Our readers write

Million-dollar babies, an oily debate, and Munk’s final word
Jiri Rezac / Polaris

Children are worth having . . .

You do Canadians a great disservice by implying that children are an unaffordable luxury (“Million dollar babies,” Society, Oct. 7). To consider only the financial costs and overlook the priceless joy and satisfaction of raising a family is a short-sighted and shallow perspective. If a family in the top one per cent earning $150,000 can’t afford children, how do the 99 per cent who earn a lot less manage? Probably because they know there is more to life than the worship of the almighty dollar. Nor does a parent lose 18 years of salary, since children are in school all day from the age of four, and they can actually have happy childhoods without trips to Disneyland (mine did). So parents, keep your eyes on the prize: your children. They will be your great reward.

Norma Morassutti, Toronto

I’m trying, but failing, to find a way Maclean’s could have done more damage to Canada’s future prospects than by publishing this bleak, even misleading, article. One of the biggest problems facing this country is that not enough people are having babies to support the aging population. Were I of childbearing age, after reading this, I wouldn’t dare contemplate having even one—never mind two—children unless I were among the highest-income earners. Calgary has many elementary schools where the average yearly family income is below $40,000. I guess these people might as well throw in the towel now; their children obviously don’t have a hope in Hades.

Marian Burke, Calgary

In both “Million dollar babies” and “The housing trap” (Business, Oct. 7), you seem to be trying to tear down and instill fear in institutions that are core to what Canadians have coveted for generations. I live in Simcoe, Ont., have two adult children, own my own home, and seem to have avoided all the pitfalls mentioned in your articles. My wife drove a school bus, earned $15,000 a year and continued to work while the kids were small. We didn’t incur daycare costs of $100/day per child. I didn’t pay $500,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto; I paid $300,000 for a 3,000-sq.-foot Viceroy home on an acre of land in a beautiful setting, and I expect I will sell it for a tidy profit—regardless of interest rates, or if Toronto’s overheated housing market tanks. My kids both have college diplomas from Ontario’s fantastic post-secondary institutions, which were paid for through summer jobs and me borrowing approx. $20,000 from my savings. They are both in their early 20s, gainfully employed and own their own homes. My income is just over $100,000 and I’m looking forward to retiring debt-free in a few years. I can’t believe that all those people living in Toronto, up to their ears in debt, building no equity with their uneducated children, haven’t figured it out.

Dan Dundas, Simcoe, Ont.

Good to see that people have their priorities straight. One page explains how children are too expensive to raise; the next reports that first-day sales of the Grand Theft Auto video game amounted to $800 million (“By the numbers,” Econowatch).

Dwayne Barber, Swift Current, Sask.

. . . and then they become teenagers

Emma Teitel’s column, “The key to curbing online abuse: sign off” (Opinion, Sept. 30) is insightful and hits the mark. In the aftermath of teen suicide, we have directed our rage at the bullies, who will have their day of karma, but we have failed to question the accountability of the victim, for fear of appearing insensitive. Teenagers’ behaviour can drive us crazy, but it is their parents’ job to manage it, not dish it off on legislation. How about a better question: Why are unbalanced adolescents being allowed a Facebook page at age 14? What happened to the word “no”?

Alvin Law, Calgary

A knife is a useful tool in an appropriate context. Otherwise, it’s a weapon. A smartphone is another object with diametrically opposed uses. We would not allow students to carry knives at school, so why should we allow the temptation of smartphones, when they, too, have the ability to harm? Some believe they are an inextricable part of the students’ lives, so we should welcome them in the classroom in order to teach responsible use through “digital citizenship.” It is naive to think children can exert the willpower and exercise the maturity required to carry knives around for the sole purpose of buttering bread or slicing carrots.

Jessica Munharvey, Ottawa

Canadian values

More than 40 per cent of Albertans—I’m one of them—want measures similar to Quebec’s values charter (“Quebec’s war on religion,” National, Sept. 30). Maîtres chez nous; masters in our own homes. Why not? Canadians have been virtually silenced by the “diversity mantra” and the political correctness that accompanies it. While Canadians have become increasingly secular, newcomers—many from vastly different ideologies and cultures—have been accommodated without question. Canada has become a balkanized mosaic: cultural communities resisting integration into the larger whole. I think it’s well past time to question openly without charges of discrimination and intolerance.

Barbara Jessiman, Calgary

An oily debate

Your Oct. 7 editorial (“Why the flow of oil cannot, and should not, be stopped,” From the Editors) was the most intelligent, honest and balanced article on this subject that I have seen for some time. We can reduce global consumption of oil with new technologies for cars and trucks, but air, rail and marine transportation, as well as construction and farming equipment, will need oil for the foreseeable future. Contrary to the misinformation spread by environmentalists, Alberta oil sands are far from the dirtiest oil in the world. CO2 emissions from U.S. shale oil extraction are up to three times higher per barrel. Canada is blessed with 13 per cent of global oil reserves and 0.5 per cent of the global population. At the planned production rate of five million barrels per day by 2030, Alberta oil will last for 120 years.

Hugh Holland, Huntsville, Ont.

Your editorial suggests your publication is a lackey for the oil giants, the Alberta government and the federal Conservatives. If you find the environmentalist lobby to be well-funded, what about the oil industry, which has been raking in billions of dollars in profits yearly? Are they not well-funded, and have they not been engaged in a sales job for years?

Aquil Ali, Toronto

Munk’s final word

In the article “Peter Munk’s Final Play” (Business, Oct. 7), you quote a U.S. hedge-fund manager as saying that Barrick is run as if it were my “personal company” and as suggesting that I “don’t really care” about Barrick because I “don’t own any shares” in the company. None of this is true. In fact, I have a very considerable personal investment in the shares of Barrick, which I founded more than 30 years ago and have spent much of my professional life building into one of the world’s largest and most profitable gold mining companies. I care deeply about Barrick and its many stakeholders, including its shareholders. Moreover, I and other members of the board of directors take our fiduciary duties and corporate governance obligations extremely seriously. Although the story’s source (the manager of a hedge fund named “Two Fish,” which, as far as we understand, owns little-to-no shares in Barrick) complains of the excessive compensation paid to Barrick’s executives and board members between 2007 and ’12, he fails to note that, during that period, Barrick had record revenues totalling more than $61 billion; operating cash flows of more than $17 billion; and adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of more than $30 billion. Measured by these key metrics, this ranks Barrick as one of the top performers on the Toronto Stock Exchange over the period. Also, these figures may put the compensation issue and amount in a different light. Perhaps for this reason, some 83 per cent of all shareholder votes cast at Barrick’s annual meeting were in favour of my re-election as a director, in a year when the company recorded large impairment charges (non-cash) while our shares lost nearly 23 per cent of their value (mirroring the trend of the broader gold industry). Finally, the story suggests that neither I nor Barrick have responded to the concerns of our shareholders. This, too, is unfair and inaccurate. In the period since our most recent annual meeting, I and other directors of Barrick have engaged in a number of discussions with our institutional shareholders to understand their perspectives and concerns. As the company has repeatedly stated, we are addressing the issues that have been raised with us, including the modification of our executive compensation arrangements and the rejuvenation of our board. We plan to update our shareholders on these initiatives by the end of the year.

Peter Munk, founder and Chairman, Barrick Gold Corp., Toronto

It’s just a story!

Colby Cosh fell out with the TV show Breaking Bad because an air-traffic-controller character’s inattentiveness caused a plane crash (“Walter White will not be missed,” TV, Sept. 30)? Really? He does know Breaking Bad is fiction, not a documentary, right? In fiction, there’s this thing called dramatic licence. You’ll find it in prose, in the theatre, even in film. Shakespeare also used coincidences and impossibilities and other sometimes extremely unlikely plot devices to tell his stories. Making things up sometimes makes it easier to get at the truth: Perhaps the dramatic effect of the deaths of hundreds of people, and the wreckage falling all around him, show how the beating of Walter’s butterfly wings destroys lives everywhere. Perhaps Cosh would have been more satisfied with photos of dead junkies at the end of each episode. It might have been grim and off-putting to viewers, but it would have been more literally truthful.

R.J. Kirkland, Edmonton