Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Postal Union wants postal banks re-introduced to help fund Canada Post

In the second quarter of this year, Canada Post actually made a profit, but in the last quarter it lost $13 million. Even so, this is a relatively small sum, as is the total loss for the year so far of $20 million.

Many countries have taken the opportunity to privatize postal services to help out their corporate friends. Among the prime functions of modern governments is to find new sources of profits for capital. First moves involved changing the laws that used to give national postal services monopolies over postal services. Private corporations were allowed into parcel delivery etc. services, that could bring a profit while often leaving uneconomical services such as regular mail delivery to isolated and rural areas to the national postal service. This forced national services such as Canada Post into an unfair competition in which its competitors were able to provide services in a growth area in high volume settings whereas Canada Post also had to provide first class mail service to remote areas with low volume and no profits. Things have now "progressed" to the point where former government postal services have been wholly privatized in many countries. In Canada this has yet to happen but many public post offices are now privatized and located in shopping centers among other locations,
Expensive services such as home delivery have also been in the process of being phased out. However, on October 26 after the Liberals were elected, Canada Post put the transition to community mailboxes from home delivery on hold. Canada Post said it will work collaboratively with the new Liberal government to decide the best way to move forward. The mailboxes have been unpopular, not just with those who have lost delivery services but often with local authorities as Canada Post has installed boxes often without proper consultation about the locations. The Liberal platform promised it would ensure, "high quality service at a reasonable price to Canadians, no matter where they live." Only 32 percent of Canadian households still get home delivery service.
Canada Post spokesperson Arick Losier said: Efforts are now underway to place the comprehensive program on hold in an orderly fashion." Losier said in the release: "This involves roughly 460,000 addresses across the country which are currently in the process to be converted to community mailboxes." As has been happening for some time traditional mail volumes are declining in the third quarter by 5.5 percent in the third quarter but parcel volumes are rising and Canada Post parcel business will do very well in the last quarter during the Xmas season.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers(CUPW) notes that if one considers the entire Canada Post group of companies that includes not just Canada Post, but Purolator Holdings, SCI Group, and Innovapost Inc., they actually made a profit in the third quarter of $10 million. CUPW thinks Canada Post officials want to stress the loss of Canada Post alone in order to justify cuts to services.
CUPW long ago suggested Canada Post should consider re-introducing postal saving banks at post offices. Canada Post had a postal bank until 1968. In 2006 Japan's postal bank was the world's largest savings bank with US $1.7 trillion in deposits. Israel's post offices offer bill payments, savings and checking accounts, and foreign exchange services at all its post offices. China also has a huge chain of postal savings outlets.
The union claims these services would generate much-needed income for Canada Post and would be particularly beneficial in rural or low income areas not well served by the existing banking system. It will be interesting to see if the Liberal government will even consider this idea. The NDP should be pressing the Liberals to implement such an idea.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Daughter of Canadian imprisoned without charge in UAE wants help from Justin Trudeau

Salim Alaradi was among 10 business men detained by UAE authorities in August and September of last year. Human Rights Watch asked UAE authorities to investigate accusations from three former detainees that they were tortured by state security officers.
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Human Rights Watch reported that the former detainees claimed they had been beaten, subject to forced standing, and threats to rape, kill, and electrocute. Salim Alaradi remains among six still held incommunicado in detention. He has not been charged with any offence.
Marwa Alaradi, just 18, has published the appended video appealing directly to Trudeau to call on the UAE to release her father. She said to CBC: "This is not the case of a criminal. This is a human rights case and an injustice has been done to my family. My father has been kidnapped, tortured and interrogated and he's had no charges."She said that her father did receive a visit from a Canadian Embassy official in the UAE who said that her father's health is deteriorating. She urged Canadian officials to act to help a Canadian citizen who was being treated quite badly. Alaradi was born in Libya but emigrated to Canada from the UAE with his family in the 1990s. They lived in Windsor. However in 2007 he returned to the UAE to open an appliance business with his brother.
Another Canadian Refat Hadagha, one of the 10 imprisoned, has come forward to tell his story to the Globe and Mail. He is a former resident of Surrey BC. He was freed back in December 2014 but kept quiet until now out of fear. He said he felt he must speak out now and can no longer remain silent. Hadagha said: “I don’t know why I was kidnapped, why I was tortured, why I was released.” In early September of last year he was driving with his family when his car was blocked and plainclothes officers dragged him away to a secret prison. Hadagha described his questioning:"The first time I was brought into the interrogation room, I remember clearly standing in the room blindfolded. I heard a man running full speed, and then I was punched with full force on my neck, knocking me to the ground, and then they tied me up and started to continuously beat me,”Hadagha said that he heard other detainees screaming and recognized one voice as that of Alaradi, who was a friend.
Hadagha said he was questioned about Libyan political groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated as a terrorist organization in the UAE. Hadagha said he could not answer most of the questions. He belongs to no political party. The officers tried to coerce him into becoming an informant and when he refused they punched him, kicked him, beat him with a stick, and whipped him. Given the chaotic situation in Libya his family contacted Canadian officials. An official was able to meet him but in another building. He was kept a considerable distance from the Canadian diplomat. The consular official told Hadagha that he had permission to confirm his identity and that Hadagha should tell him his name. Hadagha did and that was the end of the visit.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, Rachna Mishna, said the department had raised concerns about Hadagha's well-being with UAE officials but even after repeated requests were made, Canadian officials were not granted full and sustained access to Mr. Hadagha. She said that in the cases of Hadagha and Mr. Alaradi: “Canada takes allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously." There is plenty of evidence of mistreatment, perhaps the new Liberal government will take further action to try and have Alaradi released.

Oil patch CEO has some kind words for Alberta NDP royalties review panel

The Alberta NDP government appears to realize it is better to listen to the oil patch than to get in a shouting match with a key industry in Alberta that has fallen on hard times.
Some in the oil patch are responding in kind, rather than being critical of the NDP and claiming its Royalty Review Panel is causing fear within the oil patch, as they have no idea what horrible policies the "socialists" are hatching to hurt investment and profits in the oil industry. This latter view appears to be the line that both the official opposition Wild Rose Party and the Conservatives are taking. The reaction of some in the oil patch is surprisingly different.
The Royalty Review Panel was a key NDP election promise but the thought of such a review with possible increases in oil royalties, at a time of declining prices, revenue, and investment in the oil patch, naturally created jitters in the industry. However, to chair the review Energy Minister McCuaig-Boyd chose banker, Dave Mowat, CEO of provincially-owned ATB Financial back in June. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer's actually applauded the appointment of Mowat. McCuaig-Boyd said of the review:“I think there was a concern from Albertans, ‘Are we getting our fair share? Could it be different? Could it be better?’ So we are delivering on that promise and reviewing. I think there should be a review every few years on something like that.”
In late August McCuaig-Boyd responded to the loud complaints of the opposition and others about the review creating uncertainty, by announcing that royalty rates would not change before 2017 at the earliest:"Our government is committing that the current royalty framework will remain in place until the end of 2016. That is to say, for 16 months companies and investors can operate with certainty, knowing there will be no changes in the royalty framework."
The review panel is to report to the government by the end of 2015. There is even a website for citizen input into the review. With the review process now well under way, Brian Schmidt, president and CEO of Tamarack Valley Energy and a member of the board of governors of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers(CAPP) said: “I’ve been through two royalty reviews already, back under the Stelmach days. I will tell you this is the most efficient process that I’ve seen, with the best people on the committee that I’ve seen. I’m probably seeing a little more openness to listen than I’ve seen in the past from the government side,”While CAPP will probably see many of its 60 recommendations rejected, the oil patch appears to believe they will achieve more by cooperating with the NDP rather than simply subjecting the committee to a barrage of partisan attacks. Mowat has himself said the industry had been quite cooperative in providing the panel information it requested. The NDP for its part is not about to challenge the capitalist nature of Alberta's oil industry, even by such mild socialist measures as taking provincial ownership of some Alberta oil companies that will be available at cheap prices because of low oil prices. That will be left to those energy companies still able to fund such purchases, often large global players or even state-owned enterprises. If the NDP wants to be elected again, it will need not only to make peace with the oil patch but develop policies that will help it through these hard times.
Schmidt credited the review panel with having a useful discussion of ways to add efficiencies to the system, for example by rethinking the way royalties were applied to wells so as to encourage companies to recover oil more productively.Schmidt said:“I think there is a huge opportunity, a huge win for Albertans and the industry if we look at things . . . to improve recovery. Make the pie bigger instead of [taking] a bigger slice of a smaller pie.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

CMHC and others issue warnings about Canadian housing market

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.(CMHC) released an unsettling picture of what could happen if there were a severe correction in the Canadian housing market.
The CMHC used a stress test or worst case scenario to test what would happen in the Canadian Housing market if there were a quite significant downturn in the Canadian market. The CMHC projected a 30 percent plunge in home prices and a 5 percent increase in unemployment. This is what happened in the U.S. in 2008 when its housing market imploded. In such a scenario the CMHC would be faced with eight times more insurance claims than now, with total claims of $5 billion over five years. The CMHC profit of $7.5 would swing to a $2.8 billion loss.
Many analysts think the CMHC scenario based on what happened in the U.S. is quite unlikely to happen here. Sal Guaterei, an economist at the Bank of Montreal (BMO), notes in the U.S. there was a huge problem with sub-prime borrowers, a situation that does not really exist in Canada. While Vancouver and Toronto would be vulnerable if there were sharply rising interest rates and rising unemployment, even this would require a considerable shock to the economy that seems not likely to happen.
The CMHC notes if there were global economic deflation for five years, this could hurt the market. Oil prices being very low, for example $35 a barrel, for a similar period would also rock the housing market. Many analysts are concerned about global deflation, with bond investor Bill Gross noting the global economy is approaching deflationary growth. The IMF has voiced a similar concern. While oil prices are projected to stay relatively low for some time, most analysts do not see them going as low as $35 a barrel for any length of time.
With deflation, house prices could fall, and people would lose money on their investment in their house if they sell. At the same time, if buyers think that prices will fall further they will not purchase homes new or otherwise, so that there will be less investment in new housing and falling house sales.
As well as the CMHC, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives(CCPA) and the OECD have also issued warnings about the Canadian housing market, especially if there is a short-term downturn in housing prices. The present heated housing market is partly caused by the baby boom bulge that created a big demand. Things are now changing.
Ben Rabidoux, of North Cove Advisors, a research firm says: "One of the more concerning developments that no one's talking about is the demographic trend. We are adding the fewest number of people to the working age population that we ever have."The Bank of International Settlements notes that in an economy where more people are leaving the workforce than entering, as is starting to happen here in Canada, the economy as a whole begins to shrink and house prices are lowered as well, as older home owners put houses on the market. This trend happens when home owners reach between 60 and 70 years. The baby boomers are now beginning to enter that age range. In Alberta those older homer owners are often taking their homes off the market because they are not getting the prices that they want but others, because of their economic situation, may be forced to accept those prices. Builders of new houses will need to sell their houses to pay their expenses often at prices that yield little or no profit.
Rabidoux though does not predict possible doom for markets such as Toronto. Some housing will still attract good prices but others may not. He says some expensive homes built in rural areas are not likely to sell well but family-sized homes in popular city areas will attract those who can afford family homes since there is always a limited supply of these homes. As the boomers move out of homes the demand for larger condos in prime areas will remain strong. Rabidoux cautions however that his predictions have been wrong before.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives(CCPA) worries about the debt loads that high house prices place disproportionately on young people. The OECD has issued a warning specifically about the risk of a correction in Toronto which has seen a huge increase in condo development. The OECD pointed out that there are high debt-to-income levels in Canada and urged tightening of mortgage lending in overheated markets such as Toronto and Vancouver. The OECD said: "In Ontario, and especially Toronto, economic activity has been relatively buoyant and demand by foreigners has been boosted by the falling Canadian dollar. That said, newly completed but unoccupied housing units have soared in Toronto, increasing the risk of a sharp market correction."
The Bank of Canada estimates that Canadian house prices are 10 to 30 percent overvalued at present.
Sharply falling prices could badly hurt younger home owners says economist, David Macdonald, of the CCPA:"Declines in real estate prices would have a strongly disproportional impact on young home owners, If, or more likely when, real estate prices fall, families in their 20s and 30s can expect to lose a substantial portion of their net worth, and could find themselves owing more than their house and other assets are worth."
He points out that the debt-to-income ratio for people in their thirties is now at a new high of 4 to 1 about double what it was in 1999. This is a higher ratio than in any other age group.
Macdonald offered some numbers to back his views. Even if the housing correction is in the mid-range of what the Bank of Canada has projected that families with people in their thirties would lose on average $60,000 or close to 40 percent of their net worth. One in ten families with people in their thirties or younger would end up with negative net worth. Macdonaldconcludes: "In cities with higher prices, like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, young families would likely see declines in net worth dramatically worse than the national average due to higher leverage, A badly managed downturn in real estate prices could wipe out the wealth of a large number of Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers. We need to recognize that young families are the most likely group to be plunged underwater by a nasty housing correction."Foreign investment can also have significant effects on Canadian housing markets especially in Vancouver and also Toronto as discussed on the appended video.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership text shows some sectors in Canada to be badly hurt

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper made sure the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was not revealed before the federal election. If it had been released, he might have faced an even more resounding defeat.
The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau will now be faced with deciding whether it should seek changes in the deal. Given that there were 12 different countries involved in the negotiations it may be difficult if not impossible to negotiate changes. Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturer's Association, said the Liberals will need to take a close look at the agreement and see if they can make changes. The 12 nations all have to ratify the document. Perhaps some will decide to reject the terms,.
The full text of the agreement was just made available yesterday. It is available here. The document is 6,000 pages in all. Mr. Nantais pointed out that Canada consented to eliminate a tariff on imported Japanese vehicles in five years while the United States will eliminate its tariff over a period as long as 30 years.
The deal will offer Canadian companies access to the Japanese consumer market but at the same time would eliminate Canadian tariffs and also make it easier for companies to use offshore parts creating a good market in Canada for low-cost Asian parts producers, making it difficult for higher-cost Canadian auto manufacturers to compete.
The text shows that local-content protections for vehicle components are much less stringent than the Harper government had claimed. Harper claimed that the requirements would be from 40 to 45 percent. Actually engine parts, frames and metal roof panels will only require TPP content of 35 percent. Companies will be able to use low cost parts from any country such as China even though it is not a member of the TPP. This helps out the big global auto companies if they are manufacturing within the TPP.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturer's Association, which employs 81,000, said that Canada got worse terms on key parts than they had been told by the Harper government. There are 26 Canadian companies that make stamped metal components and another 18 that make engine parts, according to Volpe.
The Trudeau government has not yet promised anything with respect to changing the pact. International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland urged Canadians to review the pact and send feedback to her. The Liberals claim they will consult with Canadians before approving the deal. Such consultation is unlikely to result in any changes. As trade lawyer Lawrence Herman pointed out, any attempt to renegotiate parts of the deal would prompt other signatories to do the same, causing the whole deal to fall apart like a house of cards. This is unlikely to happen since all the countries signatory to the agreement are beholden to the corporate interests who want the deal. There will be moves asking for government compensation by companies hurt by the deal. In the United States, President Obama has signified he intends to sign the TPP.
There has already been a significant negative reaction to the TPP in Ontario. Mayors of 20 Ontario cities who have significant numbers of auto sector jobs called on Trudeau to protect their industry.
UNIFOR, the trade union of which Canadian Auto Workers are part, also released a critical account of the TPP deal. UNIFOR National President, Jerry Dias, said:"The former Conservative government was in a rush to reach a deal before the national election. We now have a chance to see what concessions they made so that could happen. The new government needs to commit to fixing whatever mistakes lurk in the TPP text because the former Conservative government was in such a rush."Dias said the big question was what Harper had to give up to get the deal and claimed that even with present knowledge of the deal there were concerns not only with the auto provisions but patent laws related to publishing, and prescription drugs, as well as the impact on dairy farmers. Jim Stanford a UNIFOR economist calculates that the weaker regional content rules alone will threaten 20,000 well-paying jobs in Canada.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brian Pallister, leader of Manitoba PC's hates Halloween

No doubt there are many industrious researchers from various parties searching through the past speeches of their opponents to unearth treasures with which they can embarrass them.
In the case of Brian Pallister, the leader of the opposition Progressive Conservative party in the Manitoba legislature, such researchers have unearthed several paragraphs in a speech that Pallister gave in the legislature in November of 2014. I thought I would check out the speech just to make sure that the researcher was not altering any of what Pallister said. The whole speech can be found here. Turned out that everything was authentic and the author even mentions the context that Pallister was actually trying to draw a parallel between the behaviour of NDP members and trick-or-treaters at Halloween. Indeed, Pallister was trying to scare Manitobans away from supporting the NDP, since they are like those who go out looking for treats on Halloween. They dress up and disguise themselves so that those giving out the treats do not recognize them for what they are. People end up giving them treats, their votes I guess, if the analogy follows through at all. Probably Pallister was just dressing up his contention that the NDP members mislead people about what they are. In the process of his analogy, however, Pallister does have personal recollections and states opinions on Halloween that he probably should have left off the record.
Pallister starts out by noting he hates Halloween and always has. Apparently his first issue with Halloween was that he was bigger than other kids so everyone knew who he was not matter what he wore. Since everyone else could hide their identity while he couldn't he must have concluded that hiding one's identity on Halloween was a bad thing:"It wasn't fun for me and I've never liked it ever since. I don't like the deceit of it. I don't like the holiday and I never will. I don't like trick or treat. I think it's–I don't think it's good for the integrity of the kids."
The article points out that Pallister identifies himself as a Christian. The previous Christmas, Pallister had wished any Manitoban infidel atheists a merry Christmas but wondered what they celebrated during the holiday season. He himself celebrated the birth of Christ. Most scholars consider Halloween a Christian celebration as well, though it may be also have accumulated certain pagan customs. According to Wikipedia: 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide,[9] the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed...According to one view, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized observance influenced by Celtic harvest festivals.. with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain. Other scholars maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.Pallister could celebrate Halloween as a Christian ritual. Of course, as with Xmas, Halloween has been secularized and is now promoted more by secular merchants and local Chambers of Commerce than religious authorities. Pallister concludes his analogy by trying to make the NDPers spooks to be avoided: I don't like Halloween, and what I'm seeing from these people is Halloween all over again. Trick-or-treat traitors, they jump up and down around Halloween time and say, let's change costumes. We can be somebody else now. We'll be the new, new NDP.
The NDP certainly needs new costumes and to appear different. It is languishing about 20 percentage points behind Pallister's party in the polls. It may see former premier Gary Doer as a possible wizard who can save it from defeat in the election to take place next April.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Gary Doer Canadian Ambassador to the US and former Manitoba premier to return to province

- Gary Doer is planning to leave his position as Canadian ambassador to the U.S. soon, but is leaving the exact date to the new Liberal government.
When he resigned as premier of Manitoba, he did not say that the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper had chosen him to be Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Given that Doer was a prominent NDP premier, the appointment was a surprise. Harper constantly warns his supporters about the dangers of the socialist NDP. However, as former NDP Manitoba MLA and leftist Cy Gonick claims, perhaps Doer "does not have a socialist bone in his body." No doubt Harper hoped that Doer's diplomatic skills in dealing with politicians of every political stripe and his leftist credentials would help him out in dealing with the new Democratic administration of Barack Obama in the United States.
In spite of his NDP background or perhaps because of it, Doer's efforts were appreciated by the Conservatives. He has served Harper for six years, a period longer than his last two predecessors together. He has worked tirelessly but unsuccessfully to move the Keystone XL pipeline project forward. He was able to negotiate an arrangement to facilitate border crossing, but the deal must still go through the U.S. Congress and Canadian parliament, the same is true of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP). Trudeau Liberals are likely to support the agreement. Another former NDPer, Liberal Bob Rae, has been rumoured as a possible successor to Doer. Rae was once an NDP premier of Ontario.
It appears Doer will return to the province of Manitoba: "I've never sold my home in Winnipeg, Winnipeg's always been my home. I didn't sell my house, I didn't sell my cabin.I don't want to go into much more detail....I'll talk about the future when the future starts — which is not quite yet ... I loved being premier. It was an honour to be an ambassador. It's always an honour to represent Canada."
Doer's return to Manitoba no doubt will see some provincial NDP insiders planning to have him return to Manitoba politics and perhaps become premier again after the upcoming election next April. The present NDP government is quite unpopular and testing new bottoms in the polls. It trails the Conservative opposition by some 20 percentage points and is almost tied with the Liberals, who have 24 percent of the vote compared to 25 for the NDP in a September poll.
Doer served as Canadian Ambassador to the US since October 19, 2009. Doer had been 20th Premier of Manitoba from 1999 right up until 2009, when he resigned shortly before his appointment as ambassador. For Doer to run, the present leader and Prime Minister Greg Sellingerwould have to step down so there could be an early leadership convention. Sellinger survived a leadership challenge which created divisions within the party but those appear to be mainly patched up by now.