Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does anyone care?

Congratulations to Mr. Donauer on his successful run for a council seat. And a special mention to Ms. Robertson for her stellar campaign. I was pleased to hear her say she will be back in the political arena down the road (SP Nov. 29/10). Also a thank you to Cherkewich, Winton-Grey, Johnston and Feraro for offering up their services to the public.

I shouldn't be, but was surprised at the exceptionally poor voter turnout. What was even more mind boggling was the length of time it took the city to render the results given the automated counting system used. A manual count of 2,800 (give or take) votes would have been faster. We are talking one ward, seven polls.

Meanwhile back at the ranch council was busy increasing taxes. Added to yesterday's list is the $50 million for the library, Water intake facility $44 million, 25th Street expansion $17 million, $3.3 million for a computer-controlled trunk radio system - we're getting close to the "B" word. None of these dollar figures seem to be fixed. The Art Gallery continues to be listed at $60 million, yet the addition since the initial announcement added $8 million to the original $58 million price tag. Have we reached the point where $6 million is considered chump change?

Levies seem to be the administrative push for the future. A levy will get a separate line on the bill and leave the appearance of a lower tax increase. Although council turned down the proposed levy for back alley maintenance I expect to see it back on the table along with per bag charges for garbage.

On the levy issue notable comments by councillors ranged from ". . . but I'm not going to double-dip the taxpayer." said Councillor Neault. Sadly, we already do that with the infrastructure levy on our utility bill. Councillor Penner said "It'll be interesting to see what each of us is willing to cut in order to put more money into this." Answer - nothing. The mill rate will simply be higher as its not an election year. Covering off the whole debate on debt and taxation, Councillor Paulsen stated the obvious with "We can break it up all we want, this is going to hit the mill rate.

Perhaps we do need massive tax increases to provoke the public into making the effort to vote.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Merrily we roll along

Saturday's SP (Nov. 27/10) contained an article on the City's proposals for capital spending and possibilities for P3 funding from the federal government. The notable millions of dollars of capital debt on the horizon, both existing and pending, reads as follows: Bus Barns/Yards $200, Fire Halls $13, Police Station $91, City Hall $15, Art Gallery $66, Shaw Centre $47, River Landing $82, Traffic Bridge $30, South Bridge $300. Total: $844 million dollars. The 25th Street expansion and the public library have not been listed. This is not a complete list of city debt, simply the most notable. The figures are not fixed and subject to increase.

Some of this debt has contribution from the provincial and/or federal government. By example, the Art Gallery will receive $26 million in provincial/federal funding leaving the local tax base to pick up $40 million. The South Bridge receives some funding but I am unclear as to the amount. Nor off hand can I recall whether or not RL received any outside financing.

Each of these capital projects will require additional taxation for operating and/or maintenance.

I am curious as to who the private partner might be for the Barns/Yards. Or for that matter any of the other listed pending projects. Any ideas?

The cost of voter complaisance is high. When all done, on scale, this council's debt may leave Devine's government looking like pikers.

As we cross the River Styx I shudder at the thought of the ferryman's fee.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Its never to late to learn

I'm not sure how my posting yesterday generated comments on the Ward 5 by-election and particularly singled out candidate Ainsley Robertson.

A couple of years ago and friend hosted an event to assist a young woman, named Ainsley Robertson, who wanted to establish The Princess Shop, a non-profit organization that would provide evening wear for high schools students who couldn't otherwise afford to attend their graduations. We were to bring gowns, shoes, accessories and anything that could remotely be used to help these students. I was a great idea and the response was tremendous. I was very impressed by this young woman and thought she had great potential for her future.

When I heard that she was seeking a seat on council my first reaction was that she might be jumping the gun and should have waited a bit until her profile was better developed. Then I remembered the maturity she exhibited in establishing The Princess Shop and thought perhaps she was up to the task.

Then I started to hear the rumours about her ties to Councillor Hill and that he was injecting himself into her campaign. Her response to yesterday's blog confirmed that the rumour was fact.

What Ainsley will learn from this experience will shape her future. As appealing as it is to have a known "public figure" stump for you, she must remember that this person can potentially cost you as many votes as he could garner. Those with low opinions of Hill may transfer those same opinions onto her. Those who question his ethics will question hers. Everything comes with a price and the cost of Hill's support may be higher than its worth - win, lose or draw.

Ainsley also stated there was nothing in the rules to prevent Hill's participation, which is true. But in politics image is everything.

She further commented that the Sask Party/Conservatives were aiding and abetting candidate Donauer. She has two lessons here to be learned. The first being that we, the public, still like to believe that civic politics is non-partisan. The second is that she is running in a ward that has elected Sask Party MLAs and leaving the illusion that she is tied to an opposing entity may not work in her favour.

Some commented that MPs and MLAs work federal/provincial by-elections, so why not work a civic by-election. At the federal/provincial level political parties are elected and every member of the party is expected to help out as the election outcome it benefits them all. They also vote as a block supporting the party's position that may, from time to time, differ from their personal opinions. At the civic level you supposedly do not represent a political entity and are independent of party ideology. You vote individually, hopefully reflecting good judgment and the concerns of the electors you represent.

If Ainsley is successful in this election she will have to make a conscious effort to separate herself from Hill and dispel the concern of her being puppeted by him. I assume the current councillor remuneration is on par or more that her salary with Junior Achievement so she can leave that position, where Hill is her direct supervisor, and not project herself as being under his thumb. She also has the support of some very successful mature women in this city who will mentor her and hopefully provide good guidance for her career.

If she is not successful at this time, I hope she has learned some valuable lessons from this experience and will try again. I believe as she matures the greatness of her potential will emerge.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Self Service or public service?

Although I think it fair to publish the salaries and expenses paid to First Nations leaders (SP Nov. 25/10) I don't know that it is fair to comment on them without knowing exactly what it is they do to earn the payments. If we respect their right to self-governance I think it best to leave them accountable to the people that elect them.

However, this article did being to mind a recent comment made to me by a city councillor, that being that councillors should make at least the same amount as MLAs. Councillors more than doubled their own salaries during the previous term, with little or no fanfare. What are we, the public, getting for this?

MLAs give up their jobs, or take leaves of absence from their jobs, when elected. Councillors that were gainfully employed prior to being elected, maintain their jobs and boost their incomes with their council remuneration. MLAs have larger numbers of constituents to serve compared to councillors. MLAs are required to be away from home (exempting of course the Regina MLAs) and be in the legislature when the government is sitting. They will sit both caucus and provincial committees. Councillors sit a couple of all member committees and each represent council on a few advisory committees. MLAs will spend a full day in the legislature and work into the evening if need be. Council's clock stops at 11:00 p.m. as witnessed last Monday night. I'll go no further as I think the point is made. Am I comparing apples to oranges?

The question this raises for me is: Where is the public service component? When candidates are running for elected office they know what the remuneration is prior to being elected but they all want to "serve." Yet when elected they all want to be paid more money. Yes I know everyone is over-worked and unpaid. And I know the argument that you get what you pay for and if we paid more we would be top quality people. But do we really?

If Councillors want more money, perhaps we should reduce their numbers, enlarge the wards and make it a full time job. That means you give up your real job, park your butt in an office at City Hall and be at the ready to serve the public.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Today is a down day for me. I really wanted to believe that LeClerc was innocent, not because of his political affiliation, but because he was my poster boy for rehabilitation. I wanted to believe he made mistakes earlier in life, turned himself around and was using his experience to help others from falling by the wayside. I liked his unpolished veneer and plain speak. I thought he was just a regular joe representing regular people.

Mr. Justice Barclay has a long history of rendering sound judgments. He is not a political hack and I do believe his report.

There is no point wasting money prosecuting a dying man. His penalty will be the kicking he will take as the newest political football. Before the opposition spends too much time kicking Wall around for his lack of leadership in accepting LeClerc as a candidate, they should remember that the majority of the people in his constituency also accepted him and those allegations fall on them as well.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Emotion and economics

One thing we know for sure is taxi fares are going up.

The other thing that may still be up for grabs is the Traffic Bridge. With the delay on this decision the newest Councillor will be sworn into office and then have to jump into a critical decision with little or no background information. You can bet the candidates are being vetted by the various groups now as to their position on the future of the bridge.

In today's SP (Nov. 23/10) Councillor Clark said a "pseudo replica" and a compromise risks leaving the city with a characterless bridge. He stated "If it's not authentic, people won't buy it." If 60% to 70% of the original steel needs to be replaced and rebuilt, how original would the bridge be?

Personally speaking, a replica will satisfy both my nostalgic need and make economic sense.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hope and a prayer

Today's SP (Nov. 22/10) questions what more could be done to keep youth in school. What it doesn't state is what is already being done, and to some degree, with little avail. Poverty is, and will continue to be, the root of the problem.

In the schools where poverty is rampant they have introduced the breakfast/lunch and altered school day programs, both designed to get students to school and keep them there once they arrive. Many of these schools have clothing depots to provide necessary apparel. In terms of programming, in the inner city schools that have high aboriginal populations, Cree language is being offered and Elders are invited to create culturally relevant ceremonies. The schools themselves have created an ambience that is welcoming and friendly to students and their families. This list goes on and on, all of which is good.

The Care and Share initiative, started by Ted Merriman, partners businesses with schools that offer school supplies to students and expertise to community associations to enhance recreation opportunities in their neighbourhoods. This same group created inner city soccer and hockey and negotiated free arena time for these activities as well as transportation to the events. They provide some funding and rarely fail to honour a request from a community school in need.

At the high school level the public school division started the quarter system and teen daycares to assist teen parents completing their education. Counsellors and social workers are available to help these students deal with their family needs while they attend school. Again, this list goes on, all of which is good.

At all levels the division offers Life Skills Work Skills and English as a Second Language classes. It offers a smorgasbord of elective courses to appeal to its broad constituency. I would dare say the school division is stretched to beyond its capacity to deliver effectively.

What more could it do? Perhaps offer night classes to those adult students who only need a couple of classes to complete their diploma requirements and can't afford to quit their jobs to attend the regular day classes. And it is difficult to mix 21 year old adults in a class of teens. Or incentives to businesses to give short-term release time to employees registered to attend the classes necessary to complete the program.

When the government reduced the legal working age to fourteen, albeit with conditions, it apparently missed the research that concludes that students working during the school week see a decline in academic performance. Students also get a taste for consumer goods fed by the minimum wage jobs they do. They fail to realize that once they leave the family home and have to support themselves they can no longer buy the clothes and gizmos these jobs currently provide and without an education minimum wage, menial labour and poverty is the best they can hope for.

I could continue to rant but it too would be to no avail. Uneducated parents raising children in poverty will beget uneducated parents raising children in poverty. Nothing will change until this changes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Can the money tree get Dutch Elm disease?

"We realize taxpayers . . . have a limited ability to pay." Quote by Mayor Atch in SP (Nov. 19/10) in article 'Police budget approved.'

I wish that were true. Today's SP also reported on another major expenditure, that being the purchase of lands for the bus barns and approximately $100 million to develop the site selected. This expenditure adds to the other hundreds of millions being spent.

I know the barns have to move and the idea of developing the North downtown is appealing. But could we finish and pay for some of the other projects before we start anew? How about some priorities on these projects. Could we hold off, or reconsider, a $66 million art gallery? Could we try satellite police precincts rather than $100 million for a new station? The list goes on.

When does it end?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Do the right thing

With increasing frequency we read of Canadians travelling south of the border for diagnosis and treatment of medical concerns that cannot be provided in their home province in a timely fashion. Earlier this year the Canadian Medical Association cautioned that Canadian Health Care is heading towards a crisis situation. Premier Danny Williams travelled to the USA for his surgery rather than queuing up for treatment in Newfoundland.

When Obama first introduced his health care plan, arch rival Sarah Palin referred to his committees on health as "death panels." I thought that label was best reserved for the American HMOs who delayed approval on costly procedures for their insured long enough so that the patient would die, or be beyond help, prior to any approval being granted. I also recall reading that 80% of American bankruptcies are due to debt accumulated as a result of medical need.

In today's SP (Nov. 18/10) is another example of a young man that has an opportunity to survive a otherwise terminal disease by getting surgery in the USA that is apparently not available to him in Saskatchewan. In order for him to receive any funding from Sask Health he needs a referral from a specialist. In most instances it takes six months to a year to see a specialist in this province. After that it will be months of testing and diddling before any action will be taken. I glean from the news article he does not have the time to follow the protocol.

More appalling is the response from the oncologist's nurse that the doctor will not provide a referral because then "we would have to pay for it." Its starting to sound like a HMO.

It is sad in the province that spear-headed medicare that a family should lose everything and have to appeal to public for donations in order to receive necessary medical treatment.

If Sask Health cannot immediately provide him with this treatment, then they should be honour bound to help finance, at least in part, his treatment elsewhere in Canada or at the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Santa came early

Yesterday's SP (Nov. 16/10) reported that the city was spending a $100,000.00 to hire a consultant to study Kinsmen Park and for a call for ideas for the existing Mendel Art Gallery. It seems a waste of money as most conclude that the MVA will move into the Mendel space and join with them the Children's Museum. Ironically Councillor Neault commented that any tenant will have to pay rent and can't expect subsidies from the city. Perhaps he doesn't realize that the MVA is one-third tax funded by the city. As a landlord, will the city be required to renovate the site for its future tenant? At what cost? Will there be a budget? Will it matter if there is a budget?

In today's SP (Nov. 17/10) the city generously granted the John Deere building to the U of S. It is safe to assume that this building is worth $2 to $3 million based on the appraisal and sale of the nearby Arthur Cook Building. Although I am pleased to have the University creating off campus sites and expanding its degree programs, I am not so pleased to have city assets being given away. Ho! Ho! Ho! Very generous of Santa and the elves.

At what point will council realize that the debit column needs a credit column to balance the spending and look to generating revenue outside of tax increases? At what point will the public realize that debt, and interest on debt, will have to be paid?

Much like many of the real "Santas" we will be paying for our excesses long after that euphoria of the season of this council is over.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Creative accounting 101

Well, the creativity of the Infrastructure Manager Mr. Gutek must be acknowledged. In one report he managed to bring the Traffic Bridge reconstruction budget back on track and at the same time indirectly announce that the historic bridge will not be rehabilitated, but reconstructed (SP Nov. 16/10.) I think it is safe to assume the construction of the mini Mount Blackstrap that is suggested for Saskatchewan Crescent will not be included in the overall bridge project budget.

I will be curious to see what the engineers have to say regarding the stability of the riverbank for the proposed road realignment on Saskatchewan Crescent. It wasn't that long ago that a portion of the riverbank and MVA trail, adjacent to the roadway, collapsed due to a sinkhole. And then there is the ongoing issue of the exit ramp from the University bridge onto Saskatchewan Crescent East that has been years in the making and well over budget because of the ground instability.

I expect any impact on Rotary Park will not be considered. Since the city saw fit to move the lift station from River Landing into Nutana's one and only city park, and enhance the parking lot to accommodate those who wish to avoid paying for downtown parking, I am going to assume that this park is of little or no consequence to the city.

In fact, I am going to assume the the residents in this area are of little or no consequence to the city.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dense and density

Saturday's SP (Nov. 12/10) published an interesting article on the challenges of increasing downtown residential density. It stated the initiatives the city has already instituted to encourage residential development by builders. But it sadly missed the reasons why, particularly the baby boomers, will not jump into the fray.

As long as condominium property tax is the equivalent to single dwelling residences there is no incentive to make the move to a multiple dwelling complex. Why would a middle-aged couple down-size their living/storage space, pay for a parking stall(s), and add to their monthly costs, over and above property tax, a condo fee of several hundred dollars? They are better off staying put and spending less than the monthly condo fees to hire help for the yard work and snow removal.

The grocery store issue is the ultimate chicken/egg riddle. No grocery store means travelling outside downtown for basic necessities. Without the density, the grocery store is not viable. Business is not going to take a loss for years waiting for the density to build and make the business profitable.

Lastly, land in Saskatchewan is still cheap, comparatively speaking. A family can still afford to buy their own patch of land and have their dream home with picket fence in Saskatoon or surrounding area. We were all raised with that dream. And when baby turns to toddler, parents want the yard, playgrounds, neighbourhood friends and schools that they had when growing up. The caged balcony for junior to play in doesn't cut it as a substitute.

I think the city should look more to offering incentives to condo owners rather than developers. Otherwise it would be dense to make the shift from private home to condo.

Friday, November 12, 2010


We have lift off. And we have unanimous approval by council for the River Landing project (SP Nov. 12/10.) My only curiosity is who are the unnamed investors?

Now I expect council to focus attention on the land designated for the live/work Eco Village. This project continues to fly under the radar and has been going nowhere slowly. I think it is a good concept but needs new leadership to get it going. The experience around the Lake Placid project should compel council to look to established local developers who have the resources and track records of getting the job done. Every year that passes is lost revenue to the city and increased taxation to the public.

Go team Saskatoon go.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Poor Link

I read CBC online today that Lingenfelter has committed to his party to work harder at improving his image and personal popularity prior to the next election. I would have thought that would have been his goal from day one. With a 16% approval rating the only thing he can hope for is that Brad Wall will slip and fall on a banana peel that is slimy with some political rot. Wall should be watching carefully where he steps.

Lingenfelter knows new governments do not get elected in - it is existing governments that get tossed. It does not seem that the public is ready to toss Wall.

So who will the next leader of the NDP be?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

True Grit

Although I do not share Bob Pringle's political bent, I have always respected him for being true to his beliefs and working earnestly on behalf of his constituents at whatever elected office he held. At council, his decisions appeared to be made with sound reasoning and not merely to enhance his own future election opportunities. He didn't straddle the fence hoping to keep everyone happy - he simply made decisions based on what he believed would be in the best interest of the community. He was one of a rare breed - an honest politician.

As annoyed as I can be by elected people who cause costly by-elections because of a true lack of commitment to the office they originally ran for, in the case of Pringle I can be forgiving. The position of children's advocate is too important to be handed over to anyone other than the best the province has to offer. I think Bob is that person.

I wish Bob well in his new role and will miss his influence at the council table.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The wheels on the bus go round and round . . .

Everything that is wrong with Saskatoon Transit can be summed up in today's SP (Nov. 8/10) article. The boiling point appears to be the changes to routes without the consent of the drivers. The changes implemented in September were supposedly done because buses were over-filled or ran significantly off schedule. These changes apparently affected holiday plans for some drivers. It would appear that transit should run at the convenience of drivers rather than passengers. And although there is a committee established to provide input on new routes, the union feels operators should have more say than the committee.

Added to this attitude is a management that states it was probably wrong to implement new routes in September when university was opening and because of all the road construction and bridge closures. Since university students are mandated users of transit, you would think meeting student needs at that time of year would be essential. Needless to say, like bus drivers, we are all negatively affected by the bridge and road closures.

Now we will have work-to-rule action, possibly followed by a strike. After the settlement many tax dollars will be spent trying to seduce the public to use the transit system. More transit subsidy will be required.

I will say it one more time - the public is reticent to use public transit because it is inefficient and unreliable. It is not user friendly and will remain so until attitudes change.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Investment Saskatoon Act

I assume the FNUC property (formerly Wilson School) is going to council for re-zoning purposes so that it can complete the sale to Meridan Development (SP Nov. 5/10.)

What took me by surprise was Affinity Credit Union moving to this location primarily due to their relatively new edifice on 22nd Street and lst Avenue. I would have thought that with all the upgrades to the downtown area and the development of River Landing that businesses would have viewed the downtown as a more desirable location.

Although Affinity will maintain their downtown presence, it appears that expansion and/or consolidation of their business is going elsewhere.

Alas it comes down to lack of downtown parking.

I will be curious as to how this plays out at council. I expect some will deny the change and try to impose use of city transit's program on Affinity to address their employee transportation/parking needs.

What will the voting split be?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Gifts of the Magi

Premier Wall I think also owes thanks to those Three Wise Men from Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec for the favourable decision rendered yesterday by the Federal government. Their gift of support no doubt helped Minister Clement in his decision making.

As the saga dragged on much was made of Canadian owned and operated resource corporations. As PCS is not currently Canadian owned or operated it is the citizens' chance to make that desire come true. As the shares in PCS plummet today it is the ideal time for Canadian citizens, pension plans and indigenous groups to invest in this corporation and tip the balance of ownership to Canadian. Put your money where your mouth is.

The PotashCorp site posts the Pledge to Saskatchewan which includes the return of head office to Saskatchewan. Nothing short of having the CEO reside in Saskatchewan and pay provincial and federal tax on earnings will constitute the return of head office. If the CEO is here then the rest of the entourage will be as well.

In today's SP (Nov. 4/10) Chief Lonechild states that First Nations leaders are tired of PotashCorp's empty promises. Lonechild said: "PCS says one thing and does another. So far we've gotten no accountability from Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan."

Brad Wall has expressed concern during the attempted takeover that corporations make promises and then don't keep them.

Its time to hold some boardroom feet to the fire. It is in fact the Board that hires the CEO and gives the marching orders. I hope the moving trucks are being loaded as I write this post.

It is also up to Premier Wall to ensure that the promises are kept. If I understand correctly there is legislation that provides for the head office issue and he has the clout of licensing to use to enforce that legislation. Now we wait and see how many promises get kept.

In the spirit of the Magi, I await the second coming . . .

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Looking for love in all the wrong places

I admit that I never thought the Indigenous Potash Group (IPG) could raise the funds needed to be a player in the Potash epic.

Rather than garnering the support of premiers Canada wide, Premier Wall should have looked closer to home. The IPG only needs to purchase enough shares to take over the Board. The Board appoints the CEO and controls the organization. If the injunction is successful (SP Nov. 3/10) the shares may go into decline and make the purchase viable.

Head office may be in Saskatchewan, but not necessarily in Saskatoon.

Business and politics are indeed strange bedfellows.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What a ride!

Thumbs up for Kay Nasser (SP Nov. 2/10.) There is something to that "buy local" theme. Nasser's record of success in his past endeavours offers hope that he is the man to get this project off the ground - or rather in the ground. It is his commitment and belief in this city that will carry the project to fruition.

We will still get the $1 million in taxation for maintenance of River Landing as this property will not generate revenue for years to come. And when RL does generate tax revenue, I have no expectation that the $1 million in new taxation will be eliminated. It will simply be applied elsewhere.

Now Council can perhaps divert its attention to the land designated for the Live/Work Eco Village and look for a contractor than can actually proceed with this project. Then RL may have a happily ever after ending.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Road Not Taken

Brad Wall is apparently uninvited to Ottawa (SP Nov. 1/10.) This can only mean that the Federal Government has already made the decision regarding the takeover bid or that Wall's cordial relationship with Harper is at an end - a dead end. On the upside, Lingenfelter can now support Wall's resolution as neither will be travelling East.

I hope Harper says he will approve the deal if BHP can negotiate a settlement with Wall. Perhaps then Canadian businesses won't take the hit, only those located in Saskatchewan.

I heard from a reliable source in Regina that a poll was commissioned for the NDP and that 75% of those polled would like to see PCS "recovered" by the government. The poll didn't include the question of where the government should get the $40 to $50 billion dollars necessary to do that - because the share price would increase substantially if investors knew a government was buying it back. It will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this poll, and we can assume what the NDP will do with it as they commissioned it.

Generally speaking, the road not taken by politicians is the high road.