Monday, October 19, 2009

Much of Waterloo Region is Against LRT

I had another letter in the Record today (a little friendly disagreement with James Bow). My letter is just a drop in the flood of anti-LRT letters to local papers this year: to see all the letters, see this. For local news stories and columns that oppose LRT, see this. Meanwhile, here's my letter:

Raised rails a problem
October 19, 2009

Re: Parade can live with light rail — Oct. 13

James Bow says that a King Street light rail transit system will not disrupt Waterloo Region’s parades. As evidence, he says that Toronto parades run under street car lines.

Toronto has street cars and it has parades, but they don’t run on the same streets. The Caribana parade is on Lakeshore Drive west of the Canadian National Exhibition, avoiding street cars. The Toronto Santa Claus parade route is Bloor to University to Queen to Yonge to Front. Except for a short jog on Queen, none of those streets have street cars.

An additional problem with the Waterloo light rail transit is that the tracks down the middle of King Street will either be raised six inches above the rest of the street or surrounded by a curb. Those raised tracks or curbs will have a huge impact on our community. They will make it impossible for Waterloo to have its busker festival or other events in the street.

Even more importantly, cars will not be allowed to cross over the raised tracks or curbs. That means that if you own a business — or drive to a business — on King Street, King will effectively be a one way street. You will not be able to turn left into or out of any driveways where the light rail transit runs. That might not be a big problem on streets such as Queen’s Boulevard that are residential, but it will be a nightmare for busy King Street businesses.

As to Bow’s request that Peter Gay debate the merits of the system in good faith, that’s exactly what the group Taxpayers for Sensible Transit (to which Gay and I both belong) is doing. We have spent a lot of time reviewing the light rail transit and have come to the informed conclusion that, as currently planned, light rail transit will cause grave problems for our community. We suggest that bus technology would be a much better option.

Ruth Haworth

Friday, October 16, 2009

Financial Turmoil May Be Over... But It's Not Likely

Today the Conference Board of Canada came out with the prediction that the recession is behind us. Baloney.

Sure, it may be over. But it's not likely. The problem is, we're getting our economic news from people who want us to believe it's over - from economists and analysts at financial institutions that have a commercial stake in keeping us active in the capital markets, and from government and organizations who believe (with reason) that if they tell us it's over we'll start spending and make it be over.

All this is well and good, except that most of us have our retirement savings tied up in things that will lose big time if the rosy predictions are incorrect.

And it is very likely that the rosy predictions are incorrect. Recent US job numbers and car sales all point to trouble ahead. A second dip (which could result in a much worse depression next year) would be caused by a downward spiral of higher savings rate, higher unemployment rate, more business failures and lower spending. Additional pressure will come from workers whose EI has run out, consumers whose credit history is damaged, home owners who are continuing to default on mortgages, and possible coming problems with credit card debt and another wave of sub-prime mortgage balloons.

Rosy predictions by the Conference Board of Canada and the US Federal Reserve Board and so on are designed to increase optimism and hence increase consumer/business spending. But they have another effect. Just look at the Comments section on the Globe article referenced above: half the commenters are calling for an end to government stimulus spending. That idea is madness, but it seems to be catching hold in Canada and the US.

Smart money says we should be very conservative in our investing: especially if your investments have recovered, move the funds into something more crash-proof; and speak up to support the government stimulus package.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Old Ladies, Crumpets Key Features in Political Analysis

Okay, so I'm no political strategist or insider or big media pundit, but it seems to me that the desperate hang-wringing and hysteria by Globe & Mail columnists (among others) about the strategy of the Liberal party is a Little. Bit. Silly.

Igs has a good plan. He's been leader about nine months. He spent the first 8 months raising money and learning the ropes. As soon as parliament reconvened in the fall, he announced he would no longer prop up the government. This has two main benefits: it forces Layton into the propping-up hot-seat and it puts Ignatieff in the limelight. It has one drawback, hopefully short-term: Canadians don't want an election and are letting him know via their answers to pollsters. (But not to worry: polls mean virtually nothing between elections.)

Media pundits are going wild. Here are a few of the hysterical outpourings in the Globe:

  • Women no longer like Igs! According to Michael Valphy, in six short months Ignatieff's support among women over 50 has dropped from 46% to 26%. What a fickle group we old ladies are! Worse, according to Valpy our main concern is whether a male politician is "sexy" or "a crumpet" - and while Ignatieff was a heart-throb in the 1990s he is now, well, just another old guy in a grey suit.

  • Bruce Anderson is very concerned about Ignatieff's strategy. He believes that Igs has been "hiding his light under a bushel" and needs to "make his pitch." Nice point; unfortunate that Bruce has missed the fact that that's exactly what he's doing.

  • Igs is down in the polls. Today, the Globe has trumpeted that with an article called Liberal Support in Perilous Slide. When this article was first posted in top position on the Globe home page, it was called "Harper in Majority Territory" - despite the fact that a poll this far before an election does not mean much, and they know it. Two months before she lost nearly all Conservative seats, Kim Campbell was miles ahead of Jean Chretien.

Some Globe columnists think Ignatieff is doing quite well, but the Globe isn't letting that slow them up in making it seem there's a landslide of criticism of him:

  • Greg Fergus actually thinks that Ignatieff might be the next PM, because (1) of his bold step announcing he will no longer support the government, (2) Ignatieff's vast international experience give him fresh, impressive ideas and make him uniquely qualified to run the country, and (3) under all the spin, Harper is doing a terrible job. Despite the content of the article, the Globe in its wisdom decided to make it look like another doom and gloom missive with the headline "It's Deep Breath Time for the Liberals".

  • Judith Timson wrote a positive article about Igs, with lines like, "Iggy marched into the House of Commons last week and delivered a highly focused speech about why his party wanted to bring down the government, which showed a man getting back in touch with his vision and sense of purpose" but the Globe slapped the headline on it, "Iffy Iggy: This is your 'real character moment'".

Heck, I know the print media is hurting and this is their way to sell papers. But in the long run this sort of crappy analysis is not going to help their reputation.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Flu Planning Requires Pragmatism not Hysteria

There's a lot of talk about flu preparation, but not - it seems - enough serious work on it. Here's an example of the sort of planning that should be going on. An enlightened company I know is appending this text to emails that set up job interviews:
Due to the Swine Flu we are taking some precautions. There will be NO repercussions based on your need to reschedule if:
  • You, a member of your family, or a person you are in close contact with experiencing flu-like symptoms - if yes, we will schedule the interview at the point that they are over the symptoms.

  • You can reschedule if you are experiencing symptoms prior to their interview - simply let us know.

  • Have you traveled to an impacted area? If so please push the interview out a minimum of one week.

If you're setting up appointments and you're not doing something like this, then expect to get sick people coming to your business and spreading the flu.

And what of organizations that sell tickets, like theaters and airlines? If there is a major flu outbreak and no plans are made to let people get a refund if they're sick, then flu will spread in those places. Similarly, if you have employees who don't get sick leave (yes, it's extremely common - just think part-time and contract workers), if you don't have a policy for them then they'll come to work sick and spread the flu.

Instead of solid pragmatic planning, what we're getting is confusing media stories. In the last couple of weeks I've read articles claiming that hand-washing might not help prevent flu (that was the headline, at least: the article actually said that it had been impossible to prove scientifically); that a seasonal flu shot might increase the odds of getting H1N1 (I've discussed that before); and that anti-virals like Tamiflu might be ineffective or worse. Newspapers exist to sell advertising and so they're looking for anything to spark reader's interest, but some of this coverage is sensationalist and irresponsible.


Friday, October 02, 2009

Parental Benefits for the Self-Employed

The government has proposed an addition to EI: parental leave for the self-employed.

However, there's no EI for the self-employed if they lose their job and can't find another. This policy means that the only way the self-employed can get EI is to have a baby.

The old argument was that you couldn't let the self-employed participate in EI because the worker decides when to work and when not to work. However, self-employment is a lot more complicated than that now. We have multi-month contracts that are renewed on a rolling basis. We have to work through agencies so that the companies can protect themselves from civil suits or government regulators, since we are essentially regular full-time employees (who just happen not to get any holidays or benefits). The business of self-employment has become so bizarre lately that the agency I am forced to work through deducts EI from my pay cheque but I am not eligible for EI.

This proposal is not just unfair to the rest of the self-employed. It's also unfair to all those regular employees who pay into EI. If the self-employed are not paying into EI, then why is EI being used to provide parental leave for them? If they do this, why not use EI to pay for other government benefits wholly unrelated to paying in?

This new proposal by the government just reeks of pandering. It has no relation to good policy or fair policy.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Seismic Activity

Earthquakes just won't let up this week. There are indications that they will continue (link) and that they may even trigger earthquakes elsewhere (link, link) - even in British Columbia (link). Earlier today, California suffered some aftershocks of Tuesday and Wednesday's quakes in the south Pacific (link).

The good news is that the two big quakes earlier this week are apparently unrelated (link). The bad news is that a lot of the articles quote seismologists saying that we're due for a "big one".