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Opportunities in Change, Baseball’s Effect on Insurance, Uber Is Coming, Self-Driving Cars, Alberta Budget

Posted By Thom Young, November 3, 2015

Opportunities in Change

Shortly after the stunning defeat of the Alberta Conservatives, I wrote a rather lengthy column called “Change Is Good, Donkey,” which focused on the positive side of changes that affect our society. The phrase originates in the children’s movie Shrek, when Donkey, the ogre’s sidekick, laments that recent changes are so terrible they can never be overcome. Shrek imparts this phrase with such effectiveness that I often quote it to emphasize that negatives caused by change more often reflect one’s internal circumstances than real hindrances of the future. Rethinking your approach to new circumstances presents an opportunity to correct deficient processes and to find better ways to take advantage of new circumstances.

I like to think I’m a half-full kind of guy and have always attacked problematic issues with the perspective of “what can we learn?” and “how can we build on this?” While this perspective is not always easy, it leads to growth. Whether you’re running a business or deciding where you’re going in life, you will always suffer setbacks that can crush you or provide an opportunity to focus on what can be done to ensure that they either don’t happen again or won’t affect you as badly. Changes will test your resolve, your point of view, and your perspectives on many things, but adapting to these inevitable changes is the only option that will improve your outcome.

The recent changes in the Canadian political landscape present some opportunities. New and younger people with different perspectives are taking control of many areas. Certainly, that can’t be bad.

Canadian evolution into a more pluralistic and tolerant society is truly something to be celebrated. In recent years, we seem to have been more able to find fault with our differences than to enjoy the strength of our diversity. We have plenty of need to fear (and protect against) extremism in any form but need not sacrifice the strength of a Canadian mosaic to feel safe from it.

We certainly have much room for people who are looking for a safe place to live, raise their families, and build their net worth through honest hard work for others and through the use of their own capital and expertise to build businesses that contribute greatly to our economy. We also understand the difference between an economic migrant and a refugee from conflict and persecution. Our nation is second to none in care and compassion. We’ll take our share of migrants in the normal ebb and flow of things, but we’ll do more than our share for the world’s refugees in need. Our country has been built on the hard work of indigenous people and migrants of different creeds and nationalities from all over the world. They are all Canadian. Don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t give more than they take in need!

While we have justified the use of many organic and synthetic substances to alter our moods and allow for revelry, regulated permission to use the fruit of the vine has not followed through to the bud of the bush. Our prisons have far too many people in them as a consequence, black-market gangs flourish, and the amount we expend trying to eradicate its use has proven to have little effect. Clearly, the legalization and regulation of marijuana will produce a much better outcome.

Our country’s new leader is young and inexperienced, but he doesn’t appear to be naïve or foolish. If he accesses the wisdom of his elders and treads carefully into the areas in which he is unsure, then I’ve little doubt that we have nothing to fear from his leadership. If he doesn’t do these things, his passing influence will be of little consequence to our country. I’ve always said we get the kind of government we deserve in our democracy. Change will come and balance the good and the bad.

Finally, don’t let any of my ramblings here convince you that I’m stumping for one political regime or another. I remain apolitical in this journal as always. We can’t affect any immediate change in our political circumstances, but we can find opportunities to exploit to our benefit, and we can hold this new government to the standard of service it has promised the people. In truth, our Canadian political parties do not stray very far from that mystical centre line of governance. I have every confidence that the leaders of all our political parties work to advance what they see as the best interests of the Canadian people. For that they should be respected, at least until the next contest begins.
 

Baseball’s Effect on Insurance

There’s got to be a way to tie in a sports discussion with an insurance perspective. When the Blue Jays were struggling to keep their World Series chance alive, it must have been hard to remain focused in that mecca of insurance offices located in Toronto. More than a few insurance faces could be found in the crowd shots broadcast during the game, and the rest of the country (even though they, too, were following the contest closely by whatever means available) was complaining about underwriting service being slow from the Toronto head offices. When it comes to Major League Baseball, Toronto is the only skin in the game for Canadians. I remember in my youth that the Canadian favourites were as varied as our vast nation’s regions and that the country stood still during the final innings of any World Series. An American sports journalist recently discovered how baseball-crazy Canada can be when he absentmindedly posed the question “What do Canadians know about baseball; isn’t hockey their game?”

I was reading a recent article about baseball with an insurance angle. Matt Harvey, a first-string pitcher for the New York Mets, had surgery to repair his arm in 2013 and was advised by his doctor to sit out this year’s playoffs so that the repair could heal. Not wanting to sit out but at the same time not wanting to end his career by not heeding the doctor’s advice, he sought a way to transfer his risk to those willing to bet on his being able to both perform and heal at the same time. His broker, Scott Boras, was able to secure him an insurance policy for his future contracts. So if you’re a fan of the Mets, their pitching roster remains full on account of the efforts of an insurance broker!
 
I wonder if this discussion could fall under the age-old debate between underwriters and brokers that there are really no bad risks, just bad premiums. Just think, the insurance industry may well be partly responsible for the failure of Marty McFly’s prediction of a Cubs’ World Series win in 2015. One could look “back to the future” for the last time we saw a Trudeau in office and the Blue Jays win a pennant. I guess history is doomed to repeat itself.

Uber Is Coming! Uber Is Coming!

Technology is driving change faster than municipal governments can respond. I recently walked past an “Uber drop off” sign that was hanging from a parking pylon outside Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A small space for about two cars was set aside. When I asked the valet about it, he said no one was using it as the drivers can’t tell one passenger drop off from another and that pickups happen on the street because the Uber drivers don’t want the hassle of working their way through the lobby entrance. Apparently, the app lets the passenger find the Uber vehicle at any convenient location. Still, more than 50 people were lined up at the taxi pick up, and taxis were picking them up as fast as they could.

For those following the news, reports continue from Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary about attempts to deal with Uber’s impact on the highly regulated livery business. With or without regulations, Uber appears to be making inroads, and the public is slowly but surely taking up the service. At the same time, we’re advising our clients that their insurance will likely not respond to their needs if they participate in Uber. Discussions with claims and underwriting people around Alberta verify that at least a half dozen or more claims have been denied on account of participation in the Uber service. One company has announced that it is working on a solution to provide a coverage extension for this kind of use, but so far it seems to be caught up in the painfully slow process of regulatory adaptation to worldly changes, so insurance confusion continues. If anyone has any current insights on this and would like to share them with me, I would be most thankful for your contribution.
 

Self-Driving Cars

My article on this topic received quite a bit of feedback. One writer was less than optimistic that there’d be any real advances coming anytime soon. From his perspective, the unreliability of the technology, particularly the sensor interfaces in the automobiles, was demonstrative of the shortcomings likely to restrict the further development of driverless cars. I’m not so sure he’s right. The cheap parts that now monitor the performance of the automobile may not give the central processing unit reliable data on which to act, but I would argue that the current CPU (that is, the driver) isn’t sufficiently intelligent enough to react to the information from its own human sensors already. Ask any garage mechanic about the conditions vehicles arrive in as a result of the operator failing to react to little things like the warning light for the oil pressure or the intense shaking of the car as a result of a wheel wobble or even the lack of functional braking ability due to inattention to the sensor warnings? At least a mechanical CPU would deal with its programming to get the problem sensor repaired or replaced. The more critical the sensor, the greater urgency would be for the programmed reaction.

CBC articles recently reported that Ontario has prepared legislation on the use of self-driving automobiles for implementation in January 2016. The requirement that licensed operators be behind the wheel of the vehicles they’re not in control of is confusing, but most perspectives on new things from the government DMV always are. Certainly, the requirement for a licensed operator negates the insurance issues, doesn’t it? Confusion will reign, no doubt, but those of us who have negotiated the roads in downtown Toronto might think that self-driving automobiles give hope for improvement over the competence of most current drivers. I wonder when the program will be expanded to Alberta.
 

Be Careful What You Wish for  . . . Politics

I’ve been reviewing the Alberta budget with great interest. Was the election promise of a balanced budget just a pipe dream? The Alberta Advantage seems to be waning. We’ll doubtless be discussing the need to implement a regressive PST soon, perhaps combined with an increase in the national regressive GST adjustments. Fortunately, we will get to vote on these issues in the next elections that are only four short years away. I can hardly wait!
 

In Closing

We are quickly coming up on Remembrance Day. If you live in or near Calgary, get down to Memorial Drive and stop to walk around the field of crosses that are set out in honour of the fallen. Each one of these crosses has the name of a Southern Albertan who died in the conflicts we remember. It is an awesome tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their beliefs. Put on your poppy and pause for a moment and reflect on that!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

Tags:  baseball insurance  driverless cars  federal government  livery business  provincial budget  provincial government  ride sharing  Uber 

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