Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A man of conscience?

MP Brad Trost questions the discipline meted out by his political party on members who hold differing views from the party's established policies and platform (SP Jan. 31/12.) While I might agree that vigorous debate is necessary during the development of policies, once that has occurred and the party majority votes on the issue, the rest of the party is required to support it, although some simply choose to remain silent after the fact. It is our parliamentary system. If a member simply can't abide the majority decision then he or she should leave the party, join another or become an independent. Former MP Jim Pankiw is an example.

Trost stated that he admired politicians of all stripes who have vote according to their conscience or the will of residents in their ridings rather than blindly following the national party line. That is more the republican system. The flaw in his agrument is that he may not be voting the "will or the residents." I live in his riding and have never been surveyed as to my position on abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, gay rights or any of his other issues. Nor have many others in this constituency.

I know of people in this riding who voted for Trost in the last election only to avoid the "orange crush" that the media was reporting was sweeping the country. Trost didn't mind standing under the party banner when it seemed to help his electoral opportunities. Although Trost attempted to re-open the abortion debate late in the election, Harper clearly stated that was not going to happen. If Trost is a man of conscience, why didn't he then step away from the party and run as an independent? And he doesn't seem to mind the backroom rule that other party members to not challenge an incumbent for the nomination.

I sincerely hope that Harper tosses Trost in the same fashion Pankiw was "released" from the Conservative party. Perhaps its that threat that has him bringing this matter forward.

As a resident of Saskatoon Humboldt I was embarassed to have Pankiw as a MP and I am equally embarassed to have Trost representing my constituency. And I say this as an independent.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Frying pan to the fire?

With our rapid expansion as a city, you would think that election of civic politicians would attract some bright, new talent wanting to lead us into the future. Instead all the old has-beens are lining up - and before anyone can say it - this has-been will not be one of them. I refer to Saturday's SP (Jan. 29/12) article on the list of Council hopefuls. Quennell, Atkinson, Swystun and Dayday are sending out feelers. I don't discount the work these folks did or appreciate their service. But I question why they are considering this move.

Council appears to be the trampoline for politicians. It is being used as a starting point by some to showcase themselves for a future run at the provincial and federal level. Over the last term we have paid for three by-elections, two of which were to replace Councillors who moved on to better personal scenarios. Some City Councillors have attempted to move on by running for positions at the provincial and federal levels without success. Now we have those leaving the provincial level and looking to bounce back at the civic level. This may be the ultimate in recycling.

Will we actually have candidates that are truly committed to serving the city rather than themselves and their own aspirations? Perhaps we should have something in place that penalizes those who leave mid-term for any reason other than necessary personal circumstances - like you get to pay for the by-election.

Its early yet and more will come out to play I hope. But given the current list, the status quo, sad to say, may be looking good.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pandora's Box

I heard on CBC this morning that former Mayor Henry Dayday is strongly considering running for the Mayor's Chair in this year's civic election. I expect after this bomb dropped anyone else considering the position will have to come out quickly.

I like the idea of competition in an election if for no other reason than it forces dialogue.

However, should no one else come out of the woodwork, where will your vote go?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The gods are crazy

To suggest that the population of this city should double and to do so within the current city footprint leaves me feeling that Saskatoon's leaders may be drinking something other than water at City Hall.

I'm not opposed to growth. I understand the cost of urban sprawl on every level. I know their is a need to utilize existing properties to create affordable accommodation. I don't want to become the next Calgary or Toronto with all its sprawl issues. But I also don't want to become Hong Kong.

I would like balance and a plan that accommodates both the new and old. You can do in-fill development without destroying what already exists. And you can have expansion.

My son lives in downtown Calgary in multi-dwelling complex. They''ve enjoyed the concrete jungle and all its lifestyle. As they age and consider having a family they are looking to get out the core and for a home to raise a family in. They are heading out to the 'burbs and part of what they need is access to the C-train. They can't fathom living in a box and having a bird's eye view of the other boxes for the rest of their lives.

I haven't obtained a copy of this planning report yet but the news report (SP Jan. 25/12) left me feeling sick thinking of what's to come.

Worse yet is having the Mayor use this plan to justify if spending extravagances.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thanks for the legacy

In today's SP (Jan. 24/12) it was reported that S&P granted the city its AAA credit rating for all the usual reasons - the economy, strong cash and liquidity levels - but with a long-term review pending due to the high amount of borrowing from a very large capital program.

The next article notes that the City will be increasing its line of credit to $100 million, up from $60 million, in order to pay for some of the borrowing on major construction projects. One of the projects without identified funding in the Major Capital Projects document is the city yards and transit headquarters ($200 million.) We don't know yet where the other $100 million will sourced. This is money over and above the already planned debt of $310 million listed in the projects document.

With planned debt of $310 million for 2013 and pending debt of $200 million, we taxpayers will be in the hole to the tune of $510 million and counting.

Does anybody care?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lights, camera, action

I support the concept of camera surveillance use for police (SP Jan. 23/12.) It will go a long way in abetting police in dealing with the criminal element and/or allegations of police wrong doing. It may also curb a momentary urge by some police officers to use excessive force on any citizen.

Several years back I went on a police ride-a-long. At first I thought I would only see police on their best, rather than normal, behaviour. During the course of the tour I came to realize, as a result of this officer's interaction with the public, that his best behaviour was also his normal behaviour. I also witnessed the abuse heaped on police by some of the seedy residents of our city - and the futility they experience in doing their job.

As this program unfolds there will also have to be sanction ordered for those officers who "forget" to activate their camera when stopping a citizen. This door has to swing both ways.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jack be nimble . . .

It is hard for me to accept Jack Grover's defence of "altruism" as a reason for operating slum housing (SP Jan. 19/12.) His claim of trying to help people in need of affordable housing rings false, particularly given his history.

For him to lay fault with the firefighters for not getting the victim out is outrageous. Firefighters put themselves at risk the moment they enter a burning building. When the building becomes unstable the must exit and contain the fire from spreading. The man who knocked on doors to get all the other tenants out of the building is a hero. Our hero could have done what Grover himself did, which was exit the building and not putting himself a risk to save others. I hope this hero is acknowledged for his bravery.

As a landlord it is Grover's responsibility to ensure the smoke detectors are working. If the drug addict that he was renting to was disabling the detectors he should have evicted him from the premises. He had a duty and responsibility to his other tenants to safe guard them from the errant tenant.

What this article did not focus on was the fact that Grover put hotplates into these rooms when he was not permitted to and it was one of those hotplates that apparently started the fire. A man lost his life and many others lost everything they owned because their landlord failed in his duty to them. Grover on the other hand was raking in about $7,000 a month, if not more.

Now Grover wants out of the rental business and to volunteer his time helping the homeless. I would suggest the homeless have a better chance at survival without his help.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Museum pieces

In today's SP (Jan. 17/12) there is an article about the sale of medals and memorabilia items that once belonged the the late Tommy Douglas. The retired solider who has raised the issue is appalled and angry that none of our MLAs seem to be interested in having the province buy this back as Saskatchewan heritage artifacts.

The medals and memorabilia would have belonged to Douglas' family after his death and presumably it is they that put the articles up for auction. Yet this man is angry at the province for not purchasing same. If they were that important the family would have donated them to a provincial museum. Or perhaps the owners of Tommy Douglas House should have taken them for preservation and display.

I think this old solkier is venting his anger in the wrong direction.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Desperate times, desperate measures

Being a fly on the wall in some of the back room meetings at the Liberal convention in Ottawa last week would have made for some interesting listening.

I'm pretty sure that the party's stance on legalizing marijuana is intended to lure young voters into the Liberal fold. But I'm also pretty sure is will drive senior voters away in droves.

The debate on the monarchy will do about the same. I get the sense that most voters are ambivalent about the Royal Family. But again, many seniors are tied to the monarchy and many Canadians admire the Queen - and are smitten with the Will and Kate.

Although I think any party is wise to open up voting for the leadership to its membership, the idea of opening up voting to anyone who swears they support the party is an open invitation to the opposition to involve itself and skew the result.

I expect as this drama unfolds it will generate much media attention and in politics the old saw is "Bad press is better than no press."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hit the road Jack

Once again one of Jack Grover's rentals is involved in a fire death. Whether he was aware of a fire alarm being dismantled or not, he rented bedrooms furnished with hotplates which was in breach of conditions as the rooms were to be rented for sleeping quarters only with no cooking allowed (SP jan. 13/12.) Given his history I would have hoped that spot inspections would have been done to ensure he was complying with the condition.

This tradegy brings to the forefront the rental problems in this city. I was more than surprised to read that tenants were paying $450 a month for a bedroom with a hot plate and bar fridge. I suspect the maze of bedrooms was not kept in pristine condition. Grover would have pulled in $4,000 a month on these bedrooms alone plus whatever he received for the main floor suites. That should be more than sufficient revenue to properly maintain and operate this building.

How do you put a man like Grover out of the rental business? Sending him to jail simply means he hires someone to manage the properties while taxpayers pay for his keep. I just don't understand the greed that drives men like Grover.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stay healthy

After reading in this mornings paper (SP Jan. 12/12) the Conference Board of Canada's forecast for our continued growth, I read the article on hospitals and patient care. While I followed with interest the development of the city's infrastructure and amenities, it didn't cross my mind that our medicare services were not keeping pace with our population growth.

With the exception of City Hospital, our two other facilities are antiquated and in need of major repairs and up-grades. Although the province is trying to get a handle on patient wait lists, it will still need to deal with the old facilities and issues around staffing. I hope they won't wait until we hit the wall.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spoon fed pap

The Library Board had best not cancel its late return fines policy because it is going to take a lot of quarters to pay a more than $50 million dollar debt. I give credit to library director, Zenon Zuzak, for his honesty in stating the planned budget of $50 million will probably be higher given current market constructions prices (SP Jan. 11/12.)

While it's true the city has doubled in size since the construction of the current central library in 1966, it should also be mentioned that in that era branch libraries in new neighbourhoods were not the norm. Nor did we have online booking and e-books.

What I hate most is the spoon feeding of these announcements. First we had the library survey to let us know about the user rate of the library. Today its having the library take the police station property and soon to follow will be City Hall taking the central library space to expand its growing operations. Couldn't we just get the whole package laid out with a price tag attached?

It is time to remember that come 2013 we will have debt of $310 million on major projects before we add on the library, relocation of the bus barns and city yards, City Hall expansion, transit mall, roadway rehabilitation and, and, and . . .when does this end?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bottoms up!

No wonder the job of House of Commons Speaker is a stiff competition. Not only do you get a residence and chauffeur, you get to choose the scotch you will drink and serve over your term (SP Jan. 10/12.)

This relatively new tradition, adopted from Britain in 2003 by retired Speaker Peter Milliken, is a pretty nice perk if you are a scotch drinker - and I will assume if your not a scotch drinker when you started in office, you will be when you leave.

To the credit of current Speaker, Andrew Scheer, he didn't go for the cheap stuff or the most expensive libation. And he did do the selection democratically by inviting House members to a tasting and let them cast a vote.

Apparently House Members can buy this gift, and get is signed by the Speaker, for a mere $75 a bottle. Not knowing the liquor board price for this scotch, I want to assume that price includes the heavy tax placed on booze. He also states the initiative is a full cost recovery, save for the nominal label costs, and that House Members buy it out of pocket - although I'm not sure whose pocket he's talking about.

I don't expect to receive this gift bottle from my MP, or to be invited to the Speaker's residence for a nip. I'll just watch for snoozing MPs and figure out for myself who is on the guest list.

Only in Ottawa.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blown away

I admit I was blown away with the news report (SP Jan. 7/12) that the wind turbine project was to be put on hold - even more so for the reason that the project was coming in over budget. I can't think of one other project that got cancelled for that reason. This is what I like about election years - politicians become more cognizant of voter opinions.

What is most irksome is that the City spent $500,000 before coming to this juncture. The budget for the project would have been developed during the consulting process. And the only bid on the project came from the company that did much of the consulting work. You would think this company would have known the prices and advised accordingly while billing for the advice.

Perhaps its face-saving, but to have the folks from Saskatoon Light and Power maintain that they still believe that the landfill is best location for a wind turbine, despite the expert report from the Research Council saying the site was marginal, has to make me question the wisdom of this administrative advice.

There is more blowing in this project than wind.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Never a borrower or a lender be

I was pleased to read the province introduced the Payday Loans Act. I admit to not being a big supporter of pawn shops, money marts and the like, but I have come to understand for those in desperate need they are a necessity.

I have a special distaste for pawn shops. While on Council, at the request of the police, the operations of these businesses was reviewed. Police found that too many stolen articles were being sold through these shops. I toured many of them and became horribly depressed when seeing kids' toys and bikes had been pawned for pennies. I couldn't wrap my head around how anyone could be so desperate for $5 or $10 that they would sell off toys.

I also discovered that a big market was construction workers pawning their tools for the weekend and then looking to employers for salary advances so they could redeem them for work the following week.

I'm not sure that posting the fees through large signage so customers can shop around will make any difference. I was led to believe that once a relationship is established between the business and it's customer, the customer is pretty much hooked. And anyone that desperate for money probably isn't shopping for best rates - only quick cash.

Although 23 per cent still seems outrageous, I would guess anything lower than that would see some of these businesses reducing service. Then again, many credit card companies charge far higher rates and get away with it.

Maybe money is the root of all evil.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The race is on

We welcome the new year with Mayor Atch's announcement that he will seek re-election in the 2012 civic election. No great surprise. Given the lack of interest in the position I suspect it will be much like the provincial election with a foregone conclusion.

The provincial economy is booming. Even Mother Nature has lined up in support - there will be a budget surplus in snow clearing and removal.

It would appear that the only issue we have is affordable housing. The solution to that problem is developing another 10,000 housing lots. The fact that lots are priced on average at $150,000 each is not a concern. Why? Because we are not in a boom time - this is our new norm. The good times are here to stay.

If for no other reason than optimism, Don will carry the year ahead.