Who knows, it might go all the way back down to the levels it was at in 2008 when he first started warning that it was overpriced. Like that proverbial broken watch, it might be rolling around to that hour when the time is accurate. 

In fairness this brilliant self promoter makes some very valid points, but he didn't invent ideas like diversification, although after reading the blog you might think he did.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

An eventful year - Canadian Soapbox back publishing

Hello readers, if there are any left after a long hiatus from blogging.  

I will be back publishing on a more regular basis, now that some major life events are out of the way.  Some were happy and others sad.

Last year in September I married a wonderful woman, I refer to her as the resident love goddess.  This September we welcomed a son to the family, (which means we didn't HAVE to get married).

Those were the big joys, but all was not good news this year unfortunately.  Back in June of 2013 my father passed away, and I'm still not entirely used to the fact that I can't pick up the phone and call him.

I'll be back commenting on those topics I consider of interest, thanks for looking in.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The United States will not default...

There is a lot of nervousness and anxiety out there, particularly in the capital markets over the US government shut down for one, but more so over the prospect that by failing to increase their debt ceiling the United States might default on some of its obligations.

Well, it ain't gonna happen.

For arguments sake, if the US were to default the consequences would be nothing short of disastrous, not just for Americans, but for the entire world.  US government debt instruments are close to the gold standard when it comes to investments sought for safety during times of uncertainty.  If Washington stops paying its bills, the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 will look like a day at Disney Land as capital markets freeze with no hope of help from the government of the world's largest economy.

That is why it won't happen.

Does that mean the fight going on between Tea Party factions and Democrats supported by moderate Republicans is without meaning?  Far from it.  Tea Party types are adamant about derailing health care reform.  In doing so they are providing a big boost to advocates of the status quo.  The fact is the US has the most expensive health care system in the world, and while millions of Americans have no coverage (including children) the health care industry is doing just fine at making profits.  

Why would an industry making billions of dollars want things to change?  They don't.  

But whether a deal is reached or not, there is no way US legislators will tank the world economy, although we may get down to the 11th hour as zealots seek to leverage fear in an effort to gain concessions. 

If Obama and the democrats blink, the big winner will be the U.S. health care industry, at least in terms of their profits.