Swaying the vote

voteHere in Ontario, we’re facing a Spring election.

Further reinforcing my disdain for all things Spring, like the flowers, trees, and bugs, ugly orange, blue and red political signs will pop up on lawns and boulevards like some alien vegetation that can’t be killed off by spraying.

Friendly ‘How-dee-doo’ neighbours will throw down their rakes and garden tools and wrestle each other to the ground, swearing ‘Commie’ or ‘Capitalist Pig’ as they jockey and argue the finer points of Big Labour versus Big Business.  It’ll be epic!

Elections are nothing new in our democratic society, but here in the ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ household, everything will change.  This year, both of my darling offspring have reached the age of majority and will have the civic duty of casting a ballot for the first time ever.

Exciting times, you might say.  The youth of our society can finally hold the power of the future in their fresh, idealistic hands. This is their chance to right all the selfish wrongs of past generations.

Here’s the dilemma:  How do I stress the importance of having an independent voice in our democracy and ensure their issues are being addressed without nudging these malleable minds into my scarred and biased beliefs?

How do I convince them to make up their own minds about who to vote for if I keep holding up my enormous electricity bill and telling them that it’s all because of the current administration that we can’t have nice things at home?

Maybe the question isn’t how do I not sway them, but should I sway them to my (correct) way of thinking?  It’s a tough position to be in.

I truly want my kids to create their own opinions on these things, then at least I can argue their flawed thinking with a clear conscience.  If I just tell them how to vote, I might create a bunch of drones that haven’t put any effort into forming their own belief system.

Maybe that isn’t so bad – any vote is better than no vote, right?

Election results show that almost half of us don’t even bother casting a ballot. “I don’t know enough about it”, I’m sometimes told, or “All the candidates suck”.  True and true.

It’s hard to argue those points – election campaigns are filled with mud-slinging, double talk, half-truths, and vague promises that the average person can’t unpack enough to make an intelligent deduction about.

You might even say “It won’t make any difference”.  Well, it might not.  But one thing is true;  If nothing changes, then, well nothing changes.  That’s the only sure thing in this debate – you can guarantee that if a vote is not cast, things will stay the same, and you will fulfill the prophecy that it didn’t make a difference.

The same government bureaucracies, tax dollar waste, corruption, disconnection from the public, and shrinking economy will be the status quo.  That’s about the only sure thing to happen when the voting public turns an apathetic ear to elections.

It was the band Rush that sang: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”.  That choice is either ‘I’m happy with the way things are, and I believe that others will re-elect the incumbency’, or ‘I’m not happy with with the way things are, but I’m not suffering enough to take any action to change it’.

All the candidates have Facebook and twitter accounts.  They’re in the news and on the radio.  Check them out.  Maybe it’s a key issue you want to address, or maybe it’s the way they look or talk.  That’s for you to decide on.  Maybe they’re making claims that you should vet out to see if they’re valid.

If it comes down to it, and no one is a clear winner in your books, find the least awful candidate, hold your nose, and cast your ballot. Or, you might yawn and go back to watching ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’, like most of us do at election time.

Me?  I’m going to encourage my kids to form their own opinions on all of this, and do my best to get them involved with the political process that our prior generations fought for.  I can’t promise, though, that I won’t leave my electricity bill sitting out on the counter.

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The Bank Note

Have you ever really looked at your bank statement?  Charges for service, convenience, withdrawals, writing cheques, paying bills, etc.  This is our money, and we’re being charged to get it, use it, or move it around.  Great gig if you can get it!

I was looking mine over a while back, and found a bunch of vague fees and charges for various things that I didn’t understand.  So, I called up my bank with a few questions.

Thank you for calling ‘Monolith Bank’. This is Patty.  How can I help you?”

Hi, Patty.  I was just looking at my latest bank statement, and saw that there are were bunch of miscellaneous charges on it, adding up to over $25.”

“…Yes..?

Well, since I don’t write more than one cheque per month, don’t use my overdraft protection, or really do anything other than have money come in and go out, I don’t know what these charges are for.”

What is it you’re not sure about with these charges?”  Patty asked, showing early signs of frustration.

Since you feel that you need to take this money from my account without my approval, I should at least know why, right?  I want you to explain each one of these charges to me”.

We can’t do that”, she explained.

Well, if you can’t tell me what these are, I’m not paying them”, I tried to say as evenly tempered as I could.

We can’t explain them all.  It would take too long.  I’ll go ahead and reverse the charges on your latest statement”.

Really? Thanks! I’ll call you again next month.  Thanks, Patty.” Then I hung up quickly.

Maybe I won that little battle, but I know I’m losing the war.  You can’t beat the banks.

During a radio segment on business earlier this week, the announcer noted that a major Canadian bank posted it’s quarterly earnings (profit).  This bank made over $1 billion dollars in a 3 month period.  Wow!  Many countries don’t have this kind of GDP.  That’s an astounding number, and makes you wonder just how fat the bank is.

In the same sentence, the radio expert noted that since the earnings were slightly less than they expected, the bank announced that they would immediately lay off over 1,000 employees.

Huh?  Did I miss something?  A bank makes over a billion dollars in 3 months, but because they didn’t make as much as they thought, they’d send 1,000 families into financial crisis.

Here’s another thing that doesn’t seem to make sense either; loans.  If you need money, you probably don’t have it, or you wouldn’t need it in the first place, but to get a loan, you need to show that you don’t need it, or they won’t give it to you.

Then, if the bank gods look favourably on you and decide to allow you to borrow, the poorest will pay the most for that loan.  Again, if you’re better off, the loan costs less, but if you’re on hard times, they’ll charge you more.

Now, I’m no fan of the ‘occupy movement’, and I certainly don’t subscribe to a socialist view on the world, mostly because it’s not realistic or attainable.  As long as there are people, some will always rise to greatness and some will always fall to destitution.  It’s as sure to happen as the sun coming up tomorrow.

But at some point, you have to wonder what it would take for these financial giants to stop the ludicrous blood-letting that it puts its customers through.

Over the next few months, a bunch of my former coworkers will discover their employment fate as my old company winds down operations in Canada.

This has become a common tale lately, as other companies announce downsizing and layoffs just ahead of the Christmas Holiday season.  We’ll likely see more announcements in the new year after the holiday seasons’ tallies are completed.

When a company loses money consistently for a period of time and there’s no immediate rebound on the horizon, you end up in this predicament.  It’s just economics.  And it sucks!

I hope that business leaders faced with these decisions, really dive into the real cost of downsizing, and it’s impact not only on the emotions and finances of its employees, but also the larger effect of what happens as a cascade effect on the economy as a whole.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that he would start paying his employees a princely sum of $5 per day, pretty much doubling the average wage of the day.  This accomplished 2 things for Mr. Ford:

  1. It reduced attrition.  Losing skilled workers was very expensive from a retraining standpoint, and it slowed production
  2. It meant that once the other manufacturing sectors caught on, people could afford to buy his cars

This thinking revolutionized the manufacturing sector, and gave birth to the American middle class.

I’m not suggesting that companies like Sears suddenly decide that if they double the wages of their workers, things will get better for them.  The concept of maintaining a working class, however, becomes a fundamental necessity in order to provide a source of income for itself.  It’s a bit selfish, I guess, but if people are out of work, they’ll stop buying from you.

It’s not all doom and gloom.  There are other jobs out there, and when you get thrown into the ocean from a burning ship, you might be surprised at how good it feels.  Most will get picked up by a passing boat.  With any luck, it’ll be a luxury liner, and not a garbage scow.

As I said earlier, I’m no economist, and I’m certainly not a captain of industry – minds greater than mine are in control.  That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t have a voice or options.

Patty can expect a call again soon, I can move my money to a fee-free financial institution, and when I’m out shopping later today, I might even check my lottery ticket.

Fingers crossed!