Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rogers Sucks. Bell Rocks!

Katya and I recently switched our internet and cable provider from Rogers to Bell. I know this may not seem like an exciting topic, but such is the excitement in my life.

Rogers is a staple in the cable industry in Ontario. They've been offering television and internet for decades, and recently were tested by PC Mag and rated as having the fastest internet speeds in North America. Unfortunately, that comes at a price.

We had originally signed up for Rogers back in October when a sales associate at a Rogers store in Stone Road Mall called us over while we were walking by. He offered us 80 GB of internet and 200 channels on a NextBox HD PVR with no install fee for $102 per month. We decided "Sure, let's do it".

The internet was blazing fast, but it went down quite a bit. Roger's uses taps in a main line, with each "tap" going off to the individual house. This means that all the data that travels down the main line is shared with every house and/or user connected to it, resulting in slower internet speeds during peak hours. Also, if one "tap" goes down it can bring down the whole line. This was happening to us, and it cut out on my online classes several times resulting in a loss of students (and business).

The NextBox was a piece of crap. There was a 30-second lag after pressing a button on the remote while it "thought" about the action. It took another ten seconds for it to change channels. Opening up the guide took forever, and forget about On Demand! We had a technician swap out the NextBox but the problem was the same. It's something to do with inferior technology, methinks.

Billing was horrendous. Our charges just kept creeping up and up and up. When our bills were reaching $200 a month we cancelled our cable just to cut down on costs (the shitty NextBox made it impossible to watch, anyways). That didn't help. We started getting charged for data overages on our internet. Every time we called we received a lecture about how data works. I know how it works. They would ask "Are you downloading anything?" "Are you watching YouTube videos?"
"Well you know. When you download things, it uses data. Let me explain how downloads work..."
"I'm not an idiot. "
"Okay. Well, you see, when you download..."

The thing is, in BC Katya and I had Telus Optik internet and television, with a 60 GB data plan. We NEVER went over that. Our usage hasn't changed here. Same computers, same mobile phones, same XBox. In fact, as costs were going up we actually cut down on our usage! That didn't stop Roger's from overbilling us, however. The customer service reps didn't listen to us.

Me: "We haven't changed our usage. In fact, we've cut down on our usage. Why are using more? Could it be that your company is billing us incorrectly?"
Rogers: "Well you know, every time you download something, it uses data. Let me explain how downloads work..."

A month ago Katya and I went to Ottawa for the weekend to visit family, and just to test shit we unplugged EVERYTHING in the apartment, including the modem and the router, all the computers, etc. When we came back Katya called Rogers and asked about our usage over the weekend.
"You've used 4.4 GB of data this weekend"

Proof that Rogers are thieves. We immediately cancelled Rogers, but not before receiving a $397 internet bill for that month.

I require internet for my business and Katya requires internet to stay in touch with her family back home. We were going to switch over to TekSavvy, with their $50 a month unlimited internet, but they don't provide modems, routers or set up home networking. We were getting ready to fork out $200 for modems and routers, when one day a flyer from a Bell sales rep slid under our door.

I had to read the flyer a few times to make sure I was seeing correctly. Fibe TV and unlimited internet for $70 per month for 12 months, and then $90 a month thereafter. Unlimited internet AND television?

I promptly emailed the sales rep, "Kathy", and asked her to confirm the deal. She replied that this was, indeed, what was on offer.

Screw TekSavvy! Sign me up, Bell!

Bell has recently updated its network to fiber-optic (hence the name "Fibe" for their services). Bell, founded by Alexander Graham Bell more than 150 years ago right here in Ontario, is Canada's oldest telecom provider and thus has the most extensive infrastructure in the country. Unlike Roger's "tap" system, Bell has lines that go directly to each individual home, so the user is never sharing data streams with other people. If one house goes down, it doesn't effect everyone else. Not only that, but Bell's internet speeds were ranked as the fourth fastest in North America, and that's still damn impressive!

We got Bell hooked up two weeks ago and I couldn't be happier. The technician was friendly and spent about an hour getting everything set up, including our home network. Best of all, he showed us how the cable box is wireless! This means we can easily move the TV into the bedroom and watch it there, without worrying about cables stretching across the apartment!

The Bell internet is super fast and hasn't gone down even once. It provides a reliable connection and the unlimited usage factor has taken a huge load of stress off our shoulders.

The Fibe TV is amazing. The remote is slim and sexy and ultra-modern and has all the same functionality as the huge bulky Roger's remotes with their gazillion buttons. The on-screen menus are sleek and modern and extremely user-friendly. Best of all there is no lag like with the NextBox. Bell's menus change instantly and the remote is very responsive. I can flip through channels without taking up half an hour.

My new sexy Bell remote does everything the big clunky Roger's remote ever did.
The Bell cable box (top) and router (bottom) are also sexy. Plus, the cable box is wireless, so it's easy to move from room to room!

Bell's on-screen guide is responsive and user-friendly, and looks nice, too.
The customization options and the ease of use is mind-blowing.
Their On-Demand offerings rival Rogers, with easier access. I love the "home" menu on the side that is always there, allowing me to quickly jump between movies, tv shows, music, rentals, etc. Roger's is miles behind Bell in this regard.

Bell has the CBC Galaxy Music Videos I love, and some nice karaoke offerings, if you're into that, for no additional cost.

My HD channels are crystal clear and fast, and there has been no loss of quality when running both HD and internet at the same time, like many naysayers claim. In fact, I'm watching the Uruguay-England game in HD and writing this blog post at the same time!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

2014 Ontario Elections

Today is election day in Ontario. While there are at least half-a-dozen parties vying for votes, only 4 of them are serious contenders (and of those, only 3 have a shot at winning). As people go to the polls today, the three main parties are tied in surveys at 30% each, making it impossible to predict the outcome of the elections.

These are important elections for Ontario. This is the only province to not recover from the 2008 recession. It went from a "have" to a "have-not" province in only 5 years. Its debt has gone from $140 billion in 2003 to $310 billion today. Unemployment remains stubborn at around 7.7%, up from 5.2% ten years ago. Its Liberal government has been caught in scandal after scandal, wasting more than $5 billion of taxpayer's money in the past several years.

Ontario used to be the richest, most populous and most successful province in Canada, and led North America for job creation, economic growth and education. Its government had more money than 70% of the world's countries, giving Ontario great pull. Ontario taxpayers footed federal transfer payments to other, poorer provinces (the Canadian government balances out the budgets of "have-not" provinces through federal transfer payments, so services from one province to another remain equalized).

Beginning in 2011, Ontario received its first equalization payment from the feds, and has continued to do so for the past 3 years.

The Liberals have been at the helm during this disastrous downward spiral for Ontario. Before them, Ontario had a Conservative government under Premier Mike Harris. The Tories were followers of Reagonomics and took things to the extreme; budgets were slashed with a chainsaw, schools closed, hospitals shut down, services sold off to the private sector. Unions were on strike constantly, students marched in the streets and pundits on both sides wrote vicious attacks. They were tumultuous years, but whatever one's political stripes, the fact that Harris led balanced budgets and made Ontario an economic engine in North America, with the greatest number of job openings, some of the highest salaries and the lowest taxes, can't be denied.

Mike Harris, Progressive Conservative Party and Ontario Premier 1995-2002

Educators on strike in Ontario during the tumultuous Mike Harris years.

In 2003, after 8 years of Harris, voters were tired of the conflict and elected the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty. Dalton promised not to raise taxes, to keep the budget balanced and to restore peace to the province. Almost the day after he was elected, he raised taxes (to the second highest-rate in Canada), posted a deficit in the budget and sidelined several large unions, creating more labour strife.

Nevertheless, four years later voters returned the Liberals to government in 2007. In 2011 the Liberals won a third term, but this time with a minority government propped up by the NDP.

In 2012 revelations of a massive scandal that had cost the taxpayers more than one billion dollars rocked the Liberal Party. In 2009 Dalton had signed a deal with a US company to build two large natural gas power plants in a Toronto suburb. Residents in the areas chosen were outspoken against the idea, and during the 2011 elections, in order to appease the residents and keep 2 Liberal seats, Dalton secretly cancelled the deals (after two years of construction). The total cost of construction and the cancellation penalties amounted to more than $1 billion, and all taxpayers received for this money was two Liberal seats in the legislature and a big hole in the ground where construction had begun.

More condemning allegations of scandal and corruption in the Liberal party emerged. In 2007 the Liberals had set up "Ornge Air", a centralized, province-wide air ambulance system designed to provide air lift for all communities, regardless of how isolated or small they might be. The helicopters the government purchased turned out to be sub-par and did not meet the needs of paramedics, and the executives put in charge were friends of McGuinty's and took huge bonuses in the millions of dollars. In 2011 an Ornge Air helicopter crashed in northern Ontario, killing all on board, because of poor suitability for winter weather. As more details came out, it was learned that Ornge Air cost the taxpayers roughly a billion dollars.

Early on in McGuinty's Premiership, he brought in "eHealth", an attempt to digitize all patient records so health care providers and patients could access vital information across the board, regardless of where the patient was. From the outset there were snags and problems, and nearly 9 years later eHealth has still not come around. Senior bureaucrats and executives, again friends of McGuinty and his clique, funneled millions into their own pockets, and patient records were lost and many never made it to the databanks. An estimated billion dollars disappeared into the eHealth scheme and taxpayers have nothing to show for it.
Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his successor, Premier Kathleen Wynne

Ornge Air cost taxpayers more than $1 billion

One of the cancelled gas plants in Ajax, Ontario. The gas plant scandal cost more than $1 billion. 

The eHealth scheme cost more than a billion dollars. Again, Ontario taxpayers received nothing, but are now on the hook for more than $300 billion of debt and have little to show for it except for joblessness, high taxes and a flood of youth leaving the province for Alberta, BC and the United States.

In all this time the Liberals have posted deficit after deficit, driving the provincial debt up over $300 billion. In 147 years of history, the Ontario government amassed $137 billion of debt. In only 11 years the Liberals have amassed $155 billion in debt, more than double what all other governments combined have done!

As these allegations came out and then become a flood of scandal after scandal, Dalton McGuinty stepped down as Premier and resigned as Liberal Party leader. His successor, chosen by the party, was Kathleen Wynne. Wynne was a cabinet minister under McGuinty and was a prominent player in the government, including in each of the scandals that brought down McGuinty.

With a minority government and a scandal-plagued Premier, it was only a matter of time before the legislature voted down the Liberals and forced a new election. 18 months after Wynne took over the reins, the legislature did just that when the NDP and the Conservatives voted against the Liberal budget, which amounts to a vote of no-confidence and dissolves the session.

Now, after 5 weeks of campaigning, Ontario goes to the polls.

At first it seemed a given that Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals would be destroyed in the polls, but the other two parties, the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives, have not played their cards right.

The Conservatives, under Tim Hudak (a former cabinet minister from the Mike Harris years), should have had this election hands-down. Their history of balanced budgets and job growth, and the Liberal scandals, should have handed them the electorate. Instead, Tim Hudak has scared the bejeezus out of people by announcing he will cut 100,000 jobs from the public service, slash billions from the budget and hold judicial inquiries into the gas plant scandal. While all these things are what is needed in Ontario, it sounds scary coming in 30-second sound bites. All Hudak had to do was campaign on job creation and Liberal scandals and he would have won a majority sweep.

The NDP, for their part, could easily have won over left-leaning voters and stolen support from the Liberals by playing to their traditional social-democratic platform. Instead Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader, has moved to the right in an attempt to sway both Liberal and Conservative voters. She's promised balanced budgets, insurance rate regulations and an investigation into the gas plant scandal, while offering little new to voters.

Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives are promising deep cuts and low taxes to balance the budget and stimulate job growth.

Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals have 4 major scandals under their belt, and are promising nothing new but are gliding by on voter apathy.

Andrea Horwath and the NDP have made a sharp turn to the center-right, isolating many traditional leftist NDP supporters and giving votes to the corrupt Liberals.

So voters have a choice between the terrifying austerity measures of Tim Hudak, or the almost non-existent platform of Andrea Horwath. Many, 30% to be exact, are simply sticking with the devil they know, Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals.

The result of all this is that today, as people vote, we have a 3-way tie between the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP, at 30% support each.  Personally I want the Tories to win, if only because it is an axe and stubborn fiscal conservatism that is needed right now to get Ontario out of the hole. Failing that, I'll go for the NDP, because I do agree with some of their positions, particularly their support for the more vulnerable in society and I like and respect Andrea Horwath. The one party I DO NOT want to win is the Liberals, who have lost their right to govern, in my opinion.

Tonight we'll learn exactly who wins, but I strongly suspect that it will be another Liberal minority government. Either that or a Conservative minority government. Either way, it will a minority government which means back to the polls again within 48 months.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Ontario?

When I finished Mission To Moscow I was in the middle of returning to Canada and choosing the best place to live. My choices were between Nova Scotia and British Columbia. Because I couldn't decide which was a better place to put down roots, I tried them both out.

Nova Scotia was sub-par. Poverty, a lack of jobs, high taxes and really poor infrastructure drove me out of Halifax within 3 months. Victoria, in BC, was much better; the opposite end of the spectrum, to be exact. Great infrastructure and many wealthy people, but housing was unaffordable and there were a lack of jobs, particularly for Katya.

So we struck out for Ontario, and haven't looked back.

Why Ontario?

Because it's the best province in Canada. I've visited all of them and lived in four of them, and Ontario always stands out as the best one. It has world-class cities and quaint little historic villages. Four of the five Great Lakes offer sandy beaches and cool waters. Vast forests and thousands of rivers offer camping and hiking, while  vineyards and upscale city living offers urban sophistication at its best.

We live an hour from Canada's Wonderland. We're an hour from beaches and camping. We're an hour from Niagara Falls. We're an hour from major-league sports venues and the big city. Visiting family in Ottawa is an afternoon drive.

Taxes here are moderate and we both have jobs. Best of all, if things continue according to plan, we'll be buying a home in the next two to three years, something that was unimagineable in Victoria.

Why Ontario? Let this video show you why!