Monday, February 28, 2011

He didn't promise us a rose garden . . .

Did anyone read the Globe and Mail articles or the SP (Feb. 25/11) piece on Bill Doyle's residency in Saskatoon?

I knew Doyle, not as a businessman or CEO, but as a neighbour. I watched his hands-on construction of a home in Saskatoon. He presented himself as a nice guy. He was warm and friendly and anxious to have his family arrive in our fair city.

His wife is a great lady. Every organization and group in the city wanted her to join their rank and file. Rather than become a queen of Saskatoon's elite she opted to volunteer her time at inner city schools and was actively engaged in her kids activities.

The kids were good kids. They did not exhibit signs of spoiled off-spring of a rich and famous father. They were, simply put, nice regular neighbourhood kids.

I could understand how hard it would be for Doyle's wife and kids to be uprooted from their family, lifetime friends and lifestyle in Chicago. No matter how pleasant your surroundings, it would be emotionally draining to lose those who share your life and its celebrations as a family. And I understand as a husband and father why he would want to keep his family happy.

For the reasons above, I wish Doyle had been up front about where he decided to call home. Had he stated that as CEO of PCS the company expanded and thrived and generally speaking, the province benefited from the company's growth through increased royalties and taxation. Shareholders earned well from their investment in PCS stock - and we all had the opportunity to be shareholders. At the time of privatization, a $100.00 potash bond converted into 5 shares. Do the math for those still holding the original shares. In reality, where he live has little to do with his skills as a CEO. But where the executive suite is located has a great impact on the city hostinfg the corporate offices. And the head office is where the CEO is.

In purchasing a comparatively small entry-level priced condo and calling it home, it came across as a mockery of the promise made during the take-over battle, particularly since his family still resides in Chicago. And the press certainly expressed that sentiment in the articles. It also became quite clear that he did not have a home here as stated during that corporate joust. And one cannot help but feel the disdain and disrespect shown by these actions. Technically any one of us can claim our principal residence wherever we choose. But it is humiliating for us to have to accept this a promise kept.

I can understand why he resides in Chicago. Honesty would have been so much easy to accept. If home is where the heart is, Doyle does not live in Saskatoon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

CSI: Saskatoon

Holy God! Holy Cow! Holy Tamole! Holy S---! I can't believe that the new police station has increased by more than one-third in size, that the cost will be established by the bids, that no public discussion has been had as to how it will be paid for and that the losing bids will be compensated for their work on submitting bids.

I'd like to know how many forensic experts the police employ that would necessitate a forensic garage site and labs? An indoor shooting range - ah maybe. A cultural room with venting to allow traditional aboriginal pipe ceremonies? What about a chapel or temple to meet the needs of other groups? A gymnasium? Couldn't they work out a deal with the private sector for volume purchase memberships for police? Just how long do officers spend warming up police vehicles? I would have thought when the cars came in from the night shift they would be plenty warm enough for the day shift to use.

And I guess the Chief needed somewhere to park the new $350,000.00 Batmobile.

The biggest question is: Will this reduce crime in the city?

The Police Chief cannot proceed with this project without the sanction of council, as it is council that must provide the funds to pay for this dream. Yet I don't recall council having this discussion during budget debates.

We have an art gallery coming and the price on that project increased by $8 million a couple months back, the reason being planning for future needs, and the hole as not yet been dug. Now this. Where is the money coming from?

If this is about planning for the future, remember that the current plan was already adding on an additional 75,000 square feet to the current size of police facilities. In essence we are now actually adding 200,000 square feet to the current size. Perhaps we should wait until we have another 125,000 taxpayers to help pay the freight. Or start thinking about Satellite stations now and place them in the areas with the highest crime rate.

And in planning for the future, perhaps we should get a good old fashioned insane asylum and commit a few of out civic leaders.

Slow down, buckle up, stash the cell phone, don't jay walk, and don't spit or urinate in public. These are the criminals that will be helping to fund the project.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Take a leap

Thank God this is not a leap year and the debate on domed stadium will not be extended past Monday. I hope this means that the City of Regina and the province will now get on with a reasonable renovation of Mosaic Stadium.

And since Mayor Fiacco raised the issue of a necessary inner city redevelopment and need for affordable housing, he too should focus on accomplishing that goal for his city.

If the provincial government was ready to make available hundreds of millions of dollars for an entertainment facility, I should now entertain taking those hundreds of millions that are now freed up and investing that money in meeting the needs of Saskatchewan residents.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another reason I drive myself . . .

I don't use taxis often and thus feel no loyalty to any particular company. Simply, on the rare occasion that I do need to use the service I just want a speedy response time.

I think Councillor Clark aced the taxi debate with his comment "The cleanest and fairest way to do this is to open it up. It's about not getting involved in trying to protect a monopoly on what is a public space."

However, I disagree with the position that cab stands should be eliminated and the space converted into metered parking. In those busiest spots downtown should we encourage cabs to circle places like the plaza waiting for a fare to flag them down? And while loading passengers should cabs idle mid road and hold up traffic? Would passenger safety be a concern?

What about people coming in on the bus who need to get to their ultimate destination? Should they queue up and each call for service, or should cabs be waiting and available when the bus arrives? A couple of weeks ago I watched the cabs at the airport funnel through the cab lane and everyone of the more than a dozen taxis there picked up a fare. There seemed to be enough business for all.

Although the city collected revenue from the leased cab stands and that will be lost, it should be noted that they increased licence fees from $99.00 to $375.00 annually.

And the most notable comment on this debate goes to Neault with this statement: "We 'll let the public decide . . . We don't decide what's in the public's interest. If we get 10,000 calls, well then I guess we'll have to review it." 'Tis a sad but possibly true statement.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A page from my book

In Saturday's SP (Feb. 19/11) Bronwyn Eyre wrote an excellent column on the city's recreational and leisure facilities and the direction the city taking in this respect. The only item she dealt with that I questioned was the needs of the Saskatoon Public Library.

My family uses the library system on a regular basis and I support the system. However, I am not sure that I agree that the main library needs to be a grand edifice in the centre of the city. The main library definitely needs an overhaul and its resources have to be properly funded and kept current. But I believe the general public would be better served by expanding the branch libraries rather than creating a massive facility in the city centre that is hard to access from the four corners of the city and where transportation and parking are an issue.

I have always thought that the public library system should partner with the school boards and use school libraries as joint facilities. Pretty much every neighbourhood has a school. Every school has a library. In today's world with online catalogues and book reservations I would seem that library users would get greater benefit of the system if they could access materials more readily. Ordering your reading materials and being able to pick them up at your local school library would probably make the service more valuable to the average citizen. And it would certainly bring the community into the schools and create a sense of ownership of local schools and an interest in neighbourhood activities.

Although library supporters may point to the major cities and the beautiful central libraries they offer, those facilities were built in a different era and for a different society.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Planes, buses and automobiles

Good on Atch for releasing his travel expenses. With one exception I think his expenditures are reasonable for a busy and visible mayor. However, there are a couple of councillors that cause the eyebrow to raise.

My exception is the in-town travel claim. The in-town travel claims, at $.52 for the first 5,000 kilometers and $.46 for mileage after that, is excessive. I know councillors can claim in-town travel and expect the councillors have the same rates as the Mayor. The Atch does not take for himself without making sure his council is treated equally.

Although I am not sure about the Mayor's salary, I do know that city councillors' salaries are one-third are tax exempt. The original purpose of the exemption was to compensate for expenses associated with the position - one of them being travel within the constituency.

I was on council when this discussion and decision was made to allow councillors to claim mileage costs. The argument at the time was that councillors representing the far-reaching areas of the city had greater travel costs than those in the city centre and thus were disadvantaged. Although I personally disagreed with it, it seem liked a small enough item at the time so I went along with the decision of the majority but stated I would not personally make any claim.

Now it appears that some can buy themselves a new car every term simply through mileage claims. And of course the one-third tax exemption on expanded salaries continues to be used.

I don't have an issue with reimbursing people their expenses, but I disagree that they should have both reimbursement and tax exemptions. Pick one or the other. Better yet, do away with the mileage reimbursement and give each of them a bus pass.

As to the councillors' claims,, I accept there is value to councillors attending the FCM meetings, representing the city and voting on issues. I'm not sure that the few that have racked up the expense tab have brought any greater value to the Council Chamber than those who were respectful of the public purse.

I tip my hat to Neault for not making the in-town expenses claims.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Musing # 1 - If the city is interested in creating an efficient and user friendly transit system, perhaps it should be contracting with the U of S Computer Sciences department. The joy of having a major university in the city is that it attracts some talented students. Today's SP (Feb. 17/11) article on the app created by one student to track a single bus route, and what other centres are doing as well, shed light on what might be the answer to our beleaguered transit department.

Musing # - Politics is fight to the death game regardless of the political arena hosting the battle. Lonechild knew what would happen to him if he disclosed his charges and the media got a hold of it. Thus he opted for the cover up and taking the risk it would not come to light. It did and the lions are circling. Bill Clinton he is not. Win a few, lose a few.

Which brings me to International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda. Even if her actions don't do her in, the exceptional bad Roy Orbison look-a-like photo of her (SP A11) with a cigarette dangling from her mouth will finish her off. Those cigarettes will kill you one way of another. Bye bye Bev.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thumbs up for Steve

One only has to become a victim of crime to become a supporter of Steve's tough on crime agenda. I have joined that group.

Recently I had my car stolen from in front of my residence. The thieves drove the vehicle into Riversdale and from then it became a community car for the use and enjoyment of all little thugs. It was an older model vehicle in pristine condition - one of those "driven by a little old lady to church on Sunday" deals. Needless to say they smashed the vehicle beyond repair, and due to the age of the car, SGI will not be giving sufficient funds to replace the loss.

And the loss of $300.00 to $400.00 in contents in the vehicle is not covered by auto insurance. This must be claimed through your house insurance. However if you try and claim it you lose your claims free status, pay a deductible and subsequent surcharges. It would actually cost me more to claim this loss than I would recover under the policy. I love insurance companies.

Since the thieves are young offenders I can't even access information on them. They will go through youth court, get a tsk tsk and be let loose to continue with their activities.

On the other hand I am without the vehicle, must go into debt to replace it and the contents. Justice is truly blind.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Appearances can be deceiving

It pains me to write about PCS, but suffer I must.

Doyle said "I've got a place here." It does not mean he resides here, as did his predecessors. Many people have 'places' outside of their residences, be it Arizona, a lake cottage or any other locale.

"I have a car here." Ditto the above.

"I pay taxes here." PCS executives have always paid split taxes based on earnings in Canada and earnings in the USA. How much depends on the amount of time worked in each country.

He does get credit for increasing charitable and community contributions and a yet to be determined amount towards the STARS program.

Increasing employment opportunities is always good and with the corporation's growth it should be expected. What type of jobs remains to be seen. I was a little taken aback to read that the repatriation of executive jobs and/or creation of new jobs to Saskatoon will cost the provincial government - about $6 million over five years according to the report. But you can't fault a corporation for taking advantage of whatever is available to it. We all look to whatever tax exemptions we can find to avoid throwing more money into the black hole.

If I work on the adage "alls well that ends well" I guess I will focus on the fact the whole takeover saga ended with BPH creating an office here, they are proceeding with the mine development and eventually will become a major player in Saskatchewan. Competition is a good thing. It keeps the players sharp.

PCS has weathered its storm. Now Premier Wall must batten his hatches for the political maelstorm to come.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stadium plan - third and long

Thanks to a computer malfunction, I'm still on Friday time.

I seldom agree with Regina's Mayor Fiacco with respect to the domed stadium but I do agree with his comments reported in the SP (Feb. 11/11) that the saga has gone on for too long. His late addition of including inner city redevelopment to sweeten the project does not fly, although I do encourage him to do the housing project as part of his city's plan.

Although Mayor Fiacco states the Conservative MPs are not listening and suggests they are not working hard enough for his metropolis to receive funding for the stadium, I agree with MP Andrew Scheer when he replies "I can tell you, I'm listening very carefully. There are some people pushing this stadium that think the everyone in Saskatchewan wants it, but I hear from a lot of constituents that don't want their tax dollars to go to this."

The speculation of Ottawa changing the parameters for use of gas tax revenues to include construction of entertainment facilities was not welcomed. I was taken aback when Mandryk, in his Friday column, took issue with use of gas tax for this purpose saying this would put local governments in a no-win situation of having to choose between something voters want (visible sports/entertainment facilities) and something they need (better sewers and roads.) Isn't that what they were elected to do?

Mandryk also stated that instead of going cap-in-hand to the Harper Conservatives, the provincial and city governments need to make it impossible for Ottawa to say "No." Last I heard the federal government did a cross Canada survey and the majority of the public said no. I would guess with that survey it would be very possible for the feds to say no.

Quebec is proceeding with their stadium without federal funds being committed. Mayor Fiacco and the good folks in Regina can do likewise. And if the proposed operating revenues fall short of the projections, Regina taxpayers can hold their local government to account.

As Fiacco has not come close to making his ten yards, its time to punt the project.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A new queen is crowned

I wasn't surprised by yesterday's outcome in the Ward 7 by-election. This area has historically voted NDP in both civic and provincial elections. The edge young candidates have is social media. Prior to this medium younger voters did not turn out at the polls. And no doubt many of these young voters did not vote so much on issues but simply for one of their own. Pat Atkinson trained her well and no doubt we will see the results of this mentorship in the months to come.

I'm not sure I would agree that this win could be seen as an overwhelming endorsement of her views on mandatory recycling. But garbage has always been an issue in this area. It was the good folks in part of Ward 7 that opposed front street pick-up and won the battle. However if you have to put your recycle bins out on the street, why not your garbage can.

In closing, I thank all the candidates for their efforts and ideas. I might not agree with many but I do admire them for stepping up and throwing theirs hats in the ring.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bust the bus

Thank you Councillor Paulsen. Finally someone on Council has stepped up to question the wisdom of the guru of public transit.

We keep throwing more money at a losing proposition. Other cities seem to be able to offer effective public transportation at a reasonable cost. To date we have unreliable schedules, increasing fares, higher tax subsidy and declining ridership. The GPS scenario was new information for me and altering the traffic lights to accommodate transit was also an eye-opener. I hope that doesn't happen before the South bridge opens or traffic will be worse yet. Then again that is the goal of some councillors. Make driving difficult so they will catch an unreliable bus.

Who really gets my sympathy is the university students. They are forced to buy a bus pass - most of them purchasing it with borrowed money - and do not have the service they pay for.

While examining the routes, perhaps council should also examine the management of transit.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jack of all trades

If you go to a lending institution to ask for a loan, and your application is declined, it is generally because the people with expertise in finance understand that your income cannot support the debt. Alternatively, it may be that you have a bad credit rating.

Why would council assume to have better knowledge than the lenders themselves?

Five years ago, under the Clavert government, Saskatchewan was adverting in Alberta that it had cheap housing and land for the taking. It was the lure used to attract people and business to this province. The question is, how did Saskatoon go from being an affordable city to having the highest cost in Western Canada? Add to the increased housing costs is the ever escalating tax bill, utilities and levies.

Even if you could get young families into housing, can they maintain that household after the purchase? Mortgages are generally five-year terms. If five year from now the interest rates on mortgage double, which they did a few decades past, can this young homeowner support the mortgage?

Will the interest rate charged under this loan program be at least the equivalent to that which the city is paying on its own debt? Or will existing homeowners, along with new homeowners, have to pay additional tax to support this program?

I know there is an affordable housing crisis in Saskatoon. I would have preferred that council work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity that have proven great successes in placing young families in homes. Habitat also trains their families as to how to maintain the homes they get.

Perhaps council should sit back and examine what their role is or the provincial government should look at legislation to limit elected councils from these types of give-a-ways. I am sick and tired of seeing this council trying to fix up one mess by creating another.

Then again, we the taxpaying public should do our job and send that message at the next civic election.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coming down the home stretch

I reviewed the remaining candidate profiles in Saturday's SP (Feb. 5/11.) I am beginning to think that the age factor comes into play. The younger candidates when responding to concerns on taxation leave me with the impression that costs don't matter when it comes to their visions of where the city should head.

There seems to be little understanding that people on fixed or low income cannot continue to receive taxation expenses that exceed the revenue increases. As much as I appreciate the twenty or thirty-someones wanting to step up to the plate and take over the reins, I am starting to think they haven't had enough life experience or financial management to effectively do the job.

On the other hand we already have a mix on council and those experienced and senior councillors seem to have lost the concept of affordability as well.

I can't guess who is going to win this race. I only hope it will be someone who will bring some common sense and balance to the budget table.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The gift that keeps on giving

At some point the federal government going to have to step up and clarify the tax free issue on tobacco for First Nations.

I agree with Premier Wall's seizure of the tobacco product shipped by Montreal based Rainbow cigarette manufacturer to Saskatchewan. Although the spokesman for Rainbow states the shipment was a gift to First Nations in Saskatchewan, clearly the intent is to introduce his product in this province.

I know we must honour the treaties, but it really is time to make decisions on what the intent was when the treaties were signed. Did the signatories to the treaties really intend that tax free status mean you could make money off selling a substance known to cause deadly disease? Did the medicine chest really mean hospitals and medical treatment for the disease caused by the tax free disease inducing product?

If taxation on tobacco runs at 42% everyone buying and/or using the product, regardless of race or ethnicity, should pay the tax and all that tax should be put into health care.

Since Alberta seems to be in the same position on this issue, I sincerely hope we join forces and get a ruling on just what the federal legislation means. If in fact the First Nations leaders are right then all loss of tax should be submitted to the provinces by the federal government. Or all health care costs relating to tobacco induced illnesses suffered by First Nations should be covered by the federal government.

This is truly the gift that keeps on giving - it gives you heart disease, cancers and a multitude of other ailments. And before you die be sure to say thanks for the wonderful gift

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Laugh or you'll cry

I didn't attend last night's forum showcasing the candidates on the Ward 7 by-election but most certainly enjoyed reading the report in today's SP (Feb. 3/11.) I find a little humour at these solemn events goes a long way.

Bellamy's response to the question as to his brightest idea to make Saskatoon a "green" city was notable. He responded with "he'd focus on letting people know about the city's parks and green spaces."

On transit, Oranchuk received a round of applause for his idea of giving away bus passes to all seniors and mandating that "Every civic employee would ride the bus, including the people who manage the transit system." The free bus passes may get him the senior vote but how he expects, in a democratic country, to force civic employees to take a bus either speaks to his view on voter intellect or his own stupidity.

Oranchuk also promised to axe the new police station and cancel the recent decision by the police to acquire the armoured vehicle. Clearly this candidate does not understand that the 'power of one' equals zip and he has no control over the decisions made by the Chief of Police. He can simply speak against the police budget but cannot direct police services.

Pollock is going to put citizens on a "road diet." He is going to change our car-centric mentality. He is joined by Loewen who, if elected, will implement a safer cycling network throughout the city and make it more attractive to walk and bicycle around the sprawling city - in December, January and February.

On a more serious note, Egyptians are rebelling against the current government and want the right to legitimately and democratically elect their leader. Some rioters have died for the cause.

I will watch with anticipation how many Ward 7 residents go out to legitimately and democratically exercise their franchise to elect their leader.

What is not humorous about our elections is how lightly we take our democratic right and how little responsibility we accept to honour the right.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm a PUTZ

In writing this blog I was starting to wonder whether I was a CAVE person, that being Gormley's acronym for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. But on second though I believe I am a PUTZ, that being a Person Undermining Taxation Zealots.

When I read Mandryk's column today (SP Feb. 1/11) with his report on the blue-skying idea of making the Regina domed stadium a bigger than proposed project, incorporating low-income housing, condo and retail development, in order to access more federal tax dollars and/or public support, my first thought was to pack up and leave this province while the getting was good. Is the blue sky the calm before the storm?

At the same time the reports arising from the SUMA convention leave the impression that infrastructure needs are horrendous across the province. Roads in decay, water treatment facilities, health services, universities and schools, senior care homes and social housing are paramount to civic leaders also looking for federal and provincial funding.

In part our infrastructure decay is due to neglect by previous NDP governments. Previous NDP governments point to excess spending by their predecessors, the Conservatives, and the cost of paying off those debts and thus being unable to invest in the needs of the day.

We seem to be caught in a cycle of feast or famine.

I'm not against private sector development. I'm not against government investment in public projects. I simply ask that governments get their priorities straight. Take care of our needs before you take care of the wants.

Whether tax dollars come out of our left pocket, right pocket or back pocket, they are still tax dollars we must pay. Debt is debt. And the debt belongs to all of us and is ours until it is paid.