The fellow pictured here has that cranky look going for him, so I decided it would be a fitting image for this post.
I think November, with its increasingly short days and cool temperatures, is conducive to crankiness …at least for me. Yes, overall I’m grateful for what I have and all of that. Yet, I get easily irritated these days by things that have little or no impact on me but that still get me going.
In no particular order…
The Playa del Carmen Hotel Disaster
The gas explosion at the resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, has been making headlines in Canada daily for a week due to five of the seven victims being Canadian tourists. As I expected, the deluge of anti-Mexican comments on stories about this accident on the CBC News website has been steady and nasty. I’m no expert on Mexican affairs, but clearly I have a different take on things. Matters are not as simple or simplistic as many in the CBC’s peanut gallery let on, which reveals more about the commentors’ falsely superior (and sometimes downright racist) attitude.
That said, I can’t say that, at this point of my life, I’m a huge fan of Mexico. When I read this story about how the ambulance that carried one of the victims ran out of gas and the victim’s daughter was asked to pay the gas, my reaction was, “Oh my gawd, that’s SO Mexico!” Day-to-day life is still hard there for many people, who often have to resort to shady dealing and hustling just to get by.
And you know what? I refuse to apologize for having had that “that’s SO Mexico” reaction. Alongside a rich and vibrant culture, Mexico has that feel of always being on the brink of chaos and disaster. As much as there is a growing gap between rich and poor here in Canada, that gap seems minuscule compared to the one that exists (and continues to grow) in Mexico. But what is striking over there is not just the understanding but the tacit acceptance among folks of the pervasiveness of corruption among anyone holding the least bit of power. On paper, Mexico may be an emerging economy, but the hard reality for ordinary people goes a long way towards explaining why so many wish to leave that country through whatever means possible, be it legal or not.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that, here in Québec, we have no lesson to give on avoiding corruption. But while it may take years (including the tossing from power of Charest’s Liberals in Québec City), we can actually believe in a clean-up actually occurring here one day. I doubt the same can be said about Mexico. And that’s not me being a “typical Canadian” holding “racist” attitudes towards Mexico.
Too Big to Fail
I’ve tended to avoid naming my employer in this blog other than say that I work for one of the country’s big banks. Well, news came last week that it’s not just big in Canada, but big enough to be considered for inclusion on the G20 countries’ list of financial institutions that are “too big to fail.”
Canadians have been somewhat smug about how the Canadian banking system has been singled out as an example for the world. This fact has been cited as an explanation as to why the current deep recession that has shaken economies worldwide, particularly in the USA and Europe, has not been nearly as devasting on Canada’s economy. “Bland, boring, non-big risk taking,” coupled with regulations, seems to have paid off for Canada.
Not surprisingly, the CEO of the only Canadian bank being singled out as too big to fail is taking exception to the idea of being included on such a list, saying that such inclusion would be “unfair and wouldn’t make a lot of sense and from a systemic standpoint, I don’t think it would be logical.” But then he’s quoted as saying, “What I would say is we can shrink our balance sheet very quickly if we had to.”
That line immediately got on my tits! Not just at my employer but everywhere in the corporate world, the often-chanted mantra has become “doing more with less.” If you’re a widget-making factory and you find that you can use less glue on each widget and still have a safe and solid product, then I have no problem with this notion. But if by “less” you mean “fewer people,” I wonder if the powers-that-be have any idea that there’s a limit when it comes to people if you give a heap of beans about burnout.
But what really got on my tits about that last quote is that it sounds shady. In my mind, he could have prefaced his quote with “[we will engage in creative accounting so that]” we can shink our balance sheet very quickly. To be clear, I’m only telling you the impression I got upon reading this quote and I’m NOT saying that’s what he’s thinking. But it’s certainly not a good impression to get.
Multiply by 3.4
Just like Scotiabank has opted to have the largest presence outside Canada, TD Canada Trust, the country’s second largest bank, has opted to focus more on the retail (consumer) sector. As such, TD branches are opened earlier and later than most other banks’ in their attempt to “make banking more comfortable.” And TD’s commercials focus almost exclusively on its chosen market, including tips on home buying on specialty stations like HGTV.
One such “tips” commercial caught my attention recently. It explains that to figure out the size of the mortgage you can afford to take on, assuming you have a 5% down payment, take your household’s gross income and multiply that figure by 3.4.
Well, that certainly proved to be a depressing exercise! I consider myself making a very decent living wage. However, when I applied this formula, I realized there’s not much I can afford if I wish to remain in decent area of Montréal proper and not exile myself to the fringes or suburbs that do absolutely nothing for me.
Things would be different had I arrived here 10 years ago with a comparable salary. The cost of real estate here has shot up. This inflation is also visible in the average cost of rent in this town. Immigration Québec states that the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment (known as a 4½) in this town is about $660/month. However, that takes into consideration what those who have been living in the same apartment for many years (for whom rent has gone up only a few percentage points each year, if at all) are paying now. A glance at newspaper ads or Kijiji reveals that, in reality, the average for a decent 4½ with heat and hot water that’s within walking distance to the métro is closer to $900/month.
So, I guess you could say that I’m also cranky these days about my economic prospects. However, to keep myself from completely falling into self-pity when, in perspective, things are far from being bad, I shamelessly plagiarize my buddy colleague’s line: Why weren’t we born rich instead of beautiful? 🙂