Happy Festivus, for the rest of us

In the tradition of Festivus, Canada’s consumers have grievances to air, mainly about disappointing government officials

With a different kind of holiday this year, we are all making alternative plans for our annual celebrations. Zoom calls and socially distant visits will be the norm. That said, a pandemic is no match for the seasonal celebration of my choice, Festivus. Festivus was invented in the 1960s by the father of Dan O’Keefe, a writer for the hit 1990s comedy show Seinfeld, and became an O’Keefe family tradition. In a Seinfeld episode of December 1997, the show’s chief curmudgeon, Frank Costanza, father of George, introduced the holiday to the world. (Frank Costanza was played by Jerry Stiller, who died in May, age 92.)

Celebrated every December 23rd by those who do observe, this strange holiday usually involves an unadorned aluminum pole (to emphasize its origins in anti-commercialism), a family dinner, feats of strength and the ever-important “Airing of Grievances,” in which, after Festivus dinner, each member of the family explains how all the others have disappointed them over the past year.

A countrywide Festivus dinner is not in the cards this year for our Canadian family. But Canada’s consumers do have grievances to air, mainly about disappointing government officials. In the immortal words of Frank Costanza, “We got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.”

Federally, quite a few members of Parliament were particularly disappointing this year. Top of the list is federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, for his silly and misguided plastic ban, and his strange decision to label plastic products as “Schedule 1” toxins under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. All sorts of plastic products have kept us safe throughout the pandemic and they certainly aren’t toxic when properly disposed of. Banning items like plastic cutlery and takeout containers while we’re relying on them for our curbside pickups seems like the ultimate failure to read the room.

We got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it

Frank Costanza

Next up, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault disappointed Canadian consumers when his office announced it would be implementing a Netflix tax and adding new regulations for the spirits-raising streaming service. Most of us have been camped at home for upwards of nine months, relying on the wonders of Wi-Fi to get us by. “Disappointing” isn’t nearly strong enough to describe how irritating this decision is for consumers.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau rounds out the list of Liberal MPs with whom consumers have serious grievances to air. Speaking of air, and airlines, it was a shame he took more than eight months to defend consumers against airline companies that refused to comply with the law and provide their passengers with refunds for cancelled flights.

Now, consumer disappointment isn’t a partisan affair. All parties are guilty, and in fact every single member of Parliament once again disappointed Canadian consumers when they voted unanimously to continue to support supply management in agriculture. It is little short of scandalous that our MPs — every one of them — continue to defend a system that artificially inflates prices for consumers, even driving some Canadians below the poverty line, all to provide a selective benefit for well-connected farmers. Conservative MPs are especially guilty: they’re supposedly the party of free trade and open markets.

Many of our provincial representatives were disappointing, as well. The premier of P.E.I. made the boneheaded decision to close liquor stores at the start of the pandemic, though he did have the good sense to reverse himself. Ontario Premier Doug Ford made some great consumer decisions, like legalizing alcohol delivery from restaurants. Unfortunately, his winning streak for doing right by consumers ended when, after first allowing cannabis retail deliveries, he then reversed that decision in favour of keeping a government delivery monopoly.

And, of course, we couldn’t conclude Festivus without airing our disappointment with government officials who failed to live by the rules they set for the rest of us. Our federal health minister urged Canadians not to travel but then flew home numerous times to visit family and even got photographed maskless at Pearson Airport. MPP Sam Oosterhoff made the silly mistake of joining an unmasked indoor group selfie, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crossed provincial boundaries to visit family at Easter after warning Canadians to avoid family gatherings. “Rules for thee, but not for me” is always a bad look if you want Canadians to take those rules seriously.

With our grievances aired, Canadian consumers wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Creative Solutions for more Consumer Choice

Tbilisi, Georgia mandates all taxis to be white – Activists respond with free-market education on wheels!

In October 2019 the Georgian capital Tbilisi introduced tighter rules defining taxi services in the city. The formerly very open and competitive system got replaced by mandating taxis to be painted in white if they want to pick up passengers on the street. The new law also obliges taxis to be left-hand drive vehicles. In a relatively poor country like Georgia, most cars are imported used cars and come from both countries with left and right traffic. Both measures are adding costs to taxi drivers and ultimately to consumers.

Political activist and leader of the Girchi Party, Zurab Japaridze came up with an innovative solution to bypass these new regulations. He and his party set up a company called Shmaxi offering unemployed taxi drivers to drive passengers while educating them about the benefits of freedom. Passengers will not pay for the distance traveled but the length of their educational session. The drivers can either conduct the session themselves or play an audiobook in the car. Part of the educational canon are books and essays by Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. 

Japaridze told JAM News: “The company will hire driver/educators who will convey ideas about freedom to passengers and talk to them about right and wrong. If the drivers lack the necessary knowledge, we will conduct training sessions and provide video materials that the passengers can listen to.”

This educational services on wheels allow Tbilisi’s consumers to pick between the newly regulated taxi services and the usually cheaper and more fun Shmaxi. Over 500 drivers have also signed up to drive Shmaxis around town.

Campaigner Mariam Ivanidze told me that “Some Shmaxi drivers say they earn more through our company than they could through the major taxi ones”. Shmaxi is not only a political but also a commercial success.

Shmaxi started operating in the Georgian city of Kutais as welli in order to warn local regulators not to repeat the devastating taxi regulations of Tbilisi.

This is a creative and wonderful win for consumer choice and could inspire advocates for competition in the taxi markets around the world. 

Now I am wondering if I should launch Shmaxi London as a response to the recent decision by Transport for London to take away Uber’s license… Listen to Thatcher’s biography while driving from Mayfair to London Heathrow Airport would be an entertaining way of killing the time stuck in traffic.

Stigmatising tastes and ‘dual food quality’ is mere populism

Stigmatising tastes and ‘dual food quality’ is mere populism CONTACT: Frederik Roeder Managing Director Consumer Choice Center fred@consumerchoicecenter.org BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – The EU Commission today published an action package to tackle the alleged problem of so-called “dual food quality”. Commissioner Věra Jourová promised not only over 2 million Euros to develop a methodology and subsidies for Member States, […]

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