Canada’s own Mediterranean crisis …

It is estimated that around 1.5 million immigrants have crossed the Mediterranean trying to seek asylum in Europe during 2016, mostly fleeing civil war from middle east countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. From those 1.5 million, 4000 died (est. 2015).

One of those immigrants that never made it was Alan Kurdi, the three year old boy that drowned on a beach near Bodrum in Turkey, attempting to reach Europe and eventually Canada along with his family after two failed attempts to cross thru Greece.

The picture of Alan’s dead body on a Turkish beach shook Canada already embroiled in the middle of an election campaign, as her aunt Tina Kurdi had previously immigrated to British Columbia and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship had denied previous refugee requests for the Kurdi Family.

I am of the belief that the picture of Alan  was the last nail on the coffin that brought down the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper and it was quickly used by the Liberals to assure Justin Trudeau’s win with the promise to bring thousands of refugees from Syria. (Estimated at 40,000 from Nov. 2015 to January 2017).

Fast forward to the 2016 United States Presidential campaign and the (unexpected?, unbelievable?) triumph of Donald Trump that has seen after it’s inauguration and first (erratic) month of government, mass travel bans to seven Muslim countries, threats of war with Mexico to fight the “Bad Hombres”, and  mass deportations of illegal immigrants.

This high level of intolerance and xenophobia south of the border, has prompted people (425 thru the Quebec / NY border, and 21 a weekend thru the Manitoba / North Dakota border, just in January) to cross illegally the Canadian border, literally jumping from taxi cabs and walking thru the border in harsh winter conditions.

One of them, Seidu Mohammed from Ghana have lost limbs and fingers due to severe frostbite after walking for several hours in -20C temperatures thru Manitoba’s farming fields, finally rescued by a truck driver.

If we can estimate that in just the first month of Trump’s government a little less than a 1000 people have tried to cross the border illegally, how many more will try to cross when the weather conditions are less risky, bringing in the potential of a humanitarian tragedy?

Myself an immigrant, I am of the firm belief that Canada needs immigrants and that these immigrants need to effectively integrate to Canadian society, but the desperation of entire families crossing under harsh winter conditions seems to be only the prelude of a humanitarian tragedy that Canada will have difficulty to manage.

Canada urgently needs immigrants. It is estimated that by 2035 Canada will be suffering from a demographic crisis just as today’s in Japan, where there is simply not enough young people to support the old, along with declining fertility rates.

And the world needs Canada, as an standing beacon of hope, tolerance and acceptance, to all those refugee families that literally risk life and limb pursuing freedom and the dream of a better future.

The Golden Eagle

Something is twisted I the mind of a person where the best tribute to his sister death by cancer is to get in debt and commission “The Maltese Eagle” a golden eagle encrusted in gemstones valued at 5 million dollars.

There is even a full website promoting the sale of the “Maltese Eagle”

Apparently the owner of this “treasure for cancer survivors” was trying to go to a reality TV show and sell it to Donald Trump and raise funds towards cancer research.

Now the “Maltese Eagle” has been stolen (Link here), but I think it’s a fake robbery to get the insurance and recover the financial loss of a very bad idea.

Canada doesn’t have to choose between Attawapiskat and Syria

In the early hours of April 10, 7 young kids between 7 and 14  were admitted to the 15 bed hospital in Attawapiskat, Ontario.

There are no full time doctors, flying in only 4 days a week, three weeks of the month,  and on evenings and weekends, two nursesare the only ones to keep a permanent presence of health professionals.

This crisis immediately overwhelmed any response capacity for days, making national news (that once again) denounce the third world conditions on Canadian Aboriginal communities.

Responding to this crisis, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Hon. Carolyn Bennett visited Attawapiskat, and there a young aboriginal adult asked her along the lines: “Why the Canadian Government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars bringing refugees from Syria, and not spending those resources in aboriginal communities in desperate need of housing, running water, education and health?”.

A very good question. And the Minister babbled the political correct answer along the lines of how important Aboriginal communities are for Canada, and how fresh resources will be injected into the Communities for solving the needs, and partnerships with First Nations and Aboriginal leadership, and policies, and blah, blah, blah.  I am not criticizing the Minister, since at the end, its the only answer she can give.

The “politically incorrect” answer is simple.

For the Canadian Government, bringing refugees from Syria is an investment. By bringing refugees to Canada (on their own free will) the Government is betting that most of those families will effectively and successfully integrate to the Canadian society, will integrate into the labor market, and will contribute with taxes in order to help support the services that an aging population demand in pensions, social assistance, and health care.

Unfortunately, today, the Aboriginal communities are not seen as an investment but as an expense.

For example, for the last 4 years, each spring  the Kashechewan First Nation (1500 people) are flown out of their communities because of the fear of flooding by the Albany river.

Start adding up express flights (in and out), plus temporary accommodations and it pretty quickly adds up. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start planning to move Kashechewan out of the path of the river? But no, short sighted governance make for great news on TV, since quick and decisive actions are better than long term planning.

At the end, the answer on how to turn the Aboriginal communities from expenditure to investment is also simple.  Give them appropriate housing (not in a flooding area), health care and education services at par to the rest of the country, they don’t deserve anything less.

Provide every Aboriginal kid living in isolated northern community free education including University and College and provide them with subsidized housing and transportation so that they can live close to the University, but travel back home several times a year.

Even, establish a federal scholarship so that the best minds of this untapped resource of Aboriginal youth can attend any university in Canada, so that they can effectively join the job market at their full potential and contribute back to the country.

As a country we have to stop thinking in short term crisis-solving solutions, and start enabling the Aboriginal Youth to integrate to the rest of Canada.

The value of Canadian Citizenship

One of the mantras of the Harper Government was to “Restore the value of Canadian Citizenship”, and it has done this in a series of fronts.

Changing the immigration policy to a “raffle” system, in which once a month the better qualified candidates (the definition of better qualified changes month by month) could be called to submit their paperwork, effectively stranding thousands of processes and “already-in-canada” potential future residents.

Also, introducing omnibus bills like C-24 (“Strenghtening Canadian Citizenship Act”, how curious act to pass after the Robocall scandal), where a Canadian Citizen, living abroad more than 5 years cannot vote in elections. This is based on the rationale behind our electoral system, in which you have to actually live in your riding in order to vote (apparently the same rationale is not applicable to Senators in Office, but that is another scandal).

Another omnibus bill C-51 (“Anti-Terrorism Act”) in which a nationalized Canadian (“aka. Immigrant”) can be stripped of it’s Canadian Citizenship if the government determines it “persona-non-grata”. The line is that if you are a Terrorist hiding behind the Canadian passport well, you lose it and you are going to be deported to your place of origin. But there is no clear definition on what grounds the government can exercise this power, the audience is secret, and you cannot see the proof behind your accusation.

So the Harper government has taken an “Absolute” thing as a Citizenship, something that cannot be taken away, and transformed it to something like a contract, with clauses and conditions, and (sorry, I am Canadian too), but it starts to sound like a contract to buy a second handed car.

So, this government, in order to protect the value of Canadian Citizenship, a former absolute, has fragmented it in at least three categories, the True Canadians, the True Canadians living abroad more than 5 years, and the Second-Class Not-So-True Canadians that they are OK, until they get out of line.

And in my humble opinion, this fragmentation, instead of strengthening the idea of Citizenship, has weaken it.

My only hope, is that now that the writ has fallen and the 41st parliament has been dissolved, that the 42nd, will bring change and correct this.

P.S.: At the Globe Leaders Debate for the 42nd election, our Greatest Leader Prime Minister Stephen Harper, introduced a new category of citizenship, the “Old-Stock Canadian”, also known as “Harperites” / “Harpermen” who apparently constitute his political base.

Operations #C51 and #CyberPrivacy

“Anonymous Canada” and “Anonymous Quebec” (Are they even the real deal??) launched today a DDOS against the Government of Canada, only affecting for a couple of hours some websites, but the timing couldn’t be better.

The attack was launched around noon just to make it into Prime Time news and give the opportunity to the President of the Treasury Board, Minister Tony Clement to raise during Question Period and say that the Government of Canada was under a Cyber Attack.

If there were any doubts by any MP about Bill C-51 this DDOS attack only made it impossible for any dissenting MP to voice any disagreement.

At the time of writing, Bill C51 has passed the third reading into the Senate after completing it’s cycle thru the House of Commons, and only needs to be sent to the Governor General for Royal Assent,(this happened Friday morning, and presto, it’s now Law of the Land.

The protest is late and useless.

These kind of childish DDOS attacks don’t have a lasting impact, and in this case, you could maybe argue that it made Goverment more productive, since many Public Servants were unable to go to Facebook and Youtube, therefore boosting productivity for a couple of hours.

Also, it cemented the Government position on tough on crime, and how this is proof that Bill C-51 is more necessary than ever to protect the Canadian Government from cyberattacks, by increasing the powers of CSEC and CSIS.

At the end, well done Anonymous, you achieved exactly the opposite of what you pretended.

Has Canada betrayed its Immigrants?

In election time, the Harper Government is “Putting Canadians First”. This should not be true only in election time, but always.

But is also true that the same Harper Government has used Temporary Foreign Workers as political pawns, and now that the consequences of an stop gap ill conceived plan to bring immigrants to do minimum wage jobs are surfacing.

The Industry says that they have the immediate need for qualified foreign workers, yet the TFW program has only filled minimum wage works in the fast food, restaurants, farms, etc.

The unions say that the TFW program has kept wages artificially low, by importing cheap labour. Besides a TFW is not unionised and cannot strike.

Most of the work visas are expiring after April 1, with no path for a TFW to remain in Canada, a massive exodus of minimum-wage immigrant workers will begin, just in time for elections, only in Alberta, there could be up to 17000 TFWs, no one is keeping counts.

This just exposes a cruel truth, Immigrants don’t vote.

Heart breaking cases such as the one of Maria Victoria Venancio brings to light the gaps of the TFW program. A TFW works, earns a living, and pays taxes, but its denied all the privileges of a citizen.

Imagine a Canadian going to work to a fast food chain, for a minimum wage, getting hit by a car and being left quadriplegic. It’s a tragedy, but as Canadian, his healthcare is covered, empolyment insurance kicks in, and with time and patience, he can recover and return to be a productive worker.

If the same happens to a TFW, there is no coverage. Tough luck. Go back home.

I am an Immigrant, by choice, and I am eternally grateful to this country that opened its arms to me, and allowed me to bring my wife, and have my two daughters born here. But the treatment that we are giving TFWs is not Canadian.

Canada is a country built by immigrants, but now, as TFWs don’t have a path to remain in Canada as permanent residents and eventually become citizens (who can vote), they enter a legal limbo and they must make the choice between returning home, or staying illegally in this country, creating a sub-culture of illegal workers.

The immigration system is broken, and now it’s harder than ever to come and immigrate to Canada. The idea was to bring to Canada qualified immigrants that contribute to society, the promise was that with hard work, Canada can provide opportunities for a good life. Now I am not sure any more.

Future Shop is Dead, Long live the Internet.

Future Shop is the latest casualty of closures of Canadian Owned Businesses, or US Subsidiaries, closing in Canada.

The first ones were Sony, Smart Set, Jacob, Mexx, Holt Renfrew, Sears, and Zellers.

The biggest one is Target, which is still being debated, on why and how such powerful brand in the US, failed to execute in the Canadian Market, showing signs of weakness and dithering in the very first months, failing even to stock the stores properly. What seemed initial growing pains into a new market, turned to be the norm, and never allured the cross border shoppers to stay local.

Smart Set, Jacob, and Mexx, are pray of the survival of the fittest, and the wild competition with even supermarkets, with cheap brands as Joe Fresh (Loblaws) and George (Walmart). The ones surviving are premium brands (Roots, Danier) or subsidiaries of US brands (Tommy Hilfigher, Gap, etc.)

Zellers was let go to Target, by Hudson Bay Company, a once iconic brand, now owned by an American capital group. HBC decided to let go the “cheap” brand of Zellers, and to specialize in the (still profitable) medium luxury market.

Holt Renfrew came clear before Nordstorm landed in Canada, maybe deciding to close operations gracefully, before attempting to compete.

Future Shop death was long in the books, and it started when it was bought by Best Buy. While the electronics market was booming and everyone was buying flat LCD and Plasma TVs, there was space for two kids in town. Future Shop says that it fell because of the competition with Walmart and Costco. I don’t buy it.

Walmart is not a mayor electronics player, they have some products, but they don’t have the variety or the quality (it would be the equivalent of buying clothes at Joe Fresh instead of Roots).

Costco, never inspired my confidence in electronics, they have a narrow sample of products, and I always feel they are neither premium quality or the latest models. They have the weird model of a product that you cannot find anywhere else, therefore you cannot really compare if you are getting a bargain.

The Internet consumer matured, and people started comparing prices between Future Shop, Best Buy (no difference), Walmart, Costco, and Amazon. So what happened is that people will go to Future Shop and/or Best Buy to see the product, but ended up buying at Amazon.

As the consumer confidence on the Internet stores such as Amazon kept growing, and consumers purchased more expensive items, the market started to slowly dither for Future Shop.

In my personal experience, I have always liked more Best Buy than Future Shop, they have more variety and a wide range of choices on many products. The sales attitude as Best Buy was no pressure, while in Future Shop, it was more aggressive, if you could find someone.

For me buying a laptop computer in Future Shop was always a disappointment, I know exactly what I want (I am an IT professional), so the sales guy cannot make any profit on me, since I wont take their GeekSquad PC tuning service (always a rip-off), or accessories, or extended warranties. As soon as I told them I want X laptop they would ask if I needed any accessories, or an anti-virus, I would tell them, that I needed neither. When they told me that Windows (Vista, 7, 8 or whatever) needed optimization, or the anti-virus installed so that “my new laptop would be at the best performance”, I would reply that I didn’t care since I would be installing  Linux on it. At that point the sales guy would disappear not to be seen again.

My last visits to Future Shop were disappointing (months ago), you would see less stock, less variety, and they will start moving the stands to appear that the store was half-full, when in reality was half-empty. At the end you would see that  they were selling coffee machines, baby strollers, and even furniture. At that point, you could see they were desperate to keep the square footage profitable.

So, Future Shop is dead, but they were not victims of Walmart nor Costco. They were victims of Best Buy and bad service, and their real competition all the time was with Amazon.