Category: business


Connie                                                                                                                                                                                                        Connie of Manila BBQ

Like the TV series, ‘Cheers’, for those of you who remember, ‘where everyone knows your name’, this constantly helpful, bubbly proprietor who readily welcomes you by name, once she knows it; as opposed to you being, just another customer intrigued me. I had to know more about this atypical businesswoman named Connie, so I decided to ask.

Born into a middle class family with three other siblings (two brothers and one sister for which Connie was the 3 in line of accession) in *Quezon City, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines she (Connie) counted herself as having been, ‘greatly blessed’ compared to most when growing up. “The class system in the Philippines, unlike Canada”, she commented, “is very distinct and life can be extremely hard, even for the middle class.”

With an almost musical laugh and a twinkle in her eye, she reminisced of growing up in a rice store, which also served as home and where her parents still reside and maintain the store to date. It was a two-story building she explained, with the store on the main floor and living accommodations on the second level.  However, she pointed out, unlike here (in Canada) there was no furniture due to affordability factors. She recalls how beds, the family couch and even the table and chairs were sacks of rice, which, as she pointed out, were very comfortable based on the fact you were able to shape them to fit your body contours.

Living in such a manner, she explained, taught her at an early age to appreciate having your own business as it enabled you to sustain a livelihood to care for you and your family. More so when compared to North American standards, for in the Philippines there is no welfare or unemployment insurance or even a retirement pension option, you survive solely on what you can generate for an income.

Because of this and the inability of many individuals to find work in their home country, many individuals (called OFW’s = Overseas Filipino Workers) have no other option but to leave spouses and children behind to seek a livelihood elsewhere in the world. In doing so, it enables them to provide their families the basics: food, shelter, and clothing and where possible an education and medical needs.  Most times they work in extremely abusive circumstances depending on the employer and the country, they work in for which they are under contract for up to two or three years at a time and often with long hours and no days off. It is that or imminent starvation for both them and their family.  Those fortunate enough to open their own business or able to obtain an education and skills for a specialized trade stay, if they can.

Education in the Philippines is not free, meaning unless you or your family can pay for an education you do not obtain one because the Government does not provide any form of assistance for the public schools. Cash is king and schools will not allow you to register or even proceed into each new semester once you have enrolled unless the required fess have been paid. The same rules apply when writing your exams, which are an additional fee per exam, is the norm.

Here again she, as well as her two brothers and her sister were blessed not only with the fact they were a middle class family but that their parents had a family run business that provided not only an income, but also an education, which was not only a priority for future survival, but also an attainable option. (In Connie’s case, she graduated from University of the Philippines Los Baños with a marketing degree…)

After graduation, she applied and worked on a cruise ship as an activity staff member, a position she held for three-(3) years after which time she tired of the constant travel and returned home to the Philippines.

After returning home, she became a sales representative for a cosmetics ingredients supplier for which her position entailed her to meet and sell chemicals/products to cosmetic manufacturing companies. It was during this period that she learned to drive out of necessity for her job, for which as she gleefully put it, “I learned to drive Filipino style”. She goes on to state, “I was a little rowdy driver…”

“I really enjoyed the job”, she informed me based on not only the flexible hours but also the fact she had to talk to people. “I am a people person”, she commented.

“That”, she continued, “is what I feel was my strong point when I eventually opened my own business in Canada, the love of talking to people”.

Now married with two children, a son and daughter, she explained she and her husband met, courted and married in the Philippines. Her eldest child, Chloe, was born a year after her arrival in Canada.

“Courting in the Philippines”, she commented, “unlike in Canada, is not that long.” Soon after they were married, her then husband made the decision to re-locate to Canada for which he would sponsor her once he was established.

“When we separated”, she reminisced with a sad tone in her voice, “We really did not know each other as we had not been married that long”. “Unlike in a normal relationship where you court, get married and live together”, she continued, “You are with each other each day after day and get to know each others  likes and dislikes and learn the truth about each other.” “Long distance does not allow for that,” she stated.

Not being, as she put it, the jealous type and having faith that they would one day be together again for good helped make the year bearable. That and the telephone and Skype communications to each other. “Trust was the number one factor”, she stated.

During the temporary separation, she stayed with her parents and helped with the store to help time pass more quickly.

When asked about her initial thoughts when she knew she would be leaving home and moving to a new country (Canada) her reply was, “Scared!”

“Life in the Philippines for me was very different, “she explained. She had her own job, her own income, which for a girl made life easy, as she put it.

“Coming to Canada was hard with no family not to mention it was more expensive,” she explained, “especially for girly things such as a manicure and pedicure”.   However, when asked what she missed most about home she very pointedly stated, “Family!”

When asked if she ever contemplated returning to the Philippines when she retired, as an example, her reply was a resounding, “NO! Absolutely NO!” “I would go back to visit only” she continues, “my children were born in Canada and would, I am sure, appreciate a vacation there, but not to live”.

She then laughs with a twinkle in her eye as she commented, “I was raised there (the Philippines) but I think of myself as a Canadian now”.

Asked why she chose Manila BBQ as her choice of employment she said, “While I had no knowledge of the remittance end of the business, I did have a retail background living and working in my parents’ small grocery store in the Philippines”.  “Remittance” she stated, “is not easy to deal with as you inform customers what they have to expect, good or bad”. “Remittance is about trust”, she continued, “Not an easy sell”.

“It is easy to have this kind of business in the Philippines”, she commented, “Just fulfill government requirements”. “It is much easier dealing with government requirements here in Canada”, she stated.

It has been four-(4) years since she took over proprietorship of Manila BBQ and as she informed me, “Every day I am still learning”. “Each day is different people and different problems, it is a lot of work running a money remittance and grocery store.” She continues, “But I never contemplate giving up”.

As she explained, “The disadvantages are not being able to shut the business out of your mind at the end of the day”. “However, the advantages are being you own boss”.

When asked if knowing what she does now would she still take over ownership of the Manila BBQ, she replied, “I worked at ICBC for three-(3) years then stayed at home for one-(1) year with only the walls and the kids to talk too. Manila BBQ gives me the opportunity to be there for my children while allowing me adult interaction so my answer is, YES!”  “Each day”, she continued, “is interesting, with new challenges and the daily interaction of my clients who keep coming back, something I missed from when I was in sales prior and always wanted”.

Because of her love of interacting with people, she noted that she would love to once again work on the cruise ships but as she is now married with children that is no longer an option. “If it was not for Manila BBQ”, she commented, “I would love to work at Canada Place to greet the visitors from the cruise ships or the Airport at one of the Airline check in/departure terminals”.  Asked why, “I love talking to people”, was her instantaneous reply.

When asked about how she marketed Manila BBQ, without hesitation she exclaimed, “Word of mouth!” “Ninety-(90) percent of my customer base is Filipino,” she continued, “with the remainder from other nationalities who come mainly for the food”. “I do have a web site but still, word of mouth serves me the best”, she stated.  “More so since New Westminster has a large Filipino working class community who desire not only affordable living space but the shopping convenience as well as the local transportation system that makes it easy to get around”, she advised me.  “But,” she stated, “my customer base is not just regulated to New Westminster, I also have customers from South Burnaby, Coquitlam and even a few from Vancouver which keeps me very busy”.

During the interview I observed, which I was informed, one of her customers assisting in managing the store for which Connie never hesitated to patiently guide her when she had questions.  She (Connie) informed me the assistant was a longtime customer who was temporarily laid off so she (Connie) hired her just to help her out until she was able to return to her regular job.  I also noted that whenever a customer came into the store with their children Connie again would give not only the customer, but the children as well her undivided attention as she communicated with each by name.

Having known Connie for about two years now as a customer via my wife who is also Filipino I now call her Kapatid (meaning sister in Tagalog) because she makes me feel like family when I am there. Despite the latter, I did not really know that much about her personal life, until now.

In conclusion, I came away with not only an even greater respect for not only Connie the businesswoman, but Connie the person   For truly she has created a business where your shopping experience and money remittance needs are taken to new heights. Connie, once she knows your name and, or your face and even if she does not yet know you and your name,  greets you with a cheery hello and a smile and I like to think inwardly that, she is welcoming you home.

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*Quezon City, Philippines is the sister city to New Westminster, BC Canada.

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My wife is looking for a simple laptop so she does not have to share my desktop with me anymore. As she puts it and I understand, she wants a computer she can call her own. Nothing fancy, just a simple, portable unit that will allow he to check her emails and listen to her music and watch the occasional movie from the comfort of her chase.

Today we received the newest, Visions Electronic flyer, in the mail, well that got her excited when she saw the sweet deals Visions was offering…. Netbooks starting at the sale price of $198.00 and 17.3” Acer laptops for only $498.00, plus tax… Sweet deals with the savings of $150.00 off the regular price. Sweet that is until we read the fine print. Not your high-end systems but they are just what she needs and in the price range, she desires to spend.

Yes, at those prices you knew there had to be a catch, right! There was, the deal is you get a Netbook or Laptop at the advertised price, IF you subscribe for a 2 to 3 year contract with a TELUS internet connection of only $40.00 or more per month.

If you do not have internet service already then perhaps it would be a great deal, but what are the chances of that.

As it stands the $150.00 savings on the advertised Netbooks and Laptops becomes a $960.00 (plus tax and installation fees) extra on the advertised price, which is not such a great savings after all.

The moral is, not everything you see in a Visions Flyer, or any flyer for that matter, is always what it seems. Read the fine print and do your homework before you buy. As the old saying goes, “If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is!” In this case it, as I see it is just a well-defined marketing ploy to sway the wary buyer into purchasing an item they are better off paying the full price for, or better still shop around at the other dealers, we are and there are and to date I am finding far better deals.

Visions states, “Visions, Your Best Price!” in this case, they are anything but, as I see it!

Life is often what we make it, for many there is no choice as circumstances dictate otherwise through no fault of their own. I was honoured to have met an awe-inspiring man who is using his own good fortune and talents to assist those who do not have the power to choose as so many of us in developed nations enjoy, his name, ‘Just Another Guy’; Jag for short and this is his story.

Jag, as you have already realized is a Pseudonym and he was willing to share some personal insight into his life as a member of the Canadian branch of an organization called Doctor’s Without Boarders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF for short), with some provisions.

To be honest, while I have known Jag for some time I was not aware of his affiliation with MSF and it was by pure accident I found out, via another source. Jag is one of those rare individuals that do good deeds because they care as opposed to doing it for public recognition and glory.

My inquisitive juices flowing I had approached him with my limited information and explained that I desired to interview him for an article and why. After listening to my proposition, and after some deep thought and bewilderment on his part he finally agreed. He did question me as to how I found out about his alternate lifestyle in the first place but as I had agreed with the individual who had told me, I had to decline to divulge my source to which he understood when I explained why. (True to my word to my original sources I did not divulge to Jag, or anyone else, how I found out about his work with MSF and have not to this day)

I would like to point out that as previously noted; Jag authorized me to use the details written in this article with the stipulation his (Jag’s) real name, and any physical description that might help to identify him, was not published for personal and security reasons.
I had limited time to interview and glean what I felt was the most beneficial information possible, as Jag, being the humanitarian I had come to know and respect was already preparing for a new mission, Jag was heading to Haiti. Following are the brief questions I had time to ask and obtain his answers in return.

Question: I recall you were taking a sabbatical if you will after your stint in the Sudan. What was it like there and what caused you to want to choose not to go back into Africa at this time if you will. I recall you mentioned I do believe the Sudan. My question is, “Was your sabbatical based on what you experienced in the Sudan?”

Jag: “I returned from Sudan a bit more than a year ago. It was an immensely challenging mission. I lost 40 lbs in 5 months, I had high blood pressure when I got back, I was stressed. It was an interesting project, with interesting people. I accepted a mission that I was quite ready for. I needed more experience. However, I did a good job, I kept things running despite serious obstacles. I’m not too comfortable talking about some of the things that happened out there on a forum as expansive as the internet, so I’m going to remain a bit vague here.”

There was an option for me to go to a different country instead of Haiti, back in Africa. I have no hesitation to return to Africa. I love Africa; it holds a pull that I can’t really describe. Once you go, you’ll know what I mean. There is so much hope there, so much intensity, so much love and in the face of adversities like conflict, serious diseases, political instability and ethnic tensions. Yet, it’s a place of inspiration. I can’t describe it with justice.

I chose Haiti over the project in Africa this time because it is more in line with the direction that I wish to follow. I’ve worked in conflict zones and with malnutrition projects, both heavy components of MSF’s work. One of the other sides of MSF is disaster response. Unfortunately, for Haiti, less than a year after a devastating hurricane another crippling blow came in the form of the January earthquake. I was not able to respond with the initial emergency due to commitments here in Vancouver, and was in constant communication to respond in March.”

Question: I understand you are heading to Haiti to help build a hospital, which I find to be very commendable. My question is what part will you play in the construction of the hospital and would you as part of your contract be available if needed to perform other duties to assist the Haitians in their recovery from the quake?

Jag: “The position I’m assuming in Haiti is the construction logistician for a new hospital in Port-au-Prince. I’m not really sure what to expect. I usually just hit the ground running, and do what is needed, when it’s needed. Technically speaking, a construction log tends to oversee the construction, assure that it’s built to specifications and to train the national staff that will be doing the physical construction. A lot of working with MSF is managing and delegating. It tends to be to the advantage of all parties to allow/enable the national staff to take as much responsibility as possible. I’m all for promoting the independence and self-sustainability of those that I aim to aid.”

Question: One puzzling question that keeps coming to mind and that is how did you become involved with, ‘Doctors Without Borders (MSF)’, and why?

Jag: “Three years ago while working at an engineering firm based out of North Vancouver I was on a field project on Vancouver Island. On weekends, I would head to either Tofino or another secret spot to surf. One particular weekend, heading back from a surf trip I picked up a hitchhiker that needed a ride to the ferries that would take her back to Vancouver.

She had previously worked with WarChild International, another humanitarian aid agency. We got to talking, and I expressed that I was feeling like I was capable than I was being pushed in my present capacity, that I was looking to do something that would put all of my technical and engineering skills to use. I wanted to contribute to this world that has been so kind to me. Reciprocation perhaps.

When she said that I’d have my metal tested working with Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF (or Doctors Without Borders), I questioned her listening skills, I after all was/am not in any way medically trained. She suggested I take a look at MSF’s website and that the position of Logistician would suit me well.

Three months later, I was on a flight to Bonn in Germany for my pre-departure training. The rest is history.”

Question: You mentioned that you are a paid volunteer and the position allows you to save some money. That raises the following question: Does your contractual agreement provide, besides what sounds like a small monetary pay, food and lodging or do you have to cover those expenses yourself including travel expenses?

Jag: “MSF covers transport to and from projects, as well as a per diem in the field that tends to cover most personal needs. Lodging is also provided, while food costs are generally subtracted from the allotted per diem. A small financial stipend is provided to help cover costs/bills at home. But then doing this work isn’t about the money.”

Question: What is your position or qualifications in respect to your services that you provide? By that I mean, what services do they hire you to perform and what are your qualifications?

Jag: “My position varies based on the project. My next posting in Haiti I will be a construction logistician. But initially I was “hired” to be an all-round logistician. Essentially a “Jack of all trades” a logistician is likened to the spine of a vertebrate, you don’t see us, you don’t hear us, but we’re always working to make sure that the project maintains is operational capacity. That means being responsible for everything from vehicle mechanics, IT, communications, electricity, sanitation, water to security and supply.

We aren’t physically saving lives, we’re just there to make sure that the medical staff can.

As for my skills/qualifications, I grew up working on my parents farms and on a neighbours large dairy farm, this is where I learnt or developed skills in mechanics, electrical wiring, plumbing, welding, construction and the overall ingenuity to figure out how to fix or make things happen given what we had at our disposal.

In high school, I figured out that I wouldn’t play professional sports, and had to figure out a field that suited me. It turned out that Civil Engineering was the fit at that time, so I went to McGill and graduated with a Bachelor in Civil Engineering. A few years later, combining my technical skills with an education, and I suppose MSF saw a suitable candidate.”

Question: Any information about past contracts and what you see for the future greatly appreciated, as I know you are pressed for time.

Jag: “I’ve worked previously in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in the semi-autonomous state of South Sudan. I’ll see if I can come up with anything short and sweet for this question in the next couple of days… I’m not 100% sure I’ll have time to do so though.”

Jag was not able to contribute more as he had hoped but what he did share enabled me to see a real man who has found his own inner peace as he puts others ahead of both himself and monetary wealth. We have agreed to stay in touch and I for one will look forward to hearing from him as his time allows.

I was able to later access Jag’s personal blog, where he writes notations and updates for family and close friends. Even here, he is ever the humble self-sacrificing individual so many have come to love and respect.

Jag writes in his own words: “Haiti happened. MSF called, we talked, I wanted to be here for the Olympics, the Olympic people called, they wanted a volunteer driver for the Opening and Closing ceremonies, and parts in-between, called MSF, we talked, about me going to help rebuild post emergency, for probably a year, building a hospital or three, likely in March, pretty stoked, but I’m leaving again, settling down, placing roots once again back-burned, not dating anyone once more.”

In earlier times, he writes, “I wish I could paint this picture with words. Even if most of you might not know what plastic sheeting and shadow nets are, I think you can appreciate it based on what follows.

But imagine parched earth, giant two-inch eggshell pattern cracks in the dirt as far as an eye can see. Think of how a shattered windshield would look to an ant then magnify it to our abilities at perception and you’ll have an idea what I am talking, about well aside from the colour, that is.

Shadow net is exactly what it says, nets tied to poles or trees (if you can find one) that are about 3-5m off the ground, erected to give shadow, to protect us from the unrelenting and scorching sun. Plastic sheeting is essentially just a plastic, rip resistant tarpaulin on a 250m roll. Our compound walls and office roof are made from plastic sheeting and sticks, not the best for any kind of protection but it keeps folks from seeing inside…

Think of relying on satellite for all communication to the capital and Geneva HQ. Think of talking on a sat phone, knowing you can’t walk and talk, or be inside. Or imagine the frustration when you can’t get through and you need to, or worse when you do and the call drops and you have to repeat the process all over again. Try to dream of living and having your storage in tents, for months. Giant white canvas tents, and even with shadow nets the inside can and usually does reach 50 C.

For me, I love to be in the field, even with the heat, the plastic sheeting and shadow nets. The poor conditions and not exactly gourmet food, the struggle and challenges of it all are the fun parts. The challenges of management that are my day-to-day struggle in Juba are less fun. But to be fair, my attitude has changed. I am more positive, I have to be, I couldn’t last the three-four months here if I didn’t.

Think of all of this, and perhaps you might get to experience a bit of Africa and not have to leave the comfort of home. Ahhh, some days I wish I had done that.”

“ – Giving blood to help the Medics save an infants life, twice. I already put a post on this, so I won’t elaborate, other than to say that the second time is just as special.”

Another time Jag writes, “ – Watching a cesarean. Those who know me well know that I am fairly squeamish. So why would I subject myself to watching such an intense surgery? I feel as though I have to confront my fears so that they no longer remain a fear. Did it work? Hells no. This was real fear, I starting sweating that awful cold sticky sweat, my mouth dryed up, I couldn’t breath, all I wanted to do was rip off the face-mask as it was seriously suffocating me, I was too hot, I got dizzy, there was a period of at least two minutes where my eyes were open and yet I saw nothing. I sought solace in the cool of the concrete wall. Cut, cut, stretch, stretch, pull, pull, snip, snip, sew back up and sew back up. 25 minutes later, she was already in the process of recovery, the baby crying and me whimpering. In all fairness it was by far one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I know now though that if someday I find me a wife, and she needs a cesarean, I know which end of the operating gurney I will stay at. Thank you Dr. Claudine and Dr. Claude, I will never ever forget that experience.”

” – Seeing a baby in an incubator, I think that two of my fingers and my thumb would have had the same mass. Without MSF this baby would never make it.”

(There was more, so much more, but now you have some insight into why I feel honoured to have met Jag and why I look forward to hearing from him again when time permits him to do so. I may not have his vitality and youth but his inspiration is contagious just the same, which made it an honour to be able to tell his story abet as brief as it is)

I had both heard and read about Doctor’s Without Boarders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and some of the services they provided but had not really given it much further thought until I met Jag and then I started to recall all the good things I had heard and read. Unlike the Red Cross, which, based on the horror stories of Red Cross corruption from my family and Uncles who served in WW2, still leave a bad taste in my mouth. According to other, present day sources, the Red Crosses corporate attitude of for profit has not improved and is only preceded by the highly paid United Nations staff/contractors.

MSF is the only one, based on my research, that presently leaves me with a good feeling about their services, especially after meeting Jag who gave me such great insight into the workings of MSF, or at least as much as he was able to tell me without breaking any obligations he was sworn not to divulge for safety reasons. As Jag stated, unlike the other groups, MSF will do whatever it takes, often at great risk to get to where they are needed, be it by Plane, SUV, Donkey or even Walking… The people they are there to help come first against all odds.

From my personal observations and research of Jag the man, I found rare qualities that most of us in our daily personal quests are devoid of as we seek personal riches without any thought of the welfare of our less fortunate fellow beings. Jag it seems, is a man who resoundingly puts others ahead of himself and while one day desiring to find a mate and settle down to a home and family of his own, continues in the meanwhile on his present course of putting others first ahead of himself and any monetary gain.

MSF field news… (Dated March 12, 2010) “Currently, MSF has 348 international staff in Haiti working closely with over 3,000 Haitian staff. With the expansion of services, the 26 MSF hospitals and health centres can accommodate 1,346 inpatients. In the last two months, MSF teams have performed more than 3,700 surgeries, provided psychological counselling to more than 22,000 people, and treated 54,789 patients….“

MSF, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Canadian connection
“The recent Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) comes as something of a shock…” “it is a shock not only because the media spotlight that is focused on Nobel Peace Prize recipients shines so brightly, but also because such “official” recognition is unfamiliar and, perhaps, a little uncomfortable to MSF volunteers.” …Michael Schull, MD. Schull served as president of MSF Canada for five-(5) years.

MSF was born in the early 1970s out of the exasperation of a group of French doctors who worked in desperate conditions in the Biafra War (1967-1970). “They were determined to create a movement to deliver independent humanitarian aid wherever it was needed, and one that would speak out about the plight of the victims it helped.”

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS SPOTLIGHT SUDAN
“A violent attack in Jonglei State, Southern Sudan, at the end of August resulted in the reported deaths of 42 people. MSF is mobilizing resources to help victims of the attack, which injured more than 60 and displaced up to 24,000.”

In conclusion I would like to thank Jag, for allowing me to get to know the real him as a person and for taking the time to answer my questions and allowing me insight into MSF from an insider’s view. I also want to thank not only Jag, but also all the men and women of MSF for their unending dedication and hard work those for the less fortunate.

While awaiting Jags approval on the final draft of this article I received a message from Jag that the mission to Haiti was canceled due the kidnapping of two Swiss nurses who work for MSF. Sad news for the people of Haiti who really need the help but the good news is they, the nurses, were released unharmed and without having to pay a ransom.

Hello Al,

“I am not going to Haiti. Quite a few non-essential staff were sent home, and a few people like me are no longer going. The two Swiss nurses were returned safely and the ransom was not paid. MSF is in a process of determining their next steps in that country. They/we do not respond well to kidnapping. On the whole, it’s difficult not to feel disheartened when such seemingly selfish incidents occur.

The same day that I was informed that my project in Port au Prince was scrapped I was offered the same position as previously back in Africa, AND, the engineering company that I worked at before MSF just happened to let me know that they had a position for me in (blank as requested) if I was interested. So…I’m going to (blank as requested) tomorrow to have lunch with the guys and see if we’re still a good fit.

It looks like I might be putting up the traveling hat for a while, putting my foot back in the door of the engineering world, and perhaps most importantly creating a bit of congruency back into my life. I’ll keep you posted…”

Jag…

Haiti appeal… “We are not currently accepting donations specifically for Haiti on our website. You can still donate to our emergency medical work around the world through our general fund using the links…” Click here for details.

With the Vancouver Olympics, just a few short weeks away and news of Al-Qaeda’s trained monkeys latest daring attack on the Afghanistan parliament I reflect on the wailing and gnashing of teeth here at home over the new body scanners.

Headlines scream out, “New Rules terrorize flyers...”, “Scanner ‘violates human dignity”, and I give my head a shake and wonder who the more stupid group is. The terrorists whose only goal is to kill innocent people because they can, or we as Canadians who think because we are Canadian we are invincible and therefore our freedom to do as we please should not be infringed upon.

While personally, I have no need to fly now I do believe we need to tighten up our airport security and if it creates an inconvenience so be it. Better to be inconvenienced and alive then to have our own way and die in the process. To long we as Canadians continue to let the criminal elements of the world dictate the rules while we, like trained monkeys, sit back and allow ourselves to continue to be dictated to by the scum of society as we wallow in chaos that now surrounds us.

I had to laugh when I heard on the Bill Good show shortly after this issue of body scanners broke, about how Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Union commented that, “…the privacy concerns with these body-scan machines are very, very serious…” I thought to myself afterwards what is Vonn really concerned about as I am sure that the airport staff has better things to do then be interested in looking at her pasty white ass; it is not as if she Angelina Jolie. In fact the staff who monitor the body scans do not even know who the individual is going through and if it allows us, as passengers and or loved ones, to arrive at our destinations safely then so be it. Personally, I would go through twice each time I boarded if it ensured I was going to be safe during my flight; and I am no spring chicken with a muscular body nor am I an exhibitionist.

Personally, I think Vonn is just another lawyer trying to make mark for herself at the taxpayers’ expense.

I also question Britain’s opinion that full-body scans violate child-pornography laws. You would think that the images are being collected and sold, with full visual identification including age and ethnicity, to the highest bidder. I can just here old Bin Laden laughing about how we have become like his other fools as we terrorize ourselves with our moral stupidity at no cost to Al-Qaeda.

Now if I was a terrorist and wanted to make some great brownie points with the boss (Bin-Laden) the 2010 Olympics and the present quibbling about security when flying into this country would just make sense. All those potential victims gathered in mass numbers including international state dignitaries, not to mention all that free press coverage already established to assist in spreading the message of fear and vulnerability based on the when and where will terrorist strike again.

Give me a full body scan, heck I will strip naked and go for the full cavity search in public to ensure my friends and family would remain unharmed. (Gross, not a pretty picture but you get my point) We have become a society of sheep willingly allowing ourselves to be led to the slaughter by our own pompous inability to stand up and fight for our rights. Bring back the death penalty and stop giving the criminal elements of this world any say in what happens to them once they have committed a crime regardless of age, gender or race.

Now if you ask me do I feel the full-body scanners are the end all when it comes to air port security my answer would be no. In fact, I would say they are a great waste of money. Here we are paying, as I understand it $250,000.00 per machine for a total of eleven-(11) scanners which begs the real question, “What, if anything, are we doing to fix the real weak link in our port of entry security?”

I am talking about the under trained and as I understand in some cases underpaid airport staff who are entrusted with the lives of thousands on a daily basis. At best from my research security at Canadian airports is a joke as fear turns into pandemonium the moment something happens, especially in the USA.

Another prime example of how bad Canadian Airport security is, is the Robert Dziekansk case where everyone from airport security and other supposedly well trained staff to and including the RCMP failed miserably to assist a man whose only crime was not to have the ability to speak English was eventually tasered and died.

Send back the full-body scanners for a refund and use the money to not only increase the pay scale but also to better train our security staff, and not just at the airports but at every entry point. If someone does not meet, the correct clearance standards to continue past the checkpoint send him or her back on the next available flight from whence they came regardless what all the bleeding hearts think or feel. The safety and well-being of every Canadian, by birth right or otherwise, should be uppermost in our minds regardless what others may think.

I reflected on a well rounded article by Jon Ferry of the Province News where he noted that the father of the alleged Muslim terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had actually warned the US authorities about his sons plans and we all know how that turned out. It seems stupidity and the failure to communicate from agency to agency is in itself an even greater threat to our safety then any terrorist can dream up when it comes to airport security, as an example, and because of that, everyone suffers.

Perhaps the best example of airport security is in Israel.

According to Sela, a security consultant with Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv,’ Israeli airports rely most on direct contact with passengers and careful screening of their backgrounds… Every passenger is interviewed before going through security screening. Staff make direct eye contact with each passenger and are trained to watch for signs of stress, nervousness and other behavioural indicators. “

“I can watch people when they are going through a certain stage in the security process and I can pick out the dangerous one 99.9 times out of 100, maybe higher” says Sela.

In closing, my personal thought is that Canada and the United States should swallow their stupid pride, grow some balls, and learn from the Israelis. Then and only then will we have anything resembling true point of entry security worth expanding upon.

MVT, a Double Edge Sword

MVT CanadaAs I follow the ongoing saga of MTV Canada vs. its employees, I am reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath, the employees in this case being David.

I first became enamoured with the dispute between MTV Canada (an American firm) and its Canadian employees when I read what I consider a very biased article by Harvey Enchin of the Vancouver Sun entitled, “HandyDart workers have a good offer on the table. They should take it

A good news story should have balance in its reporting, something Enchin seems to have missed in this instance as he espoused the values of the company and the supposed negativity of the Union without offering one iota of detail from an employee’s perspective.

I wanted to know more, with that in mind I decided to do my own research, by approaching the employees of MVT Canada for their side of this seemingly convoluted story. Based on the nature of the situation the names of those who were willing to speak have been changed out of respect of their current situation.

The first individual we will call Sarah. Sarah is an employee and a client of MVT Canada or as we know it, Handy Dart.
Sarah had put her thoughts to paper and presented them to me. Based on the content I felt impelled to present the entire letter as follows:
…………………………………………………………………………

“I have 2 sides to my opinion about how MVT is running the company. I am a driver who has been off on Long Term Disability for 11 months following a motorcycle accident.

When I got hit, I didn’t realize I would now be a HandyDART client as well as an employee. I was confident that I would have a good experience as a client, because as a driver, I knew how hard we all worked at getting people to their destinations….safely, congenially and on time.

When MVT came into the picture, I was being optimistic. They said that they wouldn’t change anything about the company. They said that the customers would benefit because there would be more opportunity to call for bookings 7 days in advance. They said that there would be more buses on the road and more employees to handle the increase in ridership.

They lied.

The week that MVT took over, I noticed a difference. A small one, but a difference. My rides were late outside of the window. I thought surely this was just a problem due to the fact that they’re just getting organized. I optimistically gave them a month to sort out their problems.

It only got worse.

I was starting to hear from the drivers that they time they were given to pick me up was NOT the time I was given over the phone from the booking agents. Who, I might add, seemed increasingly more confused about the city of Vancouver. I thought this too was odd. That they had hired new people, but people who had absolutely no idea how long it takes to get from one place to another because they had no clue how far apart each destination was and they didn’t have a clue about where construction was.

I started being late for my appointments, so I started to book my HandyDART earlier and earlier to compensate for the problems I was having. This still didn’t make a difference, because on 3 occasions they were so late that I was waiting up to an hour and a half.

Once, I waited an hour and a half for a ride only to find out that dispatch had given my ride to someone who was on their break. They actually assumed he would cut his break short to come and get me. Fortunately, he took his break and took care of himself, but unfortunately for me, I got the brunt of it.

They gave it to him when my window had ended. That was when his break had just begun. So…he had to finish his break, then travel to get me. Hour and a half sitting on the curb of the street with no back support amongst decades of ages of bubblegum and cigarette butts. By the time they came, I was in so much pain I had to call my partner to drive all the way to the heights of North Vancouver to come and get me from my friends BBQ because my time was now cut short. Not only because of the fact that my ride to come and pick me up would be there within half an hour, but I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even take the HandyDART ride home. I needed our vehicle with a reclining seat and had tears all the way home.

Where was my independence? Gone.

Another time, I waited in the rain for a HandyDART who was late outside my window and the lovely dispatch said, “Well it’s only 5 minutes over schedule.”

Sure…5 minutes…when you’ve already waited 30 minutes in the rain again in a seat which is damaging your already injured neck and back…35 mintues is a long time.

Needless to say, I called after 15 minutes to say again, where’s my ride? “Oh they’re right around the corner” was the response. Had to wait almost another 15 minutes from there and when I called to find out just what was going on, and why this keeps happening the dispatch told me that there just wasn’t enough buses and that booking agents are told to over book the rides.

In other words, clients stopped mattering. Money took the forefront for MVT.

My very last ride before the strike, which happened to be my very last ride as a client, was pure hell.

I waited my half our as per usual. No ride. I called. No answer for 30 minutes. So, now I’ve been waiting an hour. But to add insult to injury, I had no minutes on my phone, so those 30 minutes at $1/minute cost me $30. $30 out of pocket just to find out where my ride was.

When I finally got through, they told me, “Well we sent you a cab.” Swell. So I’ve been waiting for a HandyDART, cabs at my physio are lined up sometimes 6 at a time, and contrary to what the company believes, the cab drivers DO NOT get out to tell you they are there for you. They told HandyDART I was a ‘no show’. Right…I was sitting right in the doorway you knuckle draggers.

So, they sent ‘another cab’. By this point, my sugar levels had dropped and I was due for my lunch. I brought a snack that I ate after my physio as per usual while waiting for my ride and this usually lasts for me to get home to have a proper lunch. But not this time. I was at this point having to wait an hour and 15 with no lunch.

Cabs were lined up and of course, none of them came to tell me they were here for me. So I walked all the way over in the rain, went from cab to cab and asked if they were there to pick me up. They all shake their heads no, one at a time.

I really couldn’t afford to call dispatch again, so I asked to use my physiotherapist’s phone. They were so unhappy that I was still waiting they obliged.

I find out now at an hour and a half that they called me a ‘no show’ again. Now I’m shaking from sugar drop, my back and neck are so tense I can barely walk and finally…finally…the manager at dispatch gets on the phone and tells me cab number 116 will be there to pick me up.

Hour and a half.

When I was driving for HandyDART run by Pacific Transit Co-operative, this would never have happened. The wonderful dispatch would have taken matters into their own hands and taken care of business right when it happened.

They can’t do that now because MVT is breathing down their necks not allowing them to take care of the clients.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a bus and the driver has had more than one addition added to the list and they just look at me with stress saying, “Well, you might be late. They’ve given me a ride that is from the other direction”. These additions given by a dispatch that I’ve worked with in the past whom would never under any circumstances make you late because they cared about you and the client.

Something else I found as a client, so many times I’ve heard, “I haven’t even had my coffee break”, and they’re more than half way through the shift.

Driving is a stressful enough job without the added pressures of too many rides put in to their day causing them to miss breaks or just be under so much pressure to try to keep up with the demand that they can’t do their job safely.

As a client, I’ve seen the quality of HandyDART go down the tubes. As a driver, I’ve seen my co-workers under so much stress that I worry for the safety of the passengers they’re transporting.

MVT is only here for one thing. Money. Not people. Not clients, not drivers, not improvement of independence in a person with disabilities’ life.

I’m pretty sure a Canadian company would have more compassion for their employees and their clients. U.S. companies are used to treating people like dirt and U.S. people are used to taking it. Canadians will not. We know what we deserve and this is not it. The fight is on and there is so much support for the workers of HandyDART that I know we will win the fight for humane treatment. Not to mention our pensions, benefits, full time hours and dignity.”

…………………………………………………………………………

As was reported in the news HandyDart had issued a 72-hour strike notice and as pointed out by Enchin (of the Vancouver Sun) they (HandyDart employees) went on strike that Monday. “Since Monday, HandyDart drivers and other employees have been on strike… “

He goes on to write in his column, “Their job action has left thousands of our most vulnerable citizens at risk, alone and housebound.” What he fails to mention or neglected to find to research for his article is that according to a second HandyDart employee whom I interviewed, was the pre-empted work stoppage by MVT itself on the Sunday, one day prior to the strike taking place.

As Delmar (the name has been changed) stated, “On that Sunday, (one day before the strike was to begin) without notice to staff or clientele, cleared the booking board of ALL appointments except essential services. Unionized office staff and drivers were not informed of the MVT cancellation of service for HandyDart customers until they (the employees) arrived for work as scheduled.
According to Delmar, the problems at HandyDart started shortly after MVT took over the HandyDart service when it staff started to receive bills for January and February 2009 in their mail for Medical benefits that had previously been paid by the company as part of their benefits package.

Delmar states that once the union approached the company about the situation they were readily assured that the problem would be resolved. However, he continues this was not to be the case as the billings continued to arrive asking for payment.
It was then that Delmar decided to take matters into his own hand and contact the Ministry of Health. The customer service agent informed him that MTV Canada had not applied for the medical plan it stated it was providing its employees, until then he was responsible for paying for the medical plan himself until MVT applied to take over.

“It was not until”, Delmar stated, “I took my findings to the Human Resources Department at MVT that the company applied to provide the promised medical plan for its employees.”

“Others areas of contention we have with the MVT take over, Delmar continued, ‘was with our company pension plan. As of January 1, 2009 no money was being withheld for our long standing Registered Savings Plan.” “MVT”, he commented, “had decided when it took over the Handy Dart contract that it did not want to apply to continue the pension plan as per the contract that was in place prior to the takeover.”

“They later,” he continued,” applied for the pension plan and were denied because they (MVT) only wanted a temporary status.” “As of September 1, 2009, the company started deducting money from the employees’ paychecks for their Municipal Pension Plan. `But as we were informed,” he commented, “it was not going into the pre-existing RSP but rather the money was being held by the company for a future pension plan yet to be determined.“ “To date“, he exclaimed, “ we do not know where our money is!“

You can view other areas of contention between MVT C Canada and its employees here. “HandyDART info`… news & views“

MV Public Transportation
“ Thinking of WORKING for MV Transportation? Then please read this before doing so!… The “Owners “…and Jon Monson” didn’t want to hear about their “Problem Child” Mr. Schell… How about the WRONG man for the job, especially one with ice water in his veins and a distain for his employees?“

It should be noted that Mr. Schell now manages MVT Canada.

African immigrants sue transportation firm, alleging bias [USA]
“Nine East African immigrants filed a lawsuit…against MV Transportation…alleging discrimination based on nationality and religion…The lawsuit…alleges that the plaintiffs faced “severe and pervasive harassment and other discrimination…” The complaint is chiefly against one manager…who allegedly told the plaintiffs they had no rights as immigrants and that they were earning too much money“

In respect to the latter Delmar commented that MTV Canada informed office staff that they were to have NO personal items on their desk, including family photos. Many staff have placed Canadian Flags on their desks in protest. To date the company has neither rescinded the memo nor forced anyone to remove the flags.

HandyDart from a user’s, and a driver’s, perspective
“HandyDart saves the government money and should not be considered a profit-making situation for a private firm. Drivers are entitled to make a fair living wage….“

HandyDart from a user’s, and a driver’s, perspective cont:
“ If the union membership votes to continue the strike, perhaps the LRB could be persuaded to revise what it considers essential so that more buses could be back in service immediately.”

Conclusion:

Personally, I am not a big union fan, as I believe in most cases they have become as corrupt and self-absorbed as the employers they once challenged on behalf of the working class; however, in many cases they are still provide some security for the employee. I say this because I see companies such as MVT and others like them as profit driven mercenaries who will stop at nothing in their quest to line their corporate pockets.

It is natural for every company, big or small to need to turn a profit to be successful, but they must also remember a company is only as successful as the people who work hard to help make it a success, from the CEO down to the labourers.
I do believe in researching my topics to the best of my ability before commenting to ensure I am as unbiased as possible, which sadly was not the case of Harvey Enchin. Harvey`s piece about the MVT conflict resounded of a one sided hypocrisy reminiscent of an individual who has taken a bribe to use his powers as a reporter in an attempt to sway his readers into thinking MVT was an innocent party in the present demise of the HandyDart ridership.

Unlike Enchin I am as opposed to what MVT Canada really is, a for profit company attempting to circumvent Canadian Labour standards at the cost of both its employees and its clientele. Does this situation now enamour me to the Unions, no, it just makes me less sympathetic towards MVT whose sole agenda is to add to its ever-increasing corporate coffers at the expense of the Canadian working class and elderly who rely on the HandyDart system and the benefits it is supposed to provide.

“O` Canada!”