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Monday, May 7, 2012

Oh Canada! or Oh Say Can You See or Oh No.


"Oh Canada..we stand on guard for thee."

Well, the guard is down.

Let me say first and clearly that I have no problem with anyone that works at Walmart or Target or any other big chain. People need to eat and make a living. I get that. This is a social commentary on the type of society we as Canadians want to have. Some will agree, some will disagree, but this is my opinion on the way Canada is heading, which is really to become the 51st State, if we aren't already.

Maybe I am naive to think it ever really wasn't this way all along, but if it was covert before, it is extremely overt now.

 I am one of those who refuses to shop at Walmart. I understand they aren't the only ones in the retail game that exploit foreign workers to enhance their profit margin. I also realize that they aren't the only ones who do everything they can to avoid being unionized. However, they are by far the worst offenders, to the point that it is hideous to support them in any way. While Target has a better image than Walmart, I suspect they are pretty much the same or close to it. That being said, I will gladly pay a bit more to shop somewhere else. The savings don't outweigh the integrity I would have to sacrifice.

 Yesterday, I went in to my local Zellers to buy a pair of running shoes. I have been doing this for years. Zellers has a well earned reputation as having the worst customer service in Canada. I know that and accept that when I go into the store. I don't go in often, and in many ways they have made their own demise with the way they have operated for years. I could easily go into a Walmart and buy the exact same shoes for the same price or less. The selection and service would probably be even better. But, I don't. I don't want to patronize a big American Corporate steamroller who abuses human rights both abroad and in North America.

Zellers claim to fame is that the store is aimed at "thrifty" shoppers,  for which I am one. I am not cheap, but I look for value. Their slogan for many years has been "the lowest price is the law".

 I hadn't been to Zellers in about six months and I popped in to the biggest shopping mall in the area that had one. This mall has been there for as long as I can remember, probably going on 60 years. When I was growing up it was called Town and Country Mall. My mother and grandmother would go shopping there every Saturday. We had our bank there, one of the better restaurants to go for a quick quality and reasonably priced meal and just generally it was the place we always went. At some point, probably the late 1980's they upgraded the mall and changed the name to Centerpoint Mall. 

Centerpoint Mall entrance.  The Zellers is directly to the right.

But most of the major stores remained there. The Bay, Zellers, Loblaws and many other Canadian institutions were there. These days, The Bay is owned by the Lord And Taylor conglomerate and it shows in how it is operated. Loblaws had been replaced in many areas by an American style No-Frills and Zellers had been owned for quite a few years now by HBC, which is part of the Bay and hence owned by Lord And Taylor. Still, for the longest time,  Zellers was still Zellers.

Since 1670, that is more than 300 years.

 As I approached the Zellers I noticed that something wasn't right. The main entrance was now closed and you had to use the side mall entrance to get in to the store. I thought that was odd, but I carried on. As I entered the store it was clear that this wasn't Zellers anymore. I guess I haven't been paying attention to the news like I used to. Zellers stores are now being closed and this was one of them. The store is liquidating all its merchandise and there was nothing left to buy. It looked liked the day before Christmas when the shelves were bare.
As I went home, I began to investigate what was going on. Clearly what is going on is that Zellers has been taken over by Target, who in turn will convert many of those stores to Target locations, as Target attempts to break into the Canadian market big time. Those that they don't want will become Walmarts (as this location will) while others in smaller towns (that are clearly anti-Walmart and Target) will remain Zellers on a small scale.
Walmart has been around for about 15 years in Canada, and they have cornered the market. It is no surprise that Target wants to get in on the action, as they are Walmarts main competitor. I get all that. Good for them. Business is business and I would expect nothing less from either of them.

Walmart doesn't just build stores, they build superstores that crush everyone else.

As I mentioned briefly before, The Bay was a huge chain in Canada growing up. It has been reduced to a bit player and its days are numbered. It simply can't compete with Walmart and Target and whatever comes along next. The other big players,  Eatons, an institution in Canada (gone for 10 years or more now), K-Mart,  Woolworths and now Zellers are gone. 

Home Depot has now established complete control of the Home Improvement and Hardware market to the point that many Canadian institutions in that business have either gone out of business or are suffering under the weight of competing with them. Beaver Lumber was a very big chain for the longest time, and it was swept away in just a year or two once Home Depot came along. Home Hardware and Canadian Tire, two giants of Canadian Hardware retail are still hanging in, but their days are numbered.
Now, there needed to be improvement, there is no doubt about that. But, these days, the basics of Canadian life are very much the basics of American life. You used to be able to go anywhere in Toronto and you knew it was Toronto. Now, Toronto looks like Pittsburgh, or Chicago, or Los Angeles or New York. We are basically Americans.
American chains don't just come to town and compete. They come and crush and destroy. Along with that comes lower wages and poor working conditions. Do we really want that in Canada? I don't think we do.

The reason that the Chinese and Mexicans (and others) can produce goods so much cheaper than North Americans is very simple: They will work for wages that exploit them and give them such a low standard of living that they will never be able to enjoy the type of life we do. Do we want to be like them? I know we don't.
We all like a deal...a lower price..but at what price to our way of life? We are already losing lots of jobs in the manufacturing sector to Mexico and China and now customer service jobs to places like India. To lose good paying jobs to big American Corporate entities who will funnel that profit back to the American economy and leave us to pay the welfare and health costs leaves as just the 51st state..and at some point..the poorest one.

 Now, let me say that as a rule I am not pro union. However, I am fully in support of union forming. If the workers want to become part of a union and the company is firing them, or harassing them because of it, even to the point of threats,  or closing stores,  that is simply not right. Walmart and Target have clearly done this many times over. It is part of their strategy. Do we want to live in a country that tolerates this type of behavior? I don't.

When I was growing up in the late 60's through the early 80s, Canadian television had a presence in Canada.  Sure, many hours were slotted to American drama and sitcoms, but as well, Canadian TV also produced quite a few high quality programs that maintained our Canadian culture. Those days are almost gone. The CTV network primarily now shows American programming while the CBC, which is mandated to show Canadian content only is on its last legs.
I loved American TV. But,  I never wanted it to be the only thing I saw. I remember fondly many Canadian shows that preserved the heritage and uniqueness that was Canada. That uniqueness appears to be gone now.

Zellers falling to Target and Walmart is pretty much the final nail in the coffin. It is just a very small leap to the next step.
 Canadians are not Americans.  Or at least we like to think we aren't. However as each year passes we are becoming more and more like them. The invasion by Walmart, Home Depot and now Target is the completion of what has become an Americanization of Canada.
Whether that is good or bad,  there is no denying that it has happened. We might as well just join the union.  We are part of it now, whether we like it or not.

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