Archive | December, 2015

How Liberal minister Maryam Monsef was a symbol for 2015

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

 “It gets better every year. I would say yes, this is the best year,” says Maryam Monsef, the newly elected MP for Peterborough-Kawartha and Canada’s minister of democratic institutions.

Monsef is 31, the youngest member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

She is the first woman elected in her riding. She is the first Afghan-Canadian MP and first Muslim federal minister. That is a lot of firsts, which means Monsef’s best year represents a high-water mark for many groups of people:

1. It’s been a good year for helping refugees

You can’t get a better role model for the Syrian refugees arriving in Canada than Monsef.

Twenty years ago, she was just like them. She landed in Montreal with her mother and two younger sisters, a bereft 11-year-old who spoke one line of English: “Hi, my name is Maryam.”

They’d left behind an Afghan war, but also a home, a culture, a language, an extended family.

“As kids, we didn’t realize what was at stake,” Monsef says. “We were focused on everything we’d left behind and people we’d said goodbye to. The majority of the journey for me is filled with memories of grief.”

Her story offers some role models to the rest of us Canadians. Monsef says she entered politics to return the kindness and support she received from the Peterborough community.

The welcome began with Sister Ruth Hennessey, who runs one of the Casa Maria refugee homes in Peterborough. She lived upstairs, while Monsef and her family were downstairs. They ate dinner together and Hennessey became a surrogate aunt.

“I told her always, ‘You, as a woman in Canada, have the possibility to do anything.’ I don’t think she ever forgot that,” says Hennessey, who is working with 30 local groups privately sponsoring Syrian families.

Says Hajni Hos, executive director of the New Canadians Centre where Maryam worked for a year: “Maryam is really a symbol. If you support a refugee in the long term, you will benefit from them a lot more than you have given.”

2. It’s been a good year for inclusion

Kawartha Muslim Religious Association president Kenzu Abdella got two official calls after the Al-Salaam mosque was set ablaze last month. The first came from police. The second came from Monsef, who had prayed there a couple nights earlier.

Monsef told Abdella the act did not reflect the community, he says. She was right. Soon after, members of local churches and a synagogue flooded the mosque grounds, offering support and space to worship. A crowdfunding campaign overshot its target, raising more than $110,000 for repairs.

The result reinforced the feeling Abdella had upon Monsef’s election. “This was the time when we would find out how Canadians really felt” about Muslims, says Abdella. “Canada is a country where equality prevails, a country of democracy, pluralism and multiculturalism. It really proved that to us.”

3. It’s been a good year for women in politics

Although Canadians only voted in 88 female MPs — 26 per cent of the House — 15 were named to positions of power, as part of the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

Monsef has a history as a women’s rights advocate. “She encourages women,” says her high school friend Jessica Melnik. “She recognized that there is inequality, especially in politics.”

Monsef and Melnik launched the Red Pashmina campaign, selling scarves to raise money for women’s education in Afghanistan. In five years, they’ve raised $150,000 and shone a spotlight on local female leaders.

Monsef told the CBC she will claim success as a politician if she inspires women to enter politics.

4. It’s been a good year for political newbies

Monsef’s political life began a mere 14 months before her election, when she launched a run for mayor of Peterborough. She was up against a strong incumbent, and knew her chances were slim, says Jonathan Bennett, her campaign manager.

“We figured it would set her up well for the next race in four years,” Bennett says.

During the first televised debate, Monsef’s response to the mayor changed Bennett’s feeling about her chances. “She said, ‘Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I don’t understand,’” he says. “That really resonated with people . . . She’s good at this.”

Monsef finished a strong second, and after various offers, decided to run for the Liberals, says Bennett, who ran her communications for the federal campaign.

Interestingly, her religion and personal refugee experience didn’t come up often, he says. Instead, she spoke about larger issues. “She’s a very quick study. She can memorize charts and files.” Compared to Trudeau’s five leaders’ debates, Monsef held her own at more than two dozen.

“The thing she had to prove to everyone was she was going to Ottawa as a good politician, up on issues, who would represent people here well,” Bennett says.

She proved that.

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New Year’s Resolutions: 4 Tips To Help You Hit The “Reset Button” For 2016

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

The top resolutions usually center on health and fitness. These are obviously more important than money issues. If you are not alive or healthy enough to enjoy your money, none of this matters.

The next most important resolutions do focus on money. The obvious reason is that we have to deal with money issues every day of our lives. Even if you don’t buy something for a day, your mortgage or rent is still adding up, your utility bills are still mounting, and hopefully, your investment portfolio is still increasing. Money issues happen to you, whether you like it or not. Wouldn’t you like to proactively do something about them? None of us wants to be a victim to our money. So here’s what you can do”

Resolution #1: Create A Budget

Pick a budgeting tool that you like and enter real numbers. Take a look at or There is a foolproof way to make this successful…DO IT. Look at it each month. Discuss it. See what worked and what didn’t.

 Resolution #2: Pay Off Debt

That means you need a number in your budget. Refer to Resolution #1. The number is a challenge to be met each month. Resolution #3, which is to Spend Less, because the debt is going to really bog you down for a long time. Debt is like carrying around that extra 30 lbs.

Resolution #3: Spend Less Money

Make this a challenge; here are some ways:

  • Always look for coupons. There are tons online and they still come in the mail. Groupon is the most popular online site, with an estimated 30 million visitors per month.
  • Stay away from credit cards.
  • Use a debit card.
  • Move in with friends or family.
  • Manage your bonus. If you get a bonus, use one third (after tax) to pay down debt, one third to put into savings and one third to spend on yourselves.

Resolution #4: Invest Your Savings

Many people advise that you should start investing after you have paid off your debt. That’s bad advice. You should be building the airplane while you are flying it. You need both emergency money and long-term investing.

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Brand new Brampton City Hall flooded on Christmas

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

The controversial $205-million City Hall extension was flooded by an apparent internal heating system failure.

It was a Christmas nightmare at Brampton’s controversial new City Hall building as a flood damaged at least two floors of the new $205-million structure, leaving councillors concerned about who will cover the costs.

“We got an email Christmas morning saying there was major flooding in the new west tower,” Councillor John Sprovieri said of the building, an extension of the existing City Hall. Fire crews were on the scene Christmas morning.

City spokesperson Brian Stittle told the Star on Mohas said that the cause of the first- and second-floor flooding has not been determined, and there is no estimate yet for the repair costs.

Restoration crews had set up more than a dozen industrial-size dryers around one of the lobby areas and in a large back office space. Desks and chairs removed from rooms were lined up along a hallway.

Councillor Pat Fortini, a former highrise construction supervisor, examined the damage a day after the flood. “One of the maintenance people said it was from the boiler system that heats up the floors and the rest of the building. It’s like a radiator. It just blew. They had to open up all the walls.”

Fortini said drywall was being removed along the bottom of most walls he saw, to dry areas behind them and inhibit mould.

“There’s water in the walls, the carpet tiles were all removed, the elevators were damaged, the washrooms were damaged. It’s a lot of work … I would say it’s at least a few hundred thousand dollars. It had nothing to do with the weather outside. I’ve never seen something like this in a brand new building.”

Sprovieri has been critical of the project for years, alleging taxpayers paid far too much for the building, which opened more than a year late. Councillors were shocked earlier this year when they learned staff had excused builder Dominus Construction from paying about $1.4 million in project-delay penalties. Dominus was supposed to have been a 25-year partner in the deal but sold its rights to the project to Fengate LP before construction was completed. However, it stayed on to finish the building.

“I hope the builder’s warranty covers this,” Sprovieri said of the flood damage. “Taxpayers better not have to pay a cent for this. We’re going to get to the bottom of this to find out exactly how this could have happened in a brand new building that cost this much money.”

Fortini said the same. “It should be Fengate’s insurance (that pays the costs). I don’t want the taxpayer to pay for premiums that would go up. I’m going to ask for a full report on how this happened and who will cover the costs. … There were at least 10 city staff working overtime when I was there, and the private company that was hired.”

Fengate did not respond to a request for comment.

Stittle said it’s too early to determine how costs will be covered: “City staff continues to work with contractors and insurance company representatives to get a full understanding of the damage and associated costs … and who will be responsible for them.”

The building is expected to reopen as scheduled on Jan. 4, after the holiday break, but a few staff may have to be temporarily relocated, Stittle said.

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Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau set a date for first meeting in Washington

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

OTTAWA — U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have set a date for their first meeting in Washington.

Trudeau and his wife are to be welcomed by the Obamas for an official visit and state dinner at the White House on March 10.

Obama and Trudeau met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in the Philippines in November and Obama had mentioned then he had hoped to have the Trudeaus to the White House in the new year.

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman announced the date in a statement Monday, saying the visit is an opportunity for the two countries to deepen their bilateral relationship.

Heyman said it is also intended to advance co-operation on issues such as energy and climate change, security and the economic relationship.

The meeting will come just ahead of the end of the parliamentary mandate for Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.

Trudeau has said Canada will remain a participant in the fight against the militants but how and in what capacity remains unclear.

Another key issue will be the future of the Trans Pacific Partnership deal; Canada agreed to the landmark trade package during the election but it still needs to be ratified and Trudeau has not set a timeline for when that will happen.

It will be the first White House state dinner in 19 years for a Canadian leader.

The last one was in 1997 when then-president Bill Clinton hosted then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.

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Democracy survives in Pakistan in 2015

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin


Dr. Hasan Askari

  Democracy in Pakistan faced several challenges in 2015 but it managed to survive. The political leaders may view this as their success but they need to recognize that democracy will face stronger challenges in 2016. The ordinary people prefer an elected political system but express disappointment on the inability of democratic institutions and processes to solve their socio-economic problems.

  The long delayed local government elections were completed in Sindh and Punjab in October-December 2015.

 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa held these elections earlier in 2015 and Balochistan completed the electoral process at the local level in 2014-15.

 The introduction of elected councils at the local level engendered the hope that these could help to improve the image of democracy at the common people level and strengthen their attachment with these institutions and processes. However, much depends on the performance of local council in rendering basic civic services to the people and improving the quality of life for their electorate.

 The provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab have kept a lot of powers with them.

 In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the position of local government is somewhat better.

 In Balochistan, these councils cannot be effective without the support of the provincial government.

 If sufficient development funds are made available to local government councils and committees by the provincial governments and these funds are used transparently and judiciously, the people will benefit. This will strengthen their attachment not only with the locally elected councils but also with the democratic process as a whole.

  The key tests of endurance of democracy are fair and free elections and the delivery of basic services to the citizens. These institutions and processes can evoke voluntary loyalty if the elected governments pay attention to societal security and human welfare and development. Hopefully, elected local governments achieve these goals.

  Democracy in Pakistan faced four major challenges in 2015: less frequent use of democratic institutions for policy making and political management; inability to address human development problems that has hampered the strengthening popular attachment with democracy; the growing role of the military; and the challenge of extremism and terrorism.

  The elected institutions and processes have to be made relevant to policy making and political management. The elected parliament has not been able to acquire the focal place for law making and accountability of the rulers. The Prime Minister hardly attends its sessions and the federal cabinet members often shy away from its sessions. If the Prime Minister attends the sessions, the presence of cabinet members will increase. This will enhance the centrality and prestige of the parliament, especially the National Assembly. Further, the habit of holding All-Parties Conferences for discussing important issues devalues the parliament. All the major parties are represented in the parliament. All key issues should be taken up in the parliament. The meetings of federal and provincial cabinets are held less frequently. Instead, the Apex Committees meet more frequently at the provincial level and, at the federal level, the High powered meetings of top civilian and military officials, presided over by the Prime Minister, take important policy decisions. No meeting of the National Security Committee was held in 2015.

  The post-18th amendment Constitution requires that the Council of Common Interest should meet at least once in 90 days. This principle was ignored during 2015, thereby showing that there is hardly any serious attention being given to making the constitutionally recognized institutions relevant to policy making and its enforcement.

  The data on poverty and under-development as well as on children out of schools has not shown any improvement. Similarly education and health care continue to suffer from lack of official attention. The shortages of electricity and gas continue to add to the misery of people. These shortage is more acute in the areas where less privileged people live. The Report of the State Bank of Pakistan showed that electricity generation increased by 1.6 percent during 2015 and that if the existing electricity generating units produce to their capacity the transmission lines will not be able to carry all the electricity. The poor performance of the government will continue to haunt the political system in the years to come.

  The military continues to stay on the sidelines of the political system but its role and influence has expanded in 2015 partly because of its increased role in managing internal security and fighting terrorism. The civilian federal and provincial governments have sought the cooperation of the military quite frequently under the rubric of the “aid to civil.”

  The introduction of the system of Apex Committees and the military courts have provided an institutional framework for the expanded military role in civilian affairs. The Corps Commanders based in the provincial capitals are now linked with the provincial affairs with reference to the implementation of the National Action Plan. At the federal level the Army Chief and the Prime Minister have established a functional arrangement for decision making on selected issues.

  There has been a noticeable decline in terrorist incidents in the tribal areas, Karachi and the rest of Pakistan in 2015. The government has periodically come hard on public display of religious and cultural extremism and intolerance, although the challenges of extremism and terrorism still require much attention to bring them under control. The question of madrassa management and the projection of moderate and Pakistan based discourse to counter the narratives of extremists and terrorists have remained poorly addressed.

  The year is ending with confrontation between the federal government and the Sindh government on the determination of the scope of action for the security operation by the Rangers in Karachi. The federal government is standing by the Army on this issue. However, if the demand for a similar action by the Rangers and other federal agencies like the FIA and the NAB in the Punjab is accepted, the political interests of the PMLN will be threatened in the same manner as the security operation in Karachi has threatened the political interests of the PPP.

  There will be several difficult political and security developments in 2016 which can upset the current stable relations between the Prime Minister and the Army. If this happens this will be the toughest challenge to democracy in Pakistan.

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India and its neighbours: Something gained in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a lot lost in Nepal

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

The outreach to Pakistan capped a year for India’s relations with its neighbourhood that opened with the spectacular defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Sri Lankan presidential election. That defeat worked like a strong muscle relaxant in India-Sri Lanka relations, immediately easing the tensions that had built up over the previous years between the two countries. Rajapaksa alleged an Indian hand in his defeat.

Parliamentary elections in August 2015 saw Rajapaksa defeated a second time, Ranil Wickremesinghe returning as PM after more than a decade of losses, and putting in Temple Trees an economic liberal who believes that Sri Lanka’s economic gateway to the world is through India, and not China. The new Sri Lankan government has not yet cancelled the port city development project off the Colombo shore that Rajapakse had handed to China, but New Delhi is assured that Wickremesinghe will not tilt Sri Lankan foreign policy overly towards Beijing.

During a visit to New Delhi in September, Wickremesinghe said a political settlement with the Tamil minority was a must for his country’s political stability. His government has also accepted the UN war crimes report that called for a full fledged investigation by “special hybrid courts” into “systemic crimes” committed during 2002-2009. Despite political opposition to the idea of hybrid courts, which are “internationalized courts” operating in local territory under special local laws, there are indications that the government will move ahead on this.

With all this, India’s relations with Sri Lanka have come out of hospital. What India would now like is a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Sri Lanka, which has a better chance of taking shape under Wickremesinghe. During his visit to New Delhi, trade and ramping up defence ties were the focus of the talks between him and Modi.

The improvement in ties with Sri Lanka came none too soon. Maldives, where the political situation has yo-yoed from the bad to the ugly, saw the imprisonment of Mohammed Nasheed, the former President, in March on terrorism charges; in November, President Abdullah Yameen declared an Emergency for a month but was forced to lift it within a week after it sparked worldwide condemnation and threatened the flow of winter tourists to the atoll nation.

The main concern for India, which dropped the ball on Maldives back in 2012 when it refused to stand by the “coup” against Nasheed, was a new piece of legislation in August that permits foreign parties to buy land in the atolls – that has set off China-sized alarm bells in South Block. China is already constructing a bridge over the sea to connect the island on which the airport is located to Male. Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj made a visit to Male in November, after the Emergency was lifted. In the hope of regaining some lost ground, India had remained silent on the Emergency, hoping that quiet diplomacy would succeed with an unpredictable Indian Ocean neighbour.

The neighbour perhaps the happiest with India at the moment is Bangladesh where the Land Border Agreement for the exchange of enclaves finalized by the previous UPA government was inked when Modi visited Dhaka in June 2015. The BJP had protested vociferously against the agreement while in opposition but West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had then been the main obstacle. Once in office, the BJP’s opposition to the LBA vanished, and Modi went to Kolkata to bring Mamata on board. In Dhaka, Modi made a speech that took on Pakistan for terrorism, and also reminded it about 1971. It was much appreciated by the Sheikh Hasina government, even though it rubbed Islamabad the wrong way.

The unhappiest is of course Nepal, having displaced Pakistan — at least for the moment — for that title. Imagine Tamil groups creating unrest in Sri Lanka, and India watching from the sidelines, saying the protests are due to Sri Lanka’s internal problems. Of course, India actually did that, in the eighties, playing poker with the Tamils and Sinhalese and getting badly bruised and beaten by both.

Which is why New Delhi’s recent standoff with Nepal is all the more puzzling – India showed zero institutional memory, even of an earlier “official” embargo on Nepal imposed by the Rajiv Gandhi government and its long lasting consequences on India-Nepal relations. Sri Lanka must have watched India’s diktat to Nepal on its Constitution with a sense of been there, seen that.

India’s expression of unhappiness at the absence of provisions for Madhesis in Nepal’s new Constitution came a few weeks ahead of the Bihar elections. No one missed the connection. The blockade of Birgunj, through which many supplies travel to Nepal, has resulted in crippling shortages, especially of cooking fuel, and medicines. China has stepped in to help.

Earlier this month, Nepal finally agreed to address two main demands of the Madhesis — provide for participation in state organs on the basis of proportionate inclusiveness; delimit electoral constituencies on the basis of population. The demand for a separate Madhesi province is to be taken later through an arrangement in the Constitution on the basis of political consensus. Demands for citizenship are also to be addressed through negotiations later.

The Bihar elections behind the BJP, New Delhi now felt free to give its blessing to this. But the Madhesis are still unhappy and the impasse continues. The Indian statement urging “all Nepali political forces to now demonstrate the necessary maturity and flexibility to find a satisfactory solution to the Constitutional issues through constructive dialogue in an agreed time frame,” has not yet received the desired response. The impasse looks set to continue. And the anti-India sentiment is really high.

So far and so different from Sri Lanka, but déjà vu nonetheless.

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We Muslims Need To Be At Peace With Ourselves

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

Junaid Jahangir

Assistant Professor – MacEwan University

 Some Muslim leaders have expressed “grave concerns” over the Study Qur’an, a recent translation and commentary of the Qur’an because of its promotion of salvific pluralism and universalism. Such Muslim leaders promote exclusivism and supremacism and also bully fellow Muslims, who uphold inclusive values, through social ostracism. Preaching of such strong views has led to the immense persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and the marginalization of LGBT Muslims. Indeed, taking this exclusivism to its logical conclusion, groups like ISIS and the Taliban execute fellow Muslims with the approval of their own conscience.

Undeterred by such spiritual bullying, progressive, inclusive and Universalist Muslims stand their ground and fully support religiously plural, gender equal and LGBT affirming safe spaces. Exclusivists wish to assert monopoly over what constitutes teachings of the Islamic faith. But we cannot in good conscience abandon the faith we espouse and cherish to those who seek to control the immensely personal decisions on spirituality and sexuality.

Given the press on Islam about draconian punishments, face coverings, supremacist ideologies, Caliphates, etc. it is ever so important for us to assert our voice on Islam. It is important for us to speak out for religion is too powerful to be left to the hands of those who seek to usurp it for their nefarious purposes. It is also important for us to explain why faith is relevant beyond the universal golden rule.

In affirming the golden rule, Muhammad echoed the teachings of Jesus. Where Jesus had stated to love your neighbour as you love yourself, Muhammad taught to love for humanity what you love for yourself. However, in either faith, another teaching precedes the golden rule. Where Christianity instructs to love your God with all your heart, Islam confirms that the purpose of a human being is to worship God. On the surface this teaching may seem to emphasize mindless rituals over social justice, and support unthinking dogma over empathy with the other. However, faith is not as simplistic as adoring and praising an anthropomorphized egotistical deity.

To be a Muslim then is to live with the consciousness of having safety and security even while life is fraught with uncertainty.

Through verse 2:177, the Qur’an clearly teaches that righteousness does not lie in facing East or West, but in works of social justice. It mentions belief in God with caring for the orphans and juxtaposes prayer with freeing slaves. A Hadith echoes Matthew 25, for it shows that God is within the hungry, thirsty and sick and clearly teaches that human beings can find God by caring for the vulnerable and the poor. In verse 7:33 the Qur’an warns against speaking about God without knowledge, a clear admonition against fashioning a deity in one’s own image. All of this affirms that worshipping God goes beyond simplistic rituals. However, worship also precedes the golden rule and actually starts with the relationship we have with ourselves.

In Islam, God is recognized as beyond human comprehension. So when Muslims are taught that the primary essence of Islam is to submit to the one true God, it means to recognize the great mystery of the unknown, and to voluntarily submit that so much is beyond one’s grasp. To be a Muslim then is to live with the consciousness of having safety and security even while life is fraught with uncertainty. In other words, having faith is to be at peace with oneself.

It is because we are not at peace with our ownselves that we look out for external sources to help address our insecurities and fears. In contrast, through verse 9:31, the Qur’an clearly teaches against making Lords out of scholars and monks. In other words, Islam adopts an uncompromising position on Tawhid (Oneness of God). As the 20th century Indian poet Muhammad Iqbal versified, “this one prostration sets you free from the bonds of men.”

Radicalization and fanaticism emerge when we feel unsafe. They result from not recognizing the fundamental corollary of Tawhid (Oneness of God) that one God created all humanity and enjoined kindness upon one another. They emerge from a fractured soul, which tries to fracture the unity of humanity through wanton acts of senseless destruction. This is why the first teaching of faith on worship is coupled with the golden rule. When one is at peace with oneself and with others around him, then one does not fall prey to the calls of supremacist ideologues, who are deeply fractured themselves.

We believe that faith is about living with humility, awe and gratitude. It is about being grateful for the faculties and attributes one possesses instead of complaining about what one does not have. Indeed, chapter 55 of the Qur’an is replete with the refrain, “which of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?” Faith is not about controlling others but encountering the divine spark within others. It is not about converting others but about husn khalq – perfecting our own characters. As the Qur’an states in chapter 107, it is about the small kindnesses. It is recognizing that the one who rejects accountability is the one who rejects the vulnerable and the poor. It is about a stern admonition about those who pray, but are unmindful of their prayers, for they withhold small kindnesses from others.

According to Hassan Radwan, there are many Muslims, for whom Islam is not about frozen texts but about “charity, helping others, seeking comfort and strength from prayer, sharing in festivals and celebrations.” As such, in the current climate of fear and hate, we can collectively reclaim authority from celebrity preachers and render their threats of apostasy and heresy charges as moot. We can collectively show courage in the face of such petty charges.

To echo the 11th century polymath Ibn Sina, it is not so easy and trifling to call us heretics, and if this makes us disbelievers then there is not a single Muslim in the whole wide world.

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Amazon Prime Now Use Surges On Christmas Eve, Record Number Of Items Shipped

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

Online retailer Amazon has been a prime beneficiary of more consumers doing their holiday shopping online and procrastinating.

Amazon Prime, the company’s $99-a-year loyalty program that includes unlimited free two-day shipping, gained 3 million new members in the third week of December alone. Meanwhile, the number of Prime members shopping via mobile more than doubled this holiday season, Amazon said Monday.

Christmas Eve was the biggest day yet for deliveries by the company’s Prime Now service, which now offers free two-hour delivery to more than 20 metropolitan areas. When Prime Now launched last year, it only delivered within Manhattan.

Seattle-based Amazon also said it shipped a record number of items worldwide for the holidays, with items going to 185 countries.

The 20-year-old company is profiting from major trends reshaping holiday shopping in the U.S.

More and more people do part or even all of their shopping online, increasingly using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to “window shop” and then buy items from their couch or their desk at work. Retailers are deluging consumers with email offers for online-only deals.

And procrastinators, once stuck dealing with huge crowds at shopping malls and big-box stores right before Christmas, now can do last-minute shopping online. Amazon and some other retailers promised that items ordered as late as the morning of Christmas Eve would arrive by midnight.

Amazon said nearly 70 per cent of its customers this holiday used a mobile device to shop. Worldwide, on Cyber Monday alone, those customers ordered more than 35 electronic items per second and Adele’s new CD, “25,” every 3 seconds.

Cyber Monday, the Monday following Thanksgiving, has seen online purchases jump since its founding a decade ago. Meanwhile, the number of shoppers going to stores on Black Friday has decreased as major retailers open on Thanksgiving evening and many retailers offer deals before then.

Amazon’s report issued on Monday covers trends and percentage changes in its shipments, but doesn’t give sales figures or the number of items it shipped. In response to an Associated Press request for details, Inc. said that it isn’t sharing additional information.

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This Is How The Underground Economy Shortchanges Canadians

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

In April, Statistics Canada reported that “total underground activity in Canada was estimated at $42.4 billion.” Think about that number in the context of what the underground economy is — under-the-table transactions Canadians use to pay for goods or services, large and small. It adds up, doesn’t it?

It may be tempting to pay for certain things in cash because we think that saving a few dollars here and there can’t hurt; however, we fail to see the larger impact of what happens when we do. The underground economy makes it challenging to protect the country’s revenue base and hinders the government’s ability to keep taxes low.

When people pay in cash, they skip out on paying the taxes that support things like healthcare, education and public transportation — the very social services we rely on every day.

Canadians should also know that the government is paying closer attention to this activity. Last fall, it announced a three-pronged strategy to reduce participation in the underground economy. Increased scrutiny will likely bring harsher penalties for non-compliance, so it’s important Canadians know how they can do their part to protect themselves, as well as their friends, family and communities.

Protect yourself as a consumer

When paying for things like home maintenance and car repairs in cash, you put yourself at risk. Let’s say you’re an Ontario resident and your furnace needs repairs. The quote is for $500 and during negotiations you propose to pay in cash to avoid paying the $65 in GST/HST. You take the technician for their word that the work will be done and guaranteed. No receipt or invoice is needed because it’s all done in cash. Feels like it’s a good deal, right?

Two weeks later the furnace breaks again. You call your technician to inspect it and they decide that extra repairs will cost another $500, even though they gave you their word that it would be done right the first time.

Without a record of the transaction you have little recourse, because you can’t prove that the original work happened and you have no official warranty on the labour. In the end, it costs you twice as much than if you had just done it properly and paid GST/HST.

What can you do to avoid this? First, be sure to hire responsible businesses by asking questions and doing research. Any reputable business will abide by the rules and not accept under the table transactions.

Second, get a written contract and copy of payment for your records. These will give you the protection you deserve and the peace of mind you need.

Protect yourself as a taxpayer

The CRA expects you to report your income accurately, plain and simple. Even though failure to do so could result in penalties, fines and even jail time, people still take shortcuts when reporting their income.

This can easily happen in industries where cash payments are common; however, the government knows what these industries are — residential construction and repair, food services, hospitality and others — and knows what red flags to look for when assessing an individual’s return.

The best way to ensure that you are reporting income accurately is to keep your sources of income organized and know what the CRA expects you to claim.

Imagine you are a waiter making $11.25 an hour, plus tips. Your employer gives you your T4 reflecting your $11.25 an hour wage, which you then use to file your income taxes. Only reporting this as your income means you aren’t claiming your cash tips, which results in missed taxable income.

Most people think that if they just add 10 per cent, it will cover their tips. In some cases, the government expects that your income could be up to four times greater than your base salary once tips are included. This is income you need to track throughout the year so you can report your true, earned income and you should be saving about 30 per cent of these earnings to fulfill your tax obligations as indicated by your income tax bracket.

Protect Canada’s economy and social services

Remember the $42.4 billion circulating in the underground economy? That number represents hundreds of millions in outstanding tax revenue that could support the infrastructure and services Canadians rightly need and expect its government to provide.

These are the roads we drive on to work every day. They’re the hospitals where loved ones are cared for. They’re schools that educate our friends and family. They are all funded by our taxes.

When you buy a product or pay for a service, you expect to get fair value for that transaction. The same is true of taxes, so why short the system by paying in cash?

In the end, your non-compliance diminishes the value of these services for you and your fellow Canadians, and prevents the government from being able to give you what you need and expect.

We can rise above the underground economy by doing our part and filing our returns accurately. Let’s think about the bigger picture this tax season and ensure we are protecting ourselves and our communities.

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Amyra on cloud 9 these days

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin

“Mr. X” actress Amyra Dastur, who is currently in Beijing to shoot her first international film “Kung Fu Yoga” along with Jackie Chan, says she is looking forward to meet the martial arts movie star.

“I am very excited to meet Jackie Chan. This is my second schedule for the film. Sonu Sood will be joining us too. I am really looking forward to it,” she said in a statement.

Directed by Stanley Tong, the action comedy film has also been shot in Dubai, and will be shot in India as well.

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