March 30, 2020 – The week in the news: Mark’s take

Article by: Mark Satov

What a week! Who would have thought that hanging out in my basement office for 10 hours a day would be so tiring? Like everyone else I have settled into my new space, finalized the placement of my camera and begun a routine of regular calls with my clients and employees. Here is my take on some of what we have seen in the news:

COVID-19 commentators

The news on the virus and its impact are endless. The debate that business people are trying to have in the press with public health officials is inane. I have never enjoyed the pomposity and buffoonery of Conrad Black (does anyone?) but to read him make recommendations about when kids should go back to school or how to protect immuno-compromised is beyond what I can stomach. Those of us who are analytically inclined are tempted to make sense of the publicly available data to estimate undiagnosed cases, and the link to likely mortality rates, ventilator needs vs capacity, etc. I know for sure that our healthcare system is filled with people who know more and have thought about this issue longer and harder than I. The most relevant empirical evidence I see is in NYC and Italy, and we all want to avoid that. So, for now, I will let the experts do their job, and follow the guidelines strictly.

Government and politicians

As for our politicians and the job they are doing… I will stick to Canadian politics as publicly discussing what is going on in the US can only get me in trouble (email me privately if you would like some views). I think in wartime we all need to strike a more positive tone as we fight together.

I was happy about the announcement to cover 75% of wages for qualified companies. We need more detail and fast. As a small business owner, I will use that if I need it, and so I need to know what the cap is (per employee/per enterprise, hopefully per employee). As a citizen, I hope there are some clear criteria about who qualifies. Helping businesses is the government’s job right now but they can’t afford to help those who don’t need it, however few they may be.

Overall, while I am tempted to criticize governments everywhere for stumbling through this crisis day to day with vague plans and no playbook, it is more a fault of their predecessors. If I were running a city, province, or country in January of this year my first question would have been, ‘what’s our protocol for this?’. It is obvious that there were no good answers to that question… hopefully we learn a valuable lesson here. I look forward to announcements about task forces to create our readiness plan for the next pandemic.

Pusateri’s price gouging

Lastly, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t rant a bit about a company that deserves it. If there were a corporate version of the Darwin awards, Pusateri’s would win it this week. For those from outside of Toronto, I am referring to a grocery store that caters to a small sub-segment of our city. Their prices are such that to shop there one needs an abundance of money or a lack of ability to do any math… often both. So, nobody was surprised when they were called out for price gouging on some Lysol wipes and then claiming the price was an error.

We are watching brands everywhere working hard to do the right thing for their customers during this unprecedented time while also trying to ensure their survival. Canada Goose is sewing gowns, GE is making ventilators, and Labatt is making hand sanitizer. So, when I see this grocer get caught doing what they often do but at the worst possible time my nuanced and sophisticated advice to other brands is “don’t do that!”