Sunday, October 04, 2015

5 years in Canada

Today marks my 5th anniversary in Canada. Almost a decade ago, when I told a close friend that I planned to emigrate, she gave me the T-shirt below.

[Slogan from a T-shirt from the mid-2000's]

Back then, I could not truly appreciate the truth in the T-shirt's slogan, "The brave finds a home in every land". Perhaps I was just foolish, thinking that migration is merely a matter of "filling in the forms, providing the required documents, taking a plane, landing, finding a place to stay and a job, done!"

I remember landing in YVR airport (Vancouver) back in October-2010, going to the immigration officer's counter to present my COPR (Confirmation of Permanent Residence). The officer, let's call him X, typed in something into his computer, gave a puzzled look, and then called his colleague Y over. I began to worry if there was something amiss in my papers as a result of my DIY approach to the immigration process. Together X and Y had some questions for me.

X asked, "Have you been to Canada before?"

I replied, "No."

X asked, "Have you been to the USA or any part of North America before?"

I replied, "No."

X asked, "So you have NEVER been to North America before?" 

By then, both X and Y wore the same astonished look on their faces.

I replied, "Nooooo?" [By then, I was pretty sure that I had probably "screwed-up" in my DIY process.]

X and Y looked at each other, a little stunned. Then they smiled, instructed "make sure you sign WITHIN the box", processed my application, and waved me on. I gathered then that most immigrants under the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) would have had prior experience (work or visit)  in Canada and/or USA before landing for permanent residency. Thus, it was a surprise for them to find one doing her PR landing for the first time without any record of prior trips in the immigration clearance system.

That was probably my first Canadian hint that migration would be more than just "filling in the forms, providing the required documents, taking a plane, landing, finding a place to stay and a job, done!"


Looking back, 5 years seem to have passed rather quickly (my adventures as a new migrant are shared in this blog). I have grown a lot in these past 5 years.

Living in Canada has given me experiences that would otherwise be unlikely if I have stayed on in Singapore. For example...
I have also found it easier to "live and let live" “与世无争”。 I do not know the exact causes for this. It could simply be mellowing with age, a slower pace of life, or perhaps Metro Vancouver being less crowded than Singapore in general.

In all, I think ASingaporeanSon summed migration up succinctly with his diagram "Attitude towards migration", so I am going to unabashedly reference his diagram below.

From the above, migration isn't for everyone. I know now how foolish I was (from the mid-2000's to my early years as a new immigrant) to suggest to friends who had complaints about their life in Singapore to consider emigrating. The time, effort and other resources needed to re-build one's comfort zone in a new country is costly indeed.


But if you do take that leap of faith, don't be surprised to meet other Singaporeans along the way.

[Don't be surprised to meet other Singaporeans. 
Ask for the owner* of the above Vancouver cafe]

*Note: I am NOT the owner of the above cafe, I just like the food there, and I happen to have met the owner.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

With Gotong Royong, from CA

Someone recently remarked to me, "You haven't written on your blog for a long time."

To which I replied, "Whatever I want to say, has already been written (either by myself or others)."

I have been here in Canada for almost 5 years now. Given the pace at which Singapore changes, it would be fair to say that the Singapore that I've left isn't the same one today -- for better or for worse. 

[25-Aug-2015 My life is now in Canada;
 e.g. Dinner En Blanc Vancouver]

In any case, (as I have mentioned before) my life is now in Canada -- revolving around my own little family, and for now mainly centred around my baby while I am on Parental Leave. As anyone who has been the primary caregiver of an infant will know, how much time/energy that takes, and how little of those are left for anything else.


Last weekend, I attended a party of mainly (ex-)Singaporeans hosted by a wonderful couple. It was an awesome afternoon of good food (mostly home-cooked authentic Singaporean dishes) and even "gooder" (better) company. The host even put up a Singapore flag for the occasion -- a nice touch to commemorate SG50 while overseas.

[22-Aug-2015 Singapore flag flying high in Metro Vancouver]

Of course, there followed a flood of "thank you" emails to the host for a wonderful gathering. What makes this gathering special/memorable? To borrow the words from the host's reply (to the thank-you emails), it is a sense of "Gotong Royong at its best."


"Gotong Royong" or "kampung spirit" is a priceless find indeed.

I have just met a fellow Singaporean (NG from this other blog post's comments) who is an experienced migrant -- having lived more years overseas than me (as an adult) and in more than one of Singaporeans' preferred migration-destination countries. Yet, NG (not currently based in Metro Vancouver) is contemplating relocating again, in search of that elusive gotong royong. 

As per my comments to NG, 
  1. My 2-cents theory is that the more crowded a city, the harder it is for each individual to have his/her own personal space. As such, it is rarer for individuals (in general) to reach out to strangers in crowded/buzzling cities like Singapore. 
  2. In any case, IMHO, the odds of finding close friends in any location (from Singapore to the Canada in the north and NZ in the south), is a case of "heng-sway" [literary "lucky-unlucky", i.e. dependent on luck]. All that one can do is to send out one's feelers and offer of friendship, and then see/filter what comes back. I have been lucky in that aspect -- as I recounted to NG how I encountered my core group of close friends in Canada.
As for a community of “自己人” [literary, "our own people"], I did not make a serious effort to specifically seek out fellow (ex-)Singaporeans in Metro Vancouver. As luck would have it, other than a brief brush with a group (ex-)Singaporeans/Malaysians who were then church-going friends with (my friend) PN, I did not join any (ex-)Singaporean community for the first couple of years in Metro Vancouver. It was only in early-2013 that I was introduced to the above community of (ex-)Singaporeans via the late uncle Weng, whom in-turn I met indirectly via an introduction from an online (ex?-)Singaporean contact with whom I have yet to meet face-to-face.

And so to put a long story short, IMHO a lot depends on Fate, 随缘.  Or to borrow an ancient Chinese military reference, “万事俱备,只欠东风” -- i.e. one can do all the preparations needed, but in the end success or failure lies in the whim of luck.


One can see the effect of the whim of Lady Luck in the life stories of another category of Singaporean emigrants -- the Singaporean political exiles. Many of whom felt threatened by and/or underwent detention without trial based on the Internal Security Act (Singapore). [Note: Unfortunately, Canada under PM Harper also introduced similar laws recently.] 

I received and watched Tan Pin Pin's "To Singapore, With Love" DVD. Other than the (obviously) alternative narratives of Singapore's political history, what I gathered from the stories of the interviewees are their different approaches to adapting to an adopted country. And also their different philosophies/perspective of what it means to be a Singaporean.

[22-Aug-2015 "To Singapore, With Love" DVD]

Fortunately for most modern day Singapore emigrants, return to Singapore is an option. In fact, ASingaporeanSon who openly blogs his opinions of Singapore policies has made several trips between Singapore and Australia. [Note: IMHO, I guess it boils down to who some folks think/feel might be enough of a threat to Singapore's security that the ISA needs to be applied.]

As such, I agree with NG that for many (recent) Singaporean emigrants, the decision to leave/stay/return is a calculated balance of what one seeks. IMHO, there is no correct answer, afterall “一种米养百种人” [literary "a single strain of rice feeds hundreds of different kinds of people; i.e. each individual has his/her own values, personality, and perspectives]. Thus, there isn't a single answer to the question of "Should I emigrate?" because the reality is the migration experience is as individual as the emigrants themselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Decline of secure jobs in CA - FYI for Gobbledegook

Saw the below CBC news article on Yahoo! IMHO, it is a global trend since Capital gained power/influence for the recent decades and Labour has lost its unity/power. Nevertheless, it is worthy to note for those planning to migrate to Canada. Always remember that "Change is the only constant", so do not rely on hearsay from others who may have immigrated years/decades ago -- the world's financial and job markets have changed drastically since the millennium.


CBC – April 29th 2015, around 06:40hr

At 40, the self-employed worker we'll call Natalie is one of a growing number of Canadians shut out of the world of stable, full-time work.

She has three bookkeeping jobs, she's watching every penny and still she makes just half of Canada's average industrial wage of $49,500. She's had to move back home with her 10-year-old daughter because she can't find full-time work.

"The way I'm going, I'm never going to get my own place for my daughter and I won't be able to afford a car; I won't be able to afford a dentist appointment for my daughter, or something she may need, braces," she told CBC News.

Like an increasing number of Canadians, she's in precarious work, without security, benefits, vacation pay or the prospect of a pension.

People in temp positions, part-time workers and contract workers all fall into the insecure employment category. And the number is growing.

Secure jobs a vanishing breed

A study by the United Way and McMaster University in 2013 found 18.3 per cent of the workforce in the Hamilton-Toronto area had insecure employment. And only a little over half — 50.3 per cent — had standard, full-time jobs.

Across Canada, the category of self-employed workers increased almost 45 per cent between 1989 and 2007, according to the Statistics Canada labour survey.

Precarious workers aren't just minimum-wage employees with irregular hours, says Wayne Lewchuk, a professor at the school of labour studies at McMaster University. They're also high-tech workers hired for projects, accountants who must seek one job after another, social-service sector workers employed by temp agencies and university lecturers hired on contract.

A lot of these jobs used to be secure, Lewchuk points out, but not anymore.

"It became a way of keeping down wages and companies became addicted to it," says Lewchuk, who has been studying precarious employment for seven years.

There's no career path for temp or flex workers — they lurch from one job to the next, get neither training nor benefits nor paid leave and are expected to save for their own pension.

Sitting by the phone

"Often they don't know their schedule until the day before or their schedule changes at the last minute  They don't know where they have to be until just before their shift," Lewchuk says.

Over a working life, the penalty for precarious work is financial — those in insecure employment earned about 46 per cent less than workers in the same field who had standard jobs.

But on a day-to-day basis, the toll is often personal.

"All of this makes sustaining a household and a family difficult," Lewchuk says.

If they think they're going to be sitting by the phone waiting for a call to work, they often can't enrol their children in extracurricular activities or make it to the parent-teacher conference, Lewchuk says. There's no option to coach Little League or volunteer at the local seniors' home.

"People that are in precarious work delay making significant life plans," says Micheline Laflèche, with the United Way, who is part of a group of researchers updating the 2013 report.

"They don't feel confident enough to establish an ongoing relationship or have children." 

Socially isolated

Men in particular may feel socially isolated, she says.

"Men were the ones who were much more likely to be in standard employment relationships [permanent full-time work], and they built their social relationships through their work," she says.

"They're no longer in those kinds of jobs; men are more likely to have no one to talk to."
Laflèche says people in insecure employment tend to be less engaged with their community, a trend that could weaken the fabric of Canadian life.

"It hurts our democratic commonality and our democratic values because people don't feel like they belong. We don't have a healthy society," she says.

In the face of the rise of precarious work and the expansion of low-paid work, the Ontario government has said it will review employment standards and the labour code. 

Laflèche and the United Way will be among the parties trying to suggest innovative ways to address precarious work.

She argues Canada's employment insurance system, which is a federal responsibility, is geared to a world where people had an industrial job for years, and if that was eliminated, they got another permanent job, a scenario that now rarely happens. She recommends a more realistic approach to employment insurance for part-time or contract workers.

Changing labour laws

She points to some of the ways other countries are addressing precarious work:

- A minimum wage "premium": an extra payment from employers for low-wage workers who don't have benefits or secure work.

- "Flexicurity": Denmark has a social contract between employers, the government and individuals that helps people who don't have secure work. Opportunities for training are provided when they can't find work and there is support, similar to employment insurance, but which kicks in even if people haven't worked for the required minimum time.

- Parity legislation: There are variations on this throughout the European Union with laws that ask employers to give temporary or contract workers the same pay, vacation and benefits as permanent employees doing the same jobs.

- Creating better training opportunities for those in marginal employment.

- Providing more flexible child-care solutions (instead of always full-time, five days a week, allowing part-time child care).

Businesses have also put forward voluntary solutions, among them temp agencies or groups of employers combining forces to provide full-time hours to part-time workers and better social inclusion in work events for temp and part-time workers.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

CA Ontario Cost of Living - A reply to Gobbledegook

The following is my reply to Gobbledegook (a Singaporean) about managing finances when newly landed in Canada. Gobbledegook plans to reside in Markham, Ontario. In my usual cheong-hay (long-winded) style, I exceeded the 4,096 characters limit of a blog comment and thus this blog entry.

If any reader has information about life, finding work, etc in Ontario, please drop a comment at Gobbledegook's blog.

Aside: For readers heading to B.C. (British Columbia), please refer to my other blog post "New to BC, Canada" for some useful urls instead.


Hi gobbledegook,

Firstly, the DECLARATION and DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal opinion. I am not any way qualified to give financial and/or migration advice to anyone, and thus any content from me shall be construed as a sharing of personal opinion, not advice. I do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided by me. Under no circumstances will I or anyone related to this content be responsible for any loss or damage resulting from any reliance on the information or other content posted or linked by me.

> We've decided to settle in Markham

Sorry, I don't know anything about Markham. I have been residing in Metro Vancouver since landing in Canada 4+ years ago.

> should be enough to tide us over for a couple of months in Canada

I don't know exactly how tight your finances are, but I strongly recommend that within the 1st week of your arrival, to visit a Service Canada office -- which you will have to anyway to apply for your Social Insurance Number. Remember to bring your signed COPR along, because it is your only piece of Canadian government-issued identity at that point in time. Ask the officer there about the Canadian Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) and Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), and ask if there is anything else that he/she think you should apply for (accept any "free" money you can get -- policies varies from province to province). No worries, as long as you go during the off-peak hours, the officers are very patient and usually have lots of time to kill. :D Note: Peak hours are generally before 9am, lunchtime around 11am-1pm, and near closing time after 3:30pm.

Another strongly recommended approach is to visit several immigrant settlement services agency as soon as possible. Compare and contrast their services, and choose the one(s) you feel comfortable getting advice from. They may even be able to direct you to get "free funds" to help get your international (i.e. Singapore) credentials recognized and/or get related/relevant Canadian experience.

Here's what I did when I first landed in Canada.

> According to Virtual Friend, a family of 3 will require minimally CAD 3500 in Ontario

There are many ways to save money.

E.g. Buying winter/cold-weather clothes at 2nd-hand thrift stores, e.g. Value Village. Note: The kind of winter gear that you need varies from region to region. In Vancouver, winter gear needs to be water resistant/proof because winter here is cold AND WET. But in Ontario, it's probably going to be tens below zero, so the WET part is not so worrisome but you may have to look out for the wind-breaking ability (for WIND-CHILL) of your cold-weather suit.

E.g. Going to groceries stores just before 4pm, where you'll find the daily fresh items due to expire marked down by up to 50%. Also take time to go through the food aisles (especially perishables) to look for mark-downs any time of the day. "No Frills" and "Real Canadian Superstore" under Loblaws are generally cheaper (at least that is true in Metro Vancouver) because of their trade volume. Also look out for coupons (sometimes at stores, sometimes in the free newspapers, sometimes in your letterbox) and Groupons to cut costs.

E.g. Sharing an apartment as you've mentioned in your blog post. If you're lucky, you may even find a kind-hearted landlord willing to lease a single-bedroom in his/her single-family home for CAD500-650/month and allowing you to squeeze-in your family of 3 until cash-flow is more established... that's what my ex-landlord did for selected tenants. Note: Usually you'll need good referrals to get such deals.

E.g. Live near public transit and travel about with it, per your current plan. Consider buying monthly passes (or even better the Ontario's Metropass Discount Plan). When your budget is tight, a penny saved is a penny earned.

E.g. For various household items, first check out the dollar-stores (ask Virtual Friend for the common ones in Ontario) and compare prices. Remember that when supermarket chains have coupons/sales/clearance, they may sometimes be even cheaper than the dollar-stores.

Here are examples of a break-down of my expenses (single person) back in Oct-2010, when I first landed. I suggest adding an estimated 50% for the spouse, add-on child-related costs (remember that you'll be receiving CCTB and UCCB), inflation and adjust for differences between Vancouver and Ontario, you should be able to get your "stingy-family's estimated budget" (which may possibly be below CAD 3500/month).

FYI, for inflation, if you're mathematically inclined, check out Statistics Canada's excellent list of CPI (Consumer Price Index). The followings lists some tables for Ontario, for 2010 to 2014 data.
Overall CPI:
Clothing and footwear:
Health and personal care:
Household operations, furnishings and equipment:
Recreation, education and reading:

In fact, Statistics Canada has various other data tables that you may find of interest, such as the Average Household Food Expenditure (Ontario)*, etc. *Note: Bear in mind that average data can be skewed by extreme tail data-points on either-end, and thus a better measure would be the modal and/or quintiles data.

Bottom line to estimating funds needed: When you land, you may be asked to provide proof of sufficient funds which stands at CAD18,260 for a family of 3 for 12 months currently (year 2015). Of course, you can expect Ontario's cost of living to be higher, but the above amount is all you need to show the immigration officers.

IMHO, the cheapest way to get this amount of CAD from your SGD, is to change SGD to CAD at the money-changers in Singapore and then travel over (i.e. land in Canada) with the cash. The last I remember, 2nd floor of The Arcade at 11 Collyer Quay (Raffles Place MRT) has many money changers, and thus provide one of the best exchange rates. Years ago, you need to register if you change a sum of SGD5K and above each day (note: money changers do not like to have to do this additional paperwork). To circumvent this, just limit your purchase of CAD to below SGD5K per transaction. (I learned too late from another migrant that...) It is ok to carry above CAD10K in cash when you land, you just need to declare it on the Customs Form.

Ok, that's all I can think of about the financial management aspect of migration for now. Migration is a big step into the unknown. There will be a lot of stuff we won't know until after we land and figure out our way around. Good luck!

Cheers, WD.


[Addendum on Mar-16, 2015, at 13:50hr]

Ok, if you're not good with numbers, here's a quick estimate of what you'd need for a family of 4 (i.e. 2 adults and 2 children; not 3 -- 2 adults with a child). Based on the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) tables from Statistics Canada, Ontario inflation rate (from 2010 to 2014) and the City of Markham population size of 332,000 people (year 2014).

2010 low income cut-off for family (2 adults, 2 children): $29,510 
2010 Ontario CPI: 116.5
2014 Ontario CPI: 125.9
Estimated 2014 low income cut-off for family (2 adults, 2 children): 
$29,510 * (125.9 / 116.5) = $31,891

[LICO(s) is the Canadian term for "Poverty Line(s)". So, compared with the CIC estimate for a family of 3 (which is usually on the low-side), somewhere between CAD18,260 and CAD31,891 (for a family of 4) would be sufficient funds for a family of 3 to survive 12 months in Markham, Ontario, currently (year 2015).]

Data sources for the above quick calculation:

Also for clothes, you can check out the clearance section of budget/mid-range retail shops like Old Navy. Sometimes one can get brand new items at similar prices to thrift shops (like Value Village) simply because the store director wants to clear-off the remaining stock. Depending on each store's management, the clearance items may be place together with the regular-priced items (look-out for different coloured price tags), or in a separate clearance section.

Also check out my other blog post on "Managing Personal Finances". There are some urls listed there that may be of use to you too. E.g. Canada Revenue Agency, and Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

One more tip: If there are Chinese/Cantonese food-court stalls, you may want to check out if they have the same practice as in Richmond, B.C. 

In the food-court of Yaohan (No 3 Road), Richmond, B.C., there are 2 Chinese/Cantonese economic rice stalls 经济饭 side-by-side. Near the end of the day, from 7pm onwards, there will be a massive sale of their economic rice 经济饭 dishes, and the servers will pile huge servings into the 打包 take-away boxes (they call it "TO GO" here in B.C.) -- the sooner the servers empty out the food trays, the earlier they can knock-off work. So for the price of a slightly discounted meal, I get enough to feed myself 2.5 to 3 meals in a box. :)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Official numbers/news not always right

A friend shared this news article on Facebook. It does not matter which country you are in the world, the fact remains that without independent news, research and sources of data, "official" numbers and/or news can spin the tale whichever way the political wind blows. Something to think about when anyone in authority chides one to only trust the official narrative, and attempts to censor other data/news sources.


[Source: CBC News
Note: Bold and other emphasize added by WD.]

Apprenticeship ad's claim of skilled trades shortfall open to question
Lack of labour market data casts doubt on forecast of jobs needed over next decade
By Susana Mas, CBC News 
Posted: Jan 11, 2015 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Jan 11, 2015 11:50 AM ET

A government ad to promote the new Canada apprentice loan program claims the Canadian economy will need "one million skilled tradesmen and women" over the next decade.

But independent forecasts and even the government's own projections tell a different story.

The government pointed CBC News to "a combination of industry estimates," several of which were written by Rick Miner, the president of Miner & Miner Ltd., a management consulting firm specializing in labour market issues.

Miner concluded that Canada will face a "major problem" with skilled worker shortages if nothing changes over the next 16 years.

But he told CBC News his projections are for overall labour and for skilled labour, not specific to the trades. 

"I think you'd have a tough time finding somebody who is going to back that unless they have a real broad definition of both the trades and a broad definition of what they define as shortage," Miner said.

"If somebody said … right now there's a shortage of a million workers in the trades in Canada, I'd say that's an inflated number. That's not true."

Asked if he could point to labour data showing Canada would face a shortage of "one million skilled trades" workers over the next decade, Miner said he could not.

The government also pointed to a 2013 estimate by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. But Sarah Anson-Cartwright, the chamber's director of skills policy, told CBC News those forecasts originated from Miner's older reports, which are not specific to the trades and have since been reviewed.

"The Canadian chamber does not cite the forecasts from Miner's 2010 and 2012 reports since they are out-dated now."

Skilled workers vs. trades

The government also pointed to a 14-year-old Conference Board of Canada report that found the labour shortfall could reach nearly a million workers by 2020.

But the non-profit think-tank revisited the report a little over a year ago and publicly said the so-called "million worker shortfall" was "not possible" and widely "misunderstood."

"In that same report, we explained that a worker shortfall is 'logically impossible,'" wrote Pedro Antunes, the deputy chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, in a commentary published on Nov. 11, 2013.

"Essentially, the economy has to operate with the workers that are available — by substituting labour for capital and reducing production," he wrote.

Antunes told CBC News the Conference Board of Canada saw fit to revisit the 2000 report because "we were seeing the number bandied about and it was an old forecast that was done over a decade ago."

He also said the decade-old report was about overall employment and not just about the trades.

"Trades is absolutely part of it but when we talked about skilled workers, it was in general … it was not specific to trades."​

Shortages in 'high-skilled' jobs

In announcing the new loan in B.C. this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was more careful, citing "one million additional skilled workers" — not a shortfall of "trades" workers.

Even the government's most recent projections, by Employment and Social Development Canada, show that labour shortages over the period of 2013-22 are projected "mostly in high-skilled occupations."

According to the government's outlook, 47 occupations are expected to face shortages by 2022, with the majority of those in the health sector.

Only six of the 47 occupations facing labour shortages are in what the government calls "trades, transport and equipment," which includes electrical trades, heavy construction equipment crews and welders, among others.

The government does not give a projection for workers in the trades, but it does provide a forecast by different skill levels. 

Occupations with significant health and safety responsibilities, such as firefighters, police officers and nurses, are assigned to skill level B, a category that also includes chefs, electricians and plumbers.

The report shows that while jobs in this wide-ranging category are "overall ... projected to be in balance" over the period of 2013-22, 18 occupations in this category are projected to face a shortage of 846,000 workers.

Other estimates in the mining, oil and gas, and construction sectors predict labour shortages ranging from 116,800 to as many as 300,000 workers over the next decade, depending on the industry.

Miner said part of the reason there is no national data specific to labour shortages in the trades is because there is an absence of good labour market data overall.

Even Employment Minister Jason Kenney has acknowledged a weakness in Canada's labour data and promised to take action, beginning with two new labour market studies at a cost of $14 million.

Apprenticeship loans

The new government ad also claims students registered in a Red Seal trade apprenticeship will be able to apply for "interest free" loans of up to $4,000 per period of technical training, but the terms of repayment make it clear the loan will have to be paid back with interest once the training is completed.

The government said ESDC consulted Advertising Standards Canada before airing the ads and verified that "requirements under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards were met."

The department would not say how much it was spending on the 30-second television ad.

[Watch the (Canadian government) ad from Employment and Social Development Canada on Youtube here.]