A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Telephone woes – talking to India!

As regular readers will know I am stuck on dial up internet at speeds that at times it would be faster to send it by Canada Post. I have learned to tolerate this in that I have little choice but to do so, however when recently the phone once again crapped out entirely, a situation that happens all to frequently, I finally got pissed off enough to spend the hours on the phone required to work my way up through the layers of “service representatives” that stand between Bell Canada’s customers and the folks that are actually responsible for operation and repair of said telephone system. It was not easy let me tell you!

So here is the saga of my telephone / internet woes over the last 5 years or more for your interest and edification!!

Let it be first said that I am at the end of a cable stretching some 5 or 10 miles to the nearest switch station and as such one cannot expect internet speed above 36k, my best achieved speed was 32k last summer, this year it is 28k….. UNTIL IT RAINS! When it rains, or spring or fall as the frost in the ground comes or goes it will gradually decrease until it totally craps out often the voice connection is unusable due to noise and at times it get to the point where we totally loose dial tone. Naturally each time this happens I get on the cell phone and dial 611 “telephone repair”, where upon I am directed to an operator in INDIA who insists upon my identifying myself often with personal information in order to proceed further.

Lets deal with that bit before we continue with the story. In a recent call I was asked for my Bell account number and not having that right in front of me I said “sorry I don’t have that handy” and was then asked for my SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!! What the HELL, if a operative in INDIA can confirm my identity with my social security number that means it must be available to them, where did they get it, why do they have it and is that not supposed to be secure information? In this case I refuse to do that and made them wait until I had dug out an invoice with my customer number on it, we then proceeded with the call……

In order to try and get to someone who could actually help I decided to call the Bell “customer service” line rather than “telephone repair” and upon explaining my problem (as outlined elsewhere in this saga) requested to speak to a supervisor and upon finally getting said supervisor on the line and once AGAIN explaining my problem it was suggested that I “hold” whilst it could be seen what could be done. Upon return I was told “OK I will transfer you to a repair supervisor”. Great I thought, we are finally getting somewhere but after a short wait, guess what? Yup, you are right, I was connected to the 611 “representative in INDIA. …..SHIT!

Now you must understand that with any where between 2 to 10 calls to 611 each year about the same problem I now am fairly familiar with the “system”. The “representative you first talk to will go through a set procedure consisting of a number of set questions and set warning of costs should it be a problem in your house and not on their system. There is little one can do to shorten this procedure even if you have heard it 50 or 100 times over the years, so settle in for a prolonged conversation before you ever get to the meat of the problem. So, 10 min later I get to report my troubles, phone don’t work, line noisy, no dial tone. In order to try and fix this ongoing problem permanently I request to be connected to a CANADIAN supervisor, preferably a supervisor at least in the area where I reside and one responsible for cable repair. I explain that having talked to many repair technicians over the years the problem is in the bell cable / connection boxes leading from my house to the bell switching station and that unless I can get someone out WHILST IT IS STILL RAINING they will, by the time they get here the fault will have dried out and all will be well.

As an aside here I will say for the most part that the technicians who have responded to my many calls have been helpful and friendly but I recognize that they cannot find a fault that is not there by the time they get out here. The few times that they have located some problems with the line I have been told that it appears the underground cable coming up the road is probably NFG and / or there is water getting into the joints / cable somewhere. Each time this happens the 611 guy escalates it to the “cable guys” who then come out and basically do / tell me, the same thing. Each of the 6 or 8 spare circuits in that cable have been tried at one time or another with only temporary improvement. Next spring, Fall or rain here we go again.

By now you will be just STARTING to understand my frustration! Anyway on with the saga. So having told this long story to the “representative” in INDIA I finally persuaded her to let me talk to her supervisor and after a short wait he came on the line. The first question I asked was where was he located and what was his position in the company. The reply? INDIA, 611 supervisor! So after having gone through the LONG story AGAIN I asked to be connected to a CANADIAN supervisor and was told “that is not possible, we do not have any phone numbers of supervisors or managers in Canada besides which the 611 repair service is run entirely out of INDIA!! At this point I am getting really ticked and after a few more go-arounds establish that the Canadian technicians are dispatched by email directly from INDIA. This was later pretty much confirmed in my conversation with a repair technician who said “ I don’t get to talk with anyone, I am dispatched by email but I don’t really know where (or who) that comes from. Hmmmm, I don’t seem to be getting anywhere here but do eventually agree to have a repair guy come out with instructions to make sure that he comes to my door before proceeding any further so that I can TRY and get a phone number of someone who can resolve this long standing problem and he said he could “send a message” to a Canadian supervisor who would call me within 24hrs.
One note here, what set me off was the fact that I had gone through most of this the day before but the tech who came out DID NOT come see me but sent an AUTOMATED message “we cannot find anything wrong with your line”. Duh, its stopped raining you fkin idiot, did they not tell you that it comes and goes with the weather!!
End of chapter one!

So we are now 24hrs after the SECOND recent call to INDIA and I finally get to talk to a Canadian technician who has received an email dispatch to repair my phone and after explaining the whole story AGAIN to him he tells me he will see what he can find / do and will report back to me. Sure enough his initial testing showed no problem with the phone line but the thank the Lord it started to rain and sure enough the phone line went tilt and he was able to return and say “yes, there is a problem, there are grounds and shorts in the cable and / or connections. Great, thank you, but I already knew that from talking to several other technicians over the years. Now what are we going to do about it?
Step one, he says is to forward it to the “cable guys”, ok that’s been done several time before. What’s next? He indicated that he can do little more being just the guy on the bottom of the totem pole but does give me a number of his “manager” in Toronto (70 miles away), apparently there are no “local” managers or supervisors so that a least explained why I could not get to speak to one! He also told me that there is, in the front of the phone book, a number for when all else fails of the Corporate Office where I am told there is a “knowledgeable secretary” who may well be able to put me in touch with someone who can produce some results or at least explain where to go from here.

Shortly after the tech left the 611 supervisor in Canada, yep that right in CANADA called, having received that “message” from INDIA , unfortunately it was much the same story but he did promise to have a supervisor from “engineering” call me. A while later the “cable guy” called to say that he had checked my line and found and corrected two faults, (during a period of no rain!) one of which (no bonding on cable shield) had been there for a long while, the other being some wires laying against the side of a terminal box and shorting when things got damp. Thank you “Paul” I can but hope you have finally found the problem but only time will tell. Although the cable tested out “perfect” and was “in very good condition” (wonder why the previous guys blamed it on a poor cable coming up the road?) I was still only able to get 29k thru-put but hey, what’s a couple of “k” when an hour ago it was “0”k!! I do wonder however just exactly how much effort and expertise those previous “telephone repair” and “cable guys” put into REALLY finding the problem, has it been “this guys a whiner just check it and carry on it will be ok tomorrow”. The other part is why did I have to get totally pissed off, spent a couple of hours on the phone, talk to numerous “representatives” , “supervisors” , “repair guys” etc etc before getting a permanent (I hope) fix.

One more thing that I learned was that the Repair guy and the Cable guy are not assigned an area in which they work and thus rarely are dispatched to a second, third or 50th call to a particular problem. In that I cannot recall over the last 5 years of calls seeing the same guy twice this would seem to be true, as an electrician in the “service industry” for years I can say that this is at best counter productive and is probably the worst way to solve technical difficulties and enhance customer satisfaction. One of the many technicians that spoke to me over the years said that “if you need a tutorial on how to NOT run a company then work for Bell for a few years” and also “I don’t go grocery shopping in my Bell uniform any more because I don’t want to be shanghaied by dissatisfied customers”. No further comment required!

Meanwhile if your phone goes out have fun talking to BELL INDIA, I for one will not bother, I now have three numbers to call, the “cable guy”, the Toronto “manager”, and the Corporate Office, and none of them are going to like what I have to say if it goes tilt again. Oh yea, and that “engineering supervisor” still hasn’t called back!

There endith the saga of Rural’s telephone woes. Perhaps!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Canadian Postal Service Charter

For those that missed it the Government has just established the Canadian Postal Service Charter to describe its expectations regarding Canada Post’s service standards and related activities in providing services in Canada. For rural residents it’s a good news bad news sort of thing, on universal service they say this:-

“Canada Post will maintain a postal system that allows individuals and businesses in Canada to send and receive mail within Canada and between Canada and elsewhere. Canada Post will provide a service for the collection, transmission and delivery of letters, parcels and publications.”

Regarding rural services specifically they say this:-

“The provision of postal services to rural regions of the country is an integral part of Canada Post’s universal service.”

Which does not mean that rural DELIVERY will not be discontinued or reduced but can mean that MOST will have a postal outlet within a 15 minute drive as per this:-

“Canada Post will provide retail postal outlets, including both corporate post offices and private dealer operated outlets which are conveniently located and operated, so that: 98 percent of consumers will have a postal outlet within 15 km; 88% within 5km and 78% within 2.5km.”

Just to put this in perspective with aprox 80% of our population being urban dwellers the removal of ALL rural Post Offices would not substantially change these percentages!
However the good new is:- “The moratorium on the closure of rural post offices is maintained.”

However that statement is modified by this! “ Situations affecting Canada Post personnel (e.g., retirement, illness, death, etc.) or Canada Post infrastructure (e.g., fire or termination of lease, etc.) may, nevertheless, affect the ongoing operation of a post office.”

And then there is this:- “At least one month before deciding to permanently close, move or amalgamate corporate post offices, Canada Post will meet with affected customers and communities to jointly explore options and find practical solutions that address customer concerns.”

Wow, a whole month to try and change their mind that’s real generous!

As I said it’s a good news, bad news kinda thing. The moratorium on the closure of rural post offices is maintained, sort off, maybe, perhaps, and rural delivery is not even mentioned! Not exactly what I was hoping for. (It also seems that as a cost cutting measure the government has done away with spell check on their word processors as there were multiple spelling / typo errors in the PDF document!)

All in all a rather meaningless document so typical of government!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

EI & Bill C50

There has been a lot of discussion about bill C50 that “Harpers Government” has put forward to try (seems like they succeeded) to get enough support in the house to survive for a short while longer. Not being one to believe either the political partys or the press on the details of such a Bill which has been described by some as “lacking “ I actually read the text of it and was not surprised to find that this is indeed a farce. Those who think this has any kind of lasting effect on EI payments or eligibility should Read the actual wording of the bill

To sum it up, as I understand it, if one established a claim in the last 9 months or does so in the next year AND have NOT had a previous claims exceeding 36 weeks of payment in the last 5 years you would receive up to 20 weeks extra payment up to a maximum of 53 weeks. This amount to be reduced gradually depending upon when your claim is established and reduced to zero after Sep 2010. All this provided that you have paid into the system “at least 30% of the maximum annual employee’s premium” over the last 7 to15 years (also on a sliding scale). A person establishing a claim next August would receive 2 to 5 weeks extra depending upon the above criteria for instance.

It all seems fairly reasonable if one views it as a temporary measure but to call it any kind if EI reform is totally misleading. The other question is exactly what that “at least 30% of the maximum annual employee’s premium” means exactly. Is it 30% of the maximum anyone pays, so does it penalize those who have worked steadily part time for low wages? I cannot see what else they would mean, a worker pays an amount based upon his or her income to an upper limit which many of us never reach but it seems if you haven’t reached 30% of that limit you can have been working steadily struggling to make ends meet with a part time job and possibly not be considered equally in need as a full time employee.

There is no doubt that there needs to be some reform to this insurance system, particularly as the job market changes to provide less full time secure jobs and more temporary, part time or contract jobs, but this is NOT reform but just a political ploy to hang on to power.

The whole thing does not extend beyond Sept 11 2010 and so is a temporary measure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

EI the numbers …… & the hype!

According to the “economists” and “Harpers Government” the recession is over, they obviously are not out there looking for a full time job. Much hype about 27,000 jobs created in the last month but little about most of those being part time and there still being a deposit in regard to the total # of jobs. The unemployment rate has NOT gone down the latest from statscan (June numbers released Aug 25th) say that over 816,00 Canadians are collecting EI (up from (777,00 in May) and who knows how many who have run out. I suspect the municipalities are going to see a substantial increase in the social assistance rolls this winter. (anyone know of a source for data on that?)

“In August, part-time employment rose by 31,000. Since October, full-time work has dropped by 486,000 (-3.5%), partially offset by increases in part time of 99,000 (+3.1%).”
“The unemployment rate edged up 0.1 percentage points to 8.7%” (9.7% locally)

For those that have a job and have never collected EI I will point out that if over the year previous to collecting EI you were employed part time your benefit period is reduced substantially in addition to the actual payments. This is irregardless to how long you were continually employed or if until recent times that was full time work during which time you paid into the system at the appropriate rate. Further all should be aware that having then run your claim out you will not be eligible for EI again until you have worked the minimum number of hours required (which changes dependent upon the unemployment rate). Your previous work record and payments notwithstanding.

To add insult to injury our “Harpers Government” who robbed the EI fund 2 years ago to make their books look good now are saying that in order to “balance the EI books” that they are going to have to raise the premiums in order to cover the increased number of EI claims over the next couple of years. Wait a minute, didn’t they say the recession was over and what happened to that 52 BILLION transferred from the EI fund to general revenue in 2008?

Canada's employment insurance "surplus" stands at $54 billion (Dec 2007)
“One of the basic questions we have is why is it that this crown corporation has only been set up with a fund of $2 billion, when even the Auditor General of Canada says that what is required for insurance purposes is closer to $10 billion to $15 billion.” Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): HANSARD June 2, 2008

Back in February I said - I expect Ontario numbers to show %100 increase over the previous year in EI benefits being paid out by May (given that the stats are 30 to 60 day behind and payments are delayed by 30 to 60 days on average). In 2006 the annual amount paid out was 12 billion (all of Canada), I’m guessing 5 to 8 billion for Ontario alone this year! I also predict that thing are not going to improve much over the summer and that thousands of these folk are going to be “off the list” by fall and still have no job.

Woops, its “only” at 109% here in Ontario for June (or 118% depending upon which table you look at) year over year!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reinstate the Rabies Clinics

Recently there has been a least one confirmed case of Rabies found in a local (wild) animal and we should all perhaps make sure our pets are vaccinated BUT with the demise of the annual rabies clinics 2 or 3 years ago I am quite sure that many pets no longer receive regular shots. It used to be that a quick trip to the local veterinarian and $20 would quickly and inexpensively get the job done, now its much more time consuming and much more expensive, no longer can we go to the local vet (in our case a “large animal veterinarian” who participated in the rabies clinic initiative) but must drag into town to a “small animal vet” who charges $100 or more to do what was affordable and now is not for many families in these troubled times.

A call to the local Health Authorities reveals that it is not the County or the MoH that has stopped this “service” but the Veterinarians who have refused to participate. The “excuse” being given is apparently that “we must give the animal a full examination before administering the shot”, strange that this was not necessary until recently! I think perhaps this is just a effort to increase profits, after all I cannot believe that it is in the best interest of either the health and welfare of either the dog or the owners to be forced to shell out what for some is more than a days wages just to get a quick shot in the dogs ass that may prevent the transference of rabies to other pets or to other citizens!

Ok, ok, I can hear the argument “$100 is a small price to pay for the safety of you pet and family” and you are correct, IF that $100 fee does not make the owner decide that the cost outweighs the risk. I simply do not understand why the vets would not put the good of the community before their need for profit. We (the pet owners) all appreciated the 2 or 3 hours that the vets committed to the rabies clinics each year in the past, perhaps we did not let them know that, or perhaps there are other reasons for their decision, but this kind of fee for such a minor shot that protects us all does nothing to increase my already jaundiced view of SMALL animal veterinarians.

All I am saying is don’t piss off my dog….. because she may not be up to date on her shots….. the owner, well he is already pissed off but he does not bite!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A New Green!

Having recently joined the Green Party of Canada and having been invited by Mark of Report on Greens to submit a piece to his blog I thought it might be useful to review why I joined, the things I like about the GPC and the things I have reservations about. As a newbe my point of view is perhaps a little less “partisan” than those more closely involved in the party and will, I hope, assist in bringing the Nine Shades of Green closer to a blend pleasing to all!
That said I find that none of the above 9 shades really describes my feeling about the Green Party, which is I will admit changing daily as I read more information about the official and unofficial policies, the internal politics that seem to be a part any political party and the views of members from the extreme green to the political junkie. This is a process which I have been pursuing for two years or more brought on by conversations with Owen Sound Green Shane Jolley whose mantra of “think local” grabbed my attention and got me investigating what this party was all about.

Firstly I have read the Green Party Vision statements (I have yet to wade through all the policy documents) and generally have no great disagreements with them, my only real reservations being the rather contentious issue of “no nuclear” and the belief that we can supply all our electricity need in this modern society with “renewables”. This is an admirable goal and I suppose fundamental to the green platform, but in my view impractical within the foreseeable future, this view is no doubt coloured by the ever increasing glut of wind turbines littering the countryside in my part of Ontario. That this technology does not produce baseload power 24/7, may have some health and lifestyle impacts for nearby residents (not that other forms of generation do also) and is being bought at far above current market price further adds to my concern that the rush to “green power” is not necessarily all good. The increased use of Hydro electric would go a long way towards reducing the need for nuclear for base load but this is where one shade of green runs head long into the other, witness the ongoing “debate” over run of the river installations in BC. What is best, green power or fish habitat preservation, hydro dams or wetlands….?

But I digress, that debate is fodder for a whole series of articles. This was intended to be more general in nature. There has been much comment both in the MSM and various blogs as to Elizabeth Mays leadership qualities and whether she should be more circumspect in separating her personal opinion from party policy, it is this very honesty of opinion that has me admiring her. Whether that is good for the party I am not sure but it is what has, in part, made ME join the party. Her strong stand for democracy even to the point where at times she has put the protection of Canadian Democracy above the Green Party and most certainly before any leaders objectives was, and is, such a breath of fresh air in Canadian politics that I cannot help but admire her stand. She has brought a much higher profile to the GPC but I understand how some of her remarks (and one wonders how many of them are taken “out of context” by the MSM) may cause some consternation with some greens. Given the many shades of green it is difficult to see how any leader can please all of the greens all of the time, it would seem to be an impossible task. We all know how other party leaders deal with this, stick to the “talking points” and repeat the “party line” adinfinitem, again it is so refreshing to have a political leader who does not treat their audience like a bunch of sheep but speaks TO the listeners not AT them.

As a new member I cannot say much to the internal running of the party for I know little about it other than the views expressed by some bloggers who have expressed concern that the processes have of late have been influenced by “insider” groups without due process. I can only say that as one who believes, as does Ms May, that our very democracy is in peril and that we cannot correct it unless we do so democratically, that must include the internal workings of any party who would propose to take on that challenge. It is not sufficient to do things democratically, to follow any established rules or policies, or to even promote those ideals. They must be seen to be done. Openness and Accountability is the key, we have seen our current politicians spout those words time and time again and then do exactly the opposite, the Green Party appears to be much more open and inclusive in that regard, they seem open to using the internet and other modern tools to enable this, but as they gain more prominence (power?) will these ideals fall by the wayside. I hope not.

I must say here that I just received an email receipt indicating (I think) that the GPC headquarters had received my membership application and money. I say “I think” because I was totally underwhemed with said document, not only did the “receipt” not contain my name (although the email was obviously addressed to me) but it did not even indicate that it came from the GPC (I had to check the email properties to confirm that it did). No fancy header as on those annoying bimonthly request for cash, no indication that further information would be forthcoming, no indication of whether or not I could now get to “insider” information on the Green web site or how to do so, just an untitled and un-addressed receipt for cash! Is this a reflection of how things are done at HQ? One would think that the first official contact with a new member would be a little more professional and contain more information than this! I have suggested by return mail that their system be upgraded in this respect. But once again I digress……

So here is my bottom line, I support in general the move toward more self sufficiency, any efforts to start supporting local economys and moving away from the corporate mantra of “the global economy”, the reduce, reuse and recycle thinking, the protection our water, air, forests and fauna and most everything the party stands for. BUT mostly I support the statements both in the party platform and by Ms May in many of her recent speeches that support our DEMOCRACY, for without the means to peacefully and democratically initiate change all else is but a pipe dream. At this point in time I can honestly say that I believe the Green Party of Canada is the best, and perhaps last, chance for any hope of change for the better in our federal governance. Will they have any enormous impact any time in the foreseeable future, probably not, these things change slowly, sometime almost imperceptibly, but we must do something to halt and reverse the damage to both the world and to our democracy that the current politicians seem unable or unwilling to address. So in answer to those who debate whether the greens are (or should be) mainly a “green movement” or a “political party” I must answer “a political party” for getting Greens elected is essential, without that voice in our parliament the impact the GPC can have upon all the other issues is minimal.