Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Do Canada’s Leaders Have the ‘Nads?

May 10, 2008

The stink being raised in Quebec over Governor General Michaele Jean talking up Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations this year highlights Canadian politicians’ lack of vision and leadership.  There are two objections that Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and others raise.  I disagree with one but agree with the other.

Separatists are offended by the idea that Ms Jean and the federal government are calling the celebration a Canadian celebration.  They say it is a Quebec celebration.  This is the one I disagree with.  Quebec is part of Canada and Quebec’s history is part of Canada’s history.  I studied it in school, too.  Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain made Canada possible.  They discovered and founded a French colony, not an independent country.  So, it is every bit as much Canada’s history as Quebec’s.

Where I agree with the separatists is their complaint that the Governor General represents the British queen.  This is a national embarassment that I wish the rest of the country would want to remedy as much as some Quebecers do.  As the queen’s representative, she is a reminder that we don’t even have our own head of state.  Separatists see the link to the British crown as a constant reminder of the capture of New France by the British about 250 years ago.  This is one of the biggest problems they have with the rest of Canada.  They think of the rest of us as the British conquerors and colonizers.  Why can’t we feel that humiliation and decide to do something about it?  I mean, really, borrowing someone else’s head of state?  Are we an independent country or not?  The separatists know they want to be one.  Maybe if the rest of the country felt the same way, we could get on the same page and move forward as one.  As one joke goes, Quebec can go as long as it takes the rest of us with it.

They aren’t the only ones who are offended and think we should have our own head of state.  When I was living overseas in London, I was asked several times why we didn’t “go with the Yanks”.  They don’t understand why we would maintain a link with them.  They were often offended to hear that the queen has the title Queen of Canada.  “What?  Now their taking our queen?”, they would say.  They don’t want to share her with us.  She’s their head of state.  Every country should have its own head of state.  They think like a country.

By contrast, a lot of people in Canada still want to share their head of state rather than have one of our own.  They think like colonials.  Many of these people are British immigrants or recent descendants of them who don’t want to let go.  Some may be descendants of United Empire Loyalists who cling to British roots partly out of bitterness over what their ancestors endured at the hands of their former neighbours.

This attitude is holding us back as a country.  Not only does it give separatists something to complain about, it permeates our political and business leadership.  Colonial style thinking is still widespread.  Fitting into others’ plans is the easier option than conceiving and executing our own.  Sending raw materials to bolder countries that know what they want to do with them is easier than making and marketing products.  Arguably, we’ve even been lazy about that.  I don’t agree with everything in it, but, as Andrew Cohen wrote in ‘While Canada Slept’, we don’t export to others so much as allow them to import from us.  If we still cling politically to our colonial connection to Britain, economically we look a lot like an American colony.

Letting go of mummy’s apron strings would go a long way towards alleviating the resentment felt by many separatists.  It would be a good investment in national unity.  It could also result in a new attitude and outlook among our political and business leaders – one that puts us first.  Maybe then, if we stop clinging to the past, we will start thinking about and planning for the future.  Maybe we could see leaders emerge with a vision of the future that extends beyond the next election.  Maybe we would see some forward planning, with short, medium, and long term goals.  They might even think about where this country could be at the end of this century, for example – long after they’re gone.

Vision.  Goals.  Planning.  Going your own way.  Takes balls.  Do we have ’em or not?

Pope Ropes a Dope, Does Boffo Box Tax Free

April 17, 2008

The pope is in North America on his latest concert tour.  This is one tour I won’t complain about not coming to Vancouver, as it covers the U.S. only.  The easily impressed flock to see him so that they may feel graced by his presence.  They buy up all the souvenirs and concert T-shirts and hold up their lighters shouting, “Yaaaaahhhh!”

Seriously, this is big business.  A papal tour is worth hundreds of millions.  I mean, $695 for a porcelain statue of the guy?  The mark up on these mass produced mementos is – dare I say it – a sin.  Well, it would be if there was a god for it to qualify as a crime against, but, you get the idea.  The pope has criticized Canada in the recent past for not doing enough to narrow the gap between rich and poor.  Then the church gouges its own followers like this?  Talk about excessive profits.  Is a ‘toy pope with your Happy Meal’ McDonald’s deal next?

Ever since they were introduced by his predecessor, papal tours have been a nice little earner for the Catholic church.  Souvenirs of all kinds have been sold at extortionate prices to the suckers – I mean, faithful.  Remember the famous John Paul II pope-on-a-rope soap?  I wonder if it washed away sins.  His tours turned him into a larger than life personality – rivaling Jesus, himself – that the church capitalized on.  Well, who could blame them?  There was a lot of money to be made.

But, what about all that money?  Couldn’t all those good Catholics have used it to feed hungry people instead of the church and their own pride?  Let’s face it, those souvenirs will be shown off as proof that they’ve seen the pope.  Bragging rights will be theirs.  Bragging will ensue.  Some might say the profits are used to feed the hungry.  Are they?  I’m not so certain of that.  The Catholic church is a large organisation with broad financial interests.  They invest on the stock market and are probably one of the great institutional investors of the world.  At one point, I believe,  they were the largest – possibly the majority – shareholder of Coca Cola.  That’s pretty big.

They know how to market the pope like a rock star.  Pretty savvy.  They know how to exploit their star to turn a healthy profit.  That’s entertainment.  They know how to invest and manage huge sums of money.  That’s rich.  And, they don’t pay a penny in taxes.  That’s really rich.  Even Hollywood couldn’t hide profits that well.

I’ve written before about how the church doesn’t use nearly all the money it takes in for charity.  In fact, the crumbs they give out to the truly needy along with their prayers are probably nothing compared to what they have available to them.  This is a very large corporation with vast assets that generates huge revenues and profits, but doesn’t pay tax.  It’s time that came to an end.

I Am Canada and So Can You

April 11, 2008

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t make a difference.  Don’t ever allow yourself to fall into the trap of fatalistic defeatist bullshit thinking that says, “What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  This one person made a difference.  In fact, I may have changed the course of a nation.

Almost three months ago I wrote about the proposed sale of MDA‘s space division to an American defence contractor and how the transfer of its Radarsat2 to American control represented a threat to Canadian sovereignty.  I also urged people to write to the Prime Minister, other relevant cabinet ministers, and their MPs.  A couple weeks later, I reported that some of you must have paid attention and spread the word because Industry Minister Jim Prentice had just announced that he would review the sale.

On March 18th, in an email to me and cc’d to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, he wrote that he was continuing his review and mentioned the criteria he takes into account.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because security considerations were pretty vaguely defined.

Well, yesterday, it paid off.  It looks like the government is going to stop the sale, as reported in this news story.  As Stephen Colbert would say, “I did it!”  You can thank me for saving the country later.  I’m considering changing the subtitle of this blog to “Saving the Nation One Post at a Time”.  And any goalkeeper, the last line of defence, will tell you that posts are his best friend.

Now, of course, I’m not the only one who was against the deal but, if I can toot my own horn for a bit, no one else seemed to notice or care about the security and sovereignty considerations until I brought it up.  I wrote emails to the media, too.  One sour note in the news yesterday was that NDP leader Jack Layton was trying to take credit for it and claiming that the government was coming around to his way of thinking.  I must have missed those speeches.  Maybe he expressed concerns about losing Canadarm, but I didn’t hear a word about Radarsat2 or security concerns from him.

The scale of this achievement shouldn’t be underestimated.  The network news reporters are saying this is unprecedented.  It’s the first time a cross-border acquisition has ever been overturned by the government for security reasons.  That it was done by a Conservative government whose priorities seem to be to guarantee and increase the flow of capital into the country and maintaining friendly relations with a security obsessed administration in Washington is even more noteworthy.  It is an indication that they are aware that there is something called Canada that is more important than any business transaction.  That is not a principle most Canadian governments could convincingly say they upheld.

I want to make it clear, I’m no commie.  I have no problem with companies making an honest profit, and I generally don’t like taxes.  But, there was a higher principle at stake, here.  It’s amazing what you can do with a blog, an email account, and knowing how to speak someone’s language.

Recent Carnivals

April 7, 2008

In addition to the European Travel Blog Carnival mentioned in my previous post, I’ve also recently had posts included in several other carnivals, including:

The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

The Carnival of Observations on Life

The Carnival of Consumer Focused Real Estate

The Carnival of the Godless #87

The Carnival of Fraud

 Check them out.

Always Have a Plan B in Your Pocket

April 5, 2008

There’s been speculation in the media that the U.S. may not just be in a recession, but that this could prove to be a depression.  There are probably more Bear Stearns banks out there that are teetering on the brink and the full depth of the credit crisis is still not known.  Great – a full blown depression – and I thought the recession that started the 1990s, which was bad enough for me, was supposed to be the longest one since the great depression.  According to theories of economic cycles, the next really big one wasn’t due until about 2050, the same time global warming should have melted the polar icecaps and glaciers, and become pretty much irreversible.  Now THERE’s a party to stick around for.  Well, it may be that this will be the real big one.  Am I worried?  No.  I have a Plan B in my pocket.

A little while ago, my new passport arrived.  I now have another option.  I can now take my English teaching qualifications and experience anywhere in the world.  There’s over one and a half billion Asians who all seem to want or need to learn English.  No matter how bad things get here, I can always go to Asia and find a job waiting for me.  A job that pays well, by local standards, and usually carries a certain level of respect with it.  Best of all, I’d be taxed at Asian rates.  Asian tax systems seem to have been designed by the same people who design their electronics.  Smaller is better.

One of the places I could go to is Taiwan.  A Taiwanese woman told me once of a place on the east coast where the aboriginal women, who were there before the arrival of the Chinese, are particularly beautiful.  She went on to tell me about the working conditions, pay, etc., but she had me at the beautiful women.

Another thing I hadn’t realized about Taiwan until I recently looked at a map is that it is on the Tropic of Cancer.  Hmmm… live on a tropical island with low taxes surrounded by beautiful women…  No winter.  Sounds good, but I wonder if my lily white skin could take that sun.

‘Tropic of Cancer’ is a novel by Henry Miller.  It’s a first person account of his life, observations, sexual exploits, opinions, and any thoughts that may have run through his head, no matter how dark.  It was controversial at the time.  Aside from the prejudices of his time, it’s still a good book and I liked it.  Much of it takes place in Paris, where he’d gone to write.  I could write in Taiwan.  I could spend more time on my writing because I wouldn’t speak Chinese well.  I’d have nothing to do but sit in the brilliant sun writing brilliant words while the beautiful women frolicked around me.  Well, after I’d put in my Asian hours at work, of course.

As I mentioned elsewhere, someone in Taiwan has been reading me in Chinese.  They were reading one of my posts about Vancouver real estate.  This was just after I’d seen a news story about the election in Taiwan.  Apparently, people were so sick of corruption that they elected a new government that would be a little friendlier to China and is even willing to discuss the possibility of re-unification.  I guess not everyone is on board with that, though.  It looks like someone may be considering buying in Vancouver, just in case.

It wouldn’t be the first time, of course.  People from Hong Kong moved to Vancouver in droves in the run up to its return to China.  Many of them returned when it was apparent Hong Kong would continue to prosper.  Many Taiwanese came here in the past, when China started rattling sabres and staging naval exercises near its “rogue province”.  This election could spark another wave.  Just in time to offset the doubts Vancouverites are starting to have about the real estate market and the way the business works.

As enticing and romantic as going abroad sounds, I’m in no rush yet.  Besides, I’ve lived overseas before.  But, it’s good to know you always have a Plan B in your pocket.

Does Canada Lack Ambition?

January 30, 2008

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the pending takeover of MDA’s space division by an American company and the threat to national security it represented.  I asked readers to write their MPs, cabinet ministers, and the prime minister.  I don’t know if anybody did, but I did and it seems to have been noticed. 

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced plans to begin examining foreign takeovers for national security threats in the near future.  See this article: http://www.mytelus.com/money/news/article.do?pageID=ex_business/home&articleID=2860914.  The article also discusses something else I’ve noticed:  the lack of leadership in this country has not only been at the political level, it’s also in the boardroom.

Many of our biggest and best companies are being bought up by foreign companies that aspire to be the global leaders in their sectors.  You may not realize it, but Tim Horton’s isn’t even Canadian owned anymore.  It was bought years ago by Wendy’s.  If you’ve wondered why they’ve started sharing premises, now you know.

Why don’t Canadian companies aspire to be the global leader and start buying others?  It seems that even our companies lack ambition.  They just don’t think big, or big enough.  Or maybe they’re just lazy.  Why make all that effort to make the market, when there’s a huge market on your doorstep?  Let the Americans do the hard part, we’ll just sell them the materials they need to build their vision of the world.

Why don’t we build our own vision of the world?  We’re sitting on three and a half million square miles of everything you need to build an economic monster, an empire, and what do we have?  One of the most underpopulated countries in the world, where governments typically rely on primary industries to drive the economy, sometimes at the expense of other industries.

This happened recently when government regulators dragged their feet while two Canadian electric car companies waited for approval of their vehicles.  It finally came for one after the story was featured on the news, but it was too late for the other.  The Richmond, BC based company had already decided to move overseas.  A Canadian car company lost because the government relies on oil revenue.

We need visionary leaders, in government and business, to build the kind of country we are capable of being.  But right now, they’re not there.  I hope they come along soon because if this keeps up, before long none of us will work for a Canadian company.

God’s Free Gift

January 27, 2008

A couple of years ago, on my way to the supermarket one Sunday, I was walking along East Broadway and passed a church.  There was a man standing just inside the church’s property line facing a couple of young girls, who were probably about twelve or thirteen years old, standing on the sidewalk just outside the property line.  As I approached, I heard one of the girls say something like, “So, if we come in, do we get to keep the presents?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Had the religious really stooped to such new lows?  Luring unaccompanied children – without parental consent – into their churches with presents?  I glanced at the man.  Incredibly, HE shot ME a dirty look.  I guess I offended him by catching him doing what he must have known was wrong.  If he didn’t know it was wrong, he would have carried on nonchalantly and wouldn’t have noticed me passing.  Couldn’t he hear his own conscience?

Imagine there wasn’t a church behind the man.  You see a man offering young girls presents to come inside.  What would you think?  Utterly abhorrent, predatory behaviour.  For some reason, religions get away with things we would otherwise find offensive, or even criminal.

Although this was the first time I’d ever seen such blatant and crass religious marketing, I later found out it was by no means an isolated incident.  A Korean student told me last summer that it’s common in Korea.  Christian churches routinely offer children presents to come in and join a mass.  Korea and Asia are ‘growth markets’ for Christianity.  Make no mistake, they’re in the god ‘business’.

Looking back, the guy standing just inside the property reminds me of the legal fine line the girls standing in the doorways of the ‘hostess’ bars in London’s Soho district tread.  Now there’s a comparison to be proud of!

I feel a little ashamed that I didn’t do anything about this guy.  I wish I’d called a cop.  But, being the nice, tolerant Canadian that I am, I didn’t.  We have to respect religion, after all.

Why?

Oil and God at the Movies

January 24, 2008

The makers of ‘There Will Be Blood’ know how to end a movie.  There’s no mistaking it, the preacher was a charlatan and, unlike other movies I’ve mentioned before, the ending makes it clear what to do about it.  It doesn’t allude to or broadly hint at, it says and follows through.

Although the story is about a flawed man, a loner whose driven pursuit of his life work of developing oil fields and independent wealth causes him to miss opportunities to make a real difference to a few rather than a modest difference to many, he can still claim the moral high ground over the preacher Eli, the self-proclaimed Third Prophet.

Eli’s goal is, quite simply, self-agrandizement and power over the people.  He wants oil money to build his church.  Oil and god – where have I heard that before?  In his church, he is quite the performer and clearly loves an audience.  The world of the theatre would benefit from his presence.  He demands to be introduced by name and allowed to bless the oil well when it is about to be started up, thus presenting himself to his community as the bringer of wealth.

Unfortunately for Eli, our flawed hero doesn’t like demands or being told what to do.  He’s fiercely independent, remember.  So, he pointedly doesn’t call Eli forward at the gathering of the people and blesses the well himself.  This sets off a see-saw series of humiliations based on who is in the position of power.

Although they detest each other, they do business or cooperate when it’s expedient.  Eli doesn’t seem to have a problem with doing deals with the devil.  In fact, it’s quite profitable.  Following a $5000 donation to the church, Eli leaves on a ‘mission’ to other oilfield communities.  We later find him better dressed and with a large, bejewelled cross around his neck.

A Brahms violin soundtrack creates a constant air of menace and uneasiness.  It sustains you through a long build up.  You’re expecting something big to happen, and when it finally does… it is somehow satisfying, despite the hero’s continued imperfection.  Well worth the wait.

Hands On or Manual?

January 22, 2008

I recently bought a digital camera during the Post-Boxing Week sales.  Or is it the New Year sales?  The Let’s Milk This Thing For Everything It’s Worth sales?  Whatever.  Why not just give me the best price all the time?

And, while we’re at it, now that the Canadian dollar is roughly at par with the American dollar, how about charging us the same price?  The same REGULAR price – not a sale price that brings it down to the American regular price.  I don’t buy the excuses they give for charging us more.  We’re subsidizing the American market.

Anyway, it was just a simple, inexpensive little camera for some quick snaps.  I thought I’d ease into digital before dropping a bomb on a digital SLR that I could use all my lenses with.  But, this little ninety nine dollar wonder appears to be capable of way more than I thought.  It even records movies – and with sound!  I doubt they would be of very high quality, but it could be a useful feature in the right moment if there’s nothing better at hand.

I don’t know these things for certain, though, because I haven’t actually used the damn thing, yet.  You see, I haven’t even set the camera up yet because I haven’t made it through the instruction manual.  It seems to be designed to make you not want to read it.  It’s repetitive, unclear, and just plain annoying.  It’s so annoying, in fact, that every time I pick it up, I put it down again and do something else.

I should probably just play around with the camera and figure it out myself.  A menu system is a menu system, after all.  But, as the one clear part of the manual says, digicams are pigs for batteries.  I’m worried the batteries will die before the self-guided tutorial is over.

Never mind that, it’s a beautiful sunny day and there may even be a couple more of those this week.  There are such things as rechargeable batteries.  Throw caution to the wind.  Live dangerously.  Just pick the thing up and use it.

If you happen to be an executive in a foreign consumer goods/electronics corporation, I’m available for writing services at reasonable rates.

Sometimes a Business Transaction Is More Than a Business Transaction

January 14, 2008

For a while now, I’ve felt that the greatest threat to Canadian sovereignty could be summed up in two words:  shareholder value.  Late last week, Richmond, BC based MDA announced it would sell its space division to an American company.  The media made a bit of a fuss about what a blow to national pride this would be, as the Canadarm, the robotic arm used on the space shuttles and the international space station, is one of the space division’s assets.  But there is an even greater loss, or even threat, involved with this transaction.

The media, for some reason, didn’t talk a lot about the fact that the division’s other assets include RadarSat2, and the implications of its falling into foreign hands.  The sale could actually result in a threat to arctic sovereignty and national security.

RadarSat2 is a remote sensing satellite that was put into orbit fairly recently.  Its capabilities and duties include monitoring arctic waters for vessels – as small as cars – to protect and reinforce Canada’s sovereignty.  Aside from the usual reasons for not allowing an asset used for defence purposes from falling into foreign hands, the problem with the sale is that the Americans refuse to recognize Canadian sovereignty and rights over waters that clearly fall within the limits set out by the UN Convention on the Laws Of the Sea (UNCLOS).  So, ownership of the satellite that enables us to monitor our own waters will transfer to the people who want to take them away from us.

The northwest passage has become an important issue lately because global warming is melting arctic ice at a surprisingly fast pace.  The passage is now being seen as a viable navigation route for the near future.  There are also believed to be valuable resources beneath the seabed.  If UNCLOS definitions are recognized, Canada has economic rights over them and can impose environmental standards.  If they are not, anyone can take them and not have to worry about environmental practices.

Contact your MP, any relevant cabinet ministers, and the PM. Tell them that RadarSat2 must not be allowed to be sold to foreign interests.  Even if the MDA deal goes ahead, provisions will have to be made to keep RadarSat2 in Canadian hands.

It’s our melting ice, damn it!  If the Americans – or anyone else – want it, they’ll have to take it from our cold, dead, wet hands.