Friday, November 21, 2014

Calling Bell Canada, 310 Bell...and reaching the Philippines

Its been months since I've written anything here, but today I feel the need to get my rant on.  

I am a Bell Canada (or is it Bell Philippines) customer for both satellite television and wireless internet.  Until September I was only subscribed to the satellite TV service, but then added internet.  I called, got the "bundled" package, and instructed them to continue billing me as they had been previously, pre-authorized to my credit card.

Pretty simple right?  Wrong.

Today I received a collections call from Bell because my Bell Internet account was in arrears.  I live in Quebec, so the call was in French, but the script is the same.  "Make a payment now".  I'm a suspicious type so I told them I'd call THEM back.  Instead of calling the 1-800 number I was provided, I called 310 BELL instead and I proceeded to rip into the very pleasant young lady on the other end of the line....Christina I believe was the name.

A little history.

It turns out my "bundle" wasn't a bundle.  Shortly after signing up for the internet service I received what looked like a suspicious email claiming to be from Bell asking me to arrange pre-authorized payments on my account.  "I've already done that", I said to myself, sensing a scam.  I called 310 BELL and was told that yes my account was already pre-authorized and that they'd received a lot of calls about this email.  I was told to delete it and not to click on anything, which I did.  

Well it seems that Bells TV Satellite service and their Wireless Internet service, it doesn't seem they talk to each other.  I was continuing to be billed for Television, but they didn't include the internet portion on my bill.  Yes I should have checked my credit card statement more carefully, but I saw that Bell was indeed billing me each month so I figured all was as it should be.  

They never sent a paper bill for the internet service. make this long story just a bit longer, I was told by the CSR that the issue could be resolved and that the billing could indeed be bundled and paid by a single pre-authorized debit to my credit card, but first I needed to bring the internet account current.

Ugh....okay.  But I didn't have my wallet with me, it was locked in the car.  The nice CSR said no problem, she could wait.  While fetching my wallet it occurred to me that this young lady on the other end of the line, that it isn't her fault that she works for such a messed up company.  And I have worked in similar roles before myself and I know the stress that can come from dealing with outraged customers.

When I came back on the phone I apologized for being so surly (how very Canadian of me eh) and that I wasn't mad at her, I was mad at her employer.  I told her professional and courteous phone manner was appreciated.  I'd also noticed that she spoke with accented English and asked her what her native language was.  She told me it was Filipino.  "Really", I said...."Well I guess I should say como esta mar-ay".  That's a general greeting to a female in Tagalog (which is the native language in the Philippines.  

Christina (if I recall correctly) was quite taken back.  I told her I also knew como-esta par-ay (greeting to a guy) and salama (thank you).  She said it was great to talk to someone from Canada who speaks "my language".  

That struck me as odd.  Speaking to someone from Canada???   Isn't she in Canada???  Nope.  She told me that she worked in the Philippines.  

I realize the chances of this coming to light through mainstream media is pretty small given the amount of advertising Bell does and the fact that they own CTV among numerous other broadcast properties.

It looks like Bell will be losing a customer however.  Any suggestions.  I want to engage the services of a company that will employ people here in Canada and not ship jobs overseas.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Les raisons pourquoi un anglophone va voter pour le PQ

J'habite à Québec pour une bonne boute, mais j'ai jamais essayer d'écrire en français...donc svp excusez me plusieurs fautes pendant que j'explique les raisons pourquoi un "tête carré"  va voter pour les pésquistes.

La première chose à confronter c'est la question d'un referendum. Philippe Couillard joue la politique de peur en disant que la journée suite à une victoire pour le PQ Pauline Marois va commençer de préparer pour un 3e referendum.  Je ne le crois pas.  

Peut-etre une journée il y aura un autre vote sur la separation, mais pas cette année et même pas l'année prochaine.   Jamais? Moi, je ne sais ça arrive ça arrive.  Le Québec, c'est une societée democratique, et si les citoyen(ne)s décide qu'ils veut un 3e referendum dans les années qui viennent, ça c'est leur doit.

Juste pour soit cent pour cent clair, si il y aura un referendum demain, je voterai non.

Donc, pourquoi voter PQ?

Parce que j'aime tellement la langue et la culture française-québecoise et de mon avis, ce n'est que le PQ qui va le protéger et le promouvoir.  Est-ce qu'il y a un bésoin?  Quant à moi, oui.  Le centre commercial de Québec c'est Montréal, et il est arrivée à moi de trouver des gens qui parle pas français dans les coffee shops et les dépaneurs.  Récenement je suis allée dans un dep à Montréal et j'ai demandé.  "Vendez vous les timbres".  La reponse?  "Sorry, I don't speak French".

Comment ça?  Dans la ville de Montréal, à Québec en osti!!!  C'est pas grave pour moi, un anglophone....mais imaginez un(e) Québecois(e) unilangue, dans un commerce de sa propre nation....pas capable d'avoir la service dans sa/son propre seul langue officiel de Québec.

Il y a d'autres raisons aussi.  Moi, je suis pas un idéologue.  Je suis pas gauchiste, ni sur le doit.  Et je trouve que le gouvernement PQ récent, ils essayent de faire le ménage sur les finances publique. Ce n'est pas un job façile car il n'y jamais assez de l'argent pour tous les bésoins.  Les commissions scolaires font des plaintes sur les coupures, mais c'est les choses ce qu'il faut faire pour nettoyer le portefeuille publique.  

Meme avec l'exploration pour l'huile sure l'ile Anticosti.  Est que ca va marcher?  Je ne sais pas, mais c'est pas un billet de lotto, comme disait M. Couillard, c'est un avec des investisements il y des risques.

Quant aux plusieurs sondages M. Couillard serai le prochain PM de Québec, mais crois de moins en moins dans les sondages.

On va voir.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

True freedom fighters welcome dissent - Be at peace Pete Seeger

The United States, in fact the entire world lost a great man when Pete Seeger died on January 27th of this year.  I was away and missed the news, only learning of the folk music legend's passing yesterday.  For some reason I've been on something of a Pete Seeger binge the past couple of months, listening and watching videos spanning several decades on Youtube.  It was while watching one of those videos yesterday that I saw a comment posted that said RIP, that's how I found out.

My mother introduced me to folk music, and eventually to Pete Seeger.  We were watching a reunion concert of an old folk group called The Weavers on PBS.  They were performing a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall, it was (I believe) 1981.  The opening song blew my socks off, Wimoweh.  Pete Seeger is the tall gent toting the banjo, this melo sopranic yodelling coming from a man in his sixties sent chills down my spine.  Here is the video from the concert, the singing starts about 1:35 in if you want to skip ahead.

Thanks to seeing that concert I was introduced to many more great songs, songs  with a message.  One such song was 'Wasn't that a time".  It covers over 200 years of American history, but not in the usual rah rah flag waving manner.  The song refers to both the American Revolution and Civil War as 'a terrible time'.  

This same song asks rhetorically:

How many times, 
we've gone to kill, 
in freedom's holy name, 
and children died, 
to save the pride of rulers, 
without shame.

Ahhhhh, not exactly mainstream popular thinking.  At least not from what I see, hear and read in the mainstream media these days.  Nope, not from where I sit.  In fact some people get right angry when someone has the audacity to question whatever the prevailing wisdom of the day is, prevailing wisdom that usually comes with  Corporate and Government seals of approval.    

Ahhhhh dissent, Pete Seeger did a lot of that.  Big business, the war machine, he shared his world view by playing his banjo or guitar and inviting people to sing along.  Sounds pretty benign doesn't it? Well, Plato didn't think so.  In fact one of Mr. Seeger's favourite quotes came from the Greek philosopher:

"Rulers should be careful about what songs are allowed to be sung".

Actually 'the man' (to use an old 60s term) did somewhat succeed in keeping Pete Seeger from reaching a wider audience.  It seems 'Pete' cut his chops with America's labour movement, back when many jobs didn't even provide a living wage, or benefits, or a pension.  

Hrrrrrrm, are we talking about the past or present here?  

Anyway Mr. Seeger it seems had some involvement with the Communist Party, including membership I believe.   And when the 50s came along, with American politicians scaring everyone they could with talk of the Red Menace...well, Mr. Seeger's involvement was front and centre when he was brought before the house committee on Un-American activities.

But while many hid behind the 5th amendment's protection against self incrimination, Pete Seeger didn't hide , instead he invoked the constitution and the enshrined right to freedom of association.  That didn't stop him from being black listed though, which basically meant he couldn't work in the entertainment industry in the United States.  Thankfully America's loss was the world's gain, he performed often in Canada and abroad.  

Here's a great video I came across from when he was in Australia in the sixties:  I love the way he steps back from the mike, inviting the crowd to join in.  Pete Seeger believed that getting people to sing, that you could change the world.  I agree, something vibrates inside when I sing along with certain songs, and it just feel true and right, no matter what I've been told and taught to believe.  

Over time the power of the black list faded, and old friends like Johnny Cash brought Pete Seeger back to the masses.  But he still wasn't playing nice, singing out against America's involvement in Vietnam on one appearance.  I love the line when he sings that he might be right or wrong, but that he has a right to sing this song.

I could go on and on and on.  But the world needs voices like Pete Seeger's, now as much as ever.  We need people who have the courage to offer up dissenting opinions.  Government and corporate media have so much power to get their message out, and groups like those opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline should be applauded, instead of being spied on by their own government.

Rest peacefully Pete Seeger, I wish I'd had the chance to see you live and in person.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Does tolerating intolerance make one tolerant? Québec's secular charter

Québec's secular or 'values' charter is quite the paradox.  Those who are opposed to it accuse proponents of being xenophobic and intolerant.  Supporters of the charter consider detractors to be supporters of intolerance.  So who are the intolerant ones, the supporters of the charter or its detractors?

While the legislation is aimed at banning many different religious symbols from being worn in certain public spaces, the flashpoint for discussion is the various forms of head and/or full body coverings worn by some Muslim women.  

Québec society is very secular in nature.  I go to church here on a semi regular basis, a Roman Catholic church, and my wife and I are always among the youngest attendees.  The congregations are dominated by elderly parishioners, if I had to guess I'd put the average at somewhere between 70 and 80 years of age.  

Why have so many Québecers turned their backs on a church that at one time was such a huge part of their identity?  One of the reasons is Rome's treatment of women.  Women here were the last Canadians to be given the right to vote in provincial elections.  It wasn't until 1944 that Québec women could vote for their provincial MNAs.  

A big opponent to the cause of suffrage was the Roman Catholic Church. Then Québec cardinal Rodrigue Villeneuve objected to women voting based on the perceived authority structure of the family, that is to say MEN ARE IN CHARGE.

The government of that day opted to be intolerant of Roman Catholicism's intolerance when it came to equality of the sexes, and it was obviously the right choice.

In that light it should not be surprising that many Québecers support the charter.  They see it as a continuation of the feminist movement and a fight for the equality between women and men.

And frankly I have to say I agree.

Even Québec Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, the only Muslim woman in the National Assembly, supports at least some aspects of the charter.  Actually that should be former Liberal MNA, as her opposition to her party's negative stance on the charter has forced her to leave the party and sit as an independent.

Now I'm not suggesting that there isn't a red neck element who support the charter for reasons more xenophobic....yes, there are plenty of those.  But sometimes even small and wrong minded people can be in favour of positive change, even if its for the wrong reasons.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014 The year of spending, saving or paying down debt?

Polling indicates that the number one issue for Canadians is paying down debt, (STORY HERE).  While it was the choice of only 16% of respondents, if you add in the next top selections:  building savings, managing day to day spending, getting current bills paid and retirement planning...well. 

Its pretty apparent, we Canadians are focused on improving the state of our personal and family finances. For some that will mean getting rid of high interest consumer debt, for others it will mean building a nest egg, among numerous other choices.  

That's the problem with writing about personal finance, there are no one size fits all solutions.  We all have different goals, different circumstances, different incomes, different expenses.  WE'RE ALL SNOWFLAKES, UNIQUE.  Seriously though, even people with the same goals will have at least a few differences that will affect how they might go about achieving a financial goal.

There is one thing we do have in common however, and that is we all share in the weaknesses of the human condition.  We are all programmed in much the same way.  Human beings are wired to seek pleasure and to avoid pain.  

I want to stress that point, we all  SEEK PLEASURE and try to AVOID PAIN.

Think about someone with a toothache, maybe its happened to you.  A trip to the dentist is seen as too painful so sufferers will pop pain killers until they don't work anymore, only then will they go to the dentist. When the tooth hurts too much, only then is a painful appointment made at the dentist. Why?  Because the patient seeks the pleasure of a pain free mouth.  

When it comes to household finance, spending is a lot more pleasurable than saving, and with credit so easy to obtain, taking on debt has become basically painless....unless total debt grows so large it can't be paid back.  Then debt can become like a chronically bad tooth.  

Understanding this basic motivation though (seeking pleasure and avoiding pain), is the key if one hopes to make a meaningful change in anything, be it in personal finance or another endeavor.

My advice is that whether the goal is debt reduction or to put some money aside for a nest egg...find some way to make it pleasurable.  Build a graph, or some type of visual representation so you can see your money growing or debt decreasing, other than by going on line or checking a balance statement.  Its not easy and our entire society is geared towards convincing people to live for today, without mentioning that its often at the expense of tomorrow.  Maybe find a picture of a beautiful resort, with saving and debt reduction moving you closer to that destination, versus a dingy retirement home the result if you don't eliminate debt and start to save.  

I'll have more on this topic later, specifically on the different saving vehicles available and on strategies to reduce the cost of debt.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The difference between TFSAs and RRSPs

I recently gave a quick review of David Chilton's new book, 'The Wealthy Barber Returns'.  My recommendation for people struggling financially was summed up in three simple words, READ THE BOOK.

The lack of financial literacy in our society is mind blowing, with potential for serious ramifications down the road.  The time to become financially literate and to employ strategies to build savings is during our working years.  Obviously the sooner you start the better, but even if you only have ten or so years to go until retirement, there is still time to do something.  The alternative is to do nothing and to retire poor or keep working til they kick dirt on ya.

How illiterate are we?  Ask twenty people what the difference is between a TFSA (tax free savings account) and an RRSP (registered retirement savings plan) and I bet at least half won't have a clue.  People will know the ins and outs of the latest video gaming systems, the stats of every player on their favourite NHL team, who's sleeping with whom on a popular soap opera.  But the two biggest saving vehicles available to Canadians?  Huh???

A lot of good it'll do knowing Tyler Hall's plus/minus rating when you're too old to work and just barely scraping by.

RRSPs  have been around longer and are better understood, but still there are too many people who don't know the basics.  First of all many people put money into an RRSP because it reduces their taxes, resulting in a refund.  "I need to put some money into my RRSP so I can save on taxes and get a refund", some will say.  

Slow down just a second.  

Yes, RRSPs do provide tax savings in a fashion, but its more like tax borrowing. 

How's that?  

Well, eventually taxes will have to be paid on all the money in your RRSP, every dime....both the initial capital you put in AND on any growth.  So its not really tax saving, more like tax deferral.  Someone who put $5,000 into their RRSP every year for 10 years has to pay taxes on the $50,000 total that was sheltered in the RRSP, and if that amount grows to $100,000 in total ($50K invested + $50K growth), taxes will have to be paid on the full $100,000 once it is withdrawn.

Assuming a tax rate of 30% means that every year $5,000 was registered inside the RSP a tax savings of $1,500 was generated.  When the $100,000 is withdrawn, assuming the same 30% tax rate, $30,000 in taxes will have to be paid.  The government gives, then the government takes away, and more.  The gain, $20,000.  

A TFSA on the other hand offers no tax savings when the money is registered, but all the growth is tax free. So using our $5K per year for ten years example, with the money growing to an eventual $100,000 TFSAs will provide a full $50,000 net gain because as the name implies, TFSAs are 'Tax Free'.  Once the money is taken out there is zero tax hit, you get it all.

The TFSA came into being in 2008, and in my opinion it is the best thing the Harper government has done for Canadians during their tenure.  Just because RRSP has the word 'Retirement' in it, don't think that a TFSA doesn't have a role to play in retirement planning.  For those lucky enough to have a pension, a TFSA is a better option than an RRSP in most cases as I see it.

I'll have more to say on this in the weeks to come.  With demographic trends being what they are Canadians on average are getting older, and as recent polling suggests, we know its time to get our personal finances in order.  

Oh, and if you've forgotten already, pick up a copy of 'The Wealthy Barber Returns'.  

Can this advert make people drive slower?

Ever speed while driving?  I'm guilty, and I bet the vast majority of us are.  I don't speed often now, with age comes patience sometimes.  And after watching this PSA out of New Zealand I will make a conscious effort to keep an eye on how fast I'm driving.  

Nobody is perfect, we've all made mistakes behind the wheel.  I'll bet everyone has pulled into a lane they thought was clear, only to have someone come roaring along 30/40 km faster than the posted speed limit...if not more.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, watch the ad.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

All these train derailments making pipelines an easier sell....

Lac Megantic, Alberta, North Dakota, New seems we can't go a week these days without a train tragedy happening involving rail cars carrying crude oil.  

A buddy of mine brought this up, given that I'm admittedly something of a conspiracy buff, but to that point it hadn't even occurred to me what a boost these accidents could have for projects like Keystone and the Northern Gateway pipelines.

Greenpeace has been advocating for updated and more stringent safety standards for transporting crude by rail (STORY HERE).  But if rail becomes safe and effective what happens to the seemingly beloved (at least by some) pipelines?

Struggling financially? Read 'The Wealthy Barber Returns'

I'm 47 years old, and if you're around my age or older you've probably heard of or read David Chilton's book 'The Wealthy Barber'.  I'm certain that Mr. Chilton is at least partly responsible for the boon in mutual fund investing that occurred during the nineties and early into this century.  "The Wealthy Barber" (TWB) was written in 1989 and it was a monster success selling somewhere around two million copies.

But TWB was written in a different era, before the internet, before TFSAs, before the great financial crisis and before Canadians went from a nation of savers to a country that has gorged itself on debt.  

The author's first book harped on the theme of 'pay yourself first', taking roughly 10% of your income and putting it toward long term saving.  He extolled the virtues of dollar cost averaging, buying equity investments with a fixed amount on a regular basis so as to even out the ups and downs that come with the equity markets.  Dollar cost averaging means buying more when prices correct and less when valuations soar.  

Over the long haul (20 years or more) equity markets have outperformed just about every other investment vehicle; savings accounts, government bonds etc, but its not a ride that goes straight up, there are many bumps along the way.

The Wealthy Barber Returns is true to the original in this sense, the need for long term retirement saving, but David Chilton bemoans the fact that Canada has become a nation of spendthrifts.

The original book centred around a rich barber who dispensed financial wisdom to his customers in a narrative form.  The author has abandoned that device in this book however, and speaks directly to the reader, and its a wise choice.  Too many people are struggling and need to be spoken to directly, not via a kindly older gentleman cutting hair.  Our problems typically boil down to hedonistic desires trumping simple common sense.  'The Wealthy Barber Returns' has one key theme that is obvious and simple.  

You can't spend more than you earn.  

If you think saving is impossible, read the book.  If you're convinced you can't spare a single dime to put toward an RRSP, RESP or TFSA, read the book.  If you don't understand what those acronyms even mean, definitely READ THE BOOK.  

I'm lucky, I didn't even have to buy the book.  In fact I have two copies, one in English the other in French. My financial institution was giving them away, and living in Québec they only had French copies the first time I saw it available, so I struggled through.  On a later visit they gave me the English version.

Mr. Chilton, if you ever chance to read this, votre français c'est excellent.