Category Archives: politics

Pipelines are bad but this is okay?

Another dangerous crude oil spill in Illinois

A freight train loaded with crude oil derailed in northern Illinois on Thursday, bursting into flames and prompting officials to suggest that everyone with 1 mile evacuate, authorities said.

The BNSF Railway train derailed around 1:05 p.m. in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand. A cause for the derailment hadn’t yet been determined. No injuries were reported.

Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said at a news conference late Thursday, adding that the suggestion to evacuate was prompted by the presence of a propane tank near the derailment.

The derailment occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant. The Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the train was transporting oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region.

Earlier in the day, Moran said 8 tankers had left the track. But Williams said at the news conference that only six cars derailed, two of which burst into flames and continued to burn into the night.

Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They attempted to fight a small fire at the scene but were unable to stop the flames.

Firefighters had to pull back for safety reasons and were allowing the fire to burn itself out, Conley said. In addition to Galena firefighters, emergency and hazardous material responders from Iowa and Wisconsin were at the scene.

The derailment comes amid increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

Meanwhile Barack Obama continues to kill the Keystone XL pipeline.

Saskatoon City Council Meeting in Review

I haven’t done one of these in a long while but here are the highlights from today’s City Council meeting.

  • Both Pat Lorje and Zach Jeffries brought up the missing reports on the city council website.  Administration just kind of made up a reply and suggested they don’t have enough space to host all of them.  They are preparing a report on it and will present that to Council in April.  So yeah, administration was passive aggressive on the issue.
  • Now to be fair to administration, they scan stuff in the most inefficient way possible.  It is basically JPGs of paper reports converted to PDFs.  It means that the reports are often not searchable or indexed and are MASSIVE in size.  I am assuming that administration doesn’t have the space to host normal PDFs but it could be that they are handling these HULK sized PDFs. (“PDF Angry!  PDF SMASH!”).  Either way, disk space as an excuse is a weak one.
  • Eric Olauson brought up the issue of efficiencies for new businesses in getting set up in the city.  It’s a great point and Calgary has made some great progress.on streamlining processes in many areas of the city.  Administration seemed to shrug it off.  Hopefully Olauson keeps pushing for it.  I’ll just post this link to a Vox story that Olauson posted to Twitter last week.  I was hoping he would bring it up today.  It’s worth reading and would have made for an interesting debate considering Council voted to give Urban Systems a large contract to do what Houston did for free.  Of course the mandate for Urban Systems is larger than just transit.  In its mandate is all of active transportation (cycling, pedestrians, long boarding).  Some asked if there was much debate.  There wasn’t but with most of those kinds of things, the debate takes place once it comes back to Council.
  • Darren Hill asked the administration to take into account the impact city projects have on active transportation (walking, cycling, and long boarding).  I believe that if records were kept, Hill is Canada’s strongest long boarding advocate.
  • Olauson also brought up the issue that as a councillor gets complaints about an issue and it is kind of swept under the rug by admin who says, there is no issue.  As Olauson brought up, there is an issue because councillors keep hearing about it.
  • Clark brought this up twice but he called out the administration for using the term customer service in talking about citizens.  He essentially said that we are all in this together and City Hall needs to remember that.  It was a good thought.  Not that customer service is wrong but I am not a customer of City Hall but a resident of Saskatoon.  Clark later referenced that when he said that snow removal is an act of citizenship.
  • Ann Iwanchuk and Zach Jeffries both rose to talk about snow removal.  Both brought up the idea that we don’t want to punish people who are making a good effort or are on vacation.  I know what they are saying but isn’t that a responsibility of home ownership?  Shouldn’t you make arrangements or hire someone to shovel when you leave?  
  • I believe Pat Lorje was calling out City Centre Church for not shovelling their sidewalks.
  • Twitter feedback suggests that some neighbourhoods are way better at snow removal then others.  There seems to be some consensus that City Park is horrible at it.
  • There you go.  Short and almost sweet.  Councillors then retired upstairs where they had an executive meeting that was in-camera (closed door).

    A new attack ad from your Saskatchewan NDP

    Hey there is a new ad by the Saskatchewan New Democrats out.   I’ll leave my comments at this.  As an attack ad, it tries to do too much.  It should have been two ads.   The discussion as to where the money went, can be left for another day.

    Disclaimer: I generally hate all political ads. I liked the Daisy ad but that’s it.  I like long policy discussions with nuance.  I don’t think that has ever happened in a political ad so I am always disappointed in them.

    Spin City

    The old City of Saskatoon website had reached the end of it’s practical life.  It was designed by Zu back before these new fangled things called CMS’s existed and when hand coding HTML was a way of life and while they did a great job of it when it was launched, it was coded in part by Microsoft Frontpage 97 (having used Frontpage 97, you can’t imagine how painful that must have been).  The City of Saskatoon decided last year to get a new one.  After ridiculous comments by city councillors (looking at you Councillor Hill who suggested once that we get a website like Calgary’s for cheap once the prices came down), RFPs, consultations, leaked screen shots, a website promoting the new website, and much hype. it finally launched.

    It looks okay outside of some truly horrible font choices.  When I say, “okay” I sadly mean that it looks like it was powered by Joomla (which is was).  It is a lot faster then the old one but there were some problems.  The search feature doesn’t work because someone forgot to upload a new site map to Google Webmaster Tools so all of the old results are there.  Instead of forwarding all of those results to the matching pages on the new site, they left them there as dead links.

    Most troubling is that not all of the old content made it over from one site to the other.  Trimming content from a website is nothing new.  Companies do it all of the time.  Governments on the other hand rarely do it, even when they change parties.  I can find press releases and reports on the Government of Saskatchewan or even Government of Canada website going back to the launch of the internet.  Some governments have been aggressive in getting even older stuff online in a variety of searchable formats.  It takes time but in some jurisdictions you have access to an incredible amount of historical information and not all of it flattering.  Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg are all great examples of cities who have large expansive archives that share the good and the bad.

    With the launch of Saskatoon’s new website, we have lost a lot of that information.  The City Clerk’s portion of the website used to hold the reports, papers, and even articles related to Saskatoon’s history that were accessible nowhere else.  The City Clerk doesn’t even have a section on the new site.  Old archived videos and council agenda minutes and reports are gone.  They are supposed to be uploaded “soon” but why launch without the content that used to be there?

    After I wrote Councillor Darren Hill about this. Within a day of that, there was a note say that if you were looking for that information, you could ask the city for it. So I did.  I asked for all of it.  So far I have been promised that someone will be in touch.

    I could ask for it, because I knew about it but if you don’t know about those reports (last year I was sitting down with a City Councillor who had no idea that the City of Saskatoon had benchmark reports comparing us with other western Canadian cities), you won’t even know to get them.  That is why you have a city website with all sorts of information on it, so people can browse.  It is something that we have lost now and unless City Council puts their feet down, we won’t get it back.

    Why does this matter?  The City says that people rarely access those reports.  They could be right.  Maybe it was only Hilary and myself who poured through them (I know there were others) but they were there and gave anyone who cared enough to access them some insight into how the City of Saskatoon was run and the data, rules, and regulations that drove decisions (or in most cases, were ignored by councillors.  

    That information was commissioned by the City and now isn’t available to be browsed for really no reason.  It isn’t 1995.  The City of Saskatoon isn’t being hosted on the Saskatoon Free-Net or GeoCities.  They have more than a megabyte of storage to work with.  Actually if storage is a factor, then the City of Saskatoon has the most incompetent IT people in the world.

    Apparently us wanting to look at that information is part of the problem.  For long time readers of my blog and my column, I have used that information many times to praise or call out the city and their statements as being inaccurate.  I have written many times that I tend to cover Saskatoon City Council as I would a sports team.  I want them to do very well but when they don’t, we talk about that as well.  If council wants better coverage, do better things.  Instead of doing better things, the city is doing more and more to hide what it does.  I have said this many times but it is easier to find out what other cities are doing across Western Canada than it is to find out what Saskatoon is doing.  So what are we doing that is so secretive?

    The reason is that Saskatoon doesn’t care about transparency anymore.  It is all spin.  The City comes out and spins Standard and Poor’s financial rating report and at the same time tries to refute Phil Tank’s fair summary of it.  They do this without publishing the actual report.  This is the same City that had attack ads of its own Transit Union after it locked them out.  It is the same City Admin that underfunded roads for over a decade and then spent thousands on new decals for pylons that said, Building Better Roads.  Press releases went from informative to almost partisan sounding complete with meaningless quotes from politicians and city managers.

    Now we have a website that is the continuation of the same thing.  It is another tool in spin.  It may look good but everything is presented with City Hall’s slant on it.  As far as I can tell, everyone on council is fine with it.  Why wouldn’t they be fine with it, it communicates one thing and that is that everything is fine in the City of Saskatoon.  For those that used data or facts to disagree or point out inconsistencies, well that data is all gone.  To get it, you need to go through the city or file a costly Freedom of Information Act.

    This is the new Saskatoon.  Hope you like it.

    Eve Adam’s Floor Crossing

    There is nothing noble about Eve Adams floor crossing according to Murray Mandryk

    If you are looking for the slightest bit of nobility in Eve Adams’ decision to abandon Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and move to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, you would be well advised to quickly move on.

    About the kindest thing to be said is that it represents just the latest episode of self indulgence that has defined the soap opera political career of the Mississauga-Brampton South MP.

    Far worse, however, is that it’s this kind of cynical manoeuvre that feeds the public’s appetite to stay as far away from politics – and polling booths – as possible.

    Coincidentally, Adams’ sudden conversion to Liberalism comes after her failed bid to win a Conservative nomination in the newly redistributed Oakville-North Burlington seat. Adams wanted the seat not necessarily for reasons of having represented the people there. She has been in Oakville for only two years, but had lived in Mississauga for 14 years – seven of which she served on its city council. Oakville, however, is a much easier seat for a Conservative candidate to win.

    We are now supposed to believe that after a nasty nomination battle – in which Adams either started or gleefully engaged in the many skirmishes – she suddenly has recognized her problems with the Harper government over matters such as income splitting or, less specifically, its "values" and the PM’s "mean-spirited" leadership.

    "The values of the Conservative Party are not the values of the original Progressive Conservative Party and they are not the values that I hold," Adams said Monday, adding she now prefers Trudeau’s kinder, more optimistic style. "I want to work with someone who inspires, not with fear-mongers and bullies."

    What sheer and utter nonsense.

    Of course Mark Critch has some thoughts

    Mr. Trudeau just accepted somebody that Harper thought was too tainted to touch. Think about that for a second. Harper thought she was too dirty. That’s like Rex Murphy accusing someone of "loquaciously rambling in their discourse."

    The low point came when Adams met with the prime minister to beg him to spare her. Harper also said that Adams told him she had broken up with his former communications director, Dimitri Soudas. Harper then leaned forward and told her that he knew Mr. Soudas was sitting in the lobby waiting for her.

    Can you imagine that conversation? "Oh, did I say we broke up? Yeah, well, we’re not, like ‘BROKEN UP’ over. We’re more like ‘taking a break’ over. I mean, like, he thinks we go out but I’m so over him and, well, my Facebook status says ‘it’s complicated.’ You can totally check that."

    I’m actually relieved that the PM knew. When the Prime Minister’s Office was surprised that John Baird was leaving cabinet, I thought "What’s the good of having CSIS spy on everyone if Frank Magazine knows your foreign affairs minister is leaving before you do?"