A good walk amortized: Putters aflutter

A good walk amortized: Putters aflutter

A 1972 [Canadian] law designed to crack down on tax abuses prevented golfing, yachting and hunting lodges in particular from being tax-deductible, so that the wealthy could not put personal luxuries on expenses, wrote The Economist Jan. 14.

Discriminating against golf does not sit well with today’s players. The National Golf Course Owners Association has launched a campaign to right the injustice. Two dozen or so members of parliament and senators (many of whom have golf courses in their districts) now support the cause. There is hope it could make it into the 2012 budget this spring.

But to bring this topic up now, as Canada grapples with budget cuts, could end up pitching other sports into the rough. Lisa Philipps, a law professor at York University in Toronto [Osgoode  Hall Law School], says advertising the unfair treatment of golf may simply cause legislators to reconsider whether entertainment should be tax-deductible at all. It is always hard to know how much business is really talked about between quarters – or putts. And voters may not like the sound of high-flyers writing off the cost of their boxes at hockey games, let alone their hard work on the greens.

Using humour can be a risky strategy, observers say

The risky move of poking fun at the same people it courts as customers seems to have paid off, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 13, in a story about a satirical video about yoga practitioners by Lululemon Athletica Inc. The video has ricocheted around social media this past week and will almost certainly reach 1 million views on YouTube by the time you read this. In the marketing world, 1 million is the benchmark for viral success. Only 4 per cent of those who rated the video clicked “dislike” – it has racked up more than 4,000 “likes”.

This kind of marketing is akin to a “franchise strategy”, said Detlev Zwick at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “You have Spiderman 1, and you get 2 and 3 because it’s already worked – in this case, they’ve hooked on to what has already been a popular theme,” he said. “That’s an interesting and useful strategy, because it increases the odds when you’re tapping into something that’s already been established as a cultural trend.”

Shift focus, economists warn; Invest in start-ups, skills training, not manufacturing

It’s going to be a long time, if ever, before Ontario again becomes the growth engine for Canada’s economy, thanks to the province’s slumping manufacturing sector and skyrocketing demand from developing countries for commodities from Western Canada, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 13, citing comments by economists.

Decades ago, manufacturers such as automakers and steel firms were the cornerstone of Ontario’s economy, said Fred Lazar, an economist at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Now, as those industries – and the number of people working in them – have ebbed, what’s been picking up the slack are the public sector and the construction industry. Neither are likely to continue being a big driver, Lazar said.

Lazar said successive provincial governments have relied too heavily on the manufacturing sector, and didn’t do enough to encourage investment in start-up companies.

Iran, the new human rights defender?

On Jan. 3, Iran summoned Canada’s envoy to Tehran to protest Canada’s “blatant violation of human rights”, wrote Maclean’s Jan. 13.  Tehran took aim at Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginals, in the wake of the Attawapiskat crisis.

“I couldn’t stop laughing,” says Professor Saeed Rahnema, an Iran specialist at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. “I mean, there are serious problems with Canada’s dealings with its indigenous peoples, but the Iranian regime is the very last government that could mention human rights. They couldn’t care less for human rights.”

Let people speak their minds

The idea that we should add “women” to the list of groups “protected” against hate speech has been a dream of radical feminists and their lefty allies for years, wrote Glendon political science Professor Terry Heinrichs, in a letter to the National Post Jan. 13. Now, apparently, the federal Liberals are hot to trot on the issue. According to Mary Pynenburg, policy head of the National Women’s Liberal Commission, the addition stems from “a general concern that gender-based violence sometimes isn’t taken seriously by law enforcement: “When it’s women, it’s treated as mischief.”

It is not a good idea to increase any further the number of those already “protected”, wrote Heinrichs. To the contrary, the progressive thing to do is to disband the list and eliminate the law. The hate speech law is little more than a weapon to be used by protected group members against the unprotected to prevent public disagreement with their preferred group images and interests. It chills expression by making people walk on eggshells around such controversial issues as immigration, welfare, gay marriage, the Middle East, terrorism, etc., because these issues touch the interests and identities of one protected group or another.

The public dialogue in a free and democratic society requires boldness, not pusillanimity. People should feel free to speak their minds, not cower in fear of doing so. We should be eliminating the law, not expanding its reach

Can Sears save itself?

For years, Sears Canada has been a back-of-the-pack retailer, struggling to compete against bigger chains like the Gap and more specialized fashion chains like H&M and Zara. The department store chain, which has been criticized in the past for not putting money into merchandising or keeping the stores up to par, will soon face increased competition from US retailers heading north.

Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, thinks one of Sears’ basic challenges is that the traditional department store model is an out-of-date business concept. That said, he points to the Bay as an example that has managed to transform itself successfully. Middleton thinks Sears “shouldn’t copy what the Bay is doing, but they should learn from what it’s doing.”

Middleton has high praise for the Bay’s president and CEO, Bonnie Brooks, who took the reins in 2008. “What she’s managed to do, by selection, by staff training and by some very smart marketing and communications, is to get people to start thinking of the store in a totally new way,” he explains, pointing to the chain’s sleek new store interiors and “prestige” fashion lines. “You almost forget the Bay is a department store. It’s just a nice place to be.” Sears, on the other hand, “is still looking like the tired old model.”

Veteran bureaucrat to head top-secret intelligence unit

John Forster [MBA ’82], a longtime senior bureaucrat with Infrastructure Canada, has been named as the new chief of the Communications Security Establishment, one of the country’s most sensitive – and secretive – intelligence gathering operations, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Jan. 13.

The appointment, along with several others, was announced Thursday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Forster’s appointment is particularly sensitive given the nature of the institution for which he’ll be responsible. The Communications Security Establishment Canada, established in 1946, is the federal government’s national cryptological operation, charged with monitoring foreign signals intelligence and protecting the government’s most valuable communications and electronic information.

The agency employees code breakers and code makers to provide the government with information that is ostensibly used in support of decision making on national security issues, national defence and foreign policy. It also provides assistance to the RCMP and other federal security agencies, including the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Forster is a longtime federal bureaucrat with a career path that tracks back to the early 1980s. He holds a master of business administration from York University [Schulich School of Business] and a bachelor of science from the University of Toronto. Over the years he’s held various senior management positions in federal departments ranging from Forestry Canada and Natural Resources Canada to Transport Canada and, most recently, Infrastructure Canada.

Between 2006 and 2009, Forster was the assistant deputy minister of Infrastructure Canada, overseeing policy and communications. In late 2009, he was named associate deputy minister of Infrastructure.