Friday, October 29, 2010

The Pied Piper of Politicis

Well, I guess my theory was wrong when I thought the Premier's opposition to the BHP takeover was simply a political game to show the people of Saskatchewan he was listening to them. When he put forward the reasons for his opposition I thought the game was for Harper to negotiate the concerns with BHP and ensure there would be a net gain to the province and country if their takeover was successful and they would both come out looking like heros.

I'm surprised that we welcome premiers from other provinces weighing in on Saskatchewan issues. Would we be so welcoming if those premiers were not in agreement with us?

It appears that Saskatchewan favours our potash being mined by an American company out of Chicago rather than a Australian company out of Melbourne. I suppose it doesn't make that much difference.

On the other hand we can look forward to PCS continuing to fund our university even though they no longer lean towards hiring our grads. Some folks have suggested to me that we will soon hear an announcement for the new PCS domed stadium in Regina. Whether or not Harper will be as generous with federal money under the P3 program is yet to be determined. When is the next federal election?

Who knew Wall was such an accomplished flute player?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rights come with responsibilities

I am perplexed by the NDP's negative reaction to the proposal of identification being required in order to vote (SP Oct. 28/10.)

In today's world there isn't much you can do without proper identification. You can't enter this country, or any other, without proper ID. You can't board a plane, open a bank account, have a Sask drivers license or write a personal cheque at point of purchase without ID. Hell, you can't even buy smokes or hooch without photo ID. And identity theft is the number one fraud being committed today.

Yet somehow claiming the greatest right and privilege in a democratic country, that being the right to vote, should be handed out without concern.

We receive news reports of the ongoing trial on the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan electoral forgery of ballots. There exists the unresolved issue of an over-zealous volunteer selling bogus memberships in the NDP party which would grant voting rights in the leadership race. There are ongoing, although unproven, allegations of voting irregularities in elections at every level. The outcome of any election can have grave consequences for citizens if that outcome has been skewed by voting irregularities.

If the concern is disenfranchisement of voters without ID, then begin the process of issuing Sask ID cards to all residents. It shouldn't be hard given we all get Sask health cards.

And if you truly want to exercise your franchise then maybe a little onus should fall to the voter to obtain the ID necessary to do so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

If mama ain't happy . .

I hope Mother Nature is planning to contribute a little to the snow clearing otherwise the deficit will wipe out the stabilization fund with snow clearing alone.

I was hoping the snow would hold off for another two months as the city has continued the lock down of my neighbourhood and our only ingress/egress is to be McPherson Avenue. With this snow they will need a winch to get us up the hill to the intersection of 11th and McPherson. I can't catch a bus because it can't get into the area. A taxi will cost even more as the detour adds on substantial distance and thus a higher fare.

I won't bother with the complaints on street cleaning and tree pruning prior to the snow. Been there, done that.

What I would support is a new hire at City Hall, that being a scheduler to coordinate the repair and maintenance of streets so that no one area would be shut down for a half a year or more and that various services aren't competing with one another for street time and to ensure projects get completed in a timely manner.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The money tree has blight!

I was taken aback this morning when I read in the SP (Oct. 26/10) that the city's finance manager thinks curbing discretionary spending in light of a budget deficit is not good business. He enhanced the comment by saying that department managers would not be raked over the coals because they forecasted a smaller number and came in over budget.

Budget deficits come out of the stabilization fund. But when the stabilization fund is empty, where does the money come from? The only time the city has a surplus to contribute to the stabilization fund is when they do the annual freeze on discretionary spending. If budgeting is done on "conservative" numbers and no one is held to the budget, what is the point of a budget? Perhaps this philosophy explains why every capital project budget is out of whack.

This council would be wise to note that in the recent Toronto civic election the new mayor handily won the vote on the platform of cut taxes and reduce spending. Mayor-elect Ford summed up his win stating that "people are really fed up with wasteful spending."

Come to think of it, wasn't that a focus of Mayor Atch's first campaign?

Monday, October 25, 2010

New garbage

Well it would seem that council is divided on the recycling issue and stances have been taken prior to any public meetings (SP Oct. 23/10). I guess the new council member's first task will be to cast the deciding vote. This implementation of a curbside program now rests in the hands of Ward 5.

I like Councillor Hill's idea of a separate utility billing for recycling. I would let us know the true cost of the program rather than have it absorbed into the black hole of taxation.

I expect that, as it is with all utility bills, if you don't pay your bill the service is disconnected. In order to re-establish the service you must pay all arrears, a deposit and a re-connect fee. In this instance those truly opposed to the program can refuse to pay and have the service suspended. I like it. As well, landlords would not have a reason to jack up rents under the guise of recycling taxation.

I very much support Heidt's ask for a referendum on the matter with the various options and costs set forth. I expect that won't happen as Council would probably not like the result.

I am waiting for one of the by-election candidates to use the campaign slogan "I've got a nose for garbage." It would simply say they are well prepared for the tasks ahead.

P.S. After four years on council I think it is a little disingenuous of Hill to express concern about closed door meetings.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The lines are drawn

After Premier Wall's Oscar winning performance yesterday in rejecting the BHP takeover, his opposition can no longer say he is a toady for big business.

Since the PCs have come off life-support, albeit still in critical condition, and will be running candidates in the next election, it will be a difficult sell by the NDP to call the Sask Party the Sask-a-Tories. The Tories are still alive, although not well.

The Liberals seem to have established themselves as the right wing of the NDP, while the Greens hold the left wing position.

Things do not look good for Mr. Lingenfelter come next year.

On the other had, if Harper gives a green light to BHP, Layton will be an extremely happy man.

Everyone, get out your box of crayons, pick your color and try to say within the lines. It simply confuses voters when the lines and colors get blurred.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back to square one

I attended a public forum last month regarding the future of the Traffic Bridge. I met a friend there and listened to him comment that there was no way the city could do any of the four options presented for the costs stated. Although he has a background in construction I thought perhaps he was just lipping off. I owe him an apology.

In today's SP (Oct. 21/10) the new suggested prices are listed for the available options for the Traffic Bridge. Each option is about $10 million dollars more than the last. That is a 40% increase in a little more than a month. This price differential cannot be written off as increased cost of labour and materials. Someone is not doing their job!

And what good is the public feedback when it is solicited on fraudulent information?

Then I read heritage guru Peggy Sarjeant's letter to the editor wherein she stated: "Let's not be swayed by pessimistic predictions of the structural integrity of the bridge. The engineers assure us that it can be rehabilitated to the same standard as the other options, at a comparable cost." Can we believe this statement?

This is an ongoing problem at City Hall. It seems every capital project comes in substantially higher than initially quoted. Either council is being intentionally mislead by administration or administration doesn't have the skill level to properly estimate projects. Either/or scenario is problematic for decisions makers and those of us who foot the bill.

Its time to take a time out and get qualified people to provide accurate information to both council and the public

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What am I missing?

This scenario has me scratching my head and uttering "what the hell?" We have one free enterprise government asking another free enterprise government to block a takeover bid by one foreign owned corporation of another foreign owned corporation, both of which are carrying on businesses in Canada, and both of which are operating from countries friendly with Canada.

The $1 billion dollar ask for a one-time tax payment, which I will kindly call a "signing bonus," may simply be short term gain for long term pain. I expect our provincial government to negotiate with BHP to ensure the province receives fair and ongoing royalty payments into the provincial coffers.

If the ask for millions of infrastructure dollars is to build necessary roadways and such to the proposed Janzen Lake project, that's a good ask.

Let us remember, PCS is 70% foreign owned, has its executive team, mostly comprised of Americans, operating outside of Canada, with offices in Saskatoon managing the potash division in Saskatchewan.

BHP is a multi-national corporation with head office in Australia (a Commonwealth country) that will establish offices in Saskatoon to manage its potash interests in Saskatchewan.

The big difference is that people in Saskatchewan hang on to the fantasy that PCS is a Saskatchewan owned corporation, operating in Saskatoon.

There is no guarantee that the province will fare any better financially from PCS in the years to come if we use the example of loss of royalty revenue a year or so back.

There is on the other hand the proposal of a $12 billion dollar investment in a new mine being offered by BHP that will create good paying jobs for people residing here and paying income tax here.

If Wall hangs this one on Harper to solve for him, his Ottawa connection, and the goodies that come with that, may whither and he'll replace Calvert at the bottom of the invitation list.

One can only speculate what would happen if we did not have provincial and federal elections looming on the horizon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

One down, one to go

Ho hum. Now that we have put the provincial by-election behind us it is time for the far more interesting civic by-election to unfold. Who will come out of the woodwork? As council is facing a number of critical and pricey issues, whomever fills this seat could tip the direction.

Several issues before council have seen close votes, the most recent being the options given for consideration at the forums dealing with the Traffic Bridge. On a 6-5 vote those options were limited to all-service only. There are still special interest groups dogging for pedestrian/cyclist only. Will they succeed in getting a candidate friendly to their position elected?

Recycling will certainly be on the agenda as well as public transportation.

Let the games begin.

As an aside, when a person runs for public office and leaves for greener pastures before the term is up, should the taxpayer being looking to someone for compensation for the cost of a by-election? Is there not a cause of action for breach of commitment? I'm not speaking of people who leave due to health, family or relocation causes, or those removed for corrupt practice, but simply for those who move up a rung on the ladder. Food for thought.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The harbinger of November 2012

For those of us living outside of the Saskatoon Northwest constituency this has been a pretty low key by-election. The only thing people are betting on is the percentage of the win or how the vote will split. I view this as a poll on how the government is doing and what the provincial election issues could be a year from now.

From an article last week I take it that all the candidates were hearing concern about the possible construction of a domed stadium in Regina. I hope that message gets back to Premier Wall. It certainly resonated with the NDP when they recently came out with their support for a stadium, but that no public money should be invested in the project. The NDP have firmly planted their feet on each side of the fence on this one.

Regardless of the outcome, I applaud all the candidates for their courage and willingness to step up for what they believe in. Although I may not agree with each candidates ' position on issues, or some of their conduct during an election, I very much appreciate the fact that they each put themselves on the front line and stood up to be counted. It takes a lot of time and energy to be a candidate.

The emotional roller-coaster ride ends tonight and all but one will head back to their normal lives within a couple of days. I hope they each do so with a little pride and great satisfaction for their efforts.

Celebrate tonight. Each candidate is a winner for their courage and conviction.

Friday, October 15, 2010

He who pays the piper . . .

I'm not sure to what to make of Doug Cuthand's column today (SP Oct. 15/10.) He rails on about the unfairness of publishing the salaries of chiefs without also publishing their job descriptions. He then goes on to say its a 24/7 job and all the various roles a chief must play. The same could be said of any politician today. Most politicians feel they are over-worked and underpaid. This is a common theme for all politicians and governments.

In essence he thinks the demand for accountability should come from within and not from Ottawa, but then states that providing the information will just give some band members one more thing to complain about. This could be said of all constituents.

He acknowledges that the occasional chief, councillor or trustee dips into the till and gets caught but they are by far in the minority. Again, this could be said of all politicians and governments.

This is a good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that First Nations governments are recognized and treated like all other governments. The bad news is that, like all other governments, they must account for the public monies they expend.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Six of one, a half dozen of another

If the reporting I have read is accurate, 70% percent of PCS is owned by non-Canadians. The majority of the executive branch are Americans. Nine out of 15 executive live and work in the USA, including the CEO. This would lead me to believe that PCS is already a foreign owned mining company operating out of the USA and mining a Saskatchewan resource. PCS is no longer just potash mining, it has diversified to incorporate phosphate and nitrogen and claims ownership of other mines and business outside of Canada.

In today's SP (Oct. 14/10) PCS pledges to "maintain a strong and vital corporate headquarters in Saskatchewan." I suspect that means for the potash division of PCS rather than the whole of the organization.

How does this differ from what BPH is offering to do?

Former Premier Allan Blakeney now states PCS should be 60% Canadian owned. He suggests many Canadian pension plan groups in Eastern Canada would, in all likelihood, comprise the bulk of the 60% ownership. With all due respect to Mr. Blakeney, I think Western Canada remembers how well in past Ontario and Quebec have treated their Western brethren when dealing with our resources and/or products. Does anyone still have a "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark" bumper sticker?

If the Eastern Pension Plan groups were prepared to pay the current market value of PCS shares they would already own the shares. Does this suggest that Canadians, worse yet, Saskatchewanians, purchase back these shares at the current value and sell them at an acceptable price to Canadian groups simply to have them in the hands of Canadians? Is this a suggestion of expropriation - again? There are shares for sale now. Go out and buy if you want them. Accordingly to the PCS CEO they are being sold under their value.

We should all remember that Canadian corporations do business in other countries. How we treat foreign business in Canada will reflect on how Canadian business is treated outside of Canada. What goes around . . .

It is imperative that our governments set the conditions of doing business in Canada and ensure the our public benefits from our resources. Outside of that, stay out of it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Winging it

I applaud Bronwyn Eyre for her commentary today following up on the new student assessment reports (SP Oct. 12/10.) For about a week all media covered this story and elicited public reaction, most of which was a negative response. The Premier weighed in and mused about a standardized reporting system. And then everyone moved on.

Education is one of the highest expenditures in the provincial budget and education tax on property in Saskatchewan is one of the highest in the country. Yet schools boards operate in a vacuum and without public scrutiny.

There was a time that school board meetings were televised and the SP sent a reporter to the meetings to keep the citizens informed on activities that affected the educational well-being of our children - often touted as our greatest resource. Now potash is our holds that grand title.

Today's parents may be happy that little Johnny will fly through the system with flying colors, but will they be happy when little Johnny hits the real world and pulls an Icarus.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ban the bull!

It is hard to believe that one person's discomfort can cause a city ban on video or audio recordings at any city sponsored meeting (SP Oct. 9/10) save for the media. In the case of city council meetings I might understand a ban as it could be disruptive and considering the whole meeting is already played live on TV and then replayed again. The public can record any portion of that meeting they choose from the convenience of their home.

Supposedly the matter was brought forward after a video camera operator got close up to a member of the public sitting in the audience. Was that video camera operator a member of the public or the press? Generally its the press that pans the audience and/or zooms in looking for a good clip for the news broadcast on the event.

What about the scenario of a speaker that wants his or her comments audio or video taped?

If it only takes one person to complain and cause a ban on anything then Council should shut down everything happening in Saskatoon because unhappy people are abound in this city.

I'm calling bull.... on this one.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope each and every one has as much to give thanks for as do I. Family, friends and a good life.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What hill do you want to die on?

If today's SP (Oct. 8/10) article on First Nations challenge on the provincial tobacco tax restriction is really about governing authority or treaty rights, I think they picked the wrong battlefield.

The government claims it instituted the restriction to curb the black market sales.

At four cartons a week, that being 800 cigarettes, roughly 114 darts a day, for all treaty card holders to purchase, its hard to believe all of that would be for personal consumption. Considering the bulk of the cost of a pack of smokes is sin tax, which helps in funding health care and education, there will not be much public sympathy for the First Nations on this issue.

The courts may uphold some treaty right, but the public empathy for First Nations issues will go up in smoke.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Every dark cloud . . .

I'm in step with Les MacPherson today (SP Oct. 7/10) when he states in his column that we should enjoy the suitors vying for our hearts. Any charities or organizations looking for funding for their causes should be lining up at the local offices of PCS and BPH with hands out. Halloween has come early.

Note I avoid the use of "head" office for both corporations as clearly neither exists. The good thing about the proposed takeover is that PCS is getting the message to send the suits back to Saskatchewan and/or if BHP is successful then they better be prepared to be entrenched in this province.

Let's hope that this is the silver lining to the dark cloud and not simply 30 pieces of silver offered to a modern Judas.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Get the priorities straight

Today's SP (Oct. 6/10) published an article on the long list of sound attenuation walls currently needed in the city with an estimated cost of about $39 million dollars. It also states that the city budgets $500,000.00 a year towards the construction of these walls. At this rate these walls should be completed in 2088.

Why is it that the city can always find money for capital projects that are nice to have, but not necessarily necessary, but never find available cash for capital projects that affect the day-to-day needs of citizens?

The city's share of the new Art Gallery at River Landing will be in excess of $40 million, more than twice the amount the Mendel Board originally asked for to do a renovation and expansion on the current site.

The Shaw Centre swimming pool started as a less than $20 million dollar project and nudged up to roughly $50 million.

I won't even delve into the River Landing money pit or the possibility of the of millions for a white water project.

I believe most citizens would prefer to have use and enjoyment of their property before use and enjoyment of civic facilities.

Why is it that Councillors can't see this?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wyant Wins

Well, well, well. It appears that NDP candidate Ms. Jan Dyky has the makings of a politician. Say one thing and do the opposite.

When she kicked off her campaign she stated that she did not intend to focus on the Serge LeClerc issue during the campaign. Yet I have in hand her first brochure and it does very much focus on the former MLA (so much for innocent until proven guilty) and her opponent Councillor Gord Wyant's connection to LeClerc. What about the thousands of voters in Saskatoon Northwest that also connected with LeClerc in the last election? Are they tainted?

Dyky highlights that Wyant made his career as a corporate and banking lawyer specializing in "commercial and secured transactions." I don't know why "commercial and secured transactions" have quotations marks, but would he be more acceptable if he practised in a legal aid clinic helping the poor and down trodden with their issues?

In the brochure it states that although Wyant already has considerable wealth (does he?) he may keep collecting his healthy council salary. Didn't he already announce that if elected as a MLA he would resign council? Recalling earlier newspaper articles, it sounds like the council by-election race has already started.

In fact so much of the brochure is dedicated to Wyant I think he might have to claim some of its cost on his campaign expense report.

The only thing this brochure lets me know about candidate Dyky is that she's shorter than Lingenfelter, unless of course the brochure picture was badly photo shopped and she taller than she appears. Hardly a reason to cast a ballot her way. There is nothing in this brochure that tells us one thing about Dyky other than she is an NDP candidate and where to call to request and lawn sign or volunteer.

As much as I hate to see coronations, if this is the best the opposition has to offer I agree with the pundits that Wyant is walking this one to the bank. It is a secured transaction

You gotta be kidding me

Councillor Dubois certainly has a knack for weighing in on weighty issues at council. I speak of the new dress code for city owned golf courses (SP Oct. 4/10.) I'm not sure why women get to wear sleeveless shirts and men don't and there is no mention of short length, but I'm sure new employees will be needed to enforce the fashion requirements. Someone will have to measure heel height on footwear. I am assuming Dubois brought this matter forward as she states in the article of the many complaints she has received on the matter and seems to be the only councillor commenting on it.

While council has on its plate matters such as taxation and debt, bridges, recycling, infrastructure woes, and the list goes on, it concerns me that time is being spent on who is wearing what, when and where. While I believe that councilors have a duty to deal constituent concerns, shouldn't this be a matter referred to golf course managers to deal with?

The dogs peeing on lawns debate was spoofed in MacLeans magazine and perhaps this one will as well.

While Rome burns . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Battle of the titans

I think we have a bit of a generational clash brewing in the city. Today's younger generation, more so than their parents, have had the benefit and experience of travel abroad and want their city to be like other cities in other countries. The older generations have the life experience that make them cautious of spending and debt load and fads that come and go. They have also indulged their children and are, to some degree, reticent to curtail that indulgence.

In today's SP (Oct. 1/10) the cycling guru, Gil Penalosa, panned the city. His accomplishment of turning Bogota to a haven for cyclists and pedestrians is laudable. However, I don't believe Bogota dips much below 15 degrees Celsius or has ever needed snow clearing. And he has not met with that same success in his new home city of Toronto.

His recommendation of car-free Sundays from May through September from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m probably won't be favoured with the churches along Spadina Crescent, or elsewhere in the city, if the ban is city wide. However, the younger generation is not packing the pews in the various religious sanctuaries. On the bright side it may get them out of bed before noon. How about a car-free ban on Friday and Saturday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.? Bike or bus to the bar say I. Better yet, walking home in the mid of winter might help sober some of them up.

It seems to be that much of the conflict is around bicycles and cars. Pedestrians already have passages and crossings and their biggest beef is with cyclists, many of which are disrespectful of pedestrians. I'm not anti-cycling and understand the desire for bike lanes. I just don't get the my-way or the highway attitude.

The younger generation seems to favour high density multiple dwellings, particular for the core areas. That seems to be a good idea until they become established in their careers and have families. Then they want their own little house on the prairies. It isn't the older generation that is willing to pay a $100,000.00 plus for a lot in Evergreen to build their dream house on with perks thrown in from the city compliments of the taxpayer.

Who I feel sorry for are the seniors who can neither walk distance, bike, carry groceries or parcels and may be driven out of the residences they have dominated in the downtown. They may need to be re-located to the Market Mall seniors ghetto.

I suspect Saskatoon Speaks may become Saskatoon Shouts. If council really wants public feedback, run a referendum. Not many of the older generations are heading out to the forums but will go to the polls. And it will certainly encourage young voters to get and vote.