The kids

In 1986 I was a shitty trumpet player with no business attending a music school dedicated to performance and the business of music. But I did. And I did so with only a student loan and the support of a single parent. I went to school in Toronto, didn’t work during the school year, and had a place of my own to live in. I ate a lot of pizza and drank lots of beer.

Camren, a dedicated competitive athlete with an academic record I could have only dreamed of, has been awarded scholarships and bursaries for 2024, but he still doubts he can attend. The costs have risen exponentially, while the scholarship awards have not, nor have salaries. How many kids will no longer be able to afford the quality of outcomes a higher education provides?

What a world we have left for them.

A comedy show

Camren and I flew to Victoria last Thursday so that he could tour UVic, swim with their swim team, and get a general feel for the city. We both came away with a great first impression and were struck by just how friendly and helpful people were.

We left a day earlier than necessary because we were flying Air Canada, an airline with the efficiency, reliability, and customer service similar to Soviet Airlines of old.

Flying out of Charlottetown to anywhere of distance often requires catching the early morning flight that leaves at ~ 5:20, which we did. Other than my carry-on setting off all kinds of alerts, to the embarrassment of the newbie security agent, our flights went without a hitch. Except that, in flight, we were told we couldn’t eat the snacks I prepared because someone had a food allergy. Air Canada’s aircraft lacked amenities, and the seats had little room. Most people have caught on to the fact that if you check your baggage for a fee, you stand a good chance of not seeing it when you land.

Surprisingly, Air Canada sent an email a day after we arrived offering a credit due to a poor flight experience.

Our flight back could have been smoother.

First, our flight was delayed leaving Victoria due to a staffing issue in Toronto. At this point, we could still catch our connecting flight.

Once boarded, we had a further delay because the “only person who could approve the flight by checking the checklist” was not at the airport. Luckily, he “was still on Vancouver Island.” We finally left 45 minutes later. Making our connecting flight was increasingly doubtful.

In flight, I got a notification that our flight to Charlottetown was “delayed due to airport constraints.” It was only a 15-minute delay, but we could make our flight after all.

I received another notice, “This flight is delayed due to airport constraints,” and again later, yet another delay. The 3-hour total delay meant that we would most certainly make our flight, though I expected that they would, in the end, cancel, which necessitated a last-minute search for a hotel.

When we arrived in Toronto, we had to wait on the tarmac because our gate wasn’t available. An earlier Air Canada flight had broken down at the gate.

Then, when we finally arrived at the gate, they wouldn’t open the door because we were told the door was damaged and someone with more authority had to come and approve its opening.

Hours later, we boarded our flight to Charlottetown with the usual asinine board by zone. You can pay $75 to board earlier in the hopes that your carry-on will be placed nearby, though if you carry a backpack, that may have to go under your seat.

This kind of nonsense used to drive me crazy. I don’t know if it’s my advancing age or just low expectations, but through all of this, all I did was laugh like we were taking part in some kind of reality comedy show.

We finally arrived in Montague at about 4am, the late hour which negatively impacts everyone’s week.

There are many positives to living here on Prince Edward Island. But the hassle-free ability to leave for places afar is certainly not one of them.

January Blues

January is my least favourite month. I’m at my most pessimistic, usually a bit glum, and generally feel like sitting by a wood stove and reading until the weather warms.

This dislike of January has never abated, even during those days many years ago when we would travel and spend time on a warm beach.

It makes me less enthusiastic about work, which might explain all the emails I have yet to deal with. And my reluctance to do more than what is required.

Doctors recommend light therapy, meds, and other things I don’t have time for. What I will do is try to continue running, eat more and realize that this January, like all the others, will soon pass and bring with it more sun and warmth.


Sheryl and I shared a look last week when I mentioned yet another couple of news items, one about the failing health care system, a day doesn’t go by without at least one article, and the other of yet another failing in one part of the giant bureaucracy of Service Canada.

It had been close to nine weeks since Sheryl filed for EI and numerous phone calls had shed no light on what the problem could be. Her case was elevated so many times it might well have been on the desk of the PM himself. Each time she called, the person who she talked to didn’t have any answers, and the person who did was either away or unreachable. The person on the other end of the call has an unenviable job. Yesterday she got an answer. Her SIN was inactive.

She asked how that could be possible – she drew EI last year for a month, voted in an election, they gladly took her tax money, even asking her for more based on her past EI claim, and she has been living and working back in Canada for years. The representative didn’t know.

So she spent a couple hours at Service Canada yesterday afternoon, patiently waiting while people were on coffee break, in an effort to prove to the Government that she does indeed exist so that she can receive the service she has been paying for.

It was recommended that I look into doing the same. But before I spend an afternoon at a Government office convincing them of my existence, I wonder if there are any benefits of living here in Canada, but not existing?


Tomorrow is Election Day and I have still not come to a decision as to who or what party I will cast my vote for. Unlike past elections, held during our brief time back in Canada, there has been little in the way of outreach from party candidates, and with life being busier than the past, I’ve done little to understand their take on the issues that matter to me.

Here are the issues that seem to be pre-occupying my mind of late:

Cost of living. Coming home was in one small part an experiment, could we lead a similar middle class lifestyle that we lived abroad while enjoying a greater work-life balance. Before we left we knew that the medical system here was not comparable in access to what we were used to, but we felt otherwise the numbers worked. Recently at the behest of a friend and mentor, I more closely ran the numbers again (I dislike quant.) and discovered that our experiment has failed. At a time when we should be celebrating success, who the hell makes a living telling bedtime stories, we realize that despite having a household income far above the median, we just can’t make it. In many ways our lifestyle is a shadow of what it was – the cost of living is just too high.

Food has always been more expensive (Atlantic salmon is cheaper in Taiwan for some reason), housing costs are spiralling out of control (a house we thought of buying recently sold for double the price), services and education are multiples more expensive, and Canadian salaries like in Taiwan are depressed.

High taxation. To make matters worse we pay 6-7x the effective tax rate we were paying before and for what (where is the accountability)? PEI doesn’t have true universal health care, you have to pay for dental, eye exams, audiology and for any medications you might need. I have no idea if mental health is covered or where one would go to access that. If you try to look after your physical self, you have to pay for that too – physiotherapy is a thriving business on the Island.

I had this misplaced conception that by returning to Canada we would have access to greater social services, more security, and thus more peace of mind. What the pandemic has taught us is that this is far from the truth. We must be as self-reliant as in the past (in Asia we had no assistance available for anything), which is fine, but again, what do we pay such a high tax rate for.

Universal healthcare. What good is having great doctors if you can’t access medical services? Camren has an ingrown toenail, a minor problem, but one that has a dramatic effect on his quality of life. Competitive athletics are best performed without a swollen infected toe. He’s been told its a 3 month wait for a procedure that we could have been taken care of immediately by walking into any hospital in the past. I had been experiencing an irregular heart beat, was concerned and started my journey at a walk-in clinic. It took me over 6 months to get the prognosis that “if anything bad was going happen it would have happened by now.”

What is frustrating is that while you have to pay for some services, you aren’t allowed to pay for others. I would like more data as to why I have decreased energy levels and if there might be circulatory problems in my left leg. I can’t pay for blood work or get scans from a private clinic and the system here only starts to work when problems get chronic and then you begin the well known long wait.

Before I left the Island for education and work, I was raised by my mother alone on the modest salary she received. We lived in a 3 bedroom duplex, she drove a nice car, I was dressed in nice clothes, and I had regular visits to the doctor. We ate well. Sometimes it was tight, but I didn’t notice any difference between our family and those of what might have been my better off classmates. It would be impossible to have a similar life style today on a single salary. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, under similar circumstances, you would be food insecure and perhaps at risk of being homeless.

At present, I have no idea which person and party can best represent my concerns. And honestly, I have little faith any will make much progress. Lawrence Macaulay would seem the most qualified, but I’m not sure he has ever stepped foot in Stratford, let alone gone door to door talking to constituents. The Green party’s focus on climate is something I can get behind, but when your boat is already sinking, it’s hard to focus on rising sea levels.

I have about 12 hours before I plan to vote.

Too short a stay

Foggy in New Brunswick and PEI, sunny in Nova Scotia

We had a short pit stop in Aulac enroute to a family BBQ in Truro. While we had little trouble entering Nova Scotia, the fact that we stopped at all in New Brunswick gave the “gate-keeper” at the provincial border significant pause.

More taxes

This explains why I have been getting all these last minute notices to enter our BN to avoid tax collection.

The move comes after Ottawa unveiled plans last year to require foreign multinationals to collect GST or HST on digital products and services, something they said was fair since Canadian companies were already required to do so.

Death and Taxes

While I helped others complete theirs, I waited until the last possible moment to finish our taxes this year. My thinking was that it should be pretty straight forward, I haven’t drawn a salary since COVID hit so what could be easier than entering a 0.

Except it wasn’t easy. Something was awry. Sheryl was continuously coming away with owing thousands of dollars in taxes. I prepared them separately, together, and backwards and forwards (not really) but with each revision the numbers got more and more dire. There was smoke coming out my ears, as I loudly exclaimed the impossibility of owing Canada yet more taxes during one the hardest years of our adult lives.

I’m the last person in the world you should rely upon for financial advice, and so with the knowledge of my limitations I called my cousin for advice who directed me to his accountant.

Long story short, he saved us these thousands by virtue of his knowledge of just announcement rebate (nee loophole). I thanked him profusely, paid for his 10 minutes of work, and was on my way.

But it shouldn’t be this way. No tax code should rely upon experts in order for tax payers to pay their fair share. What if I was too poor to pay his fee? Or just accepted my fate? How many other people in Canada are paying more than their fair share? It’s ridiculous.

Comparisons are odious, but I am going to do it anyway. In 20+ years of living in Taiwan when we went to file taxes (Sheryl as a teacher didn’t have to pay taxes for the majority of our time there), we would make the short trip to the tax office where the officer would review our file, and work to save us money! It was a simple 1 page doc. but they always found some simple errors and the general feeling was that they were on our side. I can’t imagine the CRA doing that here.

And has this higher tax rate resulted in a higher standard of living? Better services? Not that I can see.

My cousin just shrugged, laughed, and said welcome home. Sort of a Canadian equivalent of 沒辦法.

It’s not just taxes. The bureaucracy in Canada is thick, with people hiring experts with money from the government, in order to prepare complex documents to get yet more money from the government.


My mood today matches the weather outside. Gray, cold, and slushy.

Sheryl prepared her taxes a couple weeks ago and the prognosis was poor. I’ve been procrastinating completing mine because I know too, that mine will also be grim. In the most challenging economic environment we have ever faced we will end up owing the government money this year. We applied for no business funding, nor received pandemic relief. We fall in the cracks for just about every available program – we pay cash for dental and the egregiously expensive eye exams. Thankfully, we don’t pay to visit the doctor. We don’t desire help, and are used to being self-sufficient, but the Islands extreme taxation, low salaries, and high cost of living makes cutting a cheque to the federal government painful to say the least.

Finally sorted

Last years tax return was I thought just about as easy as I thought possible – during my first 6 months back I had no Canadian income to report.

What turned out to be complicated was when it came time to claim our children on the return.

I forget the exact language the CRA used, and I can’t find the screenshot that I took at the time, but in effect they believed that in a 2 parent family the woman is considered the primary caregiver. So I, as a male, had to set out and prove that I was for the year of the return the one taking charge of our children’s care. This assumption didn’t and doesn’t sit well with me. There may well be data to support their conclusion but it stands in contrast to all the grand efforts that Canada makes to become an inclusive society.

So I went through the steps I was instructed to and was still met with a roadblock. I might have been entitled to a remittance of some sort but I figured that further calls to the CRA were not worth my time. So I gave up and left it on my someday todo list. I had gone 20 years without any support from any government, why start now?

I do realize that this attitude towards money is also the reason why I remain poor.

After filing this year I realized that the CRA still didn’t take in account our children in my return so I got on the phone, eventually got through, and after talking to a positive yet weary sounding agent for 45 minutes managed to clear up the confusion. I think.

Oh dear Aeroplan

Last year when I was in Charlottetown I applied for and was given an Aeroplan Visa card as a means to start reintegrating myself into Canadian life. I’m oversimplifying, but considering I have been a non-resident for 20 years with no debt, and also no history, I saw this as a way to start saying hello again to the credit bureau. It also made paying certain recurring bills more convenient.

I didn’t chose the Aeroplan card for any particular reason other the promise of “miles” and the possibility of using them for something Air Canada related in the future. I hate loyalty programs in general, as the benefit always seems too heavily weighted towards the program vs. the consumer. And I don’t find the game all that fun.

Since I did have all these points, some seem to have expired already, and have an upcoming flight from Tokyo to Montreal, I thought this might be a great opportunity to see if I could upgrade my way out of the back breaking economy to something affording more wiggle room.

I called Air Canada here in Taipei, but was told I need to take care of it online or phone long distance to Montreal. So off I went to the Air Canada website. As it turns out you can’t use your Aeroplan miles through the AC website but must call reservations which redirects me back to the same number I called in the first place.

Going to Aeroplan’s website I entered in my flight data in a “not confidence instilling” form to find out that while I had plenty of points to upgrade to business, upgrades weren’t available for this flight. In fact they wouldn’t give me an upgrade on any of my upcoming flights.

For fun I thought I would have a look at their “great deals” section and see what aeroplan could give me otherwise. I’m alone for a few weeks in July, a cheap trip might be fun. The most interesting I could find was a flight to London for ~13000 points plus taxes. But when you pay the taxes on the flight you end up saving just $200 off Air Canada’s regular fairs and likely less if you looked hard elsewhere.

At this point I don’t exactly know what the point of Aeroplan is.

Years ago I was a member of EVA Air’s frequent flyer program and used to enjoy regular upgrades, preferred status and lounge access. Perhaps I need to learn the rules of this game in Canada, but I think over the summer I will be cancelling this Aeroplan branded card for something that offers tangible value.

A Yarus at BMW Prices

From: Canadians pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world — but report says they’re worth it

MEI claims the study is “simplistic and misleading” because it ignores factors that can inflate prices, such as Canada’s geographical barriers and the investments that Canadian telcos have made to provide superior wireless services.

“We have some of the best networks in the world,” said MEI report author Martin Masse. “We’re paying for a Lexus, but it’s worth a Lexus.”

This must be the most ridiculous metaphor I have ever heard but if they want to use it, a Corolla or Yarus at BMW prices might be more apt.

As for the argument that Canada’s wireless services are comparable to driving a luxury car, like a Lexus, not every Canadian can afford — or even wants — Lexus-like services, says Laura Tribe, executive director of consumer advocacy group Open Media.

“Not everyone needs an elite product,” said Tribe. “We have expensive; we don’t have affordable.”

She even gets it wrong.

Months ago, when I created a spreadsheet to budget our monthly expenses in Canada, the biggest percentage change in the budget month over month was wireless and home internet charges. Our current usage habits here were not going to be sustainable in Canada.

As a point of contrast:

Currently we have the kids plans which cost the equivalent of $4.00 CAN a month with 1 gig each of data. They both came with free Android devices which failed and were replaced with older iPhones we had on hand. The plan my wife I have is $43 CAN each for unlimited data – the price was originally marginally higher as it subsidized our iPhones. We don’t care about talk minutes or sms, as everything uses data.

Currently Chunghua Telecom, the national carrier has a Mothers day special available from today until the 15th, detailed below:

  • 30 Months contract
  • ~$31 CAN/Month
  • Unlimited Internet
  • Free calls within CHT
  • 90min/month free calls to other mobile providers and landline.

Alternatively, limited to 12GB/month and less free calls: ~$13 CAN/Month. If you want an iPhone, the price goes up to ~ $25 CAN / Month.

Phone quality and speed is excellent, and even when you find yourself at the top of some remote mountain you can still stream video.

I’m surprised more Canadian aren’t up in arms over the price gouging they endure at the hands of telecoms.

What’s up with Canadian banks?

I wrote a short entry recently on the UX of the contact feature, essentially about how sending email is more often than not a waste of time. Company’s keep putting up contact details but can’t follow through with “people systems” to actually reply to inquiries. In Taiwan, using Line or Facebook gets you far better results. In China, email doesn’t really exist and your life revolves around WeChat.

In my very very limited sample set, many of these types of problems in the past year or so have been with Canadian banks, who despite having created complex contact protocols to their staff (sales people disguised as advisors), have a terrible record of communication. Is banking in Canada still an in person business culture?

When finding financing for a home we skipped the email chain entirely and were personally recommended to someone in a bank in my wife’s hometown. A long expensive phone call later we gave her our life story, with a promise to continue the meeting in a couple of days. Having gone through this process before I know if she knew how to use her information system at her desk she would have most of the information she need within an hour but chalked it up to inexperience with international clients. She never did continue the conversation nor reply to further enquiries.

Contrast that with smaller companies we have been dealing with in Prince Edward Island who on the phone and via email have been more than helpful. One of which I will visit in person, despite not going forward with their offer, to thank for their help. Are the incentives different for those with small businesses?

Adapting to change

John Cage said that fear in life is the fear of change. If I may add to that: nothing can avoid changing. It’s the only thing you can count on. Because life doesn’t have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change. [source]

I regularly receive news of impending doom in my native country due to the rising cost of heating oil. People worrying about the coming winter, wondering if they will be able to heat their homes. It’s a serious, though inflated, concern especially for those in rural areas living on marginal incomes.
If you know change is coming and you have the means why don’t people prepare? Part of the reason lies with Eastern Canadian culture whereby when faced with change there is a over-reliance on various provincial and federal government agencies to provide answers. Unfortunately, the pace of change is too fast to rely solely on others. Government is slow and they may not have the answers in time (if ever). It’s time to look to alternatives (one, two, three), change our expectations, and enjoy the new reality?

The Beginning of Canadian History

The Beginning of Canadian History
“Canada is fine. It’s good. And in Canada, our nil magnum nisi bonum*s keep us warm at night. In the identity we have created and maintained as uniquely Canadian, who we are is good, but, well, not particularly great. That is the only zeitgeist by and for Canadians that is articulated with any regularity in the magazines, television and billboards, or in the streets and schools and homes and offices. “