Thoughts On Travel To Canada
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2017-09-23 11:45 by Karl Denninger
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Thoughts On Travel To Canada
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A few random thoughts on my recent trip (with Sarah for her 21st birthday) on our trip through Canada, including the Niagara area, Toronto and Algonquin Park.

First, the welcome from the border agent at the Windsor crossing was amusing.  These guys and gals (by the way, all who we encountered on both sides of the border were guys) have an "interesting" job; they have to see hundreds of people per day, and only a few are worthy of more than a short list of questions and a look-see.  Figuring out which, so you spend the time on those who shouldn't come, obviously is a learned experience.  Nonetheless the one dude at the Windsor crossing who we drew was funny; after the usual questions as to where we were headed, how long we intended to stay, etc, he asked if we had any firearms or weapons in the vehicle.  "No" was the reply, of course, since we didn't.  He then continued: No mace or Bear spray?  I again said "No" and he remarked that since we were going to Algonquin we might want the Bear Spray, and after a nice pregnant pause he chuckled.

It was an interesting little quip on what is otherwise a necessary and amusing formality.

I haven't been to Canada since 9/11 when they imposed passport requirements (you used to be able to enter and return by land using just a driver license; not any more) and while I expected quite a bit more formal procedure than previously it was only slightly more time-consuming and we were waved through.

Out decision was to "glamp, sorta" -- in other words, tent camp in campgrounds with organized facilities.  Part of that is a money-saving issue, although around Niagara I doubt it saved much off-season (if anything) compared to cut-rate hotels.  On the other hand it was fun, I like sleeping outside, and as long as I have somewhere to ****, shower and shave it's pretty much like being in a hotel as far as I'm concerned.  The weather cooperated nicely; we had zero rained-out days.

I won't go into the details of our time there -- for that you need to head over to and check out Sarah's blog (heh, she'd like the ad revenue from the views!) but I will make some comments on Canada from a societal and functional point of view.

First is the border difference.  We put on a damn good show of a "more-secure" border but in fact we don't give a ****, and it's obvious.  The Rainbow Bridge at Niagara is one example; you can cross on foot there, and we did -- both ways.  The US side has razor wire on top of the fences.  The Canadian side?  Nope -- just a fence.  Both have the usual customs person interrogating you and checking passports, but there's one thing of note: Canada does not let in or tolerate all the illegal immigrants that the US does.  So while the Canadian border may look less-secure, it in fact is more secure because they give a **** about functionality instead of simply being for show.

Where does this really show up?  I saw a help-wanted sign in Canada for housekeepers at a motel: The wage offer was $17/hour.  Gee, I wonder why?  I also bet they get takers at that wage too.  Americans won't do the jobs the illegal Mexicans do eh?  The hell they won't -- they just won't do it at $5/hour.  And don't tell me about businesses being "unable to find workers"; they don't seem to have that problem in Canada.  Nor does it hit prices to any appreciable degree; yes, they're higher than in the US -- by roughly the exchange rate, although there were instances where I saw no difference of materiality between US and Canadian prices.

Sales taxes, however, are insane.  They call it "HST" and it's 13%.  The exception appears to be "essential" consumables (e.g. not-prepared food in a grocery store.)  This leads to a secondary problem which I've noted here in the US too -- all the hospitality places are including taxes in their "suggested tip" amounts.  That started a while ago in a few places here in the US but is now damn near everywhere and it's all over Canada too.  In fact I didn't see one "suggested" tip amount during this trip on either side of the border that excluded sales tax.

This is enough of a scam, especially in places with high sales taxes or where there is a secondary sales tax (e.g. "resort area" taxes) that I think it's time for people start intentionally zero-tipping everywhere until it stops and raising hell about it to management besides.  This is an outright fraud as exactly zero of the tax goes to the establishment or the server and it results in actual tip amounts that are ~2% higher than intended in high tax areas.

Let me be clear: This is not an indictment aimed at Canada -- it's everywhere now.  Every single place I saw on both sides of the border that presented a tab that had a "suggested tip" on it including the damned sales taxes in the suggested amount.




That's utter and complete horse**** and the only way we as consumers will stop it is to zero-tip everyone until management cuts that **** out and reprograms their systems to exclude tax from the suggested amounts.  This is an intentional fraud and it needs to be stopped -- now.

In the US this is going to start being good for complaints to the State Attorneys General everywhere I see it, and I suggest you do so as well.  This is flat-out consumer fraud folks, it's trivially documented and while the individual amounts stolen are small over the total amount of spend in these establishments it amounts to billions.

Second, gas prices are nuts.  I didn't find a single instance under $4/gallon.  Of course they price in liters, but I can do the math, and when it's over a buck a liter, and it was everywhere, well....  I also saw stickers on pumps showing the tax breakdown as well, and the reason for the crazy prices is simply taxes, not fuel costs.  If you're wondering if this dissuaded people from driving big SUVs and even big RVs, the answer is no.  Nonetheless when you stick $60 (!) into a sedan and barely fill it that gets your attention fast.

Third, use cash.  Why?  Exchange, basically.  Yes, virtually everywhere will take Visa or Master Card and some will take Discover, Amex or both.  Of them Discover was the most-friendly in terms of total cost, but still shaved a bit on the exchange rate.  Their lack of additional fee, however, made them the most-competitive by far -- after cash of course.  The problem is that only about 30% of places there will take Discover cards in my experience.  Speaking of which zero gas pump readers will take US cards in my experience but that's fine with me because cash is, as noted, the better deal.  The cross-bank ATM fee on reasonably-large withdrawals is rational (a couple of percent); of course on small amounts you get murdered exactly as you do here in the US.

Credit cards are handled in an interesting way up there.  Nobody touches them except you.  If you go into a restaurant or bar and want to pay with plastic the server comes to your table with a little wireless device that has a keypad, a card reader and printer in it.  The amount pops up, you input the tip, approve the amount, and stick your card in.  It authorizes, you pull the card and the receipt prints.  This utterly stops the practice of stealing magstripe or other data by servers and establishments.  I like it a lot and the US is vastly behind the times in this regard.

Let me repeat that: There was not once that I ever handed a plastic card to anyone to pay; they brought the little handheld terminal (which had a bank logo on it) to me.  These devices were everywhere; I saw them on checkout counters in the smallest trinket shops to bars, restaurants and similar.

I've had multiple instances over the last five years or so where I'm quite certain a server or other person at an establishment stole the magstripe, took a picture of the number on my card, or both.  The pattern of fraud was obvious when it happened and yet not once has any issuer done anything other than void the transaction and send me a new card (with a new number, of course.)  The idiocy of not stopping this crap at the source ought to be obvious.

One quick note if you like adult beverages: Drink beer, wine or buy liquor by the bottle at the LCBOs (state-owned and run liquor stores.)  We had repeated problems with shorted mixed drinks, including some severely shorted ones.  Two places that didn't short were the Loose Moose on Front Street in Toronto and a bar attached to a hotel in Niagara, but even there it was a problem in that Canada appears to have a rather interesting view of how much booze should go in a mixed drink.  Of course they can't short-pour your beer or wine, but if you don't like beer or wine you're ****ed and done and will be paying for liquor you are not getting.  This happened often enough that there's only one real defense, especially if you like "foofoo" drinks that are hard to taste the booze quantity in: Don't buy them.

There's a rumor that Cannabis will be legal next year in Canada; it's legal for medical use now, apparently, from the signage I saw around.  Around Niagara anyway it may as well be legal for recreational use already; the smell of it coming from vehicles passing by was, well, unmistakable -- and frequent.  This will get fun if and when Canada formally legalizes it and Americans decide to spend their hard-earned money on the other side of the border!

It's a beautiful nation up there, although I don't know if I could deal with the obvious white powder problems in the winter months, or the idea of $4+/gallon gas.  Nonetheless if you think that slamming the door on illegal immigrants here would cripple the economy this much is certain: There's zero evidence that it would, or will, to be found in the Canadian experience.

One of the more-interesting places was a "castle" that was the showpiece of a wealthy man who got well over-extended (gee, where have we seen that?) and blew himself up financially.  I've got a thing for old organs, and there's one in the castle, which appears to be in operational condition (the pipe set is there) that I found especially interesting.

Enjoy, and again, for pictures and a "touristy" view of the country head over here:; bookmark it as there will be multiple articles in the coming days and weeks, likely adorned with a lot of pictures as well (we shot a ****-ton of them.)

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