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The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings — Counting Crows

  • Wow, photo finish to the regular season! Let's hope this gives them some traction into the playoffs. ,
  • Because the Conservatives are messing with our most basic right as citizens -- the right to vote. This is not... ,
  • Far from "soul-searching", it seems like the PQ is still completely oblivious to the reasons for its loss.... ,
  • Icing on the cake this week: A major court defeat for the OQLF, right on the heels of the PQ's defeat at the... ,
  • Hypocrisy, much? ,

Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Montreal needs a reality check on customer service

Last week the Gazette published a rant by a couple of restaurant waiters, in which they angrily chastised customers for committing such cardinal sins as making small talk, asking for allergy-free meals, requesting to be seated in a booth, sending back food when it was not what they ordered, or — gasp! — failing to leave a giant tip. Judging by the tone of the rant, these two waiters probably deserve every lousy tip they get.

Please Don't Interrupt Me While I'm Ignoring YouNow, I’ve spent most of my career working in the customer service sector in some way or another. From my student days working at Fairview shopping centre folding sweaters, to my career in account services and strategic planning for various marketing agencies, I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make sure that the customer was satisfied. It’s not easy, I’ll grant you. There are days when it’s trying, or when certain people make you want to tear your hair out. There are those clients who make you go home and cry and question your will to live. But on the whole, I love it, and I suspect most other people who deal with other human beings in some way feel the same. I get deep satisfaction from building those relationships, anticipating and exceeding expectations, and making people happy. The one thing that always gets to me is when I’m complimented for simply doing my job. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher: After all, compliments and thank yous are nice, but in today’s highly competitive world, shouldn’t good service be the price of entry?

Bad customer service is one of those universal things that can happen anywhere. People love to complain loudly about airlines, telecom companies, service providers, restaurants, hotels and stores where they had unfortunate experiences or were mistreated. They tell their family and friends. They take to social media en masse. This is hardly unique to Montreal.

What is unique here, however, is this sense that this is perfectly normal. and that nobody really needs to try harder or to do better. There are exceptions, of course. But in general, our service sector is among the surliest, rudest and most indifferent on the continent — and when called out for it, they tend to blame the customer.

Read the rest of this entry »

G8/G20 Rant

Fuck the moronic thugs who decided that setting police cars on fire and smashing store windows was an appropriate Saturday afternoon activity.

Fuck Stephen Harper and the Conservative government for thinking that hosting this summit in a major urban centre was an appropriate use of over a billion dollars of taxpayer money.

Okay, rant over.

The Toronto Star has a photo essay from this weekend. Sometimes, pictures really do say a thousand words.

How not to ask for money

‘Tis the season to be… generous.

Of course, that’s a load of hogwash. Supporting worthy causes is important year-round, not just in December, when the idealists get all imbued with holiday spirit and the cynics think about tax receipts. But for a number of reasons – habit, practicality, what have you – millions of people write out cheques to their favourite charities at around this time of year.

Or, don’t write cheques, which is what this post is all about.

An article last spring in the Chronicle of Philanthropy pointed out that online giving growth slowed in the US in 2008, after steady increases in previous years. (Canadian statistics are probably somewhat better, given our relatively stronger economy and our relative technological advancement when it comes to donations). The picture it painted wasn’t bleak, but it wasn’t pretty, either. Among other findings:

  • The median percentage of all donations raised online in 2008 was a measly 0.8%. Even if you consider the 80/20 (or, some say, 90/10) rule about major gifts, that’s still ridiculously low.
  • Many charities, when they think of online giving, are just converting direct mail thinking into digital, focusing on email solicitation – which, on the whole, works not at all.
  • Online giving, while still growing (compared to other channels), saw slower growth – a 28% median last year compared to 42% and 45% respectively the previous two years. Even when you factor in economic conditions, that’s still a significant drop in growth rate.

All of this tells me that there is a great opportunity that is being squandered by cash-strapped charities who are seeing their traditional funding sources wane. Nobody writes cheques to pay the groceries or the heating bills anymore, why are we still expected to do so with charitable gifts?

Now, my perspective when it comes to fundraising is hardly objective, having worked in the field for a number of years. But, from a donor’s point of view and not a marketer’s, I have a few words of advice for organisations seeking donations online:

  1. Make sure your website works.
    This year alone, I’ve personally encountered one website that insisted that my perfectly-valid credit card number was invalid (it claimed to accept Amex but was validating for a Visa or MasterCard number format), another that simply returned a 404 error when I hit submit, a third that – despite being a Canadian organisation – did not accept a province or postal code in the address form, and a fourth that double-charged my credit card even though I only hit ‘submit’ once; I was forced to phone the organisation to get the second charge reversed.

    And, yes, before you ask, these were all major, reputable charitable organisations, not little maw and paw shops.

    Now, since I’m such a nice person and I believe in the work that these fine organisations do, I took the extra step of donating anyway, even writing cheques and mailing them in a couple of cases. But think of all the people who won’t bother going to the trouble. Now multiply that by your average gift. Yeah, that’s what I thought you’d say.

  2. Make sure your website is professional and secure.
    Yes, it costs money to have a professionally-designed website that reflects your organisation. And believe me, I understand that you would prefer to direct that money to the work you do, and not to what many people would consider “administration” or “overhead”.

    Having said that, you aren’t going to get people to trust online giving without making a few basic strides. Up-to-date security encryption is a bare minimum when asking people to enter their credit card details. A website that actually looks like it’s run by your organisation, and not by phishing scam #2012, helps too. And, would it kill you to post updates about the work you’re doing to give the people who support it something to read? The converted online brochure with blinking text is just not going to cut it, not in 2009.

  3. Make online giving easy.
    Present various donation options clearly. Use easy-to-understand forms, user-friendly navigation, and clear language. Make sure your website is easy to find, ranks highly in search results, and has clear, present donation links from the homepage. Don’t make people have to work at it.

    Really, this is simple stuff – it’s the equivalent to a business reply envelope. The easier you make the process, the more donations you’ll get.

  4. Eliminate redundancy.
    If I’m giving online, I’m not also giving by mail. Or by phone. Stop wasting your postage stamps and telemarketing dollars on me; you’ve got me already, and via the most cost-effective channel you’ve got.

    If the left hand is spending money trying to convert offline donors to online while the right hand is still sending out 6.2 letters a year to existing online donors, then invest in better database maintenance because you’re wasting money, not to mention trees.

  5. Be open and transparent.
    Charities often come under attack for being less-than-honest about how their funds are allocated, or what their programming priorities are. Of course, all of this information is public record, and with a little digging, you can generally check up on your favourite charities and make sure that they’re above-board.

    But this is no longer simply about posting your annual report in PDF format and calling it a day. If you’re out there in the digital space, you can expect to be called out and taken to task about your campaigns, your programs, your work and your priorities. Are you going to run scared from it and look like you have something to hide? Or are you going to embrace it and look like you have everything to gain?

  6. Communication is a two-way street.
    Giving to a cause is no longer just about writing a $25 cheque and forgetting about it all year. What works with commercial marketing works with charities, too. The simple fact is, the more engaged your donors are, the more they will support you – financially, by spreading the word, by volunteering, by getting involved in myriad ways. But only if you encourage them.

    As the rest of the world declares Web 2.0 so very passé, charities are still catching onto what was standard practice online a decade ago. Sure, most major charitable organisations have a Facebook fan page these days, but how many of them really have an active, engaged online community that is supported by the charity? That’s what I thought you’d say.

    A few smart charities get it. They’re the ones looking for innovative ways to reach out to donors, through social media and other channels, encouraging true two-way conversation. But most are still resorting to the opaque, sanitized, digital version of a fundraising letter – support our great work, blah blah blah, have a nice life.

    Well, that and a buck and a half will buy you a pack of gum. If you are a charitable organisation, the people who support you are a gold mine waiting to happen. They’ll wave the flag for you, spread the word, volunteer and organise and raise money for you – all you have to do is engage them and ask them and get them involved. If you’re still just broadcasting as opposed to communicating, you’re basically telling them that you don’t want their help.

Us Canadians tend to be fairly generous people. But we’re not the same as we were thirty years ago. We don’t think the same way, we don’t act the same way, and we don’t expect the same things.

If you’re a charitable organisation soliciting donations, then you’re also a marketer, and you may have noticed that marketing has evolved quite a bit. If you’re out in front, you’re likely reaping the benefits. If not, well, nobody knows as well as you do that competition is fierce for donor dollars. Lapse behind, and you’ll miss out.

Happy December, everyone. Give early, give often.

Winter tires: Get a grip, people!

Quebec’s mandatory winter tire law comes into effect on Monday. If you’re driving with all-season or summer tires, you’ll officially be breaking the law in less than a week. And I, for one, am sick of all the whining and complaining about this law.

On principle, I usually oppose excess government regulation, especially when there’s scant evidence that it is warranted (e.g. the handheld cell phone ban, which has popular but virtually no evidentiary support). But, unlike that law, I happen to think that this one is very sensible.

Look, people, it’s quite simple. In Quebec, we have winter. Winter means lots of snow. And ice. And cold. If you’re driving in that weather without proper winter tires, you’re not only endangering yourself, you’re endangering everyone else on the road. The rubber compound in winter tires is designed for the cold temperatures, and the tread provides more traction on snow and ice. Last winter, 10% of cars on the road didn’t have winter tires, but they accounted for 38% of accidents. Driving without winter tires in winter isn’t safe. Period.

There are provisions made for people who store their cars or go south for the winter. There was plenty of warning to get equipped. The main difficulty will be in enforcement, and police will probably grapple with that one for a while. But aside from that, it’s a good law, designed to protect drivers and passengers and prevent deaths.

Most of the whining seems to be about the cost of winter tires. But owning and operating a vehicle costs money. Even if you own your car free and clear and are no longer making car payments, there’s insurance, gas, parking, maintenance, all to the tune of thousands of dollars a year. Winter tires will cost you several hundred dollars, true, but you can amortize that cost over several seasons. Plus, you’ll extend the life of your summer tires by only using them for half the year.

Bottom line: The cost of winter tires is a fraction of the total cost of car ownership. If you can’t afford the tires, you shouldn’t be driving a car, so quit whining and get a bus pass. You’ll save thousands and help the environment, too. Otherwise, invest in a good set of winter tires. For your sake, and for everyone else’s.

Price-gouging: The cell phone market in Canada

Two related stories in today’s Gazette, referring to all three major players in Canada’s mobile phone market:

First, a story about how Bell and Telus are both going to start charging for incoming text messages. Considering most of the spam I receive is actually from Bell, that shows some nerve. Coupled with my recent notice that Bell’s plan prices are going up yet again, for me, this is finally the last straw. I’ve had it with Bell. Enough. Fini. C’est tout.

Unfortunately, the competition isn’t much better. Rogers, which recently signed a highly-touted exclusivity contract with Apple to bring the iPhone to Canada, is charging ridiculously high rates for data, basically pricing the iPhone out of reach of the average consumer. And don’t try to get an iPhone from a competitor, either; there aren’t any.

The competition bureau, of course, doesn’t see a problem here:

“Where consumers are concerned about the plans being offered with the iPhones, we don’t consider this to be a competition issue,” said bureau spokesperson Marilyn Nahum. “We don’t consider the iPhone to be a distinct market.

“It’s a cellphone that competes with other cellphones in the market. If consumers don’t like the plans being offered with the iPhone they can go to the competitors.”

This is nothing new. With only three major carriers in the marketplace, Canadians have been gouged on cell phone prices forever. We pay twice what Americans pay for similar voice or data plans, and several times what Europeans or people in the rest of the world pay. Most of us pay a bogus “system access fee” of $6.95 to $8.95 per month, and virtually everyone pays for incoming voice minutes – a practice almost unheard of outside of North America. Our phones are “locked” to our carriers, we are locked into 2- and 3-year contracts with hefty cancellation penalties, and until last year, we couldn’t even keep our phone numbers when switching carriers.

Don’t expect things to get better anytime soon, either. As long as the major telecommunications companies are in bed with the CRTC, and virtual monopolies are allowed to exist, things are only gonna get worse.

Meanwhile, Bell and I are history. Anyone have an old Rogers phone they want to donate / sell to me at a reasonable price?

Daylight shifting

As we all know (or ought to, by now), the clocks “fell back” an hour on Saturday night, at least in DST-observing parts of North America.

These guys want to abolish Daylight Saving time and stick to standard time year-round.

I maintain that we should do the opposite.

Daylight Saving doesn’t actually save any daylight, of course, but it does shift an hour later every day. So, darker mornings, lighter evenings.

Of course, there’s not much we can do to alleviate the darkness during the worst months of December/January, when we’re going work in the pitch black and leaving work in the pitch black no matter which way you slice things.

But the rest of the year, we do have the option of extending daylight by an hour more in the mornings or in the evenings. Now, morning people and evening people may disagree. But it seems like it’s a no-brainer that most people would rather have some degree of light after work, when they get things done, go out, see people, stroll around in the evenings, go out for dinner, take their kids to after-school activities… than before work, when all they have to do is get up and go to the office.

There is really no reason why we should change the clocks by an hour twice a year, causing hassles and headaches, when there’s such a simple solution available: Stick to DST all the time. Then, we can have our afternoon daylight for most of the year.

So, all of you out there who are depressed at the 5pm darkness, join me in my campaign. Let’s abolish Standard Time and adopt DST year-round! Who’s with me?

(Meanwhile, it’ll be a while till we see proper amounts of sunlight again, so let’s stock up on those Vitamin D supplements.)

The Gender Equity issue: a refreshing perspective

While much is being made of Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the relative lack of women in Saudi politics (see below), here at home, under very different circumstances, we’re hearing some of the same issues – and criticisms.

Stephane Dion is actively seeking female candidates to run for the federal Libs – he’s even stated that he’s willing to use a quota system to ensure “adequate representation”, and to kick out male candidates to make room for female ones.

Here in Quebec, criticism abounded after last week’s election reduced the number of female MNAs from 39 to 32.

Arguments like this have always annoyed me. As a woman, I believe that I ought to have every right and opportunity to do anything a man can do. And I also believe that, unlike in Saudi Arabia, here in Canada (and Quebec), that’s pretty much true.

Women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive, can’t vote, can’t walk out on the street unaccompanied by a male relative, have to hide behind veils and robes, can’t participate in society as free and equal members. Saudi Arabia’s problems run far deeper than simply ensuring adequate representation among elected officials. (For starters, the elections themselves are a sham… But that’s a whole different rant.)

In contrast, here, women are free, full and equal members of society. If barriers still exist – and I acknowledge that they do – they are no longer legal and we are working hard to deinstitutionalize them.

But politicians who rant about not having enough women candidates are not saying so because they truly believe that women are barred from politics or lack opportunities; they’re doing it for reasons that are – no pun intended – purely cosmetic.

And finally, a refreshing perspective on the subject from Brigitte Pellerin in the Ottawa Citizen:

According to something called the Inter-Parliamentary Union (, Rwanda ranks first in the world with 48.8 per cent women representation in the national legislature, whereas Canada is 48th with 20.8 per cent. The United States, where we all know women are routinely persecuted by a political class bent on systemic gender inequality, is 68th with 16.3 per cent. So, is the theory that we’d be better off if we were governed more like Rwanda?

[ . . . ]

And if we’re legislating quotas for perspective, then we should also make the proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, etc. representatives match their share of the general population, assuming we even know it. And once we get there, shouldn’t we also worry about religious representation? What about race?

Oooh, dear.

To me equality means not caring whether my elected representative is male or female or black or gay or Methodist or whatever. And democracy means letting people elect whomever they think represents their views. I believe enforcing equal representation of women in politics would be wrong, undemocratic, and possibly even counterproductive. I suspect I am not alone.

Nope, not alone at all. I agree completely. And I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Equality by quota is counter-productive in the long run. It doesn’t eradicate barriers, it merely sets up new ones. Equality really ought to mean equality of opportunity, and that will only happen when we stop electing, hiring people based on their gender or skin colour or language or religion, and start judging them based on ideas, accomplishments, and – what’s that old-fashioned outdated thing again? – oh yeah, merit.

(But that just wouldn’t be, y’know, politically correct).

International EATAPETA Day

I nearly forgot. Luckily, Meryl reminded me. I had chicken for lunch, so I guess I participated.

By the way, for anyone interested in why I support this day, or why I hate PETA so much, read this.


This was not okay. And neither is this:

Students and staff at one of Montreal’s largest Muslim schools expressed shock today after windows in their building were smashed and the school bus was vandalized overnight.

“Parents are very angry and teachers are afraid,” said Principal Sawaf Layla, at École Les jeunes Musulmans canadiens where shards of glass lay in the school’s entrance.

Rocks and bricks crashed through about 15 windows at the school sometime between 9 p.m. Monday night and 5 a.m. Tuesday, police said.

Nobody knows what motivated this attack; unlike the UTT attack there was no note or message left, so it theoretically could have just been a random act of vandalism. But if it turns out this was a hate crime, then whoever was responsible should be prosecuted under the full extent of the law.

Muslim schools, Jewish schools, Christian schools, public schools, it doesn’t matter. All should have one thing in common. No matter your sick, twisted beef with the world, whatever your prejudices or hangups or politics or racist views. No matter what, one message needs to be made perfectly clear:

Kids. Are. Off. Limits.


Female hockey fans – this is news?

Note to Natasha Aimee Hall in today’s Gazette: I don’t know what you’re smoking, or if you went to sleep 40 years ago and suddenly woke up yesterday. But I suggest you take a good hard look around.

As a female hockey fan, I find this article downright insulting. You write as though women have suddenly just discovered that – hey, guess what? – our national pastime can be lots of fun to watch!

I’m not sure which is worse: The suggestion that female fans just like to ogle the hot players, or the implication that women are more into hockey these days because we’re “entering” the business arena and pursuing equality in other areas as well. Wake up, guys, this is 2007; we’ve “entered” the business arena a good long time ago, and the hockey arena as well.

Women make up nearly half of all fans attending NHL games. We follow the plays, read the papers, look at the statistics and the trades, debate the coaching strategies and line juggling, and appreciate a great comeback or an exciting goal just as much as any man does. One of my favourite girls’ night activities is going to a Habs’ game with a girlfriend, or getting together with a bunch of friends to watch a game on the big screen. We are devoted fans and have been for a long time. Reporting this as “news” suggests to me that you are completely out of touch with reality.

And that’s just women who watch the sport. You have completely failed to mention those who play it. The number of participants in women’s hockey has increased 400% in the past decade. Women play in leagues – both competitive and recreational – all over the country. I think if you asked Cassie Campbell, Danielle Goyette, Hayley Wickenheiser, or any of our gold-medal winning national team players, they might point out that not only do Canadian women play hockey, but they play it exceptionally well.

It’s attitudes like those expressed in this article that ensure that women’s hockey constantly gets the short shrift, both in terms of funding and in terms of publicity. Women like hockey, period – and we don’t need pink Habs’ t-shirts to be fans, either.

I politely suggest that you get your head checked. Into the boards. Hard.

Update: The Gazette published my letter on the subject.

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