Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Art Gallery of ? ? ?

I foolishly thought that the new art gallery was being named Art Gallery of Saskatchewan to recognize the province's contribution to the project. I had it in mind that perhaps it would be a provincial gallery, rather than a city gallery as was the Mendel, and thus receive some provincial funding for the increased operational costs to come.

However, based on the article in today's SP (May 31/11) it would appear that the soon to be announced major donor is negotiating his/her social immortality by having the gallery named in recognition for his/her contribution. I assume then that this donation will exceed the province's $13 million.

It reminded me of a visit I had at an art museum in Italy. Accordingly to the gallery guide the faces in the massive paintings were in fact the faces of major donors to the church. As time passed and a bigger donor stepped forward, the previous donor's face would be painted over with that of the new donor. Since the catholic church is one of the richest organizations in the world, this proven format may do well for financing the future costs of this new gallery.

Most the the naming rights have time frames built in. Then again, Mendel got 50 years of recognition for kick starting the gallery back the in '60s.

What will our mystery donor get?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Over the Hill . . .

...or top. I was surprised, but in agreement with Councillor Hill's request to have Executive Committee agendas published.

There is established criteria for what should be discussed in closed committee meetings, that being personnel issues, real estate, contract negotiations, etc. It is necessary to keep these discussions in closed sessions until such time as decisions have to be made. However, it is up to committee members to challenge items that do get placed in committee that do not appropriately belong there.

Having said that, it is difficult to monitor when a committee member challenges an agenda item and the majority overrides the challenge. The committee member is now in a dilemma of participating in the discussion or leaving the meeting and blowing the whistle on other members. Whistle blowing does not make for good working relationships.

Committee members are also subject add-ons to the agenda, generally brought in by administration. If council members agree to the publication of the agendas then they will have to ban add-ons or be prepared to re-publish the new agenda. Publishing the agenda may be a way to eliminate those last minute add-ons or items that should not be in committee.

The bigger problem is trying to keep the discussion in committee. Most of these committee meetings leak information like sieves. A member is almost better off making their comments in a public forum and having a committee colleague pass on their version of the comments.

The debate on this will be very interesting and where support will be for this change.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Either way we're screwed

It has been strongly rumoured that Pat Atkinson is going to be running for the mayor's chair and that her inside ears at Executive Committee meetings keep her informed of the current mayor's position and/or comments which will be used during the campaign. Very scary! Its one of those from the frying pan to the fire scenarios.

In today's SP, on page E7, there is a picture entitled "New Platinum Club Member." There are four gentlemen in the photo, one being our Mayor Atch. However, in the names listed under the photo our Mayor is referred to a Honourable Mayor Pat Atchison.

Is this a faux pas or harbinger?

You gotta laugh or you'll cry.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Before the shovel hits the ground

The new art gallery started out at $58 million, soon after increased to $66 million and, as of yesterday, stands at $84 million - and the shovel has yet to hit the ground. This project may go down as the biggest white elephant that the Mayor and Council have created to date.

" We won't be increasing taxes to look after the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. That I know for sure." says Mayor Atch. Okay, where is the money going to come from? And wasn't the public told that River Landing would not affect the tax base because new tax revenue would off set the maintenance? Yet, we the taxpayers, are contributing over $1 million annually for the maintenance of RL because there is no new tax base. Everything is either primarily publicly funded or has been given tax concessions for years to come. And we are already paying tax assessment toward this gallery project.

I heard street talk that a major donor is in the wings and thought that was great, that it would reduce the taxpayers' portion of the project. I truly hadn't dawned on me that it would mean the city would increase the spending as a result of the donation. I know, I know . . my brain wasn't charged at the time.

The math threw me at first. $17 million from the province, 13 million from the feds, $20 million from donors and $21 million from tax base = $71 million. Short a mere $13 million. Then I realized the city is not counting the parkade costs as it hopes to recover that cost through parking fees in the years to come. But in the interim who pays the freight until the capital with interest, operating and maintenance costs are recovered ?

What perplexes me most is the number of councillors who a few years back opposed the Mendel's request for $12-14 million for an expansion and renovation to the existing gallery. One of the greatest concerns voiced at that time was the operating costs of a larger gallery. It would appear that is no longer a concern. I'm guessing they will be introducing an admission fee to off set some of the increased costs. Let the howling begin.

I'm not crazy about the design, but I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and others will love it. And I understand why they windowed the front to create the river view. But when you're building a space for the specific purpose of displaying art, why waste wall space for hanging that art. I seems from the report (SP May 26/11) that the main floor will hold a small Mendel room and the rest will be foyer space. You can't hang art in spaces that will be affected by sunlight. Weird.

My greatest loss in this project is the conservatory. I loved that spot. For me, nothing offered in the new gallery can compensate for the loss of the conservatory.

Its always sad to have a civic project like this create the feeling of 'winners' and 'losers' yet I get the sense that is what this project represents to many in this city, particularly those who do support the arts. I'm on the losing side of this one so I will do my best to enjoy the Mendel while I can.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday's Blog

Will be posted shortly, dealing with slight technological malfunctions....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Been there, done that

I didn't attend the Traffic Bridge forum last night as I had attended the previous one and thought a decision had been made based on the several models presented at that time. I found very little value to the format used, which was anonymous post-it notes responding to questions printed on cardboard. Some people were responding several times to the same question so there was no way to determine whether the support for an option was wide spread or just a handful of people imposing their views through numerous postings.

I don't quite understand why these types of constructions have to become multi-purpose. Can we not simply have an attractive river crossing to serve its purpose? I agree that there should be separate pedestrian/bike ways and viewing platforms would be a nice attraction. But does this bridge need to have bells and whistles so that once or twice a year some organization can host an event?

River Landing, including the Farmer's Market was designed for that very purpose. Each area in the city centre already lends itself to festivals and events - A Taste of Saskatchewan, Cruise Night, The Children's Festival, etc. Realistically, due to weather, we have about one-third of our year for the majority of these events to happen. Anyone who has walked this bridge in the dead of winter and felt the wind and cold bite would realize people are not going to congregate on this bridge during the winter season, even if someone suggests the construction of fire pits to huddle around.

The majority of area residents simply want reasonable access to their residences. If Council can't build the bridge that was green-lighted at the last forum, then re-design the existing roadways to provide the necessary access.

Just get on with the show!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bugling taps or reveille for the Liberal Party?

Today's SP Opinion column (May 18/11) deals with the rebuilding of the Liberal Party. One opinion is that by placing restrictive rules for an interim leader it will do itself more harm than good by over-looking party stalwarts

One of the concerns flagged is the restriction that the leader must be bilingual, thus eliminating the possibility of Ralph Goodale taking that post. I was surprised to learn that Goodale was not bilingual after his many years in Parliament and amused to think that Quebec, who just elected an MP that is not bilingual and has never been to the constituency she will represent, would care if the Liberal leader was bilingual.

On the other hand, if Bob Rae becomes leader it will be difficult to regain Liberal Party identity in vote rich Ontario if the Party is led by a well-known former Ontario NDP Premier. And it will still take more time for the West to forget the National Energy Program and the attempted robbery ot its resources by a former Liberal government.

The editorial concludes that the Liberal party needs to select a leader with substance rather than style. I don't know if that means Ralph doesn't style but substance, or vice versa.

I think the Liberals need to drop the arrogance and blatant lust for power, develop their own policies rather that dressing up the policies of the NDP and start listening to the people. I suspect it will mean out with the old guard and in with the new in order for that to happen.

Pull out the bugle and get ready to sound the call.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When is enough enough?

I have been, and continue to be, a big supporter of Persephone Theatre. However, I am opposed to the city's continual abatement of taxes. Tax abatements were intended to kick start a project that the city deemed was a need for the community. The benefit was that after the project was complete, the developed entity would be contributing to the tax base.

When Peresephone was building the new theatre its Board made a conscious decision not to provide parking for patrons. They were relying on the city and developers of adjacent properties to build parking that theatre patrons could access. Over the last several years they have availed themselves of adjacent vacant land to fill that need. The Board also knew that all the land surrounding them was scheduled for development. Let's call this 'eyes wide open.'

For Peresephone to come forward now, looking for handouts because its business will be affected due to the parking loss and pending construction, should not be a reason to get a free ride on taxes. They've already had a tax abatement to kick start the project. They knew, or ought to have known, this day was coming.

Over the last half dozen years small business downtown have paid a dear price when streets were blocked off for months and access to their shops by the public was limited due to roadway re-design and construction and no parking. They did not receive tax abatements but rather tax increases. Residential areas are subject to long term restricted access to their homes and they do not receive abatements, they get tax increases.

Every time an abatement is granted it means that everyone else in the city must pay more. Peresephone was the first out on River Landing. There are many years of construction yet to come. According to the SP (May 17/11) the door is open for them to come back yet again as the site develops.

When River Landing was planned, it was to be self-sustaining through taxation derived from the entities locating there. When will that time come?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recycle this

I would guess that the weekend editorial in the SP urging Council to make a decision on recycling will encourage councillors to vote no to a referendum on the issue. However, I don't think the editorial board is large enough to carry them all back onto council come the next election.

I sincerely hope that the monthly fee for recycling will come as a separate charge on the utility bill. Otherwise we will never know what the real cost of this program will be. If the cost gets buried in the black hole of the general budget the cost of recycling will be far more substantial for some and landlords will jack rents well beyond what the cost will be. Besides if everybody pays, perhaps everybody will play.

I'm going to guess it will be a mixed collection given the cost. A couple of people from Regina have already asked how our city can provide this program at a much lesser cost than Regina. Its the magic of our council - or like everything else we will hear, after the decision has been made, that it can't be done at that cost.

I hope the bins provided will be covered otherwise the businesses getting the contracts will be picking up a soggy mess. And I'm not sure where I will put another bin - I'm running out of yard space given the garbage container, the garden waste container, the compost bin, my cans/bottles for Sarcan and my Cosmo collection bin. I will return my own cans etc. to Sarcan. I take them in every few of months a get about $50.00 back. I used to use this as treat money - now it will have to pay for my recycling bill. And I will continue to donate my papers to Cosmo assuming they are allowed to still collect.

I live on a bus route and every now and then a grader comes down the road and piles a bank of snow in front. On garbage day when the bins are rolled out its like running an obstacle course trying to avoid the parked cars, garbage bins and oncoming traffic. It does keep one sharp and alert when behind the wheel.

I further expect that those getting the contracts will not be allowed to send anything collected to our landfill.

And and for those who liken the cost of the program to a latte or beer once a month, that maybe true for for the middle class and upwards. On the downward side, it may mean milk or bread for others.

Out of curiosity, is puking considered recycling?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Castle and kings/queens

Today's Opinion column (SP May 12/11) deals with the need for infill regulations and I couldn't agree more. Anyone living in one of Saskatoon's older neighbourhoods who complains about infill changes is automatically labelled a NIMBY. But for the so called NIMBYs its not about change, but the type of change.

For the majority of us, the only investment in real estate that we make is our family home - our castle and the only place where you can be king or queen. I could only hope that others in the city might understand why home owners object to a developer tearing down a house and replacing it with a building that destroys both the neighbourhood character and their use and enjoyment of their home. The controversay around the re-location of Mr. Shinkaruk's home on the corner of Clarence and College has brought this issue to light.

Many cities in North America protect their historic neighbourhoods with architectural controls. I think Saskatoon should consider doing the same. If you want to tear down an old house and rebuild on the lot, I'm good with that. But build to the character of the neighbourhood. Many new developments already have architectural controls built in that prevent these problems in the future.

Too many times in older neighbourhoods an investor has bought a large older home, cut it into umpteen suites, packed the place with tenants and then let the place run down. The neighbouring properties pay the price both through use and enjoyment of their home and a diminished value of their property because of the adjacent eyesore.

I don't have a huge problem with people taking a tenant into their own home. I expect that the average homeowner is not going to want to live with exceptional noise or destruction of their property and thus the ambiance of the neighbourhood will be maintained.

When the garage/granny suites come to be, I for one will be writing the tax authorities to ensure that the revenue from these properties are claimed for taxation purposes. If commercial landlords pay tax on their rental income, then the mini landlords do likewise.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

If you really want to know . . .

I like the idea of a referendum on recycling. While we're at it, throw in the Mendel Art Gallery and find out whether the local tax base wants to contribute in excess of $40 million capital dollars to construct a new art gallery.

Our newest councillor Loewen says they already have feedback via the consultations hosted by the city. I'll forgive her that one given her limited time on council, but those consultations bring out a small percentage of the public and usually only those with die-hard beliefs on either side of the issue.

Councillor Hill says the city didn't go to referendum on the mandatory flood levy. That is true except for the fact that that levy was to be for a limited time to off set the damage during a horrendous flood circumstance. It wasn't intended to be permanent. And what started out to be a two or three dollar levy is now up to $15.00 on my utility bill.

Councillor Penner says he was elected to make decisions. True again, except for the public expected good decisions and respect for the tax payer.

Lorje states her concern about the proposed zones in the report and how to define basic level of service. I can't believe that the report wouldn't define the service expected and demanded from the successful bidders on the tenders. If the report doesn't define service levels council should be very concerned about the report as a whole and its validity.

The other reason for holding a referendum is that it tends to bring out voters. That may be the best reason for not holding one as the theory is incumbents have the edge on low voter turnout.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Make it law and give it bite

I'm not sure if any other cities in the province have campaign disclosure bylaws, but I think they should.

It was reported in today's SP (May 10/11) that Council has amended the Disclosure bylaw and also will be requesting that the provincial government amend the Local Government Election Act to incorporate the portion of this bylaw that bans candidates who fail to file in accordance with the bylaw from running in future elections.

I would like to see the government refine and incorporate the whole of the bylaw and have the reporting done to an independent body outside of City Halls. In our city, no one checks these reports unless a member of the public complains, and then the person who would check them is appointed and paid by council. Councillors do not have to submit bills, receipts or bank statements unless they are challenged.

It should also include what is deemed an appropriate expenditure, much along the lines of reporting done by provincial candidates. This component gets made up as civic elections go on primarily because candidates are left guessing as to what should or should not be included.

And needless to say, there is public comfort knowing there is an 'arm's length' when examining the submitted disclosures.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lessons never learned

I can't help but wonder whether unionized groups drag out contract negotiations to an election year with the hope that government will capitulate for the sake of an election outcome. I suspect the Sask Party knows there isn't a chance in hell that these unions will support them come November, but there must be concern for the votes of citizens negatively affected by strikes.

The Saskatchewan teachers focus on what Alberta colleagues are earning , but are noticeably silent on what else they receive in their contracts, both provincial and local, comparative to other provinces. Do all Alberta teachers receive four or more paid personal days? How do they compare with preparation time, class size, teaching days/hours, professional development offerings, supervision pay, etc? Do Alberta teachers have a boosted health care plan, disability package, optical, dental, etc? How about retirement gratuities and double dipping? We have a horde of young teachers in our community who can't get teaching jobs because retired teachers continue to teach while drawing pension. The public needs to see the whole package.

Then comes the mantra - do it for the kids. Get real. This contract has nothing to do with the kids. Its for the teachers. If you cared about the kids you wouldn't use them as a pawn in negotiations. Teachers know this years high school grads need their marks in order to qualify for post-secondary entrance. Students can get conditional registration based on their mid-term marks but need those final marks by school year end. How is this action helping the kids?

As for sharing the current prosperity, I could buy that if their contract contained a clause that would roll back those salaries in less affluent times. That will never happen.

Alas, these negotiations play out like a bad divorce action. Both parents love the kids but tear them up trying to get at the other spouse. So please, enough of "do it for the kids."

In closing, I believe that, by majority, our publicly funded systems provide good teachers and they also have a percentage of great teachers. But sadly, they also have a percentage of poor teachers. I wish the contract would include a way to reward the greats and weed out the poor. However, solidarity forever means you get the bad was well as the good. Perhaps teachers would get more public support if they were willing to cull their own.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Something Doesn't Make Sense

The Mistress is out of town this week, so we have one of two guest bloggers in today:

I've been generally amused this week to watch Dwain Lingenfelter beat his chest and proclaim his outrage that the NDP were unable to secure even one seat in Saskatchewan despite having roughly 32% of the popular vote. As per usual, Link's faithful flock of sheep have been taking up the cause as well. What I guess I am wondering is, if Link believes the NDP got a raw deal in Saskatchewan is he also upset that the same electoral system saw the NDP obtain 79% of the seats in Quebec while only garnering 42% of the popular vote?

You would think when your party is the primary beneficiary of the system you'd be slightly more humble. Furthermore, why is he even upset isn't the % of seats won the NDP higher than their % of popular vote?

It seems to me this is simply another empty cause (see royalty review rates, rent control) which Link is attempting to spin an issue out of. It's too baaaaaah-d the faithful flock don't, or won't, see the larger picture.

Thursday's Guest Blogger

(please be aware that the views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not, or perhaps may not, represent those of the Mistress)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wow, wow and more wow!

I was truly shocked last night. With all the reports of the orange crush I expected the NDP to take a few seats in the homeland. I expected the NDP to take a respectful amount in Quebec, but I didn't think they would obliterate the Bloc. Who would have guessed they would now represent the separatist interest in Canada. And the loss by the Liberals leaves me speechless, save for Bob Rae's suggestion last night of a possible merge of the NDP/Liberals. I always thought he was like the 'sleeper cell' planted by the NDP within the Liberal fortress. But I don't count the Liberals out for the future.

On the home front, Darren Hill should ask his pollster for his money back. His last bit of propaganda stated he was running neck and neck with the Trost. The results prove otherwise. In truth, I had hoped that if the Tories were going to lose seats in Saskatchewan that this would be the one to lose. Now I can only hope that Harper will yard Trost in and whack his peepee.

Yelich's win was not a surprise, although I thought Moore was a very good candidate. She was one of the NDP that I could have lived had she been elected.

I refrain from any comments on Vellacot.

My true joy came with Kelly Block's win. I think this woman is one of our best MPs and I am delighted that she was returned to office. The whole evening was a nail biter in this constituency. The NDP worked this area to death and I thought they might knock the Block off. Now, would someone explain to Wiebe about the three strikes rule, which she has now exceeded.
Nettie should hang up her spurs.

And we can all heave a sigh of relief that we will not have to deal with another Federal election for four years. Life is good - although some may not be feeling that well today as they feel the results of last night's celebrations or laments.

My final thoughts. Before the losers start with Harper getting a majority with only 40% of the popular vote, remember Layton got opposition leader status ith 70% of Canadians opposing him and with over half of his caucus coming out of a province that clearly sees itself as not being part of Canada.

Have a great day one and all.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub . . .

floating adrift in a sea of voter indecision. Today we see who will be washed up and who will be washed ashore.

Anyway you cut it, all three of the 'major' political parties should be examining their leadership.

If Harper can't pull off a majority after four elections, I suspect the Conservative Party should be looking at a new leader. Many whom I have spoken with state they like the Conservative agenda, but they don't like Harper. But who do they replace him with?

Ignatieff, although he dreams of leading the party into another election, has become the Liberals' nightmare. But who waits in the wings?

Layton, who would receive over-whelming support from his party to continue, has health issues that will he will have to consider in his future. And who could succeed him?

And dear old Gilles will be bouncing around in a rubber room wondering what in hell just happened to the Bloc in Quebec.

And I am no closer to making a decision on who to vote for than I was a month ago. I don't support any of the candidates in my constituency. Do you just hold your nose and vote for the party? What a helluva way to elect a government - vote against someone rather than for someone.

Perhaps this country has grown to the point that no party can garner support across the nation due to regional differences and disproportionate regional population numbers.

On that cheery note I am off to the polls.