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Straight Talk has moved!

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies is no longer using http://www.aimsblog.wordpress.ca! This blog contains archived posts written before 1 October 2013. All new blog posts will appear at www.AIMSBlog.ca!

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Potatoes and sand dunes and Anne… oh PEI!

by Julia Kirkey

During the Prince Edward Island budget address last April, the provincial Liberals pleasantly announced that despite the global economic downturn, the Island had managed to keep its head above water. PEI was one of the few provinces that showed signs of growth (albeit modest), maintaining a high level of activity and investment.

At that point, the provincial government set out a three-year game plan for how they were going to keep the trend going with improvements in private sector growth, education and health care with the ultimate goal of balancing the budget by 2015. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. There was still not-so-good news that came out of the budget address including the announcement that tourism, one of the Island’s biggest industries, was slipping.[i]

Sales figures from the provincial treasury showed a 5.6 per cent decline in accommodations sold in 2011, although the numbers for food and beverage retailers and at gift shops were slightly up compared to the previous year. Despite the dip, the numbers still show an improvement compared to those from 2000-2005.[ii] Tourism had been on a strong run in PEI since 2006, coinciding with the then-Conservative government’s decision to hire a marketing firm to rebrand the province. That’s when “The Gentle Island” was born.

The brains behind the campaign belonged to Grey Canada, a Toronto-based, full-service marketing agency whose clients currently include the Government of Ontario, Municipality of Wood Buffalo (aka Fort McMurray), Dairy Queen, Warner Brothers, Procter and Gamble and the Special Olympics (to name just a few)[iii]. Grey, along with Tourism PEI, conducted extensive market research that determined that “the foundation of (the Island’s) brand should be the perception that PEI is a kinder, gentler place, building on (the Island’s) visually stirring landscape and people.”

This campaign received significant buy-in from the public, as businesses were brought on board and encouraged to make the campaign part of their own advertising and promotions. The campaign started paying off almost immediately and the years following the launch of the new brand were strong within the tourism sector. In 2010 however, a few years after the Liberals took the helm, the provincial government broke ties with Grey Canada[iv], opting to steer away from a full-service agency which would create a campaign from start to finish and towards a system that would allow subcontractors to do individual pieces of a campaign, allowing for more “flexibility”.

That flexibility is now being called into play. Keeping in mind that 2011’s tourism figures were still stronger than the first five years of the last decade, the provincial government has put out a request for proposals, looking to spend $100,000 on a “brand review” with plans to overhaul the tourism campaign. “The Gentle Island” doesn’t seem to be cutting it anymore and they would like to see a brand that better captures the “essence of the Island”. They don’t just want tourists, they want to promote immigration, market the potato and oyster industries and remind Islanders of what they already have.

Having a brand that goes beyond tourism isn’t a bad idea and perhaps the government is on the right track when considering a new one, but is now the time?

The current positioning is obviously working to attract the golf-playing, beach-bumming, Green Gables-loving, lobster-eating tourist (the “target market”). Grey Canada won multiple awards for the “Gentle Island” campaign including the 2009 silver Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International[v]. The campaign has been credited for a growth in tourism revenue by as much as six per cent in the first two years and even got kudos for helping the Island grow the tourism sector in 2008, a year that otherwise holds the title for the worst on record for the Canadian tourism industry.

Why spend money to fix something that isn’t broken? Islanders know why they live on PEI, they are the essence of the Island, the “gentle” folk that tourists rave about once they’ve left. Studies done by the University of Prince Edward Island showed that both visitors and non-visitors already associate the province with potatoes, lobster and mussels with oysters still coming in the top five.[vi]

Pre-budget discussions for the last fiscal year detailed that Islanders want the government to focus on reducing the deficit, better balancing the effort to increase revenues while decreasing spending, eliminating wasteful spending and reducing private sector red tape.[vii] A new marketing campaign isn’t going to contribute to those things, but the money that will be spent on it (the $100,000 already budgeted is only for a review and not for the creation and implementation of a new campaign) could certainly help.

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Why can’t we be friends?

by Julia Kirkey

It’s commonly accepted that in the workplace, all employees aren’t going to be best friends. There can be disputes from time to time but so long as the interaction remains adult and respectful, a professional relationship can be maintained.

The New Democrat’s House Leader, Nathan Cullen, believes that Members of Parliament from all political stripes are crossing that professional line in the House of Commons and has recommended legislation that would penalize MPs for attacks on opposing members that are deemed to be personal in nature.

The legislation calls for a type of four-strike-rule: first a warning, then a loss of a day’s pay and suspension from the House, a third offence would result in a five-day suspension, then up to 20 days for a fourth. Cullen asks why we would accept “harassment, threats, personal attacks or extreme misrepresentation of facts,” in the House of Commons when we won’t accept it in our own workplaces.[i]

All federal employees are protected by the Canada Labour Code’s workplace violence legislation. The Code defines workplace violence as, “any action, conduct, threat or gesture of a person towards an employee in their work place that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee.”[ii]

Cullen’s suggestions are further backed up by the Code when it goes on to say, “workplace violence can include bullying, teasing, and abusive and aggressive behaviour. Progressive disciplinary action should be used to control intentional and unintentional conduct not suitable in the work place, even when it cannot be determined that the conduct could reasonably be expected to cause harm. It may be difficult to assess the anticipated harm, since a factor such as teasing is subjective and can be perceived as playful by some but harmful or malicious by others.”

If the Government of Canada sets out these specific protections and punishments for federal employees, why would they not apply to elected officials? Is this the kind of example we want to set up for the leaders of tomorrow – that the only way you can deliver your message is by yelling, screaming and hurling personal insults?

The Canadian Parliamentary Review issued a comprehensive report in 2011, Heckling in the House of Commons by Mackenzie Grisdale[iii], which studied surveys completed by MPs at the time. In particular, the study looked at the ways that MPs feel their work is affected by the amount of bickering that takes place during sessions. A significant number of MPs reported that they were less likely to participate in work in the House under the threat of being heckled and just as many reported the use of words that conflicted with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – including sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and discrimination against physical disabilities and religion.


Nathan Cullen isn’t the first MP that has asked for these kinds of reforms, either. Grisdale notes that Speaker John Fraser asked that the issue be studied back in 1992 but the House never debated the suggested amendments to the Standing Orders. In 1995, Speaker Peter Miliken was part of a committee that looked into handing down penalties to MPs that used sexist, racist or abusive language including docking their pay and lengthy suspensions but again, it went nowhere.  Interestingly though, many MPs put the onus on the Speaker and blame the heckling on the Speaker’s inability to keep order in the House.

A teacher is powerless in a classroom full of rowdy students if the students know there’s nothing that can be done to them if they don’t “follow the rules”. Without penalties, it’s just empty threats.

The late NDP Leader Jack Layton made a promise that his MPs would not heckle in the House. They haven’t lived up to those expectations[iv] but with Nathan Cullen’s recommendations of penalties to replace empty threats they may come closer to achieving the level of decorum that Layton had in mind.

Being a Member of Parliament does not make you an exception to the law, in any way. These people are all coworkers that should be working together to make their employer (the Canadian taxpayer) satisfied with their work. Arguing, abusive language and near-physical altercations should play no role in the completion of that work – they are no different than every other Canadian worker that is upheld to the standards of the Canada Labour Code and its Health and Safety Regulations protecting everyone from violence in the workplace.

Grisdale’s report shows that sixty per cent of MPs find heckling in the House to be a problem, but just as many saw it as simply a fact of life. Members of Parliament should be passionate about their jobs, that’s why we elected them, but it’s time to put an end to this embarrassing tradition and start demanding elected representatives treat each other the same way we treat our co-workers – with professional respect.


Free Markets? Yes, they are still the solution.

by Ali Nadeem

Amidst all the talks, the rants, invective discussions between the right and the left, there is no doubt that free markets still remain a much sought after solution for economic stagnation.

In the US, monetary policy and quantitative easing hasn’t worked as expected. Interest rates are at an all-time low, economic and business activity is sluggish and consumer confidence is low. Meanwhile, businesses are sitting on piles of cash but are unwilling to spend because of mixed messages sent out by the federal reserve. There are sour relations between Wall Street and Washington, and the new devil called “Fiscal Cliff.”Apparently both the Republicans and Democrats averted this impending economic catastrophe that has yet to be resolved.

Across the ocean, on the other side, Europe has its own mess to deal with; Italy, Greece and Spain are in turmoil. What about the UK? Are the Brits even staying in the EU? Well, they are having that debate these days. Outgoing Italian Prime Mario Monti did a reasonably good job in terms of managing Italy’s financial and economic fiasco, and not letting it get completely out of control. What about Greece? Well they are still in trouble. Spain? Well, there is rampant speculation that various provinces and states within Spain may not have enough cash to pay their debt obligations, and if that happens, these regional entities will ask the central government for help, which as we all know, is already pretty darn broke! Now, let’s talk about Japan, the “lost decade” of the 80’s has turned into “lost decades”, ongoing since the early 80’s!

So what can we do? Well there is still hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel. The solution is to liberalize the economy and trade, even more so than has been done in the past.  A recent article in the Economist specifically mentions three trade agreements which could potentially stimulate economic growth in US, UK, Japan and EU; Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Atlantic Free Trade Agreement between America and the EU, and a single services market within Europe. According to the article, TPP could raise the regions GDP by more than 1 %, especially if Japan were to join (countries already in negotiation are US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea),Transatlantic free trade agreement between US and Europe could increase Europe’s GDP by 0.4% and increase US’s GDP by a percentage point.[1]  The article also mentions the tremendous opportunity in the services sector in EU, which makes up more than 70% of the regions GDP; the services sector’s current custom and other costs add 40% to goods that are shipped within the EU by sea. Dismantling some of thes, if not all, could grow EU’s GDP by at least 2.5%. According to the article most of these could be achieved by getting rid of some tariffs and harmonizing regulatory standards; better economic results could be accomplished by cutting more red tape, getting down more barriers, tariffs and subsidies, and harmonizing even more regulations between the regions.

Can all this be done? Of course it can, politicians need to spend less time on kissing babies, smiling for cameras, attending cock tail parties, and spend more time working and negotiating these treaties so that these trade agreements are transparent, inclusive of all relevant regions, countries and industries, and most of all can bring economic prosperity to the part of the world that has been economically slow or stagnant for some time now.

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Free speech for everyone…that is unless you don’t agree with me

by Collette Deschenes

The Carleton Students for Liberty made headlines when their free speech wall, erected for students to freely express their thoughts and opinions, was unjustly vandalized and destroyed by seventh year human rights student and self-proclaimed activist Arun Smith. Smith chose forceful attempts to silence the views of others rather than engage in an intellectual debate. He claimed (on his open letter on Facebook) that the free speech wall was “another in a series of acts of violence” against gay rights and that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.”[i] Clearly Smith does not know the true meaning of FREE speech.

As a recent university graduate, I know first-hand that often only one side of the argument is voiced on campus. University classrooms, clubs and societies SHOULD be places for students to share knowledge, gain insight, and participate in healthy debate. Instead they are notorious for squashing free speech. Free speech is not supported or protected. Universities, our institutions for higher education, should support an abundance of diverse opinions, yet most are taking campus censorship to a whole new level. Instead of encouraging students to be critical thinkers, they’re promoting group think.  Students with opposing views are typically stigmatized, made to feel uncomfortable for having an opinion that differs from the rest.  What happened to open healthy debate? Currently, our leaders of tomorrow are taught on university campuses that censoring speech is appropriate, that it’s the norm. They’re taught that free speech is a good thing until someone tries to voice an opinion that’s different.

The Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms (a sponsor of the free speech wall at Carleton) released their 2012 Campus Freedom Index[ii] measuring the state of free speech at Canadian Universities. The Campus Freedom Index measures the “commitment of Canada’s public universities, as well as student unions, to upholding the rights of students to express their beliefs, opinions and philosophy on campus in a peaceful manner.” Sadly, but not surprisingly, the results were dismal. Only three Canadian universities and student unions earned a grade of ‘A’ while 28 earned ‘F’ grades.  Most universities and their student unions are restricting and prohibiting activities that they see as ‘controversial’ or activities that present opinions they perceive will make others uncomfortable.

Carleton University was one of the worst offenders on the JCCF’s  freedom index. Their student union’s policies and procedures AND actions undermined free speech on campus. The Carleton Student’s for Liberty stood up for free speech on a campus that so clearly needs guidance. The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has also launched a project aimed to shed light on the lack of intellectual inclusion on university campuses. AIMS on Campus does not seek to indoctrinate, but rather to provide an opportunity for balance and intellectual inclusion on university campuses. It provides students with the tools to advocate for freedom and liberty, to help foster a more intellectually inclusive environment on their university campuses.

The lack of free speech and culture of censorship on campuses is an obvious problem. We NEED groups like AIMS on Campus and Students for Liberty to bring this issue to the forefront. Students need see that there are two sides to every debate. Free speech is free speech regardless of whether or not you agree with what’s being said.

Collette Deschenes is the the Communications Coordinator for AIMS, helping to ensure that the conclusions of its research are communicated effectively to a regional and national audience.


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If there’s no such thing as free parking, why are we forced to pay for it?

When I moved to Halifax I chose to live in an apartment building on the edge of what is officially downtown. I liked this location because just about everything I needed on a day-to-day basis was a short walk or a quick bus ride away. Being a recent graduate with a not insignificant amount of student debt I decided that the extra cost of living downtown was easily worth avoiding all the costs that would come from owning a car. As a side benefit to the many drivers in this city, I also would not add to the already considerable demand for parking downtown.

Considering how easily I could live a car-free existence in my area I was quite surprised to learn that the zoning code had legally required my landlord to construct a parking space for every non-bachelor apartment in the building. Based on my own observations, most tenants in my building seem to be students, a group that isn’t known for high rates of car ownership and a high demand for parking. My building isn’t under some obscure portion of the zoning code either; an R-3 Zone actually has some of the lowest minimum parking requirements outside of downtown.

Now before I go any further let me make something clear: I’m not against people using parking spaces or cars, in fact if I was constructing an apartment building I would probably want to include some parking to make the building more attractive. Yet by mandating that developers include a minimum amount of parking governments distort the market and create some serious problems.

The first and most important issue is that parking increases the cost of housing. This study by the City of Portland gives you a rough idea of how much each additional parking space in a given building costs. A quick calculation for a 100 unit building (needing 100 underground parking spaces) is $5.5 million. Spread out over 25 years this comes out to roughly $185 extra per month per unit, which inevitably passed on to consumers through substantially higher rents. The chart below, while effective in demonstrating the high costs of underground parking, actually significantly underestimates the cost of surface parking as this entails a large opportunity cost in the form on forgone residential units (a flaw the study acknowledges).


Additionally, by artificially raising the cost of housing through parking minimums government’s open themselves to increased pressure to address housing affordability through less efficient methods such as rent control and publically funded housing complexes.

From a choice perspective, minimum parking regulations promote car-centred development over less car-intensive choices. By directly increasing the cost of building dense structures these rules incentive’s people to live farther away from city centres, where land is usually cheaper. Again this is not an anti-suburb argument; there is no problem with people choosing to live in suburban areas. What is problematic is implementing a set of regulations that promotes one type of development over another.

There is no reason to think that eliminating minimum parking regulations for residential buildings will result in a disappearance of parking spaces in apartment buildings. As Matt Yglesias points out, cable and internet hook-ups are pretty much universal features in apartment buildings across North America. This isn’t because it’s mandated in the building code, it’s because people want them! Just because some people want parking along with their apartment doesn’t mean we need the city to prescribe parking for everyone.

Parking minimums are by no means unique to Halifax and have been a part of most zoning codes for decades. While some cities are beginning to relax their minimum parking regulations in certain high density neighbourhoods, large-scale reform has been lacking. Minimum parking rules are only one of many examples of how over-zoned our cities are.  Setback requirements, population density limits, and lot-size requirements all distort the market and limit people’s ability make one of life’s most important decisions: where to live.

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Bringing Canada into the 20th Century

Not too long ago it was reported that the NSLC was taking beer and wine kit sellers to court to stop them from offering in-store vinting and brewing.  While the fate of the store owners is unfortunately still up in the air I was glad to see that the media largely dismissed this move as outrageous. The whole story raises the question however, what is the proper role for the state in the sale of alcohol? Now you only have to take a quick look at Ontario’s newspapers from last December to know that this can become a very heated debate very quickly. So instead of beginning this post with a public health, free market, or deficit fighting argument I’d like you to take a look at this list.*

Bosnia and Herzegovina
French Polynesia
Canada (except Alberta and Quebec)

According to the WHO, these are the only nine WHO member states that have full state-run wholesale and retail alcohol monopolies as of 2004. In these countries effectively all beer, wine and spirits are sold through a government agency. I should note that if you’re the type that believes beer under 5% isn’t real beer then you can add Norway and Finland to that list too. Now whatever you think of the merits of state alcohol monopolies you have to admit that this isn’t exactly the world’s most popular policy idea.

There are three arguments that usually get brought out whenever someone has to defend their province’s monopoly: 1. it protects public health 2. It provides the government with valuable revenue and 3. It provides lower prices for consumers.
The first argument is that increased access to alcohol through privatization would have significant public health consequences. Multi-jurisdictional research from Grant Thornton however, suggests that the correlation between government control and the social harms from alcohol is not clear. Instead it appears that there are a variety of factors that influence alcohol-related harms. For example, despite having the lowest number of access points per person in the jurisdictions Grant Thornton studied, Nova Scotia maintained the highest rate of drunk driving. This suggests that if we want to reduce the social costs of alcohol consumption there are other, potentially more effective, approaches we could be taking rather than a restrictive provincial monopoly.

The second argument is that it would be foolish for the government to give up the reliable revenue that an alcohol monopoly provides. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year NSLC generated $221.6 million in profit for the government, which is a lot of money no matter what you think of monopolies. Nevertheless whether a privatization effort is revenue neutral or not largely depends on the details. What taxes will be applied? What mark-up will the government set? Will they auction off licences? etc. The Grant Thornton study concluded that the Ontario government could actually increase revenues if it privatized the LCBO properly. Alberta, which is the most oft-cited privatization example in Canada, saw its revenues from alcohol increase from $598 million in pre-privatization 1993 to $687 million per year in 2012 (2012 dollars).

The third argument has two problems. The first is that using a monopoly to provide lower prices for consumers contradicts the public health mandate of provincial liquor monopolies to restrict access to alcohol.  The second is that the idea that a retail monopoly will provide LOWER prices to customers goes against everything we know about monopoly control of a normally competitive marketplace. A 2011 Auditor-General’s report on the LCBO in Ontario determined that the board did not use its large bulk buying power to negotiate lower prices as that would contradict its mandate to promote public health and increase profits for the government. Now the LCBO does provide the third lowest prices on average in Canada, but direct comparisons between provinces are problematic as the largest determinant of the price of alcohol is taxes and mark-ups.

A lot of ink has been spilt on this topic over the years and despite the protestations of columnists most provinces’ liquor monopolies remain firmly in place. So for those that wish to see more competition and choice in their alcohol purchases it may be time to admit that the best prospect for change in this area is through smaller reforms rather than wholesale revolution. If you asked me I’d say allowing beer and wine sales in convenience and grocery stores would be a good place to start.

* A few US states also have similar monopolies, but they are a small minority.