Tag Archives: Canadians

The Great Nice North

 Resurgo is action in latin. And that's a dead language. Get 'er done boys and girls

American writer Eric Weiner thinks it’s nice to be nice to the nice. And by “nice” he means Canadians. Writing for BBC Travel recently, he reported that our “niceness” hits him like a blast of polar-bear breath (the branded Coke variety; not the real thing that’ll rip your lungs out, Jim) just as soon as he approaches the 49th Parallel.

“We experience Canadian nice as soon as we reach customs,” he notes. “The U.S. border guards are gruff and all business. The Canadians, by contrast, are unfailingly polite, even as they grill us about the number of wine bottles we’re bringing into the country. One year, we had failed to notice that our 9-year-old daughter’s passport had expired. They, nicely, let us enter anyway. The niceness continues for our entire trip, as we encounter nice waiters, nice hotel clerks, nice strangers.”

What’s more, he observes, “Canadian niceness is pure, and untainted by the passive-aggressive undertones found in American niceness. It’s also abundant. Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil. Researchers have yet to analyse Canadian niceness empirically, but studies have found that Canadians, perhaps in an effort not to offend, use an overabundance of ‘hedge words’, such as ‘could be’ and ‘not bad’. Then there is the most coveted of Canadian words: ‘sorry’. Canadians will apologize for anything and to anything.”

Actually, Mr. Weiner, Canada is to oil as Saudi Arabia is to. . .well, oil. Except we’re colder, our streets are lined with glaciers and, occasionally, mud. And in the long, dark, winter night that is Fort McMurray, Alberta, I dare you to find one transplanted Maritimer riding the derricks of the tar sands who will say “sorry” for anything.

It’s all about frame of reference, Mr. Weiner, frame of reference.

For example, long ago an American tourist drove me off the road somewhere between Belleville and Cornwall, Ontario. He was in a hurry and, so in no time, I was in the ditch about 100 kilometers from where I once played pee-wee hockey and had once hurt the feelings of a juvenile competitor (from Buffalo, no less) by deriding his ill-fitting jersey.

The traveller stopped his car, railed at me for holding him up and kicked my tires. In return, I thumbed my nose at him, called him a “gosh darn yankee”, and phoned the cops for moral support and a tow. They obliged; no questions asked. (We Canadians are “nice” that way).

Once in Fargo, North Dakota, I met an official from the local tourism authority who refused to tell me the location of the mighty Mississippi River. I informed him that if he persisted with his typical American rudeness, I’d be forced to lodge a formal complaint with his supervisor. He laughed and queried, “What are you? Some sort of Canadian?” When I smiled and murmered, “sorry, eh?” he turned ghost-white and hired a limo to take me all the way to Brainerd, Minnesota, where the Old Miss begins as a mere trickle. I returned the favor by resisting the temptation to mock his midwestern accent. (Again, we Canadians are “nice” that way).

Still, Mr. Weiner does have a point. As he quotes my old acquaintance, Michael Valpy – a journalist, formerly with the Globe and Mail – our national politeness is a “defence mechanism” that “stems from inferiority and an awkward awareness that our clothes don’t fit properly and we always have bad haircuts and really don’t do anything great.”

Yeah, Mike, that’s “nice”, real “nice”. But let’s just keep that between ourselves from now on. I know where you live, pal.

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Sweetening the CPP is long overdue

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It’s always disheartening, though lamentably predictable, when politicians, who ought to know better, adopt the talking points of a vested interest to justify the clearly unjustifiable.

So, when Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that “now is not the time for CPP payroll tax increases”, as he did earlier this month following a meeting with his provincial counterparts in Meech Lake, P.Q., he is merely lifting a line from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) playbook, to wit:

“CPP/QPP increases would mean a significant premium hike for working Canadians and even more serious impacts for the economy. . .Higher labour costs, with no increase in productivity, would lead to job losses or reduced hours for many workers over the first ten years of a CPP increase, and wages would go down by 1.5 per cent. Many Canadians would go without work for years. Some might escape unscathed, but everyone would be at risk.”

This dire warning appears on the organization’s web site, where “research” clearly indicates that most Canadians don’t want to pay higher premiums because, simply, they can’t afford the ones they are facing right now.

Instead, an Angus Reid Global survey says “they believe that government should control spending and reduce taxes to allow more savings. Moreover, many feel that new incentives and voluntary measures to save through existing and new retirement savings tools including the CPP/QPP are the next most effective solutions. Immediate CPP/QPP mandatory increases impose adverse effects: about half of working Canadians express that such increases would reduce their ability to spend on essential goods and services such as food and housing while close to three in four business owners would face increased pressure to freeze or cut workers’ salaries.”

I am not prepared to concede that “most Canadians” actually feel this way, but even if they do, this doesn’t mean that they are right.

As a Globe and Mail editorial, entitled “Flaherty to savers: You’re on your own with CPP as it stands”, admirably pointed out a couple of weeks ago, “The CPP is not a welfare program, or an income-redistribution program. It’s not paid for by taxes. It’s a defined-benefit pension plan, and how much you get out of the program is based on how much you put in. It’s actuarially sound, independently run and low-cost. It’s one of the world’s best-run retirement safety nets. But the maximum pension for a lifetime of contributions is just $12,000.”

Clearly, that is not enough for most working Canadians. By “most”, I am not referring to the rich or lucky few who stand to pull one of those gilded public pensions that assorted bargaining units have been loathe to see watered down.

Nor am I talking about the impoverished, who must subsist on various forms state-supplied handouts and subsidies.

I am looking straight into the worried eyes of those who populate the once sturdy middle class in this country.

The sad fact is Canadians with steady incomes don’t save enough for their retirements. They haven’t in some time. Pundits of quasi-Libertarian bent and their right-wing fellow travelers in political office adoring placing the blame for this conditions squarely at the feet of the non-savers. They’re spendthrifts or layabouts or, simply, poorly advised about their options .

The truth, however, is complex, involving many factors that are out of an individual’s control, not the least of which was the disastrous implosion of financial markets a few years back – a calamity that destroyed trillions of dollars in personal assets, including those held in retirement portfolios, all over the world.

Nothing, of course, will rebuild these funds. But even a small expansion of the CPP – which is a far less risky savings instrument than just about every other option –  will buffer the financial shock of a lower living standard in retirement.

What’s more, it will cost far less now to sweeten the CPP than it will to prop up droves of aging Canadians who will fall into poverty and endure all of its associated evils: ill health, hunger homelessness.

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