23 Jan 20090 Comments
Attacking a Canadian Icon
While I’m hardly a shrinking violet, I generally shy away from newspaper coverage. That being said, after saying no several times to Gordon Pitts at the Globe and Mail, I finally agreed to be quoted. Here’s why.
Yesterday, Jim Balsillie won the Laurier Outstanding Business Leader of the Year Award. With his business, economic and philanthropic contributions to our area and Canada as a whole, I can’t imagine a more deserving recipient. It is truly inspirational to have people like Jim making a real difference to all of us.
In an unfortunate coincidence, on the same day, both Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were the subject of media coverage regarding a possible (and staggering) $100 million penalty regarding a stock options pricing case dating back to 1996.
In the current financial meltdown, many might believe that ever more zealous regulation is the answer, but this really isn’t the root issue here. And, bearing in mind that I don’t have all the facts that the OSC and SEC possess, I present some key points in questioning the motives of the timing and magnitude of this regulatory action:
- from my reading of this case, the company, when made aware of the concerns, proactively launched a board-level investigation and, upon the release of the report, about $1.6 million was repaid, this being the estimated amount of gain based on the differential of pricing and dates of the option strike prices.
- further, that committee, found that the mis-pricing was inadvertent and not done for the purposes of financial gain.
- when compared to other securities regulation actions, this case seems minor, especially given the wealth most people have generated with RIM. In other words, there don’t seem to be any real victims here.
- And yet, over the last 10 to 15 years, the OSC has been colossally impotent when it comes to prosecuting real shareholder frauds, such as:
- the many cases of equity monetization that allowed senior management of many companies pocket tens or hundreds of millions while ordinary investors ended up suffering staggering losses.
- real abuses and frauds around income trusts, such as is the case of the many people in my home town of Listowel who lost life savings on the fiasco in which a long term business, SpinRite, was hollowed out in the process of becoming an income trust.
- Diane Urquhart, an ex Bay Street investment banker and now expert shareholder crusader, is a great source to provide anyone who is interested the documented evidence of how much of a wussy our own OSC has been in stock market regulation.
- Jim, and his partner Mike, have each given countless hours and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to major philanthropic initiatives that, in addition to helping to transform Waterloo Region, have national and international stature.
It’s this background that left me feeling compelled to comment to Gordon at the Globe & Mail. Clearly, this feels like a desperate OSC acting on the basest political motives.
I’m not sure why Canadians feel that we have to attack our winners. At a time of economic meltdown and too few national champions left standing, why can’t we celebrate the great heroes we do have?
25 Jan 20090 Comments
A Bright Green Federal Budgetary Stimulus Opportunity
Is there a green lining in the inevitable mountains of cash being channelled into economic stimulus?
The sequence of September’s ho hum election followed by the almost incongruous state of denial about both environmental issues and the state of our economy by Canada’s Stephen Harper Government, renders the proroguing of Parliament and his rapid policy about face almost exciting to watch. As a result, Tuesday’s budget should prove a lot more interesting than the six months that preceded it.
My post from last year, Finding Negawatts Right on your Doorstep, gave background to show how the EcoEnergy program could significantly reduce our collective residential Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, while simultaneously improving our housing stock and lowering operating costs. As noted, even with the current modest levels of uptake, this is an area where relatively small investments by our Federal and Provincial governments are starting to pay off.
Proper Economic Stimulus Can Lead To …
In the context of Canada’s 2009 Federal Budget, there will certainly be significant funds allocated to economic stimulus, almost certainly with the traditional focus on infrastructure projects. As I discussed in my recent post, Playing the Lottery after the Meltdown, I generally favour a laissez faire approach to government. But, considering our current economic situation, signficant stimulus will be essential.
I strongly urge the government to consider channelling some of these fund to two areas:
In the Negawatts posting, I didn’t elaborate enough on the relative merits of different approaches to offsetting our carbon consumption (or indeed all Greenhouse Gases). I would draw a parallel to the 3 Green R’s of Reduce, Reuse & Recycle which form a hierarchy in dealing with the solid waste issue, with Reduce (ie. not creating the waste in the first place) being much preferred to Recycle (reducing the impact of waste already consumed). Similarly to this, there are also choices around offsetting our carbon footprint.
Most carbon offsets involve tree planting in some distant, usually tropical, country. While this gives maximum impact, it does nothing for our local output of carbon (GHGs). While planting trees locally is useful, typically the ROI is lower than in warmer climes, if only because trees grow more slowly in Canada. The best approaches would involve a direct reduction of our local carbon use, instead of a mere offset. And that is exactly what residential programs like EcoEnergy home labelling and retrofit achieve.
Therefore, the timing is right to channel the relatively small amount, as compared to the enormous size of the entire stimulus package, needed to transform our residential housing stock. And, the resulting Negawatts we will generate in return, will be a lasting efficiency we can enjoys for decades to come.
Significant Carbon Reduction