Entries from June 2013 ↓

Our day


When first elected to the House of Commons I was, like most shiny new members, driven to improve my country. Getting elected, after all, is a badly flawed process. Few succeed. Those who make it through must have a compelling reason to leave a career or a family in the dust.

Soon it becomes apparent parties and voters have different agendas. Party leaders want MPs to go home and tell the people why the government is smart and competent. Voters want MPs to go to Ottawa and tell the government what needs fixing. In the end, most elected people fuss over this compromise, and end up working for the leader, not the people. To do otherwise is political death.

So the second time I was elected, 13 years after the first, I decided that Canada, as represented by the people in my district, would come first. The party second. That included the prime minister.

My fight was for tax, pension and mortgage reform – goals the middle-class families who elected me wanted. Some things I won, but I also lost my seat. This was guaranteed after the party and the prime minister punted me for not being a team player, for blogging about what should be, and for questioning the wisdom of the political gods. Never underestimate the impact of losing your job, live, on national television. Doing the right thing seems less heroic when your wife is in tears.

Five years on, here I am. No longer an MP (since clearly I don’t fit the mould) my parliament is a pathetic blog where the struggle for common sense continues. Nobody pays me to do this, nor would I want it. For here there’s no agenda save the ongoing struggle to rescue people from their own misadventures, to inform, and lobby for constructive change.

Lately, as I detailed how we’ve lost our way, some posters have accused me of not supporting our country enough, for lacking that boosterism which many think defines nationalism. I’ve seen that quality before. In the eyes of colleagues on the floor of the House of Commons, for example, where principles are traded so easily for a coveted title, a vast office or political advancement. My days have taught me the best way to make anything better is to fix what’s broken. Especially something as acutely valuable as Canada.

Well, I just wanted to set the record straight. I have a lot to apologize for. Loving my country, in my way, ain’t included.

Happy Canada Day.



What a lead-up to C-Day!

Blackberry misses earnings and sales targets, reloads and blows its foot off. Stock tumbles 25%. Barrick and Kinross are slammed by plunging gold. Their corporate debt tumbles to junk bond status. Retailer Rona punts a thousand workers as it darkens 11 mega-stores in key locations. As Alberta struggles back from billions in flood damage, Obama all but kills the Keystone Pipeline. In BC the Libs campaign and win on a ‘debt free’ platform, then table a budget increasing the debt by $14 billion. And mortgage rates increase. Twice.

Then there’s the economy. It seriously needs the Phillips Lady. Growth in April almost wasn’t – up 0.1%, which is an annual rate of barely more than 1%. Slowdowns in construction, production, oil and gas – as CIBC eggheads put it, “the second straight month of deceleration.” Growth for the quarter that ends just before Canada Day will be well less than 2%, and we have not yet seen the impact of the Alberta floods or tumbling commodity values.

Says BMO economist Doug Porter: “We suspect that this nasty combo could cut June GDP by as much as 0.5 percentage points.” That means Q2 growth for the economy could be just 1.5%. For the entire year, Porter is guessing we might achieve 1.6%.

Let’s put this in context. As gold collapsed in recent days, this pathetic blog was overrun by America-haters who want the US$ to crash so they don’t look like such idiots for having all those nuggets, coins and bars buried among the azaleas. They made a big smelly deal of the most recent revision of US GDP numbers from 2.4% to 1.8%, suggesting we all need to hoard Starkist and Huggies.

Hmmm. This is how TD Economics reads it: “We can finally say that this is an exciting time for the U.S. economy. Buoyed by improving balance sheets, consumers have a newfound sense of optimism. In spite of tax hikes, they have increased their spending. Home prices are rising across the country and housing construction has followed suit. After several years of deleveraging and restraint, private demand is on the cusp of shifting into a higher gear. The improvement in economic prospects has led to speculation that the Federal Reserve may finally be ready to ease off the monetary pedal.”

As much as I think the overfed economists at BMO, CIBC and TD wear their party panties too often, they’re absolutely right about the growing chasm between the Canadian and American conditions. It’s something to mull over as we blow each other up this festive weekend.

You can’t change the economy, of course, but you sure can alter your life within in. A good place to start is with real estate, which is at considerable downside risk these days. The impact of higher mortgage rates should not – repeat, not – be underestimated. Already applications for new home loans were crashing, and the events of June pretty much finished demand off.

Five-year fixed mortgages at the banks have traveled from 2.89% to 3.49% – equivalent to more than a half-point goosing by the Bank of Canada – while those 10-year loans at 3.69% (a screaming deal) are now pushing 4.3%. That may not sound like a nuke-level increase, but it comes just months after 30-year mortgages were trashed and CHMC insurance removed from any property listed over a million. This is like Bruce Willis being stabbed, kneed, shot and then dragged behind a bus. So much for a soft landing.

The smartest among us will learn a few things from the past few weeks. Central banks can do squat, and interest rates still rise. Good assets (like real estate investment trusts and preferred shares) are worth buying when they temporarily tank. Diversification works. ETFs are more predictable than a few stocks, for example, while having too much exposure to Canada is dumb. People who confuse gambling with investing get creamed.

The rest of this year will be a memorable ride. Get ready. Smug won’t help you.