Excellent short video by NDP leader Cam Broten
Broten is right on with these issues and I am going to suggest that the problem is even worse than what he says. I am glad he is paying attention to them.
A weblog about urbanism, technology, & culture.
Some thoughts from Charlie Clark on Saskatoon’s property tax ratio and why he is against changing it.
While the ink is barely dry on the Flat Tax debate – we are back into a discussion on taxation with the Administration’s proposal to further reduce the amount that businesses pay in tax in comparison to homeowners by shifting the tax burden from one to another. The proposal is to move our ‘tax ratio’ (the amount of tax a commercial entity pays compared to a residential property) from 1.75 to 1.43.
In real terms – moving from a 1.75 to a 1.43 tax ratio would means reducing business taxes by $6.9 million/year and adding them on to homeowner’s taxes. I have certainly not been getting the message lately that homeowners are enthusiastic about tax increases – especially if there is nothing tangible to show for the increase. $6.9million is about 2/3 of our road maintenance budget, 3x our street sweeping budget, or 3/4 of our snow clearing budget.
I frankly remain a bit dumbfounded as to how this debate has gotten this far at this time in Saskatoon. A quick survey of other provinces and municipalities shows that we are already way on the low end of the spectrum with this 1.75 ratio. Calgary’s ratio is 4.09, Edmonton’s ratio is 3.01, Vancouver’s ratio is 4.84, Victoria’s ratio is 3.66 and Banff’s ratio is 6.0! On top of this as I have pointed out before, Saskatoon has been rated the most tax-competitive Municipality in the country to do business, most recently by a 2012 KPMG report.
It is very important that we do what we can to build a strong City that has the conditions for businesses to succeed. As I travel the City the main concerns I am hearing from people in the business community have to do with the condition of our roads, growing traffic congestion, and other infrastructure challenges.
City Council has been struggling to find the means to pay for the costs of getting our roads back into shape – and providing better basic services such as street sweeping, lane maintenance, water main repair, snow clearing – all services that reflect on the City and affect businesses ability to operate. At this point we are doing well on the tax-competitiveness front – we need to ensure that we build a City that has a good quality of life and good services that attract talent and companies to set up and expand here. Raising taxes on home-owners without adding more services only eats into our ability to raise revenues that we need to deal with the challenges of a growing City. The cost/benefit analysis on this one is completely unpersuasive and I will be voting against.
Its weird. You listen to Calgary and Edmonton’s business community and while taxes are a factor, they are well down on their list of priorities of things they want the city to do. Even Regina has looked at our (lower) tax rate and yawned. It’s not what attracts businesses to cities and almost every urbanist, economist, and politician outside of the City of Saskatoon agrees with that. Glad to see Coun. Clark take a stand on this issue.
OTTAWA – The NDP is steamed about media attention lathered on Justin Trudeau and a party that fell out of public favour over the sponsorship scandal while the official opposition struggles to get ink.
The Liberal leader puts a bong in the window and stumps to tax pot and he’s suddenly prime ministerial after the last guy behind the wheel drove the party into the history books with the worst electoral showing ever, they say.
New Democrats can point to a summer tweet by Trudeau about his wife’s pregnancy that made the front page as another example of adoration.
The Liberals are betting the farm on their leader’s popularity.
Privately, New Democrats grumble about the media love-in and why news outlets don’t press the third-place party and expose its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
The NDP spent the summer often being the only opposition party to challenge the Conservatives – its news releases flooding media inboxes and its critics standing before microphones.
Thomas Mulcair spent the better part of the House recess rolling out ideas and initiatives and teeing off on Senate spending abuses.
“When you go into a scrum and look at the body language of the reporters there, they act like groupies. It’s fascinating to watch,” a party official said about Trudeau’s extended honeymoon since his anointment in April.
Other New Democrats are optimistic that interest in Trudeau is waning and that next week’s resumption of Parliament after a month-long prorogation will remind Canadians why the Grits sit in a corner in the Commons.
Pro tip: Winning political parties also don’t allow process stories like this to be written.
Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.
It began badly enough in 2008 when scientists working for Environment Canada, the federal agency, were told to refer all queries to departmental communications officers. Now the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Journalists find themselves unable to reach government scientists; the scientists themselves have organized public protests.
There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.
Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.
It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.
This is what happens when you spend too much time watching video of Saskatoon City Council debates.
We have a great exchange here between the Mayor and city finance administration on why a flat tax is more regressive then an increase in property taxes. The mayor is kind of arguing anecdotally that people who live in expensive homes, aren’t making the most amount of money. It is true in some situations; Warren Buffet lives modestly in Omaha and the CEO of Costco lives in a simple bi-level house but statistically, people live in the biggest home they can afford.
The boat and RV argument is a weird one for me because once you do there, you can’t really go stop at just boats and RVs. Do you start to take into consideration the value of cars, golf clubs, baseball card collections or books. I spend a lot of money on books and technology so should I pay more city taxes?
Our Mayor lives at the Willows which will pay more under a property tax increase than those living in Westview will. Undoubtably he is hearing about it from his neighbours and his largely suburban electoral base who wants to pay less for roads. It’s either that or he just doesn’t understand the concepts around basic taxation. Take your pick.
Of course al valorem taxes are regressive because it isn’t based on income but it’s less regressive than a base tax which targets everyone equally regardless of income. In Saskatoon’s case, it means that 85% of households would pay more under a flat tax and the wealthiest 15% would pay less.
This portion on the September 9th Saskatoon City Council debate on the flat tax is disturbing on so many levels. As you can see in the video clip above, the Mayor is talking about how he doesn’t see the City having a role in wealth redistribution and then goes on to mention affordable home ownership; which is a city run wealth distribution program as money is raised by the Land Bank selling lots at market value and then funnelled into affordable housing and attainable home ownership programs.
Then he launches into the city not using ad volarem for super pipes and doesn’t quite realize that it is only a $2 fee. Recycling mean while is a fee for service (which is only $4.66 a month). Finally he gets into the part when he says the people he care the most about are the seniors. I know what he is saying but there are a lot of people on the west side of the city (that don’t vote for him) that have not benefitted from the economic expansion in Saskatoon and they would be badly hurt by a base tax as well. So by somehow wanting to keep them in their homes, he plans on taxing them more.
If you listen to the end, you will hear Coun. Darren Hill challenge the mayor on his suggestions that those who are in favour of Ad Volarem taxes are forcing seniors out of their homes (which is wrong on multiple levels, especially since most low income seniors would pay less taxes under Ad Volarem than under a base tax) and the Mayor denying and demanding an apology.
Yet it seemed to have some council members unduly flummoxed, particularly Mayor Don Atchison whose convoluted argument in support of the base tax included insisting that it’s not up to the city to redistribute wealth and claiming that increasing the property tax threatens to throw widows out on the street.
The first part of that argument is clear: The city is responsible for providing services such as maintaining the streets. If charging a ratepayer whose property is assessed to be worth $50,000 the same $170 that is charged to someone whose property is assessed at $1.8 million, well, that’s just fair.
But the second argument appeared to be a non sequitur that contradicts the first. It strayed into wondering why more lowincome seniors haven’t taken advantage of a city program that would allow them to defer payment of tax increases and allow that money to eat into the value of their homes.
The mayor’s argument was so convoluted that it devolved into a painful-towatch war of words with Coun. Darren Hill, who insisted that his rejection of the proposed base tax wasn’t meant to deprive widows of their homes.
“That’s not what I said and I demand an apology,” Atchison replied.
Well, I apologize because, like Hill, that’s what I heard.
Attaching a flat tax that would require 85 per cent of civic ratepayers to pay more in relation to the value of their homes so the remaining 15 per cent – including commercial properties valued in the millions – won’t have to face increases clearly would have a detrimental impact not only on hardpressed seniors on fixed incomes but also on the vast majority of citizens.
In case you are wondering, I downloaded the MP4 of the entire council meeting (40 minutes), imported all four hours of video into iMovie (45 minutes), watched it (kill me now), and then edited some interesting clips and uploaded them to the OurYXE YouTube Channel. I keep hearing from people who are interested in Council stuff but have no desire to watch hours of it. Hopefully this will make some of the debates easier to get into. Of course it almost makes it a lot easier to blog about.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” if that is what’s needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America’s heartland, CBC News has learned.
Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.
The letter, sent in late August, is a clear signal Canada is prepared to make concessions to get the presidential permit for TransCanada Corp.’s controversial $7-billion pipeline, which will connect the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Texas.
Liberals, you see, are quite sure every Canadian is a Liberal whose vote was stolen by Conservative skullduggery in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011. Canadians, in this view, think marijuana use is harmless fun, and they will blame politicians who want to harsh the national buzz. So a Liberal friend of mine was genuinely surprised when she plunked herself down behind the Liberal party table at a local community event and got her ear bent by voters, many of them from immigrant communities, asking why Trudeau was soft on drugs.Ja
The realization that many Canadians believe illegal drugs should stay illegal is one surprise awaiting the Liberals. Another is that a lot more Canadians have complex, conflicting or frankly hypocritical views on drug policy— but that it’s not drug policy that will determine their next vote. Millions will vote based on their best guess about which party will best ensure a strong economy whose bounties improve their own life and their family’s. And Justin Trudeau just spent a month talking about something else.
This is something else that Liberals cannot understand: the notion that most Canadians are no longer properly grateful for the work Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did to clean up deficits in the 1990s. In fact, a growing number of Canadians, even the ones who don’t smoke a lot of pot, have dim memories of the 1990s or none at all.
This helps explain a Harris-Decima poll from the end of August that inquired about respondents’ opinions of the national political parties. Trudeau’s net favourable impression is way higher than Harper’s and a fair bit higher than NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s. Respondents were likelier to believe Trudeau “shares your values.” He’s having a strong year in the polls. But Harper still has a slight edge over both Trudeau and Mulcair on “judgment,” and on “economic management” it was a blowout: 39 per cent prefer Harper to only 20 per cent for Trudeau and 15 per cent for Mulcair.
Trudeau hasn’t the faintest intention of campaigning in the 2015 election with pot legalization as his main plank. But changing deep-seated attitudes toward a party takes time. And because the Liberals took two years to pick a leader after the 2011 elections, Trudeau only has three summers to define himself before facing voters, and he pretty much just blew one.
For much the same reason, I’m not sure Tom Mulcair picked the right issue when he used part of his summer to travel coast-to-coast campaigning for Senate abolition. For reasons explained elsewhere in this issue, Canadians are angry at the Senate right now. That’s not the same as believing any party has the ability, once in power, to do much about it. His Senate tour illustrates a little-noticed difference between Mulcair and his predecessor Jack Layton. Layton came from Toronto city politics. He hadn’t the faintest interest in constitutional tinkering. The NDP stood for abolishing the Senate, as it always had, and Layton never talked about it. Mulcair comes from Quebec provincial politics, where a generation grew up believing that if you have no constitutional scheme to peddle you cannot be serious.
Layton’s prosaic fascination with voters’ kitchen-table preoccupations helped him supplant the Liberals as the first choice for voters eager to block the Conservatives. Next time around that vote will be up for grabs again. Mulcair and Trudeau both plan to try to take Harper’s economic credibility away from him. They haven’t gotten around to it yet, but they believe they have time. Harper’s opponents always believe they have plenty of time.
I forgot to post this but we had a great interview with the Leader of the Opposition Cam Broten the other night. The interview went well, the behind the scenes did not.
Last year I was at Cam’s house for a meeting (he is my MLA) and his wife Ruth made these cookies that everyone was raving about. The plate went around and ran out before it got to me (am pretty sure Frank Quesnell took two). I was sitting right beside Cam so I couldn’t really make a run at the cookies while he was talking. The cookies were so good that their goodness actually interrupted the meeting as people savoured the cookies.
Later Ruth came out with batch number two of the cookies but Cam declined then and because of sitting arrangements, the guy next to me got the cookies and the scene was reversed. Long story short, everyone went on and on about how awesome the cookies were. I went home and made a note of never sitting beside a politician if there are cookies being served.
Cam showed up for the podcast with a bribe, some fresh out of the oven cinnamon buns made by Ruth. I was momentarily excited and then I realized that I had a MacBook in front of me and computers but cinnamon buns do not mix. As soon as the podcast was done, Sean Shaw made a move for them but only took one of the two containers. I scared Hilary off when I pulled a cutting torch out of my bad and pretended to head towards her bike.
There I was, the last cinnamon bun. If I had worked fast, it could have been mind then but we were driving to the Rook and Raven in Shaw’s new Volkswagen and if I had gotten it sticky, he would have made me walk home.
After some beverages (Diet Coke), I make it home, open my bag and before I can pull out the cinnamon bun Wendy grabs it and eats it. Says it was the best cinnamon bun she ever had in her life. I have never been so betrayed.
I went to the fridge, gagged back a glass of V8 and went to bed.
You can listen to our podcast with Cam below. I’m off to find something to eat.
The Speaker of the Legislature, Dan D’Autremont had a party to unveil his office renovations which I am told feature a lot of dead African animals. He didn’t just have a regular party but a dress-up party featuring MLAs. It’s like we have elected a group of 12 year olds to run the province. Thanks to Murray Mandryk for sharing this.
In the next few years, as Washington looks to cut spending across the board, the public’s aversion to homelessness could contribute to its return. We have seen that some constituents have successfully lobbied to overturn some parts of the sequester, such as the FAA cuts. But the homeless population has notoriously low voter turnout, and certainly has little money to spare for campaign contributions. They are unlikely to have much power in an age of austerity and there seems to be little recognition or reward to be gained for politicians by serving the homeless.
As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – unless there is major intervention. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.