Category Archives for Unapologetically Canadian

Exploring Creativity with Elizabeth Johnston

Just before Christmas, I met with Elizabeth Johnston at a restaurant to discuss creativity.

This was a great topic because Johnston has the Own Your Creativity site, where she leads a “memoir in a month” challenge every November.

She also works as a self-actualization consultant and story coach. Access her skills for success programs to help business leaders at http://www.elizabeth-johnston.com/.

To listen to her “Own Your Creativity” podcast episodes, go to https://ownyourcreativity.podbean.com/.

Listen to our discussion

Do you find creativity is a collective or individual activity?

I think that creativity comes from the individual but is informed by the collective. And then after it’s shaped by the individual and goes back into the collective.

It seems as though there’s some kind of fluidity. I think that the best thing is that it goes back to the collective and that it starts a conversation or adds to do it and then it comes back.

[00:01:20] Perhaps a lot of times people do things and it just falls flat and it doesn’t get any response and that speaks to the really important part of marketing yourself. Today you really need to get out there and make connections with people.

[00:01:48] So when you’re marketing yourself and what you do, it isn’t a solo activity. It’s important to really engage other people and get them involved with what you’re doing.

[00:01:59] You can’t create in a vacuum. You can’t be successful in that no one is successful by themselves. It’s a very interactive thing to do to be an artist, to be a writer but also just to be a human being.

Creativity needed to build relationships

[00:02:16] Yeah yeah I know it’s interesting because creativity as a facet of life is almost giving out a vulnerable side of you as well and I think that is part of making relationships is. So in many ways, people are creative just to have a relationship with someone. Yeah.

[00:02:44] I love just creating by myself and then sending them out into the world, but I’ve found that I wasn’t growing as much as I wanted to that way.

[00:02:53] So this gives me an opportunity to hear both sides of my business help the other side evolve.

Introverts versus extraverts

[00:03:00] Yeah. And at the same time, it helps you evolve. It is so interesting that you say that you’re an introvert. I never would have said that about you for as long as I’ve known you. And this is kind of surprisingly several people that I would say are introverts and they identify as that. I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe introverts are really good at putting on that facade.

[00:03:30] Being a social introvert, I actually love it when I’m with people but I get energy from being alone, so that’s the difference.

[00:03:36] I’m a very social introvert. There’s no reason for you to know that’s that’s what I was like. You can’t tell from someone where they get their energy from.

[00:03:44] That’s what the introvert-extrovert thing is about.

[00:03:47] So that’s why most people wouldn’t recognize because I’m not afraid to talk in public and all those things that people think of me associate with introversion, I don’t have them so because I have this so.

[00:04:08] Right. And so you just need time alone time to recharge to your batteries. Yeah.

[00:04:13] Yeah I don’t I don’t get power from other people.

[00:04:18] I get power. I certainly need time alone every week to recharge.

[00:04:19] Yeah. I think well maybe I’m an introvert too.

[00:04:30] Do you consider yourself though. Or have you always considered yourself an extrovert until this conversation?

[00:04:37] Well I just never really put myself into either camp. I just didn’t find that they were really helpful categories for me because I do oscillate between them. It depends on the context and whom I’m with whether I feel introverted or extraverted.

[00:05:01] I guess what I like to have my own space. I do like to be on my own and think of things and go to a café and write in my journal.

Writing in Cafés

[00:05:15] You write in a café? I don’t like it.

[00:05:19] Wow. Do you find it odd to read in a public space then?

[00:05:22] She said no. So I don’t mind. I mean I can read anywhere. I can read in a café.

[00:05:28] I know lots of writers who have done it that way but I just find it distracting. It’s not the noise that I find distracting but it’s the fact that I might see someone. I’m not completely into my work. I’m actually in the space.

[00:05:41] Yeah well that’s why when I’m writing in my journal, I make sure that I go to a cafe where I’m not going to run into anybody.

[00:05:49] At also for me, that kind of writing doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere, but it might.

[00:06:01] Or I know I’m working on a project and I just want to go someplace else different and just explore that one idea.

[00:06:11] So so for me it’s not really the place where I do a lot of the heavy lifting of the writing process. That always stays in my office where I can concentrate. So do the larger chunks, I do that at home base.

Creativity and Success Skills

I started the podcast two and a half years ago because I wanted to explore how creativity manifests itself in other people’s lives. So I talked to all sorts of people in all walks of life. Not just typical or stereotypical artists and drummers or creatives or that. I talked to philosophers, business people and everyone in between.

[00:07:22] And it was an extension really of my teaching. I teach creative writing. I’ve been teaching creative writing, screenwriting and all other types of writing for about twenty-five years now. And I also teach a University Course Skills for Success and it’s mainly to help students to get back on track with their academic goals. But what I’ve realized over the years is that a lot of them fail out of their programs or don’t have the motivation to show up for their lives because they’re not passionate about something. They haven’t activated that creative core of themselves.

[00:08:11] Oh wow. So in many ways, it’s like a class about helping them discover their creative core. It really is.

[00:08:18] And and it was interesting to me that that’s those two things converged because on the face of it like creative writing and  time management and putting a schedule together, but I realized that it’s so important to have that organizational ability because  when you create a schedule and set out a goal and action plan, that’s the container for your creativity. That’s what’s going to hold your dreams.

[00:08:53] It’s way easier to be creative if you have a structure that you’re already building with. If you have to create your structure, you spend it sort of like,  how we have a level of will power a day, I think we have a level of creativity in a day too. And if you’re creating all sorts of minor things, you don’t get the chance to actually think deeply. How can you build passion without deep thought?

Boredom and Creativity

[00:09:24] Actually I talk to James Clear just recently for my podcast and he has a new book called Atomic Habits and he has Habits Academy and in one of his chapters, he says that in order to become successful, you have to fall in love with boredom.

[00:09:48] Wow. That is a fascinating idea because if you aren’t bored, you can’t actually create out of nothing.

[00:09:59] And and boredom or not being 100 percent occupied is a way of lying fallow. You need to have that kind of time where you do get bored and then you think OK enough of this, I’ve got to find something that’s going to excite me. But also what he says is that he has come up with words because a lot of what you’re going to get to where you need to go is going to be repetition. And so like if you’re going into the Olympics or whatever, you have to do a lot of situps. You have to find a way to love the boredom and love the repetition. That’s part and parcel of your success. It goes to consistency and regularity and routine and time management and schedules.

[00:11:17] But if you’re busy creating, how can you possibly be bored? But I think that’s because, after so many years of using a creative muscle, I don’t actually when I have time alone and thinking, I no longer think of it as being bored. Whereas I remember as a kid being bored all the time.

[00:11:35] Yeah.

[00:11:36] So I think it depends on what you view as that word.

[00:11:49] and having downtime time and recharging your battery and all that stuff, which some might say is being bored. And I think that with the generation that I’m teaching, they’re around their cell phones and checking so every moment is filled with something that gives them immediate gratification or immediate depression when they check their phones and nobody’s texted me in the last three seconds.

[00:12:25] Yeah. No, I didn’t think about that. The truth is I have two kids one who’s 23 and one who is 19 and it’s true, they look at their phones a lot.

[00:12:42] But I don’t see it so different. As for the only thing that’s really really different.

 

[00:12:47] Remember all those lines we had to stand in being bored and talking with everyone around you, they don’t have to do that anymore. They can actually be entertained even when they are in that kind of situation.

Creativity and socializing

[00:12:57] But I remember being at their age on the phone all the time. Socializing is important as a teenager.

[00:13:05] Oh my goodness. I was on the phone in the kitchen for hours on end.

[00:13:09] There were three girls in my house so my parents had a time limit for the phone. The buzzer would go off and we had to get off the phone and all of us thought that this was the cruellest thing ever. I don’t know how else we would share. Because all of us wanted to be on it for the whole time that we were doing something else. But I don’t know with.

[00:13:36] That don’t need to do that. They all have their own cell phones. If they want to talk to people they just pick up their phone.

[00:13:58] Which I guess means if no one answers it is harder. I wonder if we are at a stage where they’re going to have to learn how to be alone and how to be bored. How to be comfortable with nothing.

[00:14:22] That is the hard part. And then it’s usually when there’s nothing…unlessyou’re in a very good place, you get all those things that come up and tell you how rotten you are.

Mindfulness and Creativity

[00:14:37] Yeah well the negative self-talk is rampant with the students that I teach. We try to teach mindfulness and meditation. It’s challenging for them because they have to separate. themselves they have to sit there and say oh gee all these thoughts are floating by and I’m not my thoughts and I don’t have to identify with them. They are so caught up in all of that negative self-talk that its hard for them to engage. And so so we had a class last week and a guest speaker came in and talked about mindfulness and ran through some exercises and a lot of them said, “oh it didn’t work for me.”.

[00:15:31] They have this knee-jerk thing. If it doesn’t happen instantly like a ping on your cell phone, then it’s not viable.

[00:15:40] So I guess you’ll have to try an exercise later in the term in a different way to see if they can connect because mindfulness is so much deeper. It’s so important. If you want to create excellence, you need mindfulness first. Otherwise, you’re not able to look at what you create from an interior voice because it’s what you need to become an editor.

Fear to be Seasonal?

[00:16:31] But speaking about publishing about being a writer, I think some people would be really afraid to have a seasonal life. There’s an idea that you throw yourself into a career whatever it is and you keep on doing it maintaining it, and that as soon as stop talking about it or tweeting about it, then no one will remember you. So how did you get over that fear of scarcity that if you only work for half a year, that somehow that would work?

[00:17:08] I think that probably because I was so involved in my shoulders and because I did two projects that sort of gave me entire summers off for four years in a row, that I almost had a seasonal life before really having a seasonal life because I did when I did the Ulysses Hiking guide for two summers in a row, the kids were either camping in Ontario or hiking or cycling in Ontario, and the Trans Canada Trail too..

[00:17:40] It turned out to be four summers that I took off. We were forced to do research that was doing the work for the winter. It was the research part of those projects.

[00:17:55] Because I was travelling I would set aside the different projects that I would have that year and that sort of got me into the habit of having a distinct line from both sides. But I didn’t register at that time as a seasonal life. I just registered for the summer as the kids were off school and this is how they can do their research and smarter of trying to make family life with life work together fun.

[00:18:26] So I think that’s probably how it evolved. That actually for me when I finally decided to tell people I have a seasonal life, I had already been doing it for two or three years. I was already doing farmers markets. So I was trying to integrate all the things I did with each other. As soon as I decided to do my podcast, I realized that oh my God this seasonal life is actually Canadian. It actually connects all together. But it was not planned that way. It was almost created after the fact.

[00:19:05] So it was very organic.

Food and creativity

[00:19:39] So now you are part of the co-op and you grow your sprouts and.

[00:19:48] We have an aquaponics system at the Greenhouse and we have the farmers’ markets and now I’m putting together a catalogue for people to be able to buy food… basically our goal is to make it possible to eat locally all year. So I’m doing projects to try to make that happen

[00:20:05] So I’m just fine because that’s how I started growing my own sprouts–red clover and broccoli and mung beans and lentils and beets. I started doing that a few weeks ago mainly to actually save a bit of money. But now that I’m doing it, I actually feel that I’m more intentional with my time and the food that I’m eating. I really believe that the food we eat fuels our creativity and I’m just so pleased with myself that I have always potentially had these sprouts through the whole winter now and I know where they’re coming from.

[00:21:15] And it gives me more of a sense of control over my own food and I didn’t expect that and I didn’t expect to feel more part of the natural world at the same kind.

[00:21:33] While you’re doing something that we’ve been doing for you so you’re connecting to what humans are meant to do I think. I think it’s fascinating what you start to trying to eat…even if you don’t do everything like experts, you’re still eating what you produce, so it feels like a connection to our ancestors.

[00:22:25] I always say in my grandmother’s time, there were no GMOs and they didn’t use pesticides so everything was organic. So I really feel like I’m connecting with that whole history. And also when I’m making a sandwich or something, it’s like, oh I grew that. And my friend grew that. So there are so many things that are grown from my hands or the hands of people that I know.

Local Economies and creativity

[00:23:03] One of the things we talk about with the farmers market–one of my neighbours was saying, so do you just have people selling things? No, what you’re actually doing is eating locally but you’re also creating the opportunity for these people to create their own businesses and be financially viable.

[00:23:32] You are basically creating an economy right around you so you can see exactly how you are helping and how their business evolves. So yeah it’s really like the Kombucha people are distributed everywhere.

[00:23:48]  we had the woman who did our bakery the first year start her own business. So you really see how people develop their own abilities and creativity. They expand their creativity to bigger spaces and than they have a chance to actually use it and be appreciated. For me, a market is more than just local food it’s also local appreciation.

[00:24:12] And like you say, it’s this space where creativity can flourish.

[00:24:19] So yeah everybody there is either making or growing what they sell. So almost everybody you meet has a hand in what they’re trying to sell so it gives the person buying it an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the creative process too. They know that this person will change what we produce according to what people tell us. So you actually see how your influencing people around and you.

[00:24:52] We have one woman who makes small magnets for the fridge that are pies. As people were looking at them, they said they wanted pumpkin pies. And then they said they wanted apple pie, so she made apple pies.

[00:25:09] You could actually see every week as she was bringing in new collections from the people who mentioned things the week before.

Discovering Canadian Roots

[00:25:25] Are you Canadian and if so, what does that mean to you?

[00:25:29] Yes I am a Canadian. was born in Ontario and I moved here to Montreal about 25 years ago.

[00:25:42] It’s a complicated question. I’m the first generation to be born here.

[00:25:52] So my grandparents came with my mother after the Second World War, they came here. So it never really felt like I had roots here in Canada. They were somewhere in Europe but I don’t speak Polish and I never met any of my relatives except one great aunt she’s Russian and she came over to visit us she couldn’t speak any English but she also wouldn’t speak in the house to anybody because she thought that Russians have microphones. All I remember from her is that she would sit in our house or trailer and just be sewing mending all the things that we don’t mend any more Selling sending all the things that we don’t mend anymore.

[00:26:44] I consider myself Canadian but kind of like a rootless Canadian so that’s why I felt it was so easy for me to move to another province and one where I didn’t speak the language.

[00:26:58] People were saying “are you crazy. You don’t speak French. You. I don’t know but it’ll all figure itself out. And it did. But surprisingly when I moved here, that’s when I found out that I actually have Acadian roots and New Brunswick and that we go all the way back to Brittany in the 1500s. So that’s why I moved to a French province. Somewhere in my DNA, I knew.

[00:27:26] Maybe we are related.

[00:27:35] And you?

Connected Country

[00:27:37] I am unapologetically Canadian, but for me, it’s the local. seasonal and community-based.

[00:27:52] It’s really interesting to see how when I ask that question, what people tend to bring up changes how I feel as well. Like I interviewed someone who was part of the Banff Forum and that’s a group of young people trying to create what the next Canada will be like.

[00:28:20] So in many ways, being Canadian is being connected. It’s a very collective country. It’s a federation. I love the fact that it’s a federation. Every single province is supposed to be its own thing and we’re stronger together.

[00:28:42] I just think that those kinds of ideals are in a real place to try and get the whole world to be more connected together.

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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 15: Rishad Quazi Helps Non-profits use Technology

Listien to Unapologetically Canadian Episode 15 Rishad Quazi

What happens when a software specialist starts working for a non-profit organization that runs seniors homes?

If he’s Rishad Quazi, you get a clean website with Google analytics despite a few hassles setting it up plus a new board member and volunteer who serves lunches and dinners at resident events and during holidays.

Quazi has specialized in fitting-in to new environments ever since he and his mom escaped war-torn East Pakistan when he was only a-year-and-a-half years old. Since then, he’s lived in Scotland, Malaysia, Singapore, New York, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver and elsewhere. Each time he moves to a new local, he makes friends, learns to fit into the community, and makes a home.

For years, he specialized in helping large companies use technology to build relationships among team members and with their clients. Now, he’s taking his expertise to the non-profit sector with his company Quazimodo.com. He helps them with whatever technology they need, which most often consists of a website and Facebook.

Facebook Strategy

I particularly tend to focus on Facebook just because of the sheer volume of users that are on the system across the demographic board,” he says. “I know certain campaigns tend to focus on different media such as YouTube or Twitter. Those types of things I’ve just found personally that most of my clients and most of their audience tends to visit Facebook the most.

First he trains them how the system works. He helps them decide the best way to present themselves on Facebook.

Do they want to be a personality? Do they want to represent themselves as a group or do they want to do both? I personally would recommend both.”

Minimalist Webpages

Each page on a website needs to be clear to ensure that users know what to do.

My personal approach to most design work is minimalism not too minimalistic but enough to get the user engaged, involved and make things stupidly obvious. That’s the neatest way I can put it. I see a lot of websites that are just way too busy. Yeah. Way too many things going on way too many little distractions and if it gives me a headache I tend to just shut it down right away.”

 

Quazi says that nonprofits need to respond to each and every query and ensure to filter out bad content or inappropriate posts and keep their page active.

Be Consistent

I think I was saying before, the most important thing that I try to convey to my clients is that they need to be consistent regardless of which platform they choose to communicate via. So in other words posting if not every day at least a couple of times a week. Post things that are focused and targeted towards your ideal audience or who your perspective leads might be.”

Welcoming Nature of Canadians Impresses Him

One thing that’s always impressed me most about Canada is the welcoming nature of the people. It is comprised of people from all walks of life from all different ethnicities and stories just like mine who’ve lived all over the world or have ties to places all over the world and you get a much richer sense of that in Canada versus my experiences living in different parts of the US. As you just walk down the street, you see people from everywhere whereas you may not see the same elsewhere.

For a person like me who’s grown up all over the world, that makes me feel comfortable. It makes me feel like I fit in like I’m not you know sticking out like a sore thumb. And even if I did, I’ve lived in places where I stick out. But you’re just a regular person. You are just treated like a regular person. You have the same rights as anybody else. Quite honestly when I travel abroad with my Canadian passport it just gets me a different level of acknowledgement and respect from people. And that’s a good feeling.”

Visit Rishad Quazi at his website.

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Farewell 2018, hello 2019

We are now well into the twenty-first century. The hopes and dreams of our ancestors are well within reach or even surpassed. So where do we go from here?

Personally, I’m inspired in part by the words of preeminent feminist scholar and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft lived in London, Britain between April 27, 1759, and September 10, 1797. (One of her children, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is the famous writer of Frankenstein.)

Wollstonecraft’s first commercial success was a political pamphlet. She wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Men” in 1790 to respond to Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”. In it, she wrote:

In life, an honest man with a confined understanding is frequently the slave of his habits and the dupe of his feelings, whilst the man with a clearer head and colder heart makes the passions of others bend to his interest; but truly sublime is the character that acts from principle, and governs the inferior springs of activity without slackening their vigour; whose feelings give vital heat to his resolves, but never hurry him into feverish eccentricities.[1]

‘During, 2019, I will focus on “acting from principle” and “governing the inferior springs of activity without slackening their vigour.”

I summarize those ideas with the word “peaceful.”

Before focusing on 2019, I think it’s worth reflecting on what happened in 2018.

Slow Start to the Year

Last year’s word for me was “active.” Eventually, the word helped me succeed with several projects. Early in the year, however, I struggled to figure out what to do with my ambitions.

I don’t know what to do with my government action intentions yet, and this problem really stopped me early in 2018. Part of my problem stems from a bruised ego after losing the municipal election late in 2017. There’s a bigger issue with my identity too though. During the election campaign, I gave up a long-held conviction for neutral observance as a journalist and became a clearly biased wannabe politician. Both personas enabled me to share a passion for public service, but neutral journalism is no longer possible. Since I don’t want to practice opinionated journalism either, I haven’t yet figured out how to evolve further. For most of 2018, I avoided writing about municipal politics altogether. I didn’t write much journalism at all in 2018, as you’ll know if you’ve been following the Arialview blog or The Suburban.

I continued writing, although primarily for clients. Those contracts enabled me to study behavioural science, the collaborative economy and how people participate in a just, democratic society. Much of the resulting work will be published over the next two years.

I also began speaking and teaching people how to write well in 2018 and this will continue in earnest in 2019.

Family History Presentations

The earliest speaking gig took place in February along with two other members of Genealogy Ensemble.

My favourite of these was a group presentation to the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) group back in February. The presentation took place in a wonderful venue, The Chamber, Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa, Ontario. Afterwards, we met with the organization’s writing group and received a warm welcome there also.

I recently turned my portion of the presentation at that event into a free course called “Four Steps to Profile Your Ancestors.” It only takes 23 minutes to go through it. Let me know what you think!

Also, BIFHSGO has another wonderful presentation in the same space two weekends from now. Two sisters, Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski will be speaking about how they combined their family history research into a book called “The Cowkeeper’s Wish.” Unfortunately, I can’t attend the presentation, which is open to the public and takes place from 10 until 11:30 am on Saturday, January 12. To keep up with the sisters’ work, however, I’ve signed up for updates when they add to their blog, thecowkeeperswish.com.

Raif Badawi Freedom Award

Another highlight from 2018 took place on April 26 when the Montreal Press Club celebrated its 70th anniversary by awarding jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi with its first ever Freedom Award.

It was such an honour to have dinner with his wife Ensaf Haider and his children Maryam, Doudi and Najwa, who now live in Sherbrooke.

Controversial philosopher Jordan B. Peterson also spoke at the event.

A month later, on May 28, the City of Montreal made Badawi an honourary citizen of the city.

Every Friday at noon, they hold a vigil at the Sherbrooke City Hall to bring Badawi to Canada so that he can be reunited with his wife and children. Friday will be the 158th such event.

I can’t wait to welcome Badawi to Canada.

After that event, activities with the Urban Abundance Solidarity Cooperative (CAUS) took over my schedule.

Promoting Local Food Production

My work with CAUS last year featured a compost project, farmers’ markets, shared gardens and a new member retail outlet at Verdun’s Municipal Greenhouse. Our membership is growing and we extended our Wednesday farmers’ markets into the autumn, a pilot project that will continue in 2019.

Members also re-elected me onto the board of Grand Potager, the non-profit that has turned the municipal greenhouses into an urban agriculture resource centre. The 2018 year marked the first of self-sustaining operations for the new organization. Our 2019 goal will be fundraising to replace the older production greenhouses. That’s been a joy to be a part of.

I’m going to continue exploring how Canada can become more self-sufficient, particularly when it comes to food. I’m excited about continuing the farmers’ markets, compost project and member retail centre with CAUS. I also have two additional projects planned—fruit baskets and a local food application.

Unapologetically Canadian

The year 2018 also marked the beginning of my audio investigation of what it means to be Canadian. During the year, I spoke to courageous people working hard to make our country stronger and kinder while making sure that their own lives have meaning.

It’s a great honour to continue working on that project in the coming year.

Exploring the Nature of Truth

I also plan to continue exploring the nature of truth as “that which corresponds to reality.” My work encouraging Canadians to create Notable Nonfiction in the fields of business, genealogy and journalism will continue.

I’m also planning to explore and promote the incredible leaps and bounds we’re taking in the fields of high tech and artificial intelligence while working equally hard to protect human health. There’s no doubt that we are all undergoing a giant experiment right now, and I’m committed to reconciling the two realities.

Part of that work will be the long-awaited book about how Canada changed because of World War II. If you’d like to be among the beta readers, please let me know.

In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of what I hope will be a wonderfully productive year.

For me, I’m particularly inspired by Thomas Paine’s argument that each of us is born with equal rights and that the state must protect those rights while giving us the ability to keep control over its efforts through voting and other democratic innovations.

I also agree with Jean-Paul Sartre that each of us must choose what we do with our lives to ensure meaning. Simone de Beauvoir’s extension of his ideas to encourage women to recognize our own freedom and in doing so free ourselves from a society whose rules and values have traditionally stemmed from men.

So, here’s to freedom and meaning in 2019.

[1] Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France (2nd edition London, Printed for J. Johnson, 1790),  https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/wollstonecraft-a-vindication-of-the-rights-of-men, accessed 1/1/2019.

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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 11: Julie Quenneville

As Breast Cancer month began, I spoke with MUHC Foundation President Julie Quenneville for my podcast. Our discussion can be heard here.

Most of our conversation covers the needs met by the annual Enchantée fundraiser for the MUHC Breast Clinic wellness program. This year’s event takes place next Thursday, October 18th, 2018 at the Le Mount Stephen from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Tickets cost $200 each and can be purchased online.

The event is important enough for Montreal that I also prepared a story for the Suburban.

Julie and I are friends and members of the same club, so you’ll probably notice that some of my questions reflect a deep admiration of her work. Yet I’ve never before heard her talk about her Canadian identity and her work with the Banff Forum trying to figure out why kind of country we want to live in. Just goes to show you that podcasts can reveal fascinating facets of people.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation.

How does Enchantée fit in with all of the rest of the fundraising you do at the MUHC?

Julie Quenneville: [00:01:09] So we do a lot of fundraising that is globally for the priority needs of the MUHC. And we also do some very targeted fundraising that is for certain diseases departments and linked to of course the priority needs of those areas. So this event is particular to support the breast center and its own priorities. It’s a great opportunity to engage not only the staff, the physicians but also the patients and their families in a fundraising initiative. So when you’re very targeted, it allows them to feel like they’re giving back and really working towards a common goal.  It can be quite empowering for the patients.

How did it start?

[00:02:01] Well it was the committee that the three co-chairs actually sitting down with physicians and it started off with very specific needs. So not people in general but a need that is not being met in the community and that’s lymphedema. Have you ever heard of that?

[00:02:20] No.

Lymphedema

[00:02:22] Lymphedema is an absolutely terrible swelling basically of the arms and the legs that happens after surgery when you remove lymph nodes. It affects about 25 percent of breast cancer survivors who post-surgery will have this swelling. There is absolutely no cure for it and the only thing that we can do is to manage the disease through obviously early diagnosis always essential but also through physiotherapy. So you manipulate the affected areas and there are also some bandages. So the government recently decided to cover the bandages, at least a portion of the bandages that the patients need. But it’s still unfortunately not covering the actual physiotherapy that relieves the pain. And you can take a look on the internet what Lymphedema looks like. But it is life changing for the patients. Many of them don’t want to leave home anymore.

And so we actually have the Canadian lead physician who has been really leading the battle to get lymphedema care covered across the country. Her name is Dr. Anna Tower. And so it was in meetings obviously with Doctor Tower throughout the last couple of years, our foundation has always covered those services. I would say probably for the last decade. And in the breast center, we cover the services for our patients as well. And so anyone who is afflicted with this is at least will have access to care.

Now that’s not good enough. I think everyone else in the province should have access, but at least we’re doing our part in making sure that our patients are taken care of.

So the conversation started with lymphedema and saying to ourselves well with the patients how do we make sure that these services continue because they’re not covered by government and what else can we do to not only improve the survival rate but also improve their quality of life post-surgery and treatment?

[00:04:30] So I just looked at a picture of what lymphedema is. This is extreme. The picture I’m looking at looks extreme in various ways. One just makes it look kind of blotty and then right up to legs that are clearly five times bigger than what they were prior to the disease.

[00:04:59] For breast cancer patients, it would be mostly the arms, because it’s in the areas that you remove the lymph nodes, and in breast cancer that would be the arms. But it’s a high number 25 percent. In all the cancers, ovarian cancer and breast cancer, patients are the most affected by this.

[00:08:32] I can see why they don’t want to leave home. They’ve become a whole different person and they’ve already just gone through a very traumatic situation anyway because they’ve just survived breast cancer.

[00:08:40] Their quality of life is affected.

Co-chairs Cynthia Price Verreault, Jo Anne Kelly Rudy and Anna Capobianco-Skipworth

So we have three co-chairs.  So Cynthia Price and Jo Anne Rudy have been heavily involved in the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation throughout probably the last 20 years and Anna is a breast cancer survivor. So you know they were personally touched by these issues.

So, on top of the lymphedema services, the funds raised from this event—this is the second annual event—are going to the wellness program.

Wellness Program Services

So that includes lymphedema but it also goes above and beyond. It includes:

  • Resource guides to help patient education. It’s you know a very very stressful time to be diagnosed to go through the treatments. So we want to be able to help our patients and their families through that process.
  • Preoperative kinesiology support sessions. So this is again we have proven through our research projects that providing kinesiology before surgery actually helps them recover afterwards. And we have a research project right now at the breast center that is actually verifying if physiotherapy before the surgery will reduce the risk of lymphodema for example. So we’re looking at all the preop care, which is so key. But again this is not something that is covered by our regular health care.
  • Post-operative support services. Again from looking through what does that mean for patients? Well you know that’s the nutritionist and the psychosocial so all of those areas that really help the entire patient.

 

Now I noticed last year you raised 120,000 dollars.

Exactly. That was our first event.

Yeah and how many patients would that cover

I don’t know off the top of my head but we can certainly pull that number and get back to you.

Event Location

Okay perfect. And I noticed that this particular event is taking place at the Mount Stephen on October 18, which is a pretty good location. Was it there last year as well?

[00:10:31]It was there last year as well. They’ve been a very good partner. It’s a very nice place and as you know it’s important in these fundraising events to find something that is central and is a bit different from other events.

[00:10:39] So you had 200 guests last year. Do you know how many people are reserved so far this year?

[00:10:43] We’re still in the middle of the sale. So we’re still confident to be able to surpass last year.

Fundraising Partners

[00:10:50] I noticed that some of the other partners in this, in addition to the MUHC itself and McGill University, of course, include the Goodman Cancer Centre, the Genome Centre, and the Rossy Cancer Network. Can you tell me a little bit about what each of those groups does?

So this year we’ve added a partner foundation. We’re always striving to collaborate with others because that’s the best way to help our patients. So the Cedar’s Cancer Foundation, which is a foundation of the MUHC, has joined forces with us to make this event even more successful. The Cedar Cancer Foundation is heavily involved with the Rossy Cancer Network, which you know if you look back in past announcements, is funded obviously by the Rossy family and is a way to break down the silos between the MUHC, McGill, JJH and St. Mary’s for Cancer Care and all of the foundations related also contribute to the pot. Any time there is a funded project everyone is engaged and everyone contributes financially, including the Rossy Network.

[00:11:35] OK. So then you have a network of people who are already behind your project when it gets launched.

In all of cancer, because the patients flow through these various areas, you know we have incredible complementarity where we don’t duplicate the services. There are certain cancers which we are specialized in. Certain cancers will go to the Jewish. And of course, there are some cancers that go to St. Mary’s. So this way we make sure that the patients are always in the best place and are being treated by the best team possible for their cancer.

[00:11:59] Did you find last year that there were new partners this year because of the event last year?

[00:12:06] Well it allowed us to start a conversation. And that’s that’s the key right? Even though we’re not raising millions through a fund-raising event, it allows us to meet patients who are interested in giving back and interested in getting involved.  Absolutely there were many conversations that went in other directions and many many of the attendees became important donors as well to the program.

[00:12:27] Well and then what happens in your job I think we have got a higher level in your job you actually handle a heck of a lot of events. How do you handle it? I mean just give me a sort of an overview of a day in your life it can’t be easy because everything is so emotional. I mean you’re dealing with life and death.

Julie’s Mission

[00:12:40] It’s funny that you say that and you know everyone in the foundation all the staff are also patients. Our board of directors are also patients. Our physicians are so dedicated and so passionate about their work. So every meeting I go to everyone is striving to make things move and save more patients. So it is not a job, it’s more of a mission. And then when I come home and I wasn’t successful in bringing a gift, it is not… It really hits us emotionally because we want to be able to solve this problem. When you meet your first patient with lymphedema, for example, when you come home at night it’s hard to let that go. You just want to go back to work and try to find another solution try to find more money to be able to provide additional care.

So a day in my life is every day I meet physicians, nurses or patients who are looking to work together to find solutions. But it’s also empowering Tracey.

There’s always no one of the things I learned in being in health care for this long is that there’s always a way to make it work. If you get everybody around the table engaged in finding a solution, you do find a solution, and that’s empowering.

[00:13:43] Can you give me an example of something like that? Perhaps something not connected to this event. But in terms of something that looks like a very difficult situation that you were able to find a solution?

Centre for Innovative Medicine

[00:13:53] So we have a physician at the MUHC who is specialized in rare rare genetic diseases and because of his expertise, we get patients from all around the province. We’re also the only place one of the only places in the world to have a Centre for innovative medicine which is an area dedicated 100 percent to clinical trials.

So he had a patient at one point and there were quite a few publications around this case, who came from one of the regions of Quebec so out of the McGill Territory who was 32 years and who was in palliative care at the time and no physician he had seen was able to identify the source so they had to put him into palliative care. For a father, that’s difficult to swallow at 32 years old. It turns out what he had was basically thrush in his brain. It’s really hard to get rid of thrush. It turns out that through the work that our physician did, he mixed medication and eventually he found that a mixture of two medications for other diseases actually worked for this patient and he was sent home to be with his family. And this is a physician that we fund heavily because of course, this kind of research is so ultra=specialized that it takes a lot of tender loving care but it’s very encouraging because it reminds us that we are able to pull off miracles when we have dedicated people.

So is that patient is still alive. Has he become one of your donors?

I can’t tell you that, because obviously, that information is confidential.

[00:15:23] But he is certainly unbelievably grateful and I’m sure every time he tells his story about what happened to him and his family it is important for the hospital and also important for Montreal.

It is a very very very powerful story and it shows that if you keep working hard,  there are miracles. Not very many people think about a fundraiser as a miracle worker.

Making the Difference between Quality and Excellence

Well, we make the difference as a foundation we make the difference between quality and excellence. We fund innovation.

[00:16:04] There is no government budget to fund innovation. That is really the drive that the community has. There’s also no budget in the government for development of new equipment. So when there’s a piece of equipment a new piece of technology on the market, the foundations support that. The existing budget is really just for the replacement of the existing platform. So what we do is we make the difference between quality care and excellent care which is what we all want and what we should all demand.

[00:16:37] And well how much do you have specific about how much your foundation supports above and beyond the budget of the MUHC.

[00:16:50It’s important to note that we don’t fund items that are covered in the operating budget. We always cover what’s above and beyond. So just to make sure that we don’t confuse that. We raised last year 24 billion in revenue plus our investments. So that was a record-breaking year for us. That’s a 25 percent increase in revenue.

[00:17:17] Congratulations.

Thank you.

How long have you been there?

[00:17:24] It’ll be three years in October.

So that result is really in part due to your leadership. You can take credit for a lot of that.

Engaged Board Members

[00:17:34] Well, it is due to the team and the board. We have an absolutely exceptional board. You can take a look at the list online. In the last year alone, we have brought in a lot of really big important new names and a lot of Francophones as well, which is important to note. Many Francophone leaders are really supporting the MUHC and helping to raise funds and helping to engage the Francophone community. To give you an example, Michèle Boisvert, who is executive vice-president of the Caisse de Dépot has just joined. Marc Parent, who’s president of CAE also joined. So these are really important folks in the community.

It’s thanks to the entire team, the staff, the board and the physicians who are working with us that we were able to have that kind of success.

[00:18:29] Now donors are all patients.

Do you have a relationship with any of the francophone funders or foundations? Do you do any joint projects?

[00:18:50] So we’ve had a very long joint corporate campaign with the CHUM Foundation and this was to build the two new hospitals. It was a great success. We had a wonderful collaboration between the two foundations and the two institutions and we have you know we are preparing now for our next big fund-raising initiatives and some of them will be in collaboration not only with them but we hope with other hospitals across the province. The funding agents across the country for research are asking for it and the donors are asking for it as well that we work more and more together. So we plan to do that.

Fundraising Compared to Journalism

[00:19:32] OK. And now just on the personal side, you used to be a journalist and you’ve moved to a different world. What kind of, I assume that the adrenaline is similar, because you have so much emotion in your job, but it’s a different kind, other than talking to a journalist like me.

[00:19:56]  I’m going to speak very honestly to you. When I was a journalist because I’m an incredibly passionate person as you know. I found it very difficult to cover the story but not be involved in it. And what I find now is that I have an opportunity to actually have a direct impact on my community and it’s hands-on. And so it is very similar in terms of how you tell the story that has the impact, that you engage the community. But it’s just a different step in getting actively involved in mobilizing people to have an impact on the community.

[00:20:41] Well and it’s also similar in that you have to be a thoughtful and accurate spokesperson and willing to say I don’t know when you don’t know.

[00:20:54] Absolutely. And you know we’re striving to we’re striving to mobilize as many people as possible. If you think about it, we’re the second most important research hospital in the country right after UHM in Toronto. We have 700,000 patient visitors at the Glen alone, 500,000 of those adults. Those are big numbers. There are a lot of people who can work together and have a desire to work together to improve care for the community. So what our objective is simply to help them work together and help mobilize them.

[00:21:42] Yeah well I’m glad that you pointed that out to that. I think there’s a very important and to give an idea of the kind of scope of the projects you are working on. This is one event in a very large fundraising effort. It’s an important event because it’s a targeted event.

[00:22:03] Yes exactly. Absolutely. And in order to operate the entire initiative I’ve mentioned to you, we need about $300,000 dollars per year, which the foundation supports. So those are also big numbers.

[00:22:18] Wow. Yeah, that’s a big gap.

Do you consider yourself a Canadian? And if so what does that mean to you?

[00:22:39] I absolutely consider myself a Canadian—a Canadian first and a Quebecker and of course a Montrealer as well. And I think that that defines us. Canadians are very different and I think with what we’re seeing with our neighbours down south, it seems to from my perception have reaffirmed the differences between being Canadian and others around the world and we have a tendency towards being more diplomatic, more engaging and collaborative and those are things that I strive to do every day at work and at home with my personal life.

I also sit on the board of directors with a really important group called the Banff Forum where we strive to find solutions to break down those barriers across the country from east to west. We’re meeting next week and this is part of on my personal time one of the areas that I find most important and I hope to be able to contribute.

The Banff Forum

[00:24:03] Oh can you talk a little bit about the Banff Forum?

[00:24:12] Well the Banff Forum is an organization that was created by a small group of Canadians after the referendum in 95. The idea behind it was really to engage Canadians across the country to break down those barriers and have everybody working together. There’s a lack of communication in the past so that was really important to get people around the country. It’s really targeted at younger Canadians. It was founded officially in 2002.

We should be defining what kind of country we want to live in in the next 20, 30 years. So it’s a group of very very passionate young Canadians.

Although I’m not so young, they are very young and very engaged. We meet officially for a conference once a year, but we have many chapter provincial meetings as well and seminars. We talk about the environment and indigenous issues. We talk about politics. Many politicians from every party come and speak with us as well to be able to have that diversity of conversation. We talk about culture. And it’s really about building that curiosity and seeking solutions and all of the members who—we are very careful to welcome the members that represent different diversity of different age groups and different cultural backgrounds and make sure that these are all individuals that are also incredibly engaged in their communities and so they bring back this information and knowledge to their own work into their networks.

And so the meeting next week is actually in Yellowknife. We’re going to Inuvik first and then in Yellowknife. We’ll be visiting from villages communities and we’ll be hearing from them are their challenges and seeing it for ourselves. I’m hoping to have some time to go visit some of the clinics that are there as well. And somehow, of course, it’s impossible not to have an impact on perception.

[00:26:40] We’re all very anxious to hear from them Yeah exactly. Well, will you have any presentations about your experience in the future?

None are planned.

[00:26:53] This is a closed group because we want to make sure that everyone can speak very openly. But of course, you know you cannot leave such an event without changing as a person in your own perception changes. So I’d be happy to speak with you afterwards if you’d like.

[00:27:14] That would be wonderful thank you very much.

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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 10: Alternative Investing with Bradley Semmelhaack

This week, I’m publishing my interview with Brad Semmelhack, a portfolio manager with Crystalline Management, an alternative investment house in Montreal. Crystalline celebrates 20 years of existence this month. Congratulations, Mark, Brad and the team.

Brad and I spoke in a room at the top of a tower on Sherbrooke Street looking out over the city. It was stunningly beautiful.

Listen to Unapologetically Canadian Episode 10: Alternative Investing with Bradley Semmelhaack

A transcript of our conversation follows, but if, like me, you want to brush up on some finance industry basics first, check out investment basics from the Financial Consumer Agency, the pdf “Investment at a glance” from the Canadian Securities Administrators and the Bank of Canada’s portrait of hedge funds in Canada.

Here’s the transcript:

[00:01:25] Thank you Tracey. Yeah, Crystalline. We’re actually celebrating our 20th year and it was founded by my partner and CEO Marc Amirault who had worked for 15 years at the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and decided to take the strategy that he was implementing at the Caisse to a smaller business to fulfill a dream if you will and to be able to have more flexibility and do his own thing really and be independent.

Brad’s Career

[00:02:00] I come from a background where my dad started on the floor of the Montreal exchange in 1955. I joined him in 1994 after having planted trees for six years and then was hired ten years later when Mark was able to he actually got tired of having me call him about 10 or 15 times a day with an idea and thought it’d be much simpler if I just turned around and given the ideas that I had to pick up the phone.

[00:02:27] So anyway that’s sort of how I got here. I started covering my dad’s clients in 94 and then when these hedge fund things started becoming more prevalent, as a salesman I decided to go with the new thing whereas all the other salesmen decided to stick with the old stuff and when I started pulling in some decent numbers, heads started turning and I was able to capitalize on the positioning I’d had made in the innovative fashion but ultimately got got picked up and moved from what we call the sell side, which is the brokers, to the buy side, which is the money managers and I’ve been here for 14 years now and will be celebrating as I said 20 years of Lane in September we have our party. So that’s a little bit of how I got here.

[00:03:18] Wow. And when you say innovative I don’t know what. So tell me what kinds of innovations are.

[00:03:26] Well it was I mean hedge funds were trying to innovate in general.

Money Management Styles

[00:03:34] The traditional money management is what we call a long only. You go and you invest in an instrument of public debt or equity. And if it goes up you mark your wealth up and if it goes down well you mark your wealth down and then it depends on where you sell if you crystallize that profit or loss.

[00:04:05] What we what we do here is more we call it arbitrage and the irony of all this is when I was doing finance at McGill there was a professor who said ‘arbitrage, there is no arbitrage. There is no free lunch you never find this.”

[00:04:25] And I always wanted to go back and tell and well you know what I’ve been doing arbitration for 14 years. And in fact, it does exist and I think with the prevalence of high-frequency trading, which is pure pure arbitrage, there are ways of–it’s not really riskless it’s never a riskless profit–but certainly you can hedge out or you can…

[00:04:51] Really what it is a different silo of risk where you’re using different instruments and the relative legal attachment that each one has to that designate how one is priced relative to the other. And in that way, you can pull out inefficiencies in the market between different all the different actors in capital markets because each one works in a different silo typically and don’t always look at these relationships.

[00:05:28] So if you can straddle all the different players, you can often you can often eek out a small profit from inefficiencies and people say oh wow you’re you’re you’re strategies are so complex and it’s so complicated and I just don’t understand the math and I fire back ‘you know these people who do long only, they typically research companies for a month or two or three or years before investing and then they have to follow those companies on a day-to-day basis. The news, what’s going on what’s going on in the industry what’s going on in the economy, who the actors are in capital markets, what the Mr. Market thinks. You know.

[00:06:14] I just look at relative pricing. Really it’s a mathematical equation really understood understanding in a very detailed fashion the relationship between different instruments in the capital structure of a company and that is available in capital markets where, whether it be options or we don’t do futures, but options or bonds or convertible bonds or equities or preference shares.

[00:06:44] So you try and tie all those things together whereas in general all those different instruments are only looked at by people only looking at that one piece of the capital structure.

[00:07:00] So you’re actually doing entire groups of investments in order to take advantage of all that. Is that what you mean?

[00:07:06] Yeah you pair off or sometimes in one case we have 12 lines on one company. So you have the convertible bond, you’re long on the convertible bond and then you’re short a whole series of calls and then you’re short the equity. In another case, I’m long one bond short another bond and along the equity. You know in some cases, I’ll just do the preferreds. I’ve done one preferred against another that’s a little bit more common. One bond against another. There are quite a few people doing that. That’s more or more typical but I won’t go sort of like a long short fund would be long one bank versus the other thinking that one bank is going to outperform the other somehow. We don’t…there’s no real attachment there and legal attachment whereas, in the case of a convertible bond or a warrant or an option, there’s a legal attachment between the two. In the case of merger arbitrage there is a legally binding deal between two parties that, should it be consumed based on certain criteria, one security will become the other or cash.

Risk

[00:08:16] So that’s the other type of that’s the other type of I mean there’s always where when I said before, there’s always risk while the risk there is that the is consumed as we saw in the case of AECON last month I believe.

[00:08:30] You know the Canadian Government did not allow a Chinese entity to take over a Canadian engineering firm so that there was the risk there.

[00:08:40] In other cases, it can be as simple as just this morning Superior Propane bought the assets of a US company that had propane distribution and the result of that was that that company was able to redeem their bonds. So now I took the position that that transaction was going to be consumed so I bought the bonds that the company had suggested maybe repurchased should the transaction be consumed.

[00:09:15] Okay so that when they were reported…

[00:09:18] Yeah. So once the deal is consumed, they go and then they officially make the announcement.

[00:09:25] So what have really what it really boils down to is the different investment vehicles land you in different risk buckets so that’s when typically money managers talk about a split. They talk of a 65 35 stock-bond split and then within the stocks you have big cap, small cap, foreign holdings, etc.

[00:09:49] We’re a different risk bucket, so we allow investors that choose to invest with us a third alternative which is a further diversification out of that bond stock typical you know very tried and true if you would that’s been around forever the versification mix. You can broaden that out and in certain cases they broaden it out very wide into different buckets and there’s private equity and there are infrastructure and real estate commodities and then you can different plan sponsors break those out in different ways but basically we fall the we fall sometimes in the bond allocation sometimes in the alternative allocation sometimes in the hedge fund allocation but our clients typically you know they have they have and they have an allocation for that allows for they have a mandate to diversify their investments in order to try and control the chance of loss of capital.

Who are your clients?

[00:11:08] Well we have we have mom and pops and we have retirees and we have big pension funds. It goes across the gamut just people that want to diversify outside or within depending on your philosophy that that mix depend just depending on how they want to allocate to their asset mix what asset mix they determine and how they how they want to implement it.

[00:11:37] So at some places, you’re it to creating a kind of a new movement in a different kind of investing.

[00:11:43] Yeah I mean and alternatives you know it’s it’s it’s not really new. Keeping up with the Joneses from the 50s is actually Jones had a hedge fund.

[00:11:51] Oh really. I didn’t know that.

[00:11:54] And he wasn’t even the first hedge fund. The term hedge fund is a misnomer really because a lot of people don’t do any hedging. It simply usually falls under a different rule that allows people to invest.

[00:12:16] So you have certain rules that you invest that anyone can invest and hedge funds are somewhat more restricted in who can invest and what those vehicles and the rules under which those vehicles exist. So that the rules are both very onerous and are very well-defined but are just not the same. There are very similar rules for the most part.

[00:12:44] And then when it gets into the fine print in the details, the rules are not quite the same.

[00:12:50] So we fall under the private placement rules and so our potential investors are more restricted whereas say a mutual fund or anything that’s on the listed stock market it falls under the anyone can invest in them. And there are just two different sets of rules they fall under two different sections of the investment acts and the and the regulations.

Typical Day

[00:13:16] Okay. And so in terms of a typical day when I arrived, I was kind of surprised you have six screens in front of you. Pretty much everybody in the place has six screens in front of them. What does a typical day look like? Other than, when I arrived there were only two screens of the six that were on.  [Note: my photo belies my words, as all 6 screens are clearly on.] [00:13:39] I might have been to just come back and get a coffee. But yeah I know all six. Typically I mean I try and put different things on different screens but often I might have a spreadsheet that takes up even more than all of the six screens.

[00:13:54] So, is it all math? What do you as a person.

What do you actually do?

[00:14:01] Math is a model. But you need to read a lot of an awful lot of text before you can before you can see how to put into mathematical into a mathematical model or programming language what that those documents what that reading is telling you. Like I was going through the the the indentures which are hundreds of pages long to try and figure out how to model the Superior Propane and New Alta how to model how the what math to use to figure out how much I can pay for those bonds. And you got you’ve got an awful lot of text to go through to try and figure out what numbers to put where. And then once you figure that out, then you can put the numbers in. But I had discussions with three different dealers who give me three different interpretations of those documents and it was up to me to finally read them and decide how I was going to interpret it. And when you when you actually walked in I was trying to get the person on the phone who could answer that question at the company because the company put out a press release that said we will call them in the normal course according to the indenture period. And the indenture being 150 pages long and cross-referencing between six different sections and subsections and sub-articles and definitions and preambles and supplemental indentures and revisions. It got rather complicated rather quickly.

[00:15:33] So like many jobs, you turned into a detective.

[00:15:35] That’s a good way of putting it. You really have to be a detective because there are a lot of things that companies can say and a lot of things companies cannot say. And you have to do a whole lot of a whole lot of thinking and a whole lot of deductive use a whole lot of detective work to find the information and then a whole lot of reasoning to come to a likely set of outcomes and the likelihood each of them is going to come to pass and then making a decision as to whether you can live with the possibilities for the different outcomes.

[00:16:17] Wow OK. That’s a cool way of putting it. Anything else about your day that you want to describe?

[00:16:25] Well first thing first is that you always come in and have a great big cup of coffee.

[00:16:30] The coffee machine here is good I suppose.

[00:16:33] We actually have five of them. Very important to have coffee.

How many employees do you have?

[00:16:40] We started Mark started alone and then he hired one more and one more and then we were after that we were four and then six and then we got up to with interns about 20 and now we are 16 and we’ll probably end up around 18 by the end of the year. That is kind of the vision for now. Plus or minus maybe some part-time or interns or what have you. But yeah I mean there’s everything a big part of any organization is compliance. You know there’s maybe five or six people who are actual full-time job is investing and then five actually right now and then everybody else–the other 11–do accounting, compliance, sales marketing and what have you.

[00:17:40] So it’s it’s really it’s really a big process to keep to keep track of all this and then that’s not to that’s not even to mention all the people in prime brokerage and all the dealers who call me all day long and then all our suppliers in terms of lawyers and accountants consultants and you know then all the

Regulatory Oversight

You know there’s got to be five or six different regulators that oversee us between people who are looking for tax evaders in the United States, terrorists who are trying and trying to hide their money in different places, etc. The AMF we’re trying to make sure that we do things according to the rules the RCMP are making sure that we’re not that there are no fraudsters.

[00:18:29] You know we get an awful lot of people. I’m often told. Hey, you hedge funds you’re not you’re not regulated. Nobody oversees you and I’m like OK how many times you’ve been audited in the last 20 years? And they’ll say oh I don’t know auditors by the AMF. Well, maybe once or twice and I’ll say they typically come in here every four years. And the last time they spent three weeks, four of them.

[00:18:48] So wow. So please don’t tell me that I am not regulated because they went through every single piece of paper we had with a fine tooth comb and they made sure that everything was was on the level and copacetic and cross-referenced.

What do you want people to know about the financial industry and how it works?

[00:19:18] Well I mean.

[00:19:19] This is a Canadian company. It’s you know it’s in the middle of Montreal but you work internationally.

[00:19:28] Yeah we invest in. We specialize. We initially specialized in Canadian arbitrage when we started out with one point five million dollars and then pretty much when we hit 50 we had to start looking outside of Canada because you really want to take the very best ideas. We don’t you know we don’t have to invest in anything. There are no constraints really. We can take. We like to be able to take really the cream creme de la creme the very top easiest fruit we can take. It takes you know maybe a little more time to research but they really have a strong conviction about even though there may be 500 positions in the portfolio, you know like I said there can be 12 positions that makeup one strategy or investment in one more pointed idea really. So you have to have a pretty broad universe to go and find those ideas and then and then be able to follow them and have public information and so on. It’s really yeah so past 50 till now, there’s a little more in the US and we broadened bit by bit what we do in each of those markets.

[00:20:58] So that now there’s probably you know maybe 20 sub-strategies I think we have that are defined in three large silos of fixed income arbitrage, merger arbitrage and convertible arbitrage. I don’t know if I answered your question.

[00:21:20] No you didn’t. Good.

[00:21:21] Good aside you explain to me how your work within the financial industry but you didn’t tell me what you want people to know about that.

[00:21:29] OK so yeah I mean I think I mentioned before that you know hedge funds are regulated just like everybody else.

[00:21:38] And in my in my estimation, more so but I think my many of my competitors would disagree. Everybody is overseen. Everybody has a different spin on how they’re doing things and you know for that for the hugest part everybody is really trying to do their best and offer something that is in the best interest of the clients. But everybody is doing a jaw. It’s like it’s like going into it it’s like going into any store and buying anything. I mean you go into a food store and the greengrocer does not want you to get sick on his cabbages.

[00:22:22] But you know sometimes cabbages get in there that might be a little bit rotten.

[00:22:26] And he didn’t see it or you know maybe he’s got a bad cabbage and he paid for them and he’s got to get rid of them.

[00:22:35] He knows they’re going to be bad in a week. So he puts them in the front to try and get rid of those ones first. But really the freshest ones are at the bottom or if you go into a depanneur or you know the freshest milk is in the back and the less fresh milk is in the front. I mean is that unethical?

[00:22:53] You know I’m trying to find an anecdote to you know people do act in the best interest, but at the end of the day no matter how many consultants and advisers and everything you’ve got to you’ve got to be able to have a good gut feel about who you are who you’re dealing with and check them out.

[00:23:15] I mean you know there are you’ve got you got to make sure you feel comfortable because you know it’s really hard to stay away from it’s usually no. It’s usually pretty easy to stay away from the Earl Joneses and the Madoff’s but they do creep in there every once in a while. But it’s more ending up with someone who you feel uncomfortable dealing with and you’re not quite sure who is who interests there are there where the balance is sitting on their best interest and just being comfortable with the service you’re getting. I mean you know it always comes down to a buyer beware. Never forget that no matter how many consultants and lawyers and accountants and everything.

[00:24:08] It’s almost like if you ask for too much advice someone is going to say no to something. So you know at the end of the day it’s going to be you.

[00:24:16] So you have to have you do have to put on your thinking cap when you’re choosing the right adviser or the right investment.

[00:24:24] And and and make sure you are comfortable at all times and as time goes on.

[00:24:34] I mean a good anecdote is my life partner who I think it took me it took about four people we had to go through before we finally found someone that she liked dealing with. And they’re all doing a good job there all honest. Know most of them are banks and banks have about the biggest compliance departments in the world. And she you know but it took it took three or four different advisers until she finally found somebody with whom she was comfortable and I’ve recommended you know I’d try and help out friends who ask and I know often give them three or four or five different choices and they’ll choose the person with whom they feel the most comfortable.

[00:25:13] And you know once you’ve gone through are they registered and you know are they offering me a product that I that from my best gut makes sense to me and a good plan that that is going to meet my financial goals. You know after that do I actually like sitting down and discussing investments with the person and they seem to be listening to me and do they seem to be acting in my best in my in my self-interest while still carrying on their business. And you know there better not be too much of a conflict of interest there how do you feel about that.

[00:25:49] And you know read about conflict of interest and read about how much they’re being paid.

[00:25:55] I mean everybody gets paid. You know lawyers get paid up to a thousand dollars an hour you never think twice. Doctors get paid huge amounts. You don’t think of how much you’re paying your accountant or many advisers. You know in the finance industry we do get paid and it’s not. It is becoming much much more transparent as time goes on.

[00:26:15] But there is a lot of work that goes on behind it. And you know somebody has to pay for all that compliance and all that oversight. And unfortunately, like most industries, it comes out of the user and that is all part and package of investing in public investments.

[00:26:33] Do you go private.

[00:26:35] No you can always invest in your own company but then you’re you’re open to the sharks and there’s no one overseeing it.

[00:26:43] The public markets are overseen by so many different people and you know there is a premium to pay for that and it all comes out in the wash but in that you have a much better feeling than you can go to bed at night knowing that you’ve excluded ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine you know six sigma of the of the bad folks.

[00:27:12] It’s interesting that it sort of reminds me of the thing we’re learning about social media which is that if you’re not paying for something if you’re not paying for a product then you are the product so basically you have to have to keep in mind when you’re doing financial purchases as well.

[00:27:28] You know when I whenever I talk to someone whenever we have a company and whenever I look at an investment the first thing I have to consider is OK

The person giving me this information, where do they benefit from this?

What is their stake in this and what outcome is best for them? Who has control over this outcome and what’s the best outcome for them. And how much control do they have on making that outcome happen?

[00:27:59] And that’s usually that’s usually the best path towards the most likely outcome no matter how difficult it is to get to that outcome or how unlikely it might seem. That’s usually what comes about.

[00:28:16] That’s an awesome answer. It’s a philosophical answer too that it fits into many things, not just finances.

[00:28:22] Well it’s just you know it’s amazing that you know the people who control the company if they have a lot of stock that stock that company is not going bankrupt. If they have no stock, the company is likely to go bankrupt. If they own bonds, that portion of the capital structure will be protected. If there’s a bank in there, and the bank owns management, well the bank’s going to be protected.

[00:28:59] And anything is possible. And you know even with all the regulatory oversight, it’s very often there are fait accomplit that happens and then once you’re put into that situation, it doesn’t really matter what came before, there’s a new reality and that’s the new reality.

[00:29:19] A good example was in the case of Bell Canada when they were supposed to be taken over. Way back over 10 years ago. That was a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court where the bondholders had been assured with personal knowledge personally in their offices staring in the eyes from the management of the company that the company would never ever do anything that would that would risk their investment grade credit. And that’s why it was not necessary to put into writing and legal form protections against a leveraged buyout that would that would compromise the value of those bonds.

[00:30:01] And it went all the way to the Supreme Court that the company was allowed to go against the word that they gave. It went back and forth.

[00:30:09] That was it was that was the so-so verbal contracts no longer exist at least not, in that case, one or even written contracts today can go against Oh no no.

[00:30:21] If any legal laws. I mean we had a bankruptcy where we had to go to court and prove that there was a there where the bank was going to charge for a loan for a loan in bankruptcy too much.

[00:30:40] And the judge had approved that because it was a very big company within a very tight spot.

[00:30:48] And that was the only option for the company was to accept the terms of that loan and we had to really do an awful lot of legal work in that court to have that amount reduced. Wow.

[00:31:05] And it was it was like the judge said yes this loan is too expensive but I’m going to accept it because that’s the company’s the money tomorrow morning if not it stops the company from operating.

[00:31:19] And that is you know that is often an overriding principle. And.

[00:31:25] OK. So whether that company that is very much like bankruptcy law or whether they were in bankruptcy.

[00:31:31] And yeah you have to you know a lot of a lot is often said about capital markets and you know investors want this and investors want that.

[00:31:39] But in Canada the responsibility of the people running the company which is ultimately the directors who are who are responsible. Their responsibility is to the corporation and its stakeholders and in the law, that is often applied as being very much including suppliers and employees and the business and the I mean the whole point to law is to allow businesses to continue. So it makes sense that when something comes before a court that the overriding philosophy of a judge should be how is this going to continue? How is this process going to end so that it has the best outcome for the Canadian economy and that is the judges really go to a lot of trouble to try and see through what all the lawyers are trying to do because the lawyers are just acting and you know they’re trying to prove their case and that’s their job too. And then the judge has to really cut through that and understand all what the lawyers were telling them over the days and days and days that they have to listen to all this and then you know give a judgment on how you know what the best outcome is for all the parties concerned depending on what all the promises that were made before each of them.

[00:33:02] Right. So that’s for Canada as a whole which leads to my last question is about you personally as well. I like how you go into the philosophy world away from getting on you know who you are. And your last question is

Do you consider yourself a Canadian and if so why?

[00:33:22] Yeah I mean I do consider myself a Canadian even though you know you don’t go back too far to find when I when my grandparents and great grandparents immigrated to this country.

[00:33:37] But you know the why.

[00:33:45] I just feel that I I try and you know you I don’t know if it’s I act on how I think it is to be Canadian or I think I’m just part of a mosaic of what it is to be Canadian and I think in Canada more of a mosaic. But I think people here are pretty happy and you know try and do things that they can have their life, liberty and pursuit happiness but without really impeding on anybody else’s.

[00:34:18] And if anything I think we’re very much Canadian as Canadians and every Canadian you know really think several times before acting so that everything we do does not only does not hurt anybody else but things that we do are not only in our self-interest but enhance the people around us and that we try and make that as broad as possible.

[00:34:48] Even at my high school is their motto what they try and what they try and teach their students is to be a man for others. And you know with boys-only school so far. But you know I think that to a great extent to some extent is is what it is to be Canadian. Not only living for me but also you know how my life positively impacts others.

[00:35:17] I think it’s is it Winston Churchill that said you as you take your life that you made you make your life with what you give for others or something like that. Anyway that might be British but anyway I certainly think it applies to Canadians and I identify with that and try and carry that out.

[00:35:37] So it’s not you know it’s not just giving money it’s how you act. Every single day.

[00:35:42] I remember a company that came in here that wanted to build a gold mine and he was like I’m like Oh how. What’s going to happen when you say drained. What do you mean draining like all the lakes above the mine are going to be drained lake or what do you do with all the fish.

[00:35:53] And like oh we don’t care about the fish. I’m like well what about the environmental protection. We can get all those permits is not a problem we’re just going to drain those and you know whatever happens the fish, they can take care of themselves like well I’m not investing your company. Thank you very much. Goodbye. I’m a fisherman and my dad’s a fisherman and everybody I know is a fisherman and you’re not just going to drain those lakes and let all those fish die. Give me a break. Get out of here. You’ve gotta have a better plan than that.

[00:36:22] Well you could have left Canada if you had wanted to. So you had opportunities to go pretty much anywhere.

[00:36:28] Well yeah but you know I was sitting around one of our favourite tables and actually there was one of my interns had come from Latvia it was and I was trying to I was asking around you know where should where should he go and work. Shouldn’t he go to China or should he go and work in Europe or should he go back to his own you know where he comes from. And and and the people I was talking to were like well know the best place for him. What is a better country than Canada to live in? Where can you possibly have so much freedom, so much safety, so much access to health care and education and safety really, have a say in your what goes down in the laws and with happens with the government and opportunity in terms of what to do with your life you know where to go to school, what you can take and then what you can then do with that education and how you can act on an everyday basis. And you know Montreal with its festivals and its diverse mosaic of people and restaurants and things to do and green spaces…I lived in the States for two years and I loved it. I just it was it was it was a cultural shock more so than I expected. There were different ways I could have stayed there. It played out that it was easier actually for me to come back. I’ve been to Europe a few times. I have a few people that have been there. I’ve considered going there a few times but I always end up being happy to be here. So, for now, I’m going to be here I’d like to do some more travelling if I can get myself away from my six screens that each seemed to have six tentacles that hold on to me.

[00:38:21] The right. That was a great conversation. I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

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