Category Archives: Saskatchewan

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.

According to Standard & Poors

Very Strong Economy But Exposure to The Oil Sector Could Hamper Growth according to our auditors, Standard & Poors update released today.

Saskatoon is centrally located within Saskatchewan. It is the province’s largest Census metropolitan area, and the city estimates its population to be about 254,000 as of June 2014. It exhibited what we consider to be strong growth in the past three years (4% and 2% in 2013 and 2012, respectively), although more moderate growth preceded this. The population is young: 17% are under the age of 14, and its dependent population is about 30%, based on the 2011 Census. Saskatchewan’s GDP per capita averaged US$70,494 in 2011-2013 and the province had been forecasting growth of 2.2% in 2014 and 2.3% in 2015. However, the recent plunge in oil prices and the weak Canadian dollar will likely result in some downward revisions to these projections because the oil sector, which also contributes a significant proportion of provincial revenues through direct royalties, generates almost 20% of the provinces GDP. We estimate that Saskatoon’s GDP per capita would be in line with the province’s, given its stature as Saskatchewan’s largest Census metropolitan area and the subsequent greater economic diversity than other areas of the province.

The city is the larger of Saskatchewan’s two commercial centers, and the province is the world’s largest producer of potash. In our view, Saskatoon has moderate employment diversity. Agriculture, the public sector, and in particular the resource sector (mining and potash) are all important employers for the city, with the latter fuelling its recent population growth. Saskatoon has experienced a shortage of skilled labor and has had one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada in the past few years; forecasted to be about 4.1% in 2014 which is flat from 2013 and down from 5.6% in 2012. Its highway, air, and rail transportation link it to markets throughout North America, making it one of Canada’s hub cities. Agriculture is another important employer in the province and Saskatoon provides services and products to this sector. Other prominent private sectors of employment are trade and transport, retail, and food processing. Utilities (namely SaskTel, SaskEnergy, and SaskPower), health care, government, and education (including the University of Saskatchewan) are important public sector employers. We believe the city’s economic fundamentals are very strong, although we expect a downturn in the resource sector would affect its economy through higher unemployment, lower population growth, and lower revenue.

There is this as well

We believe Saskatoon’s land development activities expose it to some development risk. The city’s land development business line invests in infrastructure ahead of development and sells land at competitive market values to developers. Saskatoon has developed and follows a plan for growth and its land development activities help ensure it grows according to its plan. Although the city builds out infrastructure in consultation with developers, there is a risk that planned growth will not materialize, likely as a result of an economic slowdown, and the recovery of its land development costs from developers could be delayed.

Klaszus: Calgary’s Council is Broken

Metro Calgary columnist Jeremy Klaszus on the dysfunction of Calgary’s City Council

In 2010, Nenshi ran on a platform of “better ideas.” His No. 1 better idea was secondary-suite reform.

Last December, for the umpteenth time, council blocked this effort — despite consensus among citizens and organizations that reform is long overdue.

Some on council were miffed when, ahead of the vote, Nenshi publicly asked business leaders to pressure five on-the-fence councillors to vote “Yes.”

“If I were to vote for secondary suites now, people would say, ‘Joe knuckled under to the mayor,’” Coun. Joe Magliocca told the Calgary Herald. “That just burns my ass.”

That’s unbelievably puerile on Magliocca’s part — try considering the good of Calgarians, pal, rather than your own image — but Nenshi’s approach of publicly pressuring his colleagues clearly backfired.

While Nenshi revels in adulation, he struggles to build crucial relationships and is notoriously poor at handling his critics on council and off. (Remember when he aggressively berated that AM770 caller last year?)

Yet for all his flaws, Nenshi has a strong vision for Calgary’s future. The same cannot be said of the cadre of councillors that often oppose the mayor — the likes of Magliocca, Ward Sutherland, Sean Chu and Jim Stevenson.

This bunch would eagerly take Calgary back to 1973 if they had their way. They can’t imagine a city where people bike to work and live in secondary suites.

Saskatoon’s Chamber of Commerce feels the same way about cycling

Because Nenshi embraces the future of cities, he’s a magnet for top talent to Calgary.

City chief planner Rollin Stanley and Calgary Public Library CEO Bill Ptacek have both said the mayor was a factor in their decisions to come here.

It benefits Calgary when Nenshi is celebrated nationally and internationally. Now his challenge is to build the right allies locally.

If Nenshi can do that, he might be able to salvage this council before it’s too late.

This is what I want my mayor to do, embrace the future of cities.  It’s what Don Atchison has never seem to be able to do, he has embraced the way Saskatoon used to be and wants us to be that.  In a war to attract top talent, Saskatoon will keep falling behind when we have councillors and a mayor that looks back to the past and not forward.

Canada ‘potentially vulnerable’ because of household debt: report

From the Toronto Star

A renewed warning on Canadian household debt levels is coming from a research report written by an international management consulting firm.

The report, published by McKinsey & Company on Thursday, singled out Canada and six other countries with “potential vulnerabilities in household debt.”
In Canada’s case, household debt levels are higher than those that existed in the U.S. at the peak of the credit bubble, the report notes.

The data suggests a “potential risk, but not an imminent crisis,” the report said.

“There is no sign that there are a significant number of Canadian borrowers today having trouble repaying their debt. The risk comes when you look to the future,” said Susan Lund, partner at McKinsey Global Institute in Washington, D.C.

“If the economy were to slow and unemployment started to rise, when people lose jobs, that’s when a mortgage that you could afford with a job suddenly becomes unaffordable. The other potential risk is if and when interest rates start to rise, that could create a much larger burden on households repaying debt.”

So what does that mean for Calgary which already has an obscene amount of household mortgage debt?  I hate to say it but what does it mean for Saskatchewan which has a high debt to income level.