Pension wars, bank fees and milk marketing: Maclean's letters

Maclean's readers write in

Save yourself

The government and the corporate sector are doing everything they can to add fuel to the fire of “The pension wars” (National, June 9). The more that workers turn against each other over pension envy, the less demand there is for employers to provide reasonable pensions for them. This phony war conveniently covers up for the underfunding of workers’ pensions at all levels. One way or another, we will have to pay for the security of our retired citizens. It makes good sense to provide the funding during one’s working years rather than at the back end. To argue that workers without pensions are somehow better served by taking away benefits from others is twisted logic and only serves the selfish interests of the corporate world and the governments that do their bidding.

O. Robert Lawrence, North Bay, Ont.

Not that I am the biggest Stephen Harper fan, but, during his time as our Prime Minister, our economy isn’t in such bad shape. The fact that bitter, hanger-on ex-politicos like Tom Corbett don’t understand the basics of saving for their future is a much greater problem than MP pensions. Newsflash, Tom: You have to actually live beneath your means to save money. Using Christianity as a defence for your own poor financial management is a laughable cop-out. Perhaps a more powerful and meaningful analogy would have been to roast Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc Québécois hypocrites for living off the MP-pension teat. We have a system where people who are financially responsible can save for their future—rather than renting a lifestyle through the banks, saving nothing and then blaming the taxpayer through the government and the Prime Minister. Perhaps the solution is to teach simple, basic, compounding math and financial planning in our school systems and to stop bemoaning the government at every turn.

Denis M. Albinati, Calgary

You did not mention that the defined benefit pension plans enjoyed by 12 per cent of private sector workers are only as viable as the sponsoring company. If the company goes into bankruptcy, any pension liabilities have only the same priority as a non-secured creditor. In practice, this means that these pensioners will lose all medical and indexing benefits, as well as a payout reduced to the level of the pension funding shortfall. Nortel is a good example of this, where pensioner benefits were lost and payouts reduced by about 40 per cent. Public sector workers will not have this worry, because these are backed up by taxpayers. Another reason for pension envy!

Brian Credico, Belleville, Ont.

Invisible enumerators

I disagree that we should bring back door-to-door enumerators (The Editorial, June 9). If Canadians need to be reminded that there is an election taking place, it does not sound like most of these folks would make a very informed decision, were they to vote.

Norman Vorwalder, Ottawa

Your June 9 editorial implies that “campaigning politicians still see value in making eye contact with voters at the doorstep.” Upon what evidence do you base this statement? I have lived at the same address for 38 years and do not recollect ever having a campaigning politician knock on my door. They, or one of their campaign team, only leave flyers in my mailbox. I long ago concluded that political candidates generally have no interest in meeting voters; they only want my vote. I’d probably prefer, anyway, to meet the enumerators.

James Slyfield, Clarington, Ont.

Children create the glass ceiling

Bravo, Emma Teitel, for your column about former New York Times editor Jill Abramson and the glass ceiling in the newsroom (“Everyone is walking on broken glass,” June 2). Indeed, equal opportunity does not guarantee equal outcome. Granted, it’s no feminist lie that women earn about 75 per cent, at best, of what men do. But the statistic is deceptive, because it conceals the fact that women, on average, have less experience, less investment in education, and less willingness to relocate or take on dangerous jobs. Rarely do you see ads that say “30-year-old financially secure female looking for 20-year-old handsome guy.” Is there any wonder why men, on average, secure better-paying jobs? How many men are able to work part-time or stay home with their children? Women will see more equality in the workplace when men are given more equality outside the workplace.

Ryan Kneer, Espanola, Ont.

Credit where it’s due

Too bad for Jason Kirby there is not a Booker prize for journalistic spin, or he would be a finalist in a crowded field. He spent an entire page (“The fee free-for-all at Canada’s banks,” Economy, June 9) trying to concoct a negative story out of my announcement that seven million Canadians will have access to a free banking account. But the fact remains: The poor, the young, students and the disabled will benefit. Unfortunately for Kirby, the caption under a carefully chosen photo contradicts his pitch: “Credit where it’s due.”

Joe Oliver, Minister of Finance, Toronto

Milking it

I am neither for nor against the deregulation of the dairy or poultry industries, but rather disagree with the reasoning behind the dismantling of the controlled-market system (“Consumers are being milked,” Economy, June 2). Dairy is not a business where start-ups are the norm. Which venture capitalist is going to finance a business where start-up costs per cow are $28,000, not including land or infrastructure? With deregulation, the winners will be the large milk-processing conglomerates looking to squeeze every dollar from the farmer. Consumers will neither gain nor lose. The price of milk will remain at what the market will bear. As long as people can pay $2.50 for a coffee or a bottle of water, there will be no change to the price. Deregulation offers very little promise of lower prices, but rather a shift of wealth and responsibility. If Martha Hall Findlay thinks $2.5 million or $4 million is an excessive amount for the honour of owning a business that is likely to have been in the family for more than 50 years, wait until big business gets in and farms are worth $25 million to $40 million or more.

Norm Larsen, Irvine Creek Farms Inc., Sherwood Park, Alta.

Martha Hall Findlay claims that if we did not have supply management, producers and consumers would be the beneficiaries, because we would have a system more or less like the Americans, with cheaper milk, chicken and eggs for consumers and more money to the producers. But what kind of system do they actually have? When the U.S. Congress refused to pass the extension of farm subsidies, the U.S. media were talking about how not passing the subsidies program will mean the price of milk will increase to $7 per gallon. This was not tested, because, at the end, Congress extended the subsidies and the price of milk remained around $2.50 per gallon. The price in Canada is around $4.50. The cheaper American milk is not a result of its cheaper production, or a better system, but a result of the American cheap food policy.

Ivan Pokus, Winnipeg

Yes, milk-marketing boards do exercise a monopoly over the pricing and distribution of milk in this country. But eliminating them only opens the door to a flood of milk with little-to-no control over its quality. The U.S. allows dairy farmers to use bovine growth hormone (BGH), which doubles profitability with no increase in herd size: obviously, a very lucrative opportunity. However, due to udder infections and constant pain, the same animals require massive doses of antibiotics, all of which can be transferred to said milk. BGH milk is banned in Canada, Australia, Japan and the EU; there is no reason Canada should lift its own ban, with the U.S. poised to flood the country and undercut our own dairy farmers. However, the Harper government has proven many times that it is far more interested in exploiting markets than it is in informing its citizens or listening to “worried” consumers.

William Clegg, Gabriola Island, B.C.

What makes a racist?

If Maclean’s must publish articles lamenting the ubiquity of “political correctness” as a threat to the sacredness of free speech, by all means, go ahead, but publish one that at least makes a real argument. Barbara Amiel’s June 9 column (“Sterling is many things but not racist”) falls woefully short. Her attempt to excuse Donald Sterling’s explicitly race-based remarks by casting him as a clueless “jealous old man” afloat in a world of new-fangled technology that he can’t be expected to understand is badly explained and illogical. Difficult as Amiel may find concepts such as gender and identity politics, casting Sterling as a “war” victim of the overzealous left is a pathetic way to make the argument.

Julia Kirby, Toronto

In defending Donald Sterling, Barbara Amiel points out that he owns a basketball team that has an 80 per cent black roster. In the old South, rich white guys owned plantations with 100 per cent black rosters. How does Sterling’s statistic suggest he is not a racist? Being an old, rich male of any race does not give someone permission to denigrate others—which Donald Sterling did. Big time.

Rochelle Hatton, Sudbury, Ont.

You did a large disservice to readers by not thoroughly reporting on a thoughtful statement on racism made by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, during a conference in Nashville, where the antics of Donald Sterling were being discussed. According to your single paragraph (Newsmakers, June 9), Cuban said that if he encountered a black youth wearing a hoodie, he would cross to the other side of the street. What Cuban also said during this conference, among many other things, was that if he saw a white skinhead, he would also cross to the other side of the street. You should have fairly presented his full statement.

Peter Dunn, Blairmore, Alta.