Monday, January 27, 2014

Canada Post Cancels Home Delivery? Maybe Not...

Last month, Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt announced that Canada Post will be ceasing all door to door deliveries of mail.  The operations are to be suspended over a 5 year span, as community mailboxes are erected throughout the country.

Conveniently, Ms. Raitt made said announcement days after Parliament ended for the Christmas session, effectively ending any form of debate on the issue.  I suspect, the announcement was also made as close to Christmas as possible, to minimize media coverage as well.  However, it seems as though the Conservative Government under estimated the passion of Canadians for the service.

Deepak Chopra: Mail Scrooge?

Numerous MP's returned to the Parliament for an emergency session, and simultaneously hauled in Deepak Chopra, the CEO of Canada Post to explain his rational for why ending home delivery was necessary.

Chopra came up with a series of fantastic answers to the MP's grilling session.  At one point, he suggested that the feedback he had been receiving from Canadians was positive, and that Canadian seniors have told him they welcome the opportunity for more fresh air and exercise by walking a few blocks each day to retrieve their mail. 

Chopra and Raitt indicated that the end of mail delivery to our doors was necessary, as Canada Post is facing a $100 million deficit for the year, and the projections for the next five years look even worse.  Not surprisingly, Chopra dodged a series of questions in which he was asked point blank if he received a bonus in the last year, and exactly how much his bonus was.  The closest he would get to providing an answer, was to say that his salary is "a matter of public record".

Well I agree!  His salary SHOULD be a matter of public record.  However, it is not.  Most Canadians would never have known that Chopra's salary is nearly $500,000 a year, or that his bonus was paid out at 33% for an additional sum of close to $200,000 unless NDP MP Paul Dewar hadn't stated so during this parliamentary committee meeting.  In fact, in 2012, the Toronto Sun filed an access to information request for a number of bonus payouts to Canada post employees over the previous four years.  They also asked for a breakdown of how much was paid out to 23 members of the executive committee.  All of the individual payment numbers were refused based on "issues of privacy".  What they DID find out was that 7,402 Canada Post employees were paid some sort of bonus during the time period, including all 23 members of the executive board.  Clearly his salary and bonus is not a matter of public record.  It should be noted that Canada Post posted a net loss before taxes of $327 million in 2012.  A significant portion of which came because of a 25 day strike by postal workers.

I find it rather objectionable that anyone received a bonus when the company is bleeding money.  While good personal performance should be rewarded, it should not be done so when the company is hemorrhaging money.

A number of ways Canada Post could increase revenues was suggested by the parliamentary committee, including offering banking services at its branches in remote locations, or small towns where regular bank branches do not exist.  A wise suggestion.  The Swiss Postal service implemented this service several years ago to great success.

While the Conservative Government seems intent on ramming through the end of mail delivery as we know it (the first communities to lose this service are scheduled to be announced this summer), there may be some hope after all.

Thomas Mulcair: Defender of the Post

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, and Olivia Chow, Transportation Critic are set to introduce a motion in the house tomorrow declaring home mail delivery an invaluable service to Canadians.  They will force a vote on the matter, which should be an interesting political stone to throw.  An election will be held next year.  Forcing MPs to effectively vote for or against mail delivery will no doubt come to haunt some MPs who find themselves in tight electoral races in their own districts.  And you can bet, the NDP will make it very public come campaigning time which Conservatives voted to kill off their constituents delivery.  

It will all play out in the Commons tomorrow, and it should be interesting to see if Stephen Harper cracks the party whip, or if he lets MPs vote on their own.  I would suspect that independent voting will mean that the NDP motion will pass, which will likely see the plan of killing mail delivery dead on the floor.  If the whip is cracked... well... I guess we will see who will survive re-election.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Food Allergy Accommodation: When Is It Enough?

Food allergies are a considerably more talked about ailment these days.  There are a number of reasons why; people are more aware of their own dietary restrictions, specialized menus like gluten and lactose free are frequently advertised at restaurants, numerous high profile law suits have been settled in the last few years due to accidental cross contamination, and schools, airlines and other institution have adopted allergen-free policies.

Certainly it is wise to be educated about food allergens, especially if you suffer from them, and it's a must for anyone in the food service industry.  Everyone deserves a safe place to eat.  But when does accommodation become excessive?  Is it reasonable to expect a school or airline to prohibit any and all foods that are known allergens?

The answer might be simple at first, but lets consider all of the items that are common food allergens.

The most widely known one is peanuts of course (And further on, tree nuts in general).  This includes peanut butter, raw nuts such as almonds, many types of candy bars, pesto or thai sauce, etc.  You will find most companies and schools have policies prohibiting these types of foods, as it is probably the most common allergen, and a potentially fatal one for people that have anaphylactic reactions.

The other most common food allergens include dairy, gluten, eggs, and shellfish.  

It is rare that you will find anywhere in Canada that bans all of these foods, as it covers almost everything in the basic Canadian diet.  No bread for sandwiches, no yogurt or cheese, no omelettes or breakfast items, no shrimp for salads... the list goes on and on.

So when do we draw the line at accommodation?

Recently, a Hamilton, Ontario woman decided to find out where that line was.  Or perhaps to move the line in the sand a little further in her preferred direction.

Lynne Glover is the mother of 6 year old Elodie Glover, a cute blonde haired little girl who attends Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Elementary School.  Elodie is severely allergic to both egg and dairy.  So much so that she has gone into anaphylactic attacks numerous times in the last year.

Lynne was proactive, and spoke with the school board about their food policies, and the school board attempted to be accommodating.  They sent home letters to the parents of the other school children letting them know of Elodie's severe condition.  They replaced pizza day in the cafeteria with Roma Pizza (a non dairy pizza).  They even went so far as to suspend the school's milk program for all of the students to accommodate Elodie.

Unfortunately for Lynne Glover, this was not enough.  The other children were allowed to bring their regular lunches to school, with the exception of peanuts. Holy Name of Jesus already had a peanut ban in place, as many other children were affected by nut allergies.  The children are permitted to eat their lunches at their own desks.  Lynne was terrified of Elodie coming into contact with another child's lunch, so again she went back to the school board asking for something to be done.

The school board reiterated all of the changes they had already made on Elodie's behalf.  Additionally, the school's allergen policy states that schools "cannot guarantee an allergen-free environment", but will make "every reasonable effort" to reduce the risk of exposure for affected children.  The school offered to allow Elodie to eat her lunch in a different room.  Lynne refused, claiming they were segregating her daughter.  

Eventually the school board finally resigned from the conversation, at a loss for what else to do.  They could not tell all the other parents of the school that their children were not allowed to bring any milk products to school, as it is a Canadian staple.  Additionally, the Canada Food Guide and Health Canada already state that children do not get enough dairy in their daily diets.  How do you tell Mr. & Mrs. Smith that Johnny is not allowed to have a cheese sandwich, or yogurt, or a carton of milk in his lunch?  And what do you replace it with?

Lynne was less than pleased.  In addition to removing Elodie from the school, she also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming the school was being discriminatory against Elodie for not accommodating her further.  The school board won't comment on cases before judgement, so they have not released a public statement.

So when is enough enough?  Is Lynne correct and the school board should have done more to protect her daughter?  Or is Lynne being unreasonable expecting an entire school to sacrifice their dietary programs for the sake of one student?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Canadian Restaurant Etiquette

Canada is one of the world’s most popular destinations for tourism.  And it is really not surprising.  The country is vast, and encompasses more diverse ecosystems than almost anywhere on the planet.  Additionally, there are world famous festivals and events every year across the country.  From Vancouver’s PNE celebration, to the Calgary Stampede and the Edmonton Fringe Festival, and the snow festival and Just For Laughs in Quebec, you can experience anything you can possibly dream of.
And of course, Canada is a big draw for the outdoorsmen, who enjoy world class skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and much more.
This of course means that Canadian restaurants see their fair share of tourists each and every day.
Every nation has a different set of socially acceptable behaviors that one is expected to adhere to while dining.  Also known as “restaurant etiquette”.
I have worked in and managed a number of restaurants, bars and lounges over the years, and feel it’s prudent to share what we consider proper restaurant etiquette.  Behaving accordingly will help ensure you proper service and a pleasant experience.  Failure to comply may lead to a disappointing experience at best.

Arriving At The Establishment

If you are patronizing a bar or pub, it is perfectly acceptable to walk in and seat yourself.  Rarely do you see these types of environments with a host or hostess.  Simply grab a table that you find comfortable.

If you are dining at a midscale or fine dining, it is generally accepted that you wait to be seated.  We like to make things easy in Canada, so almost all of these restaurants will have a sign indicating that you should wait to be seated. Usually within a minute, a smiling host will be happy to take you to a table.  It is ok to wish to sit at a specific type of table, such as a booth, or near a window.  Please ask your host BEFORE being seated if such a table is available.  Sitting down at a table and then moving a few minutes after makes the host(ess) look stupid.  Additionally, it causes extra work for the servers, as they will likely have to sanitize and reset the table you possibly just destroyed.

The above tip is specifically noted for our European guests, many of whom seem to have no problems barreling past a “Please Wait To Be Seated” sign and seating themselves.  These signs are not just to make you wait for fun.  They are there for a multitude of reasons.  It is possible in a particularly slow time of day, that there is only 1 server working, and you can be making her job exceedingly difficult by sitting at the far side of the restaurant, when she already has tables sat elsewhere.  It could be that multiple servers are working, and the management tries to ensure that all servers get a fair number of tables.  Additionally, it ensures that one particular server does not have many tables walking in at the same time into her section.  This would obviously prevent you from getting decent service.
Failing to comply with this simple rule will make you seem rude, or just plain stupid, and does nothing to make your server want to provide you with a good experience.

If there are more than 6 guests in your party, it is expected that you would have made a reservation.  If circumstances prevented you from making a reservation, do not be surprised that there is not a table immediately available for your group.  Very few establishments have tables set up for more than 6 diners.  It may take only a few minutes for the restaurant to set up a table for your group, or, if the restaurant is busy, it may take half an hour or more.  This should not come as a shock or surprise to you.  

Attracting Your Server’s Attention

Almost every single restaurant has an established guideline about how long a guest is allowed to sit before they are greeted by a server.  Please be patient!  This is usually about 2 – 3 minutes, and rarely more than 5 minutes.  If you are waiting longer than 5 minutes, take a look around you.  Is the establishment busy?  If it is, there server will certainly be aware that you are seated, and probably already feels bad that they have not yet had a chance to greet you.  They will be with you in a moment.  If you have been waiting for 5 minutes, and your server is no where in sight, he or she is likely in the kitchen trying to bring out food for another table.  Again, please be patient.

If the clock is closing in on 10 minutes, and you still have not been greeted by a server, then you have a right to become suspicious.  At this point, it is ok to approach the nearest employee and politely inquire about your server.  That’s right.  I said politely.  You do NOT have the right to be rude and abrasive at this point.  Things happen, and it is possible that there is something going on behind the scenes that you are not aware of, such as an issue in the kitchen, or confusion about what server is supposed to be taking care of you.  At this point, you will likely notice a server running out to greet you, and apologizing for the extended wait time.

During your experience, should you need to attract the server’s attention, a polite “excuse me” as he or she is walking by is the polite wait to get their attention.  It is also appropriate to try and make eye contact with the server from across the room.  Believe me, they are always watching there tables no matter where they are, and he or she will notice your gaze.  It is also appropriate to wave politely at them, if you are not able to make eye contact, but this is only in extreme cases.

At NO point, regardless of any possible scenario you think of, is it acceptable to snap your fingers, or whistle at your server to get their attention.  In Canada, this is considered to be one of the rudest behaviors one can display.  In extreme cases, I have seen the server scold a guest, or even ask them to leave after this behavior.  It is also possible the manager will come and speak to you to let you know that this behavior is not tolerated.

Most all pubs and lounges in Canada offer table service, and you will likely be greeted by a server shortly after you sit down.  Most nightclubs in Canada similarly have table service.  However, due to how crowded these venues typically are, it is perfectly acceptable to order from the bartender if you do not want to wait.

Continued Service:  The Quality Check & Beverage Refills

Any restaurant should provide a quality check within a few minutes of receiving your meal.  The server will come back and make sure your meal is as expected.  They will typically also use this time to check and see if you need another beverage or any additional condiments to enjoy your meal.  If something is not correct with your meal, it is certainly ok to let your server know in a polite fashion.  They will be happy to correct any issues.  Unless the issue is serious, most establishments will not give you the item for free, but will usually offer a discount or free item, such as a dessert.  An apology from your server on behalf of the restaurant is also to be expected. 

It is also important to note that if there is a problem with your meal, NOW is the time to say so.  Do not consume the meal and then complain.  Your complaint will be regarded with some suspicion.  If you wait until everyone has finished eating and then complain (even if you did not consume your meal) it makes the server feel stupid, as she does not have an opportunity to fix the problem or provide you with other options as your party likely does not want to wait for another meal to be re-fired.

Most servers will offer you another beverage just before your current one is empty.  If there are more than two people in your party, please order refreshments at the same time!  It is not unreasonable for the server to expect the entire table to reorder beverages if everyone has less than half a glass (or bottle of beer remaining).  If your dining companion orders another beverage, and you have 1/3 of yours remaining, it is considered polite to order a replacement at that time.  Please do not wait until your server returns with your companion’s beverage and then ask for another one yourself.  Your server is busy!  Keeping her running back and forth just for your table, will prevent her from properly servicing her other guests.  Similarly, if you require something during your dining experience, and the server can not get to you because another table is keeping her running like this, you would not be pleased.  Please have courtesy for the other diners.

Bringing Children To Dine

Children.  Always a controversial issue.  Children are welcome in most types of establishments unless the pub or bar has a “no minors” license.  There is the odd pub which technically can allow minors or small children.  This does not mean, however, that it is a good idea to bring them in, unless perhaps there is no where else to dine.  Many people choose to go to pubs and bars because they do not wish to be surrounded by screaming infants, or toddlers running amok around them.  Again, please think of the other diners.

Restaurants that cater to children will often have specialized menus, coloring pages and in some cases toys to keep kids occupied.  These restaurants are often staffed a little more heavily since families with young kids tend to be higher maintenance tables.

However, please be considerate.  Your servers do not wish to spend half an hour cleaning up your table after you leave.  Please do not let your children throw food all over the place.  Do not let them run around the restaurant- it disturbs others, and can endanger your child if they run into servers carrying heavy trays or hot foods.  And for pete’s sake, if your children are misbehaving, shrieking at the top of their lungs or throwing a tantrum, address the issue.  Remove the child from the dining room if you need to.  You do not like it when your children are brats, and neither do complete strangers!

After the meal is complete

When you have completed your meal, your server will collect your empty dishware.  Most restaurants will wait until each diner is finished eating, otherwise it can appear as though they are trying to “rush” the table.

Should you find yourself dining with someone who is nursing their bowl of soup or entrĂ©e well after the rest of the party has finished eating, then the server may collect most of the dishes off the table, to free up space and make everyone more comfortable.  This is also a subtle hint to your guest to hurry up, as likely everyone else in your party is probably tired of waiting for them to finish.

During the plate clearing, your server will likely offer you a beverage refill, coffee or dessert.  In a bar or pub setting, it is expected that your party may linger for some time and continue drinking alcoholic beverages.  It is a bit different in a restaurant setting.  Offering you a beverage refill is a courtesy, and one you should feel comfortable to enjoy.  Within reason.  It is not meant to be an invitation for you to occupy your table for another hour.  Your server may actually be waiting for you to finish and pay your bill so she can go home.  If it’s a particularly busy establishment, others may be waiting for your table.  It is also expected that you should verbally thank your server for their efforts around this time.

Paying The Bill and Tipping

Ah, perhaps the most important part.  Yes, TIPPING IS CUSTOMARY.  Most servers in Canada make minimum wage or slightly above.  Depending on where in the country you are visiting, this can be as low as $5 per hour, and is NOT enough to live on.  Servers in Canada are a tip based position.  They do not come to work for the salary – they live on their tips!

It is considered extremely rude to not leave a tip in Canada.  I guarantee you, if you do not tip, your server will definitely comment to his or her coworkers about you.

Certainly, if the service is extraordinarily bad, no tip is required, but this is extreme.  If your meal was cooked inappropriately, or you did not enjoy it, this is NOT an acceptable reason not to tip.  Your server did not cook your meal.  So why punish her?

The absolute minimum tip that is considered in the food & beverage industry in Canada is 10% of the total bill.  There will be arguments amongst industry workers if this means 10% before the taxes or applied or after.  Since taxation rates in Canada vary from 5% to 18% depending on which province you visit, you can make your own judgment call.  If you leave only 10%, it is likely the server will wonder what she did wrong during your visit.  (Or she may just surmise that you are cheap.)  15% is considered a very acceptable and standard tip.  18 – 20% is considered a good tip, and the server will be pleased.  Anything over 20% and you will make your server’s day.

Please keep context in mind.  If you are aware that your table has been high maintenance, or perhaps you were dining with a friend that did not behave in the best manner to your server (and we have ALL been to a restaurant with one of those people), its best to show some additional thanks and tip on the higher end.  If your bill is minimal (say $15 or less) it is customary to leave at least $4 or $5 for a tip, as 10 – 15% is negligible, and you have just occupied a table in your server’s section that she may have been able to make something substantial on.

If you would like a handy pocket guide or cheat sheet of this etiquette guide, here it is:

- Wait to be seated if there is a sign
- Make reservations for parties of 6 or more (unless in a pub or club)
- Please be patient to be greeted
- Do NOT EVER snap fingers or whistle at a server.  Ever.  For anything. Period.
- Alert your servers to issues during their meal quality check
- Try and order extras or refills at the same time as other party members.
- Do not bring children into pubs or clubs unless allowed by law, and only if you have to.
- Clean up after your kids, and keep them under control
- Do not occupy your table for extended periods of time after dining (unless at a pub or club)

I assure you that if you follow these simple rules, you will have pleasant dining experiences, and will likely get to know some very friendly Canadian servers.  Enjoy your visit to Canada!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Got Bread?

I have a friend who claims that she enjoys baking. Though, oddly enough, over the last 5 years, her oven has been used to produce baked goods maybe twice. (Oh, let's give her the benefit of the doubt and say thrice).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, as it actually gives me good material for comic fodder. But I ran across this image on the web the other day, and it made me laugh out loud.

Peaches, if your reading this, know that I am thinking of you!


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rainn's Christmas Message

So you may have noticed that I took some time off from blogging the last three months.

I decided that I needed a bit of rest from the blogging, and felt especially after the death of Jack Layton that some introspection was in order.

I spent most of my time focusing on photography, and meeting new people. It is easy for us to lose sight of some things that are very important when we spend so much time on the web. Granted we communicate with others through email or social networking, but none of it can replace good old fashioned human interaction.

I did some small projects through my real life work to help fund raise for Habitat for Humanity, I also took a short time off in September to go to Las Vegas, and will hopefully be there again in January or early February to finish off my long awaited project; The Ultimate Guide to The Las Vegas Strip.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of the things that I am thankful for in my life, such as my friends, the roof over my head, the fact that I have gainful employment, and my personal freedom and liberties.

These same things that I am so thankful for also remind me that I have an obligation. I am obligated to ensure that I am a good friend. I am obligated to do my best at work. I am obligated to look after my health, so that I can be an effective friend and worker. I am obligated to help others less fortunate than I.

I am also obligated to do my part to steer (or in some cases fight) the government when it is not acting in the best interests of Canadians.

The last item is key. Our government shapes our lives and our futures. It impacts people not only in Canada, but in any number of nations that we do business with, give aid to, have war or peacekeeping efforts in.

Unfortunately, our government has been a bit like a masquerade ball lately. Everyone is in disguise, motives are not clear, and you never know if the person you are speaking with is true or false.

I also recognize that I am one person. There will be no Federal election on the immediate horizon, so I can not change things simply with my vote. So I will continue to discuss the hot button issues here on my blog. I promise to look at things as unbiased as possible (I am human after all). I promise to tell only the truth, and to report only accurate facts as I can find them out.

This Christmas, I encourage you to think about this great country we live in (or whatever country you may hail from, if not Canada). Take the facts in, and decide for yourself what Canada should be and where we should be headed. I encourage you to act! Find a way to effect change! Write letters to your Members of Parliament. Write letters to the editor of your local news paper. Start a blog! All of these things make a difference. Especially if enough of us do them.

The time for Canadians to be passive is gone. It is time to take the reins of our Nation and move forward!

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton Dead At 61

The Honourable Jack Layton:
July 18, 1950 - August 22, 2011

It's a sad day for Canada today, as the nation mourns the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton.
Layton passed away early Sunday morning of cancer, though details about his latest fight with cancer have been kept quiet by his family.

Although Layton announced less than a month ago that he would be taking a leave of absence from his post as leader of the official opposition to focus on his battle with cancer, Layton's death came as a shock to many.

Mainly because over the last year in his public appearances, Layton appeared to be The Unstoppable Man.

Early in 2010, Layton announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He publicly vowed to beat the cancer and be back on track to resume his political duties when Parliament was back in session in the fall. And he was. Layton was very optimistic about his fight with prostate cancer, as he had beaten the same condition 17 years earlier.

When the 2011 election had been called for this past May, Layton was recovering from a broken hip he had suffered earlier in the year, and still relied heavily on his cane. When questioned by the media if he had the energy to lead his party through another election campaign, he all but laughed in their faces. Indeed, Layton arguably finished the election scrappier than ever, and propelled his party to Official opposition status for the first time in NDP history.

Through all of the health issues Layton struggled with in the last year, he never seemed to lose composure or confidence that they were minor roadblocks, and indeed, Layton seemed invincible.

Last month when Layton announced publicly that he would be taking the rest of the summer off to fight a bout of newly diagnosed (and unspecified to the public) cancer, Canadians across the country were shocked at his gaunt and frail appearance. But in true Jack fashion, he vowed he would be back for the fall sitting of Parliament. Truly, Canadians had no reason to believe otherwise, as nothing seemed to get in the way of Jack's interminable will.

But sadly, Jack's fight came to an end this weekend. He passed away peacefully at 4:45 am Sunday morning.

Whether or not you agreed with Jacks politics, no one can deny his tenacity and overwhelming desire to make Canada a better place. Jack believed in the power of the people, and that ordinary working citizens like you and me were the driving factor to make Canada a world force and a nation that could be home to anyone despite race, gender or wealth.

Jack's level of conviction set a gold standard for everyone to live up to, especially politicians. I hope others follow in his footsteps.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

USA Debt Drama

Obama Swims in a Sea of Debt

We have all heard a lot about the current debt crisis facing the USA right now. It has become a daily headline. So has all the bickering between the democrats and republicans about how to handle the situation.

A little background information might be in order for some readers. The US is nearing a debt collapse. The amount of debt the US is allowed to hold at any given time is set in law. Currently, by law, the US is allowed to hold $14.3 trillion of debt. With it's current financial situation, the US will reach this debt ceiling by August 2, 2011.

This allows for 3 possible options.
1) The government passes a resolution to allow for an increase to the debt ceiling, allowing the government to borrow more money to keep things status quo,
2) The government drastically cuts spending, and reassigns existing money from other areas of the budget to pay creditors to avoid a default on debt payments
3) The government does neither of the above and defaults on debt payments, (and likely doesn't have enough liquid capital to continue running as is)

Let's examine each of the following options.

In the past, option 1 has always been the most likely course of action. This is by no means the first time that the government has faced the prospect of increasing it's debt ceiling. In fact, in the last few decades, they have actually allowed a debt ceiling increase nearly every year or two. If you look at George W. Bush's administration, the debt ceiling was increased EVERY year he was in office except for 2, going from $5.9 trillion to more than $11 trillion. Bill Clinton actually did a bit better, only raising the ceiling twice in his 8 years in office from $4.9 to $5.9 trillion.

The only difference as to why we have not heard much about this situation in the past, is that the ruling president's political party controlled the house and the senate, practically ensuring the motion for increase passed. Clearly this is not the case this year, as there is a democrat president, and a republican majority in the house. While it is likely both parties will come to an agreement to increase the ceiling prior to the August 2nd deadline, this year there is an added caveat: an increase to the debt ceiling will likely push the American debt ratio to MORE than 100% of GDP. This would be the first time in history where America will essentially owe more than the nation is worth in fiscal terms.

Option 2 would mean that the acting government puts its foot down and does not allow an increase to the allowable amount of debt, essentially forcing it to drastically slash spending on social programs, likely increasing taxes and reassigning funds that have been allocated to future capital projects (ie, roads, libraries etc) to pay off some of the existing debt in the hopes of not hitting the debt ceiling. This is not a pleasant option, as it means the state of the nation will drastically change, most notably on low income and middle class citizens. Social programs will be massively scaled back if not axed all together, and any tax credits or deductions citizens receive will likely be axed.

Option 3 is the most disastrous. This is where the government runs with the status quo until the debt ceiling is reached on August 2nd. At that point, there is no money left to borrow, and all other income is already allocated. This means the government will default on their debts because there is simply no funds to make debt payments left. This has never actually occurred in US history, and what exactly would happen is open to mass speculation. However, over the last year, we have a better indication as this is the scenario that Greece faced last year. The ramifications will be discussed in detail below.

So, the question is which option will the government choose?

I believe the final outcome will be a combination of options 1 and 2. Government representatives WILL increase the debt ceiling prior to the August 2nd date. But, they will also drastically reduce spending (mostly on social programs) and it is likely that there will be some modest tax increases.

Over the past several months, both republicans and democrats have been fighting over what will be cut, by how much and what the tax increases will be and whom will pay them.

The republican position is that only spending cuts will be considered, and tax increases are simply not an option. Democrats maintain that spending cut are needed, but tax increases to the wealthy and large corporations are necessary to add additional funds to replace some of the spending cuts, lest social programs be decimated and devastate the lower class.
John Boehner: Tough Guy

While there has been significant political posturing from Obama, and more so from republican House Speaker John Boehner, eventually they will have to agree to both cuts and taxes. Cuts will probably be more drastic than the democrats want, and small increases to taxes will occur.

The increase to the debt ceiling will calm international markets for the time being, and the spending cuts will reinforce the nation's current credit rating with international agencies like Moody's. However, there will likely be a small slow down in the American economy until a long term fiscal plan can be set out. We have to remember that spending cuts also means that infrastructure projects like road and highway repair will be scrapped, and this will cause layoffs and less disposable income in the economy.

There is, however, always a small chance that democrats and republicans do not come to and agreement, and option 3 occurs - default. It is likely that international markets would take a beating, and every industrialized nation will suffer the fallout. The US is the world's largest economy. The consumerism of 300 million people creates jobs and investment worldwide. China would suffer dramatically since such a large portion of their economy is manufacturing goods exported to North America. Canada, naturally, would suffer considerably since the US is it's largest trading partner. The vast majority of exports from Canada go directly south of the boarder. Additionally, most large European economies would be otherwise affected by harsher scrutiny from ratings agencies like Moody's. After all, if the economic giant the USA is at risk for defaulting on loans, what chance does Germany, France and Britain have when they are also responsible for continuous bailouts to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and possibly Spain and Italy?

Speculation is just that however. But one thing is certain - the current economic situation of the US is not sustainable. US debt has drastically spiked since the Bush administration - presumably largely due to US military operations in the Middle East. I recommend drastic reduction in the operations of the military abroad. Also, closing many of the tax loopholes for large corporations would be a vast source of additional income. US corporate tax law is some of the laxest in the modern world. These corporations would not likely go somewhere else, as the low tax rates are still favourable, but would also force corporations to pay their fair share.

The world can do nothing but wait and see as the clock ticks down to August 2nd.

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Naheed Nenshi: Poetic Tax Grab

Naheed Nenshi: Paying The Poet

So, here's a little tidbit to outrage the Calgary tax payer.

You may have heard that city council boosted property taxes this year. The funny thing is, council announced a 4.4% tax hike. But guess what? You'll actually be paying an additional 10%.

And it's quite sneaky the way they did it. Here's how:

Each year, city council approves the budget for the next fiscal year. In doing so, council decides what the property tax rate needs to be to create a balanced budget. Through natural inflation and depending on what spending projects are on the books for the next year, this typically includes a tax increase. This is the same for every city in Canada.

Usually, anything more than 4 or 5% increases causes vocal outrage from the public, so council stayed within the "safe zone".

Additionally, the city is responsible for collecting a nominal charge from property taxes and giving it to the Alberta government to pay for province wide education. This creates a situation where the city sometimes has to "guess" what the provincial tax rate will be, since the city's budget is completed before the province's budget. To this effect, city council collects these fees in addition to it's announced tax hikes.

As it turns out this year, council grossly overestimated the amount of money which was needed to pay the province for education. In fact, it collected an additional $42 million from property owners. Roughly $40 for EVERY man, woman and child in the city.

The Alberta government was rather responsible, and told the City of Calgary that the money did not belong to the province, and was not needed for the budget. So, tax payers were expecting to have the money returned on their next property tax assessment.

Not so. Council passed a motion a couple months ago, allowing them to NOT refund the money, and keep it in a separate fund to be used for "capital and infrastructure" projects for the next 30 years.

That's kind of dirty, no? No. What's REALLY dirty, is that this handy little motion that was passed allows the city to do this any year where provincial taxes have been "overestimated" for the next 30 years.

How cleaver! So in addition to the 4.4% tax hike levied on us by the city, we actually paid an additional 6% for the province that was not needed or required, and the city gets to keep it all!

Now the next question would be: how often do we think the city will UNDER estimate the provincial tax rate? My guess is probably never.

Now forgetting all of that, let's look at the most recent bout of stupidity by city council. A Poet Laureate! Naheed Nenshi and council decided that a valuable use of taxpayer dollars would be to hire a full time poet! You know, so that we can have original poetry at hand for special events or city functions.

Clearly, this is a necessary service that the citizens of Calgary cannot live without! And how handy that they now have a $42 million slush fund to pay the piper (ahem... Poet) with.

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