Things Change

My friends tell me I’m focusing too much on politics lately, so I thought I’d mix it up a bit. Since I just sold our 1993 Daytona and I have my 2008 Nissan Sentra for sale, I thought I’d take a trip down automobile memory lane.

My first car was a 1972 Datsun 510 and there is a story behind how I came to buy it, and how I became a driver.

I actually don’t remember where I was living at the time, or even where I was working. I must have been working though, since I ended up with car payments. In my recollection (let’s face it – that was a long time ago), I woke up one day and decided I wanted… no, I NEEDED a car. So I looked in the newspaper and saw a couple of cars for sale that I thought were in my price rangedatsun and I went to visit Islington Datsun. My first car buying experience was a bit surreal. I told the sales person what I could afford and he told me he had the perfect car for me. I actually bought it sight unseen. It was a yellow four door car with a vinyl roof and an A/C unit that had been installed (so I was told) by the Radman in B.C. It was cute.

Did I mention I didn’t have a driver’s license? I’m so glad they check those things these days. That’s real progress!

The first time I ever drove in my life, was the day I drove that car home. I knew the theory of driving (thanks Dad!) so all I had to do was put it into practice. I did end up getting what was called a Learner’s permit (aka 365) and went for a road test. I was kind of shocked when I failed the test the first time though – after all, I’d already been driving for months! I was experienced!

I could devote almost the length of a book to that car, my adventures in it, my misadventures in it, and how I almost quit driving for good because of it, but for now, I want to talk about my cars in general.

My father was not a fan of my Datsun. He was a GM guy, born and bred. He never could wrap his head around why I bought a Japanese car and he doubted it was even suitable for our Canadian climate – did they even have snow in Japan?

After I got married, my Dad sold us his car, a 1977 Malibu – the famous Iraqi tMalibuaxi. That Malibu took us to Florida and back, up to northern Ontario, and all over the New England states. Despite not having A/C, it was a very well made car.

Our next car was a 1982 Pontiac J2000 (manual transj-2000mission) that my cousin sold me. I’ve heard that those cars were the prototypes for the Sunbirds. Another excellent car – it just didn’t want to die.

While my father was a Chevrolet guy, I found I preferred Pontiacs. My husband was a Chrysler/Dodge guy but I’m only going to talk about MY cars.

My next car was a 1987 Pontiac Bonneville – what luxury! A plush interior, wood-grain dash, V6 engine, A/C, power windows, cruise control, etc. I bonnevilleloved it. I loved it through 2 transmissions and 2 A/C units. The power windows stopped working well, much to the annoyance of people waiting behind me going into the underground parking at work.

The Bonneville had given me so many prsaturnoblems (and cost me so much money) that the next car I purchased was a 1995 Saturn SL1 – another manual transmission car. No A/C, and no power windows. Basic transportation became my main priority. I purchased it two years old from Richmond Hill Honda on Yonge Street and drove it for many years. I sold it for $2000 less than when I purchased it.

Then my father stopped driving, and he gave me his 1998 Caprice Classic. It was a very comfortable car, but very large. He had hardly ever driven it and the mileage was quite low, but that actually isn’t a very good thing. The capriceproblems I had with it had to do with the seals and stuff like that, the type of things that happen to cars that aren’t driven much. It was rear wheel drive and built like a tank. The first time I had to put gas in it, I felt like I might need a second mortgage on my house to afford it!

The first “brand new” vehicle I had ever purchased was a 2002 Pontiac Montana minivan from Slessor Motors in Newmarket. It was hard to believe that it ended up being worse than the Bonneville. I loved that minivan – the ergonomics were fantastic, the fuel consumption decent, the engine design? not so much. Around 100,000 kms, montanathe cylinder heads cracked (both of them) and that caused a problem with coolant. I don’t understand the whole thing, but it involved the intake manifold gasket, cost $3,000 to repair and was part of a class action lawsuit against GM.

cateraI must be a slow learner because after I sold the Montana, I purchased a 2001 Cadillac Catera from Broadway Motors – which I quickly came to realize was just a prettier piece of crap sold by a slimy used car salesman. Within just a few months, the heating module needed replacing, followed by the module for the high beam lights, each of which was a few thousand dollars to replace. On top of needing premium gas, it then started burning oil. I purchased it for $10,000 and was only able to get $3000 on a trade in about 6 months later. What an expensive lesson.

The trade in was for my 2nd “brand new” car – a 2008 Nissan Sentra. It’s sentraa car I still own (although I just listed it for sale). For those that don’t know – Nissan is actually Datsun. It seemed I had come full circle (sorry Dad!), and my Sentra was the very best car I’ve ever owned. It had all the features I needed and wanted, and it never, ever broke down or left me stranded. Whoever buys this car is definitely getting a gem. Great fuel mileage, and still warranty left on the CVT transmission.

So, what have all my cars taught me? They’ve taught me that things change. When I bought my first car, GM was quality and the Japanese imports were the cheap cars that students bought. Isn’t it funny how that got turned around? It reminds me of political parties. The Conservatives are kind of like GM; once they were a decent party, but things change. And the Liberals are acting more like NDP in this election.

So the lesson here is don’t make your decisions based on historical experiences. You need to look at each party (like each car manufacturer) to see what they’re like today and try to figure out if you think they’re going to be reliable or if eventually, they’ll let you down and disappoint you.

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Voting for Hope

I’ve been giving some thought lately to what drives change (or not) during an election and I have a few hypotheses that I’d like to muse about and relate them to each of the party leaders in the coming election.

When things are going well, of course people will vote the ruling party in again. But when things aren’t going well, people will vote for change. It doesn’t even matter why things aren’t going well and it may not even be anybody’s fault.

A ruling party cannot campaign on a policy of holding the line or keeping the course steady when things aren’t going well. When people are looking for change, they’ll vote in change. Governments need to at least seem to be listening to people and to give the appearance of change. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If you’re looking for change, you won’t get it by keeping things the same.

We need hope. In difficult times when the economy is stagnate and jobs are being lost, crime rates increase among our youth because they’ve lost hope. The solution isn’t to toughen the laws or build more jails; we need to examine the root causes. Our young people need hope for their future, that they can get affordable education and training, find jobs and affordable housing. When the middle class is losing jobs, or losing their houses, and may be facing an uncertain future or retirement, they also need hope. Hope may very well be the most important thing in any election.

Our leaders must inspire hope. When they speak to us, their words must compel us to believe them, to follow them, to fill us with hope. Not everyone can do this, it takes a special kind of passion and charisma. John F. Kennedy had it. Martin Luther King Jr. had it. Ghandi had it. In my lifetime, Pierre Trudeau had it. I voted for Chretien (sorry) because he had it. I’ll call it the Leadership Gene.

Paul Martin had it. He was a steadying influence that calmed us down and made us believe everything was going to be okay. He connected with voters, as a businessman and as a father figure.

Justin Trudeau has it. The Conservatives can run all the negative ads they want about him not being ready, but let’s face it – he’s just the guy out front – the face of the party. Behind him is a well-oiled machine. They’ll make him ready. He already has more experience than his father did when he was first elected PM. He’s definitely a contender.

The biggest mistake the Liberals kept making in the past was electing intellectuals to lead the party. You can make all the jokes you want about Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, but intellectually they were brilliant. They belonged in the party behind the charismatic leader; they lacked the Leadership Gene. When you combine the lack of charisma with the growing mistrust of intellectuals, it’s easy to see why they failed to gain momentum.

Elizabeth May has it as well. When she speaks, I find myself nodding my head in agreement with most of what she says. She speaks with passion. The party behind her isn’t ready yet though, but I’m looking forward to watching them grow and maybe someday they’ll be ready for her.

Thomas (Tom) Mulcair has a certain amount of it. He’s definitely riding the wave of change, buoyed by the recent victory of the NDP in Alberta. Let’s face it though, he isn’t Jack Layton. We want to trust him, but there’s something holding us back. Maybe it’s the dual citizenship with France. Maybe it’s his history when he was a Liberal in Quebec and supported separatism. Something worries me.

Harper completely lacks passion and charisma (in my opinion), and that will be his downfall. He comes across as cold and calculating. He recites party lines despite being proved wrong time and time again. He appears almost delusional in his denial that Canada is in a recession (despite the overwhelming proof). The party behind him isn’t exactly a stellar example either, with all the scandals and criminal charges. The smart Conservatives have fled the ship; only the original Reformers remain and now Stephen Harper is going to import talent from outside the country to help get his campaign on track.

Peter Van Loan is the incumbent in my area. He spent $60,469 on advertising and printing (2008 to 2009), compared to the average of $47,014. He has spent $362,977 on self promotion for flyers, advertising and mailing costs, from 2009 to 2015. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick and tired of getting these in my mail every week.

Thanks to Peter Van Loan, $654,747 of our tax dollars has been spent on similar type things over an 11 year period. There must be a better way to communicate in this technological age that doesn’t cost so much, or kill so many trees.

Okay, let me make things a bit more personal. I’m often asked these days who I’m voting for. I am not a member of any political party. I did contribute a very small amount to the Liberals two years ago, but when the Liberal party supported Bill C-51, I destroyed the card and unsubscribed from all liberal emails. Besides, I can’t stand the provincial liberals and they seem to share the same email lists. I didn’t want my support of the federal liberals to indicate support of the provincial liberals.

So, how am I voting? I know one thing for sure – I want the Conservatives out. That’s my bias. I want change. According to www.votetogether.ca that may mean voting for the candidate most likely to defeat the Conservative incumbent in my area.

Other than that, I’m still listening.

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Back to School

I’m going back to school!

In Canada, September has always been synonymous with the start of the school year for most students. My heart swells with pride as I remember my daughter’s first day of school in North York, Ontario. New dress, new shoes, new backpack, snacks packed, kisses given, tears streaming down my face as I left her at the school and walked away. I think it was harder for me than it was for her. Was she having a good time? Were the other children nice to her? Was she making friends? Was the teacher patient? Would the teacher recognize what a special gem she had in her class?

Every year brought more challenges. New schools, new friends, sometimes drama with friends, sometimes drama with teachers (hint: they’re not all nice!), new goals set, new expectations. I didn’t like school. I loved education though. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”? Life is just one big school – lots to learn out there.

Secondary education (high school) was better than primary education (elementary school), and college was even better. I’ve always been like a bit of a sponge, constantly looking for things to learn. Even when I worked two jobs in my 20s, I found time to go to night school so I could learn more about accounting and improve my French.

I didn’t take any courses for several years after my daughter was born. The company I worked for though believed in career development, so I was kept busy taking company sponsored courses – sometimes about their products, sometimes about time management and management development. In my current job, I’ve taken courses to learn more about mortgages and finances, but I haven’t taken any formal courses for the past couple of years. I kept myself busy with Toastmasters though, which in a sense is still a learning environment.

But now I’m going back to school.

Online. I’m taking a course called “The Science of Happiness” at Berkeley University, through edX.  Through all those years of taking courses, I’ve become a very serious person and if you asked me today if I was truly happy, I don’t know how I’d answer you.

For anyone who’s interested, you can just google edX and browse through their courses. Or you can follow this blog as I share with you how the course is going.

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Give Me Back My Canada!

Right before every election, I become very outspoken. So much so that many of my friends and relatives think I’m very politically involved. I’m not. I’m not even a supporter of any particular party. I like to judge each of them each on their own merits and record.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not anti-government either, because that would make me an anarchist, wouldn’t it? No, I’m one of these rare people who actually doesn’t mind paying taxes. We need people to run the government, right? They need to get paid. We also need all the stuff the government is supposed to do – improve our infrastructure, develop our social and healthcare programs – lots of stuff. It takes money.

What I don’t like is wasting money. Or greed. I work hard for my money. I don’t want to give it (voluntarily or not) to be wasted foolishly. Isn’t that reasonable?

Our current federal government believes in trickle down economics which, if I’m not mistaken, means giving tax breaks to corporations who in turn will create more jobs. Guess what? It doesn’t work.

A business owner I know (who shall remain anonymous) is actually a huge supporter of unions (imagine that!), and when we discussed the tax breaks our government was giving businesses, he told me he’d gladly take the tax break but he wouldn’t be creating any more jobs with it. He just increased his profits. He even went so far as to say if the government cancelled those tax breaks or INCREASED his taxes, he’d be okay with it. He said he could afford to pay more.

Isn’t that interesting?

So, we have a Conservative federal government that has operated on the principle of trickle-down economics and what does their record show? I’ve lost count of the number of criminal charges against members of parliament or the senate. Our environmental record is terrible. Our treatment of First Nations people is shameful. Our rights and freedoms are under attack. We have to deal with a secretive, disdainful government (how many times did Harper prorogue parliament? Remember when he was found in contempt of parliament?) Our national resources are being sold off to foreign interests. The economy is stagnate, unemployment remains the same, and we’re actually heading into a recession. Good job guys!

On the other hand, we have a Liberal provincial government who loves to waste money. Cancelled gas plants, the ORNGE scandal, the e-health scandal – not to mention the assets we’ve lost – selling off Hydro One, allowing beer and wine to be sold in the stores, etc. All to “balance the budget”. The provincial debt has gotten so bad, we’ve had our credit rating downgraded. Even the CEO of Chrysler Canada is complaining that the high costs of hydro is this province may force them to leave. But this is the land of milk and honey, isn’t it? So we’re going to give the organizers of the Pan Am games millions of dollars in bonuses, and for what? For doing jobs they already are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (over $400k to one). Wow. Can I get a 100% bonus too for just doing what I’m paid to do? Where’s the rationale for that?

(Update Sept. 16/2015 – The cheques are being cut now, and  53 Pan Am executives will split $5.7-million in bonus pay – http://tinyurl.com/nwppw26.)

It’s easy to throw other people’s money around I guess. And when we have no more revenue generating assets left, we can always go back to the trough and raise taxes, right?

I’m becoming cynical. I’m starting to believe the reason these people are in politics is because they are incompetent and would not survive in the corporate world. It’s time we start holding our government responsible. It’s time to see politicians charged when they breach our trust. Take their gold plated pensions away when they break the rules.

More importantly, it’s time to elect responsible government. A Government with the interests of the people in mind – you know, common people, working people, people like you and me.

Give me back the Canada I was born into.
Give me back the Canada who was respected internationally.
Give me back the Canada that was a shining example of fiscal responsibility.
Give me back the Canada I used to be so proud of.

I don’t belong to a political party so I’m not going to suggest who people should vote for. Each one of us needs to examine the leaders we have in power today, and decide what type of country we want Canada to be.

What do you want your Canada to look like?

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What’s Your Political Party?

When it comes to politics, I can be very clear in my opinions. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to discussion or debate though, but sometimes I don’t think I make that clear enough. Let’s face it – I am not a political expert and I know I often disagree without necessarily knowing all the facts. I’d love to know the facts.

My opinions are formed through things I have learned, through historical experience (let’s face it – I’m old enough to have known a lot of different types of government in my life), from what I’ve learned from other people with different knowledge and ideas, and from reading the opinions of others for whom I have tremendous respect.

I’ve never understood the kind of people who vote for a particular party, regardless of who the leader or candidate was, simply because they’d always voted for that party, and maybe even because their families have voted for a particular party for a couple of generations.That’s so American though! As Canadians, let’s be smarter.

When my daughter was approaching voting age, she asked me how someone knows who to vote for in an election. My advice to her back then is advice that still works for everyone. I asked her to think about the kind of person she was and what she expected of her country, then to listen to each of the various party platforms and then vote for the party that was promising to provide that kind of country or those values.

Some people vote for a party because of a single issue, but I think it’s important to understand each of the issues.

Some people are afraid of change, especially in times of turmoil. Is it just a coincidence though, that we seem to be having a “time of turmoil” in one area or another before the last few elections?

If you’re waiting for the “perfect” time to change a government, economic or security wise, let me suggest there never will be a perfect time. The right time is when you really want change. As the author John E. Lewis once said “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

I know it’s easy to attack the person currently holding the office and maybe you don’t think that’s fair. Wouldn’t you agree though, that it keeps the governing party from getting too comfortable? If they KNOW that they’re going to be watched, measured and judged, don’t you think they might start coming through on some of their election promises? If you screw up in YOUR job, wouldn’t you expect to be let go eventually? Sure, the company might worry that it’s going to take a new person some time to get up to speed, but if they end up being better at the job, isn’t it worthwhile then?

Listen, I’m not suggesting who you should vote for. I’m going to continue examining my values and beliefs, and expressing my opinions, and everyone else needs to do the same thing.  Between now and October 19th, each of us needs to do three things:

  1. Figure out,
    • What kind of people are we and what do we expect of our country?
    • Which party’s platform better matches our values?
  2. Make sure:
    • We’re not voting on a single issue.
    • We’re not voting based on fear of any kind.
  3. Go out and vote. Because every vote matters.

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Blogging

I haven’t been consistent about blogging (mea culpa) and I’m going to try and make amends.

My posts will sometimes be more monologues of events happening in my life, but I’m going to strive to become more focused.

We live in a twitter universe (twitterverse?) where 140 characters give us our “headlines”. There’s always more to the story than the headline suggests, and quite often stories you’ll hear in the news are skewed to present a particular position. I like to be a bit more balanced so I’ll do some research if necessary and play the devil’s advocate and try to present the flip side or another way of looking at a situation.

I invite readers to join in the conversation. There is no right or wrong in a conversation and opinions and more facts are always necessary to gain full understanding.

Welcome to the Flip Side!