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Our Democracy Is Under Serious Attack

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For those of us political science and social change ‘wonks’, many of us have thought that neighborhood door-to-door organizing would change the outcome of elections. Many of us thought that in lots of instances people did not understand what is at stake in the elections, or what the candidates really stand for. There is a popular school of democratic participation which postulates that by going door-to-door and having real long-term conversations with people, voters might come to a better understanding of how important it is to vote, and which parties actually represented their interests. We have known for some time that lots of elections have been lost or won by very slim margins; for example, Stephen Harper was said to be in power by a mere 5,000 strategic votes in key ridings. And the NDP is in its power-sharing arrangement by a mere 189 votes due to a win in Courtney Comox.

This brings me to the Cambridge Analytica story. Recently, thousands of more pages have been released detailing what Cambridge was really up to. If you have not seen Frontline’s two-part documentary regarding Facebook, or the Great Hack on NetFlix, then you do not have full insight as to why democracy is under a frightening attack worldwide like never before. In fact, our notion of democracy and fair tamper-free voting will never be the same. Don’t miss it; a story worth following for sure. Watch the Great Hack on Netflix; the Frontline stories are only available by subscribing to another service or via purchase: Click Here, if you are willing to spend $4.50 at Starbucks, spend the money to watch the Frontline stories – guaranteed better value.

Michael GoodmanOur Democracy Is Under Serious Attack
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Our Immigrants and What They Do For This Great Country of Ours

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For those of you who did not catch this family’s story, don’t miss it. It brought tears to my eyes.

Tareq Hadhad is a Syrian refugee and entrepreneur whose philanthropic spirit led to the creation of Peace by Chocolate. Arriving in Canada with no money in 2016, this amazing family has created an incredible company. They are clearly not a drain our economy but gigantic contributors in many ways. Peace by Chocolate is experiencing great success and currently expanding to all corners of Canada. Hadhad said it’s part of an initiative to “give back” to the communities that assisted his family’s arrival in Canada. Click to view the story

Michael GoodmanOur Immigrants and What They Do For This Great Country of Ours
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Senior Care Facilities Owned by Chinese Firm Placed Under BC Government Trusteeship After Serious Violations of Quality of Care

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You may recall from the last blog post (Chinese Humungous Insurance Company Associated with Chinese Communist Party Officials Takes Control Of Senior’s Care Facilities in British Columbia); I wrote about the situation in British Columbia where a large number of Canadian seniors’ care homes were bought by Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese insurance company. Subsequently, it was taken over by the Chinese government due to corruption (see the previous story here). They also purchased others across the country. Your tax dollars currently subsidize their business to the tune of $97 million per year. To be clear, from my point of view, this is not about a specific nationality or race; this situation just happens to involve a Chinese firm that has fallen under the direct control of the Chinese government. In my opinion, the situation would have unravelled in the same way whether the firm involved were Chinese, Swiss, or Peruvian; rather, this story is about the ways private businesses operate in a very sensitive area of our economy. Or, to bring the point home, how private business will care for you or your parents in the not too distant future. Clearly, the drive of business is to maximize profit. Common ways to do this are: cut service, raise fees by charging for ‘add-ons’, and paying workers less.

Much of the problems in senior care stem from these concepts and questions: Is it better to have public or private control of seniors care? Is it better to have unionized workers getting a reasonable living wage, or is it better to drive wages to the bottom so private business can make as much money as possible? Is it better to have a public system like Medicare running these facilities or is it better to have the government funding these private businesses which then supposedly do a good job? It is these fundamental issues that have resulted in today’s crisis level of care with respect to seniors.

The current owners of many of the retirement care homes – and these in particular – claim their issue is staff shortage, but the facts are really much different. Between 1970 and 1990, a consensus decision was arrived at by government and those involved in care from a ‘public good’ point of view, that there had to be uniform standards for pay and benefits in order to get quality workers. This in turn would encourage those providing the care to stay in one work location. What was arrived at came down to a collective pay and benefits agreement which the former NDP government set up in the 1990s. Along came the Liberals in 2002, who decided the care homes should not have to be unionized; they passed legislation which allowed the patchwork of nursing homes to de-unionize. In a drive for greater profits, many care homes engaged in what is called ‘contract flipping’ – repeatedly subcontracting out to operators who need not abide by the collective agreements, i.e., no successorship. This was a method of getting rid of the union. Fast forward to today: currently, there is a giant mishmash of wages and benefits between hundreds of different care facilities. Some homes are unionized and some aren’t. Workers at some homes start at $7 an hour less than those at others. Naturally, people want to work where they receive benefits and better wages. Union level wages start at $24.83 an hour at government-run facilities, yet at unionized non-government facilities, they start at $17.80/hour. Benefits are also significantly less. At facilities that are not unionized at all, many work at minimum wage: $13.85 per hour. If you have ever taken care of someone, you know this can be difficult back-breaking work. Imagine trying to raise a family on two unionized salaries, no less the non-unionized. When the operators of these homes state there is a labour shortage, what they are really saying is they do not pay enough, nor do they provide adequate benefits and working conditions to attract good quality staff. Whenever staff get a chance to jump to a better paying job at a unionized facility, they do. By the way, to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), students must attend college/technical school here in BC for 2 years; some of the care aide staff have this credential.

When the federal Liberal Trudeau government allowed the homes to be sold in 2017 to an off-shore buyer, there were no specific controls put in place which would guarantee quality of service; indeed, the way they are set up, with private and public beds in the same facility, it is nearly impossible to monitor the quality of care for the $97 million we pay this one company.

What is the solution?  We only need to look as far as Medicare here in Canada, and compare it to medical care received by our next-door neighbours. Ask yourself, what do you want for your family and yourself when it comes to quality of care? Then ask yourself what you want for the rest of the citizens of our great land who are not wealthy. After all, only a small portion of our population is lucky enough to get a really good pension and only about 24 % of the population between ages 35 and 44 has managed to contribute to an RRSP in 2017. If you think they are likely going to be okay, then think about this: the median amount of contribution was $3,030. If this group of investors are lucky, they are averaging per annum 4-5% returns on their money over the long term; many have done far worse.  Do the math. Most of our population is going to be living in poverty during their old age.

There are no easy answers, but clearly this situation is ridiculous and not good for the citizens of British Columbia. If you think your money is going to buy you and your loved ones better care, stay tuned for next month’s follow-up article. Read more about the trusteeship that the BC Government has had to impose to make sure there is quality of care in some of the homes. This was done as a last resort, after they received substantial complaints from those needing care. Read the full story: The Goble And Mail

 

Michael GoodmanSenior Care Facilities Owned by Chinese Firm Placed Under BC Government Trusteeship After Serious Violations of Quality of Care
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The BC Real Estate Association Housing Market Update January 2020

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According to the report, BC home sales jumped 48.9% year-over-year (YoY) for the month of December 2019. Furthermore, the Greater Vancouver area saw sales rise by 87% YoY. The province-wide sales-to-active-listings ratio stood at 21% for December 2019. In fact, the sales-to-active listing ratio is said to be stable when the ratio is between 12% – 20% over a period of several months; the current 6-month ratio is 20%, thereby putting the province in the balanced market range.

Moreover, total Inventory homes for sales have declined by more than 10% YoY for two straight months.

For the full update, please check the video.

Michael GoodmanThe BC Real Estate Association Housing Market Update January 2020
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Canadian Home Sales Surge for the Ninth Month

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The Canadian home market witnessed a growth in the number of homes sold by 11.3% in November 2019 compared to the same month in 2018.  The double-digit growth figures can be attributed to rebound in sales in the Greater Toronto, Greater Vancouver and Montreal regions. In addition, the national average price increased by 8.4% in the same period. The recovery in home sales was due to multiple factors including favourable bond yields and strong job growth and government-backed financial incentive programs. One of the important metrics is the time taken to liquidate inventory level and currently stands at 4.2 months which is the lowest since 2007.

Click to Read the article that appeared in The Globe and Mail

Michael GoodmanCanadian Home Sales Surge for the Ninth Month
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2020 Real Estate Trends

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There is a positive outlook for 2020 predicted by analysts in the housing market after a resilient 2019 stabilizing the prices and showing signs of improvement. Even though the economy of our neighbours displayed a cynical view with the tariff war resulting in weak trade growth and rumours of a recession that would create ripple effects across the globe, Canadians witnessed robust consumer spending due to an increase in full-time employment opportunities. According to Professor Haider, the key ingredients for favourable housing in 2020 would be low mortgage rates, strong housing demands and a vibrant labour market. In fact, Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) estimates the sales to increase by 8.9% which would be marked by increased immigration number and federal government’s initiative program such as shared equity mortgage for new homebuyers.

The foretasted positive picture would certainly create demand and obviously without a disruptive political or economic change that would create an imbalance.

Click to Read the article that appeared in the Financial Post published by Murtaza Haider and Stephen Moranis.

Michael Goodman2020 Real Estate Trends
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Be The Change Earth Alliance

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A great time was had by all who were lucky enough to enjoy a meal together and hear Derek LaCroix and Maureen Jack-LaCroix talk about how they started and built their organization, Be The Change Earth Alliance. At the end of the evening, the company proudly presented them with a cheque to support their work developing critical thinking in our school system on the subject of climate change. We hope you will also consider helping out this very worthwhile, tax-deductible charity. You can read more about their work and the organization here:

Click Here to visit the Be The Change Earth Alliance website

Michael GoodmanBe The Change Earth Alliance
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Something to Think About

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Here in the office, we discuss housing all the time. Many of us are concerned about where our children and employees are going to live now that Greater Vancouver has gotten so expensive. We came across this article a while ago, cut it out and saved it, thinking it was significant to the discussion. It details how the former Liberal government, in what can only be described as an extremely cynical maneuver, decided to balance the provincial books by selling off our joint capital assets. This was prime land that we, the people, already owned. Anyone in business knows if you sell the milk cow, at the end of the day, you have nothing left.

We ask the questions,”Where can we situate social housing if the government sells off all the land it owns for very low prices, as the article details?” and “It’s nice to get these kinds of deals funneled to your company but how does that really help the vast majority of British Columbians?” We think you will find it an interesting read.

Click Here to view the full article on Vancouver Sun

Michael GoodmanSomething to Think About
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Smart Investment Strategies

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It seems like more mainstream financial advisors have come around to thinking if you are not invested in what are commonly called “alternative investments” you are making a big mistake. Our mortgage trusts perfectly describe what these people are talking about. They have been hearing from their clients things like “GICs pay next to nothing.”, “Stocks are too volatile.” and “If I buy bonds I will be losing money, they pay so little.” Positive feedback from their clients has been steadily growing and many feel publicly-listed preferred shares have not performed very well either. Many clients have been asking mainstream financial advisors, “Do you have anything else you might recommend?”

It is no secret that many wealthy people have made their money by investing in non-publicly listed ventures. Most hold large portions of their portfolios in real estate or related investments. Mortgage debt is only one facet of investment that relates to real estate.

Click here to read the full article on the Financial Post

Michael GoodmanSmart Investment Strategies
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Chinese Humungous Insurance Company Associated with Chinese Communist Party Officials Takes Control Of Senior’s Care Facilities in British Columbia

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One of our investors, who is part of the original families who founded Greenpeace, wrote in last month after reading the article on the selling off of publicly owned lands. She asked me if I was not concerned that the article would offend some of our investors, and suggested that I was likely the only money manager in Canada who would have raised the issue. She was actually praising the fact that I was putting content into the newsletter, which she found interesting. Many of the newsletters published by the other investment houses are 95% fluff; something I would never bother to read, and I doubt many others would either. So I decided some time ago if we were going to publish a newsletter, at least some of it should be worth reading, or we would not bother. There is enough dreck coming over the internet. We do not want to add to it.

My purpose is not to offend, but to publish a point of view that might cause people to think about what is really important. The fact is that I love Canada, and I kiss the ground each time I return to our wonderful country. I know it is one of the best places to live. I feel lucky to be able to be part of what we have and to be so fortunate to be able to raise my family here. The motive in raising possibly sensitive topics is not to offend, but to improve our country; or at least cause us to have a conversation, even if you do not agree with the stories or my perspectives. Corruption surely destroys societies. The article last month about the selloff of public lands to private interests who are the friends and family of those in power, was all about a subtle form of corruption, which unless you are paying close attention, is buried beneath the headlines.

What is really great about our society? What do we all want, no matter which side of the political landscape we favour? Can we agree on some things?  Clearly one thing is for our tax dollars to be spent wisely. Governments decide all kinds of major directions for our society. Yet sometimes the programs are not clearly thought out, or they are shrouded in politics which favours a party’s electoral base. Such was the case with the SNC Lavalin controversy. As a society, do we invest in housing? Can we afford it?  What happens if we fail to do so? The same goes for medical facilities. Should we have private clinics which operate alongside the public system? Should we fund those private facilities with public money? Should we fund major initiatives which we neither own nor control with public money? Ask yourself this – is it a good idea for a private for-profit company to own a substantial part of our healthcare system? You might think that is an odd question or one you have never thought about, but a story is unfolding here in British Columbia which is very concerning. Mark my words, it is all about wise and ethical investment.

How many of you have had to come to grips with when and where to place a loved one in an assisted living or long term care facility? Would you accept placing them in a facility completely owned and controlled by the Chinese government? That is what we have allowed the government to invest in, in Canada and British Columbia. You may think that I am making it up and this cannot be true. This true story has been developing right here in our own backyard; the story of the purchase of Retirement Concepts, a business started here in Vancouver. In 2016 Retirement Concepts was purchased by a good old BC Company, Cedar Tree Investment Canada, a shadow corporation which at first would not acknowledge that it was owned by Anbang, a giant Chinese insurance company. In turn, Anbang was owned by close relatives of the Chinese Communist Party. The hierarchy of Anbang has since been accused of corruption by the Chinese government and it has subsequently taken direct control. In order for the sale to happen, which was in the billion-dollar range, the federal Liberal government had to approve it, and so did the provincial Liberals. It appears now that part of those negotiations were conducted in secret. What would the citizens of BC and Canada have said had the decision to sell been openly and thoroughly discussed? Retirement Concepts is the largest provider of assisted living care in British Columbia and is subsidized by you, the taxpayer, to the tune of $86 million per annum as of 2016, the last year for which figures are available. So as your aged parents or you start to need care, think of this – because we were not vigilant, or thoughtful, we allowed a key part of our healthcare system to fall into the hands of the Chinese government. I could not make this stuff up. Check this story out if you think I have. It gets worse, but I will leave the rest of the story for next month. (Click to Read the article that appeared in The Globe and Mail)

 

Michael GoodmanChinese Humungous Insurance Company Associated with Chinese Communist Party Officials Takes Control Of Senior’s Care Facilities in British Columbia
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