Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An eye-opening exercise

I think that today's editorial (SP Aug. 24/10) makes the point that any potential bidder for PCS has to deal with more than share price. It will be incumbent on governments to ensure that any future owner of our potash industry will provide benefit to the people of Saskatchewan. Although it is a good strategy for PCS executive team to be out beating the bushes for other speculators, which is driving up the share price, it should also be considering what corporation will be a good corporate employer. With that in mind, I would be very opposed to China owning PCS regardless of what they wished to pay simply because of that government's history with human rights. I can't believe that China would consider employee rights and OHS regulations, collective agreements and other benefits normally accorded PCS employees to be of a top priority for China. And I suspect Russia is only one step behind China.

In reading the various articles on this issue, I wasn't sure whether I should be amused or affronted by CEO Bill Doyle's comments that BHP Billiton promises of keeping PCS headquarters in Saskatoon is malarkey and that we were being hoodwinked. These comments were made by the CEO from his executive offices in the Chicago area. It is true that PCS has offices in Saskatoon, but the executive suite here is basically empty. And the tone of the articles seemed to imply that no well run corporation would consider Saskatoon a suitable site for such activity.

On the upside, in the event PCS does not change ownership, I hope the provincial government will enact its legislative authority to coerce the PCS Board to return, in totality, the corporate headquarters of PCS to Saskatoon. Saskatchewan people have had their eyes opened and for that we should be thankful.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fresh out of sympathy

In today's SP (Aug. 23/10) in the Letters to the Editor a downtown resident senior both laments the apparent loss of and complains of broken promises for a downtown grocery store. This writer acknowledges that she stopped in a few times and bought a "few" things that she needed. She admits that during her visits the store was not busy but states it takes time to build a clientele.

If the demand for a grocery store, rather than a convenience store, existed, then the store should have been booming from day one. I am always amazed when people believe businesses should exist solely for their convenience.

When downtown had the Extra Foods store, the majority used it as a convenience store and did not use it for their main shopping. I plead guilty on this as I was one of those people. I now use Extra Foods on Broadway in the same fashion. Regrettably for we convenience shoppers, grocery stores are businesses and want to make a profit. These stores measure the viability of the store through "basket size," which is the average amount of the purchase made by patrons.

When the downtown Extra Foods closed, the city arranged for and offered a free shuttle service to both the Broadway Extra Foods and the newly opened Giant Tiger in Riversdale, as well as the farmer's market. The shuttle service was unused and eventually ceased operating. However, many downtown seniors hopped on the free bus service offered to the Co-op Store on 8th Street, presumably because the prices were cheaper, and they did the bulk of their shopping at the Co-op.

Most large grocery chains make their profit margins through bulk and volume sales. Small groceterias can neither stock bulk products and or offer the same prices as the huge chain stores. At some point downtown residents are going to have to come to terms with this issue. It is generally referred to as "use it or lose it."

Downtown seems to have lost this store and I expect it will be a long while before anyone thinks to invest in a similar venture again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

When is enough, enough?

I am saddened reading the articles in the SP regarding our improvished seniors and their efforts to stay in their homes. It seems to me that if various levels of government can provide tax incentives to business and corporations, that something can be designed to aid the people who built this city and province. Although I would certainly support a program that would offer a reduced mill rate to seniors, I suspect that won't happen given the demographics of this city/province. So the proposal (SP Aug. 20/10) to have increases registered as debt against their asset, to be paid after disposal of the asset, does appeal to me - as long as the city doesn't hit them with the 18% late payment interest.

Many poor seniors have paid tax for more than a half century and are deserving of a break. Seniors have great political clout in this city and province. They just need a leader to organize them.

My hair stylist won't be happy with the thought of losing my business should I decide to opt into Grey Power!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Only in Saskatchewan . . .

could the biggest international business story turn into a political quagmire. The media have replayed the privatization and solicited salacious response from the public. The responding public seems only to rehash the Devine era and seems to believe that had privatization not happened that each and every citizen would be wealthy as a result of potash revenue.

Prior to privatization our potash industry was a losing proposition and a bit player. Since privatization its success has put Saskatchewan on the map and reaped billions in royalty revenue for the people of Saskatchewan. At that time, every citizen could purchase $100.00 bonds that later converted into 5 PCS shares, if you opted to do so. It would be interesting to track what each of those $20.00 shares would be worth today, after several splits, for those having the wisdom to hold on to them. Hmmm, time to check Granny's portfolio.

Obviously BHP Billiton did its homework. It impresses in its offering that PCS headquarters would remain in Saskatoon and its commitment to community involvement. Up until a few years ago all CEOs and Presidents of PCS honoured this understanding by residing in Saskatoon and running the corporation from Saskatchewan. The current President/CEO, almost immediately after being appointed, returned with his family to Chicago. All senior executives have offices in Chicago and US work visas. Although PCS maintains an office here, it appears the decision making is out of Chicago.

In years gone by, PCS was very visible in Saskatoon, supporting charity events and donating dollars to worthwhile causes. Although PCS still donates within Saskatchewan, it is primarily to the U of S (a good thing) and some inner city programing (another good thing.) But the many causes that depended on PCS support in years gone by no longer enjoy this support.

I suspect not a whole lot will change if the takeover is successful. BHP will still need miners and local managers. But potash revenue may increase.

So it raises the question of how far off last year's provincial budget projections really were. Globally, PCS is considered a small shop. It has very little control of potash sales globally. As I understand it potash revenues dropped because larger players undersold the product. Interesting.

My biggest concern now is whether I should sell my few shares now or hold on and hope for a higher price. If past performance is an indicator of future performance I will probably adhere to my "buy high, sell low" practice.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Topsy-turvy is an understatement

There is a difference between coming full circle and spinning out of control. I was dumbfounded this morning when I read in the SP (Aug. 18/10) that the city is considering an $8 million dollar expansion to the Art Gallery project that won't even begin construction until 2012. That is a preliminary estimate for the expansion. No doubt construction costs will increase over the next two years and in all likelihood more elements will emerge to "meet all the dreams and aspirations" of those promoting this project. Unbelievable.

What is most amazing to me is that some of today's councillors were opposed to the initial ask of $4 million dollars for the city's share of a renovation/expansion of the Mendel Art Gallery. They expressed grave concern respecting increased operating costs due to expansion. Yet at that time the Mendel operated on a shoe-string budget due to heavy volunteer involvement. This volunteerism is not necessarily in place for the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. And no one is willing to discuss operating costs in the years to come.

When I think of a $12-14 million dollar request to fixing the existing Mendel escalating into a $64 million Taj Mahal on River Landing it brings to mind the initial $16 million dollar swimming pool on the West Side becoming a $50 million Olympic colossus with huge operating costs. Should anyone dare to suggest that the operating costs are shared with the schools boards I remind you that the school boards operate solely with tax dollars.

The only positive thing is that this project is scheduled to start in 2012 - that being the next civic election year. Hopefully by then the citizens of Saskatoon will wake up and realize the debt and tax burden attached to them thanks to this council. Hopefully the majority of voters will look to a new council with an understanding of fiscal responsibility.

As for my current "dreams and aspirations" I want to be able to afford to reside in my home in Saskatoon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Smarter than your average rat

Today I tried to leave my neighbourhood. I am fenced in the area bordered by Broadway, 8th Street and the river. Like the rat in a maze I tried all the usual exits, to no avail. Everything was blocked and detours had detours. The old narrow side streets are riddled with pot holes. Every corner had temporary four-way stops. I am seriously frustrated. This has been going on for months with no end in sight. If any one in this 'hood needed an ambulance they would die before EMS found a route in. When I finally did find an exit I felt like the experimental mouse in Flowers for Algernon. And what do I get for all this trouble? A damn sewage lift station that didn't want.

Then I tried to drive down Idylwyld. If I had a high blood pressure problem I'm sure I would have stroked out. My normal 15 minute trip took me 40 minutes. I was particularly enthralled with the alternating red/green lights on 42nd Street. Good way to keep traffic moving she said facetiously.

Today I do not feel warm and fuzzy about city engineers and infrastructure employees. But I did feel proud exiting the maze.

And tomorrow will be a new challenge.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Recycled Thought

Its good to be back in 'Toon, but in browsing the papers it seems that I left the bait in town along with some big fish.

Today's SP (Aug.16/10) deals with Council's ongoing dilemma with recycling. The report gives minuscule public feedback, and feedback given without full disclosure.

I would like to know the real cost of each option, not just guesstimates.

I would like to know how each household will be charged. Will it be a separate line on the tax bill and each household pays the same, or will it be added to the budget and those that already pay thousands in taxes will pick up another huge bite while the slum landlords pay nothing.

If each household pays the same, what impact will it have rental property costs and those on fixed incomes?

Where will the picked up recyclable products be taken for processing?

Will The service be contracted out?

How will Cosmo be involved? Sarcan?

If Council wants true public feedback on the issue should hold a referendum vote after disclosure all information. If anyone thinks the cost of a referendum vote is too great, comparatively speaking, it will be paltry. Better yet within about a year there may be openings for two city council positions and by-elections will have to be held. (This assumes that any Councillor elected to another office would be honourable enough to step down from council.) Surely it shouldn't take more than a year to gather information and distribute it to the tax base.

Does council really want public feedback?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gone Fishin'

I'm on tour and will resume posting on Monday August 16.

Enjoy the sun.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bandaids on surgical wounds

In today's SP (Aug. 4/10) Dr. Anne Doig, President of the Canadian Medical Association, warns that Canadian Health Care is in distress and that the prescription issued is immediate transformation of the system. The CMA report states the system is "not delivering value for the money spent." Hardly news to most of us.

The one thing I have learned about prescriptions is to question the medication and its side effects before you ingest it.

I'm not convinced that more money is the quick or only fix. Firstly, it must impressed upon the public that health care is not free. It is tax-funded. The mentality that it costs nothing encourages people to seek unnecessary services.

Secondly, penalties should be attached to those who misuse the system. Too often people use Emergency Wards as medi-clinics. I have been in ER's when people come in for care on their way home from work because they didn't want to take time away from their jobs to see a family physician during the 9 to 5 day. And acute care is the highest cost to the system.

I met a nurse from BC last week who claimed nurses in Saskatchewan get paid far more than nurses in her province. And I've met family physicians who claim doctors in other provinces earn more than doctors in Saskatchewan. I don't know if this is true. But I do think we have to become a little more realistic on salaries for health care professionals and support employees.

One of the proudest elements of being Canadian is our tax-funded health care. It is comforting to know that regardless of your financial circumstances you will receive necessary medical attention. It is worth preserving.

So how to we get our politicians to quit playing games with the system? Instead of fear-mongering that any one party is out to destroy medicare should they discuss possibilities to change or improve it, all parties should sit down and find solutions. Rather than panning one proposal, come up with another.

I am convinced simply throwing more money at the system leaves it in peril. It is the negative side-effect to this prescription.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


To those of you who have commented to me on my EDOs, holiday days and subsequent erratic postings I can only respond with - its summer time and the living is easy.

I returned to Saskatoon this morning and it took me almost as much time to drive from the city limits to my home in Nutana as it did from PA. I have tried to be understanding, knowing full well that road repairs can only be done during the summer season. But the planning of the repairs stinks. Idylwyld Drive on a good day means bad traffic, but with all the detours downtown and on the Buckwold bridge due to road construction/repair it has become a nightmare. My neighbourhood has been locked in since mid June with no finish in sight. Enough already!

Today's nightmare became a horror show when the CP Rail decided to park a miles long train through the centre of the city. It wasn't moving and nor was the traffic. People started detouring down the side streets looking for an opening to cross over. It took a trip to Avenue P and 20th to find the opening, but it had flashing red lights at the rail crossing. Sadly, frustrated motorists started racing across the tracks trying to beat the train that looked like it was ready to go but was in start and stop mode. Playing chicken with a train is a losing game, but it was being played. And some Saskatoonian is going to wind up being chicken ala king.

My question is: can the city put restrictions on CP rail as to hours that it can bring the train through the city? CP shouldn't be allowed to run through the city during peak traffic times. If the answer is no, how about an overpass?