Friday, December 31, 2010

End of the Toronto 5 Cent Bag Fee?

Recently Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has mused to the National Post about removing the 5 cents per plastic bag that Toronto retail outlets charge for.  Ford plans to bring this to Toronto council in January 2011 for debate.   One kudo to His Worship, is that he has gone on the record as saying:

"I am personally not in favour of it but I want the feedback from the councillors and the constituents." - Rob Ford in the Toronto Sun.

He told the Toronto Sun that also, before the vote, is looking for a city staff report before considering the item a council meeting.  Basically Rob Ford wants to do his homework on the issue and then bring it forth to be debated and voted on.

I've previously written about this issue before and do believe a reduction in the use of plastic bags needs to occur.  However, strategies in reducing the use of plastic bags need to be examined carefully.

There are a couple of questions that are behind the Toronto five cent bag fee that need to be addressed before the question can be brought forth to council.  These questions include the below:

1. Where does the money, collected as per the City of Toronto by-law, go?

The fee is not technically a tax as the money doesn't go to the City of Toronto. If the City of Toronto collected the fee then it would be a tax and, theoretically, would be illegal under the Province of Ontario's City of Toronto act. So where does the money go? Good question.

Many businesses, like Loblaws, donate the money to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other similar charities.  Others just simply pocket the money as a new source of revenue.  This obviously angers some as the prices for products were never reduced as they used to cover the cost of providing free plastic bags and now the store charges for them.  This whole issue needs to be further investigated by the City of Toronto Staff for the report to be brought to council as this is definately "the homework" that needs to be done.

2. Should businesses have the five cents bag fee as a requirement by city by-law or remove the by-law and let businesses decide?

Currently the city of Toronto's by-law stipulates that all Toronto retailers must charge five cents for plastic bags.  Businesses have been taking a lot of heat from consumers over the charge for five cents per bag.  Business owners throw up the their hands and point to the by-law saying they have no choice but to charge the five cents.  

Businesses should have the choice of charging the five cents and not be mandated by a city government.  This could be perhaps done at the provincial or federal level in order to create a level playing field for businesses to compete in.  Currently only the businesses in the City of Toronto have to legally charge the five cents.  So businesses in Toronto have to compete against those outside of Toronto who do not charge five cents. 

It also means there are issues with programming computer systems in large retailers like Loblaws.  Loblaws must now program the option of charging for bags onto their cash registers in Toronto and not for the rest of their stores in Canada.  Loblaws got around this issue by charging for bags at all their stores accross Canada.  But what happens to Loblaws stores in a city where a city council sets the price per bag higher than five cents?  Does Loblaws raise the fee for the rest of the company's stores in the country?  So obviously this issue is larger than the City of Toronto and should be investigated by a higher level of government.

Businesses should be encouraged to provide incentives to customers in reducing the number of plastic bags.  It is in retailers interest to reduce the number of plastic bags in a financial way.  Less plastic bags used means there are less items to ship to the store and less source for in terms of finding plastic bag manufacturers that can handle the volume required.  For example, it is easier to find a plastic bag manufacturer that can handle an order for 100 plastic bags rather than 1000 and thus it would be cheaper to ship 100 plastic bags to store level than 1000 bags.   Loblaws, for example, already provides incentives for customers by giving away 50 PC points for every bag used.  Customers can cash in 20,000 PC points towards $20.00 for anything in the store. So this translates into Loblaws giving away five cents to customers for every bag not used.

If the bag tax were axed, then businesses could relook at their own bag fee policies.  Some policies are not well thought out. One commenter at the Toronto Star noted fast food delivery in Toronto can be a little  ridiculous in terms of the plast bag fee:

Just yesterday I wrote a note to Swiss Chalet Customer Service as they also charge the 5 cent fee for their small plastic bags. A normal size bag is one I have learned to accept but, come on, 5 cents for a 4” x 6” bag?? This is where I think a retailer is pushing the point and pocketing much more than they should. There is also no choice to a customer here. When you order in, you have to accept their way of delivery and subsequently pay for it. They responded saying it was automatic in their computers, it is a municipal law and to take it up with my city councillor. I think they missed my point. I just wanted them to stop charging for the small tiny bags they use for butter, etc.

The main issue here is did the customer have a choice to not use the plastic bags?  It seems in this case Swiss Chalet delivery didn't give him the option to use one plastic bag for his food and butter.  Instead the way Swiss Chalet normally packages items there is one large plastic bag with the food order and inside this large plastic bag is a smaller plastic bag with the condiments and utensils.  What is even funnier is the large plastic bag is clear plastic.  So it isn't like these items are going to be lost, you can see if the the bag is empty or not. But again, there is no alternative to the plastic bags, that I'm aware of, that Swiss Chalet offers.  Swiss Chalet will need to relook at this issue as obviously it doesn't make sense to charge a customer when there is no alternative given. 

3. Wouldn't charging for plastic bags be better handled by the provincial or federal government?

The provincial or federal governments should investigate a method of reducing the number of plastic shopping bags used.  The province of Ontario, as I commented before, has investigated ways of reducing the number of plastic bags used.  Another investigation at the provincial level, like the one done by Ontario in 2007, should be done.  Since 2007 the invention of the compostable bag has arrived.  Should the province mandate that the compostable bag mandatory?  This would obviously have major implications for the producers of plastic bags as the materials for the new bags would have to be sourced properly.  So a phase of compostable bags would be a must.

Overall, the City of Toronto needs to investigate several items before it can reconsider the bag tax.  The homework assignment has been issued by Mayor Rob Ford.  City Council and Staff need to get this assignment completed and report back for a vote.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Retail densities in...Richmond Hill!

So a while back while I was in New York City I did a little thing called "retail densities in NYC" which to a look at how many retail locations of various chains were within 5 miles of my then location in Downtown Brooklyn (Brooklyn Heights).

After returning to Aurora, I decided to revisit these totals with a comparison to Aurora.

And now within 5-10 Kms of my home in Richmond Hill!

So here are the results (in same order as previously posted here) from my current Aurora location:

Starbucks:  30 locations

McDonald's: 35 locations

Dunkin Donuts: 0 locations.

KFC: 7 locations

Barnes & Noble:  0 locations

K-Mart: 0 locations

Swiss Chalet: 7 locations
Tim Horton's: 30 locations

Second Cup: 8 locations

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Subscribed to a Cleaning Magazine...Damn it!

A while back Rogers was offering free subscriptions for some of the magazine the company owns.  I looked through the list and figured, with a new house, a cleaning magazine would be the best option. 

I was eagerly anticipating the first issue to hit my mailbox.  I dreamt of easy ways to clean the dust off a refrigerator moter and grating, cleaning hardwood floors easily, and how to look like a million dollars while cleaning a toilet. 

A few weeks passed before the magazine arrived.  I cheered like a kid at the library finding a favourite book when the magazine arrived. 

Then things went downhill.  I read a column by Andrew Coyne about Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.  I put a little forshadowing in this after reading the first couple of lines.  I looked at the picture of a Canadian soldier holding his relatively large gun and the first couple lines about Afghanistan and figured...hmmm...perhaps they are trying out the best way to clean something in a country full of sand.  Great location.    I read on in the article and was dissapointed to find nothing on how to clean something.  Really, why was this cleaning magazine's National Editor writing about Canadian soldiers being in Afghanistan and not including the magazine's basic premise for it's existance, CLEANING!

I read a few more articles in the magazine and came up with the same problem, no mention of cleaning.  Sure the magazine was on nice clean glossy paper, but that was really the only thing close to idea of "CLEANING!"

The magazine even had a great title for cleaning.   It even fit the whole idea of the catchy slogan I came up for the magazine that I thought Rogers could use...

"Who better to learn cleaning from than your own mother?  Because "MA CLEANS!" 

Sadly this subscription has been a big let down.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

And we are Finished!

Today we finished and wrapped all of our Christmas shopping.  

Every year on the first of December I start my engines and head off to the mall.  Sometimes I can do all the Christmas shopping for my immediate family in an hour or two.  Other times, like this year, it took a little effort.  What to get them? Will they like it? Those are both questions I need a definitive "YES!" to in my little head. 

My wife, early on in November, got the Christmas gift buying itch.  She demanded people forward their Christmas wish lists.  If not...a bag of frozen peas for you!  Coal?  Forget it, with today's home heating costs?  Coal is a valuable resource!

Then comes the worries of December.  Do I have enough time before Christmas or is Dad getting a melting slushy (again!) bought the night before from the local Mac's store? Did I get enough for the person on my list monetary wise?

Next comes the relief from the worries.  This usually follows the wrapping of the presents.  One of the things I dislike about Christmas, is wrapping.  I'm not the neatest wrappers in the world.  At a Secret Santa party you can tell the present I wrapped from a mile away.  It looks like an eight year old did it. No clean lines or folds.   Thus, one of the best things about my wife is her wrapping abilitities.  She solved my Secret Santa wrapping problem.  After she moved in with me everyone wondered which present was the one I brought...they couldn't tell!  Today, I left her with a roll of tape, wrapping paper and scissors and dissappeared off to clean the toilets and start the laundry.  When I came back she was working on wrapping the last present.  All I had to do was write the tags and stack the presents in our basement awaiting transport to my Dad's house.  Finally, everything bought and wrapped... RELIEF!

Except for what to bring for Christmas dinner that is....but that is for another day...until then I will sit back and enjoy a cup of tea while resting my feet....Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Licked for Money at Lick's

Tonight we headed to Lick's (8187 Yonge Street, Markham) for my first time visit to this chain.   On the way in, my wife pointed out we were the only ones in there at this time.  This would come back to haunt me. 

We approached the till and were pleasantly informed that the Debit machine was down and that the credit card machine was just lost as well.   I inquired, with a smile on my face, if they still accepted old cash still.  The cashier replied they did. 

The Order: Two Homeburger Combos.  One with fries and one with Onion Rings and two cokes. 

The total for two of a regular boring old hamburger was, including taxes $19.64...yup...almost twenty bucks!

So the burgers must have to be good then...right?  Heck no!

The burgers were topped just like they do at Harvey's, with the person behind the counter standing behind a bunch of toppings and topping them for you.

The burgers themselves weren't, as my wife put it, "much to write home about".  She noted they were just like Harvey's burgers.  My reply: "except for the price."

So based on the price, one would think that there would be excellent fries in both quality and quantity.  Wrong again!  The fries were exactly like Harvey's in both quality and quantity.

But wait, things get worse:

In the Men's washroom one of the toilets was bagged and not in use. 

In the dining room, it is rimmed with neon lighting that wasn't illuminated and the seating and wood panneling looked quite dated.  

On the side door out to the parking lot there was a sign requesting people exit via the front door.  I dared not wondered why.

The only other diners there appeared to be pretty chummy with the servers behind the counter.  It seems the only people that eat at this location know the workers or work there themselves.

Overall, this Lick's location provides burgers and service like Harvey's but at more inflated prices with worse decor.   After this visit, I will think again before returning.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Basket of Good Customer Service

Earlier in 2010 we moved into a new home in Richmond Hill.  We saw over fifty houses in the area with our real estate agent, Roy Eveleigh, before choosing one and putting an offer down. 

Fast forward to now and we are pretty well moved in...sure there are pictures still to put up on the wall, and some storage issues in the basement that a little shelving wouldn't hurt...but we are here!   Roy stopped by earlier this week to see how we were making out and to get a quick tour to see what we had done with the place.  But he also brought with him a basket full of goodies!

 Our resident furry feline, Garf Man, was of course interested in what was inside.
Sorry Garf Man, no lasagna.

A better look at the goodies from Roy.

Overall, a good piece of customer service by Roy for bringing this by to us.  We still enjoy talking with Roy about everything good and bad about the house. Happy New Year and Merry Christmas to Roy, our awesome real estate agent.

Of course we now have our nibbles for the Christmas season to munch on too...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Toronto Paper Comparison: A Reader's Perspective

Newspapers periodically release circulation numbers and various readership studies. The release of the numbers includes percentage increases, number of readers and comparisons to previous years. The papers obviously try to portray the numbers in a positive light towards their readership that basically says "hey we are number one!". So many numbers and bragging it makes a reader's head spin.

This past October my wife found on a free subscription for the Saturday Toronto Star and Monday to Saturday delivery of the National Post and the Globe & Mail.  So each Saturday until next weekend we will receive three newspapers on your doorstep.  I've found this to be a great opportunity to investigate which newspaper I prefer to read based on various aspects that I, as a reader, look for in a paper. I explore these various aspects below for the deliveries of the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail and National Post.

Delivery: The first and most obvious is delivery of the newspaper itself.  For each of the papers I requested front door delivery and all promised delivery before 6:00 A.M.  Thus, every morning of delivery I should have a copy of the paper at my front door at 6:00 A.M.  Here is how the papers ranked:

1. National Post - Only had one missing paper the first Saturday.  After that, I've never had an issue with the paper not being there.   The paper has always come dry and on my front porch.

2. Toronto Star - The carrier on our route delivers the paper closer to 7:00 A.M. on a Saturday since subscription started.  On weekends this may not be such a big issue.  However, for some this may be an issue if they leave for work early before 7 and hope to take the morning paper with them on their commute (e.g. subway, bus, etc.) or to work. Otherwise the paper has been properly delivered. 

3. Globe & Mail - Over the past two weeks the paper has failed to show up on first attempt and sometimes many after that:

a) The first time my wife called circulation.  Circulation had an automatic recording saying there would be no delivery for the Globe & Mail that day and two copies would be delivered on the next day.  Well we waited for the paper to show up the next day and there was only one edition.  

b) The second time it didn't show up I called at 6:50 A.M. and was promised delivery within 90 minutes.  Nothing showed up after 120 minutes (i.e. 2 hours).  So I called again. I was promised again delivery.  Nothing.  The third call, the Customer Service Representative said I was basically out of luck and the next day I should have the regular paper. 

c) Then third time this past week I called and the Globe & Mail Circulation had an automatic recording saying there was an emergency situation at their place and they couldn't pick up the phone.  I called back 30 minutes later and there was a recorded message saying delivery of the paper was delayed until at least 11:00 A.M.  By 10:00 A.M. we had the paper delivered.

If we were paid Globe & Mail subscribers, we obviously wouldn't be pleased.  But as a free trial, the Globe & Mail fails miserably on delivery.

Customer Service:  We've had to call all three Customer Service Centres for the papers. Each paper was ranked based on, how annoying their automated systems were, how long after we dialed in we had to wait to speak to a live person and were the Customer Service Reps able to assist us in resolving our issues.

1. National Post - Called once about a missed delivery.  The Customer Service agent picked up within 30 seconds and had a new paper delivered within an hour. 

2. Toronto Star - Called to cancel our trial subscription.  The Customer Service agent was more interested in figuring out why we were cancelling and then offering us another paid trial offer.  Bottom line, if we were interested in continuing we would inquire about another offer to further our subscription.  

3. Globe & Mail - Called around five times to have the paper delivered in the first place.  An automated voice recognotition system picks up and asks you a bunch of questions in appearance of trying to help.  One time I called and told the automated systemd "missed delivery".  The system responded if I would like to add the Sunday New York Times to my subscription. I responded "no" and then it kept asking me what I was calling.  After repeating the "missed delivery" fiasco above two more times I hung up and retried.  Bottom line, every time I called in with questions on my account (i.e. to cancel the trial subscription or a missed delivery) I end up at a live person anyway.  Is it really hard to train a live customer service person to answer simple questions like: 1. "How much longer do I have on my subscription?" 2. "The paper didn't come today, can I have a redelivery?" After all the Globe & Mail has been around for over a hundred years, newspaper delivery on specified days to subscribers homes on time shouldn't be rocket science anymore.   To make matters worse, I can't remember ever waiting less than 5 minutes to talk to a live person,  but again I kept being reassured that "your call was important to us" and that there were "higher call volume".

Ottawa Bureau Coverage (Parliament Hill):  Newspapers that provided in depth coverage of the House of Commons and other goings on at Parliament Hill tended to rank better.  This coverage included the day to day goings on by the reporters to analysis and opinion by columnists.  

1. Toronto Star: The Star excels at covering Parliament Hill with in depth articles written by veteran newspaper reporters who know the workings of Canadian politics.  From the day to day coverage by Bruce Campion-Smith and Allan Woods  to the columns by Chantel Hebert and James Travers and in depth coverage by senior writers Susan Delacourt and Linda Diebel, it is hard to beat this coverage. 

2. Globe & Mail:  Not to be outdone, the Globe & Mail has a decent set of writers as well (e.g. Gloria Galloway, Jane Taber, John Ibbitson).  They are close to what the Toronto Star has in terms of quality.  However, being a "national focused" newspaper instead of a "Toronto focused" the coverage doesn't really tell me how the parliamentary decisions really affect those that live in and around Toronto.

3. National Post: The Post has gobbs of commentary by John Ivision (not to be confused with John Ibbitson of the Globe & Mail) but the straight news isn't really lacking.   There really is no memorable writers from the National Post that seem to be able to bring the straight goods from Parliament Hill without some sort of "analysis" or "comment" label being associted with their name.   However, the commentary by John Ivison and the odd feature article from the National Post's writers or associated writers from the Post's sister papers do provide some interesting reading.  But overall, the National Post needs to either grab a writer from somewhere else or grow a Parliamentary Bureau reporter that can dig into the goings on at Parliament and give the readers the straight goods without the bias that a columnist would present. 

Greater Toronto Area (GTA) News: Like the Ottawa Bureau Coverage, the GTA should have both reports of what is going on at City Hall (i.e. Toronto City Hall) and analysis provided by columnists. 

1. Toronto Star:  Obviously a Toronto based paper like the Toronto Star would have better coverage of the Toronto area than the other two national papers like the Post and the Globe.  The Star even has better local GTA coverage than it's main Toronto area coverage competitor, the Toronto Sun, as well.  The Star has the lead stories on the front page, letter to the editor on the comment page and a full "GTA" section everyday except on Sundays included in the paper.  The coverage is quite complete from Royson James and Christopher Hume providing their commentary of items both at City Hall and in the community to Jack Lakey taking on City Hall in one of my favourite columns "The Fixer" and of course the usual staff writers investigating the day to day goings on at Toronto City Hall.

2. National Post: On most days the Post has two pages and one or two letters to the editor on Toronto issues.  The Post really only ranks higher than the Globe & Mail as I've found a new columnist, Chris Selley, who I enjoy reading.  Otherwise, the coverage is focused on city hall and matches the same coverage provided by the Globe & Mail.

3. Globe & Mail: The Globe only provids two page on Toronto goings on and some letters as well like the National Post.  However, like the National Post, most readers want the national news instead of the local.  But for myself, Toronto and national coverage together better. 

Comics: The papers were ranked based on the number of comic strips in the paper (i.e. space taken up), are the comics humourous most days and were there comic strips that provided "reliable" (i.e. almost guaranteed to provide at least a smile on a daily basis).

1. Toronto Star:  The Star beats the others hands down.  The Star has really invested in being the number one spot for newspaper comics by having such reliables as "For Better or for Worse, " "Sherman's Lagoon" and others on a daily basis.  But the Star also expanded their Saturday paper's three pages of comics content by picking up  "Garfield" and "Baby Blues" from the Toronto Sun. Also, the newer strips like "Retail" have been a hit as well.

2. Globe & Mail: Beats the National Post because they have six strips and the Post has none. Although these strips are nothing to write home about.

3. National Post: Comics?  None.  Hence last place finish.

Overall: What do the papers bring to me overall that I appreciate.

1. Toronto Star: The Star has great local coverage of the Toronto area and compliments it's local sister paper, The Liberal, with local Toronto area coverage.  A full page of comics is a great asset to this paper that it probably doesn't get the recognition it deserves.  Specialty columnists like Jack "The Fixer" Lakey going after simple day to day problems around town and Consumer Columnist (and blogger!) Ellen Roseman provide good tips and provide an interesting read.

2. National Post: Reliable delivery!  I've never wondered where the paper was after the first phone call.  Every time the front door is opened int he morning there the National Post is guarenteed dry and ready to be opened and explored.  I've also enjoyed the City Hall Musings of Chris Selley as well and may look him up more often after our free trial subscription ends.

3. Globe & Mail: Poor delivery performance  and Customer Service issues seem to be major problems at this publication. After one hundred years in existance in the Toronto area, one would figure that delivering a paper to subscribers reliably wouldn't be an issue.   Otherwise the paper is a decent read for both it's National politicial coverage and business news.

Finally, the main question, will I subscribe to one of the above papers?  No it's not worth having a paper land on my doorstep every morning to read.  Not at a cost of over one hundred dollars a year for a subscription.  Besides for commuting the Richmond Hill area is well served by the freebies of Metro and 24 Hours that easily help to pass the time on the bus.  For news and information in the evenings and weekends I can usually turn to the newspaper and television websites for nothing more than the cost of an internet connection.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Campaign Everyone Can Support...

Normally the word "campaign" is associated with "politics" and "politicians".  Thus, the words "campaign," "politics," and "politicians" tend to leave people with their eyes rolling and wanting to leave ASAP. 

However, I finally found a campaign completly devoid of "politics" and "politicians", or at least so far it is, that everyone can support. 

The Cookie Monster on SNL

Convinced?  No, didn't think Cookie's Youtube video...
Finally convinced?  Support the campaign via posting Facebook here.
Now finally there really is a campaign we all can support.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Usual at Harvey's

Headed out for a hamburger and decided to head to an old reliable name in hamburgers in Canada.  No not McDonald's, but Harvey's (9471 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill).  

When I entered it was about 11:45 A.M. and there appeared to be one person working at the grill and not much else going on.  Turns out this location has a drive through and two ladies were working there when there was no one at the front counter.  

Within a minute one of the ladies kindly wandered over to take my order at the counter (i.e. when you arrive you go up to the counter and order like at McDonald's).

The Order: 1 Original Hamburger with fries and a Pepsi.

The burger came quickly and the server inquired what I would like on my burger.  Harvey's does have it's advantages.   Instead of having a prepackaged "here is what you get now go away" attitude you get at McDonald's, you get to choose your toppings.  Then the server puts on the toppings as you tell them what you want on it. 

Following the topping of my burger I headed over to a table with my meal.   The burger, as per usual, was delicious and, amazingly enough, topped just the way I like it.  The fries on the other hand have been better.  Normally at the Aurora Harvey's location there seems to be slightly more fries and better tasting too!  Perhaps at this particular location the fries had been out for a while and hadn't been sold.  Still that is no reason to give them to paying customers. 

Overall, for a decent lunch place Harvey's is pretty good.  However, the Richmond Hill location should pull up it's socks as they do have increasing competition in the area from McDonald's, A&W, Hero Burger and, a local institution, Steer Inn Burgers.  There is also a "Chef Burger" coming soon to Richmond Hill on Yonge Street just north of Highway 7, or at least that is what the sign in the storefront says. It seems Richmond Hill, Ontario is at the centre of a mini suburban burger war.  I think my tummy will have to decide who will win.

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