Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Delivering the Online World?

...if you don't mind a long wait.

Good ole' Canada Post.

Back in September, Canada Post was redefining its focus in a declining market, or so they say.

"...the Crown corporation warned it could run out of money by this time next year, unless it can find relief through “additional financing” from the federal government or from payments on its pension deficit."

So Canada Post is reducing home service and focusing exclusively on delivering online purchases, a new and lucrative market.

That is, IF they can satisfy customers.
Tall order.

Imagine my surprise when a business parcel from DeKalb, Illinois arrived at Highlands Golf a full two weeks and two days after it was shipped from Illinois and subsequently cleared at Canadian customs. 

Sixteen days to travel three-quarters of the way across Canada via Canada Post!

Probably because it was an international shipment, you say?

That same day I received a business parcel from Mississauga, Ontario.

Two full weeks for that parcel too via Canada Post.

See Perennial Mismanagement at Canada Post story, January 3/14.

The United States Postal Service offers delivery between one and three days among major U.S. cities.

Canada Post delivering the online world?

"The problem is more than a slow modem," offers Kia.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to Screw up a Liquor Policy Review

First, have the government of B.C. conduct the review.

Then invite lobbyists and many, many "stakeholders", including people who have absolutely no comprehension (the general public) or previous involvement as either a vendor/licensee or the licensing agency.

Then forget the desired result of the review:  to make liquor purchases available in grocery stores to more conveniently suit the buying public, as in the United States and many travel locations throughout the world...you know....places whose tourists we covet.

Yup, that'll do it.

Only in British Columbia would the result of a liquor policy review end up with no semblance of the desired outcome.

Seems that Parliamentary Secretary John Yap has joined the Ineptocracy crew, judging from the recommendations, which will become policy for the British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

"Ineptocracy...a system of government where the least capable to lead
are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society
least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services
paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers."

So, how's that grocery store thingy working out?
Will you be able to pick up a six-pack along with milk and butter on the way home from work?
Will the tourist from Washington state--arriving in a 53-foot RV--be able to pick up liquor when stopping for groceries or gas?

Hell, no.
He won't even be able to find the Tourism Booth in Vernon.

While the Vancouver Sun newspaper went all "ga ga" over government's planned liquor modernization in its story, the fact remains that you will NOT be able to place milk, butter and a six-pack into your grocery buggy and pay at the cashier.

Not at one cashier anyway.

You will be able to place the milk, butter and six-pack of beer into your grocery buggy.
But only in a few stores here and there.  
Maybe only one store in your city! 
Or maybe a grocery store in an adjacent community.
Because that grocery store had to buy a liquor license from an existing licensee as no new licenses were being issued AND the store could NOT be within 1,000 feet of an existing liquor licensee.  Since most grocery stores and liquor stores are located in malls, often adjacent to one another, that eliminates most grocery stores.
Gas stations?  Nope, won't happen there either, so scratch that off the wish list.

So in one of the rare grocery stores where a liquor licensee is NOT within the 1,000 foot range of sin, you're directed to a separate till to pay for the six-pack of beer.  Likely via a roped off "cattle row" so you can't, absentmindedly of course, head through the exit doors without paying for the six-pack.
Oughta make for some interesting store front-end gyrations.

Back to the RV-tourist from Washington state.
He's disappointed he can't pick up a six-pack at the gas station, so he heads over to the local grocery store.  Repeat the milk, butter and six-pack of beer in the grocery buggy scenario.

Can you just imagine a tourist's comments when he's directed to a separate cashier to pay for the six-pack of beer?  Can you imagine his outrage at the waste of time, can you imagine his disgust at two transaction fees on his debit or VISA card?

It's bloody laughable actually.

This is BC's modernization of liquor laws to welcome tourists into a province hungry for them?

Is this the best that government can come up with?
Seems so.
We'll once again be the laughing stock of the rest of Canada, indeed many nationalities around the world.

Here's the 60-page Final Report.

A list of stakeholder meetings held last Fall, as well as other involved groups is here.

No small grocery stores can expect to add to their customer stream by offering products the public wants.  No gas stations will sell beer and wine.  Only the biggest--like Costco and Superstore--will continue to erode competitors' share of the pie.

"The biggest guys win again," avows Kia.

Sounds familiar.

Let's hope Suzanne Anton, Attorney General, sees the flaws of this Liquor Policy Review.

Prepare to see tail lights heading out of town.
They're American and European tourists.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Salary Too High for Economic Development Manager

That's gotta be it.
He must earn too much money as a bureaucrat.

Vernon's ECM, Kevin Poole, stated in The Morning Star today--of MoneySense magazine's Vernon rating at 125 of 201 communities--"They are putting a lot of weight on the average income.  If that's how you establish quality of life, we'll never compete."

Ya think?

For many people, it's tough slogging to appreciate the nearby lakes and ski hills when there's simply nothing left for discretionary spending, and bill payments are frequently late.  When they worry about how much property taxes--or the hydro bill--will increase this year.  When their adult children worry about job security in a town where For Lease and For Rent and For Sale signs outnumber welcome signs from new business.

The full ranking is here.

Vernon's unemployment rate is given at 9.2 per cent, and most of the winning communities are oil and gas communities in Alberta:  St. Albert, first place; Calgary, second; and Strathcona, Alberta, at third place.

The average household income in Vernon is $70,229, a far cry from St. Albert's $128,270.
Discretionary income in Vernon is $35,054.90.  Compare that to St. Albert's at $64,865.86.

"How they select the items for quality of life is beyond me," moans Poole.
Yet he does feel there's sufficient disparity that Vernon needs a renewed focus on economic development.

Yup, it sure is beyond him.
And his salary--as a Vernon bureaucrat--is no doubt beyond that of the vast majority of Vernon's residents.

"It's an interesting analysis but I don't put a lot of emphasis on it," states Poole.

"Of course not," says Kia, "that would be akin to a performance review."

So, we'll never compete, according to Poole.

"Hate bureaucracy, and the bureaucrats that practise it."
Jack Welch, former Chairman, GM  


Misguided Pauline Marois

It just never goes away.
Quebec's "separatism".

But some interesting stuff has surfaced that perhaps the Quebec premier should consider.

From the internet, author unknown:

"If Quebec should decide to hold a referendum and the Quebecois vote for leaving Canada, the fun starts.

   1. Aboriginals will refuse to give up their traditional territory.
   2. The St. Lawrence Seaway is jointly owned by Canada and the United States; Quebec has no claim to the lands set aside for the Seaway.
   3. Montreal is an island in the St. Lawrence and may not be part of a new Quebec.
   4. All federal facilities (and English speaking employees) in Quebec would have to relocate.
   5. Air Canada could not continue maintenance operations in a foreign nation.
   6. The Port of Montreal would wither as Canadian companies would have to find an Canadian location for imports and exports.
   7. Airlines would cease landing in Quebec until they could negotiate landing rights with the new nation.
   8. The Canada Space Agency could move from Saint-Hubert to Calgary.
   9. Federally licensed financial institutions (all banks, for example) could no longer operate in Quebec.
   10. Bilingual courts and a bilingual federal civil service would be history.
   11. The Official Languages Act would be history.
   12. Thousands of translators we now pay for would be out of work.
   13. We would have 78 fewer Members of Parliament to pay for.
   14. We would have 24 fewer Senators to pay for.
   15. The NDP would lose 57 seats including Mulcair’s;
   16. The Liberals would lose 8 seats including Trudeau’s.
   17. The Conservative party’s majority would increase from 52% to 67%.
   18. We would save about $20 billion annually in federal transfer payments - which could be used to pay down the federal debt.
   19. We could save another $543 million in funds currently earmarked for bridges over the St. Lawrence and in and out of Montreal.
   20. We would no longer support Bombardier.
   21. All military aircraft work contracted by Canada would have to leave Quebec.
   22. Goodbye to the CBC French language networks.     
   23. No more French language in the rest of Canada.
   24.  No more bilingual printing on consumer items thereby lowering the cost.
   25. No more French Immersion Schools.  Big saving!"

"Misguided?  Sounds insane," offers Kia of the prospect of Quebec leaving Canada.

Canada...from sea to (almost) sea.

Then this letter to "Queen Pauline":

An Open Letter to Queen Pauline

By Robbie Manis, March 5th, 2014
Congratulations on your recent release of the 2014 budget and your strong showing in the ongoing voter intention polls. It is truly refreshing to see some new ideas and vitality being brought to bear on the Quebecois nation. Having invested sufficient due diligence, I have gained some understanding of the Parti Quebecois platform and recognize that the party is a strong proponent of separation from Canada. As a fifth generation Quebecer, I too look forward to being liberated from the longstanding oppression wrought upon our nation by those meddlesome Canadians. However, while I understand the separatist dogma in concept, I must admit that my knowledge regarding the specifics of the plan are somewhat deficient. As such, I am curious to understand specifically how Quebecois society will operate following the unilateral declaration of independence (“UDI”).
Accordingly, I have set forth below some questions regarding issues that may have a measure of importance to the surviving population of Quebec. So I humbly ask that you shed some light on some or all of the following trifling details.
Given that Quebec’s population represents 23% of the population of Canada, I naively assume that Quebec will assume 23% of the federal debt upon its exit from Canada. When such assumed debt is added to Quebec’s existing debt load (which I understand to be substantial), can you please tell me what the combined debt per capita will be and how this figure compares to those of Greece, Sudan and Sierra Leone?
Like any child leaving the nurturing environment of the family nest, the obvious question is how will they survive on their own without the regular financial transfusions provided by their parents. Along these lines, how will liberated Quebec fill the financial void when the transfer payments formerly provided by Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are truncated immediately upon the UDI?
Following the UDI, I imagine that those elements intended to feel marginalized by the separation will, unsurprisingly, feel marginalized. A reasonable portion will presumably take the logical step and return to Canada proper. We all recognize that these emigrants will be the wealthier, better educated and upwardly mobile members of Quebec society. And, to be clear, to such value creators I say good riddance and take your economic clout with you. But in quiet moments I do wonder how liberated Quebec will replace the substantial tax base moving west? Will you simply create a new 90% tax bracket for the very, very few remaining high income earners and do you think such a tax rate will be viewed as excessive?
Without providing an exact number, it is a fact that there are a large number of federal government employees employed within Quebec. Once Quebec sheds the noose of confederation, I have to assume that the positions occupied by such federal government employees will become superfluous. So I ask, what is Quebec’s plan to provide financial assistance to the boatload of additional unemployed? Has this additional cost to society been accounted for and provided for in your economic projections?
The PQ’s existing tax policy is to create a punishing tax regime for the entrepreneurs, doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, architects and other undesirables who take advantage of society and in so doing earn disproportionate annual incomes. Have you considered how Quebecois society will cope if many such professionals bolt for greener pastures? Do we care if our existing doctor shortage becomes far more pronounced or are we better off evicting the bourgeoisie?
I was born in Canada and have only ever lived in Canada. Having said that, is my Canadian citizenship misappropriated following UDI?
Following UDI, I have to imagine that Quebec will have to adopt its own currency. I cannot imagine that it would be able to unilaterally decide to use the currency of a foreign country (such as Canada) as its own. In any event, how can Quebec use Canadian currency as its base when it has no ability to influence the fiscal policies underlying such currency? I do not doubt that you have a well thought out plan dealing with basic fiscal policy. For my own education, can you kindly share some elements of this plan in layman’s terms?
What exactly happens to my Canadian passport following UDI? Can I no longer travel outside the Quebec boundaries given that I am now a resident of a country with no passport regime?
What do the many companies operating in Quebec do with the processing of weekly payroll? To whom are taxes paid? Do we simply pay the Quebec portion and reap a massive windfall by no longer remitting any deductions at source whatsoever to Canada? That would be a surprising but welcome result as we can really use the additional disposable income.
A sophisticated investor such as yourself surely understands that the financial markets have little tolerance or appetite for uncertainty. As such, Quebec bonds and debts will immediately see a significant risk premium included in the borrowing rates following UDI. The rising cost of borrowing will make interest on accumulated debts an even greater burden to be borne within the annual Quebec budget. What steps are planned to deal with this sizable increase in budgetary requirements? Surely this question has come up in previous caucus meetings.
Are the bank and brokerage accounts held by Quebecers in Canada simply lost as some form of collateral damage following UDI ? How do the TD Banks and Royal Banks of the world repatriate these now non-resident accounts?
With enhanced anti-immigrant policies, continued diminishing birth rates and the encouraged emigration of upwardly mobile anglophones and francophones, what is the revised actuarial estimate of the bankruptcy date for the Quebec pension plan? Will you simply increase the allowable retirement age to 93 and hope that everyone dies before receiving any annuity from the government plan?
Obviously many of the current programs that survive on the basis of large-scale redistribution of wealth will have to be curtailed. How will Quebec wind-down the existing $7-$8 per day daycare, the exaggerated parental leave initiatives and other corporate welfare programs?
With the termination of all federal contributions to infrastructure, how will liberated Quebec fund the emergency restoration of its crumbling roads, bridges and networks? Will you simply add another 50 cents per litre of gas tax? Surely such a tax increase can be sold to the public when cloaked within purported environmental concerns.
What is the cost of establishing border protection systems and regimes for liberated Quebec? Moreover, what about the cost of a Quebec military presence? I understand that defense can represent a meaningful chunk of the annual budget of a sovereign state. How many Quebecois pesos have been budgeted for these initiative?
Needless to say, I have other questions but the foregoing represents a reasonable initial list of concerns that we should at least gloss over in anticipation of the third referendum within the best of 7 series. I am sorry to burden you with these minor issues when instead you would clearly prefer to focus on the parade that will follow UDI. But at some level there are likely a few Quebecers other than myself that have wondered how the liberation of Quebec might affect the daily workings of our fragile society.
I would appreciate some answers to these questions and I imagine that after 35 years of separatist threats and promises, you have likely given each question at least a few minutes of concentrated thought.
I thank you for your attention to this matter and am confident that we can work together to better understand the future of our Quebecois nation.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Advisory Committee Veil Lifts Ever So Slightly?

Yippeeee, some transparency!

Our local newspaper, The Morning Star, has seldom--if ever--reported on Greater Vernon Advisory Committee meetings, held at the Regional District. 

The extent to which the area's print media covers the Regional District's monthly meetings remains limited to media releases.

That can be excused, to some degree, as media staffing levels simply do not allow coverage of this area's myriad administrations (think:  amalgamation push).  It could be argued that GVAC meetings are more important than individual Coldstream--or Vernon city--council meetings.

But that's obviously not a decision to be made by taxpayers.

There's never an idea how our rep--or any other community's, for that matter--voted on the advisory committee's topics, and only a glancing blow even refers to the topic--most often just by title followed by a brief phrase--in the community's regular council meeting minutes.

Historically that's led to a few surprises--chiefly among the public--at city and district council meetings, considering that reps from the North Okanagan's communities vote on issues that affect us all.  But only the public is surprised; councillors aren't, as many items are discussed in-camera.
Probably more than should be.

While the voting veil remains made of steel, we do now have more transparency on GVAC topics.  Proof is found in Coldstream's minutes of the February 11, 2014 council meeting.

To commemorate the District of Coldstream's willingness to Let It Be Known, the pertinent GVAC section is reprinted here from Coldstream's minutes: 



Regional District of North Okanagan

Councillor Dirk reported that at the recent meeting of the Regional District of North Okanagan Board the following items were discussed:
         the City of West Kelowna had won a legal challenge to their waterfront zoning bylaw and were awarded costs
         results of the recent Landfill Customer Satisfaction Survey had been received and comments were largely positive
         the Alternate Approval Process was underway for the re-establishment of the Starling Control function 


Greater Vernon Advisory Committee

Councillor Kiss reported that at the recent meeting of the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee the following items were discussed:
         early budget approval was granted for a PRV 1 Pump Station 30 - separation of controls
         approval was given to apply to OBWB for 2014 Water Conservation and Quality Improvement grants for the Water Ambassador Summer Program, the Water Sustainability Educational Program, the North Kalamalka Lake Intact Protection Zone Storm Water Reclamation Project and Water Quality Monitoring in Cosens Bay
         the MWP Phase 1 Funding approval to borrow was approved to be conducted by referendum during the 2014 Local General Elections
         Various Arts, Youth and Cultural organizations were granted funding for programs/projects
         Juliette Cunningham was appointed to the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Board

Councillor Kiss also noted that he had put forward a "Notice of Motion" to request a peer review of the Master Water Plan. "

Strange that the most important sentence was left for last.
But at least it's there!

The peer review of the Master Water Plan will garner considerable interest among residents.  Good for councillor Kiss for putting the motion forward.
Now to find some peers...

Well, folks, isn't the RDNO/GVAC portion enlightening? 
I think it is.
Very much so.

Alas, seemingly to prove silly season is not dead, this also from Coldstream's February 11th minutes:

"Vernon Law Days / 100th Anniversary of Vernon Courthouse
Council considered a request from the Vernon Bar Association to provide acknowledgement of the 100th Anniversary of the Vernon Courthouse during Law Week in early April as well as a financial contribution to assist with the serving of refreshments at the Vernon Courthouse Open House of Law day 2014....
THAT a grant to the Vernon Bar Association, in the amount of $200, be approved to assist with the serving of refreshments on Law Day during the Vernon Court House Open House;

AND THAT Councillor Enns attend the event to represent the District of Coldstream."
(all but one Councillor voted for it).

"Two hundred bucks of taxpayer money?"
"To serve refreshments to Law Week attendees?" stutters Kia incredulously.

Advise lawyer Enns that he should take his own wine..and pay a corkage fee.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

More Destruction by Smart Meters

Of the wallet anyway...

Just received the Hydro bill for the clubhouse.
Heating is kept low, just to keep pipes from freezing, and cool-winter patio plants barely alive.
Goes with this story here.

A forty-three per cent increase over the same period last year!
For basically similar temperatures, inside and out.

Last year's bill:  $337.
This year's bill:  $482.

"Gonna have to grow Ice Plants next year," suggests Kia.

No comment.
Or at least, none that can be printed here.

Thanks a pantload, B.C. Hydro.

W.A.C. Bennett rolls over in his grave...again.

Yabba Yabba from Finance Minister Flaherty

Like everyone in government today, he simply doesn't care.
Thinks the "code" for banks--and how they treat small and medium-sized businesses--is just fine, thank you very much.

Even though HSBC was no longer my bank as of several years ago (good move...), I was personally outraged at how this bank treated mom-and-pop (and larger) businesses recently (Feb. 24th article "Bad Citizen HSBC).

So I wrote a letter to Federal Finance Minister Flaherty expressing that outrage, respectfully suggesting that he really support Canadian business with a penalty by rescinding the Hongkong Shanghai Bank's Canadian banking Charter.

Knowing full well that he wouldn't do any such thing.
But somebody had to say what everyone has been thinking.

Here's his reply, received today...or more correctly, his office's reply.
It's a sure bet The Man Himself never even saw my letter of outrage.

So, his third--or fourth--assistant's reply was: 

"Thank you for your correspondence...

The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) has developed the Model Code of Conduct for Bank Relations with Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses,  which is a voluntary code of conduct that outlines minimum standards for banks to follow when dealing with SMEs.  The Code is available on the CBA website at www.cba.ca.   

While the Government of Canada does not generally regulate the day-to-day operations of financial institutions, it does -- through the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) -- monitor banks to ensure that they are complying with the Code.  If you have any concern about compliance with the Code, please contact the FCAC through its website at www.fcac.gc.ca, or by calling toll-free at 1-866-461-3222.

Thank you for writing.
Yours sincerely,
James M. Flaherty"  

So it's another case of arm's-length "conduct", with another layer of bureaucracy--indeed industry itself--of Chartered banks in Canada.

Leaving the best for last (*grin*), here's the Code of Conduct for banks in Canada as recommended for how Canada's Chartered banks may treat small and medium-sized business.

One item in particular stands out, under "Changing Circumstances in the Credit Relationship" which states:

"Sometimes customers who have a credit relationship with their bank experience a significant change in their business, which could include financial difficulty. In these circumstances, banks will carefully review the existing arrangement before deciding if any action should be taken."

How about the bank itself?
How about if the bank received a 1.9 Billion dollar fine in the U.S. for money laundering?

You'd think that would change the relationship with the Finance Minister of Canada.
It should.
But doesn't.

"HSBC has worn out their welcome in Canada," suggests Kia.

Nah, that's naive, Kia.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Four-Year Terms Not the Answer

Probably because no-one has managed to formulate the correct question.

That question should be "how can we encourage young, motivated, think-outside-the-box residents to run for political office in our communities?"

We're having trouble even getting them to vote.
But youth is the bright light that we need.

This week's announcement by Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes of four-year terms has not only dimmed that light, she has managed to extinguish the flame of getting youth into municipal politics.

Four years is a big chunk of commitment.
Three years was, too, but given enough--and growing--disgust with political ramblings in the North Okanagan, there had recently been hints that younger, educated people were questioning how our communities were being run.

We residents not only know the points of view of our politicians, we know their biases and shortcomings.
And they fall short of what's needed in our communities in future.

Young people are needed to run for office in the North Okanagan.
Back east, Rick Mercer gave it a stab, just to get them to vote.

The trick is to get them to run for office, especially women.

The new longer terms will apply to elected mayors, councils, park boards, school boards, regional district directors, and Islands Trust trustees. 

I agree with many people that there is a serious democracy deficit in British Columbia.
And it's getting worse, as evidenced by Maurie Deaton's letter to the editor on March 2, 2014, an excerpt of which is:   One presenter was told:  "at least you have some credibility, since you used to work for the city."
Rather than going into a lot of details, this article says more than what I would have published here.  Many public attendees at Vernon Council agree.

Have a look at archived council meetings in your community's internet site.
Any idea of what really transpired at those meetings?
Apart from knowing who voted how, there is never a reason given for their decision at the meeting.
Is that transparent government?
Certainly not.

How are you to vote for individuals when you don't know why they voted a certain way on community issues?

Because their true opinions, anything of substance, are discussed in camera.

Patrick Smith, director of Governance Studies at SFU, agrees that extending terms doesn't fix the problems.

The old fart syndrome condones politicians thumbing their noses at transparency and accountability in local politics.
Because they've been getting away with it for a long time.

Why a four year term?  Our politicians are caught up in the paperwork tangle they helped create, indicated by a local politician:  "It takes a year to ease into the job, a year of productivity and then a year of people wondering if they're running again," as reported by the Morning Star.

So we residents get a year of productivity out of three currently?
Does that warrant moving the election term to four years?

The Local Government Elections Task Force produced a report for the Union of B.C. Municipalities on election terms. 
Wikipedia has an interesting page on election terms all over the world.

"Maybe Patrick Smith can get youth to run for office," suggests Kia.

That's likely a no-go.
He opened their eyes to what's wrong in the first place.