Thursday, July 31, 2008

Canwest Deathwatch

Today, Canada's largest private media company dipped below $2 for the first time.

A prediction; The Teachers Pension people will immediately spin off Bell's interests in The Globe and Mail when the take-over deal goes through. Teachers has already wrecked two newspaper chains -- Sun Media and Osprey -- and couldn't possibly be interested in doing it again.


This dog hit another 52 week low Friday.
Disclosure: I am buying a bunch of this when it gets to $1.55 and I might chicken out and do it earlier, say at $1.70. I believe the break-up value of Canwest is far, far higher than the $2.00 it's trading at now. Anything that shows any sign the idjut second generation Aspers and their stooges are losing control of this company will send the stock well above $5. Watch for things like Thomson getting back into newspapers and, especially, for signs that the Graspers are lobbying for changes to the laws barring US companies from owning controlling shares in newspaper companies. Or this might just end up as a medium-term investment. Even with the management this company has now, it is insanely under-priced. People are believing too much conventional wisdom and forgetting the potential value of the capital assets of this company.

B'nai Brith wants re-vamp of Human Rights Commissions

‘Major overhaul of human rights commissions urgently needed,’
says B’nai Brith Canada

TORONTO, July 31, 2008 – B’nai Brith Canada, an organization long concerned with the defence and improvement of Canada’s human rights system, is calling for “urgent reform” of human rights commissions. The Jewish human rights group has successfully brought cases before human rights commissions and tribunals, which it says “have historically played an important role in combating Nazism and neo-Nazi ideologies”. B’nai Brith Canada has called on the Canadian Human Rights Commission to seize the opportunity provided by the current review it has undertaken to “make real changes that will ensure its relevancy into the future”.

“We are calling for a much-needed overhaul of the protections offered by the human rights commission system,” said Frank Dimant , Executive Vice President of B’nai Brith Canada . “We have to ensure that commissions do not become abusers of the very human rights they are charged with protecting.

“New challenges demand new solutions. Only through a process of modernization and reform can Canada ’s human rights system continue to play its vital role in protecting Canadians from hatred.”

David Matas, B’nai Brith Canada ’s Senior Legal Counsel and world-renowned human rights activist, has called on the commission system to “implement urgent reforms as a matter of top priority.”

Among the changes that B’nai Brith Canada is advocating, Matas highlighted the following:

“Commissions cannot become avenues of harassment in which complaints are simultaneously made in several jurisdictions. The remedy is to introduce rules that will allow for one jurisdiction only.

“Commissions do not operate in a vacuum and must have an understanding of the geo-political context within which they operate. The remedy for ignorance is education and training. Investigators must be required to undertake compulsory in-house courses that meet these needs. They must always be able to distinguish between hate and protected political speech.

“Costs must be levied against those whose clear aim is to abuse the system by launching attacks designed to harass bona fide respondents. This would be a deterrent against those who deliberately seek to hijack and corrupt the human rights system in pursuit of their own ideological bent.”

B’nai Brith Canada will shortly be submitting a full brief on this issue to University of Windsor Law Professor , Richard J. Moon, who was hired by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to conduct a review of the Commission’s mandate to combat hatred.

We mortals used to call it "fucking around"

And the lawyers called in bigamy. The CBC makes a pitch for a program in which someone named Safa Rigby supposedly discovers her husband's "double life" -- polygamy.

Today in yuck

I thought O.C. Transpo, Ottawa's miserable, near-useless bus system was full of annoying people. I guess, though, you should ride Grayhound to meet people who are really bad.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Censorship and the Games

The International Olympic Committee, never a group to inspire confidence, has admitted its involvement in Chinese press censorship.
Press scrutiny of the IOC -- as in the investigations of bribery of IOC members to secure the Salt Lake City winter games -- has never been welcomed by the elitist committee, which is made up of publicity-shy people who are often of very dubious character.
The best piece I've seen on the Chinese manipulation of the Western press was written by Tom Korski and published Monday in Ottawa's Hill Times. They are smart enough not to give their product away, so you'll have to buy or borrow a copy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

McCain: Does the Thrill Go Up Your Leg?

Here's something quite interesting: a poll by John McCain's campaign on a new commercial. McCain's taking a shot at US network and cable news, which is ga-ga over Obama.

Something's gotta give...

Dalton McGuinty is right: it's time we re-negotiated equalization. We -- Ontario -- have given money to every province in this country, including Alberta, and we get nothing back. In fact, all we get is crap. Ontario is the only province that doesn't rely solely on its natural resources to get by.

Sorry for the lack of posts

I've been bouncing like a pinball between my home, the archives and Montreal. Not much of interest to anyone else, so I haven't bothered posting.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

There is a storm brewing in the hinterland

The rampant real estate speculation in the Golden Horseshoe, increased government spending and Alberta's oil boom will only temporarily paper over the fact that forestry, most mining and pretty much all manufacturing is in recession.
Thirty years ago, Terrace Bay, Ontario, was a community with full employment and people earning, on average, about four times the minimum wage. They worked in forestry, the railway, and some construction, plus support businesses and retail. In today's dollars, a typical income was about $75,000.
Today, you can buy an ordinary house in Terrace Bay for the price of a mid-sized car Sure, it's a wartime house and all, but it does have a finished basement and has been kept up nicely. Want something more upscale? Here's a cute place for the price of an SUV. And maybe the price is negotiable. Surely the vendor is, um, motivated.
Or maybe a really splashy place, with sauna, jacuzzi, fireplace and a stunning view of Lake Superior. I expect you could get them down below $100K.
Or you could buy the best house in town -- look at that brand new kitchen, the marble countertops, hardwood floors, fireplace, two-car garage and just a few steps to a sandy beach and golf course -- for about the price of a 750-square-foot condo in Aurora, Orleans, or Laval.

(Also notice the municipal taxes aren't listed.)

In fact, you can buy a house in any North Shore town -- Wawa, White River, Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Nipigon -- with a decent-limit Visa Gold card.
Each one of these listings represents a financial disaster to a Canadian family and a failure of the Canadian economy to keep decent working people employed and forestry companies productive and competitive.
No one is talking about this in Canada.
Toss a carbon tax into the mix, without anything to alleviate the trade policies that are destroying Canadian manufacturing, and the storm will blow into urban Canada.

Last week, Royal Dutch Shell announced it was shelving plans to build a gasoline refinery in eastern Canada and an oil sands processing plant in Alberta. The unrefined heavy oil will be sent to Texas and the finished gasoline will be sent to Ontario. Not one federal politician saw the importance of this announcement.

H/T to my mother for the property listings. She says the government has "revived" downtown Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) by opening a casino in the old Eaton's store. It's doing a big business 24/7 relieving the locals of the money they would have spent on food, clothes, heat and mortgages.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Back from Appallachia

A few notes:

The Lake Memphremagog Valley is a little slice of the better parts of Europe, places like Lake Como except without as much old money. I bought cheese and hard cider from the monks of St. Benoit du Lac. No sign of Maxime Bernier, who, I believe, is still hiding there, on "retreat". Seriously. And no fossils worth bothering with.

The countryside is gorgeous. It reminds me of the Beaver Valley west of Collingwood and the Trenton-West Canada Creek-Mohawk Valley of New York. The weather is less pleasant than in those places, though.

There are a lot of vineyards taking shape in the region. I hope there's a market for all this Quebec plonk.

The Eastern Townships do have a level of pretentiousness that becomes quite comical once you clue into it. There are an awful lot of folks, especially among the Francophones, who are convinced they are living in the Loire Valley. The upside is they eat like they're in France -- there's lots of great food. The downside is the place is pretty much kid-unfriendly: few public beaches, and all are small and rather disgusting; store staff that seem terrified of school-age kids; no places to buy kids' books, videos or games for rainy days. In fact, with such high levels of precipitation, it's strange there's little sign that anyone has given any thought to what to do when it rains.

I get the feeling everyone in the region has The Barbarian Invasions on video and watches it any time they feel they need to refresh the cultural template.

There's a big tourism recession in Quebec. Gas prices range from $1.40 at Mansonville, on the US border (No sign of Charlie. I asked around.) to 1.45 off the beaten track and $1.48 in tourist traps like Bromont. In Ottawa, gas was selling for a seemingly-reasonable $1.33. During one week in the Eastern Townships, wandering on one one of the main tourist routes up past Jay Peak, and having travelled nearly every stinking highway, road and dirt trail in search of something to keep my kids busy, I noticed precisely two US plates (both Vermont) and one Ontario plate. The main streets of Bromont, Knowlton (last known hide-out of Paul Martin), Magog and small towns were empty. You could find a parking space easily. And this is the height of the summer tourist season.

The skiing does look great. I hope they make some money in the winter. Are there enough skiers in Montreal to keep five or six big resorts on the Quebec side of the border, plus Jay Peak just across the Vermont line, going?

There's an awful lot of property for sale. It reminded me of the Georgian Bay area in the 1980s. It's not much of an exageration to say every second cottage and hobby farm is for sale.

So my advice: book four days in a nice B&B sometime, suck it up and accept the nasty gas prices, and drive the lake road from Magag down through Austin and Knowlton Landing. It's up there with the Sunshine Coast highway and the Tiny Beaches Road as one of my favorite driving roads. Stop at the monastery and at Jewett's Store in Vale Perkins (My kids called it "The Happy Store". It's a wonderful old general store). Go across through Mansonville to Knowlton and ask where Paul Martin lives. (The locals get kind of strange when you do). Head over to Bromont and see the Chocolate Museum for its huge, bizarre carvings in chocolate. Find your way northeast through Waterloo and Eastman to Bonsecours and try to find the Crystal Mine two miles north of the village.

Then maybe head over to Lennoxville and Sherbrooke.

Try not to get pissy about the tattered Canadian flag over the Post Office in Magog and the real lack of any sign at all you're in Canada. I suppose the sponsorship program might have changed some of that, but someone stole all the money. You are in Quebec, and, as Stephen Harper says, Quebec is a nation. Believe it. "Canada" is only in Ontario.

Take your next holiday in the Maritimes. That's my plan.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Are you ready for the country, because it's time to go

Yup, heading to the Lake Memphremagog area for a week. Maybe I'll hit a big death pool of rare trilobites and just stay there for the rest of the summer. Or I'll be back, as scheduled, on July 12th.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Canwest deathwatch

Canwest was at $2.35 this morning, another new low. A month ago, it traded at $3.60, which was a 52-week low.


The stock took a little bounce today, to a pathetic $2.55 before settling back to $2.38, just above the all-time low. Lots of trades: over 800,000 of this dog.
Maybe it ticked up because the company got financing for the Alliance-Atlantis takeover. Maybe it ticked down again because investors saw the 13.5% rate Canwest must pay on its $300 million worth of new junk bonds issued to finance the deal.
I'm going to be without internet all next week, so I'll be curious to see where this goes and what shakes out of it.

Oh, to have sold this puppy short a year ago. Now down 75% from its one-year high, there hasn't been any sign of a dead cat bounce. Even accounting for trades to the many, many people who actually got off their asses and sold Canwest short, the stock trades at a new low yet again.

Two years ago, when Dominion Bond Rating listed Canwest bonds as "BB" (speculative), with the risk of default, the stock traded at about $8.50, with about 50,000 trades a day. Now, about 500,000 to 700,000 shares trade hands each day, always in capitulation trading as the stock hasn't risen substantially in months and almost always trades at all-time lows.

The CRTC has not been able to save this dog with its very under-reported new policy of allowing greater foreign ownership of Canadian media companies. I think they are about seven years too late.

And in the "they can't keep talent" department, the Vancouver Sun just lost its veteran City Hall reporter.

And Bill Southam pegged out yesterday, with an ironic sense of timing.

Today, it broke through the $2.50 barrier. If it goes below $2 and stays there long, it either ends up trading as a penny stock on the over-the-counter exchange or has to pull a Nortel, which did a one-for-ten share swap several years ago to give itself a respectable-looking stock price.
Pretty sad situation for Canada's largest media company.


Canwest's much-touted Australian holding TEN is forced to buy back shares to prevent a stockholder revolt. The stock is at AU $1.35, a ten-year low. Last year, the Aspers turned down an offer of $2.90 a share. Unlike in Canada, there's a media buyer interested in the company's assets and is picking up shares at fire sale prices. In Canada, shares are being bought up by a corporate dismantler.

And on July 11, Canwest will hold a conference call with reporters to talk about their first-quarter results. Unfortunately, I'm away all next week trying to find a long-lost fossil locality in the Eastern Townships.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ridiculous Order of Canada Appointments

While everyone's choking on Morgantaler, Mansbridge and Asper, this guy slips under the radar:

T. Clayton Shields, C.M

Stratford, Ontario
Member of the Order of Canada

For more than three decades of service as the wigmaster to the Stratford Festival of Canada, where he developed innovative techniques and mentored new generations of artists.

Happy Canada Day

American tourist Kathi Jackson of Pontiac, Michigan throws pennies to the "cute Canadians" on Parliament Hill from the back seat of her customized 1974 Mustang convertible while Mounties Stockwell Day, Michelle Tremblay and Vic Toews close in for the arrest.