Sunday, July 17, 2016

160,000 Canadians cancelled TV subscriptions last year

Even though about 160,000 Canadian cancelled their TV subscriptions last year, conventional cable and satellite TV providers saw revenues decline just 0.1 percent to $8.9 billion

Companies mostly offset the loss in revenue by charging remaining subscribers more. A Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) report said that the number of TV subscribers declined from 11,404,591 in 2014 to 11,246,669 last year, a decrease of 157,992. TV providers have offered remaining customers expanded or better services but at a price. The average monthly charge was up from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015.
The TV companies also managed to cut costs. For example, they spent less on making Canadian content, $38.1 million less than last year. The industry employed fewer people last year as well, 27,244 which is a 6.3 percent decline from 2014.
Earlier this year a number of providers raised their fees slightly which may have caused some users to cut the cord. Companies such as Netflix may also be a factor in more people not using conventional TV. In a recent quarterly report, Solutions Research Group said that as of June this year 5.2 million Canadians pay for a Netflix subscription. There are about 13 million households in Canada according to Statistic Canada, so Netflix is well on its way to reaching half of all Canadian homes.
Even more of a threat to conventional TV providers are "cord-nevers". These are people who have never really considered conventional TV necessary in the first place. Many of them are younger. Sukhpreet Sangha, 27, has never signed up for cable or satellite TV. She said: "It just seemed to be not worth the cost when I could get enough of what I wanted in other ways. I'm not sure I would call [traditional TV] passé, but I would call it unnecessary." As well as getting movies through services such as Netflix, news, music, sports, etc. can be accessed via computers. A recent online survey of 32,000 American adults discovered that of 24 percent who did not subscribe to cable, only 6 per cent were cord-cutters, while 18 percent were cord-nevers. Many in the new generation of young Canadians may find that conventional TV is not worth subscribing to, since what they want is available by other means at a lower price tag.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Liberals could privatize some airports

If the Harper government had tried to privatize Canadian airports there would be a huge outcry from the Liberals and no doubt the New Democratic Party (NDP) as well, but now it seems the Liberals are seriously considering doing so.

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As the Metro news puts it:
 The federal government is looking at whether Canada’s major airports should be sold off to private investors as a way to raise tens of billions of dollars in new cash to fund other infrastructure projects.
Transport Canada bureaucrats are reviewing the ownership structure of Canadian airports, now operated by not-for-profit airport authorities, to assess the possibilities of transferring them to for-profit enterprises — and collect a windfall in the process.
This move would give the Liberals cash for financing new infrastructure projects, which no doubt they could also sell off at an attractive price to allow investors to profit from public investments. This could ensure as well that investors will see the Liberals as a private-sector friendly party and generate more donations perhaps at the expense of the unpopular Conservatives.
Airport operators are rather nervous about the plan, fearing that the Liberals are rushing in to generate cash without weighing the potential impacts on travelers from making airports generate profits. Craig Richmond CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority said: “If you went to this model, my experience tells me in five years you would not recognize Canadian airports. You would see cutbacks on maintenance, cleaning, you would see them become much more crowded because (of) the pressures on the management to deliver that return.”Mark Laroche, the CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority said the change would likely give rise to higher fees and travelers would be required to pay more even as airlines are also jacking up fees to help their bottom line.
The Liberals could fund public infrastructure by selling off non-profit infrastructure such as airports. The new buzzword does not talk of anything so crass and old-fashioned as privatization it is the much more euphemistic asset recycling, as if the process must be environmentally friendly and something to be adopted by Elizabeth May leader of the Green Party. Asset recycling is said to give the private sector a stake in existing infrastructure assets, such as ports, or highways, to raise cash to be used for other investments. In other words it is a way of ensuring that existing assets can be used for private profit. An external review submitted to the Liberals last December suggested that airports would be a good starting place of an asset recycling program.
The report is by David Emerson, whose career path shows the symbiotic relationship of the Liberals and Conservatives: Emerson is a former Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver Kingsway. He was first elected as a Liberal and served as Minister of Industry under Prime Minister Paul Martin. After controversially crossing the floor to join Stephen Harper's Conservatives, he served as Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, followed by Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Emerson report notes that the airport authority has worked so far. Airports are efficiently run and the authorities have invested more than $19 billion in "badly needed" infrastructure. It sounds as if things are working out well as they are. However Emerson claims the not-for-profit model is "antiquated" and puts their cost competitiveness at risk. Nothing about serving the public who use the airlines or ensuring that they have good service at reasonable prices. What is antiquated are services provided to the public without making a profit. Of course this must all be glossed over with high-sounding phraseology. The asset recycling is to be accompanied by legislation to "enshrine the economic development mandate of airports and to protect commercial and national interests" Nothing about the interest of air travelers or employees at airports. But the asset recycling miracle goes on in that it would “restore Canada to its place as a world leader in the governance of airports and in the use of competition and market forces to determine optimum investment and service levels and costs.” One can see with such a worthy theorist as Emerson, that he is welcome in both Liberal and Conservative quarters.
However, as Mark Laroche notes the system will work only by raising fees, investing less in capital or finding efficiencies. Or to put it more bluntly it will work only if the private investors can make a profit. Craig Richmond the Vancouver airport CEO noted that the value of his airport on the open market was about $6 billion and that any investors who buy it will want to get that money back. He said it can only come from the customers' wallets.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau is undertaking a review to hear feedback on the Emerson report's recommendations. No mention is made of public hearings. Apparently the government wants a review of options by bureaucrats by August. Why not hold public hearings? This is too serious a matter for that since it involves finding further means to turn public non-profit services into a source of private profit.
Pearson International Airport in Toronto with 41 million passengers a year would be a prize plum for the private sector. Airport operators claim that the high cost of air travel results from policies that are forcing passengers to pay the entire costs of air travel with no subsidy from general government revenues. This is of course in line with a market model and will ensure that the less well off will be able to fly only infrequently.
Among the private investors interested in the asset recycling process is the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan (OTPP)
The OTPP is already invested in UK airports. It owns 100 percent of Bristol airport and almost half of Birmingham airport. It also has interests in Brussels airport and Copenhagen airport in Denmark. In order to improve profit, emissions may be increased, weight restrictions on aircraft removed, and noise levels increase. Also airports could encroach on more adjacent land.
Of course there are many supporters of asset recycling such as Michael Fenn, a former Ontario deputy minister and now a management consultant who specializes in the public sector who crows: "Asset recycling is a way to attract private-sector investment into activities that were formerly, exclusively, in the public realm. It’s something that we should pay a lot of attention to and I’m really pleased to see the federal government is looking seriously at it.”Apparently to specialize in the public sector is to find ways to turn the sector into a source for private profit. Coincidentally, Fenn happens to be a board member of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) which invests in public infrastructure around the world.
Asset recycling is trending internationally with Australia at the forefront of a plan for the federal government to offer Australian states incentives for asset recycling programs. The idea of public infrastructure as designed to provide services to the public at a reasonable cost is just too antiquated in the brave new world of asset recycling. In the appended video the Australian's Green Party view on the recycling is outlined.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Alberta NDP to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018

The Alberta provincial New Democratic Government (NDP) led by Rachel Notley is following through on a promise made during last year's election campaign that the minimum wage in Alberta would be raised to $15 an hour.

The NDP government will be phasing in the increases. On October 1 this year, the minimum will rise by a dollar to $12.20 per hour. On Oct 1 the next year, it will increase to $13.60 per hour. On October 1, 2018 it will reach the full $15 per hour.
The government claims that the increase in the minimum wage will help reduce the wage gap between men and women in that 62 percent of minimum wage earners are females. Brenda Brochu, president of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters said: "This is a historic opportunity to reduce the wage gap across the province. A woman who works all day to support her family should not have to take a second job or go to the food bank to meet her basic needs.” The government estimates that there are about 300,000 Albertans who earn the minimum wage and about 38 percent of them are families with children.
In spite of opposition from some business groups, the government claims the hike will not have a significant impact on Alberta businesses and not all businesses opposed the move. Duchess Bake Shop co-owner noted the value to his business of paying a living wage:“We have benefited greatly from paying higher than minimum wages through very high staff retention thereby saving on training, maintaining efficiencies and creating a workplace people want to be part of. Everybody’s lives have a fundamental worth, and if they are spending their energy and time to work and benefit society, then they are deserving of a fair wage.”
However, the Edmonton and Calgary Chambers of Commerce issued a joint statement maintaining that "with the increasing rates of business closures and bankruptcies, its the wrong time to add to the burdens faced by Alberta businesses with a significant increase in the minimum wage." Janet Riopel, President and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber said that the Chamber supported a fair wage but warned that the rapid increase of the minimum wage could cause harmful and unintended consequences to the very workers it was meant to help as businesses cut staff or reduced hours in order to be able to pay the increased wage.
NDP Labour Minister Christina Gray dismissed the concerns of some business groups saying: "Restaurants Canada and some of the well-funded lobby groups have been heard through this process and they were part of our consultations. I absolutely listened with interest. And through the consultations we listened to small businesses, as well as employees who are low-wage earners, people who are lobbyists for various sides. We believe making sure every Albertan has a fair wage is most important."Jan Reimer, executive director of Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, said the increase is significant, saying: "We know that income security is the primary determinant of individual and community health. Alberta's plan to increase minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018 could be one of the most significant policy changes for Canadian health this decade." Gray said that the increase will help ensure that every Albertan will be able to afford rents, transportation and food. On the other side, Arthur Ruddy, director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business complained that the government's consultation with business groups was only for show saying: "What's frustrating is the headline of the release that says 'minimum wage brings hope to hard-working Albertans.' Entrepreneurs are hard-working Albertans, They get a slap in the face while the economy is still reeling from a recession." The government had already raised the minimum wage by a dollar last fall.
Gray said that the plan phased in the wage increases giving employers time to adjust while giving lower income Alberta families some of the help they need. Among the industry groups opposing the raise are Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Leader of the opposition Wildrose Party Brian Jean said that the hike comes at the worst time as Alberta lost 24,000 jobs in May. Interim Progressive Conservative leader, Rick McIver, also opposed the raise saying it came at the wrong time and would result in even more job losses.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Court rules that Anarchopanda can keep his head

Montreal has a controversial bylaw, P-6, that bans masked protesters in a demonstration and also demands that organizers of any protest file a route of the demonstration with police for it to be legal.

Quebec Superior Court Justice, Chantal Masse, struck down the mask restriction entirely. On the issue of filing a route the justice said that if the demonstration was planned and people were invited a route had to be filed but if the demonstration were spontaneous it was not feasible to file such a route. The bylaw banning masks was passed several years ago on May 18, 2012.
The former Montreal mayor, Gerald Tremblay, introduced P-6 after weeks of protest after the Charest Liberal Quebec provincial government planned to raise university fees. Masks and covered faces were becoming common and protests were often violent. Fines for breaking rules were increased under P-6.
In a protest the following year Anarchopanda, the informal mascot of the 2012 protest, lost his head, which was seized by police. The protests were in part fueled by the new bylaw. The person in the Panda costume, Julien Villeneuve, was fined:The man under the costume, a philosophy professor at the Maisonneuve College, received two $637 fines after he was caught in a kettle — a police manoeuvre to control protesters.A few days later, Villeneuve launched a fund-raising campaign, "Pandaction", to fight the bylaw, a campaign which led ultimately to the ruling that Anarchopanda could keep his head during demonstrations. The protesters won in a separate case as well in which the protesters challenged the right of the city to use the Highway Safety Code to prevent demonstrations.
Villeneuve said he was delighted at the court ruling and said he was optimistic that many protesters still facing stiff fines under the bylaw would see their cases dropped. Villeneuve said he thought that the costume would actually calm tensions with the police. Villeneuve said: "It's a lot easier for a panda to pacify than just a random dude walking in the streets." He said that there good reasons to wear a mask at a protest. Some protesters fear repercussions at their workplace if seen at a demonstration and others fear how recognition might affect their personal life.
Montreal Mayor, Denis Coderre, said he had not yet read the decision. He said that everyone had the right to freedom of expression but wearing a mask and providing authorities with an itinerary of a protest route have nothing to do with that right. He claimed he could not say whether the City of Montreal would appeal the ruling.

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