Weekend Reading – Best ETFs in Canada 2021

Weekend Reading – Best ETFs in Canada 2021

Well hello!

I hope you had a great week.

Welcome to my latest Weekend Reading edition, sharing some of the Best ETFs in Canada 2021 to own and much more.

Just in case you missed last week’s edition you can find it here including if $1 million is really “enough” for any early retirement for this couple profiled:

Weekend Reading – Finding value stocks, affordable housing is gone, is $1 million enough and more!

I wish you all a great long Easter weekend and stay safe. See you here next week with new content!


Weekend Reading – Best ETFs in Canada 2021

Headlining my Weekend Reading material, a big shoutout and thanks to Jon Chevreau and the team at MoneySense for including me in this year’s Best ETFs in Canada for 2021.

As Jon and the team have done in the past, this ninth edition of the MoneySense ETF All-Stars edition, you’ll find the following:

  • Top Canadian ETFs to own – to invest in our Canadian market
  • Top ETFs to invest in for the U.S. market
  • Top ETFs to consider for international returns
  • Some fixed-income ETFs to select from (see lessons on bonds below!)
  • Outstanding all-in-one ETFs to own, and finally,
  • If you’re really stuck on an island and had to pick just one – there are some desert-island ETF picks!

Overall, Jon and the team I was part of were happy to largely “stay-the-course” to recommend some broadly diversified low-cost ETFs (that’s how I invest along with some stocks myself) but that doesn’t mean there are not some new considerations….given increasingly volatile stock markets, ever-fluctuating economic conditions and new blitzes of ETF products.

Read on and enjoy! Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.  Happy to see any reader takes on these Best ETFs in Canada 2021 to own.

Earlier this week, since I also invest in some individual stocks, I posted this article with the guys at Stocktrades.ca about some stocks you might want to consider for post-pandemic results. Reader comments were somewhat mixed on these. What do you have your eye on? Here are 5 stocks to buy for post-pandemic results.

I found out one of the biggest pension funds in the country, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan said it earned 8.6% last year, trailing its benchmark. But I think the biggest lesson here from this update is not about “the importance of robust portfolio diversification” from the Chief Investment Officer, Ziad Hindo, rather:

“With a persistent low interest rate environment expected in the coming years, fixed income will be a less effective source of diversification and returns in the immediate future,” Hindo said.

Humm, makes me think you should really learn to live with stocks if you want decent investing returns over the coming decades. Returns will not come from bonds in my opinion.

I go back to this article with thanks Ben Carlson, who wondered why anyone would own bonds right now.

There are some decent bond ETFs to consider as part of the Best ETFs in Canada 2021 to own and Ben cites a few reasons in his post but my favourite is in bold below with my reasoning:

  1. Bonds can help your investing behaviour – riding out stock market volatility.
  2. Bonds can be used to rebalance your portfolio; keep your portfolio aligned to your investing risk tolerance, and help you adjust it back to its target asset allocation (i.e., keeping a balanced mix of stocks and bonds).
  3. Bonds can be used for spending purposes – where some fixed income is “king” for major, upcoming expenses or spending.
  4. Finally, bonds can help protect against deflation – since inflation is a killer for bonds long-term.

Tawcan believes there are some parallels between the roaring 20s and potentially where we are now – what might be to come.

I hope he’s right and I’m wrong! I wrote on his site:

“I don’t see it personally. Sure, with some upcoming transfer of wealth some “roaring” might occur but I believe there are many new “have nots” coming out of this pandemic and socially, we’re potentially moving to a darker place including days of higher inflation and taxation.”

John Heinzl from The Globe and Mail cited some remarks from a retired investment advisor when it comes to dividend paying stocks and higher interest rates. Don’t always believe any negative publicity.

“When the news is all about rising interest rates, dividend-payers will sell off in anticipation of higher rates and rising inflation. Often the worst-case scenario gets cooked into these stocks, a sigh of relief follows and share prices rebound…”

Financial Pilgrimage has some money advice for kids.

On Cut the Crap Investing, Dale Roberts shared some portfolio results by owning equal parts of stocks, bonds, cash and gold as part of the somewhat bearish permanent portfolio. The goal of this portfolio, should you wish to invest this way: “…hold assets that will perform in each economic environment. Something is always working.”

With all the resources and products now available to investors over the last few decades, simply put, asset accumulation has never been easier: if you don’t want to own individual stocks then own one or two (or at the most a handful) of low-cost, broad market ETFs and be done with it.

How many ETFs are enough?

I don’t see any reason to hold more than that. You?

Financial Independence – Retirement

As part of my ongoing commitment to share some financial independence, early retirement or retirement articles from the blogosphere, here are some links!

A few readers have emailed me this week in particular highlighting the pandemic was not a great time for them to retire. I know, I wish we all had a crystal ball. Personally, I’m striving for financial independence and not zero work in my 50s or even 60s. I’ve always believed there is power in postponing full-on retirement.

What are your plans?  Has the pandemic changed them?

Other readers asked me recently how I came to the conclusion of determining our FI (financial independence) number. Here are some posts and a new article about just that.

Here is how you can determine your FI number.

Here is how one reader, blogger, and investor fulfilled his financial independence – Dividend Growth Investor.

If you’re looking for an aggressive path to retirement or work on own terms – check out this detailed case study on Cashflows & Portfolios. Michelle, age 25, has financial independence dreams at age 40. Can she get there? What would that take? Read on!

As always, ensure you check out my dedicated Retirement page where I have case studies about “how much is enough”, how other successful retirees are managing their portfolios and much more. They’ve been inspirational to me and shape where I want to be…

And more Long Weekend Reading…

The Dividend Guy highlighted what types of Brookfield shares you might consider owning. Mike’s thoughts align my own decision back in the fall of 2020:

“However, I can tell you this: it seems that if you are more interested in total returns and you don’t mind receiving a smaller dividend yield, the corporation shares may be the better option over the long haul. Going forward, demand is likely to remain stronger for the corporation shares because they are easier to trade and deal with the tax implications than the LP or Trust units.”

Tom Drake had a great guest post from Maria Smith about co-signs for loans. Personally, I wouldn’t consider it unless it was a last resort option but I’m risk averse. You?

Reader question of the week (adapted slightly for the site):

Mark, I was just reading your dividend income updated from February and noticed you take to answer questions from followers. That is so awesome!

Have you considered adding a position to Fortis Inc.? I was reviewing it earlier today and it honestly pays a high dividend that can’t be ignored necessarily.

I am interested to know what you think about Fortis Inc.!

Actually, I think very highly of Fortis – I own a bunch. With Fortis, I should mention that most of my portfolio is actually on autopilot. Most of what I own (see Dividends page here) is DRIPped re: dividends and distributions from my low-cost ETFs as well are automatically reinvested to buy more shares commission-free next month or quarter. It’s basically money making money.

Read on about the types of DRIPs here. I actually don’t invest very much new capital anymore relative to my portfolio value.

I/we maxed out our TFSAs in early 2021 and we’re now saving up money to do the same for January 2022. I figure my wife and I need another $12,000 ready for that contribution. That’s saving $1,000 per month just for that. 

I hope that provides some insights!!

Save, Invest, Prosper!

Thanks to the hundreds of entrants and congrats to the following winners of my TurboTax Canada giveaway!

TurboTax Winners 2021 giveaway

Happy saving and investing folks!


My name is Mark Seed - the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own DIY financial advisor, I'm looking to start semi-retirement soon, sooner than most. Find out how, what I did, and what you can learn to tailor your own financial independence path. Join the newsletter read by thousands each day, always FREE.

50 Responses to "Weekend Reading – Best ETFs in Canada 2021"

  1. Hi Mark, I have a question about the MoneySense article: Best ETF’s and the desert island picks.
    I see that you were paired with Yves Rebetez and am wondering about his desert pick NXTG (Nasdaq) and why not NXTG.TO?
    When I look at these two tickers I see a huge difference in price and how well the stock is doing. Why is that when the stock has the same holdings? Is it better to purchase this through Nasdaq rather than the TSX?

    1. Hi Jacqueline,
      Thanks for your readership. I can’t speak to Yves’ pick directly (very smart guy though!) but I can say that NXTG (Next Gen ETF) has been established far longer than the CDN version. I recall NXTG (Nasdaq) was established in 2011 around $30 and it seems NXTG.TO was established around 2014 with an inception price of $20 CDN or so.

      So, beyond that, add in some ETF inflows and outflows (likely more money flowing into USD/Nasdaq version vs. CDN) and you could see why the price may differ over time.

      Recall that any particular price point and measurement timeline when evaluating an ETF or stock can how different performance.

      Without doing lots of research on that one, all I know right now – hope that helps!

      Happy Investing!

  2. Thanks Mark for the great post!

    Could you elaborate about the decision to drop BXF from the All-Star list? I have found it to be a useful tool for short term fixed income investing for a non-registered account.

  3. I’m a bond investor – as a percentage of my portfolio – because I understand bonds and what they do. Reluctance to invest in bonds is based on the principle that rising inflation crushes yields. But a responsibly, competently managed portfolio of bonds can insulate from the vagaries of the marketplace, while compensating for the effect of inflation on real returns. In my retirement – note the use of present tense – I’d WAY rather have the bulk of my portfolio invested in a balanced portfolio including bonds, than to be 100% exposed to significant market turbulence. And I think the markets will be turbulent evermore, particularly given the near-certainty of continued civil strife in the US, whether race-related or continuing political extremism on the right. Besides which bonds only look like a bad deal right now because of opportunity cost. And I think if you look hard enough at “opportunity cost” – like, look at what you’re missing in this bear market! – it starts to resemble “speculation”. As a dividend investor, you’re already past the temptation to speculate, so maybe have a closer look at bonds as a percentage of your portfolio. After all, someone has borrowed your money to increase their company’s ability to create earnings, they promise to pay it back and tell you ahead of time when and how much interest. Unless inflation is a runaway freight train – which is HIGHLY unlikely to happen given the unused capacity in labour and capital markets, and the extreme vigilance of the central banks, bonds continue to sound like a prudent, albeit moderate, investment to me.
    Finally, a couple of your commentators have mentioned the “mis-use” of cash being on-hand and liquid. I agree, which is why I rarely have cash sitting in a conventional bank account. However, I was definitely patting myself on the back last year and into this year after the market tanked, and we had absolutely zero worries about our retirement income because of our CASH wedge. If it had been 100% invested, with just a month or two sloshing around at the bank, there might have been a few painful months there! Instead, the lovely people at Oaken Financial continued to pay us – more or less – a rate of return equal to inflation on our cash wedge and we just patiently waited for the market to recover. While continuing to collect dividends, by the way. Now that the market is recovered, we have the breathing room to decide which among our investments should top up the cash wedge. Because cash – liquid and instantly accessible – can provide a return. If you’re not getting at least 1.2% on your actual cash deposit – try harder!
    Overall, I think I’m reacting to the notion that many investors and commentators are “dogmatic” in their thinking – i.e. “here’s what the principle is, and I’m sticking to it no matter what reason, applied intellect and observable market forces tell me”! I think people should indeed have some core, guiding principles, but be prudently flexible in the application. If you choose to put aside cash money to subsequently invest in your annual TFSA top-up, you’ve got your reasons, right?! Who am I to trot out some dogmatic principle and tell you you’re wrong. Now, about your mattress being an appropriate storage mechanism for that $12,000…

  4. Congrats on getting in with the MoneySense Best ETF post. MoneySense has been a favorite for years! Thanks for bringing up the dividend ETFs. As a retired person living off dividends (as much as possible), it would be nice to see more alternatives to what I presently own.
    Take care.

    1. Most welcome Paul. We had some good discussions/debates when it came to the All Star ETFs. There are only a handful of ETFs to own if your goal is growth only but I know in some cases, investors also want to get paid and/or lower their volatility (i.e., sleep at night as per my quotes). So, dividend ETFs and funds like ZLB can make great sense for those reasons I believe – they should not be excluded automatically.

      Have a great weekend!

  5. Hey Mark,

    Near the end of the post you mention that you are saving $1000/month for next years TFSA contribution. Maxing that out is awesome as we all know. But my questions is, why bother ‘saving’ that money? Why not just invest in a Non-reg account all year long? Then when the time comes you sell, or transfer in kind your holdings to the TFSA. I realize this may come with tax consequences, but you certainly have a lot more upside potential than the low savings rates we see these days. You’re also dollar cost averaging into the market, and could potentially just hold an all in one ETF for diversification. All of this to say, it’s a good problem to have if you are already ahead and waiting for next years room.


    1. Yes, fair questions! 🙂 I should mention that beyond our TFSA savings for 2022, we are also going to start saving up some RRSP contribution $$ this year and certainly with any $$ leftover I will continue to build my non-reg. fund.

      I do invest in my taxable account after the TFSA, then RRSP is maxed out. We have a decent portion of our portfolio in a taxable account actually. All CDN dividend paying stocks. My goal is to live off that non-reg. income stream in about 5 years, coupled with strategic RRSP withdrawals and some part-time work (probably the blog if it continues to do well…).

      You’re right of course, any sells in the non-reg. can trigger tax consequences so I try and avoid that 🙂 I prefer to rarely sell at all!

      Yes, a good problem – x2 TFSAs + x2 RRSP accounts are maxed out. No more room as of earlier this year.

        1. Ha, sorry, I fund my TFSA almost every single year from cash savings. Same with my wife’s. We’re now in savings mode for 2022 TFSA contribution room.

          I have a taxable account but I prefer, for now, to keep that account growing as I aspire to turn off the DRIP taps from that taxable account and live off dividends from the taxable in <5 years.

          We are also in savings mode for 2022 RRSP contribution room.

          After we save up cash this year, for x2 TFSA and x2 RRSP contributions ready for January 1, 2022, I might consider some taxable investing but there is only so much $$$ to go around!

          I have in the past, moved $$ from my non-reg. to my TFSA and warned folks about the pros and cons of that.

          Hope that’s more clear my friend!

          1. Yes, that all makes sense. I guess what I was trying to get at is you are giving up some gains and opportunity cost by simply ‘saving’ that money rather than just getting it invested right away.

            1. Yes, maybe a bit since I avoid leverage.

              I keep a modest cash savings for the “what ifs” in life rightly or wrongly. Without disclosing any asset values (I have to keep some stuff personal?! – ha) we have:

              1. a modest amount invested in my taxable account (CDN dividend paying stocks only) churning out close to $12K per year in income.
              2. x2 maxed TFSAs.
              3. x2 maxed RRSPs.
              4. x1 small LIRA for me from previous employer 20 years ago.

              Those are our key personal accounts. There are also pensions.

              I/we save each year (now) some $$ for next year’s TFSA and RRSP contributions – in that mode now for 2022 so to your point, I won’t get that $12K for the TFSA working until 2022. That’s fine.

              Good discussion, we can tackle the pros and cons of my approach in any future podcast my friend 🙂

    2. This makes perfect sense Mr. Mechanic. As Dividend Growth Investor said in his interview, invest the money when you have it and start collecting dividends right away. We are retired and transfer shares in king from our RIFF’s each year to top up the TFSA’s as part of our withdrawal strategy. Never have idle cash sitting around.

      1. Very smart DivInvestor. Question for you: do you have an emergency fund/cash wedge in retirement now? If so, how much? Thinking we need ~ 1-year’s worth of expenses ourselves in the coming years. At least that’s the plan!


        1. No Mark, we have no cash or emergency fund. Our income is a small pension from my employer, and our minimum withdrawal of dividends from our RRIF’s. This covers all our expenses every month. Then there are still the dividends from the TFSA’s and margin trading accounts. Until now we have used those to pay of a line of credit that we used to finish our new house two years ago. We have never had any cash account. When we needed money to buy a car or travel, we borrowed from the LOC. then every month payed it off. But never dipping into the capitol of our investments. Now is the first time in my 3 years of retirement where I have to make a decision about leaving some dividends in the accounts and re-invest, or build up some cash. In the next few years we might want to buy a car or two, and travel when or if we can again. I think I will stay with the original plan and re-invest everything we don’t need now and borrow and pay of when the time comes to buy. And there will be a whole new set of fitted golf clubs to pay for in May. (don’t tell my wife)

          1. Gotcha. Well, I think my wife and I will sleep better at night knowing we have ~ 1-years’ worth of cash available on demand. That won’t represent even 5% of our overall portfolio ideally. Everything else will be invested largely in dividend paying stocks and low-cost growth oriented ETFs.

            I know we’ll likely reinvest all dividends paid until we need the cash for living expenses.

            Good call on the golf clubs!! Secret safe on this site.

  6. Thanks for posting the link to the MoneySense ETF lists. Nice to see them round out the lists more thoroughly. For long term investors I’m not sure the low vol ETFs offer much advantage. I think they should have added the dividend ETFs – they’re a good solution for those looking for income generating ETFs – they added VRIF to the asset allocation ETFs, even though its less than a year old.

    I think they missed on the ESG side – IFIC data shows there’s a big increase in ESG investments and having a guide to these would have helped. The newer iShares asset allocation ESG ETFs (GGRO, etc.) offer a range of portfolio solutions for those who want asset allocation ETFs that fit their responsible investing goals.

    1. I was back and forth on my low vol comments Bart but I decided to keep it in and others voted for it as well for the reasons I mentioned in the article. That said, it’s not for everyone and I do believe there may be times that ZLB or others could trail other ETFs in that list. Bound to happen.

      The ESG side is very appealing and there were a few short discussions about that. GGRO seems appealing. A fund of funds.

  7. Thanks Mark for including the Permanent Portfolio post. It’s a surprising mix and surprising performance. It’s all counter intuitive.

    And while few would ever embrace the model, note for note, we can learn from the lessons. We can choose to protect for each economic regime. Typically we’ll do that in retirement and 10 years before retirement when we enter the ‘retirement risk zone’.

    Most do not protect. And most are exposed to the risks, including most of those who are advised.

    For advisors that’s a big guess/bet to make with other people’s money, and retirement.

    I find that shocking 🙁


    1. Certainly a lot to protect when it comes to asset preservation. Thinking more about that myself…meaning, should I stay with 100% equities or if I leave the full-time workforce early – maybe I replicate my workplace pension with something like HBAL, XBAL, VBAL, etc.


      I plan to “live off dividends and distributions” only in the first 5 or so years in semi-retirement. Those days are about 5 years away in my early 50s. Geez. Getting older!! I still feel 30 most days!

      1. Haha, getting older! It’s hitting me slightly more in my 60’s now. But I resist the slide with everything I have. LOL

        Very smart to give due consideration. 7 years in and tweaking our approach.

        We are now holding some XGRO and will be adding to that ongoing, with part of our maturing FI.

        1. Thinking the same about asset preservation. At first I was considering XBAL, but after reading about Bonds in your article, I have second thoughts. Perhaps 80% equities ETF and 20% in cash. BTW, Weekend Reading – great stuff!

        2. That seems to be very smart with your XGRO choice. I think once I am forced to take my DB and move into a LIRA/RRSP if the latter has room, I am very likely to replicate that money with a “BAL” fund. Not sure yet. I have 6-7 years to figure that out. With interest rates so low, I think the commuted value would be appealing. Then I can work part-time if my employer will have me 🙂 Hope so, we’ll see!

          1. Yes lots of time to figure out commuting or not and if so how to invest. Things will likely change between now and then. I’m sure your employer will have you.

            Thanks. Slowly creeping up equities with market rises and cash/FI utilization. Looking at your site with a huge reader dividend stock bias I’m the outlier still keeping some bonds and dipping into bitcoin.

            1. Ha. I think more folks with adopt bitcoin over time. Maybe me too! For now, all about those dividend payers and low-cost ETFs. That 1-2 punch has served me well thus far and won’t make any deviations from that plan.

              I do need to consider more assets for my taxable account at some point, just not sure what.

              I think a good plan for us is to just save money for 2022 TFSA and RRSP room, be ready to go for Jan. 1, pay down debt and have fun with the rest.

              I’m sure I will consider bonds again at some point as part of an ETF with that pension. Just not sure yet!

              1. Same with div payers and etfs. I’m slowly adding to unregistered from registered for tax and income reasons. So far has been CDN stocks but at some point will be VTI & XGRO. Very small position in bitcoin here. Agree it is gaining acceptance retail and institutionally.

                That’s your plan so far and its certainly working!

                I’ve had to adapt my thinking and plan with fewer bonds as rates and market condition facts evolve. CB’s and government everywhere are committed to fiscal and monetary policies to stimulate with giant cannons and bombs. The days of fiscal responsibility are gone. MMT rules or impending big tax increases?

                  1. Likely but not certain. But with an election looming politics really will play a part and they’ll want to avoid much hurt at all.

                    Shameful, ridiculous and arrogant the country did not operate with a budget for so long. Other G7 countries suffered with Covid too but had budgets and were accountable and transparent with citizens and opposition.

                    Trust us, we’re taking on debt so Canadians don’t have to, we have your back and will always stand up for (insert whatever buzz phrase you want here). And budgets balance themselves, anyway. LOL So corny. Ok, I feel better. haha

  8. I’m also skeptical that we’ll see a Roaring Twenties. Yes, there’s some $200bn in cash on the sidelines but it is far from evenly distributed across society/the economy. It’s concentrated in the middle-aged+, educated and salaried professional class. They largely have homes paid off and new enough cars. I see them driving up tourism spending for sure, and likely restaurant and entertainment experiences, but their expenditure relative to income was already fairly low compared to other groups.

    Middle-aged and younger salaried workers are likely to pay down mortgages and top up RRSPs – I can see them spending more on upgrading home goods but I don’t they have massive discretionary spending capability – they were already deeply indebted with mortgages. The large cohort of hourly workers have had a rough go of it – many benefited from CERB payments, but they generally spend all that they get (some are in rent arrears).

    1. I’m just skeptical with higher taxation over time. I mean, how far can we kick the can down the road?

      As a middle-ager now, my goal is very simple: max out my accounts (TFSAs and RRSPs) and kill debt in the coming years. Then see where I end up for any semi-retirement.

      I think that’s a good approach overall 🙂

      Thanks for your detailed comments as always.

  9. I haven’t added anything lately , except some small positions in Bitcoin ETF’s back in late February. They have done very well since Bitcoin was around 48K in late Feb and is now approaching 60K per coin now.

    1. Same, for the most part, didn’t invest very much in bonds years ago and certainly don’t now. As a major RE investor I don’t see any value in you investing in bonds!!

    2. Ed is wrong, sorry to say. Not a big deal perhaps in the accumulation stage with decades to go.

      Almost all US stocks returns in the last 140 years have arrived during periods of disinflationary. That’s largely what we’ve been in the last 40 plus years. We have recency bias.

      But in retirement we need to protect. All equity has failed in so many periods. Bonds play one role.

      There are four economic quadrants.

      But even traditional balanced portfolios have failed as well.

      Them’s the facts.


  10. Grear post Mark and great links ! Regarding to bonds I pulled the trigger on mine two weeks ago 🙂 I had about 80k in Vab that i sold and invested more in my utility trio 🙂 Ema FTS and AQN and added more to MFC , I used every single comparaison tool on the net and after reading couple of books and my last one was the three books of Henry Mah ( Cannew ) bonds lagged behind so i’ve decided to get rid of it , in case i needed the cash i consider the rental income that we have as bond like steady income which we have for years now .
    so yeah it’s crazy how investing in those solid companies can boost your income .
    Thank you Mark and thanks Henry 🙂 I enjoyed reading the books for sure.

    1. Congrats Gus! Make sure you reminder yourself (often) why you own those stocks because there may come some days whereby you’ll need that – stocks go up but they can also go WAY down for periods of time too! Thanks for the kinds words about the site.

      Henry did a fine job with his books!

      1. Of course Mark , I’ve reminded myself always when the markets are tanking to do nothing but March 2020 I bought a good chunck of VUN at sale price 🙂 and it did pretty well and so did the rest.
        Thanks for the link of Jack bogle , he was the reason why I started DIY investing people like him are true heroes.

  11. John Heinzl: Great advice for dividend/income investors. Ignore the short-term effects of the market, stay the course, especially if your income continues to grow. It’s not how much it grows, as long as it keeps growing during all markets.

      1. Seems very smart May. I’m only happy to DRIP these stocks and more for the coming years to fuel my retirement income stream. We’ll see where I end up!

        Happy long weekend to you.


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