From the category archives:

Canada eh

“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” — Winston Churchill.

For the past 18 months, it’s felt a bit to me like we’ve been fighting a war on two fronts: On the one hand, against Pauline Marois and the PQ at the provincial level, and on the other hand, against Stephen Harper and the Conservatives at the federal level.

One of the two fronts of this war was defeated last night, as the PQ was thrashed at the ballot box and earned its worst election result in 44 years. Now, it’s time to turn our focus to the other front.

Despite ostensibly occupying opposite sides of the sovereignty debate and of the left-right political spectrum, Harper’s Tories and Marois’s PQ have a lot in common. Both came to power on a wave of anger against Liberal corruption amidst grandiose promises to clean up government, and both took corruption to new heights. Both have been engaging in the politics of fear and division. Both have been trying to rig the electoral system to deny votes to their political opponents — Marois via her paranoid accusations about “students from Ontario” trying to steal the election, and Harper via the Orwellian-named “Fair Elections Act” that is anything but. Since coming to power, both have done pretty much nothing I agree with and plenty that makes my blood boil.

Stephen Harper once infamously said that “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it”. That statement turned out to be eerily prophetic.

In the past 8 years of Conservative government, here are just a few ways in which Harper has been working to make Canada completely unrecognizable:

  • The Economy. The Tory pet issue, and the one on which it runs its campaigns. Really? Not so much. Under Harper, Canada went from having a balanced budget and an annual surplus to running the biggest deficits in Canadian history. Yes, some of that was due to the global economic recession, but a lot of that has to do with the Tories’ spending priorities.
  • The Environment. Harper withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, muzzled scientists from researching or even talking about climate change, destroyed records, and stripped away environmental protections in favour of his friends in the oil industry. In fact, last year, Canada was ranked dead last out of of 27 OECD nations for environmental protection.
  • Statistics Canada. Scrapping the mandatory long form census over the objections of pretty much every public poliymaker and everyone who’s ever taken a statistics course in their life.
  • The War on Science. Tories decided that science had to either support their positions, or else science was evil. If the above points weren’t enough for you, Here is a pretty comprehensive (and frightening) chronology that was painstakingly compiled and that ought to make you shake in your booties.
  • Lots and lots more. The status of women. First Nations relations (or lack thereof). The bloated Omnibus bills. Proroguing Parliament to avoid answering questions he doesn’t like. The list goes on. And on. And on.

This two-front war has left many of us exhausted, our resources and emotional stamina drained. Many of us here in Quebec have been too preoccupied with the PQ to turn much attention to what’s going on in Ottawa. The immediate existential threats to our basic human rights that Marois proposed seemed the more urgent problem, and we had an imminent provincial election to worry about. So we focused our efforts here.

But now, it’s time to turn our focus to the other direction, and do everything in our power to make sure that the next election result ensures that Stephen Harper and his Tories can do no further damage to Canada. They’ve done far too much already.

Bye bye Pauline. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

Watch out, Stephen, you’re next.

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We Canadians pay the highest mobile rates in the world, thanks to the entrenched Bell-Rogers-Telus oligopoly that for years has been gouging customers with impunity. The CRTC, the regulatory body that has generally been in the pocket of the wireless companies, has been taking some baby steps towards actually protecting consumers in recent years, thanks to a huge backlash and an acknowledgement that the current situation is hurting business and innovation. But these baby steps haven’t done much to stem the tide.

Now, the long-awaited new Wireless Code announced by the CRTC after months of public hearings promises to address a few of the most egregious issues. Among them:

  • Canadians will be able to cancel their plans after two years with no penalty, even if they signed a deal for longer.
    This is all well and nice, considering that the three-year plan cycle was stifling innovation. But considering that there really aren’t any better options out there, cancelling and going to a competitor is illusionary freedom at best.
  • Caps on extra data and roaming charges to $50 and $100 respectively within a given billing cycle.
    This is perhaps the biggest win for consumers; stories of $22,000 phone bills or other ridiculous overage charges have abounded in the media lately, embarrassing providers and frustrating consumers. Even smaller amounts are ridiculous: A friend recently returned from a trip to the UK to discover a $1,287 phone bill, all for committing the cardinal sin of having forgotten to purchase a data plan, and having accessed Google Maps a few times while abroad. Such charges far exceed any reasonable costs that the providers have, and amount to a punitive tax on the unsuspecting for no reason other than they’ve been allowed to get away with it for far too long.
  • Canadians will be able to unlock their devices after 90 days, or immediately if they didn’t purchase a phone on contract.
    Anyone who wanted an unlocked device was already doing so on the grey market for a few dollars. It’s useful for people moving out of the country or for those of us who travel a lot; Canada remains one of the only countries in the world where you can’t get off a plane and pick up a local SIM card for a matter of a few dollars to use during your stay. (I do this all the time with my unlocked phone; it’d saved me thousands in roaming charges in countries from France to Israel to Vietnam.) But for most Canadians, with no competition to speak of in the market, unlocking your device will only allow you to switch to an equally bad provider, which is really no choice at all. All this means in practice is that providers will raise the prices of the phones in the first place, arguing that they can no longer subsidize them to as great a degree.
  • Contracts must be in plain language, with wording explained clearly and with the option to opt out of all changes.
    This ought to have been the price of entry and a given for anyone doing business. The fact that it needed to be said was sad. A step in the right direction, to be sure. But the Code doesn’t set out any restrictions on what the wireless providers can and cannot put in the contracts, as long as it’s spelled out in plain language.

What’s missing from this Code? Quite a lot.

  • There’s no mention of the fundamental unfairness of charging for incoming calls and text messages — a particularly egregious issue considering how much spam and how often my phone rings with unsolicited telemarketing calls. When I complained recently to Rogers about the dozens of robo-calls I’ve been receiving lately (“Congratulations! You’ve won a trip!”), I was basically told that I had no choice but to pay for the calls. There’s also the fact that we take the double-charging (paying for both outgoing and incoming minutes) as a given here in Canada, when most people from other countries would find that shocking.
  • There’s next to nothing being done to address the lack of competition in the marketplace. Bell, Telus and Rogers collectively own the vast majority of the wireless spectrum. Efforts in recent years to open up parts of the spectrum to bidding from smaller players are failing, since the small players are being sold one by one to the big ones. Virgin Mobile is owned by Bell; Fido is long owned by Rogers; Telus is in talks to buy Mobilicity; Public and Wind are both up for sale. Only Videotron here in Quebec is making a go of it, since as a larger cable company it can afford to compete, but its service and offerings aren’t exactly advantageous compared to the Big Three. And anyway, Rogers and Videotron have a network sharing agreement that will effectively prevent them from actually competing. With so few choices, we all lose, regardless of market regulation or consumer codes. Since, after all, the Big Three can charge whatever they want, as long as they spell it out in plain English.

Ultimately, this Wireless Code is Too Little, Too Late. It will get us to where we needed to be as a country five years ago, but it does very little to address the future. And we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world in terms of mobile adoption rates and technical innovation.

But, it’s a step in the right direction.

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Penny idioms on their way out in Canada

02.04.2013

Today was the official end of the penny in Canada, as the Royal Canadian Mint halted production and went into collection mode. While pennies will continue to be legal tender indefinitely, retailers as of today will begin rounding to the nearest nickel for cash purposes. It occurs to me that the end of the penny [...]

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Bell’s purchase of Astral: CRTC says Non

10.18.2012

The CRTC has actually momentarily remembered that its job isn’t to rubber-stamp requests from the big telecoms: It has squashed Bell’s plan to buy Astral and thus control a massive share of the telecom market: “BCE failed to persuade us the deal would benefit Canadians,” said chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, who took over the post earlier [...]

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“I’m too rich: Tax me more, please!”

12.06.2011

That’s the theory behind this site: We are the 1 percent. It contains manifestos of a bunch of people who claim to be part of the American super-rich, but who feel that it’s unfair that they aren’t taxed their fair share. Now, admittedly, this concept might be better if more of the people in the [...]

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Ontarians give McGuinty a third term; avoid triple-whammy

10.07.2011

Ontario voters avoided the threat of a triple-whammy conservative blowhard government – Ford in Toronto, Harper in Ottawa, and Hudak challenging at the provincial level – by rewarding incumbent Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty with a third term in office. But with only 53 seats, down from 72 in the previous government, the Liberals will be [...]

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Jack Layton loses his battle with cancer

08.22.2011

The longtime leader of the NDP and official opposition leader of Canada, Jack Layton, lost his battle with cancer this morning at age 61: “We deeply regret to inform you that the Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today, Monday August 22. He passed away [...]

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By the numbers: Canada’s debt load

08.02.2011

As the eyes of the world have been on our American neighbours and their efforts to make a deal childish grandstanding and petty squabbling to avert a default on the national debt, it’s understandable that many of us Canadians have been feeling pretty smug. After all, we may have problems, but not problems to the [...]

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The first 50 days

06.21.2011

What will Stephen Harper do with a majority government? That was the question on everyone’s lips just 50 days ago, after an election shocker gave the Tories their long-awaited majority with 166 seats. Oh, I heard all the platitudes. It won’t be so bad, people said. Give them a chance. They’re not so scary. They [...]

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StatsCan: Hate crime is up

06.07.2011

The number of hate crimes reported to police increased by 42% between 2008 and 2009: While hate crimes remain primarily motivated by race (and black Canadians remain the most-targeted by hate crime), the data also showed the number of reported hate crimes perpetrated against Arabs and West Asians doubled (to 75 from 37). There was [...]

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