Federal Election: Does Anyone Deserve Your Vote?

We are currently in the midst of likely the shortest election campaign timeline the Federal government can run, and I am hearing the odd soundbite that makes me perk my ears up, but is there really anything to get excited about?

Using BNN Bloomberg’s write-up about where each party stands so far, I wanted to give my own two cents on them. It’ll be easier to read through the promises on the Bloomberg site than here, but I provide colourful commentary!

Corporate Taxes

The Conservatives want to make companies pay three percent of their gross revenue in a digital service tax if they don’t pay corporate income tax here.

That seems pretty weak to me for a political organization that says it wants companies to pay a “fair share of taxes”, but maybe I’m missing more details here.

The Liberals want to raise corporate income tax on the largest banks and insurers from 15% to 18% on all earnings over $1 billion dollars. They seem to think that this will raise $2.5 billion dollars over the next four years for the federal coffers.

Again, this seems very weak to me. What about doing this to all corporations with revenues over a billion dollars? What about getting to a corporate tax rate of 20% on all earnings over $2 billion dollars? Make it more progressive where those organizations that are the most successful, pay a bit more? There are a lot of countries that tax corporations more than Canada does.

The NDP also wants to do a 3% increase on corporate tax rates but doesn’t seem to have all the additional stipulations of being for banks only or for profits above a billion dollars. They also note that they want to create a temporary tax on large companies that enjoyed a windfall due to the pandemic.

That seems like a weirdly selective tax, and I’m not a fan of those. We also know that it’s rare for taxes to be temporary in nature, even if that’s the original intent. Lastly, they’ve said they want to make internet giants “pay their fair share”, the language is so soft that it’s almost not worth mentioning. I expect numbers and details and not catchphrases.

Low Cost Canadian Cell Phone Plans are Garbage

The requirements the CRTC has given the cell phone service providers to create low cost plans look like something written up from 2012, with features and prices that just don’t make sense for modern times. It looks like the big-three will continue to make huge amounts of money, even off these “discount” plans.

Proposed requirements for low-cost cell phone plans

Minutes

They have made it so that the actually inexpensive plans, the prepaid occasional use and the postpaid occasional use plans have such restrictive amounts of minutes that it’ll be unlikely you’ll want to use your phone at all.

One hundred minutes is just over an hour and a half per month, and four hundred minutes for the year means no more than thirty-three minutes per month. A job interview on the phone could easily burn through that time. A tele-medicine call could use up more than another thirty minutes.

I get that the phone portion of the cellular network might not be the least expensive component of their offerings, but a bit more common sense and value could have been found here.

Text Messages

I don’t see why unlimited text messages wasn’t fought for at every plan level. A combined availability of 400 text messages for a year and then $0.50 per message above that doesn’t fit the world we live in. I receive text messages for two-factor authentication sometimes. I receive text-messages for package delivery notices. I receive text-message reminders for dental appointments. It’s not just communicating with family or friends, text-messaging has become part of how I interact with the wider world of services and it’s such a small amount of digital data that it is outrageous that it isn’t included with every plan level.

If they absolutely had to have a limit to avoid abuse, something in the few thousand range seems much more fair to me.

Data

For the monthly plan, three gigabytes seems relatively fair, though I think the price for the plan is a bit high in my opinion, at every other plan option, I think they weren’t thinking about how data is used and useful to consumers today and how low-cost it has become over the last decade.

Each of the plans should include a minimum of one gigabyte of data and none of them should include overages for going over. Instead, the plans should require the vendors to throttle data to 3g speeds to reduce how much data can be consumed without the potential for overages in costs. The only added this overage safety in the postpaid occasional use plan.

Bring Your Own Device

The cellular companies know that most people don’t bring their own device when getting set-up on a cell phone plan. Phones are fairly disposable, so most people looking at these plans might have to pass on them and pay more per month because they can’t afford to spend around one hundred to two hundred dollars to purchase a budget phone.

Also, what isn’t mentioned is that most of the cell phone providers in Canada typically offer some small discount if you bring your own device, though that language is often buried these days because they don’t want you to bring your own device as you can then easily move to another network when they have a better offer. They want you locked in for two years on their network and they do that through phone subsidies.

I think at least the monthly plan should have the option to have a device included, especially the lower cost options that exist in the market.

What the CRTC Should Have Mandated

Here’s what my mandate might look like if I were able to move the CRTC towards something better for low-cost plan requirements. Is it perfect? No. I just tried to adjust the few line-items that they currently have to create plans that are a bit more fair and reasonably priced.

With my own diagram, I set the initial low-cost plan at what I consider to be a low-cost at only $25 per month and provided the requirement for sub-$500 devices be available to this plan as a zero-cost way of getting a reasonable phone. This makes a ton of sense to me and would likely see adoption by many users. The profit on this plan might be low, especially since I tried to reduce the amount of opportunities for companies to get more money from people through punitive overages, but I think it’s overall a fair and useful plan for most users looking for a lower-cost plan.

I kept the other two plans the same price as they were, but I changed some numbers and features around. I think the biggest change is data, where I quadrupled the postpaid occasional-use plan from 250 MB to 1GB of data minimum required and went from zero data to 4GB of data for the year on the prepaid occasional-use plan. I also think that my changes to texting are much more useful and reasonable.

The other big change I would want to see is overages cost less. Even on plans that exist today, most of the overage prices are out of line with reason and reality and are heavily punitive. They are often set-up in such a way to make you move up a plan level so that the communications companies can consistently make more money from a user.

Canada is one of the worst when it comes to pricing and we have to push our elected officials to convince the CRTC to force the giant corporations to do better. Corporations are focused on making as much money as they can, and it’s only through government intervention that we, the people, get any opportunity to push back, especially when there are no reasonable competitors in the market.

Update: It shouldn’t have to be said, but the data on these plans should be at full LTE speeds until they have used up their allotment. The practice of selling these CRTC mandated plans at 3G speeds is another punitive decision that is horrible! If I buy a 250MB data plan, it should be the latest connection and speed that my provider offers. I am so angry right now that they went ahead and made the data on these plans 3G speeds.

SUV Maybe?

This is the third in a series of posts starting almost two years ago about vehicle choices to someday replace our car.

The first post was Electric Car Options in October of 2019, the second was Hyundai Kona EV – Too Tight a Squeeze and after that whole thing, I decided to temporarily open up my search into non-electric vehicles as a replacement for our car someday.

What Do We Need?

Ideally, something with some space in the second row! I am over six feet tall and many of my family members are too, and so having some more space over our small Kia Forte would be really helpful going forward, and as such, we will likely be looking at sports-utility vehicles, the most popular type of vehicle right now.

The main goal is to make sure the front and back leg and head room end up being better than what we have today, and if it has the option to tow a small camper trailer, so much the better.

Surrogacy

This is a difficult topic for me to write about as I never thought I’d be heading down this road, but here we are…

There are so many moving pieces to this whole thing, but I should start by saying that my wife has written more about this journey than I probably ever will both on her blog and on an Instagram account she started called Operation Baby spaceship.

Basically, to get you all up to speed, my wife and I have decided to chase down surrogacy as an option to having a child to hopefully raise and take care of. My brother’s wife has said yes to being our surrogate and my brother and their children have given a thumbs up as well.

I really struggle with the idea of surrogacy, mostly because it is a difficult, awkward, and expensive process. It will take us more than a year from start to finish, and we already started on this journey months ago. It will cost tens of thousands of dollars. It will require testing and sampling and conversations that aren’t fun. It requires discomfort for my wife and my sister-in-law. The whole thing sends me spiraling through a bunch of emotions.

One of the conversations we have had to start working through is all of the worst case scenarios like in what circumstances do we consider abortion? What do we do if my sister-in-law experiences negative health effects? What if the pregnancy is a high risk and she’s off work for the majority of the time? A million different what-if’s. Eventually, all of our decisions regarding these worst case scenarios will be combined into a legal document that we will have lawyers revise to build a contract agreement for all of us to sign.

I’ve always wanted to be a parent and raise a child of my own, but I never thought I’d go so far to try to make it happen. Just yesterday we had a call with our fertility specialist and found out about multiple thousands of dollars in additional costs that we hadn’t learned about previously that we will be required to pay to make this all happen and we haven’t even locked down the total cost for everything yet, but know it’ll likely be in the mid-five figures.

The money portion really stresses me out. While I have a good income, a fairly frugal partner, and a mom helping make homecooked meals most nights, I still can’t help but feel so much weight on my shoulders regarding financing this endeavour. And it feels hard to complain about it because the “easiest” part of this whole thing is the financial aspect. The testing, the waiting, the discomfort and potential pain… those are the more difficult aspects of making this whole thing happen.

It’s hard for me to keep my eye on the prize, so to speak. To think about the potential success of having a child in my arms, a child to raise. I’d like to think I’d make an okay father, but at nearly forty years old, it also feels late to be starting out. I know others have done it, and I know if it works out, then I’ll do it too, but it wasn’t what I expected for my life, but who gets everything in life that they expect?

Annie has so much passion for making this a reality, and my sister-in-law’s grace helps keep it on track. And I am just here, feeling like I’m in the passenger seat, trying to protect my heart, grow my wallet, and keep on the path hoping that it will turn out the way we want this time, and not end in another heartache that I’ll have to carry with me forever.

In the end, I just wish this was all easier, less expensive, faster or at least guaranteed success.

A Year in Our House

So it has been basically a year since we moved into this house and while it wasn’t the year we expected when we started the process of buying the house, I definitely can’t complain. Living here during Covid has been great.

It’s mostly little things like having our own entrance, controlling the number of people and potential Covid vectors in our lives, and having some private green space have all made this whole pandemic more bearable.

Being that it is semi-detached has probably been the hardest part. We don’t hear the neighbors often, but when we do, it gives us those “apartment-living” chills where our space doesn’t totally feel like our own. We haven’t cultivated much of a relationship with our neighbors yet, partly because of Covid, and partly because I’m not a super outgoing/social person. The attached neighbor is very keen to maintain the small patch of front-yard we share, so that’s nice.

Maintenance, Repairs, Changes

Annie and my mom planted a small garden out front this year, which really made things look great! Other than that, we haven’t done much to the house so far, mostly due to lack of money, but we also made sure to buy a place that was already in pretty good condition so we wouldn’t have to spend a ton in the first year. We had someone come in and do a check and maintenance to the furnace and air conditioning units, and both are in good repair. We will probably need to replace the central air conditioner unit before too long though, as it is getting near the end of it’s efficient lifespan.

We have a deck in our backyard that eventually needs to be removed as it is a home for all kinds of neighborhood critters like bunnies, a groundhog and more… It also is in a weird place and shape in our backyard, so we will probably replace it with some nice stonework next year or the year after.

One thing I am hoping we will find some money and time for before the winter is to fix or replace the banisters going up our front steps as they aren’t as safe as I’d like them to be and we also need to fix the way the steps look as the exterior coating has chipped away due to salt and ice and water ruining the finish. I don’t think it necessarily reduces safety, but I’m concerned it could cause the steps to age quickly and become unsafe.

We did have one issue with some water. The drain hose for the dishwasher became disconnected and flooded the under-sink area with water that started leaking into the basement a little. We caught it very early and were able to dry and remediate the damage. So far, no mold or moisture problem outside of that. It was one of those moments where I think Annie and I both thought, “why did we do this to ourselves?” We were so used to these being other people’s problems if they happened.

Our neighbor replaced their shingles this year, which made a big mess in our front and back yard. The company they hired, Elite Contracting, didn’t do anything to maintain a clean site, but what can you do? We didn’t even know they were going to get their roof done until we started hearing strange noises above us. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like any damage or anything was done to our side of the roof, but we continue to have different coloured shingles and that will always look weird to me.

Good Stuff

This house seems to work perfectly for the three of us adults and our two dogs. The backyard is big enough to be enjoyed, but not so big we can’t maintain it, and the house is comfortable for all of us and feels like it can expand to fit half a dozen more when we can have visitors. Having three full bathrooms goes a long way in making it easy to have many house guests.

The train noise isn’t so bad. The trains don’t typically use their horns near here as all of the crossings in Kingston proper now have bridges so the trains can pass through easily. Sometimes, when outside, it does get a bit annoying to hear the trains, but during the summer, when the trees are full, most of the noise is dampened anyways.

My mom has setup a craft and painting area downstairs near her workstation, and that has been used more than a few times to do paint pours, paint models that I’ve 3D printed, or to work on other crafts.

I got my first barbeque this summer. I don’t think I’ve ever owned one before, and there’s a bit of a learning curve because I went with a Weber charcoal kettle rather than a propane grill or sticking to my original plan of getting a pellet smoker, but I am enjoying the process and have already produced some edible food!

And Now?

The current housing market in Kingston continues to be crazy, and if we hadn’t bought when we did, we would have been nearly priced out of the local market. If local comparable sales are any indication, our house has likely appreciated in value by as much as one hundred thousand dollars over the past year and a half since we put in our offer, which just seems stupid to me.

It looks like the same kind of increases in pricing is happening even at the edges of Kingston, where there used to be less expensive options, but today for homes with three bedrooms or more and one and a half bathrooms or more, there are only eight options in the greater Kingston area under $350,000 and only one of them is a fully detached home.

I can’t say that this is our forever home as we’d certainly like to have all of our walls be completely our own, but I am super happy with this place and hope to continue to be happy for years to come, or at least until we can afford something better for us…

My Experiences Thus Far with Crypto

I have thought that cryptocurrencies were interesting for years now, but I have always been too risk adverse to invest any real money into it, until recently.

Back years ago, I bought three bitcoin for around one hundred dollars. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart with it and put it on a wallet on the local computer with no backup. Then, when I gave the computer to a friend, I formatted the drive, never thinking about my three bitcoin. With no access to those three bitcoin, they were lost to the ether.

I often think about those three bitcoin and while it would be worth over $100,000 today and more than $150,000 at their highest value. I also know myself and know that I would have sold it when the three coin were worth two hundred dollars, doubling my investment and making me feel like I was smart…

Sol Prima Mothballed

So after a few months, I’ve decided to close down Sol Prima Miniatures for now.

It just wasn’t converting and while fun, it was eating up a bunch of money each month. I was spending over one thousand per month for six months to try to get the project going, and at the end, I made around fifty dollars for that investment. My friend, Barry, was too busy and the project wasn’t always going in the direction he was most excited about and so we just couldn’t find traction. Add to that, my limited marketing skills, and it was time to pull the plug.

In the end, I think the we made more than twenty models, some with different poses, weapons and more. I am so happy with some of the models that were produced, and feel so thankful to the amazing artists that worked on the project with me.

I am not sure what kind of future the project has. It might end up as part of a long list of hobbies/projects that went no where, and I have to accept that. I am hoping to put the models somewhere reasonable that people can buy them and maybe over a few years it’ll earn back some of what was put into it.

Right now, my focus has switched to work and playing with Cryptocurrencies. Wish me luck!

KAG-Con 2021 – Flash-Fiction Challenge

So from today through the eighteenth, Kingston Area Gamers are holding a virtual comic-con style event with contests, hosted game events, and more called KAG-Con 2021. One such event is a flash-fiction challenge that Sol Prima Miniatures sponsored a small cash prize for.

The writing challenge must follow these rules:

  • Be between 50 and 1200 words in length.
  • No erotica and if it includes triggering material, include a trigger warning.
  • Must respond to the image prompts in some way.
  • Must have a plot and not just be a character sketch.
  • Must be submitted by April 18th at midnight.

So, because I submitted the prize for the challenge, I decided to not officially enter it, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to write a quick story.

The prompt image comes from some dice that were rolled showing what I perceive to be a ghostly figure or some kind of clone. A cabin in the woods or some kind of snow globe, and an unhappy person with their mouth sealed. You might see the images differently and be able to use them in a different way for your story.

Here’s my attempt at writing a story using that prompt image. I hope enjoy it and decide to participate or if nothing else, check out The KAG-Con schedule and see if there’s something you’d enjoy participating in.