Contextless Saskatoon City Council Thoughts

1.  I have been asked many times lately if I am running for public office.  The answer is never.  Seriously, I am never running for office so stop asking.  I don’t take politicians seriously and I find myself laughing at many of their first world politician problems.  I could never do it.  Well I could but it would in the same way The Onion covers the world news.  Then again can you do a Ralph Klein and not drink?  I don’t think you can and I don’t drink.

2.  There will be a interesting races for Saskatoon City Council.  If Randy Donauer and Eric Olauson win, that will create vacancies in Ward 5 and 8.  If Charlie Clark runs for Mayor, that opens up Ward 6.  At one time I thought because of the transit lockout that Ann Iwanchuk might be vulnerable but that has come and gone and no one cared so her seat is safe.  Yes I hear rumours that this person is running or that person is running but during the last election I heard that I was a part of slate of candidates that Darren Hill was running.  If there was a slate, I wasn’t on it.

2a.  As for by-elections for Donauer’s seat (if he wins) whoever wins that would be kind of vulnerable because of a lack of time they would have to establish themselves.  I think as Mairin Loewen and Ann Iwanchuk showed, it also means that your campaign machine is still ready to go.  It could even be an advantage.  Although I doubt anyone who has to run back to back campaigns would think of it as an advantage.

3.  I was really uncomfortable seeing both Eric Olauson, Randy Donauer and Troy Davies bill the City of Saskatoon $700 each for the Mayor’s Cultural Gala. (the report is here)  Not only did they charge their tickets but also for their dates.  I know it’s not against the rules but since that is the case, something is wrong with the rules.  That is taxpayers money for what is largely an evening out.  It was also the eve of locking out the transit workers and causing a lot of hardship for a lot of people.  The optics of it are horrible and in Olauson and Donauer’s case, it really damages thei credibility as a fiscal hawk when he is lined up at the taxpayers trough.  Do as I say, not as I do.

3a.  I was also uncomfortable glancing at the 2013 expenses and seeing Troy Davies submit a bill for a Synergy 8 event, a charity he helped found.    It’s only $75 but it is an event his organization put together.  I am not saying it is against the rules (apparently it isn’t), I am just shocked we allow that kind of thing.  It is like council voted themselves a social fund and all them are using it.

4.  Speaking of fundraisers, apparently your city councillor doesn’t really want to support your cause as they billed a lot of fundraisers big and small to the city.  If they don’t want to go, why go and why charge the taxpayers for it?  How can this not be against the rules?  It looks like we are paying them to go to social events to be seen.  This is called campaigning.  Why is this allowed? Look at who wrote them.

5.  I am also a bit disgusted with taxpayers paying for councillor domain names and hosting.  I have long said that a system like darrenhill.saskatoon.ca or anniwanchuk.saskatoon.ca would work for councillor sites at a cost of nothing to the city.  Not only do we pay (a lot) for domain hosting and registration but then those same domains are used as election tools which are essentially promoted by taxpayer money during their time in office.   Again, not allowed in other many other cities but here we are, allowing it here.  Of course some the expenses are high because I think that some are being taken advantage of.  When I mean, some, that is us again.

6.  Take a look at Darren Hill’s travel expenses for 2014.  I love that he included a trip that did not cost taxpayers money.  Next year I want him to submit a line in there for a Slurpee that someone bought for him.  It actually makes some sense.  He travels for SUMA and to avoid the perception he is flying on our money, he reminds us that he flew on someone else’s money.  Still, I want to see a comped Slurpee in there.

7.  Even weirder in the expenses is that all councillors have to submit a line by line expense report while the mayor submits a lump sum?  Someone explain that to me.  Yes the majority of his expenses go to pay Richard Brown.  That is fine and I have no problems with that but why not be transparent with the rest of your expenses.  If you don’t have anything to hide, then why not make it available.  If you do have something to hide, why submit the expense.  It’s really weird that we have one standard for councillors and one for the mayor.    At executive committee, he was asked to provide a breakdown on his expenses, he said he would “consider it”.  Transparency in action folks.

7a. It reminds me of the issue around the Mayor publishing his schedule.  Other Mayors do it and it is both really interesting and really boring but it is done to show who is lobbying the mayor.  After saying he would not do this because his day-timer was bought with his own money (and totally missing the point), he did it once leading up to the last election and hasn’t done it since.

7b.  When I bring up transparency and accountability with councillors, they generally tell me that other councils are worse in some area.  I agree.  Look at Winnipeg.  It may be worse in all areas.  Yet what happened to aspiring to be the best at something or the most transparent?   Seriously why wouldn’t the Mayor want his expenses broken down or his schedule published?   Other politicians do it and somehow democracy survives.

8.  So on one extreme is Toronto where mayoral campaigns debate every hour or so (I kept expecting Chow, Ford, and Tory to show up at the Rook and Raven one night to debate) to the Saskatoon example of one debate.  I would love to see a middle ground (slanted heavily towards the Saskatoon model) of 3 to 5 debates on different issues.  I’d watch a debate on the future of downtown, poverty issues on the westside, urban planning, and transportation/transit.  I wonder if we can make that happen for this election.  I’d also love to see a debate over a beverage and wings.  Something casual where tough policy questions are asked and candidates are given time to answer.  I may be the only one who is there.  Well me and the city councillors because they can expense their meal, their parking, and their mileage….

9.  If Randy Donauer loses his federal election, I can’t see it hurting a re-election bid in Ward 5.  Darren Hill was destroyed when he ran federally and was re-elected handily in Ward 1.  I am told by all candidates that a local campaign is worth about 3% in terms of winning votes.  If you blow a close campaign, you blame yourself but at least you got close, you get blown out, chances are it’s the party leader or platform (or a really unpopular federal/provincial govt).

10.  Everyone asks me about if Pat Lorje can win again in Ward 2 which is odd since I live in Ward 1 (no one is voting for her in my ward I know that!)  Professor Dave McGrane called the leak thing “inside baseball” which means that it is really important to politicos and the media but not that important to voters.  My take is that it will enrage those that won’t vote for her.  I think the bigger danger for any long term incumbent is the population growth and change in the ward.  If enough new people come in, then for all intents and purposes, you lose the advantages of incumbency.

11.  Personally I think Lorje is vulnerable to a Karl Rove strategy of running against a candidates strengths which is a strong base in Montgomery and Caswell  A campaign that was about the noise from South Circle Drive, failure to stop the wind turbine, the new apartments that Montgomery hated, the new location of the city yards, lack noise walls along tracks, 33rd Street widening, and crime in Caswell.  Instead of trying to get voters to come out in King George, you try to keep her voters from voting.  You saw it in Alberta.  A lot of Progressive Conservative voters stayed home and that hurt them in close races.  It’s a lot easier said that done but I’d expect a couple of candidates to run, especially one from the businesses on 20th Street.

12. I love the debate going on between Toronto Chief City Planner Jen Keesmat and Mayor John Tory.  Two different visions of the Gardiner Expressway (Keesmat is right) but they are able to co-exist.  This is what you get when you have a strong independent city planner.  Saskatoon’s has always been part of the City Hall administration which as the city grows, it may be beneficial for more independence rather then the “one voice” strategy that now exists in City Hall.

13. I don’t get the lawsuit for the South Circle Drive delays against Stantec construction.  It says that Stantec didn’t supervise the project closely enough and therefore it was delayed.  Umm, then who from the city was supervising Stantec and are they responsible?  Why wasn’t Stantec replaced (or penalized) when things started to go bad?  Of course there are some other lawsuits that are happening with other developers.  Do we not have the capacity in the city to even tender out and supervise the projects we need?  I’d love to hear the other sides from this.

13a.  When you don’t hire FTEs like councillors Olauson and Donauer hate, you have to hire outside companies like Stantec which not only cost much more money but also lack accountability.  You aren’t saving money by cutting FTEs you are costing the city more.

14. The city has a problem with 15% vacancy rate downtown (that doesn’t include the old police station).  Where is City Council on this.  A strong downtown is important to all us but I haven’t heard anything from City Admin, Council, or even SREDA.  Is there a plan being executed to help with it?  Do they disagree that it is a problem?  Is there even a plan to fix it?

15. I can’t get excited about the glut of hotels.  A couple of years ago Tourism Saskatoon was saying that the lack of hotels was a major problem for the city.  Now we have a glut which happens when you have a boom, developers from all over scramble to build, especially in areas like the airport business area.  Then there is a glut and that will remain until our population grows again and there is a shortage.  The good news?  Our hotel rates will finally be closer to Calgary’s rather than Manhattans.

Okay, those are just some random thoughts I have been thinking.  Let me know if you agree or disagree with them below.

Defense Secretary Carter: Iraq’s forces showed ‘no will to fight’ Islamic State

From the Washington Post

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Iraqi forces "showed no will to fight" as the Islamic State militant group captured the city of Ramadi, and he rejected calls by Republican lawmakers to commit ground troops to the conflict.

"What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," Carter said in a CNN interview that aired Sunday. "They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves." The Islamic State is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

How much did the US spend training Iraqi troops?

Why Iraq is America’s new Vietnam

From the Star

“If you break it, you own it,” warned U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George W. Bush just before the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

Powell knew that the president had no clue what unpredictable forces he was about to unleash. Bush now knows. We all do.

As we witness the inexorable, slow-motion collapse of Iraq in the face of viciousIslamic State extremists, let’s remember Powell’s private caution to Bush: “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You’ll own it all.”

This has been an awful week in the troubled history of Iraq. The stunning seizure last Sunday night of the pivotal provincial capital of Ramadi by Islamic State fighters took everyone by surprise.

Until last weekend, the United States and Iraqi view was that ISIS rebels were on the defensive and that Iraq’s questionable military had learned to hold its ground. But at Ramadi, even though they outnumbered the rebels, Iraqi soldiers abandoned the city in the face of the ferocious attack. Many of the ISIS fighters were equipped with American weapons captured earlier from fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

Once again, the debacle has called into question the country’s future as a unitary state. Not only is the Iraqi military’s will to win in doubt, but the Iraqi government is also showing itself to be divided and inept. As for the Americans, whose military intervention has been limited to largely ineffective air strikes, their strategy to “defeat” ISIS is floundering.

However, it is not as if these Islamic State jihadists, who are now roaming freely in Iraq and Syria, were invented out of thin air. They have a history.

They are largely the remnants of the Al Qaeda movement operating for years in Iraq, as well as veterans from Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Shortly after the Americans deposed Hussein, the U.S. foolishly disbanded Iraq’s Baath army. It was a move that put more than 200,000 angry young men out of work. Is it a surprise that many of them are now are working for ISIS?

Paul Krugman says the invasion of Iraq was criminal.

Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.

Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.

Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.

On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.

But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.

So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.

My Day Bag

Outside Magazine had their list of essentials that should be in everyone’s day bag.  You know the bag you have if you are off for a day trip and you don’t know where or the day will end.

Here is mine.

15 litre backpack. 

Swiss Gear Backpack

You know it’s the same size of bag that you use for carrying your laptop or your bags to school.  It’s big enough to take everything with you but small enough to casually carry over your shoulder or toss in the back of a car.  Wendy, Mark and I all have something similar.  They are always ready and packed for use at a moments notice.  You probably already have one laying around.

We don’t stress over the bag.   The best place to get them is Wal-Mart or Bentley when they are on sale.  It doesn’t need to be amazing, it just needs to hold your stuff and be ready when you are.

Ricoh WG-30 camera

Ricoh WG-30W Adventure Camera

16 megapixels, waterproof, crush proof, HD video and made for adventures.  Make sure you toss a 32 GB card in it and have a backup battery.  I have a silicon case to protect mine and a Pentax camera case to keep the extra batteries.  It’s not the best camera on the market but it is a perfect camera to always have on you on every adventure.

Gerber Ripstop I Knife:

Gerber Ripstop I Knife

I always travel with a multi-tool so this is just for times when I need a small blade (I hate using the blade on a multi-tool).  It’s only 3 ounces which is light enough to toss in and forget about it until you really need it.  Plus, you are going on a day trip, not doing a combat tour. Leave the fixed blade, serrated edge, hardened metal knife at home with your camping gear.

Having crossed into the U.S. border many times with a knife in my bag or vehicle, it is a lot easier to say to a border official, “I have a small jack knife in my bag” than a hunting one.  It is a lot less questions about who or what you plan to hunt.

Multi-tool

I own some great multi-tools but my favourite one is a generic one that I got for $10 at Wal-Mart.  It has multiple tools, grips that don’t hurt my hands and has lasted several adventures and crisis around the home.  You can pay more than $20 but at the end of the day, mine has lasted me really well and there are all sorts of ones to choose from.  If you are determined to get a high end multi-tool, you can do no better then the Leatherman CX Skeletool.  At a mere 5 ounces, it is the lightest multi-tool on the market.  One word of warning, it’s blade comes out of the packaging really, really sharp.   Rub your finger across it and you are bleeding all over your new multi-tool.

Moleskine Notebook and Pen

What do you do if you come across a great idea in the middle of a road trip?  Share it with your friends knowing that haters going hate.  Or do you write it down like Henry David Thoreau would do?  You know the answer.  Grab yourself a decent notebook and a Parker Urban Roller Ball pen.

Extra socks

Something cotton and goes with both shorts or khakis.   Get the Mens Merino Wool Hiking Crew Socks.  If your socks or feet get wet from water or sweat, it makes for an uncomfortable day.  Instead pack a pair of these amazing socks in your pack and change when you need to.  They are perfect for getting you through your day and good looking enough to get you through the evening.   Of course you probably have a pair of socks you have already you can use.

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Van Heusen Men’s Short Sleeve Oxford Dress Shirt

Van Heusen Men's Short Sleeve Oxford Dress Shirt

This is something to wear once your day of adventure is done.  Whether you are going out for a nice dinner, meeting up with some friends or just want to feel good on the trip home, this is the shirt you toss on.  It’s wrinkle resistant, comfortable, and has a timeless and classy look to it.

BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard with $250 on it

BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard

Your bank may or may not have a similar option but for $10 a year, you can get a BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard.  It works just like a regular MasterCard but it is prepaid.  You can add money to it from an ATM or if you are a BMO member, it is linked to your account.  If you have an emergency, you can pay for a motel room, a tow, or grab a meal no matter how bad it gets.

Since it is prepaid, there is no interest or debt to pay back later.

So what is in your day bag?

America’s Bias Against the Common Good

From the New Yorker

There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom “bi-partisan” centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.

What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest—and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.

What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you’ll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.

The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life—what Olmsted called our “commonplace civilization.”

Part of this, of course, is the ancient—and yet, for most Americans, oddly beclouded—reality that the constitutional system is rigged for rural interests over urban ones. The Senate was designed to make this happen, even before we had big cities, and no matter how many people they contain or what efficient engines of prosperity they are. Mass transit goes begging while farm subsidies flourish.

Explains the bias against public transit in places like, you know, Saskatoon.

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