On Politics, Religion, Sex & Shutting Up Already

Blitz Magazine, November 2003

Remember the rule of the dinner party? ‘In polite conversation, one does not discuss politics, religion and/or sex.’

Who canceled that rule? When? And why? Because now, we not only discuss the above-mentioned, but everybody evidently feels compelled to beat each other over the head with their politics, religion and sexuality.

straight1In BC, magazines and newspapers are PST-exempt. We don’t collect it, and we don’t pay it. If we happen to pay it in the course of producing our publications, we get it back. And the BC Liberal government was hired, by the people of BC, to dig the province out of a desperate financial situation created by the left-wing New Democratic Party. And part of that administration’s duty is to efficiently collect taxes owing to the people of BC.

The Georgia Straight is a 36 year-old Vancouver newspaper. It’s unbound, on newsprint, available free at public outlets, and serves as an advertising vehicle for Vancouver retailers. It consists of pages of stacked ads, and a little editorial. Presumably, someone at the tax office saw this and said ‘Hey! The Georgia Straight is not a newspaper or magazine, because it has more advertising than editorial. So it’s not exempt.’

The tax office told the newspaper to pay $1 million in un-remitted Provincial Sales Tax.

Although it lists itself in Canadian Advertising Rates & Data’s community newspaper section, the Straight’s masthead says it’s ‘Vancouver’s News & Entertainment Magazine’. Either way, it claims that it has enough editorial to qualify as a magazine, because it prints free events listings, which its publisher says is “one of the ways in which the Straight serves the community.”

The tax guys claim that those listings are advertising.

I pick up the October 9th edition. It is 108 pages, including 21 pages of editorial and 7 of events listings. But the cover is a letter from Straight publisher Dan McLeod, in which he complains of the tax request, calling it “harassment, a “threat”, a “bizarre misuse of power”, and a “witch-hunt”.

MacLeod would have us believe that, because the Straight is left-wing, it is a target—that Liberals gathered one day and someone said: ‘OK, how can we shut down this paper!’ After evoking Richard Nixon (?!?!), MacLeod calls the tax request a “direct attack on all the arts and cultural and business life of the city,” [sic] and urges members of these groups to swear out affidavits in support of the Straight.

(Actually, money is what arts and cultural groups need, and they’d get more from the government if profitable businesses paid their taxes.)

I digress. Inside this issue, there is a 2/3-page editorial headed ‘Q&A About the BC Liberals’ Plan to Terminate the Straight.’ There is a cartoon of Premier Gordon Campbell with a screw emanating from his groin. There’s no by-line, so I assume that MacLeod wrote it. He refers to his paper as being threatened by politics and, believe it or not, mentions the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, announces a conspiracy between the BC Liberals and CanWest Global, and erroneously (way) claims that the Straight is the only independent journalistic enterprise in Vancouver.

What irks me is that MacLeod is saving his own political flag in our faces. He might as well be saying “I’m a Socialist and you have to join me in my fight against a government that is not Socialist so I can get out of paying my taxes!’

MacLeod runs a profitable enterprise. His paper sometimes covers issues that other papers might not, but it is, in fact, more of a lucrative business than a tool for social support, and people don’t need to hear about his politics or his conspiracy theories. He repeatedly mentions the Straight’s journalism awards, and refers to its ‘journalistic duty’ to fight the government, but appealing to left-wingers’ sensibilities in order to avoid paying taxes is journalistic abuse.

Also this week, a representative of the Catholic Church, irate about same-sex marriage, used the media to tell the Canadian Prime Minister that he ‘will burn in hell’. Who does he think he is? After what the Catholic Church has to answer for concerning the sexual practices of its representatives, condemnation of anyone’s sexual behaviour is hardly appropriate.

straight4 straight3

Then I’m watching the ball game and the doorbell rings. A man stands at my door, clutching a copy of the Watch Tower. I don’t answer. Back to the game. A week earlier, I’d noticed that almost every member of the Florida Marlins crossed himself when he stepped up to the plate or makes a play. Now, the Sox are doing it. And the Cubs. They hit the ball and point to the sky. They make it to base and pull garish gold crosses out of their jerseys to kiss and flash. After one guy hits a game-saving home run, he tells a reporter: “I didn’t hit the ball. Our Lord Jesus Christ hit the ball.” (No, millionaire moron, you hit the ball.)

So now we have to tolerate spiritual exhibitionism in baseball? Didn’t Jesus purportedly say that we should keep our religious beliefs to ourselves and that proselytizing is a bad thing?

In the southern US states, there are Christian groups claiming to be planning to take over Israel and kill the Jews. There are Muslim nuts who want to kill all non-Muslims. American television is saturated with programming where members of the Religious Right tell people how to live their lives—and that if they don’t it right, in all senses of the word, they’ll be damned.

All of a sudden, people just have to go public with their beliefs. Why do they assume that others care what they believe? Or that we should care? Or that they have the right to insist that we care? In spite of all of our education and worldliness, and our knowledge of history, we’ve degenerated into a culture of spouters of the worst kind of rhetoric, all of which boils down to: ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.’ ‘If you don’t practice what we practice, you’re on the wrong side.’ ‘If you don’t love correctly, we will oppress you.’ ‘If you don’t believe what we believe, we will kill you.’

Religion is about intangibility. Belief in the intangible requires that faith trump reality. Government is about facts, figures and stark reality. Ergo religion has nothing to do with governing. When people claim otherwise, I remind them of what happens when religion permeates government—Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and, increasingly, the USA. Religion is for the faithful only. It has no place in the practical reality of everyday life and it has no business trying to foist itself on society at large.

This same-sex marriage thing also puzzles me. I’ve been surprised at my friends—even the most liberal are appalled at the idea. As one friend put it: ‘Marriage is taken. Let them have their civil contracts.’ But, in this country, not allowing ‘them’ to marry has been deemed discrimination. And the law is the law—in a perfect example of the beauty of Separation of Church and State.

straight5I admit that watching two men or women making out can be off-putting—maybe gays and lesbians feel squeamish when they see heterosexual couples kissing. I don’t know. And I don’t care. I don’t care who consenting adults sleep with and I’m sick of hearing about it. From gays, from lesbians, or from anyone else.

Pierre Trudeau said that the State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. But that goes further. The Church also has no place in the bedrooms of any nation, or in the government of any nation. And publishers are not supposed to use their products to launch groundless accusations of conspiracy against governments who want them to pay their taxes. The same Charter of Rights & Freedoms that MacLeod leans on also allows gays and lesbians to marry and religions to freely operate.

Conversation and debate are healthy, and essential, to a free society. Trying to appeal to the worst elements of human nature, and trying to drag an agenda through a situation in hopes that people’s ignorance will stick to it, is extremely unhelpful. In a time of mass communication, it’s also dangerous.

I wish people would go back to the etiquette books. Practice their religions. Practice their politics. Practice their sexuality. Run their businesses. Live their lives. But quit using the media, and mendacious and intimidating tactics, to frighten others into joining their teams.

Home-Buyer’s Guide. Client: Blu Realty

Promotional/Brochure, December 2012


BLU BUYER’S GUIDE                                                                                                                                             

Buying a home is fun and exciting. It can also be nerve-wracking. Having one of our Blu Realty agents working at your side will ensure that your best interests are looked after, and that your home-buying experience is happily memorable. Blu will help you find exactly what you’re looking for, and we’ve prepared this guide to help you streamline the process and avoid pit-falls.

1.            Make Sure You’re Ready to Buy

               If you’re thinking of buying a home, you’ve taken the first smart step by contacting Blu. But there are three things that have to be ready: You, Your Bank Account and the Real Estate Market.


Let’s talk. About what you want and what you need. We’ll help narrow your focus, find options, and ensure that you are ready to take the plunge. Plunge? Yes, it’s a big deal. There are sacrifices to make, and your home will require constant care. But it’s worth it—it’s what pride of ownership is all about.

Your Bank Account

Your first home will be the biggest financial obligation you’ll ever face. You need to have a down-payment, your debts should be managed, and you don’t foresee any issues with your source of income.

The Market

Markets go up, markets go down, and even the smartest experts can’t accurately predict when a market will peak or bottom out. But this is a long-term investment: if you choose a home that you can afford, and that meets your needs, you’ll enjoy living in your investment as it grows in value.

2.            Decide Where You Want to Live

Our city has many diverse neighbourhoods. You may be attracted to the city centre; the prices are higher, but you’ll be able to walk everywhere. Or you may want to get more for your money by moving away from downtown. Maybe you want a quiet area, maybe you want a yard, or you want to be near a specific school. Visit the various city sectors and decide which ones are right for you. Narrowing it down in advance will save time and allow you to focus your search.

3.            What Do You Want?

In real-estate speak, we refer to ‘Needs’ and ‘Wants’. ‘Needs’ are the essential things, as in number of bedrooms. ‘Wants’ are things you’d like to have—like a double-car garage.

Make lists. Needs and Wants. Must-Haves and Absolutely-Nots. As you make these lists, think about your lifestyle. Along the way, you’ll further narrow your criteria.  Your strategy is to find a home in your price range, that fulfills all or most of your ‘needs’, as many of your ‘wants’ as possible, and in a neighbourhood you like.

There are many different types of homes to choose from. Here’s a quick run-through:

               Single-Family Detached: The house is not attached to the house next door.

               Semi-Detached or Linked: Two houses share a common wall.

               Duplex: A building zoned for two families (a Triplex is zoned for three, Fourplex for four).

               Townhouse: Also known as Terrace or Row Housing. Several homes, sharing walls, are joined in a row.

               Condominium: You own 100% of your unit, plus a share of the common areas. Common areas include plumbing, electrical        systems, hallways and elevators, and may include things like party rooms and gyms.

               Loft: This is similar to a condo, but the design is open-concept and/or has exposed bricks and beams.

               Live/Work: In some cities, this can still mean that you are living above your own retail business.  Nowadays, though, it usually means that you are using at least one room of your house as an office or studio, and you run a business from that area

New or Pre-Loved?

A new house is just that. Everything is brand new and you just move in. On the other hand, not only do older homes have charm and character, but the previous owners will likely have made improvements and up-grades.

In both cases, of course, inspections are essential. ‘New’ doesn’t always mean ‘perfect’, and older homes can sometimes have a little too much character.

Building Your Own

If you want to build your own home, know your land. That means any and all restrictions on it, its neighbourhood, its history and its physical characteristics. Once you’ve chosen your design, know your builder—check references and visit other homes built by the same company. Have your Real Estate Advisor and/or lawyer review everything before you sign anything. While your home is being built, stay on top of the process with regular inspections and checks of time-lines and budgets. And remember that you have a legal right to make a full inspection of the house before you accept it as complete.

4.            Choose Your Real Estate Advisor

               The real estate market is not for do-it-yourselfers, and a good agent is worth his or her weight in gold.

Naturally, we think you should go with a Blu advisor. But if you’re reading this in a city where there is no Blu advisor, you can get referrals from friends and family members, go to Realtor.ca, meet agents at open houses, or just jot down numbers from lawn signs.

Then interview your prospective advisor. Make sure that you can establish a rapport—you don’t have to become instant best friends, but you need to see a friendly feeling right away, and you need to be able to communicate easily. Then ask questions.

               Top Ten Questions to Ask When Hiring a Real Estate Advisor

1.            How long have you been in the business?

               A newly-licensed advisor can do a wonderful job and will have up-to-date training, but practical experience is invaluable.

2.            What is your average list-to-sales-price ratio?

               A listing agent should hold a track record for negotiating sales prices that are very close to list prices.

3.            How will your marketing plan meet my needs?

               You want to know how the agent will sell your home—where and how he or she advertises. Ask to see printed materials and links to on-line marketing activities.

4.            Will you provide references?

               Ask for a list of references, then call those references.

5.            What separates you from your competition?

               Key phrases to listen for: ‘assertive’, ‘available by phone or e-mail’, ‘analytical’, ‘able to maintain a good sense of humour under trying circumstances’.

6.            May I review documents that I will be asked to sign?

               A good agent makes forms available to you before you are required to sign them. Ask to see your agency disclosure, seller disclosure and listing agreement.

7.            Can you help me find other professionals?

               Your agent should be able to provide a list of service providers who can help with things such as home inspection, legal advice and financial advice. If you see the term ‘affiliated’, ask for an explanation—this could mean that the agent is getting compensation from the people on his/her list. If that’s the case, the referral is biased and not reliable.

8.            How much do you charge?

               Real estate fees or commission are negotiable and vary from broker to broker. Negotiate the best deal.

9.            What if I’m unhappy with your service?

               You may find that your agent is not performing to your standards. You may not get along. Ask if you can cancel your agreement if you want to.

10.         What haven’t I asked you that I need to know?

               Pay close attention to the answer to this question. There is always something else you need to know.

Your Contract    

Once you’ve chosen your advisor, you will sign a contract. It will specify the advisor’s duties and obligations, and will spell out the nature of your relationship. That relationship will likely be Non-Agency, Dual Agency or Single Agency.

In the case of Dual Agency, the advisor represents the buyer and the seller, and all parties consent to this. In a Non-Agency relationship, the advisor can work with you, but cannot give you advice. Also, in this case, nothing you say is confidential.

Most people prefer the Single Agency relationship, where your advisor represents you alone, and is required to act only in your best interests. Anything you tell your advisor is confidential, and your advisor has an obligation to disclose to you any and all information related to the transaction.

What to Expect from Your Real Estate Advisor

Your advisor will perform many essential functions. First of all, he or she will become an expert on your wants, needs and financial parameters, and will make sure that you view only those homes that are right for you. Your agent is a resource for comparing homes and neighbourhoods, will be privy to non-public features of the MLS System, and will be able to make appointments and answer your questions as you walk through potential homes. He or she will also provide up-to-the-minute information on financing, explain your mortgage options, negotiate with sellers, smooth out conflicts, and draw up contracts.


FINTRAC is the federal agency responsible for administering Canadian legislation and regulations concerning money laundering and terrorist financing. Your advisor is required to complete a Client Identification Form, and ask you for verified ID such as a driver’s license or passport. You can find out more at http://www.fintrac-canafe.gc.ca.

And a Note on Sticking With One Advisor

Some people think that they’ll get a better deal if they have more than one agent. The opposite is true. All agents have access to the same property listings. And scattering your time and energy among multiple agents will work against your goal of finding your best home.

5.            Hire a Lawyer

               There are many legal steps, and piles of documents, involved in the transfer or property ownership. You need someone to translate the ‘legalese’ and ensure that your interests are protected. Even if pit-falls like fraud, government legislation quirks, zoning issues or un-paid taxes don’t come up, lawyers will still make the transfer of the home a smooth one.

               To find the right lawyer, get referrals from people you know, or from your Real Estate Advisor. Ask your prospective lawyer about fee structure and get an estimate on other costs. If you don’t understand something, ask. And don’t be intimidated—it is a lawyer’s job to explain legal jargon and be helpful to his or her clients.

6.            Sell Your Current Home

               Few people can hold onto two homes at the same time. You’ll need to sell your current home and here’s a quick overview of things you need to know.

Buyer’s & Seller’s Markets                                                         

When lots of people are shopping for homes, but there are few homes for sale, it’s a ‘Seller’s Market’. When there are lots of homes for sale, but few people buying them, it’s a ‘Buyer’s Market’. However, if you’re selling one home to buy another, you don’t have to worry about the market. Unless you’re making a huge category change, the price that you get for your existing home will be relative to the price you pay for your new home.


It is true that winter sales tend to be slow. That means that winter is a good time to make offers. If someone has to sell a house in January, and there are fewer buyers looking, your negotiating advantage rises. In spring, sales tend to be brisk. This means that there’s more competition for those houses that are for sale—and that makes it a good time to accept higher offers.

If You Need to Sell Fast

This is where your Real Estate Advisor becomes your second-most valuable asset. He or she will help you to establish the right price, and make your home look attractive—without making you look desperate.

Buy First or Sell First?

The eternal question. Many people are able to time their sale and purchase to happen on the same ‘closing date’. As a buyer, you can make your offer ‘conditional’ on the sale of your existing home, so you’re not paying for the up-keep of two homes. Or, when selling, you can try to extend the ‘closing period’ to give yourself more time to find your next home.

7. Work Out the Finances

Figure Out What You Can Afford

               Before you start looking for your dream home, you have to find out how big that dream can be. A home is the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy, and there are lots of additional expenses to  consider. It is these extra costs that can leave people ‘mortgage-poor’ (where the cost of home ownership leaves them little else). So you need to think ahead.

               When buying a home, there are five main one-time costs: Down-Payment, Legal Fees, Title Insurance, Inspection Fees, Property Transfer Fees and Taxes. Depending on your circumstances, there is a sixth one-time cost—moving. If you have a large household, and/or are moving from a long distance, this expense can be significant.

               After that, there are five monthly costs: Mortgage, Utilities, Maintenance, Insurance and Property Taxes. How much of your monthly income these costs take will determine the size of your mortgage, i.e. how much you can borrow. We figure this out in one of two ways:

Gross Debt Service Ratio (GDSR) Calculation:

This lending principle states that your monthly housing cost should not exceed 32% of your gross monthly family income.

Total Debt Service Ratio (TDSR) Calculation:

Under this lending principle, your monthly housing cost and payments on all of your other debts (including loans, credit cards, and lease payments) should not exceed 40% of your gross monthly income.

Our What You Can Afford Calculator will let you easily estimate your maximum affordable mortgage payment of principal and interest. Just enter your monthly income and expense amounts, and the calculator will do the rest. Then, use our Mortgage Calculator and your monthly payments, showing principal and interest, will be figured out for you.

8.            Arrange a Mortgage

Who to Talk To

               There are hundreds of banks, credit unions and other lenders who would love your monthly mortgage payments. So talk to everybody—your banker, other banks and people you know. And talk to Blu—we have a lot of knowledge about mortgages and can offer great advice.

               But you may find that your best resource is a Mortgage Broker. Mortgage brokers make their living by finding low rates, and they usually don’t get paid unless you sign your mortgage through them. That motivation translates to getting you the best deal.

Your Best Mortgage Could Be the Seller’s Mortgage

               Often, you can take over, or ‘assume’, the seller’s mortgage. If the seller is locked into a lower interest rate than you can get, it’s a great idea.

Your Mortgage

               There are three items to note:

               Mortgage Term: This is the length of time of your bank loan—it’s usually five years. At the end of the term, you negotiate a new term, and new rates.

               Amortization: This is the length of time it will take to pay off the mortgage, and it often runs to 25 years. The longer your amortization, the lower your monthly payments (and the more interest paid).

               Interest Rate: Interest is the cost of borrowing money; the rate is a percentage of the total loan amount.

               Using Blu’s Mortgage Calculator, check the difference between borrowing $100,000 at 6% for 25 years, and at 9% over the same amortization period. At 6%, your total interest is $91,940.69; at 9%, $148,391.15. That difference of $56,450.46 affects how much you can borrow, and illustrates how important it is to find the best possible interest rate for your loan.

The Down-Payment

You want your mortgage to be as small as possible, which means making the biggest down-payment possible. So set aside as much money as you can. And think ahead: Does your new home need repairs? Do you want to renovate? Do you need appliances? Furniture?

Your Interest Rate: Fixed or Variable?

With a ‘variable’ mortgage, your rates fluctuate with the bank rates. With a ‘fixed-rate’ mortgage, you ‘lock in’ at a set rate for a set period. But if you lock in for five years and rates goes down, you’re stuck paying too much for five years. If rates steadily climb, you’ll save a bundle. Blu can offer good advice on this tough question.

The Home Buyers’ Plan – A Little Sweet Relief

If you’re a first-time homebuyer with money in an RRSP, you can withdraw up to $25,000 without paying income tax. If your spouse is also eligible, that’s $50,000. Ask Blu how to best take advantage of this plan.

Mortgage Application Check-List

Here’s the information you need to supply to your lender:

               Letter of Employment Confirmation: state your position, salary and length of employment.

               List of Assets: cars, stocks, bonds, GICs etc.

               List of Liabilities: car payments, students loans, credit card debt etc.

               Social Insurance Number

               Chequing Account Number

               Lawyer’s Contact Information

               Details about the house you want to buy

Budgeting for Extra Costs

There are lots of extra costs involved. You need to consider these, because they will add up.

               Application Fee: Some lenders charge a fee to process your application. Ask to have it waived.

               Appraisal Fee: Your mortgage lender may want your new home appraised by a professional, and will often pass that cost onto you. Ask if you can have that fee waived.

               Mortgage Broker’s Fee: Your mortgage broker may charge a fee that’s payable on your closing date. Ask your broker, in advance, what that fee will be.

               Land Survey Fee: Lenders may require a survey of your property, even if it’s an existing survey. Ask your lender about this at your first meeting, and check with your lawyer.

               Home Inspection Fee: A home inspection is crucial to avoiding surprises and protecting yourself. This is money well-spent.

               Home Insurance: Mortgage lenders require you to carry fire and extended-coverage insurance because your home is the security deposit on the mortgage. Often, you can have your insurance payments added to your monthly mortgage payments. But shop around for the best policy.

               Title Insurance: This is not mandatory, but it will protect you from all sorts of fraud and potential errors surrounding the title to your land. Ask your lawyer for details.

               Legal Fees: You’ll pay your lawyer for his or her invaluable time, plus you’ll pay for ‘disbursements’, i.e. costs involved in title searches, drawing up the title deed, and preparing your mortgage. Ask for estimates.

               Adjustments: Your home’s previous owner may have paid property tax or utilities in advance, and he or she will want to be credited for those payments. Your Blu Advisor and/or lawyer will know what might come up.

               Maintenance and Utilities: Remember that you will now have more monthly payments. There will be property taxes, and utilities. If your new home is a condominium, there will be monthly fees.

               Property Transfer Tax: The amount of this tax varies from province to province. Ask your Blu Advisor, or your lawyer.

                The GST/HST and New Homes: Resale homes don’t involve GST/HST, but newly-built homes do. If you intend to live in your new home (instead of renting it out) there is some relief. Consult your Blu Advisor and/or lawyer.

9. Go Shopping

Now your ducks are all in a row. You know what you want and what you can afford. And you have a Blu Advisor at your side to save you time, energy and money.

See What’s Out There

The Wonderful Realtor.ca

Real Estate Advisors have access to an incredible house-hunting tool called the MLS® System, which is operated by real estate boards across Canada. You can view the publicly-available information yourself, but your Blu Advisor has deeper access and can start sending you listings of potential new homes right away.  Most listings have multiple photos; some have moving 360-degree views. And with the interactive mapping feature, you’ll be amazed how fast and easy it is to zero in on your favourite houses.

Take Another Tour

Go back to the neighbourhoods that you previously identified as desirable. Go during the day, and at night. Note the proximity of industrial areas, railway tracks, airports and flight paths. Look for parks, schools, shopping areas and transit hubs. Jot down the addresses of houses with For Sale signs. If there are Open Houses under way, go inside and look around.

Open Houses

Open Houses are a great way of seeing the homes in your prospective neighbourhood. They will likely be hosted by an agent that knows the house, and the neighbourhood, very well. So don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Note: If you are going to open houses without your Blu Advisor, take some of your advisor’s cards with you. This will keep over-zealous agents from hounding you for information during your visit.

Private Viewings

When you have found homes that you want to see, tell your Blu Advisor and he or she will book the appointments for you. (The Realtor® Code of Ethics frowns upon clients contacting listing agents directly.)

Viewing Tips

Three Don’ts

               Don’t let a giant kitchen island or swanky hot tub distract you from your goal of finding a home that meets your needs and fits your budget.

               Don’t get carried away by the décor or furnishings. Try to visualize how the home will look once it’s yours—with your furniture, your paint colours, and your lifestyle.

               Don’t wear clothing that will make you tired—fatigue affects decisions. Wear light clothing and comfortable shoes that are easy to slip on and off.

10.         Make an Offer

               You’ve found a home! Congratulations! Now, if you actually want to make it yours, you have to make an offer that the seller will accept.

Preparing the Offer

Your Blu Advisor will prepare your offer for you and ensure that no details are overlooked. But here are some terms to note:

                Buyer: That’s you.

               Seller: The present owners.

               Purchase Price: The most important number. Let’s hope the seller goes for it!

               Deposit: A cheque you write to the seller or the seller’s broker. This is your way of saying ‘my offer is serious’. The size of the deposit is up to you.

               Chattels & Fixtures Included: This is what’s included in the house—the appliances, the draperies, the light fixtures. Be clear about this. Don’t assume that the dishwasher will be there when you move in.

               Irrevocability of the Offer: This refers to the length of time you give the seller to consider your offer. It’s usually no more than 48 hours.

               Completion Date: This is the glorious day you take possession; usually 30-60 days after signing.

               Clauses Particular to the Agreement: Every transaction is unique, and you may want to add conditions that are important to you, e.g. proper home inspection.

Submitting the Offer

You’ve signed on the dotted line and your advisor has given your offer to the seller. Now what? The seller can accept your offer, which is great. Or, the seller can reject your offer. This is not uncommon, but your Blu Advisor will find out why.

The seller may also ‘sign back’, or make you a ‘counter-offer’. In this case, the seller wants to alter some part of your offer—usually the price, in which case he or she will cross out your offered price and write in a higher number, or delete a condition. Then it’s your turn, and you can do the same, or accept the counter-offer. Your Blu Advisor will stick close to you through this process and see you through it.

11.         Have the Home Inspected

               When you’re buying a home, you need to scrutinize every last detail. Home inspections rarely cost more than a few hundred dollars, and they can help you avoid unpleasant surprises. Your Blu Advisor can recommend several trustworthy home inspection companies.

Make a Conditional Offer Based on a Satisfactory Home Inspection

This is an increasingly standard condition on any resale home. If the seller doesn’t want you to closely examine the home before you take possession, you may want to keep looking.

Hire a Qualified Professional

Make sure your inspector is a member of a recognized professional organization. Ask for, and check, references. You need to know that your inspector has the right training and experience.

What Will Inspectors Check?

Lots of stuff. Plumbing and electrical systems, the roof, visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, and the integrity of the foundation. They also check for lead paint, asbestos, mould, outdated and dangerous wiring, and evidence of pests like mice or termites.

Join the Inspection

It’s going to be your home—get up close and personal. If your inspector finds a problem, you’ll learn about it. And, along the way, you’ll pick up maintenance tips from a pro.

Get it in Writing

Your inspection report will summarize the condition of your home. If there’s anything that needs work, the inspector will note an estimated cost for the repairs. That estimated cost will affect your offer.

Home Inspection for a New Home?

As mentioned, ‘new’ does not mean ‘perfect’, and construction quality can vary greatly from builder to builder. In some provinces, repairs and corrections required for new homes may be covered by government or industry-sponsored warranty programs. Bad news doesn’t necessarily mean it will have to cost you. Still, the inspection cost isn’t significant and may be worth it.

12.         Close the Purchase

               Your offer has been accepted and you can’t wait to move in. But you still have to close the deal. Your Blu Advisor and your lawyer will do most of the closing work. Here’s what you need to do.

Immediately begin satisfying any conditions of the agreement that require action on your part. Your Blu Advisor can fill out the documents stating that the conditions have been satisfied.

Have your lawyer search the property title. This can take a while, so make sure you allow ample time.

Well before closing, make sure that your insurance will be effective on your closing date. Your insurance broker will give you a ‘binder’ letter certifying that you’re covered. You can’t get a mortgage without this letter!

Have your lender finalize your mortgage documents and have your lawyer review them before you sign them.

A day or two before closing, you’ll meet with your lawyer to sign the closing documents. Your lawyer will tell you in advance what certified cheques you’ll need to seal the deal.

13.         Organize Your Move

               It’s time to move and there’s much to do. Here’s your check-list.

Call at least three moving companies. Get quotes, get references and check those references. We’ve all heard the nightmarish stories, so make sure that your mover is established, reputable and has insurance.

Schedule Your Move

‘Closing date’ may not mean moving date—you may not get the keys to your new home until late in the day. So schedule your actual move for a day, or two, after closing. And try to move on a week-day, and mid-month. Moving companies are busiest on week-ends, and at the beginning/end of each month. You may be able to negotiate a better rate if you move at another time.

Arrange Utilities

 Your lawyer will transfer essential utilities like hydro and water, but you’ll have to make the arrangements with the telephone and cable companies.

If You’re A Renter

Give notice to your landlord, or sub-let your apartment. You will have to clean; you may have to paint. Start this process early. Budget the time for it—and, if need be, the cost of hiring someone to do it.

Change-of-Address Notices

Go to Canada Post and register your change of address. Send out address cards to anyone who regularly sends you mail. And don’t forget to have the address changed on your driver’s license.

Evaluate & Liberate

A new home is a sort of new lease on life. This is a chance to liberate yourself from the stuff you’ve been hoarding for years. If you don’t need it or don’t want it, sell it or give it away. Have a garage sale and/or call around to various charities to see if they’ll pick up furnishings, clothing and appliances


Moving companies will do this, but you will do it best. If you buy your own boxes, and pack yourself, you’ll also save money. Start packing early, label anything that’s fragile and label your boxes by room so the movers will know where to put them.

14.         Breathe

               Breathe? Yes. Because, after you’re un-packed and settled in, you may feel strange urges—to buy a new carpet, get quotes on expanding the deck, shop for stainless steel appliances  So stop, breathe and relax. Take the time to adjust to your new budget. Take the time to enjoy, and love, your new home.

Profile: Finale Editworks

Advertorial, 1998

finaleWhen touring the Finale Editworks 9,500 square-foot facility near downtown Vancouver, technophiles thrill to the sight of room after room packed with hi-tech gadgets, screens, computers, control panels and thingamajigs galore laid out in a comfortable, elegant setting.

More impressive, however is running into a Los Angeles producer who, unbidden, stops to gush about the Finale editors. ‘Says they’re the best. That, when she can’t work in Vancouver, she flies her Finale editors down to L.A. ‘Won’t work with anyone else.

High praise. And well-earned. Since founding Finale in 1988, Don Thompson (formerly of CTV, U.TV and The Eyes), and his partner Dale Johannesen, have laboured to make Finale the best at what it does. Which is providing complete post-production services, including off-line editorial, on-line editing, and special effects design and duplication for television commercials, broadcast programs and videos.

At Finale, the editing process begins, obviously, when the client brings in what has been shot. The editors do a rough off-line edit, the client approves it, then they move to the high-resolution on-line edit, where colour corrections are made and sound and special effects are added. During the off-line phase, clients may have their own editors and creative staff involved—this is the decision-making process, where the piece is built from its original elements. But, once the project moves to the high-tech, creative on-line phase, the Finale editors take over. And it is this process that sets Finale apart.

“There’s no ‘right’ editing method and, obviously, the best editors are the ones whose work you don’t see,” says Thompson. “But editors are definitely crucial to the creative process, and add elements that writers never envision. There are many styles of editing, and there are big differences in how different editors approach a project—some are more comfortable with videos, some with commercials. There’s also a character factor, where certain editors are off the wall, others are more conservative. Each client is looking for something different—sometimes complementary talent, sometimes talents opposite to their own. The trick is to match them up, and we’re good at that.”

That doesn’t mean that clients can’t be involved at the on-line stage. “The creative process often depends on the synergy between our editors and clients, so producers can work from our office and supervise at all stages of the production. That’s a real comfort to those clients who have a specific direction and want to remain very much involved. Other clients, though, let the editors work their craft, and only come in to oversee the finishing touches.

“When producers hire an editing facility, they should want its creativity. That’s what they’re paying for and that’s how they’ll get the most out of the process. Some editors are just technical types, but most are very creative. Here, we have a depth of editors with different talents and different approaches, and that’s why clients come to us. They know they can find a varied set of talents and that our post managers can keep their projects on track.”

The majority of Finale’s clients are independent documentary makers, video producers and advertising agencies; about 70% from Western Canada, the rest from Toronto and Los Angeles. Most business comes through word of mouth, but the company has benefited from an inventive advertising campaign (care of the erstwhile Moreland & Associates) and more effort has been put into marketing.

“We needed to re-position the company because we were having trouble breaking through some mental barriers in the advertising world, regarding what Finale was and what kind of clients it could service,” continues Thompson. “We don’t do film transfers and, in Vancouver, the perception was that, unless you do transfers, you can’t tackle the large national campaigns. The agencies had looked to us when they were in a bind and we always delivered on time, on budget and with a lot of creativity. Clients become comfortable with their regular suppliers, naturally. But sometimes, you have to look for fresh talent and ideas, and we’ve done some very successful agency work. We’ve been effective at raising awareness and showing that we can be creative in a technology-driven business.”

Technology is, of course, a huge part of Finale’s business, but Thompson says he has found a balance. “We’re under constant pressure to have the latest toys, but we’ve been able to combine the old and the new in a way which works well for us and our clients. Every three years, we go through a major technological up-grade, and we’re always looking for new things to enhance our capabilities. One big advantage here is that we train our clients as well as our staff, so clients understand our equipment’s capabilities and get the most out of it.”

Sound editing has lately become an increasingly important part of Finale’s services, largely due to client demand, and it recently installed a new audio studio. And Finale’s sister company, Image Engine Design & FX, has evolved from an in-house graphics department into a successful stand-alone boutique. (Finale also owns Shooters Production Services.) Thompson says that the clients now know that Finale can handle all their needs.

“It’s important that all clients, particularly out-of-town clients, have that confidence—in Finale or its competition. But what sets facilities apart is talent, and we have some of the most talent editors in the business. In post-production in Vancouver, there’s a lot of talent, period. And that’s what’s allowed Vancouver to attract the calibre of the shows that are produced here.”

On Wal-Mart, Toxic Cotton & The Green Thing

Blitz Magazine, September 2007


Sam Hill, CEO of MegaCorp, calls in his PR guy.

Sam: “This environmental thing is really catching on. We need to do something green. Well, green-ish.”

PR Guy: “Actually, you only have to create the appearance of doing something, say, tinged with green.”

Sam Hill: “But look at the nature of our business. How on earth can we do that?”

This is a conversation that many corporate types have been having for a while. Thanks to Al Gore, ‘The Green Issue’ is now top-of-mind for many companies and a lot of big corporations are looking for ways to inject some sense of environmental awareness into their operations. But some of the results are more amusing than anything.

Wal-Mart would, of course, be my favourite example. The world’s Premier Purveyor of Pointless Purchases now says that it will spend money to preserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre it develops and that it will keep ‘scorecards’ relating to the sustainability of the electronics it sells. No word about Wal-Mart operating its own electronics-recycling program. No mention of what land the company will preserve. So, maybe it will pave over wildlife habitat or farmland in the US, and ‘spend money’ to save one acre in, say, Outer Mongolia?

On its website, Wal-Mart crows about its ‘experimental store’ in Colorado, where “…more than 500 tons of Denver Stapleton Airport’s runway, crushed up and recycled, have been used in the store’s foundation. And the used vegetable oil from the store’s deli and used motor oil from the store’s Tire and Lube Express will be burned to help heat the store.” Yay.

Last June, Wal-Mart issued ‘A Challenge’ to the packaging community, hosting a Sustainable Packaging Exposition with the theme ‘Cradle to Cradle Life Cycle’ (the lack of hyphenation is theirs). Then there’s the scorecard thing: “Wal-Mart has begun measuring 60,000 worldwide suppliers on their ability to develop packaging and conserve natural resources. Our objective is to reduce packaging across our global supply chain by 5% by 2013.”

walmart1The Wal-Mart Packaging Scorecard is to be used “as a measurement tool to allow suppliers to evaluate themselves…based on specific metrics [that] evolved from a list of favourite attributes…known as the 7 Rs of Packaging.” They are: Remove, Reduce, Re-Use, Renew, Recycle, Revenue (economic benefit) and Read (education).

Well Wal-Mart’s sure not doing much to educate anyone in the Vancouver area—nor is any retailer. We’re now in our third month of a garbage strike. Responsible (and PR-savvy) retailers should be buying airtime to ask consumers to hang onto non-food garbage until the strike is over. They’re not. And all of their well-designed, colourful, paper- and plastic-intensive packaging is now flowing out of bins all over the city. This editorial was inspired when a great chunk of Styrofoam became stuck to my windshield.

Meanwhile, the Forest Stewardship Council is making very little headway with the packaging industry—only the higher-end frozen food manufacturers are starting to incorporate FSC-certified paper. And given the value of packaging as a sales tool, the amount of information required on packaging, and the engineering requirements of packaging design, I’m not optimistic.

walmart2The other day, I bought a bottle of room spray, which promised ‘all-natural ingredients’. I do pay attention to packaging and won’t buy something that’s over-packaged. This product appeared to be in a light box. When I opened that box, there was another box. And a silk ribbon. The ‘all-natural’ thing should have also meant that all members of the company’s delivery change were on the same Eco page. The second box was not required for product safety; the ribbon was just a waste. Its packaging designer, therefore, created unnecessary waste, and expense, for all concerned.

As for Wal-Mart, if it started supporting the economies of the communities in which it operates and selling things manufactured in North America, perhaps it could do away with over-packaged lead-laced toys.

Another one of my favourites is that endlessly-troubled retailer, Cotton Ginny. In a mall last week, I noticed that one of its stores is being re-designed with decidedly earthy colours and an eco-sensitive feel. Which is endlessly amusing, given that cotton growing is one of the most chemically-intensive of all farming operations. According to Earthshine, 10% of agricultural pesticides produced worldwide (including 25% of insecticides) are used in cotton production. The Sustainable Cotton Project says that five ounces of chemicals go into the production of a single t-shirt. These chemicals include neurotoxins, developmental disruptors, carcinogens and reproductive toxins. And cotton accounts for about half of all textiles produced. Drag.

walmart4If you go to cottonginny.ca, you’ll first see its new positioning statement: “Cotton Ginny, Sustainable Style.” Then, on its ‘About Us’ page, you get this (again, the lack of hyphenation is theirs): “Cotton Ginny’s journey plant the seed The earth is not a lifeless planet but a living being Time stands still for no one live together, live slowly respect our planet let your heart lead the way.”

Huh? Who came up with that? And what in Sam Hill is that supposed to mean?

I’m sure that one of the more successful ad campaigns in history was conducted by the International Cotton Association. Remember ‘The Look, the Feel, of Cotton?’ Everyone just felt great about buying cotton. With increased environmental awareness, I wonder if (hope) that will change. Cotton Ginny now has an ‘Organic Program’, and it is, believe it or not, offering a line called Eco-ganic Baby. It’ll probably do well. But maybe it will have to change its name, to something equally-inane, like Hemp Honey.

walmart3Marketers have to get with the eco program—their clients are lagging laughably far behind and it’s time to put an end to this head-in-the-sand situation. Increasing consumer awareness will create drastic changes in buying habits. Everyone’s bottom line depends on making adjustments so that consumers will want to buy their products and services. Production has to change. Packaging has to change. A sense of corporate responsibility has to come out of the closet. Green-ish ain’t good enough.


Cathedral Place: The Salvation of a Landmark

Canadian Property Management Magazine, September 1993

In 1988, there was an uproar when it was announced that Vancouver’s much-loved, 60 year-old Georgia Medical Dental Building would be demolished. Although the building was clearly unfit for restoration, Vancouverites were concerned about the aesthetic changes to one of the city’s most high-profile intersections.

In retrospect, they needn’t have worried. Cathedral Place is now one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. The 23-storey structure, the most expensive and finely-detailed building ever constructed in Vancouver, is the result of the efforts of three men: owner Ron Shon, architect Paul Merrick and Bill Rooney, vice-president of the Shon Group.

cathedralplace4Shon, Rooney and Merrick started discussing the new building in 1987. “The Georgia Medical Dental building had to go,” remembers Merrick. “The market was sluggish but Shon knew that the site was meant for a commercial property. Also, he’d had the site for a long time and it was the last thing he would have sold. He wanted a building that would generate revenue and be a source of pride to his family, and to the city. At the same time, it had to match the surrounding buildings and be an effective office building.”

Matching the local architecture was a challenge. Behind Cathedral Place, to the north, lies the luxurious (pink) Park Place high-rise office building. To the east is the equally sleek head office of the Hongkong Bank. On the southeast corner sits the majestic Vancouver Art Gallery, which was built in 1906 as Vancouver’s Courthouse. Directly to the south, is Canadian Pacific’s grand Hotel Vancouver, built in 1941. And directly to the west is Christ Church Cathedral, which was built in 1888.

Merrick met the challenge by beginning with the building’s materials.

“The Shon Group wanted a timeless stone structure appropriate to its neighbours, particularly the Hotel Vancouver. The Hotel Vancouver was built with Nelson Island granite and Haddington Sandstone and we couldn’t get either stone. So we brought in white-grey granite from Spain for the base, and did the rest of the building in Indiana Limestone. This limestone is terrific—you see it on many of Chicago’s buildings. It’s lighter than other stones and it darkens less in the rain, which is very important in Vancouver.”

One of the most upsetting aspects of the Georgia Medical Dental Building’s demolition, to heritage buffs, was the loss of its terra cotta trim, which included three terra cotta nurses. In fact, the nurses had become dangerously unstable and would have had to be removed even if the building had remained.

The Shon Group didn’t dispose of the terra cotta. The nurses and trim were donated to the Vancouver Museum, which keeps the nurses and half the trim in its collection—the other half was auctioned off to the public. Then, the nurses and trim were reproduced for the new building.

“There are two companies in North America that still do commercial terra cotta,” says Merrick. “We had to go to Philadelphia to have the nurses and trim copied. It was expensive, but it was important. It was worth it.”


Another important aspect of matching the neighbourhood was the colour of the Cathedral Place trim—the Hotel Vancouver is famous for its peaked turquoise roof. So Merrick gave Cathedral Place blue-green windows and a blue-green peaked roof.

“The windows are meant to seem like picture windows, although they were designed to take partitioning at the standard five-foot intervals,” continues Merrick. “There are nine-foot ceilings and we thought of putting in opening windows, but that meant more aggravation and an additional $800,000. We went with non-reflective glass which cuts glare without making the day look dull, and the colour works well in this climate.

“As for the roof, I grew up in Vancouver and the Hotel Vancouver’s roof is part of the city’s image for me. So we put in a turquoise steel peaked roof, which houses the elevators and air exchangers. It’s higher than the hotel and isn’t as imposing, but it retains that famous Canadian Pacific chateau roof and adds to the effect of lasting quality and presence.”

cathedralplace3Merrick had other instructions. The interior of the building was to be appropriate to the market—centre core with a respectable core-to-wall distance, no intrusive interior columns, and a smart building with good-quality services and environmental control systems. Nothing too exotic.

This criteria was met. The building is 360,000 square feet of office space, with one floor of commercial. There is a four-storey, 360-vehicle underground parking lot, and each office is finished according to tenant specifications. The columns were integrated into the walls and the building runs on high-tech management systems.

Cathedral Place uses Johnson Controls’ Metasys computer control system, which permits the highest possible ventilation rate. The General Electric Total Lighting Control system allows for individualized energy efficiency, and the S.I.S. Pentagon 2000 security system combines on-site personnel with programmed Wiegand cards and central lock-down capabilities.

The Shon Group wanted Cathedral Place to match the Hotel Vancouver in another way—in the area of ground-floor activity.

“So many triple-A buildings have large, empty lobbies,” says Merrick. “Not Cathedral Place. We’ve created a necklace of movement to, at, and around the site, just as is the case at the Hotel Vancouver.”


The first floor of Cathedral Place houses a jewellery store, a travel agency, a florist, House of Brussels Chocolates, a boutique, a bank, two cafes, a stationers and the Sri Lankan Gem Museum. Perhaps most importantly, there is another museum attached to it—the Canadian Craft Museum. That added a new wrinkle to the development.

“Originally, the whole property was going to be covered with office space,” says Bill Rooney. “But we wanted the highest-quality structure. So we arranged a density transfer with the city. In exchange for building the new Canadian Craft Museum to the north, we were given a density bonus—additional floors.

“The arrangement improved the whole place,” continues Rooney. “The museum is a draw to the building and we think that the final product has made leasing easier—that and the fact that we made sure that this building would present no management challenges.”

Merrick did a superb job of designing the 20,000 square-foot museum and the courtyard which separates the two buildings—there is now an elegant, classic sanctuary in the middle of Vancouver’s bustling downtown core.

cathedralplace1 courtyard

One of the more unusual things about the Cathedral Place is long gone, but it certainly raised the profile of the building: the site’s $40,000 construction hoarding. It was created by Design Works Inc., and no Canadian city had ever seen anything like it: a 3-D custom-designed architect’s board, complete with huge pencils, giant rulers and an enormous business card (with paper clip), from the leasing agent.

“The hoarding was a real attention-getter and established an image for the building before we broke ground,” says Rooney. “Cathedral Place overlooks some of the largest landscaped areas in the downtown core. It enjoys strong visual and physical links with the business and cultural life of Vancouver. It’s a unique combination of locational convenience, functional efficiency and architectural distinction—an address that any owner, property manager or tenant can point to with justifiable pride. In other words, it’s a very special building on a very special site and everything about it had to be special, from start to finish.”

Paul Merrick is definitely proud of his creation. “This was one of my best opportunities. A city’s only as good as its pieces and we had an owner who wanted the best for his city. Ron Shon went far out his way for that project, with the result that no one has had any negative feedback on the finished product. The whole city is proud of Cathedral Place.”

On Stupid Rules

Blitz Magazine, June 2008

stupid1The other day, I was sitting on the patio of a Vancouver restaurant and a pair of Mexican tourists sat down across from me. After their drinks arrived, they asked if I minded if they smoked. I said no. I almost said: “Uh, it’s against the law to smoke on a restaurant patio in Vancouver,” but I didn’t. Because it would have sounded unfriendly. And stupid.

It is stupid. In Vancouver, smokers can no longer smoke near the entrances of buildings. So they go into the lanes and walk around on the sidewalks. Since there are no ash trays anywhere, they drop their butts wherever they happen to be. So the streets and sidewalks are heavily-littered with cigarette butts. This mess is the basis for the latest move on the part of the anti-smoking Nazis, who want to ban smoking on beaches.

If they succeed, you will be able to drive an exhaust-spewing vehicle, be morbidly obese, raise diabetic children, live on food from McDonald’s and furnish your home with lead-laced, Chinese-made junk from Wal-Mart, but you won’t be able to sit on a beach and watch the sun go down while enjoying a cigar. While I’m sure that special-interest groups will soon form to lobby against all of the former, the latter remains strange but true.

The West End of Vancouver is home to one of the largest gay communities in North America. It’s a place where people can be proud of their sexuality. In the heart of the West End is the ironically-named Olympic restaurant. Its owner recently refused service to a heterosexual couple. Why? They were kissing. The owner, while refusing to make eye contact with the woman, told the man: “We don’t tolerate that kind of thing in here.”

I recently pulled into a parking lot, just a few blocks from that restaurant, and was in the process of straightening out the car when an officious little man walked up to my window. He informed me that there is a law against idling one’s car and that if I didn’t turn the car off, he’d call the police.

stupidA couple of months ago, I went into a downtown hotel in search of lunch. Only the hotel’s lounge was open (the ‘lounge’ being an empty room separated from the restaurant by a movable screen). I was refused service, because I had a friend’s son with me—a minor. I told Mr. Rules that he could hardly expect the Liquor Control Board to pull the hotel’s license, pointing out that the minor in question was 53 weeks old and firmly teetotal. We got the boot anyway.

Ahhhh Vancouver. One of the most beautiful cities in the world. Where a West Side housewife waged a two-year campaign to bring down the tree house of the little kids next door. Where, while community festivals shut down for lack of funding, millions are spent on ‘traffic-calming devices’ (piles of cement that jut out into the road and cause accidents and vehicle damage). Where there is a sign at Third Beach reading ‘No Ball Playing’.

Tourism Vancouver has a $14 million budget to market its city as a travel destination. It does a terrific job; 9 million people visited the city last year. Marketing materials show dazzling images and speak of all of the things there are to do here. And now millions more will be spent on bringing people here for the 2010 Olympics. I’m thinking, though, that its executives are going to have to lean on the plods at City Hall. Because if you’re spending millions of dollars communicating to the world that your product is the best choice and it turns out that it is not, why bother? If you tell people that Vancouver is the best place for their honeymoon, but public displays of affection are punished, why bother? If you tell people that Vancouver is kid-friendly and families are refused service in hotels, why bother? And who gets to tell South American, Asian and European tourists that they can’t smoke while standing on the street?

The last word goes to a British tourist who was brought here by successful marketing. Last week, the man told a friend: “This is a fabulous city, but I could never live here. You people are just too up-tight.”

On Garden Art

Homes & Cottages, April 1997

gardenWe spend a lot of time and money on interior decorating. We spend a lot of time and money on our gardens. We’re picky: we want that piece of sculpture over the fireplace; we want an oval tulip bed in the south corner of the garden.

Most of us, though, don’t meld the two. We think of home decoration as one element and garden design as something else. Unlike the Italians or Japanese, Canadians typically don’t put anything but plants in their gardens. In Vancouver, artists are designing garden sculpture to encourage home-owners to use art to augment and showcase the natural beauty found outside.

Vancouver artist Susanna Blunt is an avid gardener and an enthusiastic proponent of the idea. “I think that  a garden is the most wonderful place for art, yet you don’t see much of it. When you do, you see reproductions of old items, and those pieces are reminiscent of other cultures and other types of architecture. That’s why I decided to create modern, individualistic sculpture for Canadian gardens.”

Blunt’s custom pieces are made of steel, bronze, stone, glass and marble and can be simple sculptures or ornate designs. She also has a line of Swizzle Stakes, which are six-pound, 80” steel poles that have been bent or welded into creative and decorative statues. They can be grouped to create one sculpture, or used separately to support sweet peas, climbing vines or roses. They can be left to rust and age naturally, or painted to match or contrast with garden furniture or plants.

“Garden art makes any garden doubly inviting,” says Blunt. “It becomes a visual point of interest, and complements or contrasts plants so that one shows off the other to the best possible advantage. Art can turn a garden into visual theatre, even in winter, when it collects snow and ice and adds colour or interesting notes to an otherwise-bleak winter garden.”

Bradford Carrie has the same objective when creating garden sculpture, but the difference with his work lies in his materials. Carrie scours farms, rail lines, beaches, docks and abandoned houses, and uses found objects to create eclectic sculptures that can be used in conjunction with plants or as visual accents in a garden.

“My concern is with balance, colour and texture, and with showcasing the personality of objects, says Carrie. “Found objects have been used by someone in another time and this gives them character. That character becomes part of the visual value of the sculpture, and lends itself to the look of the garden.”

For Carrie, doorknobs from a turn-of-the-century house, pounded into an old oak door found in an abandoned railway tunnel, become a ‘door sculpture’, which is the ideal accent for an ivy-covered wall. The lid of a gas tank and the base of an engine are welded together and placed on a pedestal to support vines and flowers. One six-foot sculpture consists of dock fittings, a machine strap, a fishing boat hook, copper tubing and an old farm rank, all perfectly balanced with complementary, contrasting tones that age together.

Vancouver landscape architect Judith Reeve, also known from the CBC’s Canadian Gardner, refers to the use of art in gardens as “agritecture” and has long used plants, wood and odds and ends to build structures for plants to grow on. In Canada, however, Reeve finds that the concept has not quite caught on.

“Interest in garden sculpture is greater in Europe and the US. Here, the conventional, formal garden is still popular, but garden art is extremely useful. It can be used to connect garden segments, as a focus for light and water, or to dress up a blank wall. Rockwork can be turned into a pond or tiny fountain. It’s also nice to hide items that people can come across as they walk through your garden. Gardeners can make their spaces much more interesting by adding items and experimenting a little.”

Reeve adds, “There has been this tremendous snobbery about garden décor, which has made people afraid to experiment. But I say that if you find an item you like, put it in your garden. Hang it on a tree. Let water drip onto it. Make  seat out of it. Put a light in it. If it doesn’t look right, you can always change it. Art can add a little mystery and a sense of discovery to a garden and I think people should be a little more whimsical. Why not decorate your garden as you would your house?”


On Communicators Needing to Think Things Through

Blitz Magazine, November 2007

thinking2I was watching Leno last night. He did his regular Headlines bit. It’s funny because it contains ads which are hilarious by virtue of careless errors, ignorance, laziness, and that old bane of writers: the do-it-yourself mentality of those who refuse to hire people who can actually write.

Lately, it has occurred to me that, when communicating with the public, more and more professionals are just not thinking things through.

Last summer, the White Spot restaurant chain ran a TV spot (ad nauseam) in which the gag was that the chef was left to clean up after a team of chefs worked all day to come up with new menu items. But, in the final shot showing the messy kitchen, every pot, pan and utensil was spotlessly clean. ‘Little problem with the props and art direction budget, I guess.

In October, I was one a judge on the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario’s Design at Work show. I was judging the publications section and saw some beautiful work. But, being me, I had to read the pieces. And found that there were typos in some and grammatical errors in others. Well, if you’re producing a high-end publication, doesn’t it follow that you should hire a writer who, you know, can actually write? And who might stoop to proof the final before it goes to press?

It broke my heart to have to discard an absolutely stunning catalogue. Well, the first part was stunning. Then I got to the copy, and found that the designer had used silver type on a white background. Well, when you put silver type on a white background, you can’t read the type. And if you can’t read the type in a publication, the publication ceases to be a publication and it becomes a waste of paper.


‘Same thing with web designers who slap 8-point type against a black background. What’s the point in putting words in view when there’s no hope of those words being read? This is why there’s now an entire mini-industry of Usability Experts—people who spend their lives teaching people to think things through.

A current TV spot for Maltesers shows two lovers cuddling on the couch. The guy is feeding the gal the balls of candy with the help of a straw. Which would be fine (sort of), except that the guy is 17 and the gal looks to be in her mid-40s. It’s actually pretty creepy. It’s as if the creative director wanted to appeal to that massive ‘high-school-kid-sleeping-with-his-teacher’ market.

President’s Choice has a new campaign, in which the tag line is ‘Worth Changing Supermarkets For.’ That’s kinda’ catchy. Or would be, if Canadians used the (American) term ‘supermarket’.

Then there’s the ‘Christmas’ v ‘Holiday’ thing. Here’s a case where communicators are really failing to think things through. ‘Christmas’ is a Christian holiday, celebrating the birth of a man named Jesus Christ. It is a very old holiday containing all kinds of rites that have been practiced for a very long time. And, even in today’s cynical world, a lot of people take it very seriously. To millions, it’s not just a retail bonanza.

But marketers say: “Well, we don’t want to insult Muslims and Jews!” And they point to some survey they did, in the course of which maybe 100 carefully-selected people who happened to answer their phones skewed in a certain direction and that was extrapolated to the population at large. Lame lame lame.

In the first place, I’ve yet to hear a Jew or a Muslim complain about feeling excluded from Christmas festivities. And I’ve yet to hear a Christian complain about feeling excluded from Hanukkah or Ramadan celebrations. Every religion has its own stuff; how hypocritical to praise multi-culturalism and diversity and pluralism and then lump the observances of three religions into a muddy term called ‘The Holidays’.


Secondly, if non-Christian religious groups are so important marketers, why aren’t large advertising dollars spent on advertising specifically to them? Crafting advertising that is clearly trying to sell ‘Christmas’, while failing to tip-toe around two other religious holidays is not only nonsensical, but arrogant, disrespectful and insulting. To everyone.

Third, marketers are not getting it right. They use the term ‘For the Holidays’, but their stores are decorated with all of the accoutrements of Christmas. At the moment, in most malls and shops, all you can hear are Christmas carols. Why not play the Dreidel Song? It’s still All Christmas All the Time—it’s just that no one wants to say that word.

This is very weird. It’s taking political correctness to a foolish extreme. Marketers say it’s ‘good business’. It’s not. It’s just silly.

On Citizen Journalism

Blitz Magazine, January 2008

Late-night host Craig Ferguson regularly stabs at tabloid stories when he says (wink) “If it’s written down, it must be true.” Which is funny, until you realize that millions of people actually do think that everything they read—just because it has been published somewhere—must have some factual basis. That’s not at all funny.

citizenIn my particular pocket of the world, the majority of people are supposed to be well-educated. But at the check-out counter at the local grocery store, I notice that the racks for the National Enquirer and the News of the World are either depleted or empty. Publications such as these have long made millions by printing doctored images and ridiculous fiction about real people. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s always asked: ‘Who reads this stuff?’, ‘Why do people read this stuff?’ and ‘How is it that these publications haven’t been sued into bankruptcy?’

The answer to the first two questions are, in my mind, that those who buy tabloid junk are either intellectually-challenged or find some escapist value in reading dreck. The answer to the third question is unknowable—perhaps the victims think that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, or they don’t want to give credence to junk by responding to it. The main reason could be that defamation suits are difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

All of this is now made much worse by the Internet, which has spawned blogs and vlogs and this new creature called ‘Citizen Journalism’. Now anyone, anywhere can say literally anything about anybody, with impunity. Anyone with an axe to grind can broadcast any fiction to millions of people, and the victims of any misinformation, slander or defamation will not be able to do anything about it—if they even know about it. Between language barriers and the vast size of the Web, it is impossible for corporations, governments and individuals to monitor what is being said about them.


A recent example of the damage this can do popped up when a disgruntled ex-employee of Tommy Hilfiger used the Net to spread the notion that the company actively discourages black customers. By the time the company learned about it, millions of emails on the subject had been sent out—I got one from a friend, who believed it because she got it from her sister, who (egads) is in senior management at a Crown corporation, and she believed it because, it was ‘in print’. Hilfiger had the resources to fight back, and duly did the talk-show rounds to set the record straight. Only his accountants can say how much damage was caused by this particular lie.

The downside of Internet-based misinformation does not stop at celebrities and corporations. It is now creating massive problems in academia. Thanks, in part, to Wikipedia, the online volunteer encyclopedia that we now all use. In universities everywhere, students are regularly failing important exams because they’re taking their ‘facts’ from Wikipedia entries. Professors everywhere are now are forbidding students to use anything from Wikipedia.

According to Wired Campus, “Even Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, says he wants to get the message out to students that they shouldn’t use it for class projects or serious research. Wales gets about 10 email messages a week from students who complain that Wikipedia has gotten them into academic hot water. “They say, ‘Please help me, I got an ‘F’ on my paper because I cited something I found on Wikipedia and the information turned out to be wrong.”

Citizen Journalism is terrific for the exchange of opinion and ideas, and the concept is great for fostering freedom and democracy. It can help catch criminals, of all sorts. It can educate, inform and inspire. The up-side is definitely there.


But the down-side is more pronounced. Any charlatan can file ‘reports’ on ‘new’ medications, treatments, cures. Any idiot can say “a clinical study has proven that drinking water is bad for you,” or that “the government of Somewhere is poisoning its citizens’. Lots and lots of people are not very bright; millions will send money to support the citizens of Somewhere, believe that they should stop drinking water, and buy those concoctions.

In every corner of the globe, there are people who go on-line, see tons of fascinating information, all dressed up with pretty pictures, ‘quotes’, charts and graphs. It doesn’t occur to these people to check the sources of the information; to find out who the authors are, check their credentials. They may not understand the concept of advertorial; it may not even occur to them that the guy in the white coat is an actor. They just assume that, because it has been ‘published’, it must be true.

In the civilized world, it is still only the masthead, station call letters, or network logo that allows us to believe and trust in the information that it being given to us. When we see a reporter at the site of an incident, we can trust that that reporter has done the work and is telling what he or she believes to be the truth. When it comes to political reportage, most of us know enough to read between the lines, to recognize that a columnist or talking head has a particular political bent.

We also trust that dishonest journalists will be exposed, as they have famously been at the New York Times and the Washington Post, for example, and that the penalty for their deception is banishment from their profession and new careers as cab drivers or gas station attendants. The fact that we will never hear from them again is proof that mainstream journalistic entities are committed to providing accurate information, and the educated, fact-based insight that people need in order to properly understand their world. The measures taken to guarantee credibility are, of course, to safeguard corporate survival, but they are also taken in support of ethical positions and a professional dedication to protection of the public trust through the dissemination of fact and truth. Like it or not, professional journalistic entities are still the gate-keepers.

The trick is to define ‘professional’. An awful lot of Americans, on the under-educated side, think that the information they get from Fox News is true, thanks to the insane persuasiveness of the odious Bill O’Reilly and the network’s not-so-merry bank of bobbing vitriol-spewing heads. With the pervasiveness of religious fanaticism in the southern states, you have to wonder at how much of their local information is controlled by heavy-hitters with decidedly off-kilter agendas. (This is becoming an issue in Canada, as well.)

The one which could have the most negative effect on future societies—is with the under-30s, who are now used to getting all of their information from the ‘Net. Canadian children may be some of the world’s best-educated, but you can see them in the malls and internet cafes, surfing, reading and passing on information that, they assume, must be true. Because it’s ‘in print’. Then they get to university and discover, the hard way, that this is not at all the case.

citizen1They don’t think about where their information comes from. What the motivation was behind its collection and dissemination. Whether or not the people who created it had any journalistic training—what questions were asked, how they were asked, if facts were checked and images authenticated.

If Citizen Journalism is meant to be good for freedom and democracy, those involved in it may have to think about the larger ramifications. Because the fact that so many people will believe anything they read, without thinking about its genesis is, ultimately, seriously detrimental to everyone.