Monday, January 31, 2011

Changing of the guard

Today's Opinion column (SP Jan. 31/11) is an interesting recap of provincial politics across the country. It speaks to Premiers already forced, or likely to be soon ousted, out of elected office.

Two notable cases are Campbell in B.C., being forced into resignation due primarily to introduction of the HST, and Stelmach in Alberta over a proposed deficit budget. Both left knowing that defeat of their party in upcoming elections was eminent with them leading the charge.

The gist of the article, as I read it, is that voters across the country are not interested in issues of public policy, but more so on ousting politicians that tax beyond what the public is prepared to pay. Times of recession are hard on everyone and politicians are not exempted from that hardship. You might assess these officials as not being able to read the public they serve or being willing to sacrifice themselves for making decisions for the public good, but either way the customer, being the voting public, is always right.

If our local politicians do not see the handwriting on the wall and continue with their tax and spend practice they too may get a message from the 'customer' that will not be to their liking.

My dear old Dad used to say "learn from my mistakes." Regrettably we must all learn from our own mistakes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A word of advice

The problem with advice, whether solicited or unsolicited, is not taking it and incurring the wrath of the giver. The ongoing saga of the university's appointments, which were contrary to the advice of a volunteer selection committee, is a pure example of this scenario.

When governing boards solicit input, it is exactly that - input. The Board did not abdicate its responsibility to the committee, it simply asked for advice which would be considered as part of the board's decision making process.

I have sat on many selection committees and invariably a dominant committee member takes over and pushes his or her agenda. This is not a good or bad thing - it simply is how it works. I have also sat on boards that have not taken a committee's advice and then endured the wrath along with the accusation that the board members "did not hear and/0r listen." In fact board members do hear and listen, but when factoring in other considerations sometimes come to a different conclusion.

One of the best examples of unheeded advice was a past city council decision regarding the Gathercole. The city's Heritage Advisory Board advised against demolition of the Gathercole. That committee too felt it hadn't been heard because that advice was not followed. In reality there were a whole lot of other voices speaking and council heard them all and then made a decision. Not everyone was happy.

If the faculty association is so unhappy with the board's it should spend its time changing the board rather than ranting on about the "elite" members that are doing their jobs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Boo and Boo Hoo

I have two major pet peeves today. Firstly is the government's plan to reduce wait lists to see a specialist for back care.

It would appear that putting obstacles in the way of patients to get on the wait list is the answer to reducing the list. I refer to the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiatives plan. Prior to a family doctor referring a patient to a spinal specialist, the patient must first walk the 'spine pathway.' The patient will be given a choice of who they will first be treated by - a family doctor, a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. If you select a physiotherapist or chiropractor you should know that service is not covered by Sask Health and you will pay for that service. And generally speaking, family doctors do not make referrals to a specialist unless the medical need if beyond their scope of expertise.

This first peeve gets a legitimate boo.

My second peeve is the audacity Mayor Pat Fiacco hosting a conference of municipal leaders to lobby for continued federal government funding for necessary infrastructure needs. This is the same mayor that wants federal money to build a half billion dollar football stadium. What are, or should be, infrastructure needs? Perhaps Mayor Fiacco should first define needs vs. wants before seeking support.

The second peeve garners a sarcastic boo hoo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Home Sweet Home

I wasn't at all surprised to read (SP Jan. 26/11) about the cost of housing in Saskatoon. What did surprise me was the statement that the average salary in Saskatoon was $63,900.00. I was even more shocked to lean that the average salary in Canada was only $43,000.00.

I am sure that all those Saskatoon younguns that can't afford housing will be shocked to learn how far behind the average wage they are. I know that Saskatoon has some very wealthy people and that government, institutional and health care jobs pay reasonably well. I can't help but wonder if the top echelon salaries have skewed what the average working joe really earns.

When you add to the mix the ever-increasing property taxes and levies that homeowners are burdened with, it puts home ownership further out of range for young families. Add again to the mix the soon-to-be users fees for garbage pick up and any mandatory recycling program.

Before our boom and the city's rapid growth, our main drawing card to have our young people come back to Saskatoon and/or Saskatchewan was housing affordability. Now housing in Saskatoon is higher than the former mecca called Calgary, but wages are substantially lower. Although we have created jobs here, they are not necessarily high salaried positions that might be found in Calgary or the Alberta oil patch.

So how did our housing costs escalate so rapidly?

Expect that the near future will see a demand for higher wages on jobs that may not warrant higher salaries which will increase costs of service and goods, or a call for tax subsidized home purchases. Either way we are all going to feel the brunt of scenario.

That road between Calgary and Saskatoon is going to be well-worn - both my the young citizens and those taxpayers who are looking for tax relief from the taxes to come.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Boys and their toys

I was somewhat surprised when I read (SP Jan. 25/11) that the Police Chief has salted away money to purchase an armoured rescue vehicle (ARV) for $350,000.00 given the other needs of police service.

I am all for providing city police with the necessary tools to protect themselves from harm while they protect and serve the community. However, how many instances have arisen in this city where such a vehicle would be needed? Or is this just one of those instances that because other cities have one we want one too?

According to the article this type of vehicle is used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and by the US Marines for perimeter protection at nuclear submarine bases. Ten other cities in all of Canada have them. I might see the need in the mega cities like Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto or even Ottawa. But Saskatoon? I know city cops that have put in decades of service without having ever used their service issue glocks.

Perhaps I am missing the real message, which is the intensified drug trade in Saskatoon which the Chief referred to in the article. Maybe Saskatoon's rapid growth is not all that it is cracked up to be - no pun intended.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Should the bylaw apply to everyone?

Today's newsworthy article and photo in the SP (Jan. 24/11) is the destruction of the Gathercole elms. My question is who is going to be charged for cutting elm trees out of season and leaving the wood behind?

To protect the 50,000 elms in this city (valued at hundreds of millions of dollars) from Dutch Elm Disease, the city passed a bylaw prohibiting the cutting or removal of elm trees outside of the designated times in spring and fall. When the elms are cut or trimmed the wood was to be chipped and buried in order to stave off Dutch Elm disease from destroying the urban forest. We supposedly even have a special place at the city dump for citizens to drop elm wood. Citizens purchasing firewood are banned from bringing elm wood into the city.

Councillor Hill is quoted as saying "the decision to remove the trees was not taken lightly, but was made in the interest of new development in the city's downtown." That would be our mecca called River Landing. He further commented that the city may need to look at stricter bylaws to ensure protective means are in place for trees. How about enforcing the bylaw that already exists?

As for the preservation of the trees I suspect that if the developer had tried to build around them that the stress on the trees over the years of construction would have damaged them to the point of unhealthiness and eventual removal. I just hope the city is not planting elms anywhere anymore.

I live in Nutana, an area filled with decades old elms. I live in fear that Dutch Elm Disease will hit my 'hood and denude this historic area.

Pick up this damn wood and destroy it before our urban forest is infected and our taxes go through the roof removing dead elms and replacing them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What's fair and reasonable?

I'm feeling a little torn and twisted over an article today in the SP (Jan. 21/11 A7) regarding the person challenging the fares for physically handicapped people using wheelchair-accessible taxis.

I support the cause that all streets and public amenities should provide accessibility to citizens with mobility issues. It includes curb cuts,, entrances, elevators, washrooms, and anything else that would ensure that mobility challenged citizens enjoy the same use and benefit that able-bodied citizens enjoy. I support the city subsidies to Access Transit.

Many wheelchair users can avail themselves of regular taxis. They can lift themselves from their chair into the cab and the chair collapses and lifts into the trunk. To me this service is no different that picking up passengers at the airport and loading luggage into the trunk.

In this case the man is challenging the cab company's charge for use of a specially equipped vehicle. The company says its cost to equip the wheelchair taxi is $15,000.00 to $20,000.00. The taxi driver requires extra time to load and unload the passenger and secure the chair. It is definitely more expensive and time consuming than a regular fare.

Since the city regulates cab fares it is drawn into the fray as to whether or not this higher fare is discriminatory and/or whether or not the city should subsidize this fare. If the city should provide subsidies, what criteria, if any, should be placed on the usage? Is Access Transit a sufficient offering of public transportation to those in need? Should a spur of the moment trip to the mall warrant the same subsidy as a trip to the doctor or some other necessary appointment that cannot be accommodated by Access Transit?

If the cab companies are mandated to provide this service and left to bear the brunt of the additional cost I suspect they will meet the bare maximum for service and those wanting the service and who are willing to pay for the service will have their options limited.

My head and heart are battling this one. What's fair? I have personal experience with both Access Transit and private wheelchair carriers. And I'm still undecided on this issue.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kudos to the kid

A couple of articles in today's SP (Jan. 20/11) made for interesting reading. First off the mark is the news that PCS is looking at keeping its promises made during the takeover attempt by BHP, the feature one being the return of executive positions to Saskatoon. However, unless the CEO position is returned to Saskatoon the rest is just tokenism. We should keep in mind that initially all of the executive suite was Saskatoon based.

The second feature is the confidence of Premier Wall to bring the initiative of nuclear added value development to the forefront during an election year. Tying the initiative to medicine and energy was good politics and incorporating the University and the synchrotron is, politically speaking, 'added value.' I expect this item will bring out the anti-nuclear hordes and the fear-mongering that trails behind.

Its encouraging to see Saskatchewan move to the forefront and being viewed as mecca for science and development.

Now, if Premier Wall could just do something about the damn weather he could be premier for life. Maybe the domed stadium should become a domed province and then we would have the added value of nirvana.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My state of mind

I was taken aback when I read the Mayor's comment in the SP (Jan. 19/11) that we, the public, need to change our state of mind and think about all the good things that are happening to us.

In part I agree that Saskatchewan is booming. But much of that boom is tied to the resource sectors and those commodities come with highs and lows. We can still recall the hit the provincial budget took when potash did not provide the expected revenues two years ago.

Regrettably, property tax only comes with the highs.

$50,000.00 tax dollars were spent for a feasibility study which apparently told council that the Events Centre for Gordie Howe Bowl was unrealistic. Now we are back to the very expensive drawing board. For some reason our civic leaders think we need an expensive venue to host less than a dozen Hilltop games and high school football. Forget the fact that a venue exists for Huskie football, that could and has been shared with the Hilltops, and that every high school has huge playing fields that sit idle. So we will eventually spend about $13 million to provide a seasonal venue for the Hilltops and high school football.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we are around the corner from pothole season and much needed road repair. We are moving toward user pay systems for necessary services, i.e garbage. We receive increasing levies for infrastructure needs. Recycling will eventually hit either the utility or tax bill. The list goes on.

I would like to see the Mayor and Council change their state of mind and focus on necessities first and niceties second. I would like their state of mind to include what the public can reasonably pay for the 'field of dreams' and the many sugar plums that dance in their heads during the REM cycle of their sleep.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

www.bunga bunga

In Canada we have laws prohibiting the publication of the names of both offenders and victims under the age of eighteen. We won't publish the name of an adult offender if it will in any way identify the under-aged victim. Nor do we publish the names of sexual assault victims regardless of age. As Canadians we believe that minors and sexual assault victims should not be victimized twice.

In today's SP (Jan. 18/11) in the D Section is a titillating expose about the Italian Prime Minister and his romping with a then 17 year old nightclub dancer and the bunga bunga, the term used to describe sex parties, she had with the PM. Included in the article is a invitation to go online to see more pictures of the voluptuous paramour.

I don't have a problem with exposing the PM in question for his inappropriate behaviour and I know this is a re-print from the international press that follows a whole different set of rules, but does this mean that our Canadian laws only apply to Canadian victims or crimes committed in Canada?

Or are we just so titillated by the antics of this philandering politician that we are prepared to victimize his under-aged sexual assault victim again?

Is World Wide Whoppee given exemption from our laws?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Limited Editions 1/52

Saturday's SP (Jan. 15/11) featured an article on the Conservatory at the Mendel Art Gallery. It is touted as being one of 52 reasons to love Saskatoon.

When our children were young and we couldn't afford a winter vacation, Sunday afternoons at the Mendel Conservatory became our poor man's vacation destination. I recall many a time sitting in the warm, moist and fragrant conservatory fantasizing that I was in Hawaii or some similar spot and not enduring the wrath of a Saskatchewan winter. At Christmas the conservatory was full of poinsettias, Easter hosted a display of lilies, and at times the flora of the prairies. And because the Mendel was seldom closed the conservatory was available to the public for the cost of a donation each user could afford. Throwing a coin in the fountain and making a wish (usually to be in a warm vacation spot) became a ritual.

As I understand it, the conservatory will not be part of the new gallery. As Council seeks a tenant for the existing Mendel site, I suspect no paying tenant is going to open its doors seven days a week to an unpaying public. If the MVA takes over the space, its facility is not open to the degree the Mendel currently is and its staff is unionized.

I lament the thought that the Conservatory will become one of the 52 reasons we used to love about Saskatoon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

One for the credit column

I am pleasantly surprised at Council's action to solicit costs from the private sector regarding a recycling program (SP Jan. 14/11.) If I am reading the article correctly they are trying to determine what type of program can be offered at $5.30 per household monthly with the proviso that 7,800 tonnes of paper will go to Cosmo annually over a 10 year period.

What I don't understand is why they would cover this cost out of surplus funds for the first two years and then move to a user pay or property tax implementation starting in 2014. My best guess is that it will get them by the next civic election and that costs will increase over the term of the contract.

It is also unclear as to whether or not 7,800 tonnes of paper will be sufficient to maintain Cosmo.

Nonetheless I believe they will get a realistic cost by following the course of action taken. For that I offer a tip of the hat.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This Motley Crue is not the band!

After checking the list of candidates for the Ward 7 by-election (SP Jan. 13/11) I'm glad I am not a voter in that ward. At first glance I was disappointed that only one woman had entered the race. My disappointment was increased when I scanned Loewen's platform, realized she did not reside in the ward and that she was Pat Atkinson's former political aide. Obviously she knew in advance of the big announcement that Pat was hanging up her spurs (at least for now) and she would need a new public sector job. So its back to the guys.

Bergsteinsson, a College Park resident, did not make the short list by running his campaign on garbage pickup and snow removal. Both are important issues but certainly don't hit my priority list.

Pollock, a Nutana resident, is the Heritage Society candidate. Enough said.

Oranchuk's comments on waste were vague. He stated he knew there was a lot of waste in the city but outside of extending the life of city vehicles didn't offer anything else in terms of what he would target.

I'm not sure about Bzowey based on his comments. I like his position on reducing city spending. Targeting organized gangs is appealing, but that is the purview of the city police, not council. As to the back alleys, I would prefer to have the front streets repaired first. And of course both these issues would result in increased spending.

Thomson could get a thumbs up. I agree with him on slowing down public building projects and his questioning council's wisdom of paying for future civic projects through incremental property tax increases.

Wheatley, a ward resident, speaks of careful spending and creating a transparent financial and tax regime at city hall. As an accountant he has the potential to teach councillors about simple debit/credit practice and the cost of increasing debt. He warrants a serious look.

That leaves us with Bellamy. Certainly from his blurb you can note he is an "experienced" candidate. He has run in this area before and knows where his vote sits. He used all the right buzz words. However, I have heard that if elected Bellamy will hold his trustee position as well. I'm uncomfortable with this as periodically the city and the school board are at odds on issues. The double tap into the public purse leaves me uneasy as well.

When the betting begins I suspect Bellamy will be out front because he knows how to run a campaign and will have an campaign organization in place. I would guess that Loewen is the only one that could complete on the hustings as she will have the political party connections and they will rally the troops.

I'm sure many in Ward 7 would like to put their mark on 'none of the above' which will simply play out as low voter turnout.

Lady and gentlemen - beat your drums.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pat for Premier?

I always thought that when Pat Atkinson went to meet her maker that the NDP would have her taxidermied and thus hold the Nutana seat forever. We have a lot CCFers and their offspring living in Nutana homes and a goodly portion of folks who still think Tommy is alive and well and that PCS is a crown corporation.

I can't figure out why Pat quit. She had a steady income, a growing pension plan and had to do little to earn it. But did she really quit? I heard her say "at this moment in time" and "never say never." Perhaps this is stepping back to let Link flame out and then the Phoenix will rise. Then, like Link, she could collect her pension plan and a salary.

I need help. I am trying really hard to think of one major thing that Pat did for the constituency or the province over the last 25 years other than be a good little soldier for the party. I'm drawing a blank.

As to her anointed successor, as the camera panned the room at her press conference I didn't see a face that looked young enough to step forward. Any ideas?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Didn't panhandling used to be a culinary art?

As long as you have people willing to give you will have people willing to take. Its when you have takers and no willing givers that the problem arises.

I don't know how you reasonably solve the issue of panhandling downtown. I don't know why banks, ATMs or Saskatoon transit should get better protection from panhandlers than other businesses do. However if you make the rule 10 meters from any doorway that would put most panhandlers in the middle of the road.

How do you enforce a panhandling bylaw? If police do not have the resources to come out to a home invasion in a timely manner, how do we expect that they will rush downtown to ticket a panhandler who may or may not be able to pay the fine?

There are two kids of panhandlers. Those that solicit to satisfy a need - either food, alcohol or tobacco - and those who make a living at it. Those who beg out of need will never stop regardless of whatever bylaws exist. On the upside, as soon as they get enough money to satisfy their need, they leave.

As for those who do it for a living, put the same fear of God into them as the rest of us suffer. Have a Revenue Canada guy audit them. Pick a spot along 21st Street, plunk the auditor in a chair and give him/her an abacus. Rev Can has stronger and better enforcement opportunities than does the city. This is no more absurd than than any other solution.

And be sure to define panhandler as being different from a busker or street entertainer, which we do encourage in this city.

Monday, January 10, 2011

For patients out of patience

I'm back from Minnesota where I, along with a brother, attended the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Prior to this trip I thought the Americans should examine our health care system when developing the Obama plan, pick that which is good from our system, and avoid making some of the mistakes we may have made. I didn't truly think there was anything we could learn from them in terms of health care.

Now I am convinced that the Mayo Clinic should be the template for all health care services.

The patient starts with a physician consultation that is more than five minutes long. The doctor spends the necessary time to get a complete medical background on the patient before deciding on a course of action. Tests are done to both eliminate and confirm suspected causes of concern and those tests are done on site and in a timely manner. The patient is referred to other health care specialists within the clinic for their opinions. Doctors and support staff work as a team, each member of the team contributing to the diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.

There was no waiting for hours on end. If your appointment was booked for 10:30 a.m., you were seen at 10:30 a.m. Each member of the team had access to test results and information provided by others who had seen the patient.

In short, everyone involved added their piece to the puzzle and within days the picture was complete. The Clinic is operated efficiently and effectively. It has rightly earned its reputation as being one of the best health care service centres in the world.

Why can't we operate like this in Saskatchewan?

While I was experiencing this clinic I was also reading this blog on the CUPE survey. We might not need to do these surveys if our system operated in a similar fashion to the Mayo. We might even save a few tax dollars if diseases were caught and treated in their early stages. Hell, we might even save lives.

Regretfully our health care system has become more about politics than patients. And many of us are running out of patience.

P.S. A big thank you to my guest blogger/helper during my absence.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

C.U.P.E. Makes Me Want to P.U.K.E

The Mistress will be back blogging Monday, I hope to have something up for tomorrow as well. Here is another guest blog.......

You know what grinds my gears? Misleading the public like CUPE did in today's SP. Angela Hall was the latest to write another union fluff piece in her article titled "Private clinic use worries Sask. public, union says". The glamour headline is premised on the results of a poll that was commissioned by CUPE. Here is the an explanation of how CUPE reached their conclusion:

The survey asked respondents whether they would prefer to see surgical wait times reduced by the government improving services in hospitals or by the government paying for services in private, for-profit surgical clinics. CUPE said 60 per cent opted for the first option and 24 per cent selected the private clinic route.

Read more:

So let me break this down CUPE, you want to know if the public would rather see surgical wait times reduced by improving services hospitals OR by contracting it out to for-profit clinics? Using the results the geniuses at CUPE were able to ascertain the following:

"People like public health care," said Canadian Union of Public Employees Saskatchewan president Tom Graham, referring to a Viewpoints Research poll commissioned by CUPE.

Read more:

OK, so where is the research that says Sask. Public is worried about private clinic use? The only evidenced they advanced is that IF wait times are reduced would the public rather see it done in house of through for-profit clinics (I'm actually shocked the way the loaded question was phrased 24% chose for-profit clinics- almost as shocked that Ms. Hall considered this a story). Did the survey mention which option would be more economical? If both options were even practical? Or was it simply if you could choose which option which would it be?

Ladies and Gentlemen, let's thank CUPE once again for distorting the facts and misleading the public. Thanks again for your useless survey CUPE, glad to see you would rather waste everyone's time/money attempting to smear some politicians rather than apply yourselves to, you know, something productive like maybe help reducing the surgical wait times. Then again reducing the surgical wait times in no way benefits the union oligarchs so fat chance of that happening.

The Mistress' Helper

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Years Resolutions

The Mistress is away from the office today (how nice it must be to take off the first 'working day' of 2011).

To keep the mood light today, let's hear some tongue in cheek proposed resolutions for 2011 for news makers of 2010.

A couple to start us off:

Saskatoon City Council: To tighten their belts on the zealous spending

Lingenfelter: To campaign simply on his party's platform and his positive qualities

(Please keep your mean spirited comments to yourself, we're not looking for malicious comments)

The Mistress' Helper

Monday, January 3, 2011

ABC and 1-2-3

Good morning one and all. I hope everyone brought in the new year safely and with joy and happiness.

Not being a party animal myself, I brought in the new year reading and catching up on local news. While reading the SP (Dec. 31/10) I was taken by the article on the state of education in Saskatchewan. According to a survey commissioned by the Leader Post 59.3% believe the objective of the systems should be to provide a better general education and the remainder believe how well they prepare students for work is a more important objective. My sense from the article was that neither the majority or minority felt the objectives were being met.

The usual responses came from the Directors of both divisions in Saskatoon. The basic theme is that one size fits all education does not work and that education must be tailored to meet the needs of the individual students.

What was most intriguing was the co-relation between income levels and opinions. Those with higher incomes, and I would assume higher incomes mean higher education, did not believe the education systems were well run and did a good job. Those with incomes of less than $30,000.00 were likely to believe the schools did a good job.

I personally want students to first have basic skills before the system designs a program tailored to the individual need. Regardless of the path students take after their secondary education is complete, each and every one of them will need basic reading and writing skills, and at the very least, practical math.

In that regard, the systems fail. Ooops! I forgot. No one can fail.