Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fair Taxation?

CTV News reported on a town hall meeting in Kelowna, British Columbia, and the push back that Prime Minister Trudeau had to endure. It seems that some in the Liberal caucus, and the Prime Minister himself are a bit surprised that the country isn't jumping on this taxing small business bandwagon. Maybe it's because most people understand that the truly wealthy people of Canada will be unaffected by this change, and the people who are only "comfortable" will be hit, and in some cases hit hard.

You want a fair tax system? Get rid of income tax, and focus on a consumption tax like the GST. Don't single out the one segment of the population that is taking the biggest risk to create jobs. It is my opinion that if we'd raise the GST by somewhere around 5% to 7%, we could abolish income tax all together. Then, the government would be taxing the people with money, and not taxing the poor.

When the GST was introduced, there was a surplus. It seems obvious to me that this surplus was the result of the government basing its GST needs on the income tax ledgers. Once it was introduced, the government started taxing people who were otherwise not paying tax... or at least not all of the tax that the rest of us paid.

Of course, there could be no tax on children's clothing, food, books, cars under $10K or $15K, and a few other "essentials". But when someone goes out and buys a 60 inch TV? Damn straight they should be taxed. Someone buys a new car... absolutely? But someone buys school books or clothes? Not a chance. If you don't have money, you're not going to spend the little you have on the latest technologies and luxury items. But those people with money tend to replace these things at an alarming rate.

Fair taxation? Give me a break. The current tax rules in Canada are so complicated that only people with money, such as Mr. Trudeau, can take full advantage of all the loopholes. The rest of us file our income tax and HOPE we haven't left too much meat on the bone.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Democrazy

Maybe it's time we re-think this whole "Democracy" thing. I am not proposing Communism (though in its pure form would be better than Democracy), and I am not proposing Anarchy (which in its pure form is better than Communism). However, it seems obvious to me after watching the turmoil surrounding the Arab Spring, the Brexit vote, the Trump victory, and numerous Canadian elections, that "Democracy", as it is currently implemented, is broken. It is time to move away from party politics and embrace direct representation.

I think it is time for "Democracy 2.0".

Before I go further, let me stress two things:
I am a layman. I have no political training whatsoever.
I don’t want to lead you. I have no political aspirations whatsoever.
What I do have is a desire to see mankind live in peace, and to see governments actually represent their people.

If you continue to do what you’ve always done, 
you will continue to see what you’ve always seen.

What’s wrong with the status-quo? When I reflect on the lack of direct representation in democracy, there is one thing that repeatedly jumps out at me: The Party Political Model. Under the party model, one person is appointed leader (or assumes leadership) of the party. This leader establishes the platform that the party rallies behind. The party then goes out into the country (or province), and places a candidate in each electoral district (or riding) that they can afford to. On Election Day, you (the people) then choose the party (and its leader) whose platform closest relates to your personal set of priorities. In Canada, this usually boils down to a decision between Liver & Onions or Onions & Liver. The local politician has very little say as to what issues are important, and is often bullied into voting the party line, especially on issues of significance. Your voice is heard only once every four years.
Based on photo by Arthur Chapman CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
In English, when one wants to say that something is out of order, one often says that “the cart is before the horse.” This is the current state of Democracy. As long as the leader of government is chosen before the members of government, the members will represent the leader before their constituents. This may have been needed at a time when most people had no way of knowing what a particular candidate’s opinion on the issues was. So, the party was trusted to assemble like-minded representatives. However, with the advent of the internet, and even more so Social Media, a constituent can know everything there is to know about a candidate. Fancy a life in politics? You had better keep your digital footprint clean.

Democracy 2.0 in Action

What would Democracy 2.0 look like? For starters, the size of the constituency would be based on the number of people an average representative can actually represent. I don’t know what that number is, that would require further research. But think of it this way, if a representative were to speak with a different constituent every half hour, seven hours a day, every week day for fifty weeks of the year, s/he could hear the opinions of 3,500 constituents. If the size of the constituency is 100,000 people, the opinions of those 3,500 constituents would reflect the entire population of the constituency 95% of the time with a 1.63 margin of error. (As an aside, the average population of Canadian federal ridings is 99,034.)

In Canada, we have a situation that doesn’t occur everywhere, but must be addressed in all countries where it does occur. Since the formation of Canada was the result of colonialization, we have an indigenous population. Our indigenous population is known as the “First Nations.” Due to the sleight of hand and wordsmithing skills of the colonial forces (not to mention military might), the First Nations are not represented equally in government. Under Democracy 2.0, each Nation of the First Nations would have a seat in government. We cannot undo the past, but we can fix the future.

So, now that we’ve nailed down the size of the constituency, let’s discuss candidates. All candidates that wish to represent a constituency must actually be from that constituency. Under the party model, it is not un-common for a party to move a candidate to a constituency where they cannot, or will not, field someone local. That person knows nothing about life in that area, and cannot possibly have a vested interest in the wellbeing of that community. If we remove the parties, we open the door to direct representation. The electorate focuses their decision making on choosing the candidate that best represents their beliefs and concerns.

You might ask: what about Leadership, and Opposition? How would that work? I would reply: ask yourself this: what do you expect the Opposition to do? Oppose. But what should they do when the law being debated has merit? Do you really want someone to sit in opposition to something they know to be right? Under Democracy 2.0, all members of the House of Representatives are members of the Government, and all members of the House of Representatives are members of the Opposition. Under Democracy 2.0, they are all expected to consider each bill or act (or whatever you call them in your context) under its own merit. Each representative can propose a bill for consideration by his or her peers, but there is no one person who is sitting in a position of authority over them. As such, there is no one person who influences their vote.

The role of Leader would be occupied by a member of the House of Representatives chosen by his or her peers. For this, I like the British term “Prime Minister.” This would be the first among equals, the Head of State. One must note however, that this position is external facing. As each representative is accountable to his or her constituency, this Prime Minister would be accountable to the House of Representatives, and would be expected to represent their beliefs and concerns on the world stage.

A Brave New World

The beauty of the Democracy 2.0 model is that it would scale really well. The same model could be applied to local governments, provincial (or state) governments, even to multilateral organizations like the United Nations. The challenge is making it a reality. The political machines that drive democratic implementations around the world are protectionist in nature, and are not likely to change from the inside. It would take a true statesman or stateswoman to give up power once granted the majority required to make Democracy 2.0 happen. But I can always dream.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Culture of Poverty

From "The Devil's Miner"
I watched a report by Mathias Meier in the New York Times entitled "Embracing Child Labor". Bolivia, my birthplace, has made it legal for children to begin working at ten years of age.  I must say I am shocked and saddened. I am shocked that this has barely received any press in the developed world, and I am saddened to think of what this will mean for the future of these beautiful people.

I understand the logic of the proponents of child labour. The families are starving, the children are working already, let's make sure that they at least get a fair wage. In fairness, child labour happens to some degree all over the world. Even in North America, on family farms children are expected to perform duties before and after school that are critical to keeping the farm running. The same is true in many family run businesses in Bolivia, but this is not what we are talking about here. Here we are talking about children working at hard labour (mining, brick making, etc), and though it is not supposed to interfere with schooling, one would have to be quite naive to think that it doesn't.

In the above story, Dr. Jorge Domic, the director of FundaciĆ³n La Paz (a development NGO), says that child labour is part of the Andean culture, and especially Bolivian culture. I beg to differ. Culture is not what a people do, it is who a people are. Culture is the characteristics of a people that distinguishes them from their neighbours. Being hard working and industrious can be seen as cultural. Keeping a segment of one's population poor due to lack of education is not cultural. Despite the promise of a socialist revolution, it is the rich in Bolivia that are profiting from this move, not the poor. Oh sure, the poor will get a few extra pennies, and that will make a difference, but it will be just enough to keep them poor. And by legalizing child labour, families who would have otherwise obeyed the law and endured the hardship of poverty, might be tempted by the newly legalized source of income.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 45% of Bolivians live on less that $2 per day. The Factbook also points out that:
"Bolivia's income inequality is the highest in Latin America and one of the highest in the world. Public education is of poor quality, and educational opportunities are among the most unevenly distributed in Latin America, with girls and indigenous and rural children less likely to be literate or to complete primary school."
So there's your problem. A third of the population is under the age of 15, you have a low quality system of public education, and the access to public education is not universal. Now you are going to compound the problem by making it OK for children to work for pay starting at ten years of age (and their "union" is pushing for that age to be lower still). I like how Alex Rosen put it in his article on this topic in "No Se Mancha":
"If this is Bolivia’s best answer, then perhaps they have asked the wrong question."
What is needed is a break in the cycle of generational poverty. This can only be accomplished by a high quality, universal, public education system. President Morales has done his people a huge disservice.

Monday, April 11, 2016

KPMG: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...


Credit: Aimee Rivers (© CC-SA-2.0)
I'm sitting here shaking my head after reading this story from CBC News: Senior federal tax enforcer joined KPMG as its offshore 'sham' was under CRA probe.

What does it take for a Conflict of Interest to be real? In my opinion, the mere appearance of a Conflict of Interest is sufficient evidence of its existence. Sure, from one perspective, Mr. Sadrian may not have done anything that can be punished so it is possible that no real conflict exists. But from the perspective of ‪#‎ethics‬, I would personally have a very hard time trusting KPMG LLP (Canada) with the accounting of anything more important than a lemonade stand.

Before any of you make the mistake of suggesting that I am merely upset because the wealth in this country (and the world) is not distributed evenly; let me assure you, that is not the case. In fact, it is precisely because wealth is not distributed evenly that the question of ethics is so important. Society must be more than a race for the top. Those who have wealth and/or power also, in my opinion, have a moral obligation to be beyond reproach. They must be a shining light that would guide the rest of us.

It's too bad, but it seems to me that government departments that wish to impose conditions like a "cooling off" period on their employees, are going to have to tie adherence to something financial like a pension. It would appear that the days in which society could depend on people to "do the right thing" are waning

To the leadership of KPMG, you had better check the balance of your #‎EthicalDebt‬.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Entrepreneur: Disciplines of Thought That Can Help You Rethink Industries and Unlock 10x Better Solutions - A Review

What is "Innovative Thinking"? Is it something that can be taught?

It would appear that Osama A. Hashmi's answer is a definite... maybe. I must admit that when I first saw the title Entrepreneur: Disciplines of Thought That Can Help You Rethink Industries and Unlock 10x Better Solutions I was skeptical at best. However, being a bit of a business strategy junky, I put my doubts aside and gave it a read.

Hashmi's writing style is very accessible. He doesn't bog you down with pseudo-science as many business writers do, but rather leaves you feeling like you just had a good long chat with as friend at a corner coffee shop. With nice short chapters, it feels more like a conversation than a lecture. It's the kind of book that you can fit into a busy life, a little here and a little there.

"OK Waldo, you like the format, what about the content?"
It's hard to point out a flaw in the content, mainly because there's little new. However that is, in itself, a positive thing. After all, there is something terrifying about a "completely new process of thought." That's not to say that the content is in some way lacking. Hashmi presents his ideas with a clarity that makes them easy to understand. If you're like me, you will find this little book more reassuring than revolutionary.

Of course, there is a problem with the book. That problem I have with it is the same problem I started with... the title. "Unlock 10x Better Solutions"... really? Hashmi himself has included a chapter entitled "To  Innovate, Stop  Listening  to Bozos  Like  me." If you finish this book and don't feel a little cheated by the title, then you are either a quite young, or new to the world of business.

So should you read this book? Most definitely. It's not so much what the author TELLS you, but what he ASKS you. Again, you walk away from each chapter feeling like you just had a really good chat with a friend. In the cut-throat world of business, that has tremendous value.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Contracts Written in Disappearing Ink

Credit: Peter Kaminski
They say "A Picture Paints A Thousand Words." If that is the case, then it stands to reason that a thousand words must paint a picture. But what happens to the picture if you start to erase some of the words?

According to Mario Elia; a Doctor from London, Ontario; this is what the Province of Ontario is doing with it's contract with Physicians. They agreed to a certain rate of pay, but are now changing the game to suit their own purpose. Essentially, they have made election promises and expect the doctors to pay the bill.

Now I'm not going to get into the political side of this issue. We are currently under Liberal Party rule, but the same thing was done by the New Democrats under Bob Rae (referred to colloquially as Bob Rae Days), and the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris made dramatic cuts to health care as well. I personally have a very difficult time trusting any politician.

This story is, however, an excellent illustration of #EthicalDebt at play.When (if) our government goes back to the bargaining table, our physicians (if there are any left in Ontario) will have a hard time agreeing to any contract. They will be, justifiably so, suspicious that the contract may be written in disappearing ink. I chose the image that accompanies this post because the artist says:
« The [Buddha] board has a sandstone-like texture that turns ink-black when you paint on it with plain water. Over the course of 20-30 minutes, the water evaporates, and your drawing disappears. »
For how long is your signature a sign of your commitment?

Do your contracts (or the spirit within which they were signed) only last as long as circumstances are in your favour? ...or do you stand by your word?

If I asked your business associates or customers the same question, would their answers agree with yours?

So, you are different. That's great! What about the people you manage? Have you said one thing, but put your people in a position that they can never deliver? Have you already identified the "scape goat" for your failed promise?

Ethical Debt is a line item on your moral balance sheet. You can talk all you want about honesty and transparency, but when the people look at the picture that is you, does the image align with what the public relations department has painted, or were they painting on a Buddha Board?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Keys To Collaboration - A Review

They say Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Unfortunately, teamwork can also cause nightmares. In The Keys To Collaboration: How to Build A Great Team or Fix the One You've Got, Lane Sherman provides practical and actionable guidance for success among teams. Many books on the subject of teamwork rely on broken metaphors or sports analogies. This book is for the busy professional who doesn't want to waste time reading such drivel, but wants some clear, no-nonsense direction.

In Part One, Mr. Sherman correctly points out that not all collections of individuals working toward a common goal are actually teams. An often overlooked consideration is the difference between Working Groups and Teams. This distinction is critical for leaders, as all other collaboration efforts hinge upon it. He then goes into the details of his Five Key Factors of Collaboration and explains the tasks that you, as a leader, will need to undertake.

In Part Two, the author guides you through the key conversations that will ensure that the team members are equipped for success. These conversations are related back to his Five Key Factors in a manner that is easy to understand and builds upon the foundation that was built in Part One.

Part Three covers the day to day management of the team. It is interesting to note that while entire books have been written on this part, it is one of the smallest parts in the book. This is the main differentiator between this book and others that you may have read on the subject of teams. The mechanics of team leadership are actually pretty basic. However without the first two parts, perfect execution of management does not guarantee success... which then makes the fourth part of this book so critical.

Part Four is most likely the reason you will purchase this book. Either something went wrong and now you need to fix it; or you want to avoid the dysfunctional teams you've had in the past. Here, the author provides six steps that again, build upon the foundation of his Five Key Factors of Collaboration to guide the team back to the path of success. Even if you are just starting a new team, this is an important section so that warning signs can be identified and corrections made early.

Parts Five and Six deal with tools and activities that will be very useful to most teams, but especially remote teams.

With almost 20 years of professional experience working with both groups and teams, I can vouch for the value of this book. You will certainly find yourself referring to it again and again, especially if you collaborate with dynamic teams.