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Marketing Seasons, Remembrance, Alberta Fiscal Health, UBI Behaviour, Oil and Gas

Posted By Thom Young, December 1, 2015
Updated: November 30, 2015

How Many Days until Christmas?

Now that the flap over Christmas decorations displayed before Remembrance Day is over, I guess we can enjoy the real beginning of the Christmas season, unless of course you celebrate American Thanksgiving. Before people protested that a change to the Christmas marketing season prior to Remembrance Day was disrespectful to veterans, they complained about Christmas marketing before American Thanksgiving. Historically, the fall decorations celebrating the harvest were removed during the last week in November, and up went all the Christmas decorations. Music in the shopping malls quickly changed to classic carols, and lineups to see Santa began. The current transitional marketing seasons seem to be working. The vast majority of shoppers don’t seem to mind that the seasons run together. If they didn’t like the atmosphere being created for them, they wouldn’t go to the malls.

Speaking as a veteran, I believe that if you took a moment out of your busy life on November 11th and thought for a minute about all those who have made a sacrifice for their nation, and if you wore a poppy in remembrance, then that “remembrance” is good enough for me. I wouldn’t be bothered a bit if you were putting up Christmas decorations while you did that. While I’m sure I do not speak for all veterans, most of the veterans I know feel the same way. In my youth, at eleven minutes after eleven on November 11th, buses and cars pulled over on the street and men stood with their hats off and their heads bowed, school was interrupted for announcements, and then all stood for a brief silent tribute in memory of all who served. This unified action of Canadian citizens was quite a thing to witness and participate in. Many of our citizens vividly remembered the horror of war as they were survivors of it, so the act of remembrance was very real to them. Still, after this short meaningful tribute was over, people got back in their cars or went back to their desks and got on with whatever it was they were doing. The practice of devoting a whole day and a civic holiday to remember our veterans came much later. Now that very few of the generation that participated in the 2nd World War are left, I sometimes wonder what they would have thought of the new generation’s take on this act of remembrance and the controversies that always seem to arise about it. For my generation of veterans, the seemingly endless attempt by others to find things that are disrespectful to veterans is both annoying and confusing. Lest we forget.

Interesting Times in the Fiscal Health of the Province of Alberta

So far the political transition for Albertans and especially for those of us who have business dealings with our provincial government has been interesting. On the energy side of things, no consideration has been given to any relief for this industry that is suffering from the steep decline in oil prices. As no one has any control over the price of any internationally traded commodity, no fault can be found with the government for the price of oil. However, as the industry once again goes into hibernation to await the return to profitability that increased oil prices will bring, some declarations of support and patience from our government would provide some confidence for both investors and industry leaders on what the future will hold. Instead, we see next to nothing of any substance and no leadership whatsoever. The capital risk takers will not likely have much incentive to take this opportunity to improve their operations while awaiting a market correction. The rumours persist that increased royalties and environmental restrictions are in the offing. Nothing like being kicked when you’re down, is there?

Our Albertan economy is not as tightly tied to the yoke of the oil and gas industry as it was in the mid-1980s when the collision of international price volatility and domestic resource policies saw capital flee and production grind to next to nothing. Still, the current situation is unsettling with the large number of variables at play here. Suffice to say that the oil and gas industry in Alberta is not very happy with the current competitive environment that will continue to slow down production and shelve large projects until confidence returns.

On a positive note, the surplus supply of labour and equipment has greatly reduced development costs. Perhaps now would be the time to put that advantage to work in repairing and improving the infrastructure of our province. Maybe another lane on that QE2 would improve safety and reduce travel times. An actual ring road around Calgary would improve the transport of goods. Highway 2 south still wanders through a half dozen little towns and would be improved with freeway completion. In the north, twinning completion on Highway 63 to Fort McMurray and Highway 43 to Grande Prairie would save many lives.

The distribution of oil and gas ties together economic and environmental considerations. Our country is self-sufficient in production of oil and gas but can’t find a way to reconcile the benefits of that reality with a distribution system that gets raw materials to the refinement centres and the product distributed around the nation. Instead, we compete for delivery of unrefined product from foreign sources that subject us to wide price fluctuations driven by international events. Whoever thought this plan up has to be asked why. Discussion of building a pipeline to deliver the product from source to market now results in a huge uproar about the environmental implications. This is confusing given that the oil going to those production facilities now is floating up Canadian rivers, rolling along on Canadian railroads, and being pumped through aging pipelines from the shore facilities. The potential for an environmental catastrophe in the current model is more pronounced than bringing the product to market on a new pipeline. Perhaps we should now ponder this mystery from an economic perspective, rather than the political one.

People Behave Better under Supervision

A recent report on the use of UBI in Canada observes that installing in an insured’s car a device that monitors driving behaviour produces better driving. Who’d have thought? A couple of years ago, I predicted that the main benefit of UBI to the public would be the change in behaviour (and thus fewer claims) that would result from this monitoring. The benefits of UBI continues to be an interesting philosophical discussion within the industry as, statistically, the benefits for the insurer in using UBI to select better risks may well now outweigh the use of UBI to make better risks out of the drivers using it.

This debate continues in the U.S., where UBI data have been collected 10 more years than in Canada. The active monitoring of underage driving behaviour in the U.K. has been producing huge benefits in both selection and the modification of behaviour of this class of business. The stellar results in regard to this class of business makes one wonder if its use should be mandatory.

Certainly, the continued development of smart technology is changing all facets of our industry. Most smart phones record continuous data on your location, speed of movement, and other information such as the temperature. The introduction of the data from these devices into trial evidence is now routine in both civil and criminal law. New automobiles are coming with built-in LTE Wi-Fi. Within the next 10 years, your new automobile will have all the features of your phone built directly into it and will sync with your phone whenever you enter your vehicle. Real-time video recording of all that is happening in and around your vehicle or what people are doing to it will be built right into the vehicle’s CPU, so disputes as to fault for anything will be much simpler to resolve. As this technology continues to develop, some people may not even see the fact that they are being monitored while using it, while others will increasingly raise public debate on where personal privacy ends within and without your home. In particular, we’ll all need to reconsider the authorities we give people to use our personal information and images as the significance of that license continues to change.

Looking into the Future Is Fun

While predicting the benefits of new technology on our business and society is interesting, we need to remember that many things change while others remain the same. Constancy is particularly true of human nature. Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, born around 100 years BCE, influenced many things still felt today. Of particular note, his writing on the constitutional regulation of people’s rights and the division of power in a republic are still found in contemporary teachings on the subject. We often hear little snippets of his ideas on many things quoted to support opposing sides of a debate. On state funding though, his thoughts rarely deviated. I do enjoy one of his best quotes:

 "The Budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome will become bankrupt.  People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance."—Cicero, 55 BCE

Even today, I don’t think you will find too many tax-paying people who would disagree with this perspective on things. As we in Alberta ponder the irony of throwing out a fiscally irresponsible government and replacing it with a more generously philosophical group in protest, the teachings of the past should not be forgotten.

In Closing

I received a memo from my staff the other day reminding me that it’s time to get the annual Christmas letter done. In all the years I’ve been in business, I’ve written a brief one-page essay each Christmas to share with our customers and our business partners. For me, there is no greater reminder that the holiday season is soon upon us. The challenge to keep that message new, refreshing, and relevant is an interesting one. For now, the challenge of hosting American Thanksgiving is more pressing.

The news is focusing on roads closing due to snow storms and cold weather. Bundle up, people. Winter is just starting!

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:  budget  privacy  provincial economy  Remembrance Day  telematics  UBI 

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