Month: January 2013

Character Reference

Kathleen Wynne wins the Liberal Party leadership and is the new premier of Ontario, taking over from Dalton McGuinty. Source: Toronto Sun website, picture taken by Mark Blinch of Reuters News of which all rights are given.
Kathleen Wynne wins the Liberal Party leadership and is the new premier of Ontario, taking over from Dalton McGuinty. (Source: Toronto Sun website, picture taken by Mark Blinch of Reuters News of which all copyrights belong and are respected)

I don’t know Kathleen Wynne personally, but she has represented my riding of Don Valley West for many years. She’s well-liked by many of her constituents.

She’s also gay … (Seinfeldin’) not that there is anything wrong with that. I believe people nowadays have moved past such trivial things and are more interested in the sum total of what makes up the character of a person.

I have met Ms. Wynne on a number of occasions, a few times during her campaigning, and a couple of times during Earth Day cleanup. As I said, I don’t know her personally, but my first impression of her character is that she is someone who is very honest, intelligent, approachable, and a good listener. She does not come across as someone who gets what she wants at the expense of others.

Then again, most politicians are like that: people of generally good character. Sure, we all love to take a swipe or a thousand at those we elect to office, and some of those swipes have figurative claws laced with venom. The truth of the matter is that most people who run for office want to make things better after witnessing what a lousy job those currently in office are doing. They are people of good character, like Ms. Wynne.

The sad thing about all of this (is this an example of irony?) is that once those well-meaning people are elected, they end up doing the same thing as those who they wanted out of office. The swipes continue, but now it’s a new person we love to take aim at.

Why this happens is unclear. Maybe it’s because the elected official forgets what made their character respectable and that political life, with the rewards of power and money, blinds them to their obligation to the electorate who voted them in. Maybe it’s a question of competence, which is not the same as good character. The elected official may want to do the right thing, but lacks the understanding and skill sets required to do so. Cue Mayor Rob Ford as an example: well-meaning and cares about taxpayers money being spent wisely, but look at the situation he is currently in now, of his own manufacture. It’s like employment. You can be a great person, but still get fired for doing a not-so-great job. The only difference where politics is concerned is that we can’t immediately fire the hired help for being such an epic screwup.

Whatever the reason, those who we thought were of good character and have elected to office have broken their word to us. Broken seems to be a good way that describes my home province of Ontario right now.  Financially broke because we have a debt and deficit that past provincial governments have not managed to rein in but instead have allowed it to soar. Morally broke because of the scandals such as those involving e-Health and the ORNGE ambulance service. Physically broke because, right now, no one is sitting in the Legislature working to fix the problems Ontario faces. One of these problems is the lack of jobs for people like myself who want to work, are trying hard to find work, yet are still not working.

Right now, the newspapers in Ontario are making a big thing about Ms. Wynne winning the Liberal Party leadership and is the new Premier of Ontario. First female Premier. First openly gay Premier. To quote Garfield the Cat, “big fat hairy deal”. What really matters goes back to what I wrote about at the beginning of this post: good character.

It will take a Premier of good character to assemble a government that can work with the opposition parties and listens to the voters to get the broke out of “broken Ontario”. To help get people like me back to work.

I hope Ms. Wynne is that kind of Premier and I will be watching to see if my assessment of her character was on the mark.

Thanks for reading!


Gapped Out

This is exactly how a job seeker feels when faced with gaps in their employment.
This is exactly how a job seeker feels when faced with gaps in his/her employment history. Image created by David Gay, with permission to use provided credit is given to the author.

As previously mentioned in one of my past blog posts, I always ask the interviewer why I was not chosen as a new hire for the position I applied for. The approach I take is neither spiteful nor accusing. It’s phrased in a diplomatic way so I can find out if it was something I did wrong. In all of the cases so far, it wasn’t because of anything I did during the interview. I’ve done interviews enough times to have the approach down to instinct. This is neither arrogance nor conceit. I’ve been looking for work for over 3 years now so it’s safe to say I’ve had enough practice at doing interviews.

On those occasions where it was not possible to speak directly to the interviewer, I asked someone else the question, usually the HR manager of the company or the “head-hunter” who arranged the interview for me. It was one “head-hunter” who arranged a recent interview that told me it was my lengthy lack of full-time employment that prevented me from landing the position I applied for.

I’ll admit my work history has lots of gaps: I haven’t worked full-time since the end of 2009. It’s not from lack of trying, as I’ve applied for countless positions, networked like a maniac, created videos and maintained this blog. I’ve even begged on Begslist for help. Despite all this, it’s somehow my fault that I haven’t found work yet when in fact one can say it’s the interviewer’s fault for not hiring me in the first place.

Allow me to explain. Of course it is unfair to say it’s the interviewer’s fault for my unemployment. It’s the best candidate for the job that gets hired, but logically my statement makes sense. I can’t intone ethereally while waving a wand, “By the sweat and toil of the job seeker, by the coin that drives the economy, by the dry cleaner who smites the stains out of my interview jacket, I command thee: GIVE ME A JOB!” and *poof* I’m employed.  I can prepare and research and rehearse all I can for the interview but the ultimate decision to hire me or not comes from the one who sits across from me during said interview.

It is that decision that produces the Catch-22 that is incredibly hard to break. According to the “head-hunter”, I was not hired because I haven’t had steady employment for a long time, but if I had steady employment, would I even be going on interviews, applying for open job positions, networking like a maniac, creating videos and maintaining a blog? I can’t get a job because I am not working, but I’m not working because I’ve haven’t been hired yet. What silly logic used to determine the reason not to hire me.

My lack of employment is not equal to my lack of will or my ability to work. I’m ready to go and I have skills at my disposal. Hire me.

The ridiculous part of all of this is the fact that I have been working for three years: working hard to find a job. After all, a job search is supposed to be treated like a job in itself, right?

Thanks for reading!


Job Search Essentials

Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party (Source: QMI Agency, exactly as shown on the Toronto Sun website)
Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party (Source: QMI Agency, exactly as shown on the Toronto Sun website)

When you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to find a job, one of the most important things to do is to re-evaluate your living expenses. What this means is listing what your expenses are and what income is coming in (if any). Once the list has been compiled, you strike off whatever earns a negative to the question “Do I really need to have this?”

Some things were easy to give up. I really didn’t need to go to McDonald’s for breakfast nearly every day. A bowl of cereal and orange juice did just as good a job. Not only did I save a lot of money, the change in breakfast choice helped me drop around 40 pounds over an 18 month time period. Both my wallet and my waistline thanked me for that. With regards to certain entertainment expenses like movies, I waited until the movie I wanted to see came out on DVD for my birthday or had a friend treat me.

Others were not so easy to let go. I really miss my cable, for example. I’m not a reality TV show fan, but I enjoyed watching the History Channel, Discovery Canada, CBC Newsworld, Space, and was looking forward to the launch of the Sun News Network. But it was also $50 a month Canadian, so away it went. Those things that used to be on cable I now read about online or hear about on the radio. It’s not the same, and like I said, I miss those personal enjoyments, but it keeps those expenses I mentioned to a trickle.

In short, I adapt to survive. That’s what everyone who is behind the unemployment 8-ball should be doing. It is because of this personal belief that I am on board — with some reservations –of Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak’s proposal to have the welfare system implement a debit card limited to food purchases.

Open disclosure time: I don’t smoke, drink very little, and don’t have a car, so maybe I’m not the best person to state Hudak’s proposal is the right approach. We all have our little vices and some of those vices keep a job seeker’s state of mind and moral spirits buoyed. What I can do instead is expand on my reservations regarding this proposal.

A welfare recipient, contrary to popular belief by many, is not a lazy shiftless people not willing to work, but a job seeker. As I mentioned at the start of this post, a job seeker has expenses. Food is one of them, but it is not the only one. Here are examples of such expenses that, under Hudak’s proposal, could not be purchased with the welfare debit card:

Travel expenses: gas, insurance, and maintenance if you have a car, or a TTC pass if you are a transit rider like Yours Truly.

Telecommunications expenses: Internet, phone (both home and mobile).

Computer software and hardware upkeep expenses: A word processor for resume writing, a browser that supports secure access to blogs and job search engines, paper and toner for the printer, repair and replacement costs for the computer.

Other expenses: dry cleaning costs for the suit, a clothing budget for buying good ties and new shirts, polish for the shoes.

I’m not against trying to keep welfare costs down. I want the Ontario government (once it’s sitting again) to tackle welfare fraud and administration inefficiency. Having said that, let’s not implement changes to the system that makes getting back to work for welfare recipients that much harder by assuming all job seekers need for social assistance is a full stomach.

Thanks for reading!


Are We Indeed Nuts?

Hazelnuts, from the Wikimedia Commons image library. Author: Wikimedia User:Fir0002. The image belongs to the author with all copyright's reserved and respected.
Hazelnuts, from the Wikimedia Commons image library. Author: Wikimedia User:Fir0002. The image belongs to the author with all copyright’s reserved and respected.

“You know, I am one of those guys, like most people in Canada, we like to help  the countries all over the world. But sometimes it makes you wonder”

“We’ve got a guy dying in Toronto waiting 3 hours for an ambulance”

“We got people waiting 7, 8, 10 hours, if they’re lucky, in a waiting room  with one doctor for a zillion people.”

“We nickel and dime our doctors, nurses and veterans plus a million other  services. Yet we can send almost 50 million to Haiti.”

These words were spoken — actually tweeted — by “Hockey Night In Canada” host and arguably Canada’s greatest living treasure, Don Cherry through his Twitter account. A former NHL player and coach known for his outspoken manner and very — unique — dress style, Cherry is no stranger to controversy for speaking his mind.

These tweets came days before the third anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed over a million homes in Haiti. Not particularly good timing.

But Cherry does have a point, even if he lacks tact.

Like Cherry, I believe in helping out those who need it. I donated to one of those Haitan relief fund drives, held at the supermarket up the street from where I live. When Superstorm Sandy hit the American East Coast, I donated to the American Relief Fund through the Canadian Red Cross. During my trips downtown for job interviews, more often than not I’ll drop a quarter or even a loonie into a homeless person’s cup. It’s part of my Irish and Scottish heritage to feel sorry for someone going through a bad patch of luck.

However, it’s also part of my Irish and Scottish heritage to question, quite bluntly, financial decisions being made about my money and when I say my money, I mean my tax dollars. I’ve paid into the tax system since I was 16 years old and quite frankly I’ve yet to see a satisfactory return on my investment. We do have a horrendous waiting time for specialists here in Ontario and for a bed in the emergency room. We have an urban infrastructure we can’t seem to find money for to maintain, like our crumbling Gardiner Expressway dropping pieces of itself onto traffic below, yet we always, amazingly, can dig up money to fund art programs here in Toronto.

On top of that, there’s also the insanity of wasting this money when there is an unemployment problem here in Canada. Canada’s national unemployment rate is 7.3% (January 2013). While that might make us the envy of other countries, particularly those belonging to the G8, there’s no excuse for the rate to be that high for a country like Canada that has such an abundance of natural resources and a well-educated and highly-motivated workforce. Ontario’s unemployment rate is 7.9% and Toronto’s local unemployment rate is still stubbornly high above the national average at 8.2% (December 2012).

I don’t need to see these numbers to know there’s an unemployment problem. I’ve been facing it every day for three years trying my best to find a full time job and I know I’m not alone in this, yet the powers that be can’t seem to prioritize where the money needs to go for the important things I’ve listed above.

As a country, are we indeed nuts for not getting this?

Thanks for reading!


Inhumane Resources

A woman explaining the impact of the new changes for qualifying for employment insurance in Canada (Source: CBC News)
A woman explaining the impact of the new changes for qualifying for employment insurance in Canada (Source: CBC News)

Once again, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government have demonstrated that good intentions does not necessarily mean having a good understanding of a problem that needs to be solved.

Effective Sunday January 6th, 2013, Canadians needing employment insurance (a term which in itself has become an oxymoron since it does not guarantee you are covered if you are out of work) will have to try harder to prove they are performing a reasonable job search. Never mind the fact the unemployed, such as myself, are already going well beyond that effort: the government wants us to try harder in order to quality for employment insurance. You see, the government thinks we are lazy.

Here are some of the gruesome details, pulled from the CBC News article.

  • A new job bank to receive Email alerts for potential openings. Terrific. Yet another job bank I can go to on top of the 8 I regularly visit, in direct competition with thousands of other job seekers, so I can clutter my inbox with even more alerts.
  • A cookie-cutter approach, and I quote “the type of work, wages, commuting time, working conditions, hours of work, and personal circumstances, will be considered when defining ‘suitable employment.'”. Forget the fact that people have different needs and special requirements when applying for jobs. And to those people on EI who want to pursue the career they either spent years training for or working at, the government can say you are not trying hard enough and demand you expand your search to take any job, or no EI for you. Engineers driving cabs. Programmers working at McDonalds.

The galling part of all of this is the fact that seasonal workers are being punished the most. In areas of Canada (such as the Atlantic provinces and rural areas), seasonal work is the only type of work around. To find any sort of income, they have to take the seasonal job or the rent does not get paid and there’s no food on the table. Doing just that, however, will penalize them on EI assistance when the time comes to apply again in-between jobs.

All of these changes will do absolutely nothing to help people land steady full-time work. Not only will the unemployed like myself continue to face dwindling job opportunities, we will now be considered lazy if we do not succeed in our job search according to the new standards defined. For that, we will be denied funding from a system I am and many Canadians have paid into since our teens.

What is needed, and I’ve said this countless times in my blog until I’m blue in the face, is to:

  • get the economy to produce more jobs by lowering corporate income tax so more businesses will come here and not run away,
  • improve funding for the post secondary education system to give our young people the skills to get the jobs they need (if not start their own business and create new jobs),
  • make the captains of industry, the government, and employment assistance and social services work closer together to help people find jobs by identifying key needs.

We are a country with rich resources and a population that wants to work. There is no need to resort to this sort of attack on the unemployed who are only trying to find a job and need help doing  just that

Thanks for reading!