Thursday, September 30, 2010

Come in to my parlour . . .

This morning on CBC's Sheila Cole program, Ray Morrison, Chairman of the Saskatoon Public School Board, attempted to clarify the controversy on student reporting. I empathized with him as he attempted to explain and defend the Board's position in response to that of a Superintendent, teacher and students. If nothing else the Board is guilty of poor communication. In essence he stated that there was no policy but simply an understanding that each teacher would consider student behaviour when rendering a grade and that teachers simply had flexibility in grading. I suspect this is not that comforting to parents and students.

Chairman Morrison also stated that he canvassed the Trustees and they indicated that they had received few negative reactions from the public on this issue. I would suggest that is a result of the public-at-large not knowing who in hell even sits on the Board. For a service as important as public education, very little media or reporting occurs on what is happening in our educations systems.

Following Chairman Morrison, Premier Brad Wall weighed in on the subject as both a father and Premier. As a father he wants student accountability and responsibility to play a role, but acknowledged as a Premier that student reporting has always been the purview of school boards. In light of this controversy he followed up with the comment that since the province has overall responsibility for education, his education ministry would be looking at introducing some form of standardized reporting.

Boom! With that little bomb you can expect to hear from the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. There is nothing that can rally the education troops like the thought of standardized testing or reporting or anything that would remotely impact on their grip of publicly funded education. Our Premier has stepped into a mine field.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard, and stated myself, that "our children are our greatest resource." Let's hope that this "resource" issue continues and receives as much play and consideration as does the potash resource issue.

. . . both Morrison and Wall flew into the spiders web.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Break the bubble

It is hard to believe in today's cyber world that legislation exists banning news in a community during a by-election (SP Sept. 29/10). Better yet, that information via political advertisements cannot be aired during an election which state comments made by an elected officials if those statements are made in the legislature. It appears that voters should cast their vote without having access to information which may determine how they vote. Regardless of where the elected official made the comment, that politician should either stand by the comment or publicly withdraw the same. They should not have immunity from their comments or actions during a political campaign, either in a general or by-election.

On the other hand the Saskatchewan unions can play advertisements implying this is "their Saskatchewan" - or at least it was until the Sask Party took the helm. And certainly this advertisement makes it clear that the unions want no change to their Saskatchewan. I'm not sure where this leaves the rest of Saskatchewan residents.

I would agree that new programs or major capital announcements should not be made during a general election. But the idea that government should halt, or limit the flow of information during a by-election, flies in the face of transparency that seems to be the buzz in today's political world.

The by-election in Saskatoon Northwest will set the tone for the general election in November of 2011. Perhaps we should have exit polls and the results should be analyzed to see the effects the censorship.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Where were their heads???

After twelve years on the Public School Board I thought I had heard every inane proposal the education community could toss up, and some more than once. But the Public School Board has surprised even me with their new evaluation policy. Homework and assignments can be handed in whenever you want, or not. No penalties. And plagiarism might earn a student a request for a re-do. And if you happen to be a conscientious student, do your assignments in a timely manner and actually do your own work, there are no pats on the back.

Generally curricula are built on sequential units. As a teacher, how do you move the class forward to the next unit without knowing that your students understood the previous one? Or when June comes and no assignments have been submitted, and the system does not embrace student failure, is it just an unfortunate lost year for the student(s)?

Schools teach more than ABCs. Life skills are as vital as academics. Students learn socialization, work ethic, responsibility - or at least they used to. What can they possibly gain through this process? I think we can take a good guess at what can be lost. What about teaching consequences of actions? What about preparation for post-secondary education?

It is at times like this that the public-at-large rear their heads and ask for provincial exams to be revived.

What I don't understand is why parents allow this system to use their kids as guinea pigs.

Not in Saskatchewan

Saturday's SP (Sept. 25/10) contains an article regarding national polling wherein the Federal NDP are tied with the Green Party for voter support. John Wright of Ipsos Reid states that we are really into a two-party race now - Liberals vs. Conservatives.

We have a problem here in good old Saskatchewan. The Liberals appear to have disappeared from our landscape. Who is the Liberals candidate in the current by-election? Who is the Liberal leader?

I always felt in any election, if I didn't have a candidate that I could support, that I could always simply exercise my franchise and throw my vote at the Greens knowing it could do no harm. That may not be the case now. I expect the NDP will now have the Green leaders on speed dial and proposing a coalition of some sort. The Greens should remember how well that scenario worked for Jim Melenchuk and the Liberal Party of Saskatchewan.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bring out the lubricant

I have always believed that the NDP was a well-oiled political machine. They could get out their vote and loyalists fell over themselves serving the party. So I don't get why the party strategists are letting the nomination process get away from them in the Sutherland constituency. According to the pundits this may be a winnable seat for the NDP. Meili came out of nowhere during the leadership race and obviously captivated the party membership. These are the people who will be working any campaign if they like the candidate.

It is not unheard of for the hierarchy of any party to contact a member seeking the nomination and request that they back off or find another constituency in run in. Its basically step aside or get stepped on.

From all appearances Meili looks like a political up and comer. Maybe that's the problem for his leader.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jammed, in more ways than one

As the Buckwold and Traffic bridges are currently closed, yesterday I necessarily had to go down Broadway to get downtown. It was 5:30 p.m and I expected the traffic congestion to be bad - but not horrific. As I inched my way down the avenue the realization that the city had shut down one lane on Broadway stunned me. With all the road closures and detours in the Nutana area over the past several months I couldn't believe that the sages at City Hall would add to the difficulty of moving traffic in this area during peak traffic hours.

Then I read today's SP (Sept. 22/10) on the number of vehicles in the city and had to wonder if this is a way to discourage vehicle traffic and direct citizens to public transit. If so, the only thing it will discourage is having people go downtown. Next time I agree to meet friends it will be outside of the city centre. And the big box centres are looking more appealing with each passing day.

I think council should start asking why people in Saskatchewan drive cars as opposed to using public transit. I suggest the main reason would be weather, followed by a poor public transit system. Add to the equation the fact that many people transport their kids to and from school and day care centres. When both Mom and Dad are working outside the home, they already have reduced time with their kids and are not prepared to lose any of that time waiting for a bus.

If City Council wants to discourage car use in the city, there are a few policies they should change. Quit working with the school divisions to build huge parking lots for student parking. Don't build complexes, such as the Shaw Centre, in areas that are difficult to access without a vehicle.

I am waiting for a councillor to stand up and put down a motion to eliminate the free parking passes to all councillors and city hall employees. If you want to expand City Hall, build the annex over the employee parking lot in back of the building. This, to me, would be leading by example.

And before a decision is made regarding a pedestrian/cyclist bridge only, lets use this winter to count the number of cyclists on the roadways between November 1 and March 31.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Taste of Saskatchewan

political campaigns to come is in the making. And no seat is a safe seat. Candidate Dyky threw the first salvo by trying to tie Wyant to LeClerc, although in her preamble she stated she didn't plan to focus on the LeClerc controversy. This would be the first of many disingenuous comments that will made during this campaign say I. Wyant responded with his traditional lawyerly "innocent until proven guilty" mantra although he knows that is only true in a court room not in the a political forum. The closer truth would be that Wyant is tied to pretty much every politician he can access.

I know Wyant is taking this seriously - he got a hair cut - in fact he got all of them cut. Dyky should have followed suit. Although appearances may be deceiving they do tend to impress the voter.

Lingenfelter has decades of campaigns under his belt and I think this is where we will see his skill come to roost. Wall, also well-seasoned politically, may not be as ruthless as Lingenfelter and has more to lose and much to defend. It will be interesting to see which persona is appealing to today's voter.

As a result of my few forays into the racing world, I know you're supposed to place your bet before the gate breaks. But I have a few quirky betting criteria. I like to bet the long shots, gray horses and any horse that poops just prior to the race while being paraded. (The latter criterion seems to be the only one that really works.) I missed yesterday's parade.

The race is on and it looks like . . . .

Friday, September 17, 2010

Get with the program . .

Certain professions lend themselves to creating demi-gods. Professional sports is one of those professions.

When Edmonton signed on confessed sex offender Eric Tillman my first reaction was disgust and that this man was being rewarded for his unwanted advances on a young babysitter. His excuse of being on medication that altered his thinking came across as lame. I would be more inclined to think that his demi-god belief led him to believe that he would do whatever he wanted without repercusssions.

Then I was reminded that our social system is designed to rehabilitate offenders and put them back into society to become useful citizens. Millions of dollars are spent in prisons to counsel and offer therapy to offenders. If we do not intend to give them that second chance, then there is no point to the programs offered for rehabilitation.

The one difficulty here is that Tillman didn't go to jail and to my knowledge did not receive an rehabilitative programming.

Perhaps his new employer should have made rehab a condition of his contract. It is easy to slip back into old habits. Since he has lived a short time as a mortal, the appeal of the demi-god may be the song of the siren too hard to resist.

And perhaps we mortals should stop creating demi-gods.

I just don't get it

All the controversy around the gun registry is lost on me. We register everything else we own - our homes, cars, boats, planes - hell, we even register our kids. Businesses, including farmers, register all other equipment if for no other reason than insurance. Why should potentially deadly weapons not be included?

Police chiefs across the nation say the gun registry aids law enforcement. Simply saying that criminals don't register guns so why should the good guys have to, is lame. So many homicides are committed by people known to the victims and/or relate to domestic violence. I think its good for the police to know whether or not guns may be present when going into a situations. And it offends me that the American NRA is lobbying in Canada on their 'right to bear arms' mantra.

I would agree that the cost of the registry was outrageous, but that money has already been spent and can't be recovered. As for the ongoing costs, like everything else that is mandated to be registered, let the owners of the item bear the cost.

I hope our MPs will get on to more pressing business of the nation and put this to rest.

Blast away.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bridge the gap

I was one of the souls that attended the Traffic Bridge forum last night. I was surprised by the turnout, but not by the special interest groups present.

As I began my trek around the room, the first pitch came from a young man hyping the concept of a market bridge "just like in Europe", which was not one of the options. I asked him what market bridges in Europe he was referring to and he couldn't name me any. I asked him how he thought our climate would affect such a project, that when it was -40 with the wind chill coming off the ice/water, whether he thought people would actually go out and wandering the shops/stands on such a bridge. He thought it could be a spring/summer venue. How would that impact on the Farmers' Market/Square that is already under-utilized? He glazed over and was already looking over my shoulder for a new prospect. When I asked him how area residents would access their homes without vehicle traffic allowed on the bridge he suggested the new South Bridge would remedy that little problem. When he finally understood that driving around the perimeter of the city to get into some Nutana areas probably wasn't a good idea, he suggested that re-configuring the roadway systems in the affected areas probably wouldn't cost too much. With that last comment, one of the attendees listening to our conversation said to the young man "You're nuts" and we all moved on.

There was a smaller group, being those who wanted a pedi/cyclist only bridge, trying to work up the whomever would listen that council's decision to limit the options to the proposed four was undemocratic. They were not unhappy though to lose the option of tearing down the bridge and replacing it with nothing. I got the sense that if you lived in the area and couldn't walk or bike that you could then "get out of Dodge."

Needless to say, the heritage folks were out in full force with "save the bridge at any cost." There were some folks with backgrounds in engineering mumbling that the cost of a rehab was light and that this option, if exercised, would be like a run-a-way train once started.

I got the sense that the proposed "signature bridge" got very little support from those in attendance. The most common adjective used was "ugly."

I suspect that the option most favoured was a new truss bridge with a new conventional bridge running a close second. A sure bet would be a quennila.

If council really wanted broad public feedback they could have put the same survey in the utility bills that go to residents. It would reach a wider cross-section of citizens that do not stump for any special interest group.

I had hoped that there would have been stations manned by knowledgeable people who could have answered questions. It might have offered informed feedback rather than emotional or unemotional comments.

The ultimate feedback would be a referendum. It would be costly, but less so than what we will ultimately be spending.

The jury is out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


On the front page of today's SP (Sept. 14/10) there is an article on the ongoing dream (or nightmare, depending on your position) to the build a domed stadium in Regina. The article implies conflicting expectations of the Federal government with respect to tax dollar funding for this project and Minister Cheveldayoff thinks 25% would be a responsible and reasonable amount, although it appears there is no fixed dollar amount on the project.

Just below this Field of Dreams report is the article about a 94 year old woman, suffering some dementia, who was picked up wandering on the highway at night. She should be in a full care nursing home where she would be cared for around the clock. There is no space for this woman in a care home and in fact many like her are housed in hospitals waiting for the same space to open up. We have a recognized need for care homes for the elderly.

Methinks we have some skewed priorities. Should we be providing an appropriate home for Granny or Gainer the Gopher?

And I bid you adieu without commenting on the Riders hot and cold performances.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not a time to ponder or pander

I spent some time this morning on the phone with a friend in BC who has MS. She is scheduled to go to Burgaria for the liberation surgery this winter and was curious as to what is happening in Saskatchewan and whether we would be offering the surgery here. She's even willing to pay her money here rather than to a foreign nation and certainly the travel would be easier within Canada.

I applaud Wall for stating that Saskatchewan would fund the clinical trials for MS. Although I know there has been opposition from the Canadian Medical community to these trials, we should remember that many in the medical community opposed medicare when that flag was flown. Saskatchewan has a history of leading new medical procedures and I hope Premier Wall will not be dissuaded or delayed in proceeding with the trials. We have too many citizens that are afflicted with MS and more than happy to take the risk. Its their chance to possibly cure or hold in remission a wasting disease and early demise.

If Canadian doctors don't want to participate, then fund these victims to go south or the border or elsewhere for the procedure.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bring out the boogeyman

In Saskatchewan, we are so entrenched with universality and collectivity, that any ideas of doing business in a new or economical way are easily put aside with one word - privatization - our bogeyman.

In today's SP, in the Letters to the Editor section, Gordon Campbell, president of the health-care council of the Canadian Union of Public Employees states that the provincial government's decision to use private clinics to provide services to patients, many of whom have been wait-listed or six months to a year, is simply a way for the Wall government to privatize health care. He also states that "CUPE members who work in public health care are telling us operating rooms and CT scanners could be much better used" but he doesn't state how that could happen.

This of course flies in the face of earlier comments from the Canadian Medical Association that health care is in peril if we don't find new ways of delivering service. It further contradicts the fact that other provinces have used private clinics to support the publicly funded health systems, which is still surviving in those jurisdictions.

As I understand it, private clinics will receive the same fee for service as does a public clinic. Right now doctors are taking Saskatoon patients to hospitals in places such as Humboldt because they have better access to surgery time. The problem is only those patients who can get themselves to Humboldt get the service. And should there be a problem and the patient has to be returned to Saskatoon, the patient bears a very expensive ambulance bill.

I recall recently a news report that the unions were going to court to challenge a Health Authority's decision to use private clinics. Since when did the unions take over delivery of the medicare system in this province?

Saskatchewan has waved the banner of pride in being the home of publicly funded health care. The system has problems and we should be applauding those who are trying to find ways to fix it.

Put the bogeyman back in the box and start to think outside of it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The price is right

As the debate unfolds on the future of the Traffic Bridge two considerations are noticeably absent in the discussions. The first being the condition and lifespans of both the Broadway and the University Bridges. Secondly, the roadway infrastructure changes necessary, and cost thereof, should the Traffic Bridge not exist for vehicle traffic.

As it stands the proposals for the future of the bridge seem to be: gonzo, rehab, redo or revise.

Gonzo appears to be on face value the cheapest, at least from a financial perspective, although it may have some political fallout for some elected officials. Outside of current users of the bridge and heritage diehards I suspect the rest of Saskatoonians don't care about anything other than costs. Many of the current users will be diverted after construction of the South Bridge is completed leaving area residents as the prime consideration. And if the gonzo option is exercised the heritage folks will always lament the loss and the bridge will join the Capital Theatre in the archives of bad council decisions.

Rehab weighs in the middle at $27 million. I think the cost of changing the roadway infrastructure to serve the core area residents should be factored in when considering this option. It may be that, when deducting those extra costs, that this option is viable.

A redo replica is in the running at $25 million and a new signature bridge is coming in last place at $60 million.

The revise options range between $17 and $34 million and include bike/pedestrian only and the non-vehicle bridge/park themes. These options do not include the cost of new roadway infrastructure to serve the core residents needs should vehicle traffic be eliminated.

I guess the only other option not being considered is ferry service.

It is at times like this, when necessary spending is on the horizon regardless of the option, that council should sit back and reconsider the debt it has created for nice but not necessarily necessary capital projects.

The only certainty we have is that politics will rule the decision. It is the right price we pay for our lackadaisical interest in civic government elections.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Laughter is good for the soul . .

Pat Lorje's political longevity can do doubt be attributed to her sense of humour and bombastic comments. In today's SP (Sept. 8/10) her comment in defence of the City's maintenance of the Traffic Bridge she says: "Nobody would ever buy a car and assume that nothing would ever go wrong with the car and call for a public inquiry because their brakes failed." The Toyota corporation needs this woman. On the other hand most intelligent people have a mechanic check a used car prior to purchase and rely on the mechanic's report to flag any deficiencies before investing money in the vehicle. Hmmm. I question the car/bridge analogy, but it did give me chuckle to start my day.

As to the traffic under the Traffic Bridge I was pleased to learn that buoys will be placed to direct boat traffic through the safest path under the bridge and redirecting pedestrian traffic on the east side of the bridge. Does that mean that the roadway under the Traffic Bridge is safe to use?

Confession is also good for the soul. Since the formation of the Saskatchewan Party the NDP have always referred to that entity as the Sask-a-Tories and attempted to tie it to the Devine Progressive Conservatives. I guess the cartoon featured in today's SP is a way of confessing that in fact the Sask Party is not what they claimed it to be when they state: "Wall is accused to making off with $3 million that belongs to another political party - the Progressive Conservatives." Its good to have the record corrected.

So I confess I laughed and my soul is in tact.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Polled out

I finally caught up on my SP reading over the weekend. I was stunned by the poll on the proposed PCS takeover (SP Aug. 27/10). Do the good folks of Saskatchewan live in a vacuum? 23% still think PCS is a Crown?

I was pleased to hear that the provincial government was looking for outside advice via the Conference Board of Canada on the impact to the province on any takeover of PCS (Sept. 3/10). Then I read Lingenfelter's comment (SP Spt. 3/10) that seeking outside advice was "wrong-headed" and that Wall's government should be speaking to the local people about the issue. Would he mean the 23% who still think PCS is a Crown corporation? Or those who still think PCS is Saskatchewan or Canadian owned and want to keep it that way and don't know that 70% of the shares are not Canadian owned? I'll take the outside advice from people who know what they are talking about.

What I am curious about is how many Saskatchewan residents have an interest in PCS via their group pension plan holdings and don't realize it. Would they want to see the pension trustees selling PCS stock while at a high value which would benefit them or risk having the stock fall in price to their detriment?

I'm going to deviate from my usual "buy high and sell low" activities and dump my paltry shares while the dumping is good. Needless to say, I am my own pension trustee.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Sue the bastards

Emotionally, I vacillate between sadness and anger when reading about the Traffic Bridge and what appears to be its eminent demise. Although I confess to leaning towards preserving heritage buildings and sites, I am not of the ilk that everything ever built should be saved at any cost. But the Traffic Bridge is, or was, an icon in Saskatoon. It represents the birth of our city. So how did we get to this juncture?

The first flags on the bridge came in spring of 2006. At that time the engineering report offered options on what would need to be done to save the old girl, or alternatively, tear it down. As 2006 was an election year and many of today's councillors were still promoting themselves as being fiscally responsible (a trait long since lost - sorry for the digression) the decision was made to do what was necessary to extend the lifespan by 20 years. For many this decision came as a result of this option being cheaper than the tear down costs.

Since that time this bridge has been inspected, studied and discussed to death. As early as this Spring the news reports appeared to imply that a paint job would be the fix, although most reasonable people did not buy into that scenario.

Now Mayor Atch states that the bridge is closed to pedi, bike and vehicle traffic due to its unstable condition, and that it could collapse under its own weight. Interestingly enough you can still paddle under the bridge and become part of the debris if you're passing under at down time.

I am not angry at council for the condition of the bridge. Its lack of maintenance and decay started decades ago. And council has the right to depend on professional reports when making decisions. I will be angry at councillors if they do not call into question the validity of the engineering reports, many done by outside consultants for considerable sums of money, and by professional city employees who are paid decent salaries for their advice. Huge tax dollars have been invested in the Traffic Bridge as a result of those reports, the least of which was the bordello style lights at more than twice the budgeted cost.

Aside from the heritage and financial costs, it concerns me that thousands of people, using various modes of transportation, crossed that bridge daily over the months preceding the closure announcement.

So, if costly decisions were made by council without them knowing the true condition of the bridge, sue the bastards that wrote the reports and recover the costs of the reports together with the dollars invested in a lost cause.

And now my emotional pendulum is swinging back to the sad zone.

Enjoy the last summer long weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Back in the saddle

I'm back from an emergency Flo Nightingale gig in Kelowna. Good news is that the patient will live and the Saskatchewan weather that trailed me to BC assisted in their forest fire problems. However the Kelowna golfers were ready to pool money to send me and the weather back home.

I'm just starting to catch up on my backlog of the SP papers and already have so much to comment on. I'll be working backwards from today.

I see Mr. LeClerc has finally stepped down and according to Murray Mandryk the Sask Party's candidate, Gord Wyant, is touted as a step up to a more credible slate. The lawyers in the province should be happy to know that political pundits are looking more favourably on their profession in that they are an upgrade from a criminal element that they are generally required to defend. I'm sad to say that it appears that men like LeClerc cannot leave their past behind. I will be anxious to hear the results of the investigation and whether or not LeClerc is simply political fallout.

On the upside, if the city is required to hold a by-election it can at the same time field some referendum questions to city residents on some very pricey projects. ie Whitewater, Recycling, the Traffic Bridge, . . . .debt in general.

Ah, its good to be home!