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We're on strike
Picket lines and placards, Tiff locks it in, crime hits the bottom line, 'AI guys' (ugh), MORE LORE with Lofi, Minecraft intelligence leaks, Galen falls on his sword.
The big news this week is…strike action.
Last week the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Union announced that talks with the government had stalled and they had entered a legal strike position. What are they striking over? Pay. More flexibility in how they work. Improved job security. Work-life balance. These demands are not new of course - internationally there’s been rolling strikes around healthcare working conditions and pensions. And it’s not limited to public service either: Amazon has seen strike action at its warehouses and Starbucks has been hit with strike action at its stores. It’s also not entirely a nation-wide issue - the Nova Scotia School Board Council of Unions (NSSBCU) has suggested they too would be in a legal strike position as of April 21st, which would cripple the provinces education system - think school bus drivers, cleaners, ECEs, Teaching Assistants and food staff.
So what’s going on? Well, one consistency in all this is the amount of front-line workers involved. And while Amazon workers (for example) might not appear to be front-line, they inevitably were when the virus hit. Yes, when the lockdowns began, those that weren’t furloughed were still packing and delivering those things you ordered while stuck at home. So the definition of ‘front-line worker’ quickly blurred during the pandemic - in fact it almost immediately came to define anyone providing an ‘essential service’ where that ‘essential service’ came to include pretty much anything - retail, food, logistics and bed-bath-and-beyond.
Front-line workers kept society going with some sense of normalcy under threat of viral illness and actual death. The reality for healthcare workers was on the news, but for teachers they had to - overnight - transfer entire years of in-person teaching to Zoom, re-writing lesson plans, distributing computers, working out how to emotionally support kids who were stuck at home trying to learn. Logistics workers had to endure mandatory medical testing, all-day masking, cleaning routines and customer rage. Food service workers faced workplace outbreaks, sickness…and customer rage. Public service workers faced work-from-home orders, transferring entire heavy caseloads to a combination of cell phone conversations, cobbled-together IT systems and bad at-home wifi. It was a mess, it was stressful - and it was thankless.
Post-pandemic, these problems have not gone away, but they have become normalized. And on top of that, workers are being asked not only to do more with less (thanks to the increased cost of services and labour) but to now change how they work again - by coming back to the offices they long abandoned after investing in new lifestyles, taking on larger roles in hybrid environments - and dealing with forever-changed industries. In many cases they’re doing all this in a high-inflation environment with a relatively unchanged hourly rate.
So you can see why strikes are in the air - but are strikes (and unions generally) just another liability in an economy already stretched to breaking point? This is a nuanced question, and ripe for political posturing. Certainly people in front-line jobs getting paid enough money to live is essential for the functioning of society as a whole. Unions have a long history of demonization by governments and big business - but they also are responsible for defining modern society. Healthcare. Insurance. Minimum wage. Paid holidays. Maternity / Paternity Leave. Equal pay for equal work. Child Labour Laws. Anti-discrimination Laws. These are all things that Unions imagined, built and fought for - things that we now consider the foundations of a modern functioning society which we all benefit from.
So whether you appreciate Unions or not, they do help strike (sorry) the balance in the modern workforce. And right now that balance is off.
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Top story this week☝️
Bank of Canada holds rates, crosses fingers
It’s old news now that the Bank of Canada decided to keep the interest rate at 4.5% for the foreseeable. It’s even older news to business and economics hawks who long predicted that Tiff Macklem, released finally from his finance cave, would look at his shadow, be noncommittal, then head back inside. The Bank of Canada is in a weird spot - it needs to look confident that it’s made the right call not to ratchet down inflation quicker, but it’s facing problems from Consumers and Small Businesses who are facing hefty lending costs. Throw in the recent positive labour statistics - and the increase in wages - as curveballs, and you have a Governor who is trying not to blink too much on camera in case someone reads it falsely as a cry for help. We’re not that far from the bank runs of March, the vibe-checks on Credit Suisse and the last weeks TD-short selling bonanza - which is to say that while things are calmer now, the market is still volatile and looking for excuses, no matter how vague, to ‘go off’. For now Macklem remains stoic and poker faced, which is probably the best we can ask for - until we see that magic CPI inflation number officially hit 3% that is. Then maybe he’ll give us some of the ol’ razzle-dazzle. Link
Small Business is dealing with bigger problems
Numerous Small Businesses in Nova Scotia are having to deal increasingly with social unrest first-hand, as the local population begins to struggle with high costs of living and a lack of available housing. It’s not a problem unique to the maritimes either - Small Business owners in local communities across North America are often the first to be hit with any increase in crime and poverty-associated problems, and it’s often something they are not prepared for mentally or financially (nor should they be). To make matters worse, this is usually in addition to their own business problems of rising rents, higher labour costs and misfiring supply chain issues. Link
With the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Union strike looking likely, here’s a list of affected federal services: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Global Affairs Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Service Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada. It’s safe to say - expect disruption and delay. Your tax rebate is probably going to take longer. That employee visa you applied for is probably going to be held up. The support programme you applied for might not happen to schedule. If you’re an invasive fish species - this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
RBC is No 1!!! (financier of fossil fuels). Link
Just a reminder that TikTok has already been banned…in China. Link
The rise of ‘AI guy’ (please don’t buy anything from an ‘AI marketing expert’). Link
US classified intelligence leaks happening on a Discord server dedicated to Minecraft - ‘a building game for ages 8 and up’ - a threat vector few imagined. Link
Loblaws finally reads the room. Link
The Data Room 🤖
The Data Room provides some insight into Small Business data, and each month(ish) you’ll get a deeper dive in your inbox.
This week expect a deeper dive from The Data Room in your inbox on Thursday!
We’ve been told it’s ‘quite good’. But also that it’s ‘a bit controversial’. So I guess we’ll see…whatever it is, it’ll be numerically accurate, so there’s always that.
The Balance Sheet 💬
The Balance Sheet provides Small Business opinion, voices and futures, and each month(ish) you’ll get a deeper dive in your inbox.
You know what this brand needs? MORE LORE.
Once there was a time when a nice logo and a catchy name did the job. Then came brand marketing and ‘defining what your business stands for’. Now we’re down the rabbit hole of ‘lore’-making, where narratives weave brands with back story - bringing entire communities to life.
In 2018 a Studio Ghibli-styled cartoon character appeared on Youtube listening to lo-fi hip hop beats. Those beats lasted forever in a looped livestream, and the character, a girl called Lofi, took notes at a desk while listening to the music. Presumably these notes she was taking were revision notes, maybe for an exam she was taking - that exam apparently never came, because 6 years later, she’s still at it, 24hrs a day. 12.3 Million subscribers stream Lofi Girl while they, themselves presumably, sit at a similar desk and take notes, do work, study or need to focus. Lofi Girl was mysterious enough to generate online discussion - enough discussion that people eventually managed to geo-locate where she (an imaginary girl) lived by the view from her (imaginary) window (it’s Lyon, btw). One day on the endless stream, Lofi girl looked out of the window and saw a blue blinking light. So she got up and left the room to investigate, leaving her desk empty for the first time. Lofi Girl’s followers (and Twitter) freaked out.
It turned out that Lofi Girl’s producer was launching another channel - this time a boy with a cute dog - listening to synth-wave. What’s interesting in all this is how quickly something mundane and static (a cartoon girl listening to music for 6 years on a loop) became suddenly interesting to a lot of people. It gained ‘lore’. Suddenly there was a backstory. The city outside of her window had other people in it. They had lives. They had different tastes. They had…dogs. And the perception of those who have ‘lived’ with Lofi Girl ambiently over the years widened, changed and adapted. A new world had opened up.
The most recent ‘lore’ in the mainstream media (as far as it can be considered mainstream) is of course QAnon. A series of anonymous posts on a niche message board triggered what has now become some form of pseudo-political-cult focused around US government conspiracy - a Roswell for the 2020s if you will, but emboldened instead by a generation of Role-Playing-Game (RPGs) mindsets, Call-of-Duty Alpha identity, ‘I’m the main character’ delusions, run-of-the-mill White Supremacy and the general dystopic aura that surrounds modern social networks.
If you remember the horror film ‘The Blair Witch’ then you’ll know the power of mystery and normalcy - and how ‘lore’ naturally bubbled up around it. Is it real? Who are these kids? How did this get made? And modern technology has enabled the building of ever more intricate ‘lore’, such as in Backrooms, which is now in production by hype-movie studio A24.
At its core, ‘lore’ is the addition of engaging storytelling to something seemingly normal. Where a brand can take its current existence and enliven it with breadcrumbs of narrative that fire the imagination - and, of course, the internet and social networks thrive on breadcrumbs and self-discovery.
R.L Stine, the author of hugely successful Goosebumps series was once asked, “What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?”
“The best advice I ever got was from an editor at Random House. She wrote a two-word message on my manuscript. It said: MORE LORE. That’s all. Two words. But it was great advice. She was telling me to give my story depth and more reality”.
Expect to see the use of MORE LORE by Marketing and Ad Agencies in the coming years - and small brands using increasing story depth to get the huge reach they crave, that before could have only been achieved by huge spend.
Market at-a-glance 📈
BOC Indicators (Link):
BOC Prime Rate: 6.70%
BOC Unemployment Rate: 5.0%
BOC CPI Inflation Rate: 5.2%
BOC $USD Exchange Rate (Link):
Low: 1.3359 CAD [0.7486 USD]
Average: 1.3410 CAD [0.7458 USD]
High: 1.3483 CAD [0.7417 USD]
Best GIC Rates (Link):
1-year GIC: 5.25%
3-year GIC: 4.90%
5-year GIC: 4.80%
Best 5Y Mortgage Rates (Link):
Prime Rates (Link):
TD Bank: 6.70%
National Bank: 6.70%
CRA Canadian Pension Plan Rate: 5.95%
CRA Employment Insurance Rate: 1.63%
CRA Minimum Wage per Province: Link
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