How to save a bundle on rental car insurance and make sure you are covered

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
March 8, 2024
1065 words
Downloadable PDF

After landing at an airport, many of us will proceed to collect our luggage and head to the car rental counter. It is there that they will invariably offer to sell you insurance.

I’ve been in this same situation countless times, but after a recent trip to Vancouver where the price of the insurance offered was more than the price to rent the car, I decided to do some digging to find out the smartest options.

Every rental will include basic liability coverage. It’s required by provincial law. But some kind of additional insurance to pay for damage to the car is a good idea. The cost to repair even small dings or a cracked windshield can quickly run into the thousands of dollars.

Accepting the offer at the counter is usually a very expensive way to get that insurance.

We recently rented a car in Vancouver from Hertz. When we made the booking on Expedia, the site offered insurance for nearly half of the price that we were going to pay for the car rental. We declined Expedia’s offer and assumed we would do better at the Hertz counter.

We were wrong. For a two-week rental of a mid-sized car, Hertz was charging us $380.72. The “loss damage waiver” it offered, covering physical damage to the car, as well as theft or vandalism, but not injuries, would have cost an additional $489.86.

We declined.

What I have learned is to plan ahead.

There are choices out there, but the time to research them is well before you book the car, not at the rental desk.

Almost every insurance option requires that you already be a customer, whether it’s your own auto insurance company, the credit card you use, or the website that you use to make travel bookings.

In our case, it turned out that Expedia would have been a better option than Hertz. If we had purchased rental insurance through Expedia, we could have bought a “travel insurance policy” for the same two-week rental for $241.80 – that’s $16.12 a day, or slightly less than half of what Hertz wanted to charge us. Even more amazing: The Expedia package includes not just collision coverage, but trip cancellation coverage, and will pay some emergency medical expenses.

If you don’t use Expedia (or similar booking websites), those rates are similar to another option called RentalCover.com, a standalone rental car insurance site that will set up your insurance prior to picking up the car. Unlike some car rental insurance policies, RentalCover will insure all drivers listed on the rental agreement as well as fees for loss of use and towing, and they’ll cover trips of more than 30 days. They’ll also cover you if you’re renting a motorhome or recreational vehicle.

In this case, while still at the rental counter, we chose to call the insurer who provides our car insurance in Nova Scotia. Our agent added rental car coverage to our existing auto policy, and assured us that we were now fully covered for an annual fee of $32 a year. That quick call saved us hundreds of dollars.

The other insurance option that is often available is though your credit card. Most major credit cards offer some form of rental car insurance as part of their package of benefits. Call your card company or visit their website ahead of time to make sure your specific card package includes this coverage.

As you’re doing this research, be sure to ask some careful questions. For instance, if you decide to accept insurance coverage from the rental company, will you still be covered by an outside insurance policy? It’s generally an either/or proposition. And you should be clear that the auto rental company might require the cardholder to pay for damages with their credit card, with your card company reimbursing you after the claim is processed.

In other words, you might find your credit card maxed out.

Beyond that, rental insurance plans all have various rules. Most companies have age restrictions. Expedia, for instance, excludes drivers under 25 years of age, or over 70. Some insurance packages exclude camper vans and the like. All of them insist that you stay on paved roads and obey rules about drinking and driving.

Before booking your rental car, look carefully to make sure that your credit card insurance includes your entire planned trip – especially if you’re travelling to more than one country – and the specific vehicle type that you hope to drive.

And if there will be more than one driver, always ask if both you and your partner are covered. Some rental car insurance packages will charge double for a second driver.

If you damage your rental car, understand that using outside insurance may leave you faced with paying the entire cost of repairs before you can claim it from your own insurance company. Hertz, for instance, is specific that if you “choose to decline Hertz’s coverage, you will be responsible to Hertz for the full value of any damage due to loss of or damage to the Hertz vehicle. If loss does occur, you must then submit a claim for reimbursement to your credit card company.”

In recent years, we’ve had to negotiate claims with both car rental companies and the company that moved our household. We’ve learned that it’s worth taking the time to document anything that might come back to haunt you. Even though you’ll be anxious to get on the road, find a well-lit spot to stop, examine the car for existing damage and take photos. If you see any sort of dings, dents or scratches, call the rental office and tell them.

And if you bring the car back, and the rental agent suddenly demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair damage? Always be reasonable, but never feel a rental agent’s assessment is the final word.

People make mistakes, and they especially make mistakes when examining a dirty car in a dark, underground garage. Insist that they show you exactly what they think needs repair. If you don’t believe that you caused the damage, or that the damage merits a claim, say so.

I love rental cars and the chance to drive a new make and model of car every time that I travel. Now that I understand how to manage my insurance, I’m sure my next trip will be that much more relaxing.

In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair

By Barry Rueger
Photographs by Susan Evans
Published: Globe and Mail
November 17, 2023
1526 words
Downloadable PDF

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 1/8
In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair
BARRY RUEGER
LIVERPOOL, N.S.
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 17, 2023
UPDATED NOVEMBER 18, 2023
Driver Lorne Buchanan, centre, and his partner Brenda Rafuse, right, beside their methyl-hydrate burning
dragster, with writer Barry Rueger, left.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Driver Lorne Buchanan, centre, and his partner Brenda Rafuse, right, beside their methyl-hydrate burning dragster, with writer Barry Rueger, left.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

In the 1970s, back home in Kelowna, B.C., I had fantasies of becoming a race car driver. My cherry red ‘69 Dodge Charger was too fast for my own good, and speeding tickets were a regular expense. I drove fast, and I loved cars that went fast.

On the Greenfield Dragway near Liverpool, N.S., I’ve rediscovered that love of fast cars, of roaring big V8 engines, and have found one of the last places where global warming and fuel economy just aren’t on the table for discussion. It’s not that people aren’t aware of these things, or don’t care, it’s just that when you’re driving a car at 320 kilometres an hour, they really don’t enter your mind.

I’ve also found one of the few remaining places where virtually everything on wheels has a North American nameplate. In an age when the car business is global, and when electric cars are becoming more and more common, drag racing is still the domain of big-block Chrysler and Chevrolet engines, with a smattering of Fords. Even the token Volkswagen Beetle and the two Honda Civics manage to squeeze in loud and powerful Detroit engines.

At the Greenfield Dragway, which leases the little-used South Shore Regional Airport runway for several weekends each year, Noel Peach is repacking the drag chute that slowed his car at the end of his first run.

Driver Noel Peach packs his parachute. A chute is required for any car that goes faster than 150 miles anhour. Drag racing still uses imperial measurements.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Driver Noel Peach packs his parachute. A chute is required for any car that goes faster than 150 miles an hour. Drag racing still uses imperial measurements.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

It’s a tricky business, and one that benefits from a second set of hands. On this sunny October weekend, he was helped by his wife Lindsay.

Peach’s dad was a racer, too. After Noel and Lindsay met, it was natural that Lindsay became part of the race team – or more accurately, exactly one-half of the team.

Nova Scotia drag racing is still dominated – although not exclusively – by male drivers, but partners are integral members of most teams. Whether providing bookkeeping and planning skills, or hands-on maintenance and support, a lot of drivers rely heavily on their partners. (It’s a good thing Noel and Lindsay are a team in other ways, too: The couple’s home in Upper Tantallon, near Halifax, burned in the wildfires just a few months before, when they were here for another race.)

Drag racing still uses imperial measurements – a quarter-mile track is about 402 metres. Cars are measured in inches and feet, and an explanation on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) website explains that a Top Fuel dragster “can burn up to 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel during a single run,” reaching more than 330 miles an hour. That’s more than 50 litres during a 3.7-second run at more than 530 km/h.

Peach drives a 1988 Trans Am, a car that hit 164 miles an hour on this day. He explains that even though drag racers are fierce rivals on the strip, they’re a strong community back in the pits. If you need a hand, or a part, someone will step up to sort you out.

Working together is what Peach and Lorne Buchanan of Bedford, N.S., did when it came time to upgrade their cars. Peach wanted to buy his current car from another racer, but didn’t want the engine that came with it. Buchanan’s dragster was fine but needed a new engine. Buchanan and Peach bought the white Trans Am together, and each took what they needed.

Today the two cars are parked side by side in the pits. Buchanan’s partner, Brenda Rafuse, guides the dragster into the pit, and helps him to pull off the hood covering the electronics. If you look for it, you’ll see Rafuse’s name is also painted on the side of the car.

Author Barry Rueger sitting in LorneBuchanan’s dragster.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Author Barry Rueger sitting in Lorne
Buchanan’s dragster.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

If you only have cursory knowledge of drag racing – fat tires and loud engines – you may be overwhelmed by the many classes of cars and races. The NHRA points out that there are 10 classes that feature a straightforward, heads-up race between similarly classed cars.
Two cars line up beside each other at the “Christmas tree,” watching as a sequence of
three yellow lights flashes, one after the other. When the bottom light turns green, they both take off.

At the Greenfield Dragway, things get more complicated. Cars range from full-length dragsters, to various levels of pro and super-pro cars, to what seem to be factory stock sedans. Each is assigned a handicap based on the number of seconds the weight and configuration says it should run a quarter-mile. And each car can choose to run in more than one class.

In practical terms, you usually see two cars lined up side by side, with the slower one getting the green light first.

Greenfield is still a small-town race, and spectators aren’t kept in the grandstands. You can walk up and down the pits, talk to the drivers and their teams, and take the time to marvel at the cars and the obvious pride of the people who maintain these vehicles.

Beyond the (usually) shiny paint jobs and sponsor logos, serious cars need to meet a plethora of NHRA safety rules intended to protect the drivers, crew members and spectators. In all but the slowest cars, a roll cage is required, made to specific dimensions. Safety belts are replaced every two years, and helmets and neck collars are mandatory. Faster vehicles need to add a drive shaft loop and axle retention devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of the car.

All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of fast cars and the thrill of racing.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 5/8
devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of
the car.
All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes
it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to
cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of
fast cars and the thrill of racing.
Fred Thibeault is a local legend, and is still racing into his 70s. His Chevrolet Camaro is a thing of beauty. The
car beside it is driven by his son.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Fred Thibeault is a local legend, and is still racing into his 70s. His Chevrolet Camaro is a thing of beauty. The car beside it is driven by his son.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Thibeault’s 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS is a shiny red thing of beauty. He has been racing this car for 34 years, and it’s obviously his pride and joy. The car is, in some ways, still stock – the same car that came off the dealer’s lot when it was purchased – but over the years it has been slowly upgraded in nearly every way allowed by the NHRA rules.

Under the hood, the car is cleaner than most kitchens. The stock 375-cubic-inch engine has been bored out, and has seen the pistons, rings and camshaft replaced or upgraded to boost performance. A dry-sump oil tank makes sure that everything stays lubricated under extreme conditions. And the transmission – well, the outside is stock Chevy, but what’s inside is another thing altogether.

Another of Thibeault’s cars is the 1989 Camaro parked right next door at the track. It’s driven this weekend by Thibeault’s son Scott. He has three sons who drive, and two are here on this cool October weekend.

The race track family goes beyond the children and spouses who are part of the teams. The 160 drivers and hundreds of family members and spectators all seem to know each other, and spend as much time socializing as they do prepping their cars for the next run.

Drag racing today is high-tech. The Christmas tree tower at the start and the photosensors at the finish line time each run and generate the printed slips that each driver picks up on the way back to the pits. Inside the cars, many of today’s dragsters rely on an electronic box to time each shift to perfection. All you need to do is steer the car for a few seconds – the computer will make sure that each shift happens at the perfect moment.

Not everyone wants such a high-tech racing experience. The head of the Greenfield Dragway Association is David Joudrey. He explains that when he’s racing his 1979 Chevrolet Nova, he’ll do so in the “non-box” class, racing against people who still shift their own gears instead of letting the “box” do it.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 7/8
Racers 'burn out' before racing to warm and clean their tires.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Racers ‘burn out’ before racing to warm and clean their tires.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

At the start line, some things haven’t changed. Once you’ve done your prerun “burn-out” to warm up your tires, and have positioned your car’s nose at the starting point, you’ll have both the brake and the throttle pushed in as the Christmas tree counts down. You want your engine revs to be as high as possible before you start moving. Your aim is to release the brake when the lights hit “1/3 yellow” – if you wait until the green light comes on, you’ve already lost.

After a day revelling in the smoke and sound of these cars, I’m sadly reminded that I hardly drive over the speed limit any longer, and that it’s been years since I even did my own oil change. My Mazda CX-5 SUV is a convenience now, not the passion that my Charger used to be.

Still, as David Joudrey reminds me, if I can borrow a helmet, and can pass the safety inspection, my Mazda and I can join them at the Greenfield Dragway next season and recapture those days of speed – though I doubt my insurance policy will allow it.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 8/8
Two racers are neck and neck as they pass boards displaying their times.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Two racers are neck and neck as they pass boards displaying their times.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

 

 

 

 

 

Falling For Fall

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
October 14, 2023
1308 words

Western Head LighthouseIn Nova Scotia, September marks the peak of the hurricane season. All of us who live here, right next to the Atlantic Ocean, learn quickly to watch the skies, observe the winds and prepare for the kind of weather that many Canadians will never have experienced. So far this year, Hurricane Franklin grazed us with heavy rain before heading for Bermuda. Hurricane Idalia laid waste to Florida, but missed us. Then Hurricane Lee headed our way – arriving as a still-ferocious “post-tropical storm“ – and all of Nova Scotia braced as it hit us directly.

I grew up in British Columbia. Everything I know about hurricanes I learned from TV. What I didn’t know is that they are incredibly slow to arrive, and incredibly hard to predict. Living on the edge of the Atlantic, you learn that the only thing you can do for an impending hurricane or post-tropical storm is to prepare, and then wait for as long as it takes. After you have gassed up the generator and packed the patio furniture into the garage, all you can do is sit at home, endlessly refreshing Facebook for an update.

I am a city boy: I’ve lived and worked my life indoors, while weather has always been something that happened outdoors. Seasons were defined by changes in wardrobe and themed parties, and nature was what I found at nearby Princess Park, or on a sunny hike on the mountain trails above North Vancouver. The natural world was something I appreciated from time to time, but it wasn’t part of my day-to-day life.

Now I find myself fascinated by the patterns and progressions of the world around me. Since moving to Western Head, on Nova Scotia’s east coast, at the end of 2022, we’ve had different periods when we were overrun by various life forms: first with ticks, then mice, then big ants, and then mosquitoes. We had one week of big fat moths, and then bees and wasps arrived for a short stretch, and some little black bugs that we never did identify before they disappeared, too. And finally this week, inexplicably, we had fruit flies congregating unseen inside of a newly opened wine bottle, before riding the wave, drunkenly, into our wine glasses.

We’ve seen big brown snowshoe hares dancing around the yard, then disappearing, and now returning with little babies. We’ve seen a myriad of birds arrive, then depart as they migrate north or south, and now we look out every morning to see who is perching on our bird feeders today. What we’re learning is that the creatures around us are almost always temporary visitors, so we enjoy them when they’re here, then welcome the new birds that arrive the following week. In more practical terms, we watch the skies each day to calculate whether it’s safe to hang laundry on the line. We know that we need to stay alert for the time each day when the wind changes direction, to prevent the almost-dry clothes from getting damp again. We understand that when you only live a couple of hundred metres from the Atlantic Ocean, the official weather reports are at best a suggestion, and that looking out the window gives a better picture of what weather is about to come your way.

For the first time in my life, I find myself waking at 6 a.m. or earlier for the singular pleasure of watching the sun rise over the sea, revelling in the clouds’ changes as they move across the sky, and gauging the size and ferocity of the waves below us. For the first time in my life, I stop before going downstairs to make coffee, peer out of our bedroom window, and say, “Oh my God, that is so beautiful.”

And at day’s end, I look out from the back of our house and marvel at the breathtaking red sunsets behind our ancient old barn. Living here, you can’t avoid being conscious of the moments when the day begins and ends.

We’re only now learning when and how to plant a garden, and which of our two- and four-legged visitors will invade the vegetables and steal them. As newcomers to Nova Scotia, we planted far too early, and with 101 things to contend with in our new home, managed just barely to find time to observe as the rain and wind turned our tidy vegetable patch into a tangle of colourful but inedible weeds.

Our failing attempts at building a garden are honestly very sad when compared with the established gardens encircling our house. The flowers, bushes and shrubs that we inherited when we bought our home are simply brilliant. Each week, some new flower blooms: some white, some orange, some red, and a myriad of bushes and hedges appear and flourish with little or no warning. Once again, every morning I peek out the windows and marvel at what surprises have appeared. And I thank the people who obviously spent so many hours, months and years building a Garden of Eden that we can now sit back and admire.

The sea, too, changes from week to week and month to month. The height and violence of the waves shift, of course, but the sea winds also constantly change from one direction or another, from cold and destructive to warm and pleasant. When you live this close to the Atlantic shore, you learn to love the hissing sibilance of the waves blowing in from whichever direction the winds choose, and the equally romantic lowing moan of the foghorn in the lighthouse at the end of our road. In our part of Nova Scotia, there is something that has connected us to the natural rhythms of the world around us. In all of this, I’m looking at the patterns, the shifts in weather, the things that appear and prosper and the things that die off until next year. None of these are things that I ever really noticed while living in Vancouver or Toronto.

And now, of course, we’re looking forward to the rest of autumn, and then our first full winter in Nova Scotia. We know it will be cold, wet and windy, but we also now know it will be beautiful, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. And we know that on occasion, the Atlantic weather can be frightening, and even dangerous. I’m looking forward to Christmas; I can already see the snow that will cover the ground and the trees, and can smell the turkey in the oven. I’m planning now to order the plow for our tractor, and where to safely store the outdoor furniture. I’m looking at the big tree that I can see out of my window, looking for all the world like the grandest live Christmas tree imaginable.

In the midst of everything else, and during the endless changes and cycles that are now such a part of my life, I find myself wondering whether we should put the coloured lights in the trees now, while the weather is good.

In all of this, I’ve learned to slow myself, to wait until the next cycle, or the next season, and to be patient. I’ve found the space to stop, to look around me, and to trust that the opportunity, or the delight, that has passed me by will surely return in due course. Just as the birds who visit our feeders accept the bounty of seeds without question, I am learning to embrace the good things I see all around me, and leave aside any fears or doubts for the future in this new place.

For the first time in my life I understand that, like the birds, bunnies and flowers, I am really just one tiny part of a great and all-encompassing world, and that my happiness depends entirely on my accepting my place in that larger universe.

Taking care of ourselves without a family doctor has been a challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail 
June 24, 2023
1639 words

In need of medical attention
One of the first things that my wife and I did after moving to rural Nova Scotia was to look for  family doctor, but we couldn’t find one accepting patients. Getting care has been a challenge.

My wife Susan and I arrived at our new home in Liverpool, N.S., at the end of 2022. Since then, we’ve discovered one valuable lesson: If you’re trying to learn anything about how things are done here, it will be via word of mouth. This is especially true if you need health care. The Nova Scotia Health Authority and the provincial government have websites, phone lines and pamphlets, but for real answers you need to talk to the people who live here: your neighbours, workmates, people you meet in stores and supermarkets, your librarian, the man who cuts your hair.
Susan and I had both been hammered by a vicious COVID-19 infection the previous September. Over the course of 10 days, we suffered all manner of extreme symptoms, ranging from sweating and coughing to diarrhea and a complete inability to do anything beyond survive. I have never been so sick in my life. Since that time, and continuing after we moved to our new home in Nova Scotia, we’ve suffered endless aches and pains, and continuing fatigue – symptoms that seem to reflect long COVID. We knew that we needed medical attention, and sooner rather than later.
One of the first things we did after unpacking our furniture was to set out to find a family doctor. At store counters and in lineups it didn’t take long to understand that there are only a handful of doctors in Liverpool, and not one of them was accepting new patients. And as far as we could tell driving around or looking online, there is no walk-in clinic here – those “fallback” services seem inexplicably rare in rural Nova Scotia.
Canada’s health care services are in crisis across the nation, but the situation in rural Nova Scotia feels especially severe. Official statistics say that one in 10 people in Nova Scotia have no regular family doctor. The reality is that the government’s “Need a Family Practice Registry” for people without a doctor recently reported that there are more than 142,000 on the waiting list – more like 14 per cent of the population. If you’re in the one big city, Halifax, you may have some choice, but the rest of Nova Scotia is rural, and doctors are scarce.
People in my area on the registry’s list can eventually sign-up with a “real doctor” at the Collaborative Family Practice at Liverpool’s Queens General Hospital. Until then, though, you’ll be encouraged to visit the emergency department during the few hours a day when they’re open. For instance, in a recent week in May there were four days when the emergency department shut down at 1:30 p.m. until the following morning at 8 a.m.
In the meantime, those 142,000-plus people without a family doctor are being directed to Maple, an online medical practice that operates across Canada. The publicly funded side of Maple in Nova Scotia – there is also a for-profit, pay-for-service side available – is also short of physicians, and many patients are directed to nurse practitioners.
Even if you reach a qualified doctor, there is no route available to you to return to the same doctor for a follow-up or to discuss the results of tests – you are given the first doctor or nurse practitioner available. If needed, it’s possible that you’ll be referred for an in-person consultation, but that usually doesn’t happen, and I can’t help wonder what’s being missed when knee problems or internal aches and pains are being diagnosed by a different practitioner every time, and over an online video instead of in person.
And that is the real problem. As willing and knowledgeable as the doctors and nurse practitioners are on Maple, it’s still a video call on your laptop. You can hold your phone or iPad up to the area where you’re hurting, but sometimes you really do need a medical professional to examine you in-person, touching, prodding and assessing where your problem lies.
The shift from in-person to online medical evaluations makes a profound difference. We’re feeling the lack of having a regular doctor who knows us and our medical histories. Instead of the familiar routine of visiting a doctor who already knows you, briefly checks your file as a memory refresher, and then begins a consultation and diagnosis based on that knowledge, we find ourselves sitting in our kitchen with printouts and pill bottles at the ready. Every consultation involves using most of the brief time allotted to update a new physician. The onus is now on the patient, not the doctor, to maintain, organize and communicate a full medical history.
There’s also the very real worry about what would happen if we need emergency medical care. This week, the mayor of Middleton told Nova Scotians about a frightening incident. In a letter to Premier Tim Houston, Sylvester Atkinson described how on the evening of June 15, the local volunteer fire department was called to the Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Middleton. The local fire department was called because there were no doctors in the hospital, and no doctor on-call, and a patient was in cardiac arrest. The firefighters did what they could, but the patient died. A doctor did drive down from Kentville, a half-hour away, and declared the patient dead. For small-town residents like me, the story is absolutely terrifying.
Fortunately, we haven’t needed any emergency treatments since we moved here, although we have found ourselves at the local hospital for other medical services. Even when the hospital’s emergency room isn’t admitting patients, the hospital lab and X-ray departments are still open, and it’s possible to be in and out for X-rays or blood tests in a few minutes. And even if it’s near impossible to see a doctor some days, we appreciate that the rest of the medical workers there will take the time to explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and to gossip about local affairs.
That is honestly the one positive side to Nova Scotia’s woeful medical system: The local health care team of nurses and lab technicians are relaxed and friendly, and likely someone you’ll run into at the library or supermarket. After decades of brusque treatment in big cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, it’s nice to deal with real people who seem to genuinely care about your welfare.
Nova Scotia’s current budget claims to be ramping up health care spending, but the two headline areas in the government releases are retention bonuses for nurses (to the tune of $110-million), plus an additional $50-million to address continued surgical backlogs. Still, many people believe that not enough attention is being paid to the challenge faced by many Canadian health care systems: a significant lack of doctors, especially family doctors. As convenient as it is to access nurse practitioners and pharmacists for day-to-day health needs, the most important member of your health care team is still a consistent family doctor.
I was raised at a time when every family had a doctor – someone who cared for parents and children through all life stages, tracking their history from month to month and from year to year. These physicians lived in your community and were a constant in your life. It was understood that medical care was not just about emergencies, it was about keeping patients healthy on a continuing basis. It was about a long-term personal relationship with a physician who you knew and trusted.
Today, in rural Nova Scotia, that sort of relationship is harder to find. The older doctors are retiring, and news reports tell us that new, younger doctors don’t want to take on a small-town family practice.
I can’t help but think that decades of “restraint” budgets, and the losses to health care funding that resulted, have to be responsible for this change. Young doctors look at practices in small-town Nova Scotia and see nothing but overwork and underpay, long backlogs on routine surgeries and referrals, and medical treatments such as physiotherapy or prescriptions that aren’t covered in one of the poorest provinces in Canada. Is it any wonder they shy away from family medicine?
Ultimately this all speaks to priorities. Nova Scotia brags about an increase of 21 per cent in health care spending over two years, but every time I drive from Liverpool to Halifax to see a specialist or a relative in hospital, I can’t help but notice the tremendous amount of highway construction that is happening. To my eye, neither the population of Nova Scotia, nor the traffic volumes, merit the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to upgrade all these roads to four-lane divided highways.
It feels as if Canada’s second-smallest province – only Prince Edward Island is smaller – chooses highways over health care. That, I think, is the core of the problem we face in Nova Scotia: Health care is seen as an expense, while highways are an “investment.” We’re faced with months of waiting for surgeries, and we sometimes get questionable treatment options over video chat – but at least the drive to Peggy’s Cove is wonderful.
After many months reflecting on the sad reality that we can’t have a family doctor, we had come to accept the unfortunate situation. Last week though, with no warning, we received a phone call from Queens General Hospital’s family practice. I don’t know how we reached the top of the list, but we now have a family doctor once again. Ours was trained in Khartoum, and several weeks ago he’d left a position in Birmingham, England, for his new job in Liverpool, N.S. He tells us he likes the small town that is now his home. We don’t yet know what chain of events led us to having our new doctor, but he seems good, and we’re very relieved. I hope the many other thousands of Nova Scotians on the family-practice waiting list also receive good news soon.

Nova Scotia’s forest fires make me wonder if our dreams of a green, rural life were misguided

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail 
June 3, 2023
815 words

We’ve made our home at the point of Western Head, near Liverpool, N.S. On Tuesday, I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. when my phone shrieked with a warning from the government of Nova Scotia telling me not to light a campfire. By the time the sun rose around 6:30, there was a curtain of thick grey smoke, and I could taste it on the back of my throat. We already knew about the forest fires burning out of control in our province, so the real question was: Where was the smoke coming from, and how close was the fire?

We live right between the two major blazes. The Tantallon fire is about 30 kilometres from the Halifax Citadel. At the time I write this, on Thursday, we’re told that it has consumed about 837 hectares, and is possibly becoming under control. The other one is the Barrington Lake fire in Shelburne County. It had been the fire nearest to our children and grandchildren, burning more than 17,000 hectares. Then late Wednesday night we heard that another wildfire had broken out perhaps three or four kilometres from their house. Fortunately they had already packed up and left to stay with friends in New Brunswick – the smoke was just too much for them.

After waking on Tuesday, the morning was spent on the internet, and looking at whatever media we could find to try and get an up-to-date picture of these blazes. My frustration grew as I realized that anyone who could be updating me had disappeared. Government, media, even the pundits on Reddit and Facebook had all booked off at 8 o’clock the previous night. If the fire changed direction or speed, or if you just needed to know what was happening now, not 12 hours ago, you would need to wait.

Western Head is part of a point of land just below Liverpool. It’s sparsely populated, and has one road that loops along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds it. That morning, while we waited for any information about the fires, the isolation that had been so appealing to us took on a different tone.

Ever since moving here people have told us that the summers have become hotter, and the weather dryer. Now I look at the forest and bush that surrounds us and find myself thinking about how fast it could all go up in flames.

And I’m thinking that if the fires are this bad in late May, what on Earth will arrive in July and August?

At one point on Twitter – apparently the best source for up-to-the-minute fire news – I read that Halifax Fire deputy chief David Meldrum had said: “Without a doubt … climate change is contributing to volatility.”

That statement is, in many ways, the one that frightens me most. Right now there are thousands of households evacuated, and multiple fires out of control. If you live anywhere in Nova Scotia you’re wondering if your town or county will be next. The one thing that’s agreed on is that this is not normal for Nova Scotia.

We moved here, bought our home here, to escape the pressures of the big city. A very large part of that decision was a chance to be more self-sufficient: to grow our own food, care for our own land, and rely less on governments and corporations for day to day needs. And yes, doing all of this in an environmentally friendly way is important to us.

Now I’m wondering if our dreams of a rural, green life were misguided – if we were fooling ourselves into thinking that we could remove ourselves from the fast-paced, plastic-wrapped scurry of city life.

The challenge for us now is to try and understand if the changes coming at us because of climate change will overwhelm whatever efforts we can muster to adapt to them. Yes, we can adapt our home, and the ways that we eat and grow our food. We can remove the old oil-burning furnace, and add solar panels. But is that enough to counter global warming, rising sea waters and forest fires?

So far, the fires have stayed away from us, and have even changed direction, but Nova Scotia is heading into a summer of hot and dry weather. Instead of relaxing in our yard, building a compost bin and cutting grass, I’m spending my day on the internet and watching press conferences to try and guess whether we should be loading up the car and heading somewhere else to be safe.

And, of course, I’m asking about the future of our grandchildren.

That, more than anything, terrifies me. So far they’ve survived this year’s fires OK, but what about the next ones, and the ones in the years that follow? Will it become normal for them to wake up to a hazy sky, the taste of smoke lingering on their tongues?

 

I’m not a morning person. But I’ve embraced rising early

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
December 30, 2022
935 words

This morning, I awoke at 6 a.m. The sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean was barely starting to show itself. It was dark and cold, and I stumbled downstairs to make coffee. And to wonder why, suddenly, I was waking up so darned early, day after day, week after week.

All my life I’ve been a night person, a late sleeper, someone who honestly despises mornings. Over years of working in events, in restaurants, or in radio, I have always been able to arrange my life to avoid rising early. This has been less of a choice than my natural state of being. My body and mind just weren’t designed to switch on before noon.

Now, in Nova Scotia, everything has changed. By 6:30 a.m. most days, my wife Susan and I are both awake, drinking coffee and eating toast in bed, our cat Beatrice between us. We’ll already be working on our laptops, and sharing ideas and plans for the day.

We’re both left asking the same question: What happened? The only change in our lives has been leaving France for a house at the edge of the ocean in Western Head, N.S.

Ours is the last home on the road to the Western Head Lighthouse. The house was built in the late 1800s, then added to several times, and has found the balance between modern living and 19th-century charm. We have many windows, and can see the breakers rolling in from three sides of the house. We hear the wind and the pelting rain, and we’re now awaiting with excitement the first real hurricane-force winds. We can’t help but feel a primal attachment to the weather and a respect for the changes that happen from one hour to the next. You can’t ignore the outdoors in such a place.

Nova Scotia weather is immediate and intense, and despite the cloud, rain and wind, it’s somehow joyful. We can wake up to intense blue skies on one day, or great overwhelming columns of white clouds on the next. We’ve become remarkably conscious of the patterns of light and dark. In a few hours we can go from bright sunshine to pitch-black skies punctuated with thousands of bright shiny stars.

But these mornings! Why so early? It’s not just the weather, the Atlantic, or the dramatic difference between the dark of night and the light of day. It’s not about exchanging urban life for rural. I’ve spent years living in the country, and never before have my nocturnal habits been disturbed.

Part of it is about finding the time to just stop, look, listen and enjoy what each day has to offer us. People here don’t rush, but they are not slow either. Things get done, and get done in about the time you would expect.

Yet every person that we know here will stop what they’re doing, look you in the eye and just settle into a conversation. They’ll ask where you’re from, whether you’re “just visiting” (and that’s the big question in a place where families can trace their history back for centuries) and where, exactly, your house is. The first time that they say, “Oh yeah, I know that house,” it surprises you. The third or fourth time, you accept that this is just how things are.

Since moving here, I’ve learned that if deciding on a plumber or a roofer takes me a month, or six months, that’s okay. I feel like I can slow down, take one step at a time and consider every decision for as long as it takes.

That space, time and freedom means that I can rise early. I can allow myself to just sit and enjoy the sunrise, to think and plan my day, and perhaps allow myself a third cup of coffee just because I have the time.

These early mornings are becoming a ritual. For the first time, I find I have the space to order my thoughts, file some away for later and deal with some right now. And when my brain feels like it’s close to capacity, it gives me permission to stop, look out my windows at the sea, the sky and the sun, and let the true world in front of me clear my head.

Which is wonderful. But why am I waking up so early? I don’t have a fixed schedule. I’m not heading down to the boats. I don’t have a desk job to be at by 9 a.m.

Ultimately it feels as if I’m doing this because it’s what you do if you live here in Western Head, on the coast of the Atlantic, in Nova Scotia. Just as watching the sunrise is now a normal part of each day, aligning my body rhythms with the cycles of the sun and sky is simply the best and healthiest thing to do.

After decades of fighting the morning, I’ve found that it’s something that unexpectedly and definitely works for me. After fitting my life into schedules that perhaps made waking difficult or impossible, I find that I can trust my body and my soul to choose when to rise – and when to sleep.

Now, when I look at the people around me in Western Head, and in Nova Scotia, I understand that we all share the same attachment to the sky, to the sea and to the weather. We’ve learned that our best happiness comes from recognizing the power of our natural world, and from integrating our lives into those rhythms – allowing us to be scheduled by the natural world around us, not by our alarm clocks.

What do you do with a small inheritance?

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail 
October 7, 2022
1140 words

When my mother died last year her estate was small: clothing, knick-knacks, photos and the small bungalow, in Kelowna, B.C., that she bought for herself when my father died. My brother, sister and myself knew that a three-bedroom house in Kelowna’s Rutland neighbourhood wouldn’t afford us an early retirement, but Cameron McIntosh, an old high-school friend, now selling real estate for Royal LePage Kelowna, guessed that it might sell for as much as $650,000.

After decades working in small non-profit groups and charities, and then as a freelance writer, my savings are still pretty small. Like many Canadians, my investment background included two things: buying a home with a hefty mortgage, then selling it for marginal gains after a divorce, and a small registered retirement savings plan. For me, this inheritance will be about the biggest amount of money I will ever see.

My goal some time this year is to put my one-third share – say about $210,000 – toward a country home in France, where I now live. In the meantime, my question is: Between the time when I receive the cheque and when I’m ready to close my French house purchase, what should I do with what is a pretty large bit of money? It could just sit in my savings account, but is there a better route that might make me a little bit of money before we move it to France, and into euros, and buy that house?

I’ve never been in a position to do investing, so I asked some people who know that field. After talking to experts about what I should do, the answer turns out to be “not much” – but with a heavy proviso that we do live in interesting times. Between rising inflation, a war in Ukraine, rising interest rates and falling house prices, it seems that nothing is simple.

Andy Eisenbock is an investment adviser with Odlum Brown Ltd. in Vancouver, and someone my wife has worked with for several years. His advice was simple:

If the money is being held for my home purchase it should be in some form of liquid investment I can access at any time, and I should stay out of the stock market. He suggests that I need to watch the exchange rates between the Canadian dollar and euro, and investigate how best to make that currency conversion. He was right. At the moment the euro is at a historic low compared with the Canadian dollar. I’m crossing my fingers that it stays that way for a while longer, but am also comparing rates at my bank, and at money transfer services such as Wise.

Even though interest rates are rising, Mr. Eisenbock said that, for me, it was better to stay low risk, and liquid, than to try and chase a few hundred more dollars in potential income. That advice was echoed by Mark Tremblay, founder and director of Cinq, a French company that specializes in insurance and investments. I talked to Mr. Tremblay about what my options would be if I moved my money over to France instead of keeping it in Canada. His advice about liquidity and risk is much the same, but his suggestion is that in France many people would invest in l’assurance vie – life insurance. Savings plans based around life insurance are still very popular in France. As well as protecting your family should you die, they allow ordinary people to save for retirement over the term of their working lives.

L’assurance vie investments are very liquid – important if we’re buying a home. The safest place for my money would be a euro fund, a type of investment specific to life insurance, which provides significant security. It will give you a low fixed interest rate (around 1 per cent at the moment), but you will be sure to get your money back without any possible losses; the return is virtually zero-risk. We could get a slightly better rate with life insurance that includes a Unité de compte, or unit of account, an investment vehicle with more risk but better returns. And if more than 40 per cent of your life savings are in a UC, the interest rate is increased. In either a UC or a euro fund you’re encouraged by the government to keep your money there, saving for your retirement. Mr. Tremblay pointed out that after your investments have been in a euro fund for eight years, you’ll see a reduction in taxes paid on returns.

In Kelowna, I also talked with Steve Hatch, a wealth adviser with National Bank Financial. Right now interest rates are climbing, but I’m wondering whether they might come back down just as quickly. Mr. Hatch’s advice: If I believe that, I should choose the time frame I expect to park the money, and move it into a relatively safe place, such as a guaranteed investment certificate.

Or if I think rates will continue to climb, I could look at something like a money-market account with a variable rate that allow me to “reap the rewards of higher yields.” Ultimately, again, the choice is mine: more safety, or more return.

Mr. Hatch also has some Kelowna-specific advice: While home prices are dropping in major centres in Canada – in some cases by as much as 20 per cent – my mother’s modest bungalow may be immune to that drop because it still hits the sweet spot of being priced as a “starter home.”

There’s not a lot out there for single family residences between $500,000 and $750,000, he said. With that location and a price point of as much as $650,000, “I would hazard a guess that you’re probably going to get about the price that was suggested.”

The lawyer who has been handling the probate process for much of the past year says that even after the house has been sold it will likely be another two or three months before the proceeds arrive in my bank account. In the meantime, I’m left with more than enough time to choose the country where I will likely park this windfall, calculate my time frame, watch the currency exchange rates and determine the kind of security I’m comfortable with. Then I’ll need to put the cash in a safe, but income-generating, place.

The lawyer who has been handling the probate process for much of the past year says that even after the house has been sold it will likely be another two or three months before the proceeds arrive in my bank account. In the meantime, I’m left with more than enough time to choose the country where I will likely park this windfall, calculate my time frame, watch the currency exchange rates and determine the kind of security I’m comfortable with. Then I’ll need to put the cash in a safe, but income-generating, place.

 

Save lives, money and reduce pollution: Why roundabouts are a solution for every city

Published: Globe and Mail
May 7, 2022
920 words

Round-aboutCOVID-19 restrictions are disappearing and France is expecting another one million Canadians to visit the country this year. Many will arrive after a lengthy flight, collect their luggage and clear customs at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, then climb into a rental car. Minutes later, they’ll suddenly find themselves immersed in a stream of French drivers circling around a traffic circle or rond-point. And once they’ve escaped that first traffic circle, they’ll immediately find themselves in a second, and a third, and in all likelihood, yet another.

Welcome to France, and the first of more than 30,000 traffic circles, the multilane roundabouts that challenge visiting drivers to learn new rules, new signs, a new language. They also provide no chance whatsoever to just stop and figure out where you’re going.

It is an item of faith in France that the roundabout was invented in Paris in 1907. The goal of its creator, the architect and urban planner Eugène Hénard, was to better manage the horse-and-carriage traffic throughout Paris. His first roundabout was at Place de l’Étoile in Paris, (since renamed Place Charles-de-Gaulle) where multiple lanes of circulating cars, motorbikes, vans and buses still circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

More specifically, these drivers battle for supremacy over 12 unmarked traffic lanes where cars entering the circle from the right have priority over everyone else. The result is legendary chaos and massive traffic jams.

Regardless of where traffic circles were invented, it was in Britain, not France, where they first became popular, with an explosion of construction in the 1950s and 60s, and a rethinking of how they functioned. It was the British who decided that incoming traffic should yield to those already on the circle. It was the success of this improvement that led to the adoption of the new British design in France.

The first French version of the “English roundabout” was opened in 1976 in Quimper, near Brittany’s Atlantic coastline. The rond-point’s official entry into the French Highway Code happened in 1983, the same year that decentralization moved much of town planning to local governments.

These town and village governments embraced the roundabout with enthusiasm. Since gaining popularity in the 1980s and 90s in France, roundabouts have been adopted in every corner of the country. And civic pride has led to another French tradition: the sculptures placed in the middle of the traffic circles. From the beautiful to the bizarre, these emblems of local pride have not only become important landmarks for lost tourists, but have led to websites, documentaries and Pinterest groups celebrating – or mocking – these roadside artworks.

The modern rules for French roundabouts are simple: Entering traffic must yield to the vehicles already circling. Once you’ve entered, keep to the inside, left-hand lane, with your left-hand-turn signal activated. Once you approach your exit, switch your signal to the right and move to the outside, right-hand lane, then exit. For drivers used to traffic lights and street corners, it can be nerve-racking to figure out which of the three, four, or even five exits you want, before you can change lanes and escape.

All of this happens while you’re watching both rear view mirrors and trying to spot a directional sign that almost never matches what your GPS is telling you. Having a spouse to act as navigator is a big help. (My wife Susan says that depends on which spouse is providing the navigation.)

Roundabouts aren’t just another French oddity – they’re actually a solution to a few problems that are faced by every town and city.

They completely eliminate stop-and-go traffic. Instead of dozens of cars sitting with their engines pumping out exhaust fumes at every red light, traffic moves constantly into and out of intersections. And because they do away with the need for stop lights or advanced left-turn signals, infrastructure maintenance costs are dramatically reduced. For small towns and villages, this saving is a valuable advantage.

Most importantly, though, roundabouts turn out to offer significant advantages in traffic safety. Every car entering a traffic circle has to slow down, so cars, trucks and buses move more slowly than usual. There are no red lights, so there are no drivers who accelerate through the intersection on a yellow. Deadly 90-degree collisions are a rarity in France. And because everyone moves in a counter-clockwise direction, and exits to the right, there’s little chance of cars appearing out of nowhere from your blind spot.

The result, according to a 2018 report by the European Commission, which examined 44 studies where junctions where converted to roundabouts, is a 41-per-cent reduction in traffic accident injuries and a 65 per cent reduction in fatal accidents.

In addition, a World Economic Forum report from December found the United States is saving lives and energy costs by replacing lights with roundabouts. It also notes that France has by far the most roundabouts per capita, about double the number per capita of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“Here’s a controversial idea that turns conventional thinking about road safety on its head: traffic lights cause accidents, increase pollution and we’d be better of without them,” starts the report.

Still, when your jet-lagged self is suddenly dealing with multiple roundabouts, you’ll appreciate the two big secrets to manoeuvring around them. First, it’s okay to circle two or even three times until you know where you’re going. Second, in the event you take the wrong exit, in all likelihood there’s another roundabout just ahead, so it’s easy to double back to where you got it wrong.

Get to know your banker and do your homework when moving your money out of Canada

Published: Globe and Mail
February 26, 2022
1185 words

Last year, when we moved from Vancouver to France, my wife Susan and I joined the several thousand Canadians who leave the country each year to settle elsewhere in the world. It was a permanent move, and we believed that we had planned carefully for every eventuality.

We were mostly correct, except for one thing: Our bank worked incredibly hard to keep us from moving the money from our house sale to our new country. Our first month in France was spent on international phone calls, talking to bank employees at several levels, sorting out conflicting advice, and having our account frozen a half-dozen times. To those following in our footsteps, we say: Take nothing for granted.

Like many Canadians our relationships with our banks began and ended with websites and bank machines. The only time when we actually sat down with a bank employee would have been every few years for mortgage renewals.

That’s not enough. If you’re planning an international move you’ll need to work on establishing a much closer relationship with your banker. As described by Joe Reid, Vancity credit union’s vice-president for wealth management and impact investing, you should begin early in the planning process by talking to “your trusted advisers … your lawyer, your accountant, any of your professional advisers.” That necessarily includes someone at your bank with experience in handling international money transactions.

Begin this process immediately upon deciding to move internationally, and when you meet with a representative at your local bank, be prepared to question them. Not all bankers have experience in this area, and they may need to pass you on to someone else who knows the ins and outs of large funds transfers, exchange rates and money laundering rules.

Beyond your bank, take time to thoroughly review things such as pensions, registered retirement savings plans and other investments, and especially your will. Inheritance rules in other countries can be very different. You may need two different wills, and an understanding of how your children can avoid inheritance taxes in your new country. You’ll also need to make sure that your family members understand the steps that they’ll need to take when you die.

John Lyng was a customer of Toronto-Dominion Bank for more than two decades when he and his wife left Canada for France. “I thought I had a good relationship with them,” he says, but when he needed to borrow money to secure a lease on an apartment in Paris he found himself turned down even though they were about to sell a home in downtown Toronto. Because Mr. Lyng was new to France, the landlord demanded that he place three years of rent payments in an escrow account or with a guarantor that would guarantee his ability to make rent payments.

His TD banker apparently had no experience in France and refused the loan.  “It’s a very unusual way of doing it,” the banker told Mr. Lyng of the landlord’s request. Mr. Lyng eventually found a loan through a mortgage broker.

We relate Mr. Lyng’s experience with TD only as an example. He’s a member of the popular Canadians in France group on Facebook; other group members, using various Canadian banks, tell similar stories.

“Please be aware that TD customers have several options for transferring funds out of country,” a spokesperson for the bank said in response to an e-mailed query from The Globe and Mail.

Vancity’s Mr. Reid is more specific in advising people leaving Canada: Understand that the rules will be different in other places, both in government and at individual banks. Although technically there’s no limit on the size of a transfer that you can make, individual banks have their own internal rules, and almost all international transfers above $10,000 will be reported to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FinTRAC). As well, you need to understand that even if your local banker is prepared to move funds to you in France (or wherever), the receiving bank may have its own barriers, or may require that you meet local anti-money-laundering rules.

In many cases, it isn’t possible to open a bank account in a foreign country until you arrive. In France, for instance, you invariably will be asked to provide a copy of a current electric bill to prove your residence, and it may take weeks for the new account to be active. In the meantime, don’t cancel your Canadian cellphone number. You can be sure that at least one financial institution will insist that you can’t log in without them sending you a secret code to a Canadian phone number.

Once you’re finally in your new home, and have your new bank account set up, you should still expect surprises from Canada. Mr. Lyng was settled in the suburbs of Paris, and every month arranged to transfer a few thousand dollars from Canada to France for living expenses. Until one day he couldn’t.

“For about one year I was able to do wire transfers, I was able to call the branch manager at the TD branch and they would do it. Until about three years ago when they said ‘we have new security precautions … if you want to do a wire transfer you need to come into the branch in person.’”

When Mr. Lyng explained that spending thousands of dollars to fly to Canada and stay in a hotel made no sense, the bank suggested that he write himself a cheque on his TD account and deposit that in France. According to Mr. Lyng, the cheque bounced when TD claimed there were no funds in his account to honour it.

Since then, Mr. Lyng has done what many other Canadians in Europe do. He relies on a money-transfer company to move funds out of his bank account and into his French one. Companies such as Wise and TorFX can make this easier, and often also offer better exchange rates and lower service charges than the Canadian banks.

Sharon Anne Kean, is senior director of global expansion at Wise, one of the leaders in global money transfer services, and one of the companies frequently recommended on the Canadians in France Facebook group. Ms. Kean’s advice echoes that of Vancity’s Mr. Reid: Start planning early, especially if you need to move large amounts for a home purchase. Like the banks, she says Wise takes security seriously. That means making sure the sender is who they say they are, “but then also doing a check on where you’re sending money to, such as a sales agreement for your new home, or something that verifies that the money is going to a good place.”

Ms. Kean also encourages customers to do their homework. In particular, understand that the “best exchange rate” quoted by your bank may include hidden fees that make it less attractive than what Wise might charge. “That’s a massive revenue stream for most banks. That’s why our rates appear to be more competitive.” Ms. Kean says that both their consumer and corporate customers also appreciate that Wise moves money much faster than the big banks.

 

In praise of librarians, defenders of the written word

Published: Globe and Mail
February 19, 2022
897 words

A note to librarians and public libraries:  Please feel free to republish this column as needed.  If you do so please let me know, or send me a copy, and make sure to credit myself, the Globe and Mail, and my website https://appalbarry.com.

In 1968, when I was 12 years old, my world was almost entirely defined by the science fiction that I read at the Kelowna, B.C., public library. I could name all of the spaceships in Robert Heinlein books, was intimately familiar with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and had read and reread I, Robot and The Martian Chronicles.

Inside the small one-story red-brick building on Ellis Street was a magic world that protected and comforted me. On those shelves I first discovered the seeds that germinated into almost every idea and belief that I have today.

I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember the names or faces of any of these librarians. But I remember the smell of the library, and the dust motes in the sunshine that streamed in from the big windows above the bookshelves. As I write I can feel myself pushing through the big double doors, turning left and walking into the big reading room for adults. I remember the counter where the librarians, with their ink pads and date stamps, waited to check out my books.

My family had moved to Kelowna from Calgary a few years earlier. I was the new kid. I wore glasses. I was picked on and bullied and was chosen last for every team. So I did what so many children like me do: I lived at the library, and inside the books that I brought home from its shelves.

I was a voracious reader. I’d burned through everything in the children’s section and was searching for something new. That’s when I asked one of those un-named librarians for help, and she led me out of the children’s room, and showed me the shelf of Robert Heinlein’s books for adult readers. She quietly explained to me that my library card was equally valid in either the children’s or adult section and that it would allow me to borrow any book in any part of the library. That librarian changed my life.

Twelve-year-old me couldn’t have expressed it in words, but I was overwhelmed by the honour, and the responsibility, of being told that, despite my age, I was allowed to read anything and everything in that library. For the first time in my life, I was being treated like an adult. I knew this was something special.

I remember beginning with Mr. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury and then moving on to other authors with a spaceship sticker on the spine of the book. As I scoured the shelves, I discovered that science fiction was not just about rocket ships and aliens, it was about societies and cultures.

Philip José Farmer took me along on The Fabulous Riverboat, and that twisted version of Tom Sawyer prompted me to discover the original Samuel Clemens. Ursula K. Le Guin upturned my understanding of politics and opened my eyes to characters that were neither male nor female, and surely prepared me for the coming decades of gay liberation, and now trans acceptance.

When I discovered Harlan Ellison’s groundbreaking Dangerous Visions and the sometimes drug-addled authors in that series, I realized that the world was much stranger and more fascinating than what I read in Kelowna’s The Daily Courier. And I learned that some books – such as Gore Vidal’s 1968 Myra Breckinridge – were best kept under cover for fear of outraging my father.

I stepped into the adult side of the library at a time when a seemingly endless stream of books not only explored “deviant” culture but also celebrated it as well. Reading about these dangerous and damaged people showed me that I wasn’t alone. That wasn’t something that I could learn from my family or friends. I had to learn it from books.

Being young means being unfocussed. At the same time I was devouring countercultural science fiction I was also throwing myself into non-fiction, scouring the Dewey Decimal system from the 100s – Witchcraft and Bulfinch’s Mythology – all the way down to the 900s and the Holocaust.

At 12, I already knew the horrors of Nazi Germany, and about the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Auschwitz. It never occurred to me that I might be too young to learn this part of our history.

Unfortunately, this path to enlightenment has been obstructed in McMinn County, Tenn., where the local school board recently removed Art Spiegelman’s landmark graphic memoir, Maus, from its curriculum.

McMinn County is not an isolated case. Across Canada and the United States, there are groups who demand that one book or another be removed from public view, from school curriculums, or from libraries. In the U.S. there have even been threats of criminal charges against public librarians.

Freedom to Read Week, which begins Feb. 20, is the time when our local librarians stand up for the books and authors that some people would ban. It’s also the time when some of us stand up to defend our librarians.

Every book in a library is there because a librarian believes it is worth reading. Unlike the self-appointed censors in Tennessee, my librarians in Kelowna were willing go the extra length to open doors and share the joy of learning with young people. Unlike the school board members in McMinn County, my librarians understood that reading widely and with abandon makes children stronger, and wiser, and sometimes kinder.