They Are At The Post, Or Maybe Not!

Canada Post has served notice that it will be locking out workers in 72 hours. Canada Post blames the union and “a rapid decline in mail volume”. Workers are stating that “They (Canada Post) refused to negotiate fairly with us and now they’re locking the doors and will try to starve us into submission,”

I have talked about Canada Post before in this blog and I think it’s time again to put my thoughts out as a past business owner and now as a publisher that needs a low cost method of getting my books from my warehouse to my customers. My basic problem with Canada Post is that it charges too much to consumers and small businesses for the level of service it offers. Unlike the U.S. Postal Service it does not offer any “Flat Rate” package service. Something that most small businesses in the U.S. take advantage of. When I go to my local Post Office the clerk spends more time with a tape measure and a scale than a drug dealer does weighing out his product. A flat padded envelope costs me $4.63 including HST in Canada, same envelope cost $2.65 in the U.S., that’s almost double and, for online retailers, that may be the difference between a U.S. business offering “Free Shipping” and the Canadian business having to charge for shipping. And I have to again say the the USPS provides envelopes and boxes to small businesses for FREE. They will even deliver them. Here we need to add the cost of the envelopes (in my case $.75) and boxes to our shipping costs.

It needs to be said that we, the users of Canada Post are also the ones who, through postage fees and Federal taxation pay for this Crown Corporation. Even if you don’t use them a portion of your Federal taxes go towards maintaining the corporation. Here is what the “lower echelon” of Canada Post workers make. I think these are fair wages for services provided. Add to this a nice government pension plan and medical coverage and it’s a pretty good overall package.

post

You always here the BS that the U.S. worker makes far less and that’s why they can offer better prices. Well lets just see about that.

uspostal

Looks pretty close to me so why cant we get the same level of service at the same price in Canada?

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I Can See Clearly Now

I’m going to take on two things in this post, auto insurance and auto parts pricing.

I had the misfortune of having a wayward stone, deliberately thrown up by a gravel truck, strike and shatter my windshield in both the US and Canada. In the US you can get what they call “Comprehensive with Glass Coverage” if you choose this coverage , you won’t have to pay a deductible for breakage of the windshield, window glass, or material used in the lights. This coverage, with a $500.00 deductible on all other Comprehensive claims costs, with a good driving record, about $65.00/year. In Canada Comprehensive Insurance, on the same car, same driving record, with a $500.00 deductible is $61.00 however Canadian Insurers do not offer a “with glass” option. So if you get a broken windshield in Canada, or elsewhere, and claim it on your insurance you will be out your deductible, in this case $500.00 from the start. So is it worthwhile to claim a windshield on your insurance?

windshield

Again I’m going to use the exact same car and two “reputable” windshield replacement companies; in Canada Speedy Glass and in the US Safelite. The “cash” price at Speedy was $552.60 plus HST $71.84 for a total of $624.44. If claimed on insurance after the $500.00 deductible they would have been on the nut for $124.44. At Safelite the charge was $288.90 plus tax of  $23.13 for a total of $312.03 U.S. Using that days conversion factor the out of pocket was $405.60 CDN for a personal savings of $94.40  and no recorded claim against my policy.

Also worth noting, if our dollars were equal, the windshield costs double the price in Canada! But we got Free Healthcare!

So once again, even with the current difference in the exchange rate it’s still worthwhile going across the border for automobile services of ALL types!

 

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Technology House Sitters

flags

Time is drawing near when it’s time to close up the winter home in Florida, Arizona and other sunny winter destinations and prepare for the trip back home. For those with homes in their winter destinations this means draining the hot water heater, unplugging the TV and appliances and putting their cable TV services on hold. Keeping tabs on our vacation homes while back up north has involved hiring a management company or individual to periodically check the home to insure all is safe and secure. For many this also involves having someone enter the home to do an inspection. Technology now makes it easy and relatively inexpensive to perform many of the tasks required to insure that your home remains safe and sound.

The heart of a Technology House Sitter is a wireless internet connection. Most of us contract for internet services already through our cable or telephone providers while vacationing so all that is require is to maintain this service while you are away. The good new is that you can probably have your provided downgrade to their Starter Package as you will not be streaming movies or using other high bandwidth services. The first thing that I would recommend investing in is a Battery Backup System. This is a device that maintains AC power to devices in the event of a power failure. Since most house sitting technology products rely on an active WiFi connection I suggest that you plug your cable or DSL modem and wireless router into this unit. The Battery Backup also provides surge protection to your key devices. A good quality system from APC or CyberPower can be found at Amazon or your local electronics store for about $40.00.

APC

The next decision to make is whether you want to access all of your monitoring devices from a single manufacturer,website or smartphone application or to source from multiple manufacturers. I liken this a bit to the purchase of stereo components; do you want a fully integrated system or the flexibility to purchase devices best suited to your application? I personally have opted for the latter. Lets take a look at what’s available.

Alarm System

Many of us already have an alarm system at our winter homes for insurance purposes. If you have not upgraded to a system that can be monitored remotely via your computer or smartphone I would advise doing so. Usually the only thing required is a change of your wall panel and changing from a land-line phone connection to a cellular connection. The added bonus here is that you no longer need to pay for a local phone service that you don’t use for any other purpose when you return home. Once upgraded you can now arm and disarm the system remotely, have alerts sent directly to your cellphone and many other features.

Thermostat

While many may simply shut off your HVAC when you close up I like to set limits to insure that furniture and other items do not suffer heat extremes. With a WiFi enabled thermostat you can program your thermostat to only turn on when electricity prices are low. I personally set a high limit of 90 degrees for my home. Once the temperature reaches this temperature the AC will run for 15 minutes. I have found that if I run my AC in the night, between 2:00AM – 4:00AM, when the electricity costs are the lowest, I can economically cool the home to a point where the AC will never come on during the day even when the outside temperature reaches 110 or more. You can also program the thermostat to send high heat and other system alerts to your cell phone. A good WiFi thermostat will cost around $250.00. I have found the ecobee3 Smart thermostat to be a highly programmable and reliable unit.

ecobee

Lights

While many home break-ins are spur of the moment acts by kids doing a quick smash & grab professional thieves will usually watch a home for a few days to see if its occupied or not. Traditional mechanical timers have been around for a long time and are used extensively by Snowbirds to turn lights on and off to give the illusion of occupancy. The biggest problem with these are that the lights go on and off at the same time every day. They don’t allow for earlier sunrises and later sunsets during the time that the home is unoccupied. WiFi enabled timers can be programmed and reprogrammed remotely depending on the sun’s cycles. Many units also offer the ability to randomly turn lights on and off to give the appearance that a home is occupied. If someone is watching the home they will see different light patterns, even at the same time of night. You have multiple options for controlling lights; use a standalone WiFi timer that plugs into an outlet or replaces a standard light switch or you can use a standalone WiFi enabled light bulb. One thing that is overlooked by many is an audio device, a thief may not be able to look into a room with the curtains closed but will be able to hear a radio or TV, use a WiFi plug to have a radio playing during the times that yu want someone to think that the home is occupied. A WiFi smart wall switch will cost $30.00 – $40.00 on Amazon or at a retailer from belkin, Ankoo, TP-Link, WeMo and others.

belkin

 

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You Can Take That To The Bank

This post is in response to a recent CBC article on TD Bank. While TD is the focus it applies to all of the Canadian Banks and how we, the Canadian Customers, have been and continue to be screwed by these institution.

The article reminded me of my past experience with TD. A number of years back I had, what I though at the time, a significant amount of money deposited in a TD account. This amount generated approximately $2.00/mth. in interest however TD was charging me $7.00/mth. to maintain the account. When I approached the bank manager to discuss options that would a) pay me interest and b) eliminate my fees she looked at me like I had two heads. I told her that it was more cost effective for me to keep my money in a sock and to drop off $2.00/mth. at the bank then to maintain the status quo. So this is why I was not surprised at the article.

fees

Here are the highlights….

Canada’s big banks earned $35B profits in 2015 (Surprised?)

TD has more branches in the U.S. than in Canada (Expansion paid for with Canadian fees!)

TD has no plans to increase fees in the U.S. (Canadians continually subsidize U’S. consumers; oil, electricity, etc.)

TD says if you don’t like the fees you can close your account “without cost or penalty” (Saved best for last!)

So what is the Canadian consumer going to do? Suck it up as usual, complain a little, mumble and then continue to reach into our pockets. What should we do? Cut these high cost, high profit institutions loose. How? We are fortunate to have a number of options available to us. One that I would recommend are the low or no fee Checking Accounts at places like Presidents Choice Financial or Tangerine. Look at your local Credit Unions, many offer no fee or low fee accounts based on membership or a minimum balance. Check out some of the new players like Zenbanx that features the ability to maintain balances in multiple currencies.

Maybe if we start pulling our money out of the “Big Banks” they will start treating us like customers rather than cash cows.

Read the full CBC article here  

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Some Cross-Border Facts

Most of the traditional press are stating that US travel to Canada is up significantly “because of the low loonie” yes that is a fact but here are some other facts that you may have not known…

A US Citizen returning from Canada anytime in a period of less than 48 hours are entitled to a $200 duty-free exemption and the next $1,000 worth of the goods they purchased is subject to a flat rate of 3%. Any purchases of goods “Made in The USA” are not taxed regardless as to value. Goods Made In Canada or Mexico are also not taxed. After 48 Hours the allowance increases to $800. Purchases may include 1 liter of alcohol (must be 21 years of age or older). 200 cigarettes (1 carton), and 100 cigars, tax and duty free.

If they exceed duty free allowances and exemptions entering the U.S., the following approximate U.S. duty and tax rates MAY apply:

  • U.S. $2.00 – $3.00 per bottle of liquor
  • U.S. $1.30 per case of beer
  • U.S. $3.90 per carton of cigarettes

A Canadian Citizen returning from the U.S. and were not there for a total of 24 hours or more are entitled to $0.00 – ($200. less than our U.S. cousins) Over 24 hours $200 and over 48 hours they are entitled to a $800 duty-free exemption. Purchases (over 48 hrs) may include 1.14 liters (40 ounces) of liquor or 1 case of beer (24x355ml cans/bottles) or 1.5 liters of wine plus 200 cigarettes (1 carton), 50 cigars or cigarillos, 200 tobacco sticks, and 200 grams of manufactured tobacco. The value is included in the $800. limit.

IF WE EXCEED our duty free allowances and exemptions entering CANADA, the following approximate CANADIAN duty and tax rates MAY apply:

  • CA Funds approximately $1.00 per OUNCE ($31.00 per bottle more than U.S. cousin)
  • CA Funds approximately $9.00 per case of beer ($7.70 per case more than U.S. cousin)
  • CA Funds approximately $25.00 per carton of cigarettes ($21.10 per carton more than U.S. cousin)

Now some of these numbers may surprise you and make you wonder why more americans don’t cross the border to shop? Well first off even with the loonie where it is:

Gas is still $0.30 more a ltr in Canada, A 24 case of beer is $18.00 more in Canada, a hotel room in three star hotel will cost them a minimum of $40.00 more, it’s twice as expensive to dine out. etc. etc.

Nothing To Declare

Nothing To Declare

Does the lower loonie attract more U.S. tourists? Probably. Are they spending anything when they are here? Love to see those numbers!

 

 

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TV or Not TV – A Canadian Conundrum

On March 1st 2016 the CRTC has mandated that Canadian Cable and Satellite companies must provide Canadian consumers with a “basic” TV package for $25.00 and package or single channel choices for rest of channels. The basic package must include channels on the CRTC’s mandatory distribution list including CBC, CTV and Global and aboriginal and minority English or French language channels. In addition a group of U.S. channels (could) be included, usually CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and non-commercial channel PBS. The rumour is that many of the channels in this package will be mostly Canadian public affairs channels.

cablecutter

For no other reason other than the fact that I am a current Rogers subscriber I will use them here as an example. Rogers current “Basic” package is $40.48/month for 225 Channels. Of these I watch about 15; the major U.S. Networks, PBS, the major Canadian Networks and a couple of others like CHCH and YES. In addition Rogers charges me an additional $2.99/month for Digital service, even though there are no analog service options, and another $7.49/month for an additional outlet.

While packages have not been announced the assumption is that the Canadian providers will skinny down this basic service to the letter of the law forcing most Canadians to add some packages or bundles that will get them back close to their original monthly cost.

What are the options?

All throughout the world there is a movement called “cord cutters” to reduce and ultimately eliminate the need, and therefor the payments, to cable and satellite companies for TV services. This has been spawned by two factors; one is that almost every household now has internet access, a service that at an average cost of $42.95 per household, and two, the fact that virtually every US TV network also offers online streaming or downloading of their shows to ones computer, media boxes or Smart TV’s. For example CBS All Access in the U.S. $5.99/month. While CBS is a legitimate network in Canada, through the aforementioned providers, there s no option for a Canadian to subscribe to this network, or the other U.S. networks streaming services in Canada. Live streaming of Canadian TV networks in Canada is possible but at best remains a challenge.

The U.S. is the clear-cut leaders in the amount of players and options available to cut the cord. ROKU (U.S. ROKU owners have access to more than 1,800 channels, in Canada there are only a dozen or so available), Amazon Fire TV (Not available in Canada), Apple TV (US content blocked limited Canadian content) HULU Plus,(Blocked) Sling TV (Blocked). Canada, surprise, lags well behind the US and UK.

One of the most popular services is Netflix. This is available in both the U.S. and Canada at $9.99 for Standard Subscription however the Canadian subscription has 2,619 less shows that the U.S. subscription as of January 6, 2016. To compete with Netflix Bell has recently launched CraveTV (available only to TV customers of Bell and a number of other telecom partners) and Rogers and Shaw have launched Shomi (available to anyone in Canada). Both priced at $8.99/mth with limited device support; TV if you have their box, Computer to TV with AppleTV or Chromecast, Xbox. No Apps for any of the popular streaming boxes.

OTA – Over The Air TV

Most U.S. and many Canadian TV networks broadcast their local signals over the air and can, depending on your location, be received via an indoor or outdoor HD antenna. Want to know what signals you can get at your home? Go to the following website and type in your address. http://www.tvfool.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29 . Those within 25 miles or so of a U.S. border are best served. If you can get a reasonable amount of channels you may then want to take a look at purchasing a TABLO box www.tablo.com. When coupled with a USB hard drive TABLO will let you record OTA broadcasts just like a cable PVR for viewing later over Wi-Fi so you can watch on multiple devices.

epix

Getting Serious

As you can clearly see if you lived in the U.S. you would have way more cord cutting options than being in Canada. Surprize! The challenge, make the Internet think that you are in the U.S., or anywhere else that you want to watch shows from. The solution is a VPN service. A VPN service changes your IP address on your router, computer, streaming box or Smart TV so it looks like it’s located in another country thereby unlocking the ability to watch programs from that country. Does it work? Well it sure annoys Bell Medias new president Mary Ann Turcke who says “Watching U.S. Netflix in Canada by using location-hiding services such as VPNs is stealing and needs to be more frowned upon”.

There are a couple of VPN options available; you can use your computer to connect to the internet through a free or paid VPN service and then watch shows on your computer or optionally on your TV if you have an Apple TV or Chromecast device. The second option is to install a VPN service directly on your router and have all computers, media players and Smart TV’s connect to the internet through this router. This is a more expensive option – $50.00 – $100.00 annual subscription, but opens up all devices. The one downside is that the router is “locked” with a VPN address so if you then want to watch shows in say the U.K. you would have to change the routers VPN address or use your computer VPN for these occasions.

Additional options are installing Plex or KODI on your computer or media boxes. By doing so you can open up the internet options by not only viewing TV shows but also opening access to movies and more. A popular emerging App that can be installed on multiple devices is Channel PEAR that permits you to preload Network and other streams, shows and movies on your computer and streaming devices.

So lets see what happens March 1st with the Canadian TV providers then you make some educated decisions.

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Winter Vacation? Don’t Give Up – Canadian Dollar Is Up In These Countries

vacation

 

Have you been wondering where you will go this winter after the abysmal performance of the loonie this year. Well you are in luck! Here is a list of places where your loonie is worth more than it was last year. Grab the kids and have fun…

Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Belarus, Argentina, Ukrainian, Brazil, Mozambique, Malawi Tajikistan, Swaziland, Namibia, South Africa, Colombia, Angola, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Myanmar, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, Paraguay, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uruguay, Malaysia, Algeria, Uganda, and last but no least Haiti!

Enjoy!

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