Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spring Federal Election?

As we near the end of a cold January we may also be near the end of Stephen Harper’s conservative minority government. It may come in the spring as fair weather and green pastures begin to return after a long winter, but politically speaking I am not so sure the Harper conservatives will be enjoying the fair weather and green pastures.

Recent polling has the Harper conservatives and their moving forward new government moving backwards according to the Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey. The Harper conservatives are trailing the liberals in this poll by 3 points. That is a slim margin, but they are trailing and have never been able to move into the fair weather of a majority government. The interesting point is that Harper has no one to blame but himself as he has been calling all the shots, but has yet to find the glory of green pastures.

The Harper conservatives are facing a weakening Canadian economy due in some part to the government’s continuing focus on the war in Afghanistan. It is an issue with a lot of controversy that Canadians increasingly do not want to hear. It is especially discerning when it is about the death of yet another Canadian courageously dying in the line of duty in a war the conservative government, and Harper in particularly, has been strongly supporting over the last two years.

No one will argue the question of Harper’s strong leadership capabilities, but has it been too strong on issues where Canadians have been too often left in the dark. That would include the war in Afghanistan, the Mulroney – Schrieber affair, the firing of Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the environment, Stephen Harper’s shifting positions on many issues and his loss of grip on his own agenda. Harpers near libelous attacks on St├ęphane Dion’s character and Harper’s too often mean-spirited demeanor may be wearing on Canadians.

Harper would do well to listen to the pulse of Canadian voters on the issues and act accordingly. If not, then the soft warm weather winds of spring may turn cold for the Harper conservatives. Canadian voters don’t want an election and if one is forced on them then they may not want Harper either. If Canadian voters turn it will not be in support of the liberals so much as it will be against Stephen Harper. The fair weather of the nearing spring we all eagerly await may blow cold on Stephen Harper and his conservative government.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Market Melt Down

I am very curious as to why a very important issue has only recently begun to get the attention of the media. That issue is the falling stock markets. Last week I spoke with members of the media and financial advisors. In fact, on the afternoon of January 18, 2008 I took the position that the failing American economy was one of the root causes of economic instability and that they are on the verge of slipping into a recession. I was not taken seriously and was informed that stock losses are only on paper and represent a correction in the market no different than we have seen in the past.

Two hours later I am at home hearing the news from economists that the US is in the early stages of a recession. That the President of the United States has announced the US government will allocate over 140 billion dollars to stave off a recession. This amount of money represents only 1% of the US GDP, but would run the war in Iraq for a year, run the Canadian economy for about nine months and put 800 hundred dollars in the pockets of every American to help them offset their personal financial suffering as a result of the failing US economy. The US economy began its downhill slide for many reasons and was accelerated over the sub-prime mortgage factor.

Here in Canada we have just experienced a fall in the markets that compares with those experienced in the period of post 911, but those losses were truly paper losses and the market corrected itself in less than a year. I don’t believe the current losses will be recovered in the next year. I believe it will be more like three years, but don’t listen to me, as I am not an economist or a financial advisor. Regardless, I was correct in my assessment of the markets last week and on the first day of this week we are in a virtual market melt down. The TSX lost over 4% before your coffee break today. The TSX lost all of last year’s gains in just one week.

My concern is for retirees who invested their life savings and are relying on the interest from those savings along with a portion of the principle amount invested as their primary source of monthly income. The market losses are not simply paper losses, as the media would have you believe. They are actual losses as capital losses are realized when you take funds out of your investments as retirees must do to survive financially. More generally we can look forward to a failing economy here in Canada over the next two or three years. Ontario is the second largest manufacturing centre in all of North America and is hurting badly on the export market as a result of the rising Canadian dollar against the historically weak US dollar.

Canada and Saskatchewan are in for a rough ride in spite of our current strong economies if the US doesn’t stop trying to fix the world’s problems and begins to look after their domestic issues like the failing economy. Individual Canadians have already lost tens of thousands of dollars in the last few months and it is time our governments, politicians, economists, financial advisors, financial institutions and the media began reporting daily on this very important issue.

Saskatchewan residents are among the biggest savers of money and investors in the country as a result of our proportionately high senior population. We may stand to be hurt the most until the markets level out and begin to get back to normal gains. You can talk to your financial advisor or your bank, but all they are going to tell you is that you have to stay in for the long term. That’s good advise generally, but if you are 65 plus you have to wonder just how long you have to live to realize any gains from your investments. Dying shouldn’t be the solution, but I can still remember my mother hoping she would die before here investments ran out. She has since passed away and had every reason to be concerned. How many seniors are in a similar situation now with the markets falling as they have been?

It is time our politicians and the media began to give this important issue the coverage it deserves. The economy consistently polls high over other issues and it is time the Canadian government took a serious look at this issue. It would seem that the best investment is a job and the way things are going we will have a wave of 65 plus Canadians applying for a job to make ends meet. The pioneers of this country deserve better.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Horror in Kenya

My first letter of 2008 speaks to the horror of life in Kenya, a country in east Africa. Tensions have been rising recently and following controversial presidential election results the country is on the verge of civil war.

Media reports from around the world tell the story of recent events following contested elections last Thursday. The charred bodies of up to 50 people, most of whom were women and children, were found lying among the remains of a church blaze that had been ignited this week by a crazed and angry mob. Over 200 people, displaced from their homes, had sought refuge in the Assemblies of God church in Eldoret, which is located around 300 kilometres northwest of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. As these poor people ran from the burning church they were attacked by members of the mob and killed or injured as they were beaten and attacked with machetes. A police spokesperson reported that it is the first time in history that any group has attacked a church.

These are sad events and if you take the time to read and learn what is happening to innocent people around the world like in Kenya you can’t help feeling both blessed to live in Canada and angered that these events go mostly unchallenged by the world powers. The US is questionably deeply involved in Iraq and Canada is questionably deeply involved in Afghanistan. What, if anything, will the US and Canada do to protect innocent civilians in Kenya? How do we decide where to become involved? Why is Afghanistan so important and Kenya apparently is not? Kenyan Canadians must be concerned and distraught.

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I know I am saddened by reports of human suffering around the world. It hurts even more when you realize how powerless you are as an individual to help in any way. The truth is I struggle just to earn the respect of my teenage sons who haven’t a clue how fortunate they are to live in Canada. I am left to pray that God will protect my family and me and will protect those around the world whom are not so fortunate to live in a country like Canada.