Pay down debt, or feather your nest egg?

If you really want to go your own way this RRSP season, consider diverting your contribution instead to paying down your debt. That’s the message from Toronto chartered accountant and author David Trahair, who makes a compelling argument that a dollar contributed to an RRSP is a dollar better spent paying down debt, reported The Globe and Mail Feb. 27.  

But Moshe Milevsky, a professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business, says a dollar is better spent contributing to an RRSP than to paying off debt – especially if you compare it with a variable rate mortgage. "I think when you adjust for risk it still makes sense," he says.  

Milevsky has studied the correlation between house prices and equity-market returns over several periods and says RRSP contributions always come out the winner. "It really comes down to a cold, hard calculus of rates of return," he says. "It might be one of the easiest decisions out there: What rate are you earning on your RRSP? What rate are you paying on your mortgage? Go with the higher one," he advises.  

One area where they both agree on is high-interest credit card debt, which Milevsky says should always be dealt with before an RRSP contribution. "I am stunned by people who pay a 25-per-cent interest rate on their credit card debt."  

Quicklaw rethinks law school fees

The fledgling rebels at Canada’s law schools were waving the victory sign last week after QuickLaw and its US parent LexisNexis agreed to pause its controversial plan to start charging universities an estimated $500,000 for access to its digital database, reported The Globe and Mail in its Bartalk column Feb. 27. QuickLaw had planned to impose a $50 fee for each of Canada’s law students next fall, but sources said the company’s president Michael Pilmer withdrew the plan last week following complaints.  

"We are pleased that QuickLaw has pushed off introducing the charge, but we have no assurances about what will happen beyond 2009," said Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.  

While QuickLaw studies the issue, Bartalk trusts it will remember how the digital library of case law, statutes and research was born. It was a pair of Queen’s University law professors, Hugh Lawford and Dick von Briesen, who collaborated with students and other universities 30 years ago to create the database. Their shrewd business vision was to create an invaluable free education tool for the benefit of all law students, most of whom would grow up to become well-paid lawyers eager to pay for the research service.  

Rankin deal not so bad for security watchdog

It didn’t take long for the Ontario Securities Commission’s critics to shoot with both guns blazing after fallen investment banker Andrew Rankin struck a deal with the regulator last week, just days before his second trial was slated to begin, reported the National Post Feb. 27. The surprise agreement called for Canada’s biggest stock watchdog to drop its criminal case against Rankin – accused of illegally tipping off his friend Daniel Duic to takeover and merger deals – for an admission of guilt, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime ban on working in the investment business.  

That did not sit well with critics who chastised the regulator for blowing a chance to possibly send Rankin to jail after the OSC pursued him for the better part of seven years. But some observers aren’t so quick to deride the Rankin deal as a knockdown loss for the regulator.  

Any hope of pursuing regulatory charges would have vanished if Rankin were acquitted at a second trial, said Richard Powers, assistant dean at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Adds James Stribopolous, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School: "If the OSC loses, [Rankin] could go back to trading the next day."  

For Rankin’s part, confirming he was the leak to a one-time private school classmate means he’ll never serve time in jail, even if his tarnished reputation was bruised even more by the admission. "He was steadfastly saying he didn’t do anything wrong and now he has to bend on that position a bit to get a result that he wants," Stribopolous said.  

As for using Duic as a key witness, Stribopolous is more forgiving than some critics. "The [prosecution] doesn’t get to pick its witnesses at central casting," he said. "Often these people are criminals themselves and that means they come with baggage."

Schulich teams placed among top in innovator challenge

A team of international bachelor of business administration students at York’s Schulich School of Business placed among the top three teams in Canada at this year’s RBC Next Great Innovator Challenge, reported the North York Mirror Feb. 26. The idea that won the trio a notable spot in the contest is a simple-to-use online budgeting tool for students that sorts debit and credit card purchases into various expense categories and produces a summary of monthly expenses. The team of second-year undergraduate students, Ke-Jia Chong, Olga Ivleva and Jan-Lukas Wolf, placed third and took home $5,000 at an awards ceremony held last week in Toronto. The Schulich team was the only undergraduate team to make it to the finals. The competition challenged university and college students from across Canada to describe a customer-focused innovation, idea or concept pertaining to the Canadian financial services industry. More than 100 proposals from schools across the country were evaluated and narrowed down to the top five team finalists.

Stopping bullies in their tracks should be everyone’s concern

Bullying has always existed, and people often turned a blind eye to the practice. But with recent years revealing the enormous toll bullying takes on its victims, children, their parents, schools and workplaces have recognized that that we can no longer avert our eyes from this serious problem, wrote The Vancouver Sun Feb. 27. But in order to prevent bullying, we must first understand it. According to Debra Pepler, professor of psychology at York University and director of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, an incident of bullying occurs once every seven minutes in school playgrounds and once every 25 minutes in class.  

Students rally against racism

Students at Ryerson University staged a small but boisterous rally Tuesday to protest against a lack of response to the burning of a bulletin board belonging to the East African Students of Toronto, a campus association, reported The Globe and Mail Feb. 27. Several students expressed concern that last week’s arson is part of a larger pattern at campuses across Canada, most recently manifest when racist messages were written on the door of York University’s Black Students’ Association

  • “CBC News” also covered the rally Feb. 26 and noted the incident followed a similar one at York University last month.  

Social Work Week focuses on elderly

"A lot of people connect social workers with children, but with the growth of our older population in the last decade an increasing number of them have been working with seniors," says social worker Merilyn Thompson, reported The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Feb. 27. Thompson and Mary Varey (MSW ’97), fellow board member of the Ontario Association of Social Workers, have been helping to plan a Social Work Week March 3-9 for its 340 members. Varey graduated from Western with a bachelor of social work and moved around the province before coming to Kitchener 18 years ago and earning her master’s degree at York University. She did her thesis on poor old women and access to long-term care, interviewing many Kitchener women – which piqued her interest in working with the elderly.