A reply to Martin Regg Cohn’s column: “Gambling on Horses hasn’t paid off”

It’s hard to know if Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn is trying to use horse racing as a way to ‘spank’ the Provincial Liberal party. Maybe he is showcasing what he believes to be a “dying Liberal brand” through the Ontario government’s attempts to revive horse racing in Ontario.

Regardless, Cohn’s column in the Toronto Star[1] of June 16, 2015 fails at both.

I won’t take the time here to retell the story of the rise and fall of the Slots at the Racetrack Program (SARP) or the Wynne’s government’s work to breathe life back into the industry. We all know the story and we have heard it countless times before.

So let me tell a bit of a different story.

When the McGuinty government pulled the plug on SARP, it became clear that it was a government that felt itself to be under siege respecting its failures to practice timely oversight over e-health (Twinkies), ORANGE (lavish trips to buy helicopters), wind farms (rural opposition) and nuclear plants (a vote loser).

In each of those cases, the government understood that it had not acted fast enough and decided it wasn’t going to make the same ‘mistake’ again.

Instead, it pulled the plug on SARP and placed a world class horse racing industry into complete disarray on the mistaken view that acting in haste would somehow be more decisive and result in less negative political fallout than on other files.

What Cohn gets right is that SARP was a good and generous program that helped horse racing thrive in Ontario and to maintain its world class product and reputation. What he gets wrong is that ending SARP was simply not an “uncharacteristically gutsy decision to rein in a horse racing sector run amok”.

Imagine for a moment how sad it is that all across Canada and elsewhere, libraries are closing[2]. Librarians are laid off, doors are bolted shut, and the books are placed in boxes and sent to storage. Reading and learning are both stymied. Expertise is lost. Memory is lessened and a generation of children is forced to turn away from books, to whatever small degree, to obtain the education they require.

Library closures are a tragedy of the commons, a testament to poor planning, and a failure to understand both the future and the past.

But as sad as library closures may be, the books are not alive, none of them are pregnant, none of them need exercise nor sustenance and no book will ever be euthanized or be sold for food.

The “uncharacteristically gutsy decision” lauded by Cohn in its surprise, its depth and its execution resulted in utterly needless and widespread disruption of an industry, lost jobs, closed doors, bankrupted owners and farms,  and the death or sale of  an untold numbers of equine athletes. And as in the case of the libraries, it looked as if it was destined to become another tragedy.

Cohn appears not to understand the difference between careful cost containment and ‘plug pulling’. In calling it gutsy, you get the sense that he revels in the hubris and testosterone of the grand moment, however ill-advised or ill-conceived. Careful planning just doesn’t have the cut and thrust of a sword piercing armour or the boom of a cannonball shot across the bow.

But Cohn goes on to mistake the mitigation of a preposterously unplanned slash and grab at horse racing as yet another instance of recklessness. In successive paragraphs, he characterizes Premier Wynne as “throwing more money back at the tracks”, “throwing McGuinty under the bus” and leading a “crusade to give horse racing a higher profile”.

In Cohn’s world, we are invited to understand   McGuinty’s recklessness and rash impetuosity as “gutsy” and Wynne’s thoughtful attempts to bring a steadier hand and to undo a headlong and impulsive wrongdoing as a ‘crusade’.

May we understand that this columnist is neither a fan of horse racing nor Premier Wynne?

But he does get it right that horse racing is an ailing industry. But that’s the same as hitting someone over the head and blaming them for falling.

Arguments pro and con aside, would Mr. Cohn perhaps have a slightly different view of history if I could play the equivalent of Dickens’ ghost of Christmas past and have him follow me through the weeks of agonizing decisions to find good homes for racehorses that had become uneconomical to race, literally overnight?

How would he view the long days of planning and interviewing to make sure that these horses did not become someone’s dinner an ocean away?

What would he think of the long months of writing letters of recommendation for the friends who, in an instant, had no choice but to leave the industry?

Perhaps I would refrain from telling him – in my role as ghost – that his own print industry is ailing and ask him if he thought that ‘pulling the plug’ should be chosen as an alternative to carefully planned downsizing of that industry. Would he see mitigation of a reckless move as ‘throwing money at an ailing industry’?

Are there no smartphones? Are there no tablets? Are there no laptops?

In the final analysis, Cohn’s column is about a mistake that hobbled an industry and a new government that is still, three and half years later, trying to correct the excesses of its predecessor. It is not the story of a gutsy move followed by any form of crusade.  He just has it wrong.

js/June 23, 2015

[1] http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2015/06/15/olg-bets-on-horse-racing-to-help-liberals-rebrand-cohn.html

[2] http://capalibrarians.org/2014/01/time-line-the-closure-of-canadian-government-libraries-archives-and-research-collections/

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We are the 61%

In the May 2011 federal election, voter turnout was 61%. In the same election, all other parties except the winner received 61% of the vote.

In other words, of the 61% of us who voted, 61% of us voted against the majority government that took power.

Usually 61% runs the show; but not now.

And it looks like it will happen again. Why? To quote ABBA: “The winner takes it all!”

The Conservative strategy is a 39% strategy. They need 39% of Canadians not to vote in 2015. And they need 39% of the popular vote to get a majority again. These are modest goals.

They also need progressives to split their vote as equally as possible between the other two mainstream parties.

The Conservative government has announced a Budget with two big initiatives they knew their 39% supported but their opposition particularly disliked – and for the same reasons.

Both opposition parties have vilified the $10,000 TFSA and income splitting because they favour a rich minority. They split evenly on other issues. Their leaders are equally strong.

With equal messages and equally skilled players, the opposition parties are racing towards equal showings. But in this poker game, a single ‘3’ can beats a pair of 3’s.

The big problem for all of us as voters is that we are not wired to play games where winners lose. This is why the lead-up to this election is so confusing.

But we need to get used to it.

Both opposition parties appear as if they do not understand the game they are in. They are both trying to woo the 61% with the same message. And it’s so disheartening that perhaps only 61% of us will vote in the fall.

Perhaps something will change after the next election. After all, we are the 61%.



see also: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/09/24/news/how-trudeau-and-mulcair-will-hand-victory-harper

written 5 months after this post


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The plight of low income hardworking seniors

This is the year that I become a senior citizen for the first and only time. I wrote a blog when I turned 60 for an online newspaper called ‘The Mark’ on what it means to turn age 60 when you are poor[1].

I spent the next four years on a self-motivated project called ‘Retiring on a low income’. I know from my ‘Google analytics’ that it is very popular as the material has been accessed about 45,000 times, mostly from new users. My blog on the subject, written in 2013, was the most popular blog on the Vibrant Communities website in 2014.

I now want to set my sights on the issues that beset those who have already turned 65 but continue to live on a low income. Catherine Porter has greatly assisted this cause with her front page article from Sunday March 29, 2015: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/03/29/should-poor-seniors-have-to-pay-to-volunteer-porter.html

In an earlier blog from 2014, I attempted to point out that the very poorest seniors are taxed the most[2]. This just seems to be the way things are. The poorer and more voiceless you are, the higher the rate of confiscation from income taxes or programs. The earlier blog covers this well and others have written about the phenomenon[3]. So I won’t go on another rant about that topic here.

What I want to talk about here is how very hard it is to be a hardworking low income senior in Ontario today. If you have to go out and earn money to make ends meet, you can only earn $3,500 in any tax year[4] before you face a 100% taxback rate on the old age money that you get from Canada and Ontario.

If you are a poor single senior without any other income outside of your Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), you can only work until the middle of March or so (at minimum wage) before your earnings reduce your GIS by 50 cents on the dollar.

But that’s not all! The provincial Guaranteed Annual Income System for the Aged (GAINS-A) also starts to reduce the benefits it provides by 50 cents on the dollar at the same point[5]. Footnote 5 links you to a really helpful excel file provided by the Ontario Government that reveals that for the first $1,992 that you earn after the $3,500 exemption you will lose that 50 cents on each dollar earned.

But fifty plus fifty equals one hundred. As our unsuspecting poor senior toils through the middle of March to the end of April, every single cent of her earning will be clawed back in equal measure by the governments of Ontario and Canada. With her GAINS-A payments exhausted, only 50 cents on the dollar will be clawed back for the rest of the year.

This is why I advise active low income seniors to work for two and a half months a year and then leave their employment. It’s just not worth it.

It’s also delicious to juxtapose a 100% rate of confiscation with the 15% Old Age Security clawback rate for seniors hauling in six figure incomes[6].

In April of this year, I am going to make my usual rounds of fast food joints and try to spot the women who look like they are my age or older. They usually work in these places because they have little or no other income. They are often single. I get inspired to look into the real faces of poor women who are working all of April for absolutely nothing. It’s an April fool’s joke but this time it’s for real and the joke’s on them.

So you may think it can’t get worse than this? Guess again.

Some active low income seniors take on speaking engagements. There are lots of programs like the Dream Team[7] where some members have reached age 65.  Like all low income speakers, they receive small honorariums from well-meaning agencies for their insights into their own lives. Some are very good at it. The idea is that the poor senior receives the honorarium to help defray the costs of travel and meals and maybe take home a small bit of income for themselves

But honorariums are not earnings. There are no CPP deductions taken off an honorarium – no EI deductions and no taxation at source. Accordingly, the honorariums do not qualify for the $3,500 exemption that relates to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) or GAINS-A.

Now what happens? You guessed it! The first $1,992 in honorariums received in any tax year are reduced by the Old Age income system at 100%.  So if a poor senior receives $500 in honorariums for four speaking engagements in a year, every single cent of it will be deducted from their Old Age income.

Thinking this through, it means that these unsuspecting senior speakers are paying the cost of their own speaking engagements. They have to prepare the material, get to the venue, pay their own way back home and receive a net benefit of absolutely nothing.

So has it always been like this? The answer is no.

Over the past few years, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has begun to insist that community agencies, governments, educational institutions and non-profits issue T4A slips for honorariums. T4’s are for earnings. T4A’s are for what’s called ‘other income’ and other income (as noted) does not qualify for the seniors’ earnings exemption of $3,500 a year.

In one case where I have personal experience, a poor single woman (aged 65) received $3,700 in honorariums all of which triggered the issuance of T4A’s. The result was that she lost $2,846 off her seniors’ benefits (the first $1992 at 100% + $854 at 50%)

The moral of the story is once again that if you are really poor, you will be faced with the highest rate of confiscation that our governments can collectively dish out.

The obvious solution is to give voice to injustices like these. More and more seniors are going to have to find new ways to make ends meet and 100% clawbacks from the first dollar is just beyond senseless.


Mar 27-2015

[1] http://pioneers.themarknews.com/articles/2247-sixty-and-single-in-ontario/#.VM5llp3F_T9

[2] http://openpolicyontario.com/a-story-of-two-poor-seniors-linda-and-doris-are-the-highest-taxed-people-in-ontario/

[3] Mike Veall

[4] http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=409599

[5] https://www.ontario.ca/taxes-and-benefits/guaranteed-annual-income-system-benefit-rates

[6] http://retirehappy.ca/minimizing-old-age-security-clawback/

[7] http://thedreamteam.ca/

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A funny thing happened on the way to the middle ages: Boethius and the ‘Identity of Indiscernibles’

It takes a long time following retirement from the public service after which you realize that you can write about anything you want. I had always wanted to publish a limerick that I wrote with a friend (now deceased) over 40 years ago.  In this blog, I take another item off my intellectual bucket list.

I was reading PhD level courses in philosophy in 1973 at York University (Social and Political Thought) when the course material required that the class read the Consolation of Philosophy by the mediaeval philosopher Boethius[1].

Boethius, born in 480 A.D., was an influential sort who reported directly to Theodoric the Great. But he got himself imprisoned for trying to navigate the difficult and treacherous process of bringing Constantinople and Rome closer together. Theodoric eventually had Boethius killed along with members of his family.

His Consolation of Philosophy, written while in prison was one of the ‘great reads’ of the dark ages and Dante includes references to Boethius in his Divine Comedy[2].

And it was while in prison that Boethius really hunkered down to investigate some of the major issues of his time.

The one that really got to me was the ‘identity of indiscernibles’. For people born in modern times, the identity of indiscernibles is a fantastically difficult concept[3] but even when you figure out what the intellectuals and exegetes were all in a sweat about, it is a head scratcher. It is almost impossible to even conceive of how or why anyone could get in a lather about it.

OK – so here goes! At the great risk of oversimplification, the principle of identity that comes from the Greek philosophers states that for one thing to be different from another, it has to have some property that distinguishes it; bigger smaller, heavier lighter, blue green etc.

If something is exactly the same in every respect, the principle of identity would begin to say that the two things are one and the same thing. But that is easily dealt with because any object is located spatially. Two identical iron balls for example cannot be the same ball because, even if side by side, they would have the property of being located in a slightly different place in relation to a person or a third object. They would therefore be ‘discernible’.

But Boethius took it a step further and posed the idea of a separate universe temporally and spatially distinct from our own and asked the question about the iron balls again. In other words, if two identical iron balls were in their own universe where nothing else existed, would the principle of identity not have to admit that the two balls were in fact just one iron ball since there would be absolutely nothing to distinguish between them?

As you can imagine, if you are a 23 year old student thinking about Watergate, Viet Nam, the breakup of the Beatles and whether Trudeau could beat Stanfield with the slogan ‘the land is strong’, the identity of indiscernibles as a pressing issue is not high up on your list of interests.

It is only today that I can start to see what old Boethius was getting at when trying to meld the doctrines of 5th century Europe. I start to think of religious headgear and begin to ask the question if one form is really different from the other when all the various antipathies are cast aside.

Forty two years later, I finally get what Boethius was talking about. Or at least I think I do.

And now the surprisingly prescient alcohol-assisted limerick that allows me to place another check mark on that long list of things I told myself I would do if I ever got the time:

“There were two sisters I knew

Who so identically grew

That they could not converse

In their own universe

For to say there were two wasn’t true.”


//js-Mar 22,2015


I am fairly certain that not many people read Boethius nowadays but I am hoping that some desperate mediaeval philosophy students will google ‘Boethius and the identity of indiscernibles’ and come upon this limerick and use it in their term papers. It won’t help them pass but at least their professors will get a laugh out of it.




[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boethius

[2] Now if thy mental eye conducted be

From light to light as I resound their frame,

The eighth well worth attention thou wilt see.

The soul who pointed out the world’s dark ways,

To all who listen, its deceits unfolding.

Beneath in Cieldauro lies the frame

Whence it was driven; from woe and exile to

This fair abode of peace and bliss it came.


[3] http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/10/the-bundle-theory-and-the-identity-of-indiscernibles.html

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Much of my life I have been a struggling low income person: Guest blog by Pamela Chynn

I am talking today as  a struggling  university  and  journalism  student, as  a  person  who has  on and off  been on  social  assistance,  as a person who  has  been  on  unemployment insurance a  few times, as  a  person who  has  a  couple  of times  been technically homeless  and  has  been through the surreal  roller  coaster nightmare  of  couch  surfing, as  a  temp worker, as a minimum  wage  worker and  currently  after  having   endured several  years  of  bullying  that resulted in suffering  a  long  and  hard  battle with  depression  and anxiety – temporarily  on  ODSP.

Because of this, I  know  all too  well the  struggles  of  being  in  poverty,  of having  had to live in   inadequate  housing  that was  detrimental  to  both  my  physical , mental and emotional  health, of  having  to rely  on  food  banks  and sometimes community  drop ins  for  meals, of  dealing  with threatening  intimidating , demonic -like  calls  from  creditors, of   having  spent  several  years afraid to file  my  taxes  because  of fear that  I  owed  money  and having  heard rumours  and  hearsay  of  what  could   happen  to  people  who  owed   money   in taxes  and  moreover  what could  happen to people who  didn’t  have the  money  to   pay  what they  owed  in taxes.

Not to mention how often there were times when I felt that I really had reason to worry about being able to come up with funds to pay my rent and worry over being tossed out into the street like a bag of garbage instead of being treated like a human being that mattered.

Feeling like I have been through the often seemingly ludicrous labyrinth of the social system – I turned   to social activism   for healing and for a sense of empowerment. Through social activism – I have learned that empowerment is something that we can only really truly gain by giving to others.

I was so very grateful to learn about this course:  “Financial Literacy “

I felt after all the financial stress I have gone through, as a person living below the poverty line this was an opportunity that I could not afford to miss.

A favourite quote of mine from Benjamin Franklin states “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Through this  program  I  have  come  away   feeling  more  confident   about my  future  because    I  feel  that   I  am  much  more  armed  to  deal with  my  financial  issues  than  before. I   don’t  feel   like I  am  blindly  stumbling  in the  dark  when  it  comes to  dealing with  important  financial issues.

I  realize  now that  having  a sense  of  security   about one’s financial  health  does  not  necessarily  have  to  come from  having  a  plush   bank  account  but  more   importantly  feeling  secure  about  your  future  regardless of  whatever your  economic circumstances might be  comes from having  taken the time  and effort  to  make “an  investment in knowledge”  and   when  it  comes to  securing  your  financial  health,  this  applies across the board to everyone  including  both the non-poor  and  those  living  below the  poverty line.

Through having participated in this  program, the three most important things  that  have stuck out for me  in taking care of  my financial  health is to:

  1. know what  my  rights  and entitlements are
  2. know  what my  financial responsibilities  and obligations  are
  3. take control of instead  of  hiding or running away from my financial  worries

The third lesson- take  control   of  my  financial  circumstances  is really  and  most truly the  most important thing that  I  have  learned from this  program.

Taking  control  of  your   financial  situation  involves  if you  have debts   or feel  that  you  may  have  an unsettled  debt,  find  out to whom and how  much money  you  owe . Making  sure that  even  if you  have  had a  loan  paid off that it  is discharged  so it doesn’t affect other financial  decisions  you  may wish to  make in the future.

I also learned to   be wary of how little consumer protection banks have.

Other  important things that  I  learned through this  program  are:

– the  differences  between  mandatory  and  discretionary  benefits  when  dealing with  OW and  ODSP and also what are the differences  between  allowable  assets  and exempt  assets;and

– what  benefits one  may be entitled to  when one leaves  OW or  ODSP and for  how long   and   how to  appeal  benefits that  have  been  denied   and the  process involved.

Another thing that I learned  when taking this program when dealing with  one of the only two  certain things in life  “taxes” what I   am as a low-income person entitled to and the differences between   refundable and non-refundable tax credits.

And last but not least, I learned how to secure one’s financial health as we move towards our retirement. We live (as John Stapleton used the term), in a “parallel universe.”

Much  of the  media  information  regarding financial retirement  advice  is  geared  towards  the  non-poor  and  the  advice on  investing  in RRSPs  that  we often  hear  about in the  media  is  geared  towards  people  in the  non-poor income  bracket but  that  people  who   are  in the low income bracket  would  often  in  this “parallel  financial  universe “  be well advised to  do  quite the opposite.

The program “Financial Literacy” has   definitely proved to be for me “an investment in knowledge.”

I would  like  to  take this opportunity to thank  Houselink, John Stapleton  and other instructors  who  helped  teach  this  course.

Thank -You.

Pamela Chynn

(Note: Pamela gave this talk on Friday February 27, 2015 at West Neighbourhood House as part of the panel for the Launch of Welcome to the Financial Mainstream? The applause was long and loud from the 100 or so  people who attended.)

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Guest Blog from Tess: When your child turns 18 on a low income: Three big changes for a lone parent

This guest blog from Tess underscores the problems faced by families living on a low income in subsidized housing. It goes back to an essay I wrote for Metcalf titled ‘Why is it so tough to get ahead?’ While today’s parents know that their children may have to live with them long past the age of 18, our social welfare institutions continue to adhere to the Age of Majority Act that was passed into law 44 years ago, a time when many 18 year olds could realistically pursue independence.//js 

This month my relationship with three policy programs is going to change.  I have not done anything myself to alter these relationships.  The lived circumstances of my life have not changed.  Rather, my son, Troy (pseudonym) celebrates his 18th birthday. These changes will have a dramatic impact on my family.

The most noticeable change will be the cessation of the federal and provincial child tax credits.  For a single, low-income mother, this is a significant share of our family’s income.

Currently, I am in receipt of Ontario Works and I am also marginally employed.  In addition to my child tax credit, my Ontario Works entitlement will also change as a result of this birthday.  Specifically, Troy will now be considered an adult and my family will move from the sole support parent caseload to the ‘single persons’ caseload.  A new worker will be assigned to us.  Our monthly entitlement will increase which will somewhat offset the loss of our monthly child tax credits, but not fully.  The change in income is still significant and will be felt in our quality of life.

But the most important change is that up until Troy turned 18, any of his earnings were fully exempt income; after turning 18, they are not.  Until he turns 18, Troy could choose to save his earnings (for post-secondary education, for example), or spend it as he deemed fit.

Had Troy chosen to attend post secondary school directly after completing high school, his earnings would continue to be exempt.  However, Troy chose to take a gap-year so that he could work in order to pay for music lessons.  Troy is a talented musician and wants to attend a post-secondary program in musical composition.

However, he must audition and attain a certain level of excellence in musical theory and advanced practical aptitude in order to qualify for the post secondary program.  And because we lived in poverty throughout Troy’s primary and secondary schooling, he did not receive music education that fully met his needs.

We could only access adequate music instruction if I paid for it privately.  This was not always possible.  In order to afford the education he needs to get into the post-secondary program of his choice, Troy has decided to work.

Since Troy is working instead of being in school, a portion of his earnings will be deducted from our Ontario Works entitlement.  Between Troy’s earnings and my own, our total income may cause us to no longer be eligible for income from Ontario Works.

Should we reach this OW threshold, our rent in subsidized housing will no longer be set at the pay-scales for OW recipients.  Therefore, Troy’s 18th birthday will cause a change in my family’s relationship with a third policy program: Rent-Geared-to-Income housing.  For the first time, Troy’s income will be taken into account when determining my family’s rent.  Our rent will be raised by 30% of Troy’s income.

These deductions and accounting of Troy’s earnings from our monthly family income assume that our collective earnings are distributed equally within our family.  This is a drastic change in the policy assumptions of how our family works and is causing a drastic change in our family dynamics.

Previously, I held control of our family finances.  When Troy turns 18, I will have to depend on him to contribute a portion of his earnings toward groceries and household expenses in order to offset the deductions of Ontario Works.  I will have to depend on him to contribute 30% of his earnings toward rent to offset any rent increase.

But since we have a parent-child relationship that will not instantaneously change on his birthday, Troy could interpret my requests for such large chunks of his income as parental demands, not a social policy change.  Further, he will certainly regard such demands as unfair and unreasonable in their magnitude.  This will certainly create friction in my relationship with my son.

Beyond our personal family dynamics, the above three changes mean that Troy and I may still not be able to afford the education he requires to qualify for his post-secondary program.  His earnings may be deducted too aggressively and we will have no support in the form of child tax credits.

Consequently, Troy will be relying upon the kindness of extended family members to house and feed him while he works and concentrates on his musical education for one year.  Fortunately, we are privileged to have this support.  However, I question the fairness of my son and I being forced to live separately so that he can use his income to help him get into school.

We are being forced to live apart because we live in poverty.  It is not uncommon for families of means to have a dependent adult in their household well into his or her twenties.   Young adults may not be children, but they still deserve support as they embark on their adult lives.  Such support may make the difference in breaking the cycle of poverty for the next generation.


Tess: January 13, 2015

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Twenty Eight Canadians

Twenty eight Canadians returned to Italy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Italian campaign that took place during World War II from July 1943 to April 1945.

They ranged in age from their later eighties to their mid-nineties.

They were in the minority of the living well enough to go.

They were a remarkable group and the Canadian government has taken great care to ensure that we don’t lose track of them in the way we lost track of Canadian veterans of the Great War. In that case, it seems as if they were suddenly gone.

But what do we really know about this group of veterans who travelled to Italy from November 22 to November 30th as part of the official delegation?

What does the twenty seven men and one woman share outside of their common experience of war and extraordinary longevity?

Do they have other things in common?

As one of the caregivers on the journey, I decided to find out.

First there is the obvious. Just to have made it to Italy, it means that they were screened to go overseas in the first instance. They had no obvious impairments or disabilities at the time.

Secondly, all were volunteers and that alone makes a big difference. It was their choice to sign up and that says a lot about willingness and bravery especially as it relates to one’s country. Nine of the 28 entered the invasion of Sicily while 19 others joined the campaign in Italy.

The third easy point is that all of them were chosen to be part of the expeditionary forces to go into Sicily and Italy. In other words, there was another winnowing process that saw many soldiers screened out during the basic training that largely took place in the UK.

Two other important points regarding longevity were apparent. I did not observe any smokers among the group and many noted that they had never smoked. Others mentioned that they had given it up often decades earlier.

In addition, all drank in moderation or did not drink alcohol at all. Some admitted to being alcoholics but in those cases, they had beaten the addiction long ago.

But do those five characteristics explain what binds these 28 veterans together as robust and long survivors of a brutal campaign they experienced as young people mostly in their late teens and early twenties?

Not by a long shot!

Over those remarkable eleven days that we spent together, many of the caregivers and staff discovered a whole set of other characteristics of which anyone seeking a long life may wish to take heed.  Here they are in no particular order:

A Positive Outlook

For these 27 men and one lady, the glass was perpetually half-full. They all looked at events for the good you could take from them. It was hard to pull a negative thought from any of them. Sure, some have health difficulties and various barriers but in each of their minds, the barrier was made to be surmounted.

An absence of anger

Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time with the very elderly knows that they can be prone to anger. Sometimes it can be sudden.

But with these 27 gentlemen and one woman, I don’t think any of us saw a single outward display of upset or anger. I talked to a few of them who said sometimes you have to work at not being angry but they suggested that anger was never worth it. Anger was seen as a weakness – something that gets in the way.

An orientation towards others – others always first

Among the very elderly, it is often the case that they can shut out the outside world and only think about themselves. That was not true of our 28 veterans. On many occasions, I watched them survey the room to see if there was anyone who needed anything. A coat or hat on the floor…someone appearing to look for something… would quickly attract the attention of one or more of the 28.

“Did you lose something?” or “Your hat was on the floor. Here it is.”

A strong sense of self-control

On a number of occasions, we heard the 28 talking about the world of yesteryear and the world of today. They saw how weather and events could affect timetables.

We were late to Cesena. The venue was shortened. The skies were black. The rain fell. A chill was in the air. Was this a problem? Did anyone say a word?

No! In their minds, things not going to plan is always part of the plan, because things don’t necessarily go to plan.  It takes a modern mentality to be frustrated by this state of affairs.

You have to keep your own counsel. Listen closely. Things will work out.

Go with the flow. We will get there.

Of all those who worried about things going to plan, the 28 would not be counted among them. They knew about adapting.


The 28 veterans were uniformly proud throughout the commemoration. Proud of their country. Proud of their regiments and associations. Proud of coming back. Proud of their children and families.

Pride is always countered with humility.  And there was always two parts of humility to go with every measure of pride.


The 28 veterans of the Italian campaign exercised in old age what many cannot do at a younger age. They exercised discretion; what to say and when to say it. But more than anything, they believe in discretion and the importance of saying the right thing at the right time and to avoid indiscretion.

Many at a younger age do not value discretion. They say what they mean and mean what they say. No BS; no matter how it may hurt or how it may upset. But the 28 understood discretion and they all had it down to a fine science.

And finally, a couple of funny things. One is a great sense of humour. They all had it. All their war stories came with great bursts of laughter describing the impossible, the absurd and the nuts.

Liberty (driver’s licenses & political parties)

The fact remains that in their 90’s, most of them continue to hold a valid driver’s license and many still drive. Many have uncorrected vision – still – after all these decades. That puts them at the top of some sort of strange elite that their younger caregivers – sons – daughters – grandchildren and wives have no idea.

Few belonged to political parties preferring to vote for their own man (or woman) caring strongly for the liberty to choose the man or woman or their choice.

Closing thought

“And so this is Christmas……………………..

………..and what have you done?”

Nothing much… Just a meditation for the 28 brave and smiling Canadian souls that graced Italian soil for a brief moment at the end of November 2014.


John Stapleton

Caregiver to Allan Edwin Stapleton (age 94)

1st Canadian Division

Royal Canadian Corps of Signals 

Official Delegation

Italian Campaign

November 21, 2014 – December 1, 2014



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We are going! the 70th anniversary of the Italian Campaign

Al Stapleton, 94, is visiting the fields of battle in World War II Italy this week as a member of Canada’s Official Delegation to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Italian campaign. He is our father.

This is his third visit to Italy. The second time was ten years ago for the 60th anniversary. His first visit was seven decades ago.

For the first four decades of our lives, we heard little about his wartime experience in Italy. It took a long time for the painful stories of war to emerge.

He arrived in July 1943 under the cloak of darkness and raging storms as part of one of the largest expeditionary forces in history. Departing from a troop carrier, he waded ashore on a beach in southern Sicily close to the sleepy villages of Pachino and Ispica. For the next 20 months, the Canadians, made their way north fighting the Germans in a historic war of attrition. The Allies won but there was a heavy price to pay – and not only for those who didn’t return.

Beyond frequent exposure to the loss of young lives, Al’s memories of his daily regimen on his first visit endure in sharp contrast to his present experience of comfortable hotels and restaurants, enjoying carpaccio and caprese.

During the war, meals consisted of ersatz fare served erratically while accommodations consisted of tents and slit trenches exposed to two cold, wet winters and the sweltering summers of 1943 and 1944. After he returned, he experienced years of undiagnosed illness that is now well known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the time, he was advised to deal with whatever it was on his own.

This week Al will visit three of the places where he experienced brushes with death – Cassino, Ortona and Rimini.  At Cassino, Al was part of a major troop movement that inadvertently took a wrong turn when the officer in charge of the convoy misread the road signs and moved within range of the enemy. Dumbfounded Allied soldiers looked up in horror from their slit trenches as the Canadians entered into harm’s way. German soldiers looked down in confusion at the spectacle. An order was given to reverse course. Not a shot was fired.

At the Moro River in 1944, Al lived in a pup tent on the same field for two months during the wettest coldest winter in memory. Every Saturday night, two men received a pass to go south to the nearest town to see the movies. When Al got his turn, he returned to his camp to find that shelling had killed some men in his camp. The Germans used self-propelled guns that they would run up to the front line and set them in motion to shell the roads.

Near Rimini, in the small town of Russi, Al spent his off-hours in a local shoe repair shop that had thick stone walls. One day, enemy sympathizers directed shellfire from adjacent rooftops. He recalls being thankful for those stone walls. As an aside, Al also remembers the shoemaker yelling choice newly-learned English language epithets at a picture of the Pope when he hit his fingers with a hammer.

History tells us that the Canadian troops did themselves proud.

At the 60th commemoration in 2004, an Italian reporter asked:

“Did the Germans respect the Canadian army?”

Always one with high expectations of interviewers, Al replied,

“The German used volunteers against Canadians.”

Only when pressed, he explained, “elite soldiers”.

In the end, Al’s first return to Canada was not that noteworthy. Most Canadian soldiers in that campaign avoided spending eternity on Italian or Sicilian soil. What is remarkable is that he is participating in the 70th anniversary commemoration, one of 28 former soldiers out of the 94,000 that served in the Italian Campaign, a 1 in 3000 chance to return after 70 years.

Truth to tell, when he was there, he was just a number, an everyday soldier; however, time raises and equalizes status and those who endure  return as  28 very important people, now equal in stature, to commemorate Canadian glory.

Al was one of the lucky ones. He was in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals maintaining the equipment that decoded messages from the German Enigma machines behind Allied lines. But risk for a soldier is relative. Two of his buddies in the Signal Corps never made it beyond the second day in Sicily. They were shot dead not far from Al when a German Focke-Wulf 190 strafed the Sicilian shoreline with 50 caliber guns on July 12, 1943. Their bodies were not returned to Canada and Al visited them for the first time at the Canadian graveyard at Agira in 2004. If Al had not huddled beside a tough cactus plant, he would have joined the two men buried at Agira with whom he signed up at London, Ontario on September 10, 1939.

Without these chance events of survival, Al would not be here. And neither would we, which brings us to reflect on the vagaries of war. Our existence today is a matter of dumb luck. If Al had been killed on any of these three occasions, someone else could be telling this tale. We are grateful for this turn of fate.


Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

John Stapleton, is a social policy analyst in Toronto.


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“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair -Guest Blog from Pat Capponi

Those of us who make up the OW and ODSP rolls, who haven’t worked for years, who have struggled with homelessness, addictions, mental illness and abuse, are at a crossroads in this city.

We need to understand that, unless we really start to confront the stark choices we’re facing, there will be no real opportunity to improve our lives through education, training and employment.  Why is this?

There are limited resources available to us, and most of those dollars go to agencies, shelters, food banks, community kitchens and drop-ins, to maintain the status quo, to keep us from dying on city sidewalks and alleyways which would disturb public consciousness and elected officials.  At least two-thirds of funding given to agencies goes to rent, staff, and benefits.

These places constitute a poor substitute- a pathetic consolation prize- for a life of value and purpose, still we cling to them, for they are all we have, and often the devil you know is preferable to the uncertainty and demands of independence and change.

So we spend our long days lining up in front of locked doors, waiting for access to dingy and crowded spaces, we line up for food banks and shelters, we line up for meals and donated clothing and for a chance to ask for TTC tokens to make it home or to a bed or hospital or to appointments with workers and other gatekeepers.

“The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way’.” Grace Hopper

We lose our sense of ourselves as viable individuals – understandable, since belief in our potential is absent.  And we lose our sense of community, treating each other with the same disrespect and dismissal we encounter too often ourselves.

We have no champions in this fight to regain some of what makes life worth living.

Politicians and policy makers want easy wins. They want to point to success, so they go to the ‘low-hanging fruit’, those who have the least problems, those who, with a little boost, can achieve. It makes for good press, it supports the illusion that we are doing something constructive about poverty.

Many of those on the right believe there are deserving and undeserving poor.  Many of those on the left believe there are categories as well, witness terms like ‘hard to serve’ and ‘hard to house’ applied to those whose labels loom large.  Both blame the victims.

Many of those on the right believe everyone should work, that homelessness and poverty are a life-style choice, and that OW enables addictions and street existence. Too many of those on the left believe that people can’t work, need burgeoning supports and that  increasing the levels of social assistance by one hundred dollars  is the only policy corrective needed.

“To blame the poor for subsisting on welfare has no justice unless we are also willing to judge every rich member of society by how productive he or she is.  Taken individual by individual, it is likely that there’s more idleness and abuse of government favors among the economically privileged than among the ranks of the disadvantaged.” Norman Mailer

On the right, there is frustration and fury about the number of social agencies targeting the long-term poor.  On the left, there is a constant demand to increase the numbers and the funding given to agencies, and in spite of outcomes that are dismal they continue to say “more”.

On the right, there are stories and claims of welfare cheats, on the left they’ve given up the battle to tackle discrimination and prejudice against the poor, instead pushing children to the forefront, who, at least till they reach the age of majority, are innocent victims who hopefully can’t be attacked or denied.

Neither the right nor the left believe the long-term poor are a good bet, an easy win, if the right investments are made.  Neither the right nor the left have any understanding of what keeps people on the rolls.

The best thing for the children of the poor is to see their parents succeed.  Otherwise, we are simply ensuring that agencies and shelters and drop-ins will never lack for clients, that the poor are a renewable natural resource that will never dwindle.

We, those with lived experience, must challenge the status quo; we must be the change agents, we must dare to speak our truths even when gate-keepers and those who derive their status and employment from our communities deny us our right to speak, to engage, to point out the systemic failures that guarantee their jobs and our continued poverty.

Picture yourself walking confidently to the door of an agency, and reaching for your key to open that door.  Picture yourself eating dinner, made up of your choice of foods, in the quiet and calm of your own kitchen. Picture yourself in a classroom learning, or in a social enterprise bringing life back to neighbourhoods.

If it’s a choice between supporting agency staff and failed programs, or using those funds to create opportunities and pathways out of poverty, which would you chose?

Pat Capponi

November 16, 2014

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Revealing power imbalances: What do cigarettes, casino card counters and Jian Ghomeshi have to do with financial literacy?


On November 3, 2014, I drove a woman for whom I advocate named Linda Chamberlain to two payday lending outfits. She was taking cash advances from one to pay the other after maxing out a credit card which she used for cash advances to pay for food and non-insured medical supplies. She is 65 and suffers from a variety of mental and physical illnesses.

In one month, she had racked up credit card and fees of $238, $93 for going over a credit limit, $105 in payday lender fees and the rest in interest at 19.7%. She needed $60 that morning for medical supplies and food.

Inside the second of the two payday lenders, we carefully counted out the $605 she needed to pay off a debt of $500 from two weeks before. We got our receipt and began to turn away when the ‘teller’ said with a very genuine smile “OK, how much do you need this time? You are eligible for another $500.” I said “no – that will be alright… no more loans”. The teller looked mildly surprised and I said “don’t people just pay off their loan and leave?”

She said breezily “yeah, it does happen … I remember a guy who just left after paying off his balance”.

I had a long discussion with Linda as to what she would have to do to get things under control. I called her friends. We talked about the incredible power imbalances she faced.

As I left Linda that day to shop for groceries, she turned to me and said “You should write this up and use my name”. I said I would do exactly that.


The financial literacy movement is a good thing. It is especially good for disadvantaged groups who have the most to gain from understanding our public facing financial institutions in Canada.  Financial literacy means having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions.

But financial literacy as a movement ‘locates’ the problem of poor financial decision-making with the individual as opposed to our financial infrastructure and governments.

Individuals have little power in comparison to large financial institutions and their products are subject to what governments can and will regulate. Low income people who comprise priority groups for financial literacy have the least power of all.

It is possible to look at this state of affairs as a power imbalance – between low income people vs financial institutions and the governments that regulate them.

There are five elements of this power imbalance that relate to the poor:

1.A power imbalance in onus: the onus in most public facing financial dealings is placed on the low income consumer not only to understand complex financial transactions but to inform, be informed, pay, and behave in their own best interests. When there are financial troubles like inability to pay, the onus on the low income consumer always increases and the attendant costs to the consumer increases by the greatest amount.

Key examples: right of offset; insufficient funds (NSF), credit card balance limit fees

 2. A power imbalance in products: the worst, most toxic products for low income people are those that are marketed the hardest with the most intrusive tactics with the least information coupled with the greatest degree of complexity. They are often the products with the highest profit margins.

Key Examples: Balance protection, accident and no-medical life insurance, pre-paid credit cards with up-front fees.

3. A power imbalance in advice: while good advice is available to the well to do, the financial advice available to low income people – who often benefit from a complicated web of benefit programs is almost non-existent.

The good advice that is available to those with low income most often receives ‘bake-sale’ funding and is held together through ‘chicken wire and glue’ networks delivered by poorly paid advisors in underfunded or non-funded community agencies, storefronts and church basements. Meanwhile, bad advice to low income people is lavishly funded by financial institutions.

While mainstream financial institutions largely choose to remain willfully ignorant of the financial benefits available to low income people, they frequently dispense flawed advice to purchase high profit instruments that are financially ruinous to the poor. Moreover, financial predators outside of the mainstream pedal questionable products to those who understand the system the least, gambling that they will be easily misled.

Key Examples: RRSP’s to low income near aged; high MER mutual funds, get rich quick schemes

 4. A power imbalance in expertise: The reality is that there is almost no formal education and no curricula supporting the good advice that could be given to low income people; that is, the advice that would be in their interest. There is little reason that a financial advisor would learn what low income people require as there is little or no remuneration within the system to compensate it.

Key Examples: failure of financial advisors to recommend early CPP and TFSA’s over RRSP’s.

5. A power imbalance in advertising and media availability: Good products for those with low income suffer from almost non-existent media coverage (Rob Carrick, Ellen Roseman and Preet Banerjee are exceptions) while bad products like no-medical life insurance enjoy ‘carpet-bombing’ advertising budgets.  The simple reality is that low payout, high profit products can sustain massive advertising budgets.

Key examples: High MER mutual funds and no-medical life insurance

If the five elements of this power balance were redressed and low income people became even marginally financially literate, most if not all of the above named products in the key examples above would virtually disappear as the small sliver of the population that could actually benefit from them would be insufficient to sustain their markets.

However, the size and complexity of the financial maze in Canada is growing at a much faster rate than the reach of the financial literacy tools designed to navigate it.

Training low income people to become financially literate begs the question of why there are so many toxic products in the first place.

The priority groups all of which tend to be over-represented by low income people are not ‘affluent people who just don’t happen to have any money’. They mostly live in a ‘parallel universe’ where products that are advantageous to the well-to do simply don’t apply to them.

Key Example: RRSPs -no tax deduction if no taxes paid, no tax refund, fully deducted from social assistance, and they reduce Old age supplements in retirement.

But all the financial literacy in the world will not reduce or eliminate what is known as the ‘endorsement effect’ where low income people with low financial literacy believe that products that are freely and lavishly advertised with little adverse publicity are ‘endorsed’ by the media, governments, and the public. Much more can be done as evidenced by the anti-smoking movement.


What do cigarettes have to do with financial literacy?

The power imbalance

Approximately 50 years ago, medical evidence began to show conclusively that tobacco use was hazardous to our health. Over the next five decades, a relentlessly pervasive and powerful movement changed the landscape in which tobacco products were consumed. Much of the power imbalance that was decidedly in favour of ‘big tobacco’ was reversed.

Although tobacco products did not become illegal, the power imbalance that was firmly on the side of big tobacco completely changed. It took 50 years but it did change.

The analogue

Cigarettes are uniformly bad for us but as a society, we still allow them to be sold. It took us a long time to understand just how bad they were.  Many financial products are just as toxic and it is taking us a long time to understand this. No medical life insurance, balance protection, and high MER mutual funds are financially toxic. Pre-paid charge cards with high fees are financially toxic.

Financial literacy is in its infancy and arguably in the same place the anti-smoking movement was 50 years ago. It may take another 50 years to get financial literacy to the place that the anti-smoking movement is today.

Let’s look at the five elements of the power imbalance that we just looked at for financial literacy.

1. The power imbalance of onus: the onus is still on consumers to refrain from smoking and to get help if they do. But sales of cigarettes are restricted. They must not be in plain sight. They cannot be sold to children and there is an onus on the industry to tell us just how bad cigarettes are for our health. The cost of cigarettes is very high.  Where and when cigarettes can be smoked is highly regulated.

2. The power imbalance in products: Cigarettes continue to morph. Flavoured tobacco, e-cigarettes, cigarillos, cool cigars. Just like the financial industry, new seductive products abound. But the anti-smoking movement and government regulation continues to be strong. Every new product is carefully evaluated and intrusive regulation is never far behind.

 3.The power imbalance in advice: Here is where everything has changed. All the advice is negative. No one seriously champions smoking. We are light years from telling a poor 60 year old that they should (categorically) not buy an RRSP. We are light years from telling a poor 60 year-old who is working that they should always take early CPP.

At one time we would say that someone who smokes may not get cancer or COPD and that someone close to them may not be harmed by second hand smoke. We don’t say these things anymore.

 4. The power imbalance in expertise: Another game changer. For years, the tobacco companies said that there was no conclusive evidence that smoking caused cancer. Many smoked and did not get cancer. The experts all agree now. For financial literacy and the toxic products, this is many years away.

5.The power imbalance in advertising and media availability: Yet another sea change –another game changer. The sports endorsements stopped. No magazine advertising, no television, no radio. The media tap was turned off but more importantly, the tobacco industry was forced to turn on itself and publish pictures of dying lungs and anti-smoking bumper stickers.

Imagine if payday lenders were forced to put government health warnings on their products and show pictures of homeless people on their brochures.  How about pictures of people being evicted? Or pictures of stacks of cash lost to high MER mutual funds? Or the money lost to balance protection schemes?

The cigarette analogue works because tobacco was thought to be a glamourous product that did not cause any harm that was later discovered to be harmful. Toxic financial products are much the same.


What do casino card counters have to do with financial literacy?

The power imbalance

Casino card counters can sway the odds in their favour when playing 21 (blackjack). Normally the odds are in favour of ‘the house’ but card counters can slowly move the odds in their favour and win enormous amounts of money. When discovered, ‘the house’ excludes the counters.

The card counter analogy is often used to describe the credit and liquidity crisis that was in part responsible for the Great Recession of 2008-09. The financial card counters introduced new sub-prime mortgage products (Collateralized Debt Obligations or CDOs) and insured them through other new products (Credit Default Swaps or CDS). When the house of cards came down when the market for CDOs dried up, the card counters protested and said they wanted to continue to play even though they ‘brought down the house’.

The financial card counters were excluded from the game but have since been allowed to re-enter. The house cannot exclude them. Yet there are new rules that make it harder for them to ‘bring down the house’.

The analogue

Payday lenders and no-medial insurance brokers are the card counters on the Canadian financial landscape. They play by different rules and they take away business from ‘the House’ of mainstream financial players. Unlike the real card counters of Las Vegas fame who are excluded from the gaming table, payday lenders are more like the financial card counters that have been allowed to re-enter the game on Wall Street.

The payday lenders are permitted to charge much higher interest rates than anyone else. They tell clients that they have “accounts” but their accounts are different in that the customer is just a name in a database. There is no right of offset. They offer the low income consumer 100% protection from the financial mainstream.

But payday lenders insist that clients have mainstream accounts before they play by their own set of different rules. Their products are toxic but like tobacco, they can legally sell their products to the public.

So let’s take another look at the five elements of the power imbalance that exists between payday lenders and their public. Will it be like cigarettes or will it be like financial literacy?

 1.The power imbalance of onus: The card counter is kicked out on discovery and banned from the casino.

But the card counter of Wall Street and the payday lender is allowed to game the system with the onus placed 100% on the low income consumer. Not one single product in the payday lender store, from cheque cashing to payday loans to high fee charge cards to pawn broking services would ever be purchased by financially literate persons unless they were desperate. Desperation turns onus into necessity.

2.The power imbalance in products: All the products of the card counter are self-serving. In real life, the card counter is trying to walk away with the largest profit without breaking the bank. If he inadvertently breaks the bank, there are more banks to break. Their motives are selfish.

No payday lender products are in place to ‘help’ the consumer. They are in place to make money. Real card counters are stopped before they break the bank. Financial card counters are there to take the consumer to the breaking point but not to break him or her – just to keep them at the breaking point as long as they can.

3.The power imbalance in advice: Most mainstream advice argues against payday lenders but payday lenders also know when to hold back; they know when to relent. They need to hold their customers, not destroy them.

This is where their advice comes in. The brochures and pamphlets prepared by payday lenders are the best in the industry. They are accurate, well written, use clear language and provide good advice. They are miles better and much more relevant than any written material coming from any bank or any level of government.

Their written material fully understands the zero tolerance, immediate world of their customer who needs money now to pay off creditors who want their money (now) and will punish harshly for missed deadlines.

Government and mainstream advice counsels low income people to become people who don’t need immediate money and to stay away from punishing creditors.  But that is like telling poor people not be poor.  Mainstream advice is for people who are already getting out of poverty, not for those who are in its throes.

For the world of poverty, payday lenders have the best advice. Their flaw is that they then substitute themselves as the zero tolerance punishing creditor.

4. The power imbalance in expertise: Payday lenders know their customers. They exploit the colour palette of fast food that boasts immediate gratification with the illusion of individual choice: yellow, red, black, brown and white.

The ‘inside’ of the payday loan store is like a casino – very different from the outside. No clocks, pastel colours, cleverly arranged shiny products hanging from ersatz trees with bows and little tags noting that they are ‘for you’ (e.g. high fee prepaid credit cards).The payday lender understands their customers and knows how to market. They are unerringly pleasant to poorly dressed customers. They never scold. They never lecture. They understand ritual payment and re-lending but most of all they understand immediate gratification. They get ‘now’ in a mainstream world that is telling them ‘later’.

 5. The power imbalance in advertising and media availability: “Wouldn’t you like to leave money for your loved ones? Of course you would. Call us today”

Payday lenders and especially no-medical insurance providers understand advertising and how to entice the financially illiterate by reframing unpleasant compulsion (the world of those in low income) with empowered choice.

For example, reverse mortgage firms remind the consumer that they never have to repay until they choose to move or sell. Most seniors who need money are going to be compelled to move at some point because they become infirm or cannot otherwise make it on their own. Few choose to sell yet the reverse mortgage provider frames the unpleasant compulsion as an empowered choice.

Payday lenders frame themselves as providing easy and fast empowered choice even though almost everyone passing through their doors is experiencing unpleasant and often zero-tolerance compulsion from others.


What does the Jian Ghomeshi firestorm have to do with financial literacy?

The power imbalance

Almost no time passed before media were asking why Ghomeshi’s victims did not come forward. Just as quickly, the answer was agreed by all to be the power imbalance between Mr. Ghomeshi and his victims. They stood to lose and he stood to gain. The courts put the onus on the woman. Public opinion sides with celebrity.

But in six or seven days, the power imbalance in favour of Mr. Ghomeshi utterly and completely reversed in favour of his victims. His defense of consent vaporized. It completely evaporated in a week. The anti-smoking movement must have been awed by the speed the power balance changed. That which took decades for others took a week for Mr. Ghomeshi.

Note: It is important to distinguish between what occurred in Mr. Ghomeshi’s case is not the case for sexual assault in general but many believe that it is important start for the change that is required.

The analogue

The important analogue here is that Mr. Ghomeshi’s case made public the importance of power imbalances and where they are located. In Mr. Ghomeshi’s instance, the victims believed (until everything changed) that the power imbalance did not favour them in obtaining redress.

It is a teachable moment for the financial literacy movement because the movement is based on empowering the victim to fight against financial institutions and governments that hold the balance of power over them. Until Mr. Ghomeshi was publicly disgraced, most people (and especially his victims) believed that they would not be able to obtain redress.

This is exactly the same dilemma that faces the financial literacy movement in that massive power imbalances rig the financial system in favour of an industry that games the low income consumer and governments that are only able to address a small sliver of the problems that face low income financial consumers.

Real redress will only occur when financially toxic products and practices are removed from the marketplace (or identified as toxic like cigarettes) and the power imbalance changed. Although not what he had in mind, Jian Ghomeshi gave us a textbook example of how imbalances occur and how they get redressed.

The blinding speed at which it happened was breathtaking. The fact that his defence of consent simply evaporated (at warp speed) was exhilarating.

Social movements across Canada will be studying this case closely. Financial fairness advocates will be trying to understand the nature of the event.

And at this writing, in the eyes of the law, Mr. Ghomeshi has done nothing wrong, has committed no crime, has not been charged with anything and yet his game is unalterably over. Let’s look at how Mr. Ghomeshi fares in the five elements of power imbalances.

1.      The power imbalance of onus:   The onus was on the women. Now it is on Mr. Ghomeshi. In court with the media’s help, the onus that is routinely placed on women in sexual assault cases can and will be redressed.

Could the same thing happen for someone who pays thousands in accumulated fees for a purchase of a few hundred dollars?

Could she get her money back?

2.     The power imbalance in products:  Mr. Ghomeshi’s product was his hosting and his celebrity. Most of the women became in enmeshed in the power imbalance of his products. With the change in the imbalance, they have all been released and they are all exonerated. The women who have come forward were believed and uniformly supported.

Could the same thing happen for someone who bought balance protection to insure them against becoming disabled or unemployed when they already suffered those hazards?

Could they get their money back?

3.     The power imbalance in advice:  Very little advice was available to the victims before the power imbalance changed. Now chiefs of police are standing up to support the women. Heads of Detectives are publicly announcing that there will be prime facie acceptance of their stories. Mr. Ghomeshi hinged his public defense on consent and the frame that values consent. Consent and the frame that values consent no longer resides on Planet Earth.

Could the same thing happen for low income people who have had every cent emptied from their bank accounts without their consent along with outsized fees and cancellation of their credit?

Could they get their money back?

4.     The power imbalance in expertise:  Advisers to Mr. Ghomeshi bailed from his corner as fast as they could. His only expertise remaining is legal and there is a massive legal establishment waiting to get at him from every possible angle.

Could the same thing happen for low income people who are advised at age 60 to buy RRSP’s or apply for CPP  later ( at age 65) when it is irrevocably against their financial interest to do so?

Could they get their money back?

5.     The power imbalance in advertising and media availability:  The media turned 180 degrees on Mr. Ghomeshi. Their fawning accolades turned to ridicule and scorn inside of a week. His reputation was in tatters and his considerable talents made irrelevant.

Could the same thing happen for low income people whose bank advisors routinely provide advice that results in losses of thousands of dollars?  Could they get their money back?


I always enjoy having bank staff (often managers) come to my seminars that I hold for low income people in Toronto and elsewhere. Sometimes I have a little fun at the end and ask them publicly – in front of the low income audience – if they have balance protection on their own credit cards or whether they have ‘no-medical life insurance or bank issued accident insurance.

I have yet to see a hand go up.

November 9, 2014

This blog is my submission to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada for inclusion in its consultation with Canadians on financial literacy for priority groups.


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