Canadian Federal Political Platform Imaginings

As I did with a quasi-Provincial level platform, I wanted to spend some time thinking about what a Federal platform for me would look like.

I started this before our last election and have been working on it on and off for a while now. I am sure there is still a ton of learning I need to do to really understand the scope of the things I’m saying, but I like the general direction I am trying to go in. Feel free to rip into any part of it as I am not married to any of it. I am hoping to push people to talk about this stuff.

Taxes

  • Raise the basic personal amount to $26,000 by 2026. 
  • Cut the tax rate on income under $60,000 from 15% to 13%.
  • Cut the tax rate on income between $60,000 and $105,000 from 20.5% to 20%.
  • Keep the current tax rate of 26% from $105,000 to $155,000.
  • Increase the tax rate on income between $155,000 to $215,000 from 29% to 30%.
  • Increase the current top tax bracket rate from 33% to 35% on income over $215,000 up to $400,000.
  • Create a new top tax bracket on income over $400,000 with a rate of 37%.
  • Create a “super-wealth tax” of 1% on wealth exceeding $10 million.
  • Work to close tax loopholes, credits, and write-downs/offs that the wealthy often exploit.
  • Allow partial income splitting for joint-filing couples, thus creating the opportunity for the higher earner or single-earner to transfer income of an amount up to the available basic personal amount of the spouse, to the lower or non-earner spouse. 
  • Increase the federal corporate tax rate from 15% back to 18% as it was previously in 2010.
  • Spend $5 million dollars to investigate the feasibility of enacting an automation tax on corporations that are replacing human workers with machines or computer software.
  • Impose a financial transaction tax of 0.1% on the financial sector for all investment transactions (stock, bonds, ETFs, etc…)
  • Legitimize the B Corporations Certification in Canada and provide businesses with a 5% non-refundable tax credit on revenue for B Corporations.
  • Companies proven by the CRA to be shifting corporate profits for the express purpose of tax evasion will be fined.
  • Put a 12% tax on luxury vehicles (cars, boats, aircraft) over $120k (value to increase with inflation, rounded to the nearest $1000) with exemptions for electric vehicles. Make sure that this tax applies to people (not corporations importing for resale) importing vehicles as well.
  • Put a 2% tax on junk food (chocolate, chips, candy) and sugar added beverages (pop, sugar added juice, chocolate milk).
  • Increase the excise tax on tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol by 2% per year over the next four years.
  • Place a 20% foreign buyers tax on purchases of residential and commercial properties by foreign corporations or people who are not citizens or permanent residents.
  • Remove the GST from home heating and energy bills.
  • Increase the overall budget of the CRA by 2% per year for the next four years. With a focus on technological efficiency and modernization and a mission to focus on high income earners and large corporations.

Economy & Affordability

  • Create a basic income called the Valued Canadians Dividend. Provide all citizens and permanent residents over 16 years old with $1800 per month. This will replace various income support programs typically making up payments below this threshold. This amount will increase with inflation.
  • Remove the federal minimum wage, but allow and support cities, counties, and provinces in enacting their own minimum wage as best fits their regional area.
  • Eliminate the Old Age Security system and its complicated sliding scale payment system in favour of the VCD.
  • End the Canada Child Tax Benefit as the VCD and other listed changes are better.
  • Eliminate GST/HST credits. As tax credits for regular people only creates additional complexity and doing your taxes should be simple. Also, payouts from VCD will offset more than this amount.
  • Increase the Child Disability Benefit by 5% per year for the next four years.
  • Remove corporate welfare and federal financial transfers and investments in industries like oil and gas, petrochemicals, and chemical companies.
  • Require Canadian telecom services and packages to be within 20% of average G7 rates for similar services.
  • Lower investment and citizenship requirements for new telecom players to increase competition in the Canadian market.
  • Create a $X billion dollar per year venture fund to invest in innovation companies with a focus on green industries and high-tech industries. These investments will be made with the expectation of partial ownership in the invested companies and thus a return on investment with successful companies. 
  • Create a $XXX million dollar per year venture fund to invest in transforming Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba economies towards an economy focused on research and innovation. These investments will be made with the expectation of partial ownership in the invested companies.

Jobs & Skills Training

  • Eliminate all fees from the Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada, and Farm Credit Canada for business advisory services like mentorship and training.
  • Create a Canadian Apprenticeship Bursary providing up to $15,000 per apprentice for every new position created to a maximum of 1,000 positions over four years.
  • Improve credential recognition to make it easier for immigrants with equivalent skills or training to garner employment.

Deficits & Debt

  • Ensure that Canada’s debt servicing to GDP growth ratio stays the same or improves over an eight year fiscal horizon.

Health

  • Put in place a national head to toe healthcare plan. Medically required vision care, preventative or prescribed dental care, prescribed mental health services, and prescribed medications should all be fee free for Canadians.
  • Create and fund a Canada-wide drug purchasing agency to work at reducing the cost of medications.
  • End the ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. 
  • Spend $XX million per year on a program within Health Canada to support community based organizations offering targeted LGBTQ2S+ youth mental health and well-being services.
  • Spend an additional $XXX million per year on a National responsible drinking, substance use, and support information/education/advertising campaign directed at youth and young-adults.

Energy

  • Eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies and tax write-offs. 
  • Ban hydraulic fracturing operations.
  • Create and fund a national Renewable Energy Development Committee to work with provinces to grow Canada’s leadership in renewable energy.
  • Invest $XXX million in additional funding towards nuclear energy programs, redevelopment, repairs and upgrades.
  • Educate and engage the public on options for Gen 4 nuclear fission reactors in Canada.
  • Invest $XX million per year in energy storage research and development as well as trial installations in at-risk areas of Canada.

Climate Change & Environment

  • Increase federal carbon tax to $60 per tonne from $50 and increase it to $120 per tonne by 2026.
  • Have 100% of Canada’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030.
  • Invest and hire teams to plant XX million trees per year and provide support to monitor and manage growth of the new planting to increase tree survivability to maturity.
  • Ban dumping raw sewage into waterways.
  • Ban the sale of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles for non-commercial or industrial needs by 2026.
  • ICE commercial & industrial passenger vehicle sales to be banned by 2030.
  • Provide a 5% tax credit to businesses purchasing all-electric semi-trailer trucks. 
  • Double investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Add a minimum of two electric vehicle charging stations at each and every federal parking lot.
  • Increase gas tax 5% over the next four years.

Indigenous Affairs

  • Establish and fund a National Council for Reconciliation.
  • Establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
  • Invest in Indigenous history education programs for all Canadians.
  • Create and invest $XX million per year on an Indigenous Culture Archive with a focus on preserving and promoting Indigenous languages, cultural history, stories, music and digital records of art.

Immigration & Refugees

  • End the cap on applications to sponsor parents and grandparents. 
  • End the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
  • Allow provinces and territories to set their immigration limits. Each year they’ll report how many people they are willing to receive, and the government of Canada will use that combined number to determine the total Canadian immigration number with the understanding that the Federal government is not going to mandate that new entrants live in a specific province or territory.

National Defence

  • Increase the number of military service personnel by an additional 2,500 per year for the next four years. This is over top of current expected growth. This will create federal job opportunities and expand the ability for the Canadian Forces to be staffed and available for domestic emergencies, as well as better staff replacement scheduling for overseas deployments.
  • Create non-deployment positions for enlisted Canadian Forces members and allow anyone injured or unfit for deployment to carry on in the Canadian Forces if they have the skills or interest in a non-deployment position within the Canadian Forces rather than having them released. These positions are only available for service people to transfer to, thus protecting the universality of service as an entry requirement for new members.
  • Increase the per capita equipment spending on military service persons by an additional five percent per year for the next four years. This should help resolve some lapses in equipment maintenance and purchasing that has contributed to morale issues.
  • Provide an immediate one-time salary adjustment of X percent for all non-commissioned members and adjust payment schedule based on this increase. Despite a recent increase that happened, this is to further make the Canadian Forces pay structure more competitive with the private sector.
  • Sign and ratify the Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
  • Upgrade the Royal Canadian Navy’s submarine capability.
  • Establish an arctic naval fleet to focus on Canada’s arctic sovereign rights.
  • Require a mental health screening review every three years for all active Canadian Forces members.
  • Increase civilian mental health practitioner employment opportunities to support the Canadian Forces members and their families.

Public Safety & National Security

  • Ban all military-style assault and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.
  • Continue and strengthen the handgun ban in Canada as 60-70% of all homicides committed using a firearm over the last half decade were with a handgun.
  • Invest in a national firearms safety training service to provide no-cost firearms safety training.
  • Require the Communications Security Establishment and CSIS to have a warrant before accessing the communications of Canadians.
  • Institute Canada’s Digital Charter so people can control their personal data and their right to be forgotten. This means allowing you to have social media services not just hide your account, but actually remove all of your data from their service. 
  • Require that ISPs can only release data when required by a warrant, except in imminent emergencies where people would be physically harmed by waiting for a warrant.

Infrastructure

  • Reduce interest rates to municipalities on loans for infrastructure projects via changes to the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
  • Change the national building code to require new construction to meet net-zero emission standards by 2026.
  • Reduce the red-tape for airline travel companies in Canada to improve services and prices through potential competition. 
  • Investigate the options and opportunities to invest in the new generation of low Earth orbit satellite Internet options being launched with the goal of making sure Canada has access to these services and secondarily to find opportunities for investment for the benefit of social programs funding.
  • Reduce restrictions on autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles on the national highway system.

Retirement & Seniors

  • Develop and fund a national dementia strategy.
  • Amend Medical Assistance in Dying legislation to allow everyone the option of “dying with dignity”.
  • Invest $XX million dollars over four years into innovation opportunities in Elderly care.
  • Place details on Federal costs relating to elderly care online for research and educational purposes to highlight the trends and issues we face providing services.
  • CPP will no longer be taxed as income.
  • Adjust the Criminal Code with penalties for elder abuse.

Housing

  • Impose a 15% surtax on foreign buyers.
  • Add a 2% annual tax on properties owned by those who are not Canadians and who do not live in Canada.
  • Invest $XX million dollars as seed money to create the National Housing Development Corporation, a home building firm to build affordable and mid-market housing. The goal of the company is to increase the Canadian housing supply while also employing Veterans and other experienced people that may normally have difficulty finding or retaining employment. The expectation is that beyond the fourth year this company will be revenue neutral. If it is unable to meet that goal, then reassess and potentially shut down the company.
  • Invest $X billion dollars towards building new affordable housing in the first 24 months.
  • Invest $XX million dollars per year to increase and improve youth and homeless shelters.

Education

  • Make all one year certificate, two and three year diploma college level education tuition free for students without a diploma or degree.
  • Increase access to Canada Student Grants for full-time students to a maximum of $5,000 with it increasing at a rate of inflation plus one percent per year.
  • Eliminate interest on federal portion of student loans.
  • Establish free online services and resources for learning English and French as second languages.

Child Care & Family

  • Provide adoptive parents with the same access to parental leave benefits as natural birth parents.
  • Invest $XXX million dollars over the next four years in public non-denominational not-for-profit child care.
  • Eliminate GST on all construction costs related to child-care spaces.
  • Invest $XX million dollars over the next four years in Pregnancy & Infant Loss services and support.
  • Extend maternity leave benefits to parents that have experienced a miscarrage. Up to 15 weeks at a 55% benefit rate.

Agriculture & Food

  • Provide a $X billion dollar grant fund over the next four years for farmers wanting to modernize, automate or innovate in the food production industry. With a focus on environmentally friendly technologies and techniques for sustainable farming.
  • Require boat-to-plate traceability standards for all Canadian seafood products.

Foreign Affairs

  • Decrease spending by 5% over four years towards supporting UN peacekeeping missions.
  • Adjust spending on foreign aid with a focus on moving funds from countries with a Human Development Index over 0.6 to countries below that bar. For example, Canada has a Human Development Index of 0.926, India is currently at 0.64 and Madagascar is currently at 0.519.
  • Review NATO commitments with a focus on efficiency, long-term planning and Canada’s needs. Look for budgetary cuts in this area and re-commit to only a 1% GDP maximum.

International Trade

  • Create a $10 million a year export investment grant for small and medium sized businesses (under $200,000 in exports per year) to grow their export opportunities. Reducing the complexity compared to the CanExport program. 
  • Create a central Import/Export corporation website that provides insight domestically and internationally to connect business to each other in a more seamless way.
  • Open discussions with provinces and territories regarding co-investing in opening provincial trade representation offices in strategic global markets. Set aside $X million per year for set-up and staffing of such offices.
  • Spent $X million per year on creating training sessions for helping businesses understand the process to expand their operations Internationally and export Canadian products/services. 

Justice

  • Immediately financially support provinces/territories so that they can hire over 200 new Crown prosecutors and 100 new judges to help reduce delays.
  • Introduce criminal code for possession of a smuggled firearm.
  • Give trial judges greater discretion in criminal sentencing by reducing reliance on minimum sentences.
  • Increase federal funding for legal aid by 20%.
  • Decriminalize all drug possession so we can send those with issues to treatment instead of prison. Of course, any associated act while on a drug will still handled like the crime that it is.
  • Pass legislation to end solitary confinement that lasts over 48 hours.

Youth

  • On a Canadian citizen or permanent resident’s 16th birthday, provide eight free Via Rail open destination travel vouchers to travel anywhere in Canada that the rail service allows. 
  • Develop and implement a national autism strategy for youth.

Democracy & Governance

  • Federal Election Voting Day to be a National holiday.
  • Lower the Federal voting age to 16. This will allow students to register at their high schools, learning party platforms can be part of the discourse at schools, and we can place voting stations in high schools to make it easy to vote. It has been proven that if you start someone voting, it is highly likely they’ll continue to vote.
  • End First Past the Post voting via electoral reform and replace it with Single Transferable Vote. This will create a system of governance that better reflects voting patterns and remove the feeling of wasted votes and reduce the fear of strategic voting.
  • Reduce maximum campaign spending for Federal election campaigns to the median family income in the riding the representatives are running in or $50,000, whichever is lower.
  • Require all printed election marketing material to be recyclable.
  • Provide a yearly chart available online, broken down into a single taxpayer dollar to show how federal tax dollars are being spent in an easy to comprehend way.
  • Freeze Prime Minister and Member of Parliament salaries for the next eight years.
  • Reduce MPs office expense account budgets by 25%.
  • Reduce the number of Federal Public Sector employees through retirement and attrition thanks to shutting down multiple money management programs within the Federal Government and switching to a more streamlined system.

Veterans

  • Clear backlog of Veterans’ benefit applications within twelve months.
  • Provide one caseworker for ever 24 veterans instead of one every 32.5.
  • Expand the veterans education benefit, making it easier to be approved.
  • Provide all veterans a job guarantee up to the age of 65. If after one year post service, a veteran is experiencing difficulty with employment and they are not in an educational program, provide them with a Federal civilian occupation in infrastructure, housing, veteran services, or another best fitting opportunity.
  • Increase access to preventative mental health services for veterans and their families by funding mental health support training to active service people and their families on military bases.

Arts & Culture

  • Provide $5 million dollars every four years in financial support for Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre.
  • Allow income tax averaging for artists and cultural workers. This allows them to lower their taxes slightly by leveling out their income over multiple years to deal with the inconsistency in their income. For example, if they have one year where they earn $20,000 and the next where they earn $100,000, they could submit their taxes as two years of $60,000 each.
  • Immediately increase the per-capita level of funding for the CBC to that of the BBC.
  • Establish a public board of qualified people to oversee the CBC. Working towards it becoming an arm’s reach crown corporation and run more like other media organizations with a focus on reducing its Federal funding requirements. The continued amount of decrease to be determined after a four year period of investigation.
  • Finance free tickets to all children/youth (ages 0-16) to enter museums, galleries, and cultural venues.
  • Exempt stage theatres from collecting/remitting GST.

Genomics

  • No experiments that alter a human’s or animal’s reproductive cells and/or gene drive genetics programs should be allowed to leave the laboratory environment. This law should be reviewed every 4 years and removed if for some reason it benefits Canada to do so.
  • No living entities with the changes above can be imported into Canada.
  • Any person, even at the request of a corporation, caught defying these rules will be subject to up to ten years in jail.
  • Corporations caught defying these rules will lose their license to operate within Canada and be heavily fined.
  • We will put political pressure on companies creating human health related gene therapies to price them reasonably.
  • Create a Genetics Science Council to monitor and report on projects being undertaken in Canada and around the world to better inform both government officials and the public regarding genetic engineering developments.

Artificial Intelligence

  • Create an Artificial Intelligence Council together to monitor and report on projects being undertaken in Canada and around the world to better inform both government officials and the public regarding AI developments.
  • Work with the Alberta Provincial government to grow an A.I technology hub in Edmonton to take advantage of the high quality students graduating the Artificial Intelligence programs from the University of Alberta.

If you made it this far, you deserve a medal!

Health Tracker 2,000,000 – Building a Simple Web Tool for Family

My sister-in-law wanted a simple tool to track water, fruit and vegetables, and protein intake kind of like what she and others are used to with WW (WeightWatchers) and so my wife asked if I had the skills to build something like that.

This is what they wanted me to replicate.

It seemed like a cool and quick little project, so I started thinking about how I could do it quickly and easily. I considered creating an actual Android app, but realized that the learning curve would make it too large of a project for me, and one of the main users is an iOS user, and I am not paying a hundred dollars to publish a pet project.

I then thought about using Godot to make it but that came with the same set of problems as I don’t currently know how to use the Godot UI options well enough. I wanted something I could whip up in a few hours and not a few weeks.

PHP to the Rescue

I have done some web development using PHP over the last seventeen years. I am by no means a good coder, but I can pretty much hack together any simplistic thing without too much fuss.

At first, I was thinking I’d install WordPress and customize a Gravity Forms form to do what they need, but decided against that when I realized you would actually have to click a “save and continue” button and that it wouldn’t just remember your selections on the form.

So, I guess my best choice was to build it from scratch…

I don’t think I’d ever want anyone to look at my code as I know there are better, faster, and cleaner ways to build what I put together, but over the course of an evening on one day and a morning on another, I put together Health Tracker 2,000,000!

This is what I built.

v1 Features and Functionality

So I decided on a very simplistic way of managing things without user accounts: cookies. I create a cookie when a user selects a checkbox and then when anyone comes to the site, I check for the cookie and if they have it, I use the cookie value to retrieve what values were last checked off.

The cookie is just a hashed reference ID. I take that cookie and use it to check the database to see what is checked off. The cookie is set to expire on the same day as it is created but at midnight Eastern time.

The database just stores a unique, auto-increment ID number, the hashed reference ID, the date the record was created and which fields have been checked off.

Overall, it is pretty simplistic and seems to work on computers, Android phones, iPhones and more.

v2 Thoughts

Ideally, the tool would include some basic login system so that you could start the checklist on your phone and finish it on your tablet or computer. With the references already being stored in the database, creating a basic user management system wouldn’t be too difficult as I would just have to associate the unique IDs from one table with a unique user ID in another table.

It would also be nice to have some kind of archive to see how you did on previous days. If I add in the user management feature, this shouldn’t be too difficult either.

My wife would like it to have charting to present the data nicely and everyone seems to want it to have some kind of gamification features/functions. I don’t know what kind of charts I’d create, but I could maybe use something like canvasJS to build out the charts.

As for gamification features, I’ll probably release a small update to v1 that includes a congratulations for completing all the checkboxes in a day.

Conclusion

Adding complexity to something like this takes time, more than I think most people realize for someone with my development skills, but here and there, this might be a cool challenge to pick up and move forward a bit more.

I also have to keep in mind that it will likely only ever have around four users. This isn’t something I’m trying to make a service out of. There are plenty of tools in the marketplace that do similar things. I also have many other projects that need more attention going forward, so as much as these diversions can be fun, teach me new things, and help out family, I have to balance it with the work that pays the bills.

Including all HTML, CSS, JavaScript (except jQuery) and PHP, the tool comes to around 300 lines of code. It took me around six hours to build from start to finish including researching how to do certain things, dealing with roadblocks and sorting out the icons that I used.

It was a fun project, and I am hopeful that it serves the needs of those using it as a great way to remind them to eat better, drink more water, exercise every day and try not to go too crazy on junk food.

1 Million Calories Final Summary

Well, as I write this, 2019 is ending and so is the year I spent tracking my calorie intake for my 1 Million Calorie Challenge.

I fizzled out on a bunch of parts of the project that I thought I was going to enjoy, like recording videos, taking photos of food and really sticking hard to making better food choices within the calorie limit that I set myself, but life and my ability to persist on long projects got in the way a little. I am thankful though that I continued to track all year long, so I consider it a small victory.

How Did I Do?

In the end, I ended up with 142,461 calories remaining out of the 1,000,000 calories that I started with. This means that I ate 857,539 calories over the course of the year, or approximately an average of 2349 calories per day.

If I was wrong by around ten percent on my tracking, we get a likely more realistic number of 943,292 calories used for 2019, still short of my 1,000,000 calorie limit, but not nearly as impressive.

If I was wrong by around 500 calories per day, a number that a 2018 article from USA Today reports that calorie counters are off by, then my total for the year goes to 1,040,039. A full 40,000 calories over my goal!

I tried very hard to make sure that I was tracking high each day so that my numbers would be more representative of the year that I had, so hopefully, I am not off by ten percent or more.

I started the year weighing 295 pounds and ended the year at 276 pounds. A total loss of 19 pounds or what amounts to a loss of 1.5 pounds per month. I should note that at my lowest I did get to 266 pounds, a further ten pounds lighter. But with many days over my calorie goal in the second half of the year and a larger number of calories coming from carbohydrates, specifically processed sugars, I’m not too surprised.

Some Data

I skipped breakfast 121 times, lunch 75 times, and supper 26 times. I had only 81 days without a snack. My median calorie spend for breakfast was 380, for lunch it was 640 and for supper it was 924. My median snack was 400 calories.

The most calories I used in a single day was 4118. The lowest was 0, when I tried a short fast a week before Christmas to see what it was like. I had ten days where I had less than or equal to 1,000 calories. I had sixty-eight days where I went over my daily limit of 2739 calories.

The first month where I had a day where I went over my daily limit was February around my mom’s birthday. The only months where I had zero days over my daily calorie limit were January, March, and April.

The month with the most calories spent was October with a total of 81,599 calories and the lowest was April with 63,660 calories used.

For most of the year, my weight hovered around 275 pounds.

What Did I Learn?

A big takeaway from 2020 was that it is easy for me to overeat and I often oscillate between over and under eating. Instead of having a relatively consistent amount of food each day, I find myself naturally going between around 1800 and 3000 calories per day. In retrospect, that doesn’t seem like a good idea and I need to do more research on this to better understand why I naturally do this and what it means for my overall weight and health.

My wife and I traveled for a month out of the year and I still tracked my calories, though being outside of my routine definitely made it harder to manage what I ate and there were days where I went over calories but I know it was due in part to my body trying to compensate for the amount of exercise I was getting walking around in the summer heat.

I also learned that food tracking seems frustrating to most people because they think they have to be perfect. I tried to track everything, often overestimating size or selecting something with higher calories in MyFitnessPal so that I could feel like I was on the right side of tracking. Tracking doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be a strong guide.

I was also reminded of my inability to stick with things when doing this project. Yes, I completed tracking, but all of the secondary things that I wanted to do with this project all fell to the wayside. I also really didn’t think I would have so many days where I went over my calorie limit and looking back at all the red highlighted numbers in my spreadsheet make me feel like a failure, despite the other results.

Lastly, I learned that people wanted to see me succeed. Throughout the entire year, even after I had stopped posting on social media about the challenge, people continued to ask how it was going. Some people were apologetic, assuming that I had given up, others were openly curious, and still others just looked to make small talk, but it felt nice to be asked how things were going regarding this, and no matter my response, everyone was so supportive and encouraging. I think we all need to celebrate health victories, even the small or temporary ones, so that those that are struggling can hopefully be more open to sharing, more open to collaborating, more open to challenging themselves publicly.

Heading into 2020

So, I am sure you are wondering what I’m going to do in 2020. Will I continue to track calories? Will I do a more restrictive challenge?

There were times that I thought that my next step would just be making the challenge more difficult for myself and roll into 2020 with 200,000 fewer calories and do a challenge focused on staying under 800,000 calories for the year or maybe something like 750,000 to make it the three-quarters of a million calories challenge, but I decided not to do that.

I had a difficult time constantly tracking my calories, not because it was difficult, but because I was sick of making it a priority. I lost passion for this project about half way through the year, and decided around the same time that in 2020, I’ll be doing much shorter challenges in hopes of keeping my interest higher to improve my health.

I think that in 2020 each challenge will be between one and three months long. Each challenge will be focused on health. This means that I can go beyond just focusing on calories and work on my mental health, improving my general fitness through exercise, and/or continue to work on eating challenges.

My January 2020 Challenge

I am thinking that January will be intermittent fasting. I am considering a schedule of having 18 hours of fast time per day and 6 hours of available eating time. I’ll continue to track things like my mood, my weight, and other notes in hopes of learning new things about myself and seeing what I can take going forward.

Annie has said that she may try to join me on doing intermittent fasting, though her school schedule might make it more difficult to be strict on timings as we don’t want her to be in class and thus miss her opportunity to eat.

Other Challenge Ideas

Some other ideas I have in mind include:

  • No processed sugar for a month
  • Whole food, plant based diet with nuts and legumes for a month
  • 1 hour of meditation and mindfulness per day for a month
  • 5 Data points of emotion/mood tracking per day for a month
  • 1,000 push-ups in a month
  • 5 KM of tracked movement per day for a month

If you have other suggestions on things I could try, I’d certainly be interested in researching it and maybe adding it to my rotation. I know some of these might seem super easy to some of you, but I want 2020 to be more approachable, more flexible in what it lets me do, so that I can give more creativity, more energy to other pursuits but not completely lose track of needing to continue to learn more about my body and how to sustain a healthy self.

I hope you’ll all join me and find some small way to make 2020 a better year for your own health and happiness. Thank you again to everyone that took the time to encourage and support me in 2019!

Affordable Houses in Canada

My wife and I are struggling to own a home and have been for some time and I recently saw an article that compares places to live at a $600,000 price point across Canada that made me feel inadequate and frustrated.

My first response was, “what does something more reasonable look like?”

What is reasonable?

I took a look at the median household income across Canada and then found the average of those reported numbers. It came to $88,368.57 per year. This number seems rather high to me, but not impossibly so.

I jumped over to the Realtor.ca Affordability Calculator and punched in that income with zero expenses and got the following numbers.

So if you have $106,325 saved up, you can get a $531,624 house. That’s still almost $70,000 short of the $600,000 homes that the article I read looked at.

On the right side, you’ll see a $400,00 house as an option if you have $20,000 for the down payment. I put these values in to see what the calculator would give for only five percent down.

My wife and I have been looking at houses in the $275,000 to $360,000 range.

What is the current average price of a home in Canada? According to a CBC article from April 15, 2019, it is around $481,745. Again well short of the $600,000 comparison despite the article saying that places like Toronto and Vancouver skew that number higher due to their more competitive markets.

Some fun rules:

  • In this post, I’m not going to include condos (apartment condos, row house condos, etc…)
  • The house has to already be built, as houses to be built typically end up costing more than their listed price as a builder’s minimum specifications at the “low end” of the market tend to be fairly crummy.
  • I am also going to filter out mobile homes and modular homes as their resell value can end up being rather weak and they are typically on land leases that end up being like condo fees.

Houses Across Canada for $400,000

Of course this doesn’t take into account houses that are listed for a few thousand over $400,000 that could be sold for under that line.

British Columbia

You aren’t going to get something in one of the major cities for this price if you want to meet the criteria I’ve put in place, but outside of that, there are still opportunities to be found.

Chilliwack

$389,900 – 2 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 1196 sq ft and in a 45+ gated community.

Penticton

$389,000 – 2 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 860 sq ft and allows for a 1000 sq ft carriage home.

Alberta

I am impressed with what’s available in the big cities in Alberta. They went through a hard financial reset and are still in recovery, so their houses seem to be a strong value.

Calgary

$384,900 – 3 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home in Evanston, Alberta. It is 1442 sq ft and only nine years old.

Chestermere

$399,900 – 3 + 1 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 1688 sq ft.

Edmonton

$400,000 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is 1394 sq ft and has a gourmet kitchen.

Northwest Territories

There wasn’t anything listed in the Yukon or Nunavut for the filters I’ve put in place, but there was something in the Northwest Territories… Just one though.

Yellowknife

$399,950 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1967 and has two separate living spaces and a commercial shop.

Saskatchewan

At first, with my search selections, I couldn’t find anything in Saskatchewan. I realized that the filters I was putting in place for the type of houses I was looking for was causing the tool to filter out everything.

Saskatoon

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. It was built in 2019 and has 1472 sq ft of floor space. The basement is legal suite ready and open for future development.

There were a ton of newly built homes in Saskatoon for around $400,000 and many of them list that they can be used to rent out to people, either with a basement suite or houses setup as more than one unit. It seems to be a major focus of the market.

Regina

$399,900 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1972, it has 1805 sq ft of floor space. The basement, of course, has a second kitchen and is ready to be used as a rental suite.

Manitoba

Winnipeg seems to be a mixed bag. You can get a little bit of everything at this price point.

Winnipeg

$399,999 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1958, it has many renovations, especially in 2019 as they got ready to sell. It has 1514 sq ft of floor space.

Winnipeg

$392,500 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 2017, it only has 990 sq ft of floor space. It is set-up as two units with the lower unit having 708 sq ft.

Ontario

My wife and I live in Ontario and so this section is the most interesting to me. I know that in some locations, a really nice house can be had for $400,000 but in the more populated areas where the jobs are, it can become quite difficult to find something fitting the criteria I’ve set.

Thunder Bay

$399,900 – 3 + 1 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1990, this house has 2312 sq ft of floor space.

Sudbury

$390,000 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Corner lot, granite counters, and a cozy breakfast nook are the main selling points of this house.

Windsor

$400,000 – 3+1 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Basement apparently has a marble and hardwood floor.

London

$399,999 – 3+1 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built twenty years ago as a model home.

Cambridge

$399,000 – 2+1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. Separate side entrance to the basement.

I tried to find a place in Kitchener/Waterloo but was unable to under the criteria I’ve put in place near the value I’ve selected. There were some houses under $400,000 but they were handyman specials that almost needed to be knocked down.

Guelph

$395,000 – 2 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. They talk more about location than the house and note that it is being sold in ‘as-is’ condition.

As you can see thanks to Guelph, as we get closer to the GTA, the house you get drops quickly. Land is more expensive as you get there, but is labour also more expensive? What about building supplies? The pricing change due to supply and demand, this far out seems huge!

Ajax

$369,000 – 0 Bedroom, 0 Bathroom, Single Family home. Property being sold ‘as-is’ due to a previous fire in the house.

This was one of the closest to GTA single, detached family houses you could buy under $400,000. Amazing, right?

Oshawa

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Another property being sold ‘as-is’, but it has some recent upgrades like it’s shingles in 2017.

A little further out in Oshawa, you start to get more choices again, but they all seem to have some serious problems or weird compromises.

Kingston

$389,900 – 3 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. It is on the west end of town and has a fairly long lot at 181 feet.

As I said, we live in Kingston, and the prices here have gotten fairly high, competing with large areas like the edge of the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Ottawa Area. There are many homes in Kingston under $400,000 but they are old, small, in disrepair and/or right on the busy railroad tracks.

Ottawa

$389,900 – 2 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. The listing says the house needs a lot of TLC, but it is on a 150 x 100 foot lot.

Quebec

Longueuil

$399,999 – 4 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1987, it looks well taken care of and updated, but no listing information is really shown on Realtor.ca

Quebec City

$399,000 – 3 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 1951 with a sunken garage and laundry in the kitchen.

I feel like the province of Quebec has some really great house pricing, especially for the size of the cities and towns they are in.

New Brunswick

Fredericton

$399,500 – 4 Bedroom, 3 Bathroom, Single Family home. They call it an executive home with an attached double garage.

Nova Scotia

Halifax

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 2010 and interestingly it lists a public price history showing it sold in 2011 for $319,900.

Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown

$399,000 – 3 Bedroom, 4 Bathroom, Single Family home. Built in 2007 in what the listing calls the most desired neighborhood.

Newfoundland & Labrador

St. John’s

$399,900 – 3 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom, Single Family home. It comes with a detached garage, the house has nine foot ceilings and was built in 1970.

Conclusion

So, there you go.. That’s a cross-section of houses in Canada for under $400,000. If your family earns more than $90,000 per year and you have around $25,000 saved up, you can buy something out in the market, but depending on where you look, you’ll end up with something of a small size and/or low quality. If you are okay with that and feel a strong need to own your own place, then hopefully this helps give some ideas and thoughts.

If more people were able to take advantage of remote work, then maybe more people could spread out over our wonderful country instead of concentrating into a few large metropolitan areas.

While I do work from home, I need to wait until I’m done my taxes for 2019 before I could qualify for a mortgage. We also need to save up more as our expenses are rather high, but we are making progress.

Why do we want a home of our own? It is a nice forced savings program and there’s a nice sense of control in home ownership. I hope you enjoyed this post. I think I’ll be writing more about housing in the future.

Christmas Letter 2019

What a year it has been!

At the end of December 2018, I decided that I would challenge myself this year to track my calories and make sure I ate less than one million calories. It was a fun challenge, at first, and then the grind set in. I managed to keep tracking, but the real spirit of the challenge was lost along the way. In 2019, I plan on doing shorter challenges, but always focused on improving my physical and mental health.

We are still living in Kingston, in the same apartment that we first moved into when we came back here in early 2017. In less than two months, we will have been here for three years. This is one of the longest times in recent memory where I’ve stayed in one spot, and not only is it a record for not moving, but also for my career. I’ve been with PressTitan almost two and a half years, and it is officially my longest single continuous job.

Speaking of PressTitan, it is doing rather well. I still love what I do, and working with my co-founder, David, continues to be great. I feel like we continue to fill any gaps that the other has and we work well to keep us both from going too far off track with our creative ideas. We are growing, albeit slower than we would have liked, and we are constantly learning and improving our processes. We are definitely more ready today for a jump in clientele than we have ever been before.

We have some ideas of how to make 2020 our best year yet, but as we all know, ideas are easy, execution is hard. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t think to myself, “I hope I get to do this forever…”

One of the coolest things from this year is that I finally got to meet David in person. Annie and I went to the Philippines for three weeks. It was amazing. The more I travel, the more I feel connected to the world and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. There is nothing better than expecting a huge amount of culture shock, only to realize that even on the other side of the planet, people are mostly the same.

I will say that the outlook of the average Filipino on our North American style of life made us laugh more than once. More than once we were told that they think that the treadmill we put ourselves on with acquiring stuff and having larger and larger bills we are required to pay is dumb.

Luna, our dog, continues to be a huge joy bringer in our lives. As it gets cold outside, her washroom breaks have us a little exhausted from the winter weather already, but her demeanor, intelligence, and more has really improved our lives. It was hard leaving her with family during our big trips this year, but we super appreciated the opportunities that our family’s care of her afforded us.

I said trips with an “S”, didn’t I? We also went to Florida this past summer. One of Annie’s nieces and one of her nephews, both adults, both able to drive, came with us. We drove down and back as quick as we could, taking shifts and going through any kind of weather so that we could enjoy as much time in Florida as possible. We went to Universal Studios, and did a few other activities to fill the time. Mostly, we enjoyed the beautiful weather, scenery and just getting away.

Two of the major highlights for me were seeing people. I got to meet a younger friend of mine that I play video games with. His family welcomed Annie and I in like we were their own, and his dad took us out to an air boat ride. It was a great visit. The second person that I got to see was a boss of mine from a previous company I worked at. She was a strong mentor to me, despite how short of a time we got to work together. She helped me refine my sense of order and build some true project management skills. She wasn’t afraid to highlight my shortcomings or compliment me on the things I did right. It has always been very powerful to me that I got to experience that, and so it was amazing to be able to spend time with her. We went to a fondue restaurant that was amazing, but probably a once in a lifetime thing as it was fairly expensive.

The medicine the doctor prescribed for my depression has continued to work well. It has helped me maintain a good control over my emotions and that has given me the energy to manage my anxiety a bit more.

My personal blog finally got over the 1,000 post mark. I didn’t do as much writing for myself as I had hoped, neither on my blog or my creative writing projects. Most of my time and focus has been on work more than anything else. I did make some progress on The Forgotten Vanir first draft, but it isn’t done yet and doesn’t look like it’ll get completed until sometime in late 2020.

Annie finished a successful year at St. Lawrence College working on her Bachelor’s of Psychology and entered her second year of the program. She is excited to continue forward and has continued to develop and cultivate friendships at the school.

We’ve also been spending more time with my family. Going to my aunt and uncle’s place for dinner around three times a month seems to be the new norm. I love visiting with them and they make such great food. I hope we get to continue spending time with them often in 2020.

In 2018, I also found the confidence, in part thanks to Annie, to start working on changing my name. I have assumed the name Malcolm for more than a year and a half at this point and feel good about it. I have the paperwork pretty much complete to make it a legal name change, but things like travelling and other things have come up that have delayed the change. It will happen in 2020! I hate needing to remember which name I’m using for what… That’s getting old real fast.

Annie and I are looking forward to what 2020 brings and we are hopeful it’ll be our best year yet, from her education to our heath, our finances and our families. Thanks to everyone that has supported me over the past year and continues to do so. Thank you to everyone that has reached out over this past year, your love and support made 2019 the best for me in recent memory.

NIT vs Basic Income: My “Basic” Thoughts

I want to preface this by saying that I am no expert in anything related to politics, the economy, finances, social structures, etc. I am just a regular person trying to provide my personal view on these topics and that as my understanding increases my opinions may change.

So I recently had a comment on one of my previous blog posts (UBI: A Transitional Economic Tool) where invertedlogicblog proposed that Negative Income Tax or NIT would be a better, more fiscally responsible way to provide people with an income floor. I haven’t done as much thinking or research on the idea of a negative income tax as I have basic income, so I read through their article and then started reading others. Some things bugged me about NIT right away…

NIT is Cheaper?

The numbers I’m seeing for comparing a Negative Income Tax to a Basic Income only show the total cost outlay of the money that each “qualified” person would get. In a NIT solution, only those reporting incomes under a certain threshold would receive what basically amounts to a cash refund from the government to be used as stimulus and everyone in UBI would get the same amount of money no matter how much or little they made. These differences create a false narrative.

Let’s say that we have a NIT that provides $10,000 to any person making less than $40,000 per year and take away $0.50 per additional dollar earned. So at $60,000, the person doesn’t get any further “tax refund”.

So it seems like that makes NIT a great way to go because those making $60,000+ don’t get anything from the program.

Over on the basic income side, if we provide $10,000 per year to everyone, then people making $60,000 get $10,000. People making $250,000 get $10,000. So the UBI program is more expensive, right?

No.

With a progressive tax system, the government claws back that money in the same way as the adjustment system tracking NIT payments is done. We adjust tax rates to compensate for the payouts in the system.

So for argument’s sake, we adjust the tax rates so that those at $50,000 of income ($40,000 + $10,000 UBI) don’t pay any additional tax. Then, the bracket above that is adjusted to recoup a certain percentage of the UBI payout until at $70,000 of income ($60,000 employment and $10,000 UBI) the person pays back the full UBI amount they receive. Thus, anyone above that point wouldn’t receive any net income transfer from the government.

Now UBI and NIT start to have similar costs.

Note: I am not saying that any of these numbers are the right way of building out this system. I’m using simple numbers for easy comparisons.

Update: My wife wanted more commentary on this part… So I’ve added the next few paragraphs.

Another big thing that people talk about is giving money to the wealthy and how that is dumb. I get it. It does seem dumb to give to people that don’t need it, but if UBI deposits are managed/executed by computers since it is universal on reaching adulthood, then it doesn’t matter how many payments are sent out, that doesn’t create additional administration burden and since the money comes back through taxes, it doesn’t create a true financial burden on the system.

Also, people talk about the rich avoiding taxes or creating systems where it looks like they have no income so that they can pay less taxes, no taxes or even qualify for more money, but both of these systems, as well as our current one, are vulnerable to this kind of abuse. We can continue to add layers of oversight to try to mitigate this kind of tax avoidance, but at the end of the day, NIT and UBI are more about creating an income floor and not focused as much on trying to solve income inequality. Other systems and tools need to solve that issue.

One Time vs Monthly

A Negative Income Tax typically is setup as a one-time payment to those that qualify and only after their need has been established. I think this is the greatest Achilles heel of NIT.

NIT Story

Say that John lost his really great paying job in October. Tax season is in April. John’s industry has been gutted for one reason or another and finding a job in the same or adjacent fields is next to impossible. He applies to minimum wage jobs, but so many of his colleagues and the colleagues of his competitors have flooded the market.

John gets some money from the social assistance programs that exist, but some turn him away because his last tax filing tells them that he should have had more than enough to save for this rainy day. John sells everything he owns that has value to make ends meet. He wants to work. He needs to work, but there’s nothing currently.

Tax season comes and John files his taxes. The government takes a look at his high earnings from the previous year and he doesn’t qualify for a refund. That Negative Income Tax that everyone is always talking about isn’t going to help John this year.

Thankfully, after maxing out all of his credit cards, and receiving very little support from the government, he finds a job in June. John was unemployed for almost nine rough months, but he made it to the other side. No thanks to NIT.

UBI Story

In another country, UBI has been set-up. A very similar situation occurs, where Mary loses her job in October. But this time, Mary gets a payment transfer at the start of November. Their UBI transfer. She uses it to feed herself, to continue paying rent and to continue looking for a new job.

Tax season comes around and she puts in her numbers. The government got paid taxes by Mary’s previous company at a rate that fit the expectations of her salary, so with the drop in earnings she’s had over the last three months of the year, she doesn’t owe anything additional, in fact, she is due a small refund from their yearly taxes.

Mary didn’t max out her credit cards, she didn’t have to sell everything of value to cover the gap in employment. While she did increase her debt over the year by paying for the gap between her expected lifestyle and the lifestyle that UBI could help her afford, she is able to look around at her small apartment and feel safe, comfortable and happy.

Overview

In my opinion, a one-time financial transfer has all kinds of limitations and doesn’t deal with edge cases very well. It also seems very reactionary, creating situations where people have to prove they are worthy of an income floor. This disconnect creates the potential for a negative perception towards those that are getting the Negative Income Tax.

How Do I File Taxes?

The other concern I have with the Negative Income Tax solution is that it requires people to file their taxes. While most of us think this an easy thing, thanks to the various accounting services or computer programs that we use, for those without similar resources, navigating the paperwork and terminology can be quite difficult and when mistakes can cost you the ability to get the money you need or to get more than you deserve potentially creating a situation where you can be penalized, it could end up being more messy.

Sure, under a UBI, there will be people that don’t submit their taxes and they’ll make money under the table and thus get more than they deserve, but the same issue can occur with NIT. Both of these systems don’t have a great way to address fraud or waste. That has to be expected. We can put in place various solutions and systems to reduce this to a manageable level but it can be difficult to balance protecting money and making it easily accessible for those that need it.

People Will Stop Working

Good. That should be the goal of our society.

We weren’t built to work eight hours per day, five days a week. Work should be a source of fulfillment and a source for “more”. If you want to drive a nicer car, own a nicer cell phone, have more land, a larger house, then you work, make money and have those things. But any article or person that believes we should be okay with anyone starving, being homeless, being constantly sick, or lacking the opportunity to have a reasonable quality of life is messed up in my opinion.

And if you think it is unfair that they don’t have to work, then once one of these systems in place…stop working too. Join them. I don’t care. It opens up a position for someone that wants to work. If there are a bunch of people leaving the job market and it hasn’t been completely automated or outsourced away, then competition in an industry to get qualified candidates may mean an increase in salary and/or benefits.

People always joke about no one wanting to be the garbage man or clean toilets, but if those jobs end up being high paying, very rewarding jobs with fairly short shifts, then I think people might take them on, at least until they can be automated…

Conclusion

I still need to do a ton more research on these topics. My understanding of them is still very limited, but I hope that this article gave you some new ideas, a new perspective to explore. I don’t have the solution for our society, but I do know that it is going to require some radical changes if we want to maintain a somewhat comparable quality of day-to-day adult life that the last two or three generations in North America have experienced.

Thirty-Seven

It’s my birthday today. How do I reflect on the past year? With this calendar decade coming to an end and a reminder with this birthday that I’m quickly approaching forty, how do I measure my life so far and the goals I had and have?

When I was a teen, I never expected to be here at thirty-seven. When I was a young man in my early twenties, I thought that I’d be in a much more financially comfortable position by now. As I approached thirty, my life swerved again and my expectations of being unencumbered and able to see the world stopped being a priority. Everything I had expected has either taken longer or pushed me down a different road than I had intended.

When I look back on my life and think about where I expected to be at this point, I’m super hard on myself for the things I haven’t achieved, the goals I haven’t met, but what really surprises me is how happy I am in my life as it exists today. I think that’s the thing that my younger self would not be able to comprehend. I don’t own a house. I am not raising children. I haven’t traveled to a bunch of exotic places (though I did go to the Philippines, somewhere I never expected). But, despite all of that, I feel very lucky, very fortunate.

I have an amazing wife. I probably have the best relationships with a larger number of family members than I ever have previously. I have an extended family that has helped me not only to be better, but let me lean on them when I wasn’t doing well. I have a career where I get to do something I enjoy and get paid well for doing it. I have an adorable dog that always wants my love and attention and returns it a thousand fold. I have wonderful friends that are understanding, patient, and supportive. Sure, I still struggle with my mental health, but for the first time since starting dealing with this disease, I feel like I have a much better handle on it than I ever have.

This is not the life I pictured for myself, but this is a good life.

While I am very uncomfortable celebrating my birthday, I am also extremely grateful for the wonderful messages that I have received not only today, but over the last year and beyond. The amount of support I receive from so many wonderful people has helped me more than my words could ever say. I am here because of all of you. I am successful because of all of you. I am happy because of all of you.

Thank you for the birthday wishes, thank you for your love and support! I hope in the year ahead we will all continue working together to keep improving our lives and increasing our collective happiness, come what may.