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Saskatoon

The train wreck that is the Saskatoon Blades

This column by Kevin Mitchell is why I won’t care about the Saskatoon Blades next season.

New people coming in will have to accept the Priestners’ hands-on approach, which is a direct contrast to the laid-back stylings of previous owner Jack Brodsky.

The new proprietors made it clear right from the start that they won’t, for example, allow a coach on their team to play a dull, trapping style of hockey – they want their fans to be entertained. Colin Priestner told reporters after dad Mike bought the team that while he wasn’t qualified to make trades or scout talent, “I will be actively involved within the dressing room.”

He kept that promise, maintaining regular dialogue with players within the locker-room, and it didn’t sit well with assistant coach Curtis Leschyshyn, a longtime NHLer who left the team last week.

“Those were some of the things that, as a player, I never saw in my career, nor do I think is part of the game,” Leschyshyn told our Daniel Nugent-Bowman when speaking about those frequent locker-room forays. “The room is a very special place for the players. It always should be that way.”

Those dynamics have been laid bare, the working conditions made readily apparent, so here’s the deal as the job hunt commences: If you’re uncomfortable with members of the ownership team hanging out in the locker-room, if you’d chafe at the hands-on approach the Priestners prefer … then Saskatoon’s not for you. Stay far away.

If you don’t see it as a big deal, then send in your resume and join the competition.

Molleken talked quietly Tuesday about “passing the torch.” while Hogle said the search crew will seek “candidates that have a rich hockey history, a tradition of success in the playoffs, who are leaders of culture.”

The new owners, while far from universally popular, talk a bold game when it comes to the Blades’ future. Much of the old guard has been swept away. A fresh canvas waits for either a masterpiece or a dud.

This 16-51-2-3 team is keeping things interesting, if nothing else.

I can’t think of a single successful owner who is doing what Colin Priestner is doing here.  Lots have tried it his way (Dan Snyder, James Dolan, Al Davis, George Steinbrenner, Mark Cuban in his early years) and it has never worked out.  The owners job is to hire good people, set expectations, and let them do what they know how to do.  Priestner’s way undermine the very thing that he says that he is trying to do.

At the press conference he said that he is going to be advised by ex Flames GM Craig Button.  Really.  Was Gord Stellick too busy?  Button had a horrible run as Flames GM.  In addition to not being able to assemble talent on the ice, his management tree doesn’t have any notable limbs on it either.  He struggled to find talent on and off the ice and now we are bringing him in as a consultant.  

If Priestner isn’t careful, he is going to so damage a product that when the AHL comes calling (and it will), the Blades will be looking for a new home.

The Bridge to Our Future is Broken

The Bridge to our Future is Broken

Saskatoon Transit: Why Saskatoon Needs a Better Transit System

Hilary has a great post at OurYXE about why Saskatoon needs an improved transit system

  • Transit levels the playing field for low-income people – people on a fixed income or minimum wage, where the annual cost of operating a car takes a huge bite out of their bottom line. Giving households who spend most or all of their money on essentials a chance to increase their take-home pay increases spending, boosting the economy, and the chance to move upwards in society. Timely access to employment, services, and family increases quality of life; for people who are unable to drive, a good transit system is worth it for the sense of autonomy over mobility it provides as one is not ‘trapped’.
  • Transit reduces demand on roadways, for parking, and is a key part of helping cities achieve higher densities. Roads cost money to maintain; expansion of roads takes property off tax rolls. Large intersections restrict access to properties on the corners, lowering attractiveness and therefore property values, increasing demand for police services as they become blighted. Bridges, as we know very well, are not cheap; it makes economic sense to maximise the ones we currently have. Underground parking is very expensive, driving up the cost of construction and thus the cost per unit of residential units situated above it. Single-car occupancy will not support the densities Saskatoon seeks to achieve in the downtown core. Reduced demand on the roadways reduces response times for emergency vehicles and people who for various reasons are unable to use transit.
  • Transit is not a viable option for all citizens; however non-users still benefit from lessened demand for parking and reduced congestion. Families with kids who are old enough to take the bus or senior members who are unable to drive anymore, Drivers in households with seniors who do not drive and children who are old enough to take the bus are freed from onerous chauffeur duties; kids gain a sense of independence and autonomy, while older adults can age in place.

The entire post is worth a read.

20th Street

20th Street

Snow day on 20th Street

So yeah, we get snow here in Saskatoon some days.

Affinity Campus

Saskatoon campus of Affinity Credit Union

If you haven’t taken some time to check out the Affinity Campus in City Park you really need to.  It’s one of the best examples of an adaptive reuse that I have ever seen and a great illustration of what suburban infill can look like.  It brings about 400 people into City Park (staggered so as not to create too much traffic) which helps the local neighbourhood economy.  It also is striving to be a good neighbour in that it allowed City Park to keep it’s ice skating rink in the back of building (with a new warming hut to boot).  As nice as the building is on the outside, check out these photos of the interior.  Spectacular.

Kudos to be Affinity Credit Union and it’s architect for the project, Kindrachuk Agrey Architecture.

A bit of this and that

None of these really need a full blog post but for those that care and for those that don’t…

A New Project

I am starting a book that I hope to have done by the end of the year.  I have a full Moleskine of things that I have left out of my The StarPhoenix columns, thoughts that I haven’t shared on The Saskatoon Afternoon Show with David Kirton (or talked about after we got off the air), or are just ideas that I have been working on and haven’t done anything with.  Basically I am just trying to figure out Saskatoon and along with it, the ethos of Saskatchewan that makes us do things the way we do.

For many years Steven Johnson has been one of my favourite authors.  Instead of writing books about what he knows, he writes about what he does not understand and in the process of learning about a subject, he brings you along for the ride.  I hope to do the same thing.  Look for it 2015.

Sports and Politics

I read a great bio of Michael Grange who said he wanted to write about foreign affairs but he was offered a sports job.  I love writing about local and social issues but if Grantland calls, I am leaving it all behind (I’m kidding but the Grantland podcasts look like so much fun).  To pass the time between now and when Bill Simmons discovers me, I am now talking sports with David Kirton and Justin Blackwell on Wednesdays at 5:15 on the CKOM Saskatoon Afternoon roundtable.  David joked about it a few weeks ago that we should just talk sports and since then we have had quite a few roundtables with sports.  The response has been cool but I was at McNally Robinson the other day and a stranger comes up to me and says out of the blue, “You know, I really hate what Pete Carroll did at USC too.”  I looked at him and he said, “I attended Oregon” and shook my hand.  I can now check, “Call out Pete Carroll for cheating” off my bucket list.  

A Year in Saskatoon

I have been writing an OurYXE Neighbourhood Guide each week.  Every Wednesday and Sunday, I sit down and research what is good, bad, and interesting about a neighbourhood.  It’s been an incredible amount of fun exploring some of Saskatoon’s most loved (and unloved) neighbourhoods.  I have been discovering a lot of history and out of the way places to check out in each of them.  Part of the project is making sure we have some good photography for each neighbourhood which means I have been out a lot with a couple of cameras and my new 50mm f/1.8 lens.  While the cold hasn’t been a lot of fun to shoot photos in, seeing parts of Saskatoon again for the first time has been excellent.

Along with the photos, I have been shooting a lot of video.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but I had been thinking of a montage of a year in the life of Saskatoon.  Something that showed the bitter cold of winter and the incredible warmth of fun we have in the summer.  Saskatoon isn’t all good and it definitely isn’t all bad.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted it to look like.  Many of the videos I had seen had been time lapses and I have about 5000 time lapse photos taken, I was initially been thinking of doing something with time lapse. It’s fun and amazing but i miss the emotion of just video.

 If it is as half as interesting as this video by Andy Clancy, I’ll be very happy.

Saskatoon has some great places to film but I want more than that, I want to see if I can find the kind of street life and community vibrancy in Saskatoon.  If you have ideas for where me and my DSLR need to be, let me know.  As I chase some city scenes, hopefully I will find some stories for the book, Saskatoon Afternoon’s roundtable, and my columns.  Oh yeah, there will be some fun stuff for my blog as well.

Now if only it would warm up outside.

Safeway on 33rd Street

IMGP9992

Manos Restaurant

Manos

FedEx

FedEx Building in Saskatoon

The FedEx Building in the North Industrial district in Saskatoon.

Column:Mobile services effective option

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

My ears perk up whenever I hear Coun. Pat Lorje talk about the concentration of social service agencies in Saskatoon, because it is a very hard problem to fix once it has developed.
Social services tend to be located in poor areas of the city because that is where the need is. For many people, that is the end of the debate, but it’s more complicated than that. Those agencies are located there because of need and because real estate is cheap.
Despite the rhetoric of government, most see social services as an overhead cost, and if money can be saved by locating an agency in a less expensive part of town they will do it, nine times out of 10. For agencies not funded by the government, it is seen as a good stewardship of donations and resources to pay as little as possible for rent or a mortgage.
In Saskatchewan, the need is somewhat artificial because for years the province’s rental supplement has been geared toward accommodation that’s close to supports and services. It provides an incentive for people to live close to social agencies and concentrates poverty.
Once a critical mass of social agencies gets concentrated in one part of town, they tend to drive out other businesses and decrease property values even more. For people who depend on those services, it makes more sense to move to where cost of living is lower and close to where the services are provided. Of course, then you have more social service needs.
It’s an endless cycle that can do a lot of damage to the economic districts of some communities.
An interesting trend in a variety of cities over the last couple of years has been the creation of mobile social services, which are offered all across a city or region. Often these take the form of converted school buses or motorhomes, and provide such things as medical services (i.e. the Saskatoon Health Region’s health bus), as well as mobile showers in San Francisco and even a grocery store that’s driven to areas that do not have easy access to healthy food.
It’s not an new idea.
Libraries were doing this long before it was hip and trendy. I know many people who grew up in Saskatoon who can tell you when the Bookmobile came to their neighbourhood, and exactly where it stopped. It was by no means revolutionary, but it was part of community life.
Today we have the health bus. It doesn’t replace a hospital, but provides many services that one can access without going to a hospital. Being mobile, it can adjust its routes and schedule to meet people’s needs.
The advantages of mobility is that it allows the provision of services to neighbourhoods that need them, but aren’t within walking distance from the main location of a social agency. When many service agencies located in Riversdale, the area had some of the lowest rent and family incomes in Saskatoon. Redevelopment in Riversdale has significantly changed the neighbourhood.
The next place that could see big changes is Pleasant Hill, where the Junction development is slated to proceed. The impact that has seen real estate prices soar elsewhere is yet to be seen here, but the potential exists for affordable housing to move far away from the core and needed services.
There is a reason why studies in many cities show homeless people and those in extreme poverty will walk up to 20 kilometres a day to obtain food and shelter services. Even in Saskatoon, some of the most affordable living areas have almost no access to social services. Either rent eats up one’s food money and you can access services, or you have affordable rent and no access. For many it is a loselose situation.
Using outside-the-box ideas to use buses, local schools or faith-based organizations to deliver needed social services allows agencies and the government to meet needs inexpensively, while having a minimal impact on a local community.
Not only are the startup funds needed for such programs relatively small – one community recently made a significant dent in its food desert with a $100,000 bus – but it is temporary. If a grocery store comes in and wants to build in the neighbourhood it can, and the bus rolls out to another section of town. It can create markets, not kill them.
Without a long-term investment in a property, these programs can also be suited to economic conditions.
Saskatoon is changing.
With that comes the need for the province and city to adapt to how they deliver services in a way that helps people and minimizes the impact on the neighbourhoods where they live.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Hotel Senator

Winston's Pub

Wendy and I wandered down to Winston’s English Pub & Grill on an incredibly cold winter night in Saskatoon.  I had planned to take some other photos of downtown Saskatoon that night but my frozen fingers, ear, and camera talked me out of it.

Why veterans are upset with Julian Fantino

Stephen Maher looks at why veterans are upset with Julian Fantino

Most of the frontline workers at the offices in Saskatoon, Sydney, Brandon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook are being eliminated — about 100 people across the country, according to numbers put together by the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The union says the government is getting rid of 784 jobs throughout the department in the next two years. Departmental reports show that Veterans Affairs, which had 3,758 employees in 2006-2007, when the Tories took office, will employ just 2,755 by 2015-16.

If there are fewer people working at Veterans Affairs, and fewer offices where veterans can sit down with trained support workers, it’s likely that more of them will fail to fill out the right forms and won’t get the support they deserve.

This has already been identified as a problem.

A 2012 report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson found that National Defence and Veterans Affairs “have difficulties in communicating and meeting service delivery standards and requirements, particularly as they relate to assessments and case management services. The result may be that Forces members and veterans do not receive benefits and services to which they are entitled, or do not receive them in a timely manner.”

Second World War and Korea veterans are getting on in years, and may need help in identifying what services may be helpful to them. Younger veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder can find it difficult to reach out for help. It’s hard to see how shutting offices will make their lives better.

All of which is to say that veterans have darned good reasons to be concerned.

Column: War on drugs wrong approach

Today’s column for The StarPhoenix

Unlike politicians who are riding high in the polls, I have never used pot, or any other illegal drug for that matter. That puts me out of touch with voters both north and south of the border, which more or less is the story of my life.

I am in good shape locally, as Saskatoon has the highest percentage of arrests for pot possession in the country. In Halifax you have an 82 per cent chance of being let off by the police if you are caught with a small amount of marijuana, while in Saskatoon you have an 82 per cent chance of being charged. You are 35 per cent more likely to be charged if you are in possession of some pot in Saskatoon than anywhere else in Canada.

It’s hard to disagree with the Saskatoon Police Service. The service is open about having a zero (well, 12 per cent) tolerance for illegal drug possession. Pot is an illegal substance, and police are doing what they are sworn to do, which is to uphold the law. The added bonus is that it also keeps the chip and snack aisle at my local convenience store

safe from being plundered.

Drug policy in North America historically has been that we want to punish those who have illegal drugs. Police officers make the arrests and the courts decide on punishment, which often is probation or a fine for small amounts. Larger quantities of drugs often are connected to trafficking and offenders are treated more severely.

Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government attempted to take a different approach, which was to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. You would be fined, but not charged with a felony offence for possessing small amounts. That notion died when Paul Martin’s quest for power forced out Chrétien.

The tough-on-crime Conservatives have cracked down even more on drugrelated offences including possession, and introduced mandatory minimum sentences. More people are sent to jail, but with the reduction of funding to Corrections Canada, drug treatment behind bars is even harder to get. If the goal is rehabilitation and a reduction in drug use, the government’s approach isn’t working.

While Colorado and Washington have received a lot of attention for doing what Chrétien failed to do in decriminalizing marijuana, there is an interesting example that we should look at. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs.

In 2001, the Portuguese government was faced with a rising number of drug abuse-related deaths. Instead of cracking down further on drug use, which had proven ineffective, it decriminalized not just marijuana but even heroin, cocaine, LSD and other Schedule 1 drugs.

By focusing on treatment and prevention rather then jailing people it hoped to reduce the number of deaths and sexually transmitted infections. However, the laws related to selling drugs were unchanged. Law enforcement would come after drug dealers, but addicts were allowed to have a small amount of drugs in their possession – defined as enough for 10 days.

By changing the focus to prevention and treatment, overdoses related to drugs fell by more than half. STIs declined by 75 per cent. Drug use fell as well, with more people able to seek treatment without fearing criminal penalties.

The War on Drugs has shown that jail time isn’t an effective deterrent to drug use. The United States government has published several studies that show the approach has never worked, and made drug dealing more profitable. While the supply of drugs ebbed and flowed, use remained about the same.

The risk of STIs and other societal issues that come with drug use haven’t been a deterrent, either. Saskatoon has the highest rate of drug possession charges in Canada, yet the province also is known internationally for its high incidence rate of HIV and STIs.

After decades of the futile war on drugs, do we think that cracking down even more will work? A growing chorus of leading political figures are calling for a better solution to combat drug use and addictions.

Former UN secretary general KofiAnnan, former U.S. secretary of state George Schultz, a veteran of the war on drugs, and even embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who made a name for himself as a criminal prosecutor, are calling for approaches ranging from regulation to decriminalization. Even the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs is calling for the option to issue tickets for pot possession instead of laying charges for minor pot possession.

If our goal is to reduce drug use and its consequences, then we should be taking steps toward that end. The way to win the war on drugs is to stop waging it and have Ottawa look at alternatives that actually work.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Downtown Saskatoon at Night

Downtown Saskatoon at night

Power lunch

Oliver at LunchHeavy Drinkr