Dollars and Donuts

Ontario recently raised its minimum wage to $14/hr, and the impact this had on businesses both large and small became a talking point du jour. Debate crystallized, due to selective journalism, around a single business: Tim Hortons. A handful of franchise owners announced to their staff that, in response to the increase, certain perquisites would be cancelled, and a thousand online scolds were unleashed.

A common question posed by fans of the higher minimum wage, angry that their victory had been undermined by greedy capitalism, was thus: ‘Why can’t Tim Hortons, a billion-dollar franchise, just raise their wages a little, be happy for their employees, and not be so concerned about profits?” After all, as many photo-ops and profiles would show, there are plenty of small coffee shops that happily pay their employees a ‘living wage’.

The first Tim Hortons restaurant opened in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1964. In the 50 years since, it has expanded to over 4600 locations across the globe and employs 100,000 people. It achieved this growth because it focuses on profit. Were it not for a desire for profit, had the franchise been content to focus its energies solely on coffee and the wages of its handful of employees, Tim Hortons would have remained in its single Hamilton location serving coffee for the past 50 years, not become the empire it is today, and there would be 100,000 fewer jobs available for people who need them.


Any job is better than no job to the person who chooses to work that job. Otherwise they would quit. I’m sorry, but it’s true. 100,000 jobs are better than 0 jobs.

To criticize a large, successful business for not adhering to the business model of a smaller, less successful business is to wilfully ignore what made the former so successful in the first place. For all the wonderfully dark, ethically sourced, french-pressed coffee that small-business Ontario cafes produce, and for all the living wages they nobly pay their half-dozen staff, by focusing on profit and greed Tim Hortons has done more for the common good of the world than a single, principled coffee shop owner could ever hope. They should be celebrated for this achievement.


Trudeau’s Useful Protestors

In any debate, the goal is not to convince your opponent, but to convince your audience.

Justin Trudeau is spending the first month of 2018 travelling the country in a series of town hall events, taking questions from Canadians and offering fairly well-rehearsed answers in return, in what is, admittedly, great PR. In many ways it’s theatre, a stage play.

Political events bring crowds, and crowds bring people who loudly disagree. From Nova Scotia to Ontario, the press has breathlessly covered every heckler to raise their hackles, their cameras swooping to focus on the security scrum while Trudeau gently admonishes them as only a teacher knows how.

I accept that each question at these town hall events is likely scripted and planned for by Trudeau’s team, but is it a stretch to wonder if these more raucous moments were gently massaged as well?

In the 2017 NDP leadership race, then-candidate Jagmeet Singh ‘calmly and positively’ responded to a woman’s emotional questions about the Muslim Brotherhood, and the internet ate it up. The moment went ‘viral’ (I loathe to type the term), and many saw it as a turning point that clinched Singh the leadership position. Whether or not this exchange was actually the race’s deciding factor, it doubtless won him a great amount of good-will. The optics were on Singh’s side.

It would be entirely reasonable for Canada’s Liberal party to hope to gain the same kind of buzz by showing our PM smiling affably as he suffers the verbal tirade of a disgruntled constituent. As above, these events are about optics, not politics, and ”smiling, reasonable liberal humours angry, irrational conservative” is a pat narrative, easily condensed into a news article.

What’s interesting is how the CBC’s treatment of protestors has shifted along with the party being protested.

In 2011, well into Stephen Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister, Canadian Senate page Brigitte DePape disrupted a throne speech by sneaking in and unfurling a ‘Stop Harper’ sign. She was promptly scuttled out of the senate, and into the CBC’s welcoming embrace.

If you're going to go to that much effort, plan your margins accordingly

Her protest led to immediate news stories and interviews. She was titled the ‘Rogue Page’ (and later the ‘Former Rogue Page’), and given a national platform to discuss her distaste of Stephen Harper. Long after her protest DePape remained a CBC celebrity. In 2013 an interview asked for insights on her favourite MP, and dreamily wondered if she had any plans to run for parliament. In 2015 she was again brought in to discuss her thoughts (ie. gloat) on the new Liberal Government.

Protestors of conservative governments are ‘Canadian Activists’, de facto political experts and spokesmen for the everyday Canadian. I doubt you’ll see many follow-up interviews on the CBC with the protestors escorted from Trudeau’s performance in London and Hamilton. Although just as angry and disruptive as DePape, they had the misfortune of being angry at wrong government, and are doomed to be cast as the villains in Trudeau’s play.

CBC Thinks Justin Trudeau Is Just Dreamy

There’s an argument to be made that the CBC provides a valuable service to Canadians that justifies its billion-dollar annual cost. Canada is a geographically vast country with many isolated communities, and for many the CBC is the only easily-accessible source of news or entertainment. But surely the value of the content provided by the CBC should be factored into this argument. A strict adherence to journalistic integrity and ethics, and a commitment to always serve the public interest is what distinguishes Canada’s state broadcaster from the fatuous, idol-worshipping propaganda we see in foreign dictatorships, right?

Justin Trudeau recently visited Saskatchewan to promote his carbon tax, and stopped in at a Regina firehall for speeches and a staged photo-op. The local CBC branch was immediately smitten by photos of Justin half-heartedly donning a fireman’s jacket. Fair enough, for the heart wants what it wants. Not content to doodle in their trapper-keepers though (JT + CBC = <3), or maybe limit their Tiger-Beat fawning to an opinion piece, CBC Saskatchewan published a full news story to keep Canadians informed that “things got … steamy — at least on Twitter.

What’s slightly more embarrassing than the idea that this ‘news’ article was even considered in the first place is how far the author had to search to find corroborating opinions on Twitter to validate their premise. Without someone, somewhere, making a comment about Trudeau’s looks, the author wouldn’t be able to call this mash note ‘journalism’, and so they scoured Twitter’s feed just long enough to find sufficient evidence to adhere to CBC’s double sourcing guidelines. 3 accounts with about 1200 followers apiece, (only one of which it would appear actually belongs to a Canadian) represent ‘Social Media’ in the author’s opinion.

Thank you CBC. It’s good to know that you have Canadian’s backs when it comes to reporting on events that shape our lives in turbulent times.

Just be glad to know that the CBC is not a cheap date. Sweet talk and shiny gifts are nice, but at the end of the day nothing says ‘he loves you’ like cold hard cash.

Why A State-Run News Media Is A Bad Idea

Questioning the source of news stories is always a healthy practice, a beneficial cynicism we develop through years of experience. We understand that news programs aren’t produced by Samaritans with hearts of gold, but usually by corporations, for financial gain. That story at the top of the Camel Cigarettes News Hour, revealing that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend Camels Cigarettes for their smooth flavour and low tar probably isn’t Pulitzer material, and we’d be silly to think otherwise. Ulterior motives abound and should be scrutinized.

downloadIn Canada, one of our largest news organizations, the CBC, is funded not by a private corporation but largely by the government. That doesn’t make their motives any less deserving of scrutiny though. Even though an entity says it has your best interests at heart, it may not be telling the whole truth.

Consider the apparently pressing issue of incompetent financial investors. CBC raised the alarm in February that many bank employees, paid to give financial advice to customers, might bad at their jobs. Hidden cameras and flashy stacks of cash (and non-sequitur b-roll footage of babies on rocking horses) were deployed because that’s what news-y shows do, and otherwise the viewer might not believe that people might be bad at their jobs. The CBC introduced a dramatic problem that threatens the elderly, single mothers, and even you! But what can stop this villainous evil? Won’t somebody please think of the children?


CBC then escalated the story in April, with concealed-identity interviews showcasing dark silhouettes and blurred faces dropping bombshells such as ‘Banks like profits’. With its foot in the door, the CBC ramped up its sales pitch. The only sure-fire, fast-acting, guaranteed effective cure to the scourge of financial investors? “Calling on the industry’s regulators across the country to implement something called a statutory best interest standard.”

bmo-insiderLest anyone think this was the CBC’s idea, they quickly published a follow-up news item citing polls that crow “89 per cent want the titles used by people selling financial investments to be regulated“! “It’s time for governments to stop discussing, debating and delaying, and start taking concrete action.” All the cool kids want regulations! You should too! Your friends and neighbours are doing it. You don’t want to be the last person on your block to demand government regulation, do you?

In short, a state-run media has gone out of its way to find a problem that not many people cared about, scare its viewers, and insist that it alone holds the solution, government regulation! What is the price of this miracle cure it’s selling? More laws, greater influence over the private sector, committees, studies, reports, debates, and new positions to oversee the whole works, employing government workers for centuries to come. All to fix a problem that could be addressed with Yelp reviews.

Private corporations are flawed, but at least we’ve developed a healthy skepticism for their tricks. Government has become so ubiquitous that we have a blindspot to the power we’ve granted it to feed us news, and the conflicts of interest that can create.

Government-Mandated Paperwork Is Never Cool

Stephen-Harper-January-26-2012During the 9 years in which Stephen Harper server as Prime Minister of Canada, the official opposition loudly opposed his every act, as is their wont and their duty. Elected in 2015 in his stead though, they found themselves with a long history of loud complaints, and a dim recollection of why they had complained in the first place.

Wasting no time, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began implementing his principled plan of do-the-opposite-of-whatever-Harper-did-regardless-of-logic-or-reason. Tax free-savings plans were an early target of attack, because despite people’s fondness for keeping their own money, this was a policy that Harper had championed, and any record of his deeds must be stricken from the history books. Where Stephen Harper had a plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, the new Liberal government would bring in 25,000, because despite obvious logistical problems, 25 was a bigger number than 10.

Their next target became Stephen Harper’s bold, authoritarian decision that his government wouldn’t send people to jail for not filling out paperwork. In Trudeau’s Canada, this maniacal stance of not incarcerating people could not continue. In December, Trudeau’s Liberals proudly proclaimed the return of jail time and fines for anyone who dared to not fill out a census. They used the phrase ‘robust communication plan’ instead of ‘propaganda’ though, so some weirdos got excited by the promise.

Smile wider.

To add a level of Orwellian creep to the matter, the publicly-funded CBC corporation published news stories claiming that everyone was super excited to be filling out their mandated paperwork. Census employees phoned and visited citizens to hound the delinquent. School teachers were provided lesson plans to lecture their students about how exciting the census is, and the importance of prompt acquiescence to authority.

It would be easy to argue that the government gets all the accurate head count data it needs annually via Revenue Canada, and that any information regarding language, ethnicity or education could be easily extrapolated from voluntarily collected data using the ancient and arcane practice of statisticsIt would also be easy to make the argument that the government has no practical way of enforcing an obviously empty threat, and that one could easily lie, dodge, or bluff their way out of answering the census questions.

No one who takes selfies could be bad, right?

The purest argument against this silly charade though is that in Canada the government should not be jailing people for the crime of not answering a questionnaire. Incarceration is a serious and severe form of punishment. Accurate census data is undoubtedly valuable, but surely not worth a person’s freedom to secure. Even if this is merely an empty threat designed to improve turnout, the Canadian government should not be in the business of threatening its citizens.

Most of all, Canadians should be wary of a government that dispatches its own media and education system to push a message, and should question the reasoning behind any such campaign. Sometimes it’s just a petty feud to support the ego of a party more defined by their opposition than any sensible policy of their own.