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Saving retirement in Ecuador

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"Fortunately, I enjoy my own company and I am easily amused." – Raymond Flett

I first met lawyer Ray Flett in the late 1980s when I was covering the Law Courts.

At the time he was the special prosecutor in a complex fraud case involving XCan Grain Ltd. and $6 million in trading irregularities on the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange. Seven of eight people implicated were convicted.

Flett’s name appeared in the news about eight years later when he acted for Dr. Jonah Odim at the emotional inquest into the deaths of 12 children, mostly infants, in 1994 at the Health Sciences Centre after open-heart surgery.

Both these cases have largely been forgotten, but at the time they made headlines across the country.

Now, 17 years later, Flett’s name is back in the news. Sort of.

He’s self-published a book, Saving Retirement and Some Adventures, about his life after he officially retired in late 2006 from city law firm Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson.

Flett, now 74, was enjoying his retirement in Winnipeg without much of a fuss. He had planned well for life after work and had invested wisely.

Then in 2008 the markets crashed. Within a short time he watched more than 60 per cent of his main retirement fund evaporate.

So when the markets went south, Flett did, too.

As of April last year, he now calls Ibarra, Ecuador his permanent home. And his book, which will be sold through McNally Robinson after it’s published Dec. 8, is the story of how he did it.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t quick, but it was necessary. And it’s been more than worth it, he said.

"The genesis of this is when I first got down here, and in particularly when I started having the house built, I would send messages off to some friends and some family and it became clear I wasn’t the only guy hit in 2008," he said in a phone chat. "There had to be a hell of a lot of people that were facing the same problem that I was having to face then.

"It seemed to me that the experience I had in moving here and getting myself set up could well be helpful to other people."

But why Ecuador, of all places?

Flett says it’s cheap, warm and friendly. And despite his retirement fund being cut in half, he’s still more than able to afford the quality of life he had in Canada and then some.

"The whole benefit of being in Ecuador is that it’s so reasonable to live. Everything is reasonable here. Gas here is $1.40 a gallon (in Canada that same gallon is $4.23 when converted from litres) and it just keeps on going. My real property taxes for this year were $11.82."

Flett, who is divorced-- his two adult children moved away from the city on their own; his son is a lawyer in Toronto and his daughter works in The Maldives — said he has no regrets about moving from the province where his ancestors first arrived more than 150 years ago to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

"I had a hell of good life after I retired. I was a member of the Manitoba Club. I ate well and I drank well, and hopefully I still do. But when I lost that chunk of money in 2008 I had to do something. There was just no way I could trust that fund with any kind of assurance.

"I very happy here. I’ve got some friends that I’ve established over the time that I’ve been here. I mean, today, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and it’s probably just not quite 90 (F). The weather is good and the prices are phenomenal. Every turn I make there’s something else that’s significantly cheaper than in Canada or any place in North America for that matter."

The book also touches on the some of the cases Flett worked on when he practiced law in Winnipeg and some of the folks — and fish — he’s met in his travels.

"I am still a member of the Law Society of Manitoba," he writes on page 231. "Becoming a lawyer, at least in Manitoba, is like joining the mafia; you’re in until you’re on the other side of the grass."

Flett said he’ll travel back to Winnipeg when his book goes on sale.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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