Archive for October, 2007

B.C. house price increases to drop next year by half

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

CMHC predicts more balanced supply and demand

Sun

Average price gains for B.C. homes will be cut by more than half next year, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. predicts.

In its fourth-quarter outlook, released Tuesday, CMHC forecasts that the average Multiple Listing Service price in British Columbia will grow by 12.1 per cent in 2007 and by 6.0 per cent in 2008 “as increased listings and fewer resales bring more balanced supply-and-demand conditions for existing homes.”

As well, B.C. housing starts are expected to decline slightly moving into 2008, CMHC forecasts, from 36,443 units in 2006 to 36,200 units in 2007 and 33,250 units in 2008.

But CMHC’s Housing Market Outlook adds: “A tight labour market, income growth, and high levels of consumer confidence will help to offset the dampening effect of rising mortgage carrying costs on the demand for new and existing homes in British Columbia.”

Nationally, housing starts will reach 227,530 units in 2007, an increase of 0.1 per cent from the 227,395 units in 2006. However, in 2008, residential construction will decline to about 214,000 units. Despite this drop, 2008 will mark the seventh consecutive year in which housing starts exceed 200,000 units.

“Continuing high employment levels, income gains and low mortgage rates have been a boon to Canada’s housing markets. Despite this, however, housing starts are expected to decrease in 2008,” said Bob Dugan, chief economist at CMHC.

“The pullback in housing starts next year will be mainly due to the increases in house prices in recent years, which have pushed mortgage carrying costs higher.”

Existing-home sales across Canada, as measured by the MLS, are poised to experience their best year on record with just over 521,000 units in 2007, a 7.8-per-cent increase over 2006.

Sales of existing homes through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) are expected to be just more than 521,000 this year, bettering last year’s total by 7.8 per cent and setting a record. That number is expected to decrease by 3.9 per cent next year to just more than 500,000, which would still make it the second-best year on record.

The average MLS resale price is expected to rise 10.1 per cent this year over 2006′s average, slowing to a 4.2-per-cent rise next year.

Migration to Alberta is expected to slow next year because of high housing costs there and improved economic conditions elsewhere in the country. After a 30.7-per-cent increase in average resale-home prices in 2006, that’s expected to slow to a 24.4-per-cent hike this year and 6.8 per cent next year.

Saskatchewan will see that highest increase in average resale prices this year, at 28.7 per cent, CMHC says, slowing to 13.5 per cent next year.

© The VancouverSun 2007

Construction rate to slow

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Pullback in starts due to increase in prices

Derek Abma
Province

Total number of units willl remain impressive despite fewer housing starts in 2008 – AFP FILE PHOTO

OTTAWA – Rising costs are expected to slow the rate of new-home construction and sales of existing homes in 2008, though this year’s numbers are still expected to top 2006′s figures.

In its fourth-quarter outlook, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. predicts housing starts to come in at 227,530 this year, up 0.1 per cent from last year.

CMHC forecast a decrease of about six per cent to 214,000 for next year, which would still make for the seventh-straight year housing starts have surpassed 200,000.

“The pullback in housing starts next year will be mainly due to the increases in house prices in recent years, which have pushed mortgage carrying costs higher,” Bob Dugan, CMHC’s chief economist, said in a statement.

Sales of existing homes through the Multiple Listing Service are expected to be just more than 521,000 this year, bettering last year’s total by 7.8 per cent and setting a new record.

That number is expected to decrease by 3.9 per cent next year to just more than 500,000, which would still make it the second-best year on record.

The average MLS resale price is expected to rise 10.1 per cent this year over 2006′s average, slowing to a 4.2-per-cent rise next year.

Migration to Alberta is expected to slow next year due to high housing costs there and improved economic conditions elsewhere in the country.

After a 30.7-per-cent increase in average resale-home prices in 2006, that’s expected to slow to a 24.4-per-cent hike this year and 6.8 per cent next year.

Saskatchewan will see that highest increase in average resale prices this year, at 28.7 per cent, CMHC says, slowing to 13.5 per cent next year.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

Who, in the real world, can afford to live here now?

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Miro Cernetig
Sun

By the standards of our gravity-defying real-estate market, it didn’t sound all that irrationally exuberant: a well-appointed Kits Point pad, with about 1,300 feet of space and a view of the ocean.

Price: a cool $1.25 million.

I was thinking perhaps I’d found a nice little top-floor unit, maybe even a penthouse, in one of those rain-stained, dilapidated houses bought by an old Kitsilano hippie who fixed it up and is now cashing in. After all, at $1,000-a-square-foot or so, that would be enough to join the swanksters in one of Coal Harbour‘s cool new towers. Ought to be quite a place, I thought, heading out to check it out.

Well, it was no penthouse, dear reader. It was a basement suite in a house. And the view? Well, that was what realtors like to call a peek-a-boo, though I’m not sure you could even call it that. To get your $1.25-million ocean view, you would have to gaze through a ground-level basement window, peek under a thick grove of rhododendron bushes, then across the street — hopefully nobody parks by the sidewalk here — look past Kitsilano Park and then, oooh-la-la! A tantalizing glimpse of English Bay, about two football fields away.

I don’t raise this particular listing as a comment on the value of real estate in this town. When a condo atop the Hotel Georgia goes for $18 million, I guess even a million-dollar basement suite in Kits Point is easily within the realm of possibility.

But, yikes. Wasn’t it only a few years ago you could actually get a penthouse, or something at least above the garden, for a million? Now it’s the entry level for a Kits Point basement.

Stories of ever-increasing real estate prices have dominated dinner parties in this city for years, of course. It always makes for delicious cocktail banter, though you enjoy it a lot more if you’re in the market, not out of it.

But people are starting to wonder if it’s gone a little crazy.

With the housing market melting so spectacularly to the south of us, you can detect a frisson of unease these days when the subject of real estate comes up: Are we, too, sitting atop a massive real-estate bubble ready to burst or are we truly living in a unique market that might soar faster, higher and stronger as the 2010 Olympics approach? And if it does burst, or at least deflate, how many of our neighbours are going to find the friendly banker suddenly isn’t so keen on extending those home-equity loans used to put in a hot-tub or perhaps play the market?

Only the real estate gods know for sure.

What’s really notable — and worrying — about this Kitsilano basement, though, isn’t just the price tag. It’s emblematic of a larger social squeeze now changing the social fabric of this city.

Who, in the real world, can afford to live here anymore? New immigrants? The working class? The middle class? Students? Your own kids?

Affordability — or more accurately the lack of it — is becoming a national lament. In its latest quarterly survey, the Royal Bank of Canada reports that in every province and city it tracks, the cost of owning a house is eating up more and more of family incomes.

But it is here in Metro Vancouver where the numbers have become scariest: In the second quarter of 2007, the average owner of a two-storey home spends 73 per cent of the family’s pre-tax income on financing and maintaining that home. In Toronto, it is 52 per cent of family income.

What it means is this city’s real estate boom is squeezing out not just the middle class but also those starting out, the lifeblood of any city. If you’re young, you can pretty well forget about buying in unless you have parents who will take out a reverse mortgage and pony up a whopping down payment.

Alternatively, you go so deep into debt you will be eating soba noodles and shopping at thrift shops into your middle age.

Of course, the banks are willing to help. As the RBC notes in its survey, a Vancouverite’s average mortgage payment of $3,230 a month on a two-storey house could be reduced by $400. The catch? You need to sign up for one of the new, 40-year term mortgages, instead of the 25-year term your parents got.

So, take out a mortgage at 25 and at 65, you can retire a homeowner. What a deal.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Radical housing announcement expected today

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Francis Bula
Sun

Vancouver is about to see a radical new experiment in low-cost housing — the 21st-century version of residential hotels and rooming houses.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman is announcing today — along with who will run the older hotels the province bought in March — a new project for the Downtown Eastside that will consist of 120 rooms each between 200 and 250 square feet.

That’s far smaller than the 350 square feet now allowed by city bylaws, but it’s bigger than the 100 square feet of many of the older hotel rooms called SROs (single-room occupancy) in Vancouver.

It’s just a pilot project for now.

“But I think we’ll do more. We believe they’ll work,” said Coleman. “If you can house three people in the square footage that usually goes to one, we’ve housed two more people.”

The head of the agency that’s been chosen to manage that new project, which will be at 337 West Pender, says it’s not the kind of housing that is meant for people to live in for years, although perhaps some might choose to.

“But it is the size of a really good hotel room and we see it as a stepping stone up from an SRO,” said Darrell Burnham, the executive director of Coast Foundation, which focuses on housing, education and support for the mentally ill.

Burnham said the rooms, each with their own bathroom, will be a dramatic improvement over where many people are living now. “For long-term housing, it’s too small. For transitional housing, it will be quite nice.”

In the past, many poor people lived in rooming houses and hotel rooms throughout North America, but that form of housing was gradually eroded as cities tore them down in slum-clearance projects or condemned them for safety violations. Changes in city building codes made it impossible to build new ones.

San Diego experimented two decades ago with “new” residential hotels and built several designed by a prominent local architect.

They attracted a lot of praise, but very few were built after the early 1990s, after downtown businesses and residents complained they were attracting too many undesirables.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Social agencies to run rooming hotels

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Province picks non-profits for role in Downtown Eastside

Frances Bula
Sun

The Park hotel will be added to the stock of dry housing that City Centre Care Society offers for people trying to live without drugs and alcohol after they’ve come out of a detox program

Eleven Downtown Eastside hotels will be turned over to non-profit social agencies to run as of Dec. 1, in a move the province and the agencies say will mean more and better rooms for the homeless and hardest to house.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman is set to announce today the 10 non-profit agencies that have been chosen to run them.

A wide variety of agencies will be named, including one that specializes in native housing, another that deals with women’s housing and two that handle housing specifically for the mentally ill. One agency will operate two hotels.

run other buildings targeted to particular groups of people who are the most vulnerable to homelessness, will gradually add new tenants who are part of their target group to the existing mix.

Two hotels, the Park and the Marble Arch, will be added to the stock of “dry” housing that City Centre Care Society offers for people trying to live without drugs and alcohol after they’ve come out of a detox program.

Most of the others are not like that, instead providing safe and supportive homes to women, aboriginals with HIV, the mentally ill, the addicted or a mix of any of those categories.

Coleman said having non-profit operators, instead of the private ones who ran them before the province bought the hotels last February, means the hotels will be run by people “who have a record of helping people” and who will work to connect their tenants with other kinds of support in the neighbourhood.

For Janice Abbott, the director of Atira Women’s Resource Society, allowing non-profits to run the hotels will make an immediate difference for people living on the street or in precarious situations.

“It will mean that women down here will be far less likely to be evicted. And they’ll be far less likely to be assaulted, raped or harmed in their homes, which means they’re far less likely to leave,” said Abbott, whose group has been given the 43-room Rice Block at Hastings and Hawks to manage.

Atira already runs two buildings in the Downtown Eastside for women and has a waiting list of 400 women for the 36 rooms at Bridge Housing, so the possibility of having more rooms to offer is welcome, she said.

All current tenants in the 11 hotels are being guaranteed they will allowed to stay, so the non-profit groups will only rent rooms to the group they are targeting when vacancies occur.

BC Housing is planning to provide enough money so each operator has at least one person on shift at all times — which operators say is the minimum staffing needed just to keep a lid on difficult situations — and possibly more.

The province bought 10 of the hotels from private owners early this year, in a secret massive two-month buying campaign that no one knew about until Coleman announced it in March.

The city of Vancouver also bought a hotel, the Hells Angels-owned Drake Hotel, later in the year and that is included in the announcement.

Some of the agencies getting hotels to run already have large portfolios, like the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, while others are small. The City Centre Care Society is getting the 145-room Marble Arch and the 56-room Park Hotel to run, which will double the number of rooms it manages.

In the past, critics have said too much low-income housing is concentrated in the Downtown Eastside and the neighbourhood has become a self-perpetuating system of poverty agencies that are more interested in building their empires than solving problems. Coleman rejected that characterization. “The non-profits selected here have a pretty strong track record. They’re groups that have shown they can be successful. I would never characterize them as empire-builders.”

And, he said, the new housing doesn’t concentrate any more housing in the area. It just puts it in the hands of better managers, who can make it work better as a form of transitional housing while the province works to build new social housing throughout the region for the groups of people — mentally ill, drug addicted or both — who tend to end up homeless.

“This allows us to stabilize the housing and give us some stuff now.”

Several housing projects are now under construction in Vancouver, including 200 units that will be part of the Woodward’s complex, a building at 55 West Hastings, and a residence that will be part of the luxury Hermitage project on Richards near Robson.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

 

Eagles take flight with new album

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Don Henley: ‘We are a band that knows how to bide its time, and how to wait,’ he says

Ray Waddell
Province

The Eagles have broken records and toured widely since 1994, including their 2004 farewell tour. Photograph by : Reuters

“I’ve been biding time with crows and sparrows while peacocks prance and strut upon the stage,”‘ Don Henley sings on “Waiting in the Weeds,” one of several powerful set pieces from the Eagles’ new Long Road out of Eden, the band’s first studio album since 1979.

The line is pretty descriptive of the Eagles, Henley believes. “We are a band that knows how to bide its time, and how to wait,” he says. “We’ve just been sort of waiting for some of this bad music to die down, for certain trends to go away, so we can get out there on the dance floor again.”

Henley takes Billboard through the making of Eden, due out Tuesday exclusively at Wal-Mart stores.

Can you talk about how the songwriting and recording processes have changed?

The songwriting process hasn’t really changed that much. The thing that has changed somewhat is the recording process, and that’s because of technology. We’ve recorded a few songs here and there since the turn of the century, but we haven’t done a whole album, and the changes in the technology are amazing.

There is a lot of social commentary on this record, but there is also a focus on personal relationships and the human condition, as well.

We’ve always had love songs and we’ve always had social commentary. I think we’ve gotten a little bit better at both ends of the spectrum. In fact, I think our love songs have matured a little bit and the social commentary has matured, as well, and gotten maybe a little bolder. But, it’s an Eagles album, it’s all over the map, both musically and subject-wise. I guess there are more love songs on it than anything else. The last two songs on the record in particular are both messages from Glenn (Frey) and I to our children.

Those are more about “big-picture love” than “I love you tonight.”

It’s not just a boy/girl thing. We both have young children. We are both trying really hard to be good parents. That’s one reason it took so long to make an album, because we are so busy trying to be good parents.

There’s a question in the song “Do Something” that kind of struck me as, in many ways, central to the theme of this album: “How did we get on this road we are travelling?”

“Do Something“‘ is an interesting song because it starts out like a love song, but then it takes on larger implications. And that line that you pointed out could pertain to a relationship between a man and a woman or it could be a statement about the country as a whole.

Is this an optimistic album?

I think it’s basically an optimistic album, with the possible exception of “Long Road Out of Eden.” Of course, that’s about the war, and it’s also about the human condition. The point of the song is (that) we may think we are civilized, but we have a way to go yet.

But I think the point of the whole album is summed up on the last song that Glenn wrote with Jack Tempchin, “Your World Now.” The crux of the whole thing for me is those two lines: “Be part of something good, leave something good behind.” If there was one message to this album that I want to impart, that would be it.

There’s another line that hit home for me on “Business as Usual”: “I thought that I would be above it all by now, in some country garden in the shade” and, yet, here you are with a new record.

That’s right. Here I am, just turned 60. I’m not complaining. I’m thrilled and delighted. None of us ever thought it would go on this long. But we are a determined bunch of guys. We take our time, we are not afraid of the passage of time, necessarily, and we’ve been sitting one out for a long time. That is kind of what “Waiting in the Weeds” implies. Again, on the surface that’s a love song, but it’s also about this band. We’ve just been sort of waiting for some of this bad music to die down, for certain trends to go away, so that we can get out there on the dance floor again.

“Long Road out of Eden” has an interesting line: “Weaving down the American highway, through the litter and the wreckage and the cultural junk.” Is that what we are doing now?

I think so. I was originally going to write “weaving down the information highway” because I get on my computer every day and there is so much crap on the Internet. In the end I decided that it wouldn’t make a lot of sense with the rest of the song just to suddenly go over and start talking about computers and the Internet. So I changed it back to American highway just to make it broader in scope. I think with the words “cultural junk” I got my point across. I think we’ve cornered the market on cultural junk, pretty much.

You guys have been playing together since 1994. Why a new album now?

We were never a band that was able to record and write and tour at the same. When you go on tour at this age there is a lot of recovery time involved.

Plus, as I’ve said before, we all have young children, our priorities are different. Not that this album and our music isn’t important, but my kids are more important to me than anything, and that’s where I put most of my energy these days.

There are some people who seem to think that this is some sort of comeback, or we’ve been away, but, if I might say so, we’ve been breaking records all over the world since ’94 and we’ve been touring quite a bit. It just took us a while to get on a roll again, to get into writing mode and learning how to work with each other again in a studio.

This is still very much a band effort. There is co-writing and there is a lot of intermingling of vocals, a lot of harmonies.

At the end of the day, we agonized for two or three years how we were going to make an album that was going to be modern and cool and cutting edge, and finally we said, “To hell with it, we are just going to be the Eagles. We are just going to do what we do.”

EAGLES

Long Road Out of Eden (Eagles Recording Co.)

How is it possible to live up to 28 years of expectations?

In short, Long Road Out of Eden doesn’t, nor does the double disc completely tarnish the group’s legacy.

It’s pleasant, slick, and safe — like a bunch of millionaires hanging out on a sunny California day.

It also borders on hokey — like a bunch of millionaires reminiscing about their loves, lives and lamenting the current state of the world.

Yet Long Road Out of Eden still manages to draw listeners in, thanks to several strong numbers and at least one sparkling gem, “Waiting in the Weeds,” resplendent with heavenly harmonies, mandolins, pianos and lyrics about second chances.

“I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore,” written by non-Eagle Paul Carrack, is a low point.

plucks, and Timothy B. Schmit’s syrupy vocals, it sounds more like a naive boy-band ballad than a song performed by worldly men in their 50s and 60s.

Joe Walsh and his raw, Ozzy-like vocals counter the sap with “Last Good Time In Town” and “Guilty of the Crime.” Not only are they two of the most soulful tracks, they’re two of the more offbeat numbers.

Editing is obviously not a concept the Eagles are familiar with — Long Road out of Eden rambles on for 20 songs and 90 minutes.

Perhaps the Eagles felt the need to overcompensate for making fans wait 28 years, but as is the case with most double discs, this one would be much better as a shorter single album. D+

– Sandra Sperounes, CNS

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Bylaws often block rentals

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Basic restrictions, interpretations can vary

Tony Gioventu
Province

Dear Condo Smarts:

I own a number of strata units in Metro Vancouver and I am finding it increasingly difficult to rent out my units because of bylaws.

They always seem to start out the same — with no rental restrictions. In a short period of time, however, the strata decide they don’t want any renters so they pass a bylaw that limits rentals to a silly low number or prohibits them entirely.

I have been fortunate in each case to be able to quickly sell my units but was recently told that as long as I am the first owner, the strata can never prevent me from renting my unit.

Is this true? I have tried to get a straight answer but no once seems to able to tell me the conditions of the exemptions.

– Don Severs

Dear Don:

Without a doubt, rental-restriction bylaws and their exemptions are the most complicated part of Strata Legislation in B.C.

Here are the basics of rental restrictions, but remember, every strata has slightly different bylaws and the interpretations will vary from strata to strata.

The Act permits a strata to limit or prohibit rentals through a bylaw. The limitation may be a specific number or percentage of units –. for example, five units or 10 per cent of the units if there are 50 units. There are three types of possible exemptions.

- Family rentals: Owners may rent to the children or parents of themselves or their spouse.

-Hardship rentals: Owners may under hardship circumstances make a request to council for a hardship exemption to rent their unit, and council must not unreasonably refuse to grant the exemption.

- Rental disclosure by owner-developer: If owner-developers have properly filed a rental disclosure statement with the superintendent of real estate when they market their development, the exemption created under the rental disclosure statement may exempt the developer and first purchaser to whom the title is transferred, for the period set out in the rental disclosure.

Here again there is confusion. Every strata is different so anyone questioning if they can rent as the first purchaser should first obtain a copy of the “rental disclosure statement,” if one was ever filed.

Contact the Superintendent of Real Estate at 604-953-5300. Have your strata plan number ready and request a copy of the filed form. There is a fee for the service and once you have obtained the form you may wish to visit your lawyer to see if a valid exemption exists.

Investors must remember that if they are not exempt, a rental bylaw may alter their ability to rent to new tenants once the bylaws have been passed and filed in Land Titles.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

GM Place tower could be Canucks Central

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Cowtown for inspiration?

Ben Kuzma
Province

Proposed Orca Bay tower (right) would add needed office space to the downtown core.

New 22-storey Orca Bay tower will be connected to GM Place and be environmentally friendly. It’s slated for completion in fall, 2010. — IMAGES PROVIDED BY VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Call it the Tower of Power.

When the Vancouver Arena Limited Partnership unveils its 22-storey office structure in the fall of 2010, the state-of-the-art building connected to GM Place will be hailed for its environmentally friendly design and function.

For Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, it will also provide another revenue stream. Aside from addressing a downtown need for leased office space — the vacancy rate is just 3.5 per cent — there’s an opportunity for the Vancouver Canucks to better service their fans.

Not only will the tower connect to the concourse level of GM Place to provide more retail, food and beverage options, there’s potential for much more.

Earlier this month, Canucks CEO Chris Zimmerman visited Flames Central in downtown Calgary and was impressed.

The renovated 86-year-old theatre on the Stephen Ave. Mall boasts casual and upscale dining and a sports club on three levels that seats 1,000. There are 150 high-definition TVs and a 30-by-20-foot projection screen.

There are separate booths and even private rooms with bars and, of course, Flames merchandise to purchase.

Imagine something similar in the Tower of Power. It would be like being at the game and provide another option for those who can’t afford tickets gobbled up by the corporate community.

That was part of the Calgary concept.

“You feel like you’re in an arena and it’s branded throughout,” Zimmerman says of Flames Central. “I do like the concept and it’s one we will look at.

“We’re in the development stage now with retail, food and beverage options.”

For tower tenants, there will be the attractive option of having exclusive access to GM Place and its events.

“The most common business challenge that virtually every business in B.C. has right now is the recruitment of and the retention of employees,” says Zimmerman. “In a highly competitive market, you will go into our building that provides one of the best work spaces and is environmentally conscious.

“It will have all the bells and whistles and the city needs it. There are plenty of new condos and residential housing, but nobody is actually serving the business market. It will continue to thrive, but it needs more office space.”

Ground-breaking for the 311,738-square-foot tower, located in the southwest corner of the property, is expected in the new year. Architect Peter Busby says the structure is a modern-day marriage of form and function.

“I’m confident this will be one of Vancouver‘s signature office towers, in part because of its GM Place location, but also because of its green focus,” says Busby.

“We’re very proud to have designed a beautiful-looking building that will also be among the most energy-efficient commercial buildings in North America.”

The tower will boast exceptional energy performance and a carbon-neutral environment. That will be created by using energy synergies between the structure and GM Place.

The office tower will use part of GM Place‘s underground parking, which is occupied mostly during evening events. Heating and cooling systems between the two buildings will work together with waste heat from one building used to heat the other.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

OS X upgrade packed with goodies

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Helps Mac user back up data, multitask and even use Windows

Jim Jamieson
Province

Customers try out Leopard at a Singapore store on Friday. Photograph by : Reuters

What is it? Mac OS X version 10.5 (Leopard)

Price: $129.99

Rating 4 out of 5

Why you need it: You love your Mac and can’t bear to do without new wrinkles from the wizards at Apple.

Why you don’t: You use your computer for e-mail, web surfing and not much else, so your operating system has enough bells and whistles.

Our rating:

Apple’s OS X operating system, launched Friday, took a little longer to release — 30 months — than previous upgrades, but it was worth waiting for.

This fourth upgrade offers no fewer than 300 new features, as tallied by Apple, so it’s difficult to do justice to more than the highlights.

Suffice it to say that Leopard brings some major changes to the Mac interface’s look and feel, improvements in productivity programs, beefed-up security and a whole array of goodies throughout the operating system.

Here are some of the more interesting features:

- Time Machine: This seems to be Apple’s way to encourage users to back up their data on a regular basis. Time Machine automatically backs up every file on a Mac to a separate hard drive or another machine on a network running Leopard. The setup and usage of this solution is very easy and — although it requires you to purchase the extra hard drive (costs are reasonable these days) — it really leaves no excuse for losing data owing to a drive failure.

- Spaces: A welcome development for those of us who multi-task and love to have different projects on the go at the same time. Spaces let you switch between different collections of application windows and avoid having to sort through layers of clutter on your desktop.

- Quick Look: This allows you to view the contents of a document’s icon at full size, right on the desktop, without having to open the file or the program used to create it. Quick Look is

available throughout Leopard, so you can also use it with a movie, which will expand and begin to play.

- Boot Camp: The program that allows users to run Microsoft Windows — and Windows-based programs — on their Intel-based Macs is now built into the Mac OS. It just makes it easier and will certainly attract those Windows types who might consider switching to the Mac universe.

- Parental Controls: A big step forward on this front. Leopard allows you to set time limits for your kids’ computer use and even lock up the computer when it’s bedtime.

Leopard doesn’t require a top-end machine, either. The minimum requirements are just 512 megabytes of RAM and an 867-megahertz processor.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 

Best known countries for medical tourism

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

HEALTH CARE Seven Golden residents are glad they spent thousands of dollars going to India for hip replacements rather than sit in pain on waiting lists here

DOUG WARD
Sun

Dentist Jeff Dolinksy ( right) went to India for hip surgery, as did six other Golden residents in the past few years.

Jeff Dolinsky, a dentist in Golden, travelled to India in the spring — and he didn’t go to sightsee, meditate or contort his body in front of a yoga master. Dolinsky’s goal was more prosaic — hip surgery.

When Dolinsky went under the knife in a hospital in Chennai ( formerly Madras), he felt reasonably confident he had made the right decision.

After all, six other residents from the Rocky Mountain town of Golden had also undergone successful hip surgery in the same hospital with the same physician during the previous three years.

The patients from Golden are among the small but slowly growing number of Canadians flying to foreign countries for treatment — a for- profit phenomenon known as medical tourism.

The medical tourism industry earned revenues of $ 20 billion in 2005 and that figure is expected to double to $ 40 billion by 2010, according to a recent report by Frost and Sullivan, a U. S. business research firm.

The same study found that Asian countries such as India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia view medical tourism as important sources of revenue.

Canadians who “ outsource” their treatment overseas are doing so because of frustration over the list of 875,000 people waiting for surgeries and other procedures.

Dolinsky, 48, had spent many m o n t h s i n s eve re p a i n f rom osteoarthritis. He sought treatment and was told that hip resurfacing — a less invasive alternative to hip replacement surgery — was his best option. He was also told that he might have to wait a year if he wanted it done in B. C.

A long pain- ridden wait would have forced Dolinsky to scale back his dental practice and temporarily give up downhill skiing and mountaineering, the sports that drew him originally to the Golden area.

But instead of waiting, Dolinsky flew to India. The hospital picked him up and ushered him into what it called its “ platinum ward,” which was more like a posh hotel, with its marble floors, big- screen satellite TV and laptop computer with WiFi.

“ And from the time I woke up from surgery until now, I haven’t had to take more than a couple of painkillers,” recalled Dolinsky recently.

North Vancouver’s Gloria Creighton is similarly pleased with her decision to forgo treatment in Canada and fly to Chennai. Doctors here told her she needed a hip replacement. She feared this would end her career as a dance specialist with the Burnaby school district.

Her husband learned about the less invasive hip resurfacing from the Internet. He also learned that the procedure could be purchased at the clinic in Chennai. They decided to fly to the subcontinent and many months later, they have no regrets about the $ 15,000 cost.

“ When I came home I started walking around the park down the street and going swimming,” said Creighton.

“ It’s a miracle. Before that, I’d thought that I was gone, done- in. Now I can keep teaching and not have to go on disability and be a burden to the government.”

There are about 15 medical tourism companies based in Canada. Their clients are seeking elective surgeries for such things as joint replacement ( knee/ hip), cardiac surgery, dental surgery, cosmetic surgery, cancer and transplant surgery.

These firms arrange treatment in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Critics have said it’s morally wrong for these developing countries to foster a private health care sector for wealthy westerners when the majority of their own citizens have poor access to health care.

That hasn’t stopped the governments of many Third World countries from trying to attract western patients.

The website of the Royal Thai Consulate in Vancouver gives an overview and pricing for its medical tourism sector, which attracted 600,000 foreign patients in 2004.

Many of the Canadian medical tourism companies are based in B. C., including Surgical Tourism Canada, which brokers surgeries for Canadians in affiliated high- tech private health facilities in India, Mexico, the United States and Abu Dhabi.

Yasmeen Sayeed, chief executive officer of Surgical Tourism Canada, said her client list has steadily increased since she opened in July 2005.

But Sayeed acknowledged that medical tourism is far less significant in Canada than in the U. S., where 500,000 Americans went overseas for treatment in 2005.

The reason for the difference is cost. Americans are used to paying for medical care, said Sayeed. Canadians aren’t because of their country’s universal publicly funded health care.

But for millions of Americans who are either uninsured or underinsured, purchasing medical care overseas can be cheaper than buying it at home.

Another obstacle in Canada for medical tourism, added Sayeed, is the refusal so far of provincial governments to reimburse people who receive treatment abroad.

While medical tourism in Canada is on the increase, the number of people going abroad for care appears to be insignificant.

Sayeed’s Surgical Tourism Canada is one of the largest medical tourism firms in the country, but it has sent only about 100 people abroad since its inception.

Leigh Turner, a McGill University biomedical ethics professor, recently wrote that little is known about how many Canadians do go abroad but that the number is probably relatively modest.

Also modest is the number of Canadians heading to the United States to avoid long waiting lists. There was a flurry of media reports a few years ago about Canadians heading south for private care, but a 2002 study by health care researchers at the University of B. C. found surprisingly few Canadians travelled to the U. S.

The report, Phantoms in the Snow, said Canadian travel tourism to the U. S. was “ more myth than reality” and that the numbers involved “ appear to be handfuls rather than hordes.”

Dr. Michael Rachlis, who has written extensively about the Canadian health care system, said the number of Canadians going overseas “ is of trivial significance.”

Rachlis recalled attending a conference in Toronto on medical tourism where most of the companies involved were only sending about six people a month abroad.

There seemed to be a jump in recent years in the number of Canadians, mostly ethnic Chinese or South Asians, going to Asia for organ transplants.

Ken Donahue, a spokesman for the B. C. Transplant Society, said 136 British Columbians have received transplants overseas since 1990.

But Dr. David Landsberg, medical director of transplantation at St. Paul’s Hospital, said the number of Canadians seeking organs overseas is on the wane because many countries have recently placed restrictions on the practice.

“ I haven’t had any patients who have gone away and come back in the last six months.”

Dr. Brian Day, head of the Canadian Medical Association, is a big fan of a reverse form of medical tourism — he wants the tourists coming here.

Day believes Canada could eventually make billions of dollars off mostly American medical tourists.

The CMA head believes B. C. could attract many medical tourists from Asia. Day said he visited an orthopedic hospital in Cuba that generates $ 20 million in revenue annually treating medical tourists.

But Day’s opponents in the debate over the future of Canadian medicine are less enamoured of the prospect of medical tourism in Canada.

Rachlis, a sharp critic of private medicine, said: “ Do we really want the administrators in our system spending their time luring Americans? Or do we want them to fix the problems faced by Canadians?”

Rachlis said the money available from medical tourism would only amount to tens of millions of dollars — minuscule compared with the $ 150 billion spent on health care annually in Canada. “ It’s just a complete diversion.” Day dismissed Rachlis’s criticism, saying that Canada should only promote medical tourism once waiting lists are eliminated in Canadian hospitals.

“ We are losing all of that potential trade and the only reason we are losing it is because we have wait lists.”

He also said that Rachlis seriously underestimates the revenue available to Canada from medical tourism — money that could be injected back into the system here.

Day believes Canada could make “ tens of billions or more” from medical tourism based on the sector’s projected growth worldwide.