What Does the HST Tell Us?

I got a very well organized and informative guide in the mail today called “What changes –and what doesn’t change– under the HST”, which may be one of the very few things I like about this new Ontario tax scheme.

Governments often use taxation to try and influence of buying behaviour of their citizens, so I thought I would take a look and see what behaviours the government is trying to change with the HST:

  • Smelly Ontario – Apparently they want us to dry-clean less, with taxes going from 5 to 13%
  • Drunk Ontario – Alcohol will be taxed at 13% instead of the old 17% (although they footnote that they will stop people from drinking so much with ‘other fees’)
  • Lazy Ontario – Gym, athletic memberships, fitness trainers, hockey rink rentals, hall rentals, hunting licenses, fishing licenses and golf green fees will increase from 5 to 13%
  • Ugly Ontario – Hair stylists, barbers and aesthetician services up to 13% from 5%
  • Lawless Ontario – Legal fees will be taxed at 13% instead of 5%
  • Cold (winter) and Hot (summer) Ontario – Electricity & heating bills to go from 5 to 13% tax
  • Flooded and Electrocuted Ontario – Home visits by plumbers, electricians, etc. will go from 5-13% as will home renovations
  • Digitally-divided Ontario – Internet access will now be taxed at 13% instead of 5%
  • Wild Ontario – Landscaping and snow removal up to 13% from 5%
  • Homebound Ontario – Hotel rooms (from 10%), taxis, campsites, domestic air, rail, boat and bus travel all up to 13% from 5%, as does fuel for your car, unfortunately you will have fewer magazines to read at home since subscription magazines also go from 5 to 13%
  • Double-dipped Ontario – Remember that new car that you paid 13% tax on, well now the government makes 13% again –up from 5%– when you sell it used!
  • Suburban & Condo Ontario – New homes over $400,000 will be taxed at 13% instead of 5%, and AFAIK can only be found in the suburbs or in condo dwellings. Real estate commissions will also be taxed more, at  13% instead of 5%.
  • Scurvied Ontario – Vitamins up to 13% from 5%
  • Stiff & sore Ontario – No reduction on Viagra tax, they are increasing taxes on massage therapy from 5 to 13%
  • Entertained Ontario – Tickets for professional sporting events and movies will DROP from 15% to 13%.
  • Alive Ontario – Death will cost you more, with funeral services taxed at 13%, up from 5%… sure as death and taxes.

    Save This Buddha!

    Golden Buddah, Bangkok, ThailandI am watching with anxiety the events unfolding in Bangkok, where anti-government protesters are conducting sit-ins, and constructing barricades around areas of interest to foreign tourists, as a means to get the government’s attention. Initially, this all seemed like a great example of Ghandi-style peaceful civil disobedience (like when the protesters ground the Bangkok airport to a halt in 2008), but then the bullets started flying, with an accompanying Twitter feed).

    My visit to Bangkok was one of my best travel experiences, a positive culture-shock, and one of my favourite places to take photos.

    While the safety of the MANY citizens of Bangkok (10M+) is of the paramount importance, it always frustrates me that there doesn’t seem to be any way for the international community to protect artifacts and architecture of such cultural significance. When trouble breaks out, these artifacts become targets, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes by accident.

    About 6 months before before 9/11, there were some very clear signs that all was not right in the heads of those ruling Afghanistan. In an effort to erase Afghanistan’s true cultural heritage, the Taliban decided to blow up two giant Buddha statues carved into a cliff near Bamiyan, in defiance of international protests.

    Those are bullet holes!

    Unfortunately, historic sites are often the most sturdy things to hide behind.

    In Chris Hedges’ book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” he indicates that this is a very common element of the prelude to any war; erasing the past to create a new fictitious present. It is particularly prominent in wars that result in ethnic cleansing, like the strife in the Balkan states.

    I can’t offer any solutions, only raise awareness. Protecting items of cultural significance isn’t about saving tourism, it is about making sure the truth about the past isn’t eradicated just because it is inconvenient to the present (or it is the sturdiest thing to hide behind when the bullets start to fly).

    SfaUT: Top 5 Posts of ALL Time

    Well, actually it has been about 1 and 1/2 years since I started blogging, and I wanted to see if any ‘Unifying Theme’ has popped up.  Also, for anyone who has watched network TV, you eventually get to that episode where the money and/or creativity runs out, and they resort to running a ‘retrospective’ episode of clips cobbled together from previous episodes.  This is the blog post equivalent…

    Maybe it is different for other bloggers, but I doubt it: the posts that you really, really like are NOT the ones that get the most hits!  Based on the number of hits, I should create a blog about Rogers or RBC rants, or perhaps a restaurant guide.

    SfaUT Top Posts

    The top post, which still receives more hits a day than any other post, is a rant about the high data roaming charges that Rogers bills its customers, which I experienced on my trip to Asia earlier this year.  Apparently this is a common experience with a lot of people, which has led to a lot of traffic to my site.  If you type “rogers data extortion” into Google, my post is the top hit (as of today).

    Next, in #2 position, is a post I did about Google.  I was watching Google regularly releasing applications that I am sure others were building their entire business case on, and had a thought:  What is happening to the web start-up industry as a result of Google’s deep pockets, and free applications?  This got picked up by a web aggregator called Ycombinator at the time, and has since been changed to ‘Hacker News’.  Of those >1000 reads, about 80% were in a single day, and has since dropped to zero reads a day!

    #3, and deservedly so, is my assertion that Singapore Restaurant is the best restaurant in Ottawa, and why.  It shows up on about page 6 of a Google search on Ottawa’s best restaurant, so it must only be really determined people that find it… or they are using some other search tool.  With 662 views, I hope at least a few of those people actually gave it a try, Abba and Foo deserve the business!

    #4 was another fee-based rant:  This time the target was RBC Visa and their overlimit fees.  Since I don’t carry balances on credit cards this was actually a sympathetic-rant for a friend I was helping with some financial counselling.  I actually got quite angry on the phone with the RBC representative and accused them of taking advantage of people that were not financially savvy.  Now I wish I had recorded it, it may have made a good audio clip for the blog.

    Finally, to maintain my lack of a ‘Unifying Theme’, the last in my Top 5 list is about an observation I made of how similar Klee Irwin and John Waters look… judge for yourself! This was my second post about Klee, who came to my attention in his hilariously funny infomercials on dual-action cleanse.

    It appears that I am STILL Searching for a Unifying Theme…

    Shure SE530 – Perhaps the Best Earphones Ever!

    During my Asian vacation, I purchased a pair of SE210 sound isolating earphones which I reviewed for the purposes of air travel.

    I got used to how well this style of headphone worked in noisy environments, but started to wonder just how much better the top-of-the-line SE530 would sound.

    While I was attending NXTComm 2008 in Las Vegas for work, I had the opportunity to attend the InfoComm show as well.  Shure had a booth at the show and their full range of sound-isolating earphones available for test drive.  This is where I fell in love with the SE530’s!

    The retail price of these babies is pretty dear in Canada, around $500 I believe, so I took advantage of the wonders of eBay to pick up a pair for less than $400 including an adapter to use the earphones as a headset for my iPhone.

    I really enjoyed dealing with ‘The-Deal-Spot’ because I had some problems with the first set they sent (weird distortion on one ear) and they sent a replacement set with no hassles.  This is particularly important since Shure really doesn’t support earphones that are not sold through their dealer network.  Another important thing I learned was to keep all my paperwork from the shipping, since if I wanted to get my taxes back on the original set that I sent back, I would have to use the paperwork from the original shipping to satisfy Canada Border Services and get my refund… still looking…

    Unlike the good-sounding SE210’s, which have a single audio driver, the SE530’s have 3: two for bass and one for the high range.  This translates into GREAT sound, which you can enjoy even more when you are in a noisy environment, like my favourite office: Starbucks.  Those coffee grinders, overly-caffeinated patrons, and barista machines make a lot of noise!

    Helicopters Aid OPP to Catch Speeders

    You may have noticed new white lines painted on Ontario roads patrolled by the OPP. These lines, perpendicular to the direction of traffic and spaced out 1/2 km apart, are used by police aircraft to calculate the vehicle’s speed which is then radioed ahead to waiting officers.

    So pay attention when you see these lines, and check the skies to see if you are being watched!

    The Floating Village – Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

    If you take a trip to Siem Reap Cambodia, or in fact just about anywhere in SE Asia, you will quickly suffer from an overdose of temples. While they are stunning works of art, and feats of engineering, after a couple days of visiting them they start to look very similar!

    To take a break from temples, I asked my guide to take me to Tonle Sap lake. It interested me because of its significance to Cambodia:

    1. It is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia.
    2. It changes in size from 2700 sq. km to 16,000 sq. km depending on the seasion and goes from 1 to 9 meters deep
    3. The Mekong river actually changes direction from outflow to inflow into the lake depending on the level
    4. 60% of Cambodia’s dietary protein comes from this lake

    $25 got me my very own boat for the day, not a boat for a single person, rather it could have easily handled 20! Based on the age of the engine, I think we spent that much on gas! Perhaps this is why the captain took advantage of the trip to run some errands at the floating hardware store.

    The first event worth note was the sudden appearance of an extra person on the boat, a very small person carrying drinks. Perhaps due to some instinct triggered by travel in a foreign land, I had taken count of the passengers on the boat, and hackles were raised when the math no longer worked! I think I was at the lake on a slow day, because we could have been boarded 4-5 times to be sold drinks, and my skipper actually had to wave some off.

    After some travel through the murky water of Tonle Sap, we arrived at the floating village.

    Since the people that live on the lake are subsistence fishermen, I think living in floating houses solved the problem of needing to be near the water, and dealing with the massive change in both the depth of the lake, and the location of the shore. Everything was floating, even the Christian church!

    I was informed that the majority of the inhabitants were actually not Cambodian, but Vietnamese. You can see from the picture here that for children, independence comes in the form of a cooking pot! Rather than asking for the keys to the family car, they raid the kitchen!

    Obviously the child in the picture is missing something. While I did not get his particular story, it is a very common site in Cambodia to see people missing limbs. This is due to the scourge of land mines that still plagues the country. Apparently there are still more land mines than people… not a good ratio!

    The poverty was hard to believe… poverty that can only exist in countries where the weather allows survival when you truly have nothing!

    But at least they get to enjoy awesome sunsets!

    Rogers Data Roaming Rates = Extortion!

    Every time I travel abroad with a Canadian cell phone I generally assume I am going to get absolutely raped come billing time. As a result, I am very frugal when I use my phone. I try and only use SMS, I keep the phone off most of the time, I turn off the data functions, etc.

    Still, it never ceases to amaze me what I get billed when I get home…

    For example: 2MB worth of roaming (not Gig!) when I was in Singapore = $100!!

    Lets put that in perspective, that is less than 1/3 of the song “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters in Apple’s AAC format. So… if I had a hankering for Everlong whilst in Singapore, it would cost me $300 for the download. It is my favourite song, but it isn’t worth $300 to me, unless maybe I had it played to me in a private session by the band!

    For any of you who have been to Singapore, you well know that this is a VERY modern place, with WAY more cell phone infrastructure than my home city of Ottawa, so its not like they are propping up some 3rd world dictatorship with these fees.

    &*^% you Rogers! Next time I am unlocking my cell phone, buying a SIM card while traveling, and cutting you out of the money flow entirely.

    For my new post on how Rogers is trying to lock you in with a service bundling contract, check out “Rogers Pushes Their Luck”. There is a LOT of fine print when it comes to this new contract, expectially with wireless plans, so have a look!



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