Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Harper's latest poll results

I'm not going to comment on the latest Strategic Council poll that came out in the Globe & Mail this morning (Why is Harper treading water?). Rather, I'm going to comment on the Globe's assertion that the economy is just humming along.

I'm really surprised that the Globe & Mail feels that the Canadian economy is so strong. While job growth remains good many of the underlying characteristics of the economy are troubling at best. Ontario, the industrial hub of the country has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs at an alarming rate. Canada is one of the few Western countries with negative industrial output according to the Economist. Canada is also a laggard when it comes to investment in Research & Development. The combination has serious implications for our ability to compete with the rest of the world.

Now let's look at what those jobs are being replaced with. Part time and temporary work in service industries and work in the resource industry are the primary contributors to job growth. So we're becoming hewers of wood and Starbucks baristas. Not such a pretty picture when you look under the surface.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Can we overcome our addiction to consumerism?

What do Barrie Shepley and Deepak Chopra have in common? Not much on the surface. Everyone knows Chopra, but unless you're living in Canada or a triathlete it's likely you haven't heard of Barrie.

Barrie has been deeply committed to triathlon over the past 20 years (give or take a year or two). He has been a factor in triathlon gaining acceptance as an Olympic sport and has been equally committed to developing triathlon at the youth and recreational level. Barrie is also a relentless optimist, something which, at times, be a difficult pill to swallow, for those of us who have been as relentlessly cynical about life. Over the past couple of years though I've been forced (mostly by my wife) to work at halt my transformation into a miserable old sod.

As a result, I've been more receptive to his message and even tried to incorporate some of the wisdom he imparts in his weekly e-mail newsletter into my own life. This year Barrie's mantra has been "if you aren't passionate about something you're just existing". This mantra was one of the reasons I started this blog -- I love to write and this is a great outlet (even if there's no one reading it).

One of Barrie's jobs is to act as the race announcer for the World Cup triathlon series. The last stop was in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary. Barry mentioned this race in last weeks newsletter, not because of the race but the small town on which the World Cup tour converged. His insight into the place and it's people were remarkably similar to comments Chopra made during an interview last week. First, Barrie's thoughts on Tiszaujvaros and then a comment about the Chopra interview.

"Last week I was in a small Hungarian city 200km from Budapest. The city is poor with post-communism cement buildings where most people have no more than 800 square feet to live. Yet, each day when I was out for my power-walk, I would see hundreds of people lining the river banks, fishing, reading, having their suppers and smiling. The town has no BMW cars, few vehicles made in the 21st century and yet tens of thousands of people were out volunteering and supporting the World Cup Triathlon. The athletes consider it one of their favourite stops on the circuit. Before I left town I had a chance to speak to an older man in his broken English. "Tell me about life in your town and country." I asked him. "I have healthy children, a job that allows me to buy food for my family and I enjoy fishing on the river with my friends." he said. I could see the legitimate contentment as he spoke and we watched the end of his son's football (soccer) game."
Chopra made very similar comments about a vacation to Cuba. He mentioned that although the people were very poor, they were also quite happy. Where ever he went Chopra saw people gathering to talk in cafes; crowds gathering around musicians to watch and dance; or families and friends out out for an evening stroll, enjoying each other's company.
What the people of Tiszaujvaros and Cuba had in common was that their societies place a much higher emphasis on creating highly social communities. Family, friends and social events are fundamental characteristics of each. Their comments reminded me of the week my wife and I spent in Montalcino on our last vacation. The locals there shared many of the attributes that Barrie and Chopra witnessed. Meeting friends for a lingering lunch. Meeting friends at the local bar for coffee in the morning and a drink at the end of the day. Or going out for a stroll and a gelato with family in the evening. In the week we were there we actually got to know a half dozen locals. It was an eye opening experience.
Both Barrie and Chopra lament that our society has lost much of the social traditions show in many other parts of the world. Chopra's contention is that consumerism has largely displaced socialism in our societies. Barry was making a similar observation. Curious in its coincidence. I wonder if we are capable of reverting to a more social society. I also wonder what impact that might have on the environmental movement.