Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Speaker’s Corner

Republican Sarah Palin is slated to appear in Hamilton, Ontario to speak on April 15th, 2010. As to what Mrs. Palin will be speaking about is anybody's guess, but the intent of her appearance is to be a fundraiser of sorts. With tickets to attend starting at a gentle $200 a piece, expect Hamilton's finest to attend and most certainly dole out a few extra bucks on silent auction items and sponsorship opportunities.

When it was announced that Palin was coming to Hamilton to speak, and the net proceeds of her appearance were going to the Hamilton Health Sciences and the Juravanski Cancer Centre, there was outcry among some of the citizenry that booking a speaker such as Palin was blasphemy. So the hosts changed the recipient Charity, and now the Palin supporters are crying shame towards the nay-sayers, blaming them for the hosts changing the Charity designate. Talk about a spinning pit of muddy waters.

I have never really been a fan of Canadian idolization of US political figureheads. Granted, Canada hasn't really shone on the World stage when it comes to political leaders. I would harness a guess that Pierre Trudeau was our last real Leader who carried Canada's identity to the World stage. With that said, Palin becomes the second US politician in the past couple of years to speak in Hamilton (Clinton being the other). It's a sad situation when we are unable to invite a prominent Canadian to speak in Hamilton, with the same fervor that Palin has generated.

Palin quit her job as Governor of Alaska for reasons not totally understood. Her Facebook 'Page' has over 1,000,000 fans; but I'm not sure that that is a sound statistic to use to gage one's popularity worldwide. A long-standing resister to Canada's national Health Care, there were more than a few eyebrows raised when it was announced that the proceeds of her appearance would go to the Hamilton Health Sciences, managers of Hamilton's hospitals.

So while we peons of Hamilton's citizenry bemoan the decision to bring Palin to Hamilton in support of a charitable cause, the organizers shouldn't be surprised by the feedback (both positive and negative) of Palin's appearance in Hamilton. After all, they made efforts to bring her here for a reason…it's just that nobody really knows what that reason is…unless it was to get free publicity…and if that was the case…nice work.

As for me: if I decide that I want to support Hamilton Health Sciences in the order of around $200, I'll just write them a cheque directly versus having only a portion of that amount going to HHS, and the rest going to hear someone speak, not even if it was Al Gore. I'd have to wonder whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper would draw the same attention and interest if he were to speak at a Banquet Hall in Toledo, Ohio….

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blue Box Blues Part I (and a half)

In advance of my second piece on the Blue Box, I needed to do some preparation and research. Along the way I discovered some interesting reports on the state of curbside collections of diverted waste from 216 Ontario Municipalities. As this was predominately numerical data, I was able to extrapolate information from the various reports and put into one representative report. The findings are interesting, and in some cases disturbing.

Using 2008 data (being the latest available), I was not only able to see which Municipality had the highest (& lowest) diversion rate, but also who spent the most money to get to where they are. Enjoy the following information; I hope you find it as interesting as I did:

  • The Town of Mono recorded the largest diversion rate in 2008 of 55.03%. It was a modest increase from 2007, where they saw a 54.69% rate (also the highest for 2007).
  • The Township of Whitewater Region owned the lowest rate, at a paltry 1.79%. They also recorded the largest decrease in diversion rates, falling a whopping 964.25% from 2007 where they recorded a 19.05% diversion rate.
  • It goes without saying that the City of Toronto diverted the most waste (all diversion numbers are based on weight) in 2008, as they had 166,678 tonnes of recyclables/compostables diverted from the landfill.

When it comes to spending money on diverting waste, it is important to look at more than just the figure; there are capital expenditures (blue boxes, green bins, sorting equipment, et al), operation expenditures (collection crew, management, et al), and marketing tools. All of which impact the cost to divert in some form of variance. Here are some of the spending highlights:

  • There's no question that if you're going to collect the most diversion, it would go without saying that you'd also incur the most cost, as Toronto does. But, where Toronto does not lead is in cost per tonne…we'll give that award to the Municipality of Killarney…they spent $9,423.35 per tonne collected…ouch! They were at a 28.25% diversion rate, down from 37.54% in 2007.
  • Spending the least per tonne was the Town of Petrolia. They spent $27.63 per tonne. Their diversion rate for 2008 was 23.17%, up from 19.4% in 2007.

The interesting part of putting this data together was not only seeing the wide range of costs, diversion rates, and collected tonnage, the other piece was recognizing who stood out in the mix:

  • The Regional Municipality of Durham, which includes the towns of Whitby, Ajax, Pickering and Oshawa to name a few, ranked as the 5th largest Municipality in terms of tonnage collected, recorded the 8th lowest (out of 216) in terms of cost at $97.55/tonne. Their diversion rate was 49.44%, up from 47.7% in 2007. They were the only Municipality in the Top 30 (in terms of tonnage collected) to show in the Top 10 Lowest Spent Per Tonne Ranking.
  • One can only assume that the City of Guelph hit a reporting snag from 2007 to 2008, as they show as one of the most expensive Municipalities in terms of cost per tonne, showing at $728.75. Making this number more terrifying, is that their diversion rate dropped from 43.84% to 25.44%. They currently sit as the 188th most expensive location out of 216. Not good.
  • Probably the biggest disappointment in the calculations is the City of Ottawa. Sitting as the 4th largest community in terms of tonnes diverted (65,410.44), they hold the distinction of the lowest diversion rate of any of their counterparts in the Top 10, with a rate of 33.02% up slightly from 2007 of 32.26%. They spend slightly less than the City of Brockville who has a rate of 41.47%($133.73/tonne vs. $135.71), but more than the Regional Municipality of Waterloo ($121.37/tonne) which shows a 47.12% diversion rate.

For you Hamilton, Ontario fans:

  • 7th largest in terms of tonnage collected at 40,831.83 tonnes.
  • Sit as the 51st lowest spend at $182.12/tonne
  • 44.31% diversion rate in 2008, up from 43.01% in 2007
  • 21st highest diversion rate in Ontario in 2008, moving upwards from the 29th position in 2007.

If you are interested in seeing the entire data collection, I have it in an excel file, and all of the figures were provided by Waste Diversion Ontario. Drop me an email request at drodrigues@mountaincable.net for more information.

Reading the Notes

When it comes to taxes, levies, fees, and whatnot…basically any additional charge lumped onto the product or service I am purchasing…I am normally cautious as to why the fee is present, and where/how the fee is being utilized. So of course when the Ontario Government announced the new "value-added" tax structure of combining the Retail Sales Tax (PST) at 8% with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) at 5%, I was instinctively pessimistic. Initially, the Liberals stated that it was a measure required in order to create jobs. Then, when it became apparent that the Provincial Government was going to receive a hefty windfall of additional tax revenue not previously realized under the existing 2-tier tax payment system, the electorate and the Official Opposition Party pushed back. It appeared that the new HST was a cleverly disguised form of a simple tax grab.

    The Lobbyists and Economists who support the HST initiative will tout that, overall, there will be no real gains or losses realized by this new taxing system. After all, once you've completed your tax return and realized some gains as a result of the HST implementation, your increased expenses that you incurred throughout the year leading up to your tax return will be negligible. To drive home this point, a report was (I dare say hastily) prepared by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives titled Not A Tax Grab After All: A Second Look at Ontario's HST. Authoured by economist Ernie Lightman, the report admittedly makes assumptions based on only the available tools available. To be fair, I will admit when I'm wrong or have misjudged something, however I still have this nagging feeling that this Report is just another 'smoke and mirrors' campaign to quell the objectors of the HST.

    After reading any 'report', I always read the "Notes" section to ensure supporting arguments are well documented. This particular Report had some rather interesting "Notes", a sample of which shows:

    Although reductions to the rate of tax in the bottom tax bracket is often touted as benefiting lower income people, in fact most of the benefits of such a change flow to those who are higher income, since everyone who pays income tax has some of their income taxed at the lowest rate. Most people who are low income already pay very little in personal income taxes.

    I'm no expert here, but I'd feel comfortable stating that the above "Note" appears to be nothing more than a disclaimer on the Reports assertion that lower income families/individuals will benefit from the HST. As the "Note" clearly states that this is not the case.

    So I guess what we have here is a bit of a stalemate. On the one hand we're going to be paying more at the consumer level for goods and services purchased which was previously PST exempted. While on the other hand, the Government (with support from this particular Report) are indicating that you'll save more when you file your taxes. The question will be whether you can afford to spend more upfront to save more at the backend. I honestly don't have the answer, but what I do know is that I'll be spending about $140 more per month (this according to the Tax Calculator found at http://itsmyprovince.ca/index.php). I'm still unsure how this is going to help the economy, as I am finding myself looking for spending reductions in preparation for the HST. The products and services the I use now which are exempt from PST will experience the greatest pain of this new taxing format.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Blue Box Blues, Part I

Living in an urban setting in Hamilton, Ontario, the availability of curbside collection of recycling goods has been quite commonplace for over 20 years. The "Blue Box" was introduced in Ontario by the industry which creates the recyclable material as a means of recovering said material in order to continue the true cycle of recycling in the early '80s. Today, more than 95% of Ontarians have access to curbside recycling services…and now the issue is getting muddied with the introduction of a new report aimed at changing behaviours towards disposing and diverting our waste. (The report can be viewed at http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/publications/7271e.pdf)

Ontario's diversion rate for residential collection is around 39%, while private or commercial diversion rate sits at about 12%. Put that up against over 34,000 tonnes of waste generate each day in Ontario, with less than half that number coming from residential collection. Using "Rambo" math, means that roughly 25,000 tonnes of waste finds its way to a landfill…everyday. There exists a strong call from not only Municipalities, but also from producers of recyclable packaging/goods, that there be some form of consistent policies/practices on what and where recyclable goods can be collected. To illustrate this need, I will take a single item and identify where and how it is disposed of:

Most consumers have at one point in their life, purchased a coffee to drink on the go…where does one dispose of their coffee cup when they are done? Well, depending on where you live, the results vary:

  • Windsor…while it's not clear in their literature, & based on the absence of a 'compost/green cart' collection service, it would appear that cups are recycled
  • London…like Windsor, there remains no clear communication as to where to dispose, but based on descriptions provided, it would appear that the cups are recyclable.
  • Hamilton…(only because I live here, and I should know…) the cups go in the 'green cart', and the lids go into the blue box.
  • Toronto…according to their website (http://app.toronto.ca/wes/winfo/search.do), and searching "coffee cup", the search returns either 'garbage' if it's plastic coated, or 'recycling' if it's Styrofoam. The lid goes into the garbage.
  • Ottawa…according to their website, paper coffee cups go into the 'green cart'.
  • St. Catharines…run by the Niagara Region; paper coffee cups go into the 'green cart'. The lids are to go in the garbage.
  • Simcoe…run by the Norfolk Region; it would appear that coffee cups go into the garbage, but there may be a window of argument that could put them in the recycling bins.
  • Thunder Bay…while not overly clear, it would appear that coffee cups go into the garbage.
  • Sarnia…paper coffee cups are clearly identified as non-recyclable, and therefore are to go in the garbage.
  • Kitchener…operated by the Waterloo Region, paper coffee cups go in the green bin.

To summarize, of the 10 municipalities chosen at random, 3 offer recycling (I am including Toronto in this group), 4 go into the 'green cart' composting program, and the remaining 3 municipalities would prefer to see the cups in their respective landfills. (I've made some assumptions on where the cups go when unclear of exactly the location based on the information available on the corresponding websites.) However, the end result clearly outlines how a single (popularly consumer purchased & subsequently disposed of) item can vary across the Province.

Without going to deep into the history behind the paper cup being the preferred choice for drinking on the go (1909…just in case you're curious), it is important to know that most coffee cups are made with high-quality fibre material, due to the heavy health and safety standards required for a hot drink on the go. As coffee cups evolve, as well as the methodology and execution of recycling/composting programs, there really is no reason for these cups to end up in a landfill. The question though is how do we get a consistent program across the Province which will ensure that 100% of the coffee cups sold are diverted into the recycling stream in order to be captured back into the fibre production line?

Now take the above example and times it by the number of items which could be available for blue box collection. You quickly get a sense of the enormity of the problem. The goal is simple: if it is recyclable, then it shouldn't end up in the landfill. The obstacles however are enormous, as the solution isn't going to be an easy one to find. If the report is to go forward without sound input from the public, residents face a real risk of losing curbside recycling collection in favour of 'recycling depots' or 'bring it back campaigns'. And, while that may be okay for new items not currently offered or available in the existing blue box curbside collection program, new unintended consequences will certainly surface with some of the proposed measures.

In Part II of this piece I will go beyond the collection component of our diversion process, and look at gaps in the processes in existence today which allow garbage to be disguised at recycling.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

King Dickens

There's no secret in the fact that I enjoy reading Stephen King novels. Actually, I'll correct that…until Misery came out, I considered myself his "number one fan". But once I read his masterful account of the pitfalls of being a "number one fan", I gladly slipped back into being his "number two fan". Over the years, I have been fortunate to amass quite a collection of King's works, both in written format, audio, and screenplays. His latest work titled "Under the Dome" has me transfixed thus far, to the point that my odd jobs are on hold while I slip off to a descriptive imaginary location as only King can transport flawlessly.

    One of my hobbies is working on the family tree, and as such I have the pleasure of corresponding with relatives from London, England to various locations in the West Indies, and across the Americas. It was through this, that my Uncle Bill (my mother's brother) had sent me an updated email address. It was one of the most unusual email addresses that I had seen. It lacked the familiar tone that one would expect from owners of email who have past their earlier years of life, and yet one could tell by the address that it contained something of reference for my Uncle. As it turns out, Uncle Bill is an avid Charles Dickens reader.

    Of course most of us are familiar with his more popular pieces, especially at this time of the year with the classic A Christmas Carol. I don't think I have met anyone who hasn't seen a version of the movie, (and if you get the chance, the latest animated film with Jim Carrey will most certainly be a classic). The bigger challenge would be: how many have read A Christmas Carol? If you thought King wrote books with such intent detail, that you were convinced he was paid by the word…Dickens most certainly would make King pale by comparison. In an eerie sense, both King and Dickens share the panache for ensuring the reader understand the minute detail of each part along the story. And as such they both were able to enjoy success at the theatres when their writings are transformed into a video production.

    While I'm not looking for a debate on who the greatest writers are, as each writer offers their own style and genre into their stories, it is impressive when an authour of fiction can cause change in the non-fiction world. Dickens certainly steps forward in this account, and not to take anything away from King, but really…anyone who doesn't enjoy this time of year is most certainly tagged as "Scrooge". Probably one of the most interesting explanatory terms originated by Dickens, and now used in the medical field, is Pickwickian Syndrome. Aptly named to describe overly obese individuals who contract sleep apnea as well as a host of other symptoms. The phrase was coined as a descriptive term of one of Dickens characters in The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Fat Joe, as he was dubbed, carried traits known today as sleep apnea, and because Dickens was able to describe his character with such detail, the term is now applied to individuals who present with similar symptoms.

    While the debates will continue on whether the written word will still be as successful as it was prior to on-line technology, I for one will forge ahead with a good King novel…for those times when carting a laptop or e-reader around doesn't seem to cut it, and know that Charles Dickens carries the standard of which all good stories should be told.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our Not-So-Harmonized Sales Tax

We've heard the infamous quote spoken by the character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie, Network in which he impassionedly stated repeatedly "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" And, it would appear that Provincial MP's who oppose the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) is exactly that, as they face suspension and surely other penalties for their actions in the Legislature.

To recap, HST was initially introduced as a means to assist businesses to acquire capital equipment at a reduced cost (as HST would eliminate 'hidden' taxes claimed to hinder this process), and thereby making Ontario businesses more competitive in the Global economy. Essentially the theory would be that because Ontario businesses could produce products at a lesser cost, then this would drive down the cost to the end user…the consumer. By blending the current two taxes into one blended tax rate, the intention is to simplify the process both from a fiduciary point to the businesses, and to the consumer. The complication in this application is that items currently only taxed the existing GST (Goods & Services Tax) of 5% will now be saddled with an additional 8%, which is the current Provincial Retail Sales Tax (PST) rate. As cries for exemptions filled the inbox of Dalton McGuinty, he finally stated that no further exemptions could be made as Ontario is facing a record debt due to the current economical conditions. In other words, the Provincial Government requires the additional tax revenue that the HST is going to generate to help pay down the massive debt.

If all is fair in love and war, then the introduction of HST should be a wash when it comes to revenues generated by the blending of taxes. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Provincial Government is actively stating that HST is not a 'tax grab', but the proof is in the pudding. Consider what the City of Hamilton recently identified in a document submitted to Council on November 24th:

"The proposed 2010 user fees have been developed based on Council's guideline, exclusive of any potential impact of HST…Staff estimated that the impact of the proposed HST on clients who pay our user fees would be approximately $3.7 million."

The report goes further to state that a recommendation has been made to the Province that users be exempt from paying the Provincial portion of the HST.

If you didn't catch it…that's $3.7 million in additional tax revenue collected for no increase in services. It's essentially free cash for the Province to gobble up without having to lift a finger. And, this is only from one Municipality. Add in the rest, and Province is sitting on a mighty lofty sum of increased tax revenue.

While the above is certainly enough to cause a few ulcers and angst, one has to look at the bigger picture and see if indeed the blending of the two taxes does indeed make in impact on the employment sector. Afterall, the Province is stating that the introduction of HST will generate jobs…and lots of them…some 600,000 new jobs in the next ten years. Economists go further to state that our annual income will raise by 8.8% over the same time frame, that the cost of doing business in Ontario and British Columbia (also in the midst of introducing HST) will decline by $6.9 billion, and as a result of this, the private-sector will spend a whopping $47 billion on job creation and capital spending. All this will make us more cost-competitive against the 160+ nations who currently use a similar blended tax system. (Information courtesy of a Toronto Star article posted on November 26th). Again, with all things equal, Quebec and the Eastern Provinces have been on the HST program for quite some time, therefore one must assume that since Ontario is not, then those Provinces that are using the HST formula are faring better then Ontario, no?

According to StatsCan(Oct '09 figures), Quebec's unemployment rate is 8.5%; Newfoundland and Labrador 17.0%; Prince Edward Island 12.0%; Nova Scotia 9.3%; and, New Brunswick 8.5%. Compared to Ontario's 9.3% and BC's 8.3%, it would appear that we're not that far apart on employment issues within Canada. But what about the rest of the world that has been identified…How are they doing? Doing a quick search to find the 160+ countries purported to be on the HST system, the quick snippets appear to be in the European Nations, and here is how Canada stacks against them in terms of the unemployment rates:

  • Canada 8.6% (Oct, '09)
  • Croatia 9.6% (Sept '09)
  • Denmark 6.4% (Sept '09)
  • European Union 9.3% (Oct '09)
  • France 10.0% (Oct '09)
  • United Kingdom 7.8% (Sept '09)

Again, Canada doesn't stand out as being 'job poor' compared to other countries. Unless the Provincial Government can supply a qualitative list of comparing countries which clearly identifies our 'disadvantage' of being without HST from a 'job creation' standpoint, it would appear that we are looking at nothing less than a feeble attempt to add 'smoke and mirrors' to a simple tax grab formula.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Political Fear of Making Decisions

The term is called "area rating". Most municipalities and regions use area rating as a means of more accurately taxing residents for services received. The most common use of area rating is with transit. As an example, if you live in a rural setting with no transit services whatsoever, you likely pay less taxes than that of your friend who lives in the suburbs close to a transit stop. While not all municipalities adopt area rating as a means to properly balance taxing for services received, it remains a universal application. And to that, the method of delivering area rating predominately sits in a rural/urban split, or variations thereof. Except in Hamilton, Ontario.

When the City of Hamilton was amalgamated with the former Towns of Dundas, Ancaster, Flamborough, Stoney Creek, and Glanbrook almost 10 years ago, the residents of these smaller towns were put in an obvious state of protectionism, not only on their identity but on their fees for services structure that was in place at the time. Due to add insult to injury was the impending reassessment values of homes which tax rates are applied against, as this was expected to take homes previously assessed at a lower rate to see upwards to a reported seven times the value. To illustrate this, a home situated in any of the former Towns essentially went from being valued at $150,000 to $400,000 thereby creating an instant tax rate increase with no changes in services received. While not all homes in the former Towns experienced this increase, what was recognized by the Townsfolk that generally speaking, homes in the former Towns were worth more than the old City of Hamilton. And in their minds, this means that the new City of Hamilton is being heavily subsidized by the richer former Towns. Politicos of the time recognized that this was going to be battle of epic proportions, so they recommended that instead of enacting area rating based on the normal 'tax for services' formula, that they instead enact area rating based on former municipal or Town boundaries.

But it doesn't stop there…further to this "former Towns" vs. "old Hamilton" boundary area rating system, the area rating actually varies by former Town. To see this in action visit http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/CorporateServices/FinanceBudgetTaxes/PropertyInformationTaxes/TaxCalculatorApp.htm and input $300,000 as the home value, then click on the various former Towns to gage the tax variances. While the tax calculator only offers choices of whether one is within a transit system, their also is the imbalance of how Fire services are applied. The best example of this is in Stoney Creek: they pay a single tax rate for Fire Services, but they have 5 Fire Halls…some with Full Time, some with Volunteers, and some with a Composite (a blend of volunteer and full time employees). So if you resided in rural Stoney Creek, you're essentially overpaying for a service because the level of service is not the same as a resident in urban Stoney Creek who has the luxury of Full Time fire fighters available at all times.

So here we are some 10 years later looking through the same broken glasses trying to figure out a way to fix this crazy area rating formula. While local politicians recognize that it needs to be fixed…and should be fixed, they stall out of the gate for fear of upsetting the folks that put them in office. We've seen a number of City staff reports over the past years recommending a review of area rating brought forward on the Council floor…only to be deferred until the next budget year. Now we appear to have some solid options on how to approach and mend the system, but again it would appear that this time (with thanks to the Mayor), the recommendations will be reviewed after the next municipal election.

This resistance to make a decision on area rating is disconcerting at best. Hamilton should be recognized by a literary society for the volumes of chatter that becomes connected with a decision. Sometimes the decision fails to materialize due to the weight of the communication material associated with the issue. This one cannot afford to get lost on the floor, in the sea of paperwork and consultations…just make a decision and move on. If the voters don't like it, then they won't vote you back in…remember, you're not in office to make voters happy – you're there to make Hamilton prosperous (and that will undoubtedly make them happy in the long run).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sorting Through the Clutter

It was a comment made at a round table discussion this past Friday hosted by the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario's (HSFO) OCAG. (I will offer advance apologies for not knowing exactly what the initials for OCAG represent exactly, suffice it to say that they are volunteer representatives from across Ontario who meet and provide feedback to HSFO on ways to improve their outreach. My best guess therefore will be that OCAG stands for Ontario Communities Advisory Group.)

HSFO, like most other not-for-profits (NPOs) and charitable organizations are looking at ways to ensure that contributions received are not significantly impacted in a negative way during the current economical climate. While each of us present at the event were there due to our own personal connections with persons with heart disease or who suffered a stroke, the larger element was that we were there not for us, but for others. It's an interesting paradigm (if you'll pardon the 80s term), wherein a group of assembled individuals gathered to not better our own circumstances, but rather to ensure that those not present do not have to endure the anguish and struggles of dealing with coronary disease or symptoms of a stroke. It was through this, that someone at the table where I was seated asked the question, and I'll paraphrase, "How do you sort through all the clutter? How do I prioritize where to give?"

There's a good chance everyone who reads this knows someone, or is someone who has been affected by heart disease or stroke. The same applies to cancer, poverty, and other unfair events to the human race. A key indicator that separates heart and stroke sufferers from most of the others is the altering of one's life in an instant. Often dubbed the 'silent killer', heart attacks and stroke often occur without warning. So the race is on, and in certain circles, we are winning the race towards providing the right education and tools to help those who may be close to, or on their way to, suffering a heart attack or stroke. For those that survive, it's a wake-up call…for those that don't, it becomes one of the saddest moments in a family's life due to the suddenness of the event.

Through the support of donations and volunteers, HSFO has been able to build on the importance of healthy living, as they continue to provide the much needed research funding required to ascertain the appropriate measures to ensure a long and healthy life. One of the largest examples of this focus would be the implementing of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in various public buildings. A young Chase McEachern recognized the need for AEDs in schools and hockey arenas after watching Jiri Fischer of the Detroit Red Wings suffer cardiac arrest during a game against the Nashville Predators. Unfortunately, Chase himself suffered cardiac arrest while at school and passed away a few days later as a result of the event. Through the efforts of HSFO and the support of Chase's family, AEDs have been placed in 70 municipalities and communities across Ontario. More importantly, the result has seen several lives…including one here in Hamilton, being directly saved by the use of an AED.

Interestingly enough, there are two different types of heart disease: coronary or acquired heart disease, and congenital heart disease. The first develops over time in a person's body either due to lifestyle or genetics. The latter develops either in utero or shortly after birth, and affects approximately 1 in 120 births. As medical expertise advances, continued research and development is required not only to minimize the invasive corrective surgeries of young children and adults, but to also recognize the specialized care of those who survive open heart surgeries. Regardless of which type of heart disease one is affected by, or the level of a suffered stroke – the first goal is to return to a normalized lifestyle. The second is to know not only that ongoing care and treatment is required to maintain that lifestyle, but also what type of care is required.

In the end, it's not easy sorting through the clutter. It comes down to what's important to you and your family. If you can't give your money, look at giving some time…someone, or even yourself might enjoy a longer life as a result of your support.

To look at options available to you, visit www.heartandstroke.on.ca for more information.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Changing Spending Ways

If you live in Ontario, starting July 1, 2010 you'll start paying a blended 'value-added' tax of 13% on most of your purchases. This blended rate includes the current 5% Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the 8% Provincial Retail Sales Tax (PST). The Liberal Government who introduced this nefarious concept did so on the premise that it was going to make Ontario businesses more competitive in the global environment.

Currently they are completing the standard 'dog & pony' show to various communities, business groups and the like on the positives of this new tax. It's also given them an opportunity to scale the presentation to the audience by making reference to some of the exceptions available. (In Hamilton, home of the original Tim Horton's, it was stated that your morning coffee would be exempt…all hail the great and mighty savings.) Within the various presentations are facts raised that Ontario is about to enter one of its worst debts in history, and short of making cuts to services, the Government is in desperate need to raise revenue through new venues. Introducing the HST as a boon for businesses becomes the perfect smoke for the mirror.

Adding insult to injury is that the HST will apply to basically the same items as what the GST covered…which means we are now going to be paying an additional 8% on services normally received today where we pay only 5%. Apparently the Government hasn't figured it out yet: that there is a limited amount of dollars to be spent, and if the cost of that product or service increases, then the consumer will change their spending ways. I've made a list of some of the changes I'm looking at doing to preserve my limited income:

  • Newspaper subscription
    • I pay monthly for this, and therefore not exempt. The exemption applies at the point of sale.
      • Therefore, I will be cancelling my newspaper subscription.
  • Cable TV
    • This is a tricky one as I have more TVs in my house then I do people. I am working on doing a cost analysis on what my current plan is, versus other options. Certainly a change in viewing habits will be forthcoming.
  • Home Phone
    • I've begun to think why I have this anymore. Certainly with the ease and accessibility of cell phones, and knowing that both bills are going to be hit with an 8% increase, one of them is going to have to go.
      • Say goodbye to the Home Phone
  • Hydro
    • This is a double hit for most of us. As of January 2010, all Ontario homes will be charged based on time of use, thanks to the Smart Meters that were installed recently. It's going to be back to basics baby, cooking outdoors, hanging clothes to dry, extra blankets and sweaters in the winter…I think you get the idea.
  • Dining Out
    • This has to be the most asinine exemption put on the table. The Liberals actually think that I'd be okay with purchases under $4 as being tax exempt? Consider this; if I'm going out with a buddy for a quick burger, we're now going to be paying separately. And, if we both pay by debit, we've just cost the restaurant between $0.12 and $0.30 in debit charges the restaurant owner will have to pay to his bank.
  • Fuel
    • The only way I can get around this one is to become more transit-friendly. For me, that means more business in another city, as their transit system better suits my needs.

I am sure I am not the only one who will change spending ways, and based on the above samples, I fail to understand how those businesses affected by my changes in spending ways will be pleased with this new taxing system. Every company associated with the aforementioned will see a decline in sales (albeit, maybe only mine). There are of course other negative impacts of the new HST, but I wanted to highlight the ones that have a daily impact in my life. At the end of the day, I have no appetite for doling out more taxes to the government and seeing nothing new in return. This is a sham, plain and simple.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Setting the Bar Too High

By now the news of the 2015 Pan American Games being awarded to Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe, or Southern Ontario, or some other variant geographical winning location name. Part of Hamilton's contribution will be added event locations including a government-backed/financed 15,000 seat stadium, a swimming pool at McMaster, and a velodrome. Adding to Hamilton's wish or needs list, is that the current 30,000 seat Ivor Wynne Stadium, home of the Canadian Football League Hamilton Tiger-Cats, is in dire need of replacement.

With that, Hamilton's leaders of perennial prognosticators of pugilistic participants are seeking to take the 15,000 seat gift tand double its size through private support most likely in corporate sponsor dollars towards the larger stadium. If there is a shortfall of required additional dollars required to build the larger than required stadium (for the Pan American games), then funds will be garnered through the tax assessment. Hardly something which taxpayers are supportive of.

To determine whether a 15,000 or a 30,000 seat stadium is the best fit, we must first look at the numbers:

Originally known as the Civic Stadium, it was constructed for the 1930 British Empire Games (now called the Commonwealth Games), Ivor Wynne has certainly enjoyed many years of athletic events. Throw in a few concerts, which caused much disdain from residents living close by, and you've got one heck of a facility…or at least it was. The 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro saw close to 90,000 attend the opening ceremonies at the Maracana Stadium. While Hamilton will not be involved in any of the pomp and ceremony, the proposed stadium is planned to be used for the "Athletics" components of the competitions. Back in '07 Athletic competitions were held in two stadiums, the 60,000 seat Estadio Olimpico Joao Hevelange and the spacious Flamengo Park. When the Games were hosted in Winnipeg in 1999, attendance for all events hovered around the 500,000 mark for about 330 events, plus the opening and closing ceremonies. Given the history of the Games, it would appear that a 15,000 seat stadium is more than appropriate for Hamilton's participation in the Games.

What is sure to become the major tenant before and after the Games, is the CFL TiCats. Oddly enough, they're looking for the extra seats, which based on their historical trends, leans somewhat inappropriately too far out of a realistic reach. In 2008, the Kitty Litter attracted an average of 20,785; a decrease of 10.4% from 2007. This decline saw the stadium void of fans by the tune of 29.8% per game. Hamilton is a City in desperate need of adding value to the product it fields during the CFL season; certainly leaving the stadium one-third empty leads one to believe that there is little to no value in rushing out to buy a ticket to a game. 2009 attendance numbers fair no different, with only a slight increase in attendance (and one could go further to argue the actual numbers, as announced attendance seldom reflects those present in the stands).

Hamilton would do well to build a 15,000 seat stadium, with the capability to expand or add seats as required depending on the game or event. One only needs to look at the success of the Montreal Alouettes who moved from the spacious Olympic Stadium to the cramped confines of the 16,600-seat McGill University. The end result saw the Als play for a sold-out game every time. This equated to higher valued tickets and product…meaning more revenue for the team. You can rest assured that no one is giving away tickets for free in Montreal. In other words: why expand your inventory and dilute the value, when you can reduce your inventory and increase your value? From a business case scenario, this makes complete sense. Other sports franchises have toyed with this concept with consistent results; they create the demand to warrant a higher capacity facility while capitalizing on increased revenue growth due to high demand.

Manage the expectations, and the rest will take care of itself. Set the expectations too high, and you leave yourself vulnerable to criticisms which distract from any successes attained over time.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Finding the right University – From a First Time Experience

I've reached that time in my life where I'm finding myself helping my daughter choose a university to continue her education and pursue her love for the sciences. The lists of universities that we are reviewing in no particular order are: University of Waterloo, University of Western Ontario, University of Guelph, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Nipissing University, McMaster University, University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia. We are about half-way through either touring the faculties or attending showcase events hosted by a university, and wanted to share some observations.

  • So far I'm surprised that more effort is not put into creating a "wow" factor for perspective students. Each of the presentations thus far has been unfortunately 'canned' in both delivery and style. Considering the progression of technology, I'm continually amazed at the continued habit of presenters simply reading from the PowerPoint slides shown on the screen. I will give high marks however to UOIT who used 3D technology in their introductory video, but then lapsed back into reading from the slides later on. There is something to be said about 'knowing your audience', and I can't help but wonder if the universities actually get it. Assembled before them on the day of the tour or event, are students who have made concessions to visit either the university or event location with genuine interest in possibly attending that location – more effort should be made to make them feel like they should choose one over the other.
  • Just what is the value of University Rankings? It appears that every university and college ranks tops, in the top ten, the best in, etc., on someone's list, but I'm unsure of the value of this ranking. I've met professors who went to 'x' university, but teach at 'y' university…and want my daughter to attend 'y' university. If 'x' university was good enough for them, why shouldn't my daughter go there instead? Perhaps what universities should focus on is the 'weight' of their degrees, and what added value is included in the teachings to reach said degree. Is a B.Sc. from McMaster regarded differently than one from Nipissing?
  • While the Internet holds a plethora of information on each university/college, it's surprising how many responses to questions asked at tours/events were "just visit our website for more information." No one was guiltier of this than UBC, who pretty much answered every question with "check our website". Which considering that they were in Toronto with potential applicants, if their intent was to drive traffic to their website, they should have at least had terminals present to walk the applicants through to ensure they were able to get the answers required. Questions are being asked with the intent to solicit a response…not to be brushed aside.
  • Referring to the first point of knowing the audience, I would expect that if those in attendance are not from the city that the university/college was located, that more time would be spent on life outside of the classroom. UWO did a wonderful job in this category, spending more time on the social aspects of attending university then on the classrooms. While the purpose of attending a university/college is to gain knowledge, the time spent in the classroom pales in comparison to the time spent in social circles…especially for a student who will be living in residence. A student who doesn't feel comfortable attending a particular location, is not going to enjoy their time…and this could affect their ability to succeed later on.

Here is our ranking of the universities of interest before our tours:

  1. UBC
  2. UOIT*
  3. UofA*
  4. UofW
  5. UofG*
  6. UWO
  7. NU*
  8. MAC**

And after visiting half of these:

  1. UWO
  2. UofG*
  3. UofA*
  4. UBC
  5. UOIT*
  6. UofW
  7. NU*
  8. MAC**

* - signifies that we have not toured or attended a specific event for this location, so this order will definitely change once this has been completed.

** - Because we live in Hamilton, McMaster has automatically been relegated to the bottom of the list, as my daughter has it in her mind that she wishes to attend university somewhere else other than the city she resides…if only just to enjoy the residence experience.

The intent will be to whittle the application list down to five. I'll leave it up to my daughter to decide which location she'll attend based on the anticipated letters of acceptance.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What Hamilton Means to Me

When I moved to Hamilton Ontario from London Ontario, I was unsure of what to expect. Living in London was your basic WASP environment, with a clear distinction of the upper and lower classes eloquently stated through the famed geographical EOA tagline. EOA stood for "East of Adelaide". Adelaide is the north/south street which became the marker for dividing the haves from the have-nots. While there is no definitive historical event, or hard-set data which dictates the EOA status, there certainly is an impression that there are more single-parent homes and social housing residents in EOA than any other area in London. Clearly, this is London's version of the "wrong side of the tracks", and I was a product of living in EOA. Our large family (8 kids) were raised in the most eastern neighbourhood (at the time…there is now a whole new set of subdivisions east of where I grew up…they hated the EOA tag so much, they adopted the "west of 100" tag to distance themselves from the poorer residences of EOA).

Hamilton has some similarities to London; spare the London only EOA tag…Hamilton carries its customary 'North-end' or 'East-end' tags, depending on who you speak to as to where the bad-ass part of town is. For my part, choosing where to live in Hamilton became solely reliant on a work associates recommendation of "Don't live below the mountain." So we embarked on finding a place on the mountain…which for clarity is the top of the Niagara Escarpment. In hindsight, we should have looked more closely. While I won't argue that the 'lower' city has its challenges, it does have something that the 'mountain' doesn't: community identity. Through no fault of its own, neighbourhoods built on the mountain were constructed primarily for commuters. Through growth commencing some 40-50 years ago, it's relatively young by comparison to the lower city, and as such lacks the cohesiveness garnered from long-standing families who were able to pass their home on to their children. While there are some active neighbourhoods on the mountain, the numbers pale in comparison to those in the lower city, despite the higher population on the mountain.

It's been 13 years since the decision was made to move to Hamilton, and I'd have to say that the decision to stay was made within 6 months of arriving here. Hamilton's proximity to Toronto, Niagara Falls, and London makes any trip manageable within an hour's drive. The fact that Hamilton is home to a number of waterfalls is something that continues to amaze family and friends still trapped in flat London. I'm not going to say how many waterfalls there are here, as the number seems to vary depending on the source. Sufficed to say, I'd recommend that you check out www.cityofwaterfalls.ca to get a good idea of how many waterfalls there really are. Whenever family or friends pay a visit, I make sure I spend a good couple of hours giving them the tour of some of the key sightlines of Hamilton, including those smokestacks which are a part of Hamilton's heritage.

Hamilton is poised to be something greater than it currently is, and through some innovative concepts, could actually become an envied City. In a little less than a year from now, residents will be heading to the polls to elect their municipal leaders. There remains some angst on whether the current leadership has not only the vision, but the fortitude to implement the change required to move Hamilton from 'potential' to a 'potent' community. It is often said of any community that the voter only cares about the issues that impact them directly (road needs paving, sidewalk is cracked, etc.). And, it's often said of any community that the incumbent politician only cares about the boundaries in which they represent. And, it's often said of any community that the current politician holding office is re-elected more often than not, regardless of their ability to be a true community leader.

While Hamilton certainly does have these obstacles before them, they also have some true visionaries who are working with city staff and politicians on what can and needs to be done to move Hamilton forward. One of the largest obstacles that may impede any progress would be the tax rate. Not unlike any other municipality, the economy has sapped resources while increasing the strain on the social services and programs – cuts to both are unavoidable, we'd be foolish to expect anything less. I'm looking forward to the coming years, but will steal a phrase from Albert Einstein who quipped, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten."

In keeping with the current flu-isms: The challenge now will be to see if we can look past ails us, in order to administer the vaccine required to provide future protection should we encounter another viral economical downturn.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing it Safe Means Not Playing at All

At the current Canadian Cardiovascular Congress held October 24 – 28, a 7-year study was released which looked at 20,719 grade 9 students. Most notably, in the findings were that cholesterol levels grew from 9% in 2002 to 16% in 2008 of the 14-15 year old students studied. This translates to almost one in five teens being at a very high risk of developing either Type 2 Diabetes or premature heart disease. Concurrently, the study found that levels of 90 minutes physical activity (at least 5 days a week) dropped from 28% to 22% in the same time period.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read into this study: youth today need to be more active. The elephant in the room that no one is talking about is: How?
Consider these reasons:
Ø Right from the time infants are able to walk, restrictive activity is enacted and only due to the social aspects of how we live and work today. Structure is introduced at a very early stage of growth, mandating the times of where, when, and what activity will be available to the toddlers, especially for those who attend a day-care or similar facility. Statistics indicate that ‘stay-at-home’ mothers/fathers raise children who not only eat better, but also engage in more physical exercise.
Ø As children age, the tendency is to enroll them into some sort of group or sporting team based on interest and availability. In a UK study released in March 2009, it was found that the cost of sport and cultural activities rose by 67% over the past 10 years. Compounding this rise in costs is the decreased cost for technological products like video games, DVDs, cell phones, et al; which fell between 17 – 29% depending on the category.
Ø Let’s not forget about protecting children from harm. There are about 16,200,000 Google matches for the search phrase “protecting children”. Everything from sex, to predators, violence, food, the environment, to you name it: there’s a way to protect your child from it. Today’s parents have more information at their fingertips on the perils and cautions of raising a child then those of earlier years. Being cautious and apprehensive becomes natural, as a result of being more aware of the risks. I wrote an earlier piece on “Fear”, and how rules and practices are enacted just on the anticipation of something wrong…this carries into the home life as well.
Ø Certain stereotypical perceptions can affect a willingness to engage in organized activities. There is the “hockey parent” who is affectionately known as overbearing and verbally abusive; who can in affect cause individuals to lose interest in getting their children involved just because they don’t want to expose themselves or their children to this type of boorish behavior.
Ø And then there’s the issue of competitiveness. According to the National Alliance for Sports (US) some 20 million kids register each year for a myriad of sports activities. However, approximately 70% of them quit playing by the age of 13, and never play them again. The number one reason according to the National Youth Sports Coaches Association is that they quit because it stopped being fun. As children age, the introduction of ‘winning’ versus ‘losing’ overrides the premise of playing ‘just for fun’. While I’m not advocating removing this mindset…in fact, I believe it is essential to a child’s preparedness for adulthood; there remains a lack of objectives around ‘house league’ versus ‘competitive (rep/select) league’ play. While it’s okay to lose a ‘house league’ game, one shouldn’t feel demeaned by their coach/parent/peer just because they chose to play at that level. As it is, they chose to play at that level either for the reason that they didn’t want to play competitively, or lacked the ability (something that parents far too often interject their opinions).
We have a ways to go to remove barriers impeding healthy active lifestyles in youth. Everything from affordability to setting standards and expectations of play. At the risk of sounding like grandpa on the front porch, sipping lemonade and spinning tales of old…I remember when I was involved in coaching soccer in London, Ontario: we had simple rules for play; non-sponsored teams; simple rules for the parents; (a rule that after 4 weeks of play, we could move players around to even up the teams – although parents of kids on the stronger teams opposed this ideology, especially if their kid was the one to move to a weaker team); substitutions were structured to ensure fair play for all; we kept score, and posted the standings; everyone made the playoffs. Most importantly, there was open communication to all parents and players. While it wasn’t a perfect system, I would have to say it was by far the most enjoyable for me as a coach, parent, and participant (we later started an adult mini-soccer league using the same guidelines…it was a hit!)
It is also imperative that we look at the affordability of participation. All too often, youth are left behind due to the high cost in being active. Much like the high cost of healthy eating, just being physically active also carries a healthy price tag (pun intended).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's In A Name?

In the City of Hamilton, Ontario a movement is afoot from some Councilors to ensure the protection of the currently named Henderson Hospital, named after Nora-Francis Henderson, the first woman on Hamilton council and social activist. Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), who manage the operations of Henderson Hospital, received a gift of $20 million from Charles and Margaret Juravinski to aid in the redevelopment of Henderson Hospital. Overall, the Juravinski’s have contributed around $43 million to community health-care causes, including a major contribution to the neighbouring Juravinski Cancer Centre. In exchange for their kindness, HHS stated that the hospital will now be named the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.
Under the new redevelopment project, due to be completed in summer 2010, the hospital will have expanded in size and resources. One could argue that it is a brand new hospital. And, not to be forgotten, HHS plans on naming a wing of the (re)new(ed) hospital in Henderson’s name. The curious point in all this is that this started some three years ago with nary a peep from neighbours and councilors regarding the name change. However now that they are drawing to completion, and most likely ceremonies are being planned and booked, folks are starting to voice their displeasure in changing the name.
City Councilors Tom Jackson, Terry Whitehead and Scott Duvall who rule the roost around the hospital grounds are taking up a fight with HHS begging them to keep Nora-Francis Henderson’s name alive on the front of the hospital. For the record, these same three were members of the ill-fated committee aimed at bringing the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, of which included the allowance to sell the naming rights of Copps Coliseum (named after former Hamilton Mayor Victor Copps). From a political angle, one could assume that both the HHS and area Councilors failed to properly communicate the change to the community three years ago; however that would open a nice finger –pointing exercise not worthy of anyone’s time.
Named ‘public’ buildings are usually done so to honour, to recognize, or to brand a person or product/service; whether done so as a courtesy or as a sold proprietary license. The application of these ‘names’ seem to differ depending on the building applied. Sports facilities have a long-standing tradition in offering up the naming ‘rights’ to companies as a means to generate revenue for the host team. Libraries apply names in either recognition or through gift-giving. Hospitals on the other hand tend to be more representative of the community in which they reside (at least in Canada). A cursory view of the list of Canadian hospital names shows no ‘privately’ named hospitals. If we were to look at Ontario’s powerhouse of health care resources, Toronto we’d see that it is managed by the University Health Network (UHN). They once received a single donation of $37 million towards the development of cardiac research at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, situated within the Toronto General Hospital.
So was it wrong to offer the name change to the Juravinski’s in return for their contribution? Probably.
Did HHS communicate to the politicians the change? Yep.
Did the politicians voice their concern at the time? My guess would be no, and I’d say it was because they saw the value and the reasoning at the time. But now the phones are ringing from disgruntled citizens expressing their displeasure, and as a habit they go out looking for a fight…instead of communicating the facts from the start.
It is indeed sad that the Henderson name will be removed from the front of the hospital, and a new name will grace its place. It’s a wonder that HHS didn’t look to give the location a new name like Hamilton Mountain Hospital, with the Henderson Wing & the Juravinski Centre, in order to promote Hamilton. It would appear that HHS moved too quickly in the offer of the name in return for their generousity, and now the Juravinski’s are looking like the bad guys. As it stands now, a precedent as been set for future contributors, who are now going to be looking for something more than just their name on a wall within a larger institution.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How Stable Are Electricity Prices?

In an article published in the October 3rd issue of The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Horizons was appealing to the Ontario Energy Board to increase rates by about $0.32/month to homeowners, and $0.80/month for businesses. Their reasoning: because of a revenue shortfall of more than $2.8 million due to the shutdown of US Steel Canada. So what’s a half-a-dollar between friends? Let’s go deeper…
According to Hamilton Horizon’s spokesperson Sandy Manners, the reason for the request was due to fixed costs of supplying and servicing an electrical grid. Furthermore, Horizon sets its rates based on projected revenue. To that, Manners states that while they have managed to avoid increases the past two years due to added efficiencies, there is only so far that they can go. Translation: by using (or consuming) less hydro, your rates will actually increase because the costs associated with managing the electrical grid are fixed.
Now I’m not a business major, but I would suspect that there are not a lot of businesses out there who wouldn’t set their rates based on projected revenue. If Tim Horton’s set their coffee prices based on consumption, then theoretically prices would rise every time a location closed, or a competitor opened up nearby causing a reduction in customers, therefore less cups of coffee being purchased. It just doesn’t happen that way in the private sector. Hamilton Horizon is municipally owned, and therefore holds the power (pun intended).
Adding insult to injury on this ‘because we’re getting less revenue, I have to charge you more’ debacle, the Ontario Government is pushing the Smart Meter “Time of Use” rates to be in place sometime in 2010. For my household, that actually means another increase in electrical rates. Our household does not operate on a typical 9-5 lifestyle. Doing laundry at 10 o’clock at night is not an option, and leaving it to the weekend will mean less travel and consumerism, as we’ll be at home doing all the ‘heavy-load’ electrical chores (laundry, yard work, et al) in order to get the same rates that we are receiving today. So here we are stuck in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. With the push on for electrifying our petroleum-dependant resources (cars, rapid-transit, et al), coupled with calls for restraining our everyday electrical-dependant resources (lights, appliances, et al); it almost appears as if there is an attempt to maintain a level demand system for electricity, all under the guise of protecting Mother Earth. With the news that there is a limit to how far one electrical grid can go to be efficient before fees increase, leaves a bit of a sour taste in ones mouth about the truth surrounding the fixed cost efficiencies of electricity versus the volatile costs of petroleum. I’m not sure they’re much different anymore.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Peak Oil: A Crisis Now or a Fear of a Crisis. (Thinking out loud)

Peak oil should be identified as the mid-point of available oil reserves, nothing more, and nothing less. Like most ‘curves’ in available resources or materials, there is a finite reserve that has a beginning and an end. Somewhere in the middle is the peak. Prognosticators have indicated we are close to arriving at that peak, and therefore drastic measures are needed to slow down the arrival time.
Economists and Environmentalists are both predicting a similar outcome: that oil prices are set to be much higher than what they are today, albeit with vastly different reasons. We already got a glimpse of this in July 2008 when oil hit $147 a barrel. Yet, it quickly fell to $33 a barrel before stabilizing at around the $70 a barrel price, only slightly higher than it was in 2005.
Today, we can find many books, blogs, and articles on what we should and should not be doing to preserve not only our oil reserves, but the planet itself. The proliferation of ‘greening’ our home and workplace, to ways and tips to ‘protect’ the environs in which we live. There’s no doubt about it, the generation which follows us will be more acutely aware of the consequences of their actions…whether good, bad, or indifferent.
A few years ago I happened upon a book titled “God Wants You To Be Rich”, written by Paul Zane Pilzer. If you get a chance, pick it up at your local library or listen to it on-line. Pilzer is an economist, but with a very keen sense on why and how we approached the world we live in today. His take on the progression of technology, coupled with his apotheosis that there is no such thing as limited resources, since all resources are man-made (or at least their use is man-made), thereby meaning all resources are limitless.
Pilzer’s best example of this was the history of how and why we came to use oil reserves today. Dating back to the use of whale oil, and including the infamous ‘gasoline’ shortage of the early ‘70s. Whenever mankind has faced a crisis, either real or implied, Pilzer identifies (and correctly so) that we have the capacity to adapt our lifestyle to minimize the impact of said crisis.
Since I have you in a reading mood, take a spin over to “Fear: The History of a Political Idea” written by Corey Robin. The opening paragraph notes that “…fear is the first emotion experienced by a character in the Bible. Not desire, not shame, but fear” Robin takes the reader through the consequences of not responding to ‘fear’, and goes further to identify on how ‘fear’ has shaped policies and laws created over time.While we may or may not be close to attaining ‘peak oil’, the fact that there is a ‘fear’ of what can happen once this occurs, is spurning change. While Pilzer embarks on a journey that equates change with logical adaptation, Robin draws on our emotional weakness which causes change. Who knows, maybe it’s a bit of both.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just Because I Said I Was Sorry, it Doesn’t Mean it Was My Fault

British Columbia started it, Saskatchewan and Manitoba followed, and now the Yukon Territories and Ontario are looking to join in on the “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean it’s my fault” legislation – otherwise known as the Apology Act. Bill 59 passed its second reading on May 15th, 2008 and is now in front of the Standing Committee on Social Policy for fine tuning before heading to the Third Reading and Royal Ascent. (Let’s not forget our neighbours to the south, where 35 States have some form of apologetic legislation). This particular piece of legislation is applicable only in civil matters and not criminal proceedings.
On the surface this seems like an appropriate piece of legislation, given that according to the 1999 American Bar Association Journal, 30% of plaintiffs would not have sued if an apology was given. Furthermore, published in the 2003 American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 37% of patients and family members suing may not have done so if an apology and an explanation was provided. Seems odd though that there are no Canadian Statistics on the impact of an issuance of an apology in advance of a lawsuit.
The move to bring this legislation into Law, is to allow compassion to be given without the fear of retribution based on an apology being interpreted as an admission of guilt. Due to the escalating civil suits which are realizing an increased monetary settlement or award, saying ‘sorry’ was used as a leverage to assign blame and guilt. Thinking back, if this was truly the case, then all those who expressed sorrow when my cat Tabitha died by saying “I’m sorry your cat died”…I should have sued them, because they just admitted guilt in the cause of her death! Yet I digress…
While those in the medical field are applauding this piece of legislation, it’s unfortunate that it becomes necessary to authour a law making it okay for a surgeon to say their sorry when someone dies on the operating table, regardless of fault. Consequently, the option is on the side of caution by not expressing any remorse for the loss, and leaving those behind to figure out whether the surgeon really cared or not. The impact of this legislative piece is still to be realized, but because this applies only to civil cases, their remains some questions surrounding cases which appear before both the criminal and civil courts. If a driver apologizes for hitting a pedestrian in civil court, knowing that it is not admissible in the proceedings, does that put the driver at risk in the criminal courts as this Act would inapplicable in the criminal system?
The larger concern could stem from ‘false apologies’ that could appear as a means to appease mourning family members. If Bill 59 was to pass making it okay to say sorry without fear of civil reprisal, than what is to stop medical institutions from issuing a blanket “Just Say You’re Sorry” Policy…diminishing the real intent of a truly remorseful medical individual.I’m sorry for this piece… it’s not my fault!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Harmonization – A word only singers should use, not the taxman!

It is said that there are two things in life unavoidable – death and taxes. It’s really unfortunate that taxes have become such a mainstay in our lives to become unavoidable, heck even acceptable in some cases. Have you ever purchased something of value and paid no tax? Yep, me neither. Somehow those merchants who advertise with gusto “save the tax” or “we’ll pay the tax” manage to still charge us the tax on our bill of sale.

Ontario is poised to follow our neighbours to the east, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, with the introduction of the HST, or Harmonized Sales Tax on July 1st, 2010. Some promoters of the new taxing system will even go further to tag it a Value-Added Tax…because that sounds a whole lot easier to sell!! A tax that adds value…who’d a thunk!!

The argument for the blending of the current (RST) Provincial Retail Sales Tax (8%) and the (GST) Federal Goods & Services Tax (5%) is that this “Made in Ontario” solution will “help make businesses more competitive domestically and internationally.” This said according to the website http://taxharmonization.on.ca/. The proponents for HST and the Ontario Liberals cite the success of the HST in the Atlantic Provinces as it’s reasoning for the blending of taxes. As is usual with other Liberal party reforms, they’ll lean to an academic report as their source of information. In this particular case, they point to “Lessons in Harmony: What Experience in the Atlantic Provinces Shows About the Benefits of a Harmonized Sales Tax”, written by Michael Smart out of the C.D. Howe Institute.

Unlike other reports written by professors this one is only 28 pages in length, so one can read it fairly quickly and easily. Smart runs through a gambit of examples on the successes of HST as felt by the Atlantic Provinces, and leave one with a fairly complacent feeling that HST is okay. That is until you reach the Appendix. Up until this point, Smart has been very clear that the figures and examples that he used are estimates, and as the reader, you don’t question the figures…until now. In the opening paragraph of the Appendix, Smart writes “…my main estimates of the investment impact of the reform may be confounded by other economic changes in the Atlantic provinces, such as the sharp expansion in the offshore oil and gas sectors in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and the introduction of the Atlantic Investment Tax Credit for manufacturing and processing industries in 1997.

The bottom line is that when it comes to taxes, the consumer always loses…no matter how you sugar-coat the delivery method. According to the Hamilton Spectator, they quote Revenue Minister John Wilkinson as saying “We’re still listening to music on an eight-track when the rest of the world has an iPod. We can’t attract investment and jobs in the 21st Century with a tax system from the 1960s.” Wow, Ontario must really suck at attracting businesses solely on how our tax system is managed. I guess someone at Toyota should have picked up on that one before they built their plant in Woodstock.

Perhaps it’s not the system that’s scaring investment away from Ontario, but rather the tax rate. With the new HST, consumers are going to be anteing up more at the till in some instances, with seeing little to no change in other purchases. The argument that businesses will lower their prices due to the cost savings received through the HST system falls short of an accurate depiction of business costs. The main thrust or benefit to the businesses is on capital expenditures and managing tax reporting. Speaking of tax reporting, with the new HST system, the Provincial government is providing one-time transitional funding for small businesses to cover the cost of new accounting and point-of-sale systems. (Maybe I missed something here, did we just spend more tax-payer money?)

Other business costs previously exempt from the RST, but now applicable for HST include advertising, memberships, association fees, and other services. Considering the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is comprised of over 75% of small business, I wonder how receptive they’ll be to an automatic increase in their membership of 8% due to the HST?

The other elephant in the room is the question of proposed tax increases. Right now, with each tax applied differently it is very easy for the electorate to channel their displeasure at any tax increase. Raise the GST? (which is being strongly considered to mitigate the increased debt acquired through the recent recession) Hit up your local Member of Parliament. Raise the RST?(which is probably unlikely at this time, but there are no guarantees) Challenge your local Member of Provincial Parliament. But raise the HST? Any contemplation of this makes it way too easy for deflection of blame to the other recipient of the tax monies.

Enjoy your purchases now fair consumer, as of July 1st 2010 you'll be be rejoicing your Canadian citizenship in one breath, while cursing your choice to reside in Ontario in your next breath.

Friday, September 18, 2009

“Hi, I’m a Long Time Listener, First Time Host…Go Ahead, I’m on The Air”

I remember growing up thinking that the Radio was king. I especially loved the stories told by folks like Paul Harvey (“…and now you know the rest of the story.”), and still to this day, Stuart Maclean and his fictional family of Dave & Morley. Perhaps it’s because I come from a large family, six sisters and a brother, that radio became an integral part of my life. I so wanted to be one of those great story tellers.
As technology advanced (and I grew older), I abandoned the conventional form of radio use and fell in love with listening to radio on the internet. While I have an iPhone, I get more use out of listening to the radio than anything else the phone has to offer, and of course that includes 900CHML. I found that my passion for the radio grew stronger.
Over the last few years, I listened with admiration of past Talk Show Idol contestants and subsequent winners and wondered when I would summon enough courage to step up to the microphone. Through recent volunteer involvement, I had the pleasure of being a guest on 900CHML and found myself being like a kid in a candy store. I’d been hit by the proverbial street dealer offering me a ‘free’ chance on radio…and I found myself hooked! But if I wanted more, I was going to have to pay for it!! My payment…apply to Talk Show Idol IV. So I did.
The first step: go to 900CHML Headquarters for a group interview. While excited to get the call and the interview, I wasn’t overly concerned as I felt this was more of a ‘meet and greet’, and treated as such. That is until Andy Zimmerman, Promotions Coordinator and Jeff Storey, Program Director, advised us that they will be reviewing whether we are ‘on air’ worthy or not. After the meeting, I was excited but nervous that I may not quite have the qualities they’re looking for from a contestant.
Then came the email…Andy sends the schedule of appearances, and I get the nod as first up. Terrific - perhaps, I shouldn’t have spoken first in our group interview…oops. Now I started to worry, “what was my ‘word’ going to be on the following Monday?” I started rehearsing what I thought my word would be about…the ‘word’ I thought I was going to get was “Hamilton”. It turned out to be “Election”…oops again. Earlier that day I had nailed the morning quiz, so I was somewhat confident that I could manage these ‘tests’ Andy and Jeff were putting us through. That is until Scott Thompson said “Election”. My mind went blank and I started spewing what I thought was senseless musings about a Federal Election, not even sure if the monologue made any sense to the listeners. “Okay, I need to kick it old school”, I posted on my Facebook and Twitter status afterwards.
Choosing my topic for Friday weighed heavily on the fact that I was first up. I wanted to set a standard that would make it difficult for the other contestants following me. This was a contest after all, and I wanted to be the one to advance to the next round. So the hunt was on for the most appropriate topic that would not only set me apart from Alison, Joe and Allen…but resonate with the judges as impactful. Due to all of the volunteer work and diversified work history, I had a treasure chest of topics to choose from. In the end, I knew that if I was to have a chance at winning the week, I needed a topic that I was comfortable with; and, one that contained a supportive guest who could speak well. (I was going to be nervous enough, and didn’t want my guest to be a weak speaker.)
I called on a past acquaintance, Patrick Mathieu to be my guest. I wanted an opportunity to share with the listenership a personal side of me, and also thank the man who provided me the focus I needed to move past a personal experience. Patrick’s work in taking the topic of mortality, and using it as a positive one, having authoured “The Power of Mortality”, as well as countless speaking engagements, had had a tremendous impact on my life. Not knowing if I would ever get the chance to have time on air to share with others “The Power of Mortality”, I thought it best that this should be that time.
My “Talk Show” time went fairly well, heck, I even got a caller…something I wasn’t really prepared for, given the topic and all. The judges, Andy, Jeff and Shiona were kind to me, providing me with key points of listener management. Being first up didn’t necessarily mean that their kindness was enough to get me through to the next round, as the other contestants had not been up yet, so nothing was a given. Due to other commitments, I was only able to catch snippets of the other contestants, and what I had heard was solid enough to make the judges choice not an easy one at all.
I’d like to thank Patrick Mathieu for being my guest. You can see what he’s all about at www.powerofmortality.com
Thanks to 900CHML for the opportunity. To Andy, Jeff, and Shiona for their time and feedback. And of course to Matt Holmes for giving up his time slot to us amateur talk show host wannabe’s.
And of course, to the listeners of 900CHML…because without you, the station would not be the success it is today.To view other blogs by me, visit my blog at http://hamiltonbusinessmatters.blogspot.com

Friday, September 4, 2009

Doctor to Patient: Electronic Connection Concerns

With today’s technology rapidly expanding with bloggers, tweeters, and instant messaging, one has to wonder how long it will take before doctors and patients start communicating via the Internet more regularly.

According to a recent article in The Medical Post, use of e-mail by physicians in order to manage patient care is indeed becoming more common. However, what’s noted is that physicians aren’t as eager to establish an electronic link with their patients. It’s the patients wanting to establish a quicker link to their medical practitioner. If you were to look at the availability of ailments, cures, medicines, and interactions on the Internet, it makes sense that patients want better links with their doctors.

A simple example case would be someone wanting to send a quick message to their doctor asking if it’s normal to feel a ‘little bloated’ while taking a new medication. Most certainly that individual could contact the pharmacy to seek support, but not all patients are comfortable with their Pharmacist…certainly not to the same familiarity as their family doc. And, because the question is a simple one, making an appointment doesn’t warrant the expenditure to obtain confirmation of the symptom being experienced.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), the country’s principle provider of medical liability protection for physicians is now offering support for the physicians who use e-mail to communicate with their patients. To minimize the legal liabilities associated with electronic communication between physician and patient, the CMPA has identified some potential key areas of concern. Physicians are directed to:

Ø Review the applicable federal, provincial, college, and regulatory requirements affecting the use of e-mail transmitting patient information.

Ø Consider the implications of confidentiality, privacy and security. To this point, they ask that physicians not use free-mail or internet-based services to transmit information. So for patients using Hotmail or Gmail, you’ll need to subscribe to a home based or subscriber based service.

Ø Timeliness of responses. E-mail in particular can vary in timeliness from both the sender and the receiver as firewalls, and reliance of the service provider could impede prompt communications.

Ø And, Clarity of communications. Written communication lacks emotion, including sensitivity to the recipient of the text information.

To assist physicians, the CMPA created a consent form for the physician and patient to complete, outlining guidelines for both users to follow in order to address the above risk factors.

So now comes the question in all of this: Would YOU correspond with your physician via e-mail or texting for ‘simple’ reasons (ie – setting an appointment, request for bloodwork, et al)? In today’s age of secure electronic technology, probably the bigger question is how important is it to you to have an electronic link to your physician? And, are the risks greater than the return with this ‘new’ form of communication?

Today’s physicians are managed with more complexity than days of our fathers and grandfathers. Lawsuits and patient expectations have grown as patients arm themselves with more information about symptoms and treatments available around the globe. In Canada, the government has managed to delve deeper in the management of health care as one of its prerogatives of providing the funding for all Canadians to enjoy. This means a greater workload for all physicians, who may want to opt for a more efficient means of meeting their patients’ needs.

The roadblock right now though, is the liability associated with societies growing greed to hold all liability claims (whether incurred intentionally or not) to a subjective price tag.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Taking My Ticket To Ride

As part of one of the committees that I sit on, I had the opportunity to participate in a ‘ride-along’ with the Hamilton Police Service. I did so on a Friday night 7pm to 7am shift recently. I hope you enjoy my synopsis of the evening.

My partner for the evening was P.C. Maddick, a fourth year constable with the Hamilton Police Services, one of 6 female officers on this particular shift, and also one of the senior officers that evening. One of the first observations that I noted was that for each of the calls we attended with other officers, there was a brief conversation beforehand to establish roles and responsibilities for each of the officers attending. They also ran background checks on all of the calls, to ensure their safety and to understand the possibilities of what could transpire during the call.
Our evening together started off slow, cruising the streets running license plates, walking about the area parks, and ensuring that we were visible to the community we were patrolling. This actually turned out to be a good thing, because it allowed for the two of us to get to know each other and establish a comfort level, which was vitally important, as Maddick was responsible for my safety. She not only had to watch out for her safety on the job, but now she had a civilian along for the ride, whom she was responsible to ensure that I returned in the same condition as I started the shift.

The first calls of the evening were of the lower priority type: custodial complaints, noise concerns, swimmers in a closed public pool…generally the type wherein warnings were issued after it was ascertained that no prior convictions or warrants were on record for the individuals in question. We dealt with punk-ass kids who felt they were above the law, and not required to respect those in authority. It will be very interesting to see where these folks will end up as they get older.
My first adrenaline rush came on a call that took us to the rural area of Hamilton. We were responding to a noise complaint, but there was a history between the complainant and the accused. Upon further investigation before attending the call, the accused had a prior history with the police. So here we are, myself and two other officers, attending a call at a rural location in the dead of the night…and there are barking dogs on site…we can’t see them clearly, but we know they’re present. Now, I am not a fan of dogs on farms, I’ve had one too many negative experiences with farm dogs, so my affliction to them is warranted. After the accused assured us that the dogs were secure, a heated conversation is had between the officers and the accused. I was amazed at the calmness of the officers, always in control, and demonstrating preparedness if the chat did not go as intended. As they finished the conversation and headed back to the cars, we were alerted that the dogs were no longer secure. I ran as fast as I could to the car, and dove in the passenger seat, closed the door and watched with great amazement as the officers attending quickly assessed their options without panicking (as I had just done!). The dogs were secured by their owners, and off we were to another call. I was quietly checking my pants to ensure that they were still clean!!

Our last call of the night involved a neighbourhood dispute which had turned into a bit of a fisticuff between some of the residents and guests. The call was attended by several officers, including the sergeant, who oversaw those attending to ensure that everyone had a role in obtaining information as to what had happened. There was clear frustration among the officers in attendance, as obtaining information as to what had happened was hampered by drunken witnesses, and feuding neighbours who were visibly upset and offered subjective accounts of what had happened, versus objective observations. Calls of this nature are time consuming, and can cause grief for others looking for quicker responses for their concerns, and grief for those at the call, as closure is a long ways off.

Overall, my experience of the night was enlightening, and I gained new found respect for those officers who work the beat. I was impressed with how they approached each call, regardless of the priority assigned to the call. And, on a personal note, because I was partnered with a female officer, I gained a new sense of some of the additional obstacles that they face, as well as an increased appreciation of their value on the Force. Given some of the obstinate individuals we had the pleasure of dealing with; their presence alone immediately defused some of the tensions, as their appeared to be a temperance on the male’s part to be overly aggressive. I could feel the aggression kick in when they wanted to know who I was…let’s just say, I made sure I stood in the background as much as possible!

I would like to thank the Hamilton Police Services, Superintendent Ken Bond, and Sergeant Dave Hennick for the opportunity to participate in the ‘ride-along’. And most of all, PC Mallory Maddick for putting up with this shadow on her Friday night shift.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cigerette Smoking in Public Spaces

I really thought that this subject was no longer a 'hot topic', that is until yesterday when I visited a couple of restaurants in the Burlington area and got an earful about the infringement of rights forced upon the owners with respects to no smoking in their establishments.

The Ontario Government recently passed legislation banning smoking within public enclosed spaces, whether they are partially enclosed or fully enclosed. Contained within there breifing on the law, they state that their "commitment to reduce tobacco consumption by 20% before the end of 2007 was achieved ahead of schedule." In addition, "Between 2003 and 2006, there was a 31.8 per cent decline in tobacco consumption indicating that approximately 4.6 billion fewer cigarettes were sold."

I'm not exactly sure how they measure their statistics, but according to Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, their numbers seem to contradict the above information. Tax Revenues from Tobacco Sales from 1999 to 2008 show a completely different story. According to the figures presented, the 3-year period immediately preceding 2003 shows a combined revenue of $2,379,380,568 (2000-2001 to 2002-2003 Figures are shown in combined years versus calendar years.) Conversely, for the same time frame (2003-2004 to 2005-2006) $4,182,000,000 of tax revenue was collected, an increase of over 40%.

Continued efforts are being made on almost every governmental level to reduce smoking in places beyond the current Provincial legislation. Everything from cars, to apartments, to venues regardless of enclosure restrictions. The intent is to protect those who are either sensitive to second-hand smoke, or as a measure to reduce the impact of smoking related illnesses on our health care system. All in all, there is no argument against legislative protectionism on those who choose not to smoke or be around those who choose to smoke. The question arises on those who do choose to smoke, and those who wish to provide a place to enjoy that choice.

No one will argue that smoking is detrimental to one's health. Yet, the Government condones smoking through their administration of taxing the sales of tobacco products. Understanding that measures are required to restrict the availability and promotion of tobacco products to minors, continued efforts must be maintained to ensure that this doesn't stop short of its intended audience.

Currently the Government monitors and creates measures with respects to the sale and consumption of alcohol. Why then can't the Government create similar measures for the sale and consumption of tobacco? Ideally, tobacco products shouldn't be available for sale in convenience stores and gas stations. For the same reasons that alcohol isn't available (in Ontario anyway)...for the argument of protecting youth from accessing the product in question. No one under 19 is allowed to purchase tobacco products, so let's put that product in places where one has to be 19 to enter. Now let's go one step further...allow these establishments to become 'smoking' or 'non-smoking' only. Forget trying to split the seating arrangements to 'smoking' or 'non-smoking', because we know this doesn't work for those who don't smoke.

With the restriction of the availability of tobacco products for purchase, you can bet that the number of 'smoking' only establishments will be limited, and those who enter will be above the age of 19, thereby restricting the purchase of tobacco products by minors. Today, tax revenues from tobacco sales are close to $1,000,000,000 which would lead one to wonder that if those tax revenues were no longer feeding government programs, what would we be willing to cut from our service programs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Advocating for Better Customer Service

The following story should have been a no-brainer for the folks at FIDO, instead it became a test of patience and perseverence for a client. This is a true story.

The client has been with FIDO since 1995 and has 3 phone lines, each under a different term contract expirying at various times. As a matter of interest, the client used to have a fourth line, but transferred ownership of that line to his son, who committed to a new contract with FIDO. The client has a good rating with FIDO, and rarely calls with concerns over service issues. His credit rating is rated 'low', as he pays his bills within the perscribed timeframe. On average, his monthly bill is approximately $300 per month for the 3 lines.

Now that you have the background on the client, we'll approach the situation: When the introduction of the iPhones commenced a little over a year ago, the client requested an upgrade on one of his lines to the iPhone. He also took the $30/month 6-GIG data package add-on to his existing phone contract. FIDO obliged his request without objection. At that time, he also inquired whether one of the other lines could also receive the iPhone upgrade, and he was advised that he would have to wait until June 2009, which he excepted.

This year, Apple introduced the 'new' iPhone with enhanced features not included on the first version. Our client contacted FIDO in July requesting the upgrade to the line previously mentioned that needed to wait until June to upgrade. He was denied the upgrade due to an internal policy change which was implemented on February 3rd, 2009 restricting any contract renewals prior to 6-months from expiry of existing contract term. This was a 'no exceptions' policy direction. Which would mean that our client who still had 11 months remaining on his contract with FIDO (for this particular line) would not be able to upgrade to the iPhone (at the reduced price for the phone) until February 2010.

In a conversation with the FIDO Supervisor, he was told his only two options would be to purchase the iPhone at full cost, or wait until February 2010 (& hope that FIDO was still offering the iPhone at that time.) What baffled our client the most, was that the policy was not put in place for the customer, but rather for FIDO. As explained to him, the reason for the policy was that FIDO had experienced a number of complaints from the first launching of the iPhone from clients who were not pleased with the extended contract terms applied to their contract when they upgraded to the iPhone. So as a means of dealing with this communication concern, FIDO chose to place all of their customers into one pile...

Not satisfied with the explanation for the decline, our client then took the next step of contacting senior management at FIDO requesting further explanation to the policy. Within a week, FIDO contacted the client explaning that while they do have the 'no exceptions' policy, there was a reason that they have humans answering the phone and not computers..."to allow for intelligent decisions to be made." The senior staffer who contacted our client resolved the concern, and he now is the proud owner another iPhone (this one is white).

The moral of the story here is to approach obstacles in life with logic, not emotion. At no time during my clients interaction with FIDO did he use profanity, make virulent statements, generalize or trivialize, or get personal. To FIDO's credit, neither did they. They remained logical and focussed on the policy before them...what was required was a bridge to be constructed between a customer and a retailer to solve a situation which could have had dire results if not corrected. The only way that bridge gets constructed is to advocate for what you believe in, and leave your personal opinions at the door. Get the facts first. Understand them second. Look for a solution (if there really is one) third. Make sure you're speaking with the right person fourth. And, finally make sure you thank them for taking the time.