Today in Winnipeg, Canada Post will do something it has never attempted before: hold a public annual meeting, reported the National Post June 13. So if all Canadians are shareholders (albeit indirectly), how is our company, Canada’s second-largest Crown corporation, doing?
First, the good news: It makes money. And after the sponsorship scandal-related departure of CEO André Ouellet, it has a new leader, Moya Greene (LLB ‘78), 52, an energetic former Ottawa mandarin who also held senior jobs with Bombardier and two Canadian banks and claims to “love complexity”. Last year, she delivered mail and worked the night shift to get to know the place from the ground up.
Now, the bad news: Canada Post has to change the way it operates, said Greene, who made her name handling negotiations for Ottawa in the mid-1990s spin-off of another Crown corporation, Canadian National Railway Co. Canada Post faces a long list of challenges, many internal, but also shifting industry dynamics. Last fall, she told a House of Commons committee: “I see the company withering.”
Canada Post is bloated, underproductive, suffers from years of sour labour relations – and, said Greene, should be earning twice what it made last year, its second-best performance in 25 years. “From my private-sector background, that is a pretty anemic level of profitability, and it’s not the level of profitability the shareholder can afford to accept,” she said during an interview at Canada Post’s Ottawa headquarters.
In an attempt to get the business under control, Greene has aligned Canada Post by lines of business, handing senior managers profit-and-loss responsibilities for the first time. Before that, “it was all a big mush,” she said. “It would all end up on my desk. The only way you could tell we were making money is when it got here. I could not understand it from our financial reports.”
Such plain talk is well-known to those who have worked with the Newfoundland-born Greene, who earned a law degree at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School before starting her career as an immigration adjudicator in 1979. “She calls a spade a goddamn shovel all the time,” said Paul Tellier, who sat across the table from her during the CN privatization and later hired her to oversee restructuring at Bombardier.
Osgoode professor’s cell phone bill earns her ‘hero’ status from Time
On returning last August from a month-long work-related trip to Israel, Susan Drummond, 46, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, opened her phone bill: a shockingly high $12,237.60, up from her usual $75, said Time magazine in a feature on Canadian heroes in its June 19 Canadian edition. Drummond and her husband Harry Gefen, 49, a technology journalist, have become unwitting experts on how Canadian consumers can take on corporate giants, said Time.
They began by researching Rogers’ policies and practices. Drummond and Gefen told their tale to The Globe and Mail, which ran a front-page story on them just before Christmas. The morning the article ran, Ted Rogers phoned the couple and said he was “accountable”. He told them the bill would be erased. (It was). The couple are currently seeking $10,000 and punitive damages. Should Drummond and Gefen succeed, other customers will be thankful the pair didn’t capitulate, Time concluded.
York student plays role on York graduate’s teen TV drama
Production began this month for the sixth season of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and, for the first time, cameras are following graduating cast members into university, wrote the Toronto Star’s Jen Gerson June 13. That means the shark is lurking. “The spectre of jumping the shark is something we deal with every day,” says executive producer and York alumnus James Hurst (BFA ‘92), on the set of the show in the first week of filming.
The phrase, by now, is familiar – a popular show jumps the shark when, because of slumping ratings or staid storylines, its writers begin to rely on extreme plots to liven things up. The phrase originally comes from Happy Days, which jumped the shark when Fonzie, literally, jumped over a shark. Even the actors don’t know what’s coming, says Stacey Farber, who plays Ellie. Having just finished her first year at York University in her real life, the slender Farber seems out of place and over-sized sitting in a chair-desk on the Grade 8 English class set of Degrassi Community School.
Environmental studies graduate alleges racism after being arrested in protest
York graduate Asaf Rashid (MES ‘03) is a man in search of justice. The 30-year-old Fredericton resident, whose allegation of racism against the Fredericton Police Force last month sparked an external investigation, said he wants a society that treats everyone fairly. “That’s what it is about for me,” Rashid said in an interview with The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton) June 13. “Whether it is through the courtroom or through getting public attention on issues, I think there’s a lot of tools out there. “It’s ensuring that those people whose voices are marginalized, who are poor and have other (things) against them, that they somehow are given a voice.”
Rashid was one of four people taken into custody and ticketed May 27 after police cracked down on a group of 20-plus marchers who had made their way from Queens Square to City Hall. He said he believes the fact he is of Pakistani descent played a role in his arrest. A few days later, Fredericton police Chief Barry MacKnight announced that allegations of racism against his department would be investigated by police from Saint John and by another outside agency.
Rashid said it is unfair to categorize him as a professional protester, as some people have done since last month’s incident. He said the idea that he protests for a living is untrue and is not the way he wants to be described. “I only stand up for what I believe in.” Rashid said he wants society to be sustainable – one that features strong local economies and one where people are in control of what happens. That includes larger decisions such as health and education, he said. “Ten years ago, I was not into this sort of stuff. Five years ago, it just started,” Rashid said. His activist side is connected to his decision to enrol in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies a number of years ago. That’s where he met a lot of activists and ordinary people who were trying to do things another way.
Figuring out how much to retire on is a tough call
All over the Internet you will find calculators to help answer the question, when can I afford to retire? But beware of the answers, wrote columnist James Daw in the Toronto Star June 13. The assumptions you supply for average investment returns, inflation and life expectancy may prompt you to make ruinous decisions. Moshe Milevsky, a professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business, says major life insurers provide true inflation protection for life annuities in the United Kingdom and United States, and will soon have products for Canada. “There is innovation that will eventually creep up north.”
Milevsky and others urge that retirees use some of their savings to buy a life annuity to reduce the risk of running out of money before death. The older one gets, the bigger the bump in income a person will enjoy compared with earning interest. He suggests retirees hold off from buying an annuity temporarily, at least until the inflation-protected products are available for consideration.
Milevsky says a series of gains or losses can mean the difference between success and ruin for any financial plan. So can an unrealistically high rate of withdrawals. He and York colleague Chris Robinson, a finance professor in the Atkinson School of Administrative Studies, have developed a mathematical formula to calculate sustainable spending rates, taking into account the variability of investment returns, inflation and longevity. Their papers, available at www.cfainstitute.org and www.ifid.ca, suggest that a balanced portfolio of investments helps to reduce the risk of running short of money.
South African bankers will study at Schulich
Thabo Manaka strolled around Toronto’s financial district Saturday afternoon with fellow South African banking executives to learn about Toronto’s financial services sector, reported the Toronto Star June 13. Manaka and 11 up-and-coming South African banking executives are expected to absorb a lot of information during their six weeks in the city, said Frank Groenewald, the chief executive of Bankseta, South Africa’s Banking Sector Education and Training Authority.
Toronto’s reputation as a financial services centre and Canada’s positive relationship with South Africa are two of the reasons Groenewald chose this city to house the program, he said. After a trial run last year, this year’s participants will receive onsite training from TD Bank Financial Group, CIBC and BMO Financial Group. They will take classes at York’s Schulich School of Business and the Rotman School of Management. And, of course, they will visit Niagara Falls. The program “is part of a broader strategy aimed at the social transformation of the banking sector and, through it, the nation as a whole,” Groenewald said.
- Ian Greene, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and executive member of York’s Centre for Practical Ethics, spoke about Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and the new Accountability Act on CKLW Radio (Windsor) June 12. Greene is also the author of Honest Politics.