Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Labour Day Signals Labour Unrest to Come

Now that the summer vacation season is all but a warm and fuzzy memory, we’ll get back to our informative posts – from a brief summer break.

Speaking of summer vacation, yesterday’s Labour Day holiday across North America was the official last long weekend of summer.

I enjoyed it wandering around Canada’s largest fall fair, the Canadian National Exhibition – CNE – or just “the Ex” for locals in the Toronto area.
It sure felt like fall, it was unusually cold and wet seeing as the hot, sticky and dry weather we’ve had most of the summer.

Figures, the one day I spend all outside, it rains.

Going to the CNE is a Canadian tradition for many, and certainly it was for me. Every year I get up extra early on Labour Day, go out with friends to a local restaurant for breakfast, then head to the fall fair.

This was my first Labour Day at the Ex – I have gone during the Labour Day long weekend, but never ON Labour Day itself.

Maybe because it was the last day of the Canadian classic – the CNE has been around for 132-years – it was packed with people, despite the poor weather. I don’t think I’ve seen so many people at the Ex – ever.

While wondering around the CNE, I saw many wearing t-shirts sporting anti-government, pro-union messages like “Keep the TTC from falling into private hands, keep the TTC public” in reference to the potential privatization of Canada’s largest city’s transit system. Saw a button on someone that said: “Unions keep jobs in Canada.”

Maybe that was an old button from years ago, because even the largest unions haven’t prevented a slew of jobs from heading to other countries. In fact, more companies than ever are outsourcing to places outside North America.

It used to be that just big multinational companies could afford to farm out labour to cheaper third-world countries. Back in the 1990’s, big sporting giants Nike and Adidas drew bad press when the media reported they were using “sweatshops,” for much of their products sold in Canada and the United States.

According to the reports, some of these sweatshops were dirty, dungeon-like factories, employing even young children, in dangerous manufacturing jobs, which paid literally nickels and dimes an hour – if they paid. Some of the reports indicated that the people running these sweatshops withheld what little pay they provided, to ensure the poorly treated workers came back to work the next day.

Nike and Adidas quickly distanced themselves from the sweatshops, and went on a public relations mission to clear their names.

Funny, with all the outsourcing that happens now, we don’t hear much about the poor working conditions, the below average wages, or the inferior quality checks and balances anymore.

Well, we do hear about the poor quality of goods produced these days – just look at Toyota’s massive recalls, the tainted pet food from China, and the constant warnings from food and health agencies about fruit and vegetables with e coli, salmonella, or some other dangerous by-product of a society that rarely produces anything itself anymore.

Try and find something NOT made in China, India or somewhere else these days – go ahead and try.

Unions have their pros and cons, but job security ain’t one of ‘em.

What we need is for governments to take a stronger stand with companies that want to do business here in North America. If federal governments mandated that at least 70 percent of the products they sell in North America be made in North America by North Americans, with North American-made materials, then we’d have a start.

Problem is, governments over the past two-decades have been weak – no, they have intentionally pandered to the interests of companies instead of to the very people they serve – their citizens.

Government legislation over the past two decades provides for tax relief and grants for companies with offices here in North America, that have to bring in goods made elsewhere. This provides the illusion that just because the companies aren’t shutting down in Canada and the States, that their are still jobs here in Canada and the States.

But that’s just the government pulling the wool over our eyes – just look at our continuing to crumble economy, with job losses across every sector in Canada last month, except teaching (and that’s because September is back to school).
Our country’s leaders continue to brag about the economic recovery, and how they have taken steps to ensure our countries are world leaders in the new economy.

What our country’s leaders aren’t telling you is they’ve created – and continue to create and build – an economy that doesn’t include you.

Unless of course, you’re one of the few chosen to relocate to some distant land, to manage the production of goods and services elsewhere – then you really are one of the few lucky ones.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chocolate Covered Bacon? Only in Canada, eh?

Yesterday, Canada’s largest fall fair opened – the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), a right of summer’s passage into fall long before most of us can remember.

From the usual midway rights, the sounds of hucksters peddling their midway games, the rides, the air show to the food, there is something special about the CNE which most Canadians fondly remember.

One year they served up pizza on a stick – looked too messy so I didn’t try it. Last year they had chocolate covered bacon – that just sounds gross.

Not to be out done, this year you can get something slightly healthier – deep fried butter. Well, okay, it might not be healthy at all, but I’m just curious how they are going to deep fry something that melts like – well butter.

Want something more meaty? Try a cheeseburger in a bag, also new this year.
What ever happened top good old burgers, fries, and ice cream cones?

Although “the Ex” as it has become known by locals in Toronto, Canada, has its fair share of unusual foods – they boast this year there are 22 items sold on a stick – there is something missing from CNE’s of the past.

When I was a kid, I remember going to the Food Building for lunch, and being amazed at all the different tastes. It was a multicultural smorgasbord from everywhere on the planet. They even gave out free samples!

For at least the past decade, if not longer, the Food Building has suffered the modernization of the rest of the world. Now it’s littered with big multinational fast food giants, national fast food chains. You can get burgers and fries, finger licking chicken, and pizza from all the big fast food vendors.

Probably why the mom and pop shops can only survive at “the Ex” by offering wild concoctions like deep fried butter, and pizza on a stick.

Oh well, at least they still sell the classic ice cream waffles, beaver tails, and the ultimate fall fair treat – cotton candy.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Work Life Balance Doesn’t Exist in Canada

A recent study by an Ontario college says over a third of Canadians spend 10 hours or more at work (though those hours also include the travel time to and from that work).
Everest College in Toronto claims Alberta has the most dedicated workers, with 44 percent of those surveyed saying they spend 10 or more hours per day on office related tasks. Manitoba and Saskatchewan tied at 39 percent, while Ontario and the Atlantic province came in at 38 percent. The west-coast is often mocked for it’s casual hippie-type lifestyles, but maybe that image is true, as only 28 percent of people surveyed from British Columbia said they spend 10-plus hours per day at the office.
Funny thing, when computers were just beginning to enter homes back in the 1980’s, futurists, technological gurus, and computer geeks everywhere were saying that those magic mechanical boxes of blinking lights and whirling noises were going to cut the amount of time spent at work. Some even boldly declared we’d have four-day work weeks by the dawn of the new millennium.
I should have known that was flawed, when 1999 rolled over into 2000, and although everyone was worried about the dangers of Y2K, the work week still was five long, laborious days.
Computers actually in more instances than not, INCREASED our amount of time at the office. They constantly fill our minds with emails, instant messages, and manage our overflowing voice-mails. Instead of walking over to our colleague’s desk to discuss that new report, we just send it through email – and in turn, that once 25-page report comes back to us through email, often hundreds of pages more, and requiring a read through.
Thanks to computers, we can work at home – many offices have secure networks you can link to, and our voice networks – run by computers – allow us to call into conference calls from anywhere around the world.
That also means we can be reached at anytime, anywhere by work. How many of you have taken your office-issued BlackBerry or other smart phone with you on vacation, only to find yourself reading and responding to work related emails?
And if your co-workers can email you even when you are on vacation, they can call you too. “Just email that contract to my BlackBerry, I’ll sign it right away.”
As the labour market continues to shift from an employee-based one, towards contract and temporary consultant-based, more people are burning the midnight oil at the office.
Companies generally don’t care if they burn out a contracted consultant, they don’t have to pay for your benefits, so if you get sick or develop psychological issues from being constantly under the gun, it’s no skin off their back. Need to take time off to deal with that overtime-related stress? Doesn’t bother your “employer” – contractors don’t generally get sick days, extended medical coverage, or other benefits, so it won’t cost your boss anything if you take it off. Worse still, consultants only get paid for the time they spend working, so anytime of is lost wages.
And as more and more full-time staff jobs are lost in the new economy, there are suddenly a whole lot more people willing to work those excessive inhumane hours, just to keep a roof overhead, and food in their tummies.
Statistics Canada’s employment numbers for this month weren’t very good – the Canadian government department which keeps tabs on these things says the economic recovery has slowed down, as thousands more full-time permanent jobs have disappeared, most likely forever.
This tosses fear into the working world, causing those with staff jobs to do whatever it takes – even if it means working more hours than are healthy – in the hopes that our employers will spare our jobs from the cutting block.
And so continues the cycle of constantly increasing working days, and shorter recovery times.
Time for a break . . . I think . . .
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Canadian Politics Taking Ugly Tone of American Electioneering

Want to be mayor of Canada’s largest city? Hope you don’t have a past, because it’ll come out and that’ll be it – no mayor’s office for you.

Or at least that’s what’s going on in Toronto, Canada, where candidates are fighting an ugly battle for a municipal election this coming October.

Today, long-time Toronto councillor Rob Ford held a press conference to spill the beans on his impaired driving and having an illegal substance charge. While he was in the United States over a decade ago, he got pulled over and was charged for failing to take a breathalyser and for having a joint in his pocket.

The drug charge was dropped, but he admits to doing community service for the DUI charge.

So what? Are we seriously going to deny a man a job because of something stupid he did in his youth? Don’t we all make stupid decisions at some point in our youth? I sure know I did. That’s all just part of growing up.

But leave it to Toronto’s media – and this is even playing on national and some international wires – to play this story up as if it were the be all and end all for deciding who should run Canada’s largest city.

Not that I’m all too happy with the selection – in my not so humble opinion, none of the candidates has convinced me that they deserve the big lofty office, huge mayoral salary, and prestige of being in charge of the country’s economic engine.

I’m sure all the candidates running are really great people, but if the best they can come up with is trumping up ghosts from their competitor’s past, they really don’t know what the needs and wants of the people are, and shouldn’t be running the show.

Actually, this whole story stinks of American political campaigns, where campaign managers do whatever it takes to make their competition look outright evil.

We Canadians are supposed to be better than that, peaceful, overly polite. Yes we need to debate the issues, but those issue stretch far deeper than the colourful past of a handful of players.

Too bad the wanna-be mayors of Toronto, Canada just don’t get that.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Experienced Cop Shoots Self in Foot Raises Questions About Public Safety

An experienced police officer in Canada’s largest city accidentally shot himself in the foot during a routine training exercise yesterday, making you wonder just how safe it is to have this fellow wandering the streets with a gun.

The 33-year-old police officer’s gun accidentally went off as he put it back in his holster, after a gun range exercise at the Toronto Police College, in Toronto, Canada.

Rest assured, the cop is going to be okay, according to police, he was alert and breathing when taken to hospital, with non-life-threatening injuries. All that appears to really have suffered his is pride.

Or more likely, the public’s perception of just how safe it is to have gun wielding cops in the city.

All of “Toronto’s finest” have to go through the yearly gun range drills to carry their firearm – even the highest cop in the land, the chief must do the annual gun range.

Yet, there is no word as to what happens when a police officer – especially an experienced one – fails the drill.

Not that we are questioning the need for law enforcement officers to protect themselves and the public by carrying guns. One of the unfortunate ills of our modern society is the level of weaponry criminals have at their disposal – from pistols and sawed off shotguns, to fully automatic weapons with armour piercing rounds – crime reports read like movie scripts, but the firepower is anything but fiction.

However, when an experienced cop shoots himself during a regular drill, one must question just how effective the training is?

Most police in cities and towns across North America never have to draw their weapon. And those that have, often say they never want to do that ever again.
But when a police officer holsters his or her sidearm before heading out on their shift, we trust that police officer knows how to use that sidearm impeccably well. Because all it takes is one mistake, and innocent lives could end instantly.

We wish the officer from the Toronto Police Service well, and hope he gets better soon. And we hope that this incident alerts the top brass at that police service that maybe, just maybe, they should take a long, hard look at their weapons training program, to make sure embarrassing incidents like this don’t turn into public tragedies.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Real Humanitarian Thing to do is Often Just Say NO

Last week, a rag-tag cargo ship with almost 500 Tamils from Sri Lanka docked at a Canadian Navy base in British Columbia. The people on board were trying to sneak into Canada undetected, but thankfully our authorities were more than aware of their presence.

Many of the 490 people on the ship were sick, and carrying highly deadly and infectious diseases. Had they managed to cross into Canada undetected, they would have put many lives at risk.

They are all claiming refugee status, saying that they fled their homes because their lives were in danger.

Federal and local authorities are investigating as to whether the cargo ship is part of a people smuggling operation linked the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organization which has been banned in Canada, the States and many other western countries.

People smugglers often lure poor people in third world countries to first world countries (such as Canada and the States), saying for a small percentage of their earnings, they will earn their citizenship. However, once here, these unsuspecting people find themselves working in prostitution, drug trafficking, weapons shipping, or as slaves to crime family members, for little or no pay.

Today, rumors spread as other cargo ships, crammed with men, women and children – there were 50 children on the ship that docked last week – are en-route to Canada, all aboard seeking illegal entry.

Canada is known for being very friendly to people from all over the world who want to call this place home. We rarely turn away anyone, so why then, would people who wish to live here try to sneak in?

Granted, the immigration procedure to get into Canada, as with most things run by the government, is a long and tedious process – as it should be.

We have to look out for ourselves – as the Canadian Border Patrol can attest too, letting in people who carry infectious diseases could cripple this country. 

Those who bring with them weapons banned here could endanger the lives of all around them. And then there are those who are terrorists or human traffickers, bringing people in to run their crime syndicates.

Clearly, there is more here than just rubber stamping everyone that claims refugee status into the country.

Granted not everywhere around the world enjoys the freedoms we have here, but that doesn’t make it right for unscrupulous souls to sell over-priced admission on cramped ships, to sneak others into the country.

Anytime you have to sneak into something, chances are it just isn’t right.

There are Canadian embassies the world over, even in war torn Sri Lanka where the latest boatload of refugee claimants originated. The right way to come to Canada, is through official channels.

You don’t barge into someone’s home unannounced, expecting to be welcome with open arms. Why should we expect any less from those seeking to come to our country?

The Canadian government should do the right thing – check on the medical needs of all those who were on the ship, to ensure their medical needs are looked after. And then, they should be sent back to Sri Lanka, and instructed on how to apply to come here the legal and proper way.

By doing this, we aren’t shirking our humanitarian responsibilities, yet we aren’t allowing others to walk over our openness and acceptance of others either.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Alma Matter Doesn’t Matter

One of the most influential times in a young person’s life, is attending university – or at least it was for me.

And NO, I’m not talking about the academic side of the coin – although that too is very important. I’m talking about all the other things that matter – like hanging out with classmates at the campus pub and debating some big mind over matter problem, joining a club or sporting event, or kissing the prof’s butt to get a good grade.

I never did the last item on that list. Honest.

But whatever you do aside from reading books, listening to professors with bated breath, or writing essays and exams, university life gives young people a chance to explore who they really are, so they can become somebody in our crazy world.

That’s what I took away from my university days. I’d never have been what I am now, had I not had that amazing opportunity.

So whenever I hear about something from my alma matter, my ears perk up. Even more so when there is something big and impressive happening on my former university campus.

Which just so happened this past weekend – I attended the Rogers Cup Tennis tournament held at the Rexall Tennis Center at York University.

Even back in the day when I was a student, they held part of the Canadian national tennis tournaments at my school.

Every summer they alternate between the men and the women’s tennis between Toronto and Montreal. This year it was the men’s tournament, so big name tennis celebs like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Daniel Nestor were lobbing and volleying on the courts here in Toronto. In Montreal, big name women’s tennis players this year include Serena and Venus Williams, Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova.

Just my luck, it rained for most of the day, but that wasn’t my big gripe. I was extremely proud, and maybe even a little teary-eyed as I stepped foot on my old university campus’ grounds. Fond memories of a time long ago, which led to me being who and what I am surfaced, and even despite the rain, it felt good to be there.

And you’d figure, with the world’s sport media in attendance, people from all over the world flooding the university campus, and even some non-tennis celebs wandering around to take in the matches, my university would be beaming proud.

They certainly beam when it comes time to remind me about donating to the alumni fund several times a year. I do participate in alumni events – I love my school.

But this year, there wasn’t much well-deserved beaming from my school – it was as if they just didn’t care.

There were big corporate logos plastered everywhere from all the media, private company and government sponsors – but the host facility, MY UNIVERSITY wasn’t being promoted. Not in the literature being handed out, the logos everywhere you looked, nadda, nothing.

I was very disappointed – especially in York University’s marketing program. If they can’t take advantage of an opportunity right on their doorstep, what good are they?

But I was even more disheartened by the greed of the big corporations which did get their logos everywhere, but kept the host’s logo out.

It was like barging into someone’s private party, and leaving without even thanking the host.

Years ago, Tennis Canada, which organizes the event, threatened York University to get a bigger stadium. When I was a student, the event went on at the National Tennis Center at York University, which saw the likes of legendary tennis players Bjorn Bork, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and others over the years.

Tennis Canada threatened to pull the event out of York University, if the university didn’t provide the pompous national tennis association a new stadium.
Sadly, York University caved, and built the spectacular venue which now houses the event – there are several indoor courts, along with the main stadium court, which dwarfs similar venues.

In the process of providing the land, and part of the funding for building their precious new stadium, Tennis Canada dropped the “at York University” from the name.

Guess having it named after a chain of Canadian drug stores – it is now known as the Rexall Tennis Centre – is more worthwhile, because big drug companies provide far more to society than a university.

I don’t know who I’m more frustrated with – my university for selling out, the big greedy corporations for buying out the space, or Tennis Canada for their part in ignoring their more than accommodating host.

But then these days, nothing is spared the corporate greed of bribery for naming of a sports stadium. There’s the Staples Center, The Rogers Centre, The Air Canada Center and many more.

It’s just strikingly sad when nothing is safe from being branded.

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