Category Archives: Saskatoon

Two views of Saskatoon (Edited)

I posted this photo this morning and was surprised by the feedback.  After writing over 25,000 words on homelessness here, for the The StarPhoenix, and other publications, I had long ago thought that very few cared enough about homelessness to care enough to respond one way or the other.

Homeless female on the west side of the river

The background of the photo is pretty boring.  Wendy and I were simply taking the 6 p.m. cruise on The Prairie Lily.   It was smoky last Friday and I debated bringing my Pentax K-3 with me at all.  I did and I took some photos of the downtown and River Landing.  As we approached Victoria Park I was looking at the east side of the river when a hush fell over the top deck and I heard someone say, “Oh My God, someone is living over there.”  I looked and took a couple of photos.  Someone actually cried a bit.  Here we were basically taking the Saskatoon equivalent of a luxury cruise down the river using the very definition of disposable income and there was someone living in a tent surrounded by garbage.  The top of the deck got very quiet as we sailed by and then as we passed it again on the way back.

The boat holds around 75 people.  Let’s say it averages 50 people a cruise so at least 100 people a day see what I saw.  It is directly across the river from the homes on Saskatchewan Crescent E. (some of which have asked that I remove the photos of their property despite it being in full site of Victoria Park and the Prairie Lily).  Rather than cause problems.  I took their photos down.

Over the last several years I have written several columns a year on homelessness and housing issues.  I have written about the cost to society, best practices on how to stop it, the impact on children, and the impact of living in a tent.  The Saskatoon homelessness count came out and there are 500 people living in some state of homelessness.

When I have written about encampments in the city before, people always tell me that they must be voluntary, when I have taken photos of the tents, I have had it suggested that they could be camping.  I decided to include a person in this photo because that is where she lives and to be honest, the angle of her head makes it impossible to identify her from anyone else.

This is what homelessness looks like.  A $80 tent from Walmart looking at multi-million dollar homes on Saskatchewan Crescent.  It is also multi-million dollar homeowners looking back at a tent and no one is moved to change a thing.

The Donald Trump Phenomenon isn’t New; It’s Always Been Around

Some of you have asked me if I was going to write about Donald Trump in The StarPhoenix.  The answer is no and I’ll get to the reason in a minute.

People are outraged that Donald Trump can get away with what he is saying unchallenged and that people still like him.  They want to know why this is happening.  My answer is that it has always been happening, we just expect more from a Presidential candidate.

Look closer to home.  Of course there was Rob Ford but in Saskatoon we had Jim Pankiw who gained a lot of support when he ran for Mayor and had late in the race, a realistic chance of winning and beating Donald Atchison.

After being elected in 1997,  Pankiw wrote a letter in 2000 to the president of the University of Saskatchewan, Peter MacKinnon, condemning the university’s affirmative action policies and comparing its supporters to those of the Ku Klux Klan.  After attacking the most respected institution in Saskatchewan and it’s President, he was re-elected by largely rural voters in the next election.

Jim Pankiw was kicked out of Reform Party caucus by Stockwell Day in 2011 and then when Stephen Harper won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, was the only member of the caucus revolt that Harper didn’t allow back in as he was alleged to have assaulted a local aboriginal lawyer.   

His federal political career dashed, he decided to run for Mayor of Saskatoon, despite not living in Saskatoon and was going to sit as a MP and be mayor.  That too was against the rules.  The rules for being Mayor of Saskatoon are clear.  You have to live in Saskatoon.  He did not and there was the epic cover of the The StarPhoenix that showed him getting his paper outside of the city limits one morning.  The electoral officer said he didn’t meet the qualifications to be mayor and of course it is against the law to be a MP and part of another elected body at the same time.  Pankiw thought it would be a swell idea.

His main issue was a stance against aboriginal rights and that attracted a lot of supporters.  In the end he finished in third place,behind the incumbent Jim Maddin.

In 2010, he decided to run again.  Here is how CBC covered it.

Pankiw is known for his controversial comments about aboriginal people, some which have resulted in human rights complaints.

He didn’t back away from those comments Thursday, saying he would be campaigning against "race-based" government spending policies. He also called Saskatchewan First Nations chiefs "racists."

"I don’t think Indians should have special race-based privileges," Pankiw said. "I think we should all be equal. Do Italians have special race-based privileges? Chinese people? Ukrainians? Germans? Not that I know of, but Indians do."

After all of that and almost no campaign, he finished with over 7,000 votes.

So explain that too me.  For years people summed it up as some people in Saskatoon are stupid but we saw it again in Toronto with Rob Ford getting elected and even after all of the scandals, Doug Ford doing reasonably well in the election.  So what gives?

One word.  Resentment.

Jim Pankiw, Rob Ford, Donald Trump and to a degree Sarah Palin and other Tea Party candidates represent those that are resentful and frustrated where they are in life and their desire to blame someone.  They supporters are almost all white, lower middle class, and struggling.  They are thrilled that someone is speaking their language and frustrations at being left behind.  More importantly they are giving them someone else to blame.

In Saskatoon, it is aboriginals.  With Rob Ford, it was City Hall and bureaucrats, and with Donald Trump, it is “illegal immigrants” and now women.

Why does it work?  It unlocks this deep down racism and biases in many voters, especially when times are tough.  I heard it all through the Pankiw mayoral campaign about all of the advantages that aboriginals have.  Free housing on the reserves, lots of money from the federal government, free education, free dental.  It’s almost as if Caucasian males are the ones that are disadvantaged. 

This is why it works when times are tough and things like unemployment is high or there is income disparity in a region or country.  People see someone of a different race and immediately blame race for why they have that job they want.  It ignores the fact that the person is probably better qualified than they are.

I used to think it was education based but I have even heard University of Regina social work graduates complain that all of the jobs in their field “are reserved for aboriginals”.  Breaking it down, that isn’t true and often the situation is that we have too many graduates for the amount of jobs in Saskatoon and they are frustrated and angry but the racism comes out.

So instead of owning up reality, people act like treaty rights or hiring practices like affirmative action are are unfair advantages.  For those that are never going to look past that what Pankiw or Trump is spewing, sounds great.  It isn’t their fault that things are tough, it is aboriginals or illegal immigrants that are making it bad.    By cracking down on them, then the problems of a bad economy, lack of training, or an unwillingness to adapt will go away. 

Of course the fact in Pankiw’s case, none of the aboriginal issues were municipal jurisdiction and he couldn’t do anything about it if he was elected or in Trump’s case, cracking down on illegal immigrants and villanizing Mexican workers would hurt the U.S. economy is irrelevant.  What matters to so many voters is that it isn’t their fault and someone else can be blamed.

It came out that Fox News backed down because they thought that the feud with Trump was hurting the network.  Almost overwhelmingly people who wrote and tweeted were supportive of Trump’s remarks rather than Megyn Kelly.  I am no Kelly fan but those were incredibly crude remarks to say or even think about a women and yet Trump doubled down on them.

Why doesn’t this hurt Trump?  Well because the people that support him, believe that stuff.

Wendy reminded me of people we know that brag that he kept track of menstrual cycles of women employees because he thought they were unstable.  Sexism and misogyny is alive and well in parts of this country as well.  Look at the response to the Bill Cosby or Jian Ghomeshi allegations where the women were initially blamed, the FHITP clips online and live television, and just some of the vile comments that women experience on their weblogs.   Last week I saw a guy with a FHITP hat on while in the mall.  What kind of lack of self awareness does that?

There are many men out there who are afraid of strong women leadership.  It may not show up on polling because someone doesn’t always want to come across as sexist on the phone but it does come out in the polling booths and it will hurt Hilary Clinton on election day.

So what do you do about it?  I have been thinking of Atchison’s comments a couple months ago to the report of racism in Winnipeg.  His answer to CBC was Atchison like but he mentioned the economy is dealing with racism.  Atch wasn’t right but he wasn’t wrong either.  When does racism or things like anti-Semitism get worse?  Periods of recession and depression when people are losing their job or their place in life.  As long as insecure people feel threatened, crazy politicians will try to exploit it with some success.

The other thing about this phenomenon is during those times, the media is ignored.  The StarPhoenix kept reporting on Pankiw and even Fox News is critical of Trump but when someone has biases towards a race or for a candidate they think is speaking the truth, it doesn’t matter what the paper or a television network says.  That is where guys like Pankiw or Trump find their appeal, the voice the thoughts that racist people with common sense know not to say and then Trump, Ford or Pankiw go and make it sound legitimate.  That is why it is so disheartening to not hear the rest of the GOP stand of up to Trump.  His campaign will hurt a lot of minorities for a lot of years because they are giving credibility to racists and misogynists everywhere.

P.S.

I don’t think Donald Trump is that serious about running for President.  He has a skeleton staff, isn’t running any TV ads, and isn’t even trying to get his name on the ballot in some areas.  It seems like he is using the GOP bully pulpit to make a name for himself and make his own brand worth more more than trying to become President of the United States.  In the last debate when he said that he wouldn’t rule out running as an independent which means that Hillary (or as I hope for, Larry Lessig) would become President.

This seems much more about the massive Trump ego than public service.  As long as the fans keep showing up, he’ll keep running.

Election 2015: Saskatoon

Hey, I am pretty much sitting out this campaign.  I’ll wait to see how the campaign platforms come together to decide if I will write a local endorsement but until then, it won’t be that political around here.  I have friends who are candidates for different parties and I respect them for making the effort of going to Ottawa to do what the PMO tells them what to do and when to do it.

I did great a quick election guide for all candidates in Saskatoon.  You can find it here.  It lists all of the campaign contact information for all of the campaigns, except for Kevin Waugh (and I can’t find his yet).  So if you want to check out a campaign in Saskatoon, it’s all there for you.

Some random urban design thoughts

  1. I was at the Peace Bridge tonight.  A couple hundred people crossed it while I was there.  Lots of tourists and families taking photos of their “accomplishment” and documenting the bridge.  Name me one place in Saskatoon where that happens.  It’s infrastructure and a tourist attraction.   Even Mark and Oliver thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
  2. There was an open air concert near there and yes, there were cars parking all over the place but there were hundreds of bikes down there.  a) Can you imagine the carnage that would happen if you didn’t have bike and pedestrian infrastructure in place to get people downtown. b) How much vibrancy would you lose without it as people said, “I’m not driving downtown?”  World class cycling infrastructure means less congestion for those that have to drive.
  3. The Peace Bridge is wide, a lot wider than Saskatoon’s under bridge sidewalks.  Wide pedestrian lane and a wide cycling lane one each side.  In Saskatoon we talk of pedestrians vs. cyclists but in Calgary their multi-use path are 3x larger than Meewasin or twice as large as the path along 33rd.  Cycling infrastructure is more than just protected bike lanes, it means building all sorts of things so cyclists can use it.
  4. The Cycle Track is busier (I took some time to watch it) than I expected.  It also isn’t perfect and has some design flaws as it begins and ends but it is being used by a lot of people.   I (and others) have always said, “build it and they will come”.  It is happening in Calgary.
  5. When I was in Banff, I was shocked by how little parking there is downtown.  Only a few spots and then they use parkades.  Like in Calgary and even in some malls, it gives you a real time update of how many spots they have left.  In Chinook Centre, they even had lights to tell you where there were open spots . Saskatoon could do that kind of stuff but first we would have to invest in some parking garages.  I can’t see it happening but it would totally change downtown and give designers so much flexibility into making it into a people centric place again.
  6. In downtown Saskatoon, we have this idea that since we have Meewasin, we don’t need any downtown parks while in Calgary, there is the river and guess what, several amazing downtown squares and parks.  One of the most interesting ones was a temporary park put up by where the Telus Sky will be.  It’s just a placeholder for a future development but it looks really good and isn’t surface parking.  I’m assuming there is a tax incentive for doing this but why can’t Saskatoon do the same thing.  Why does everything torn down have to be turned into the Impark Empire.
  7. Banff has a pedestrian bridge.  It isn’t even for tourists but locals but it looks great.  Think about that, Banff has a bridge for pedestrians.
  8. Speaking of Banff, they integrate cyclists really well despite no protected bike lanes.  They are so natural there that you expect bikes (and elk) to be everywhere.  Drivers accommodate them.  I believe in excellent cycling infrastructure but drivers who respect cyclists goes a long way.  I think Saskatoon and SGI could do a lot more to educate people.  It would take decades but it could make a big difference.
  9. Does anything think that Saskatoon’s North Commuter Bridge will look anything other than the cheapest design that can be built?  Why can’t we have any signature infrastructure at a time when it is increasingly part of the urban fabric?
  10. Saskatoon will never be the next Calgary.  There is a boldness and arrogance that has long been a part of Calgary that has always demanded to be seen on the same level as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  It has always punched above it’s weight, even in times of deep recession.  Saskatoon doesn’t have that kind of leadership and spirit. 
  11. I don’t think that is entirely our fault.  There is a different business culture with agriculture, uranium and potash then with oil and natural gas. 
  12. Calgary has much higher design standards than Saskatoon.  The architecture is better in Calgary in part because they demand it.  The result is that the city has incredible design even for things like parkades while Saskatoon has the Sturdy Stone Centre.  It’s not just the market that is different, city design standards are higher.  If companies want to play in Calgary, they have to pay.  Proponents of build cheaply say that the costs are passed on and they are right but the entire wage structure is different in Calgary so it can absorb it.  Great cities are expensive, Saskatoon is trying to become one by being cheaper than everywhere else.  It isn’t going to work.   For this I blame Lorne Calvert who recruited people to come back to Saskatchewan because it was cheaper than everywhere else.
  13. You know, Lorne Calvert probably isn’t responsible but still, it bugged me when he did that then and it still bugs me now.  You don’t invite people to come back because of cheap utility and insurance. 
  14. Macleod Trail is as ugly as street as I have ever seen anywhere outside of Winnipeg.    Luckily Calgary is trying to fix it.

Some summer photography posts

Here are some longer pieces I wrote for the Don’s Photo Blog this summer.

Those that can’t… write tutorials about how to do it.

Speaking of photography, I finally went out last night with my new Pentax K-3.  It was dark before Wendy and I left the house so using a new camera with only the light of street lights was fun but I was happy with the results… you know the results that I could see.

This and that

Some random thoughts…

  • I really should not have filed a column for The StarPhoenix this week.  Typing 800 words with a pic line in your hand hurts.  It doesn’t start out that bad but after 200 or so words, it is agony.  So when you read it Monday, envision me in pain and ignore the fact that it felt mediocre and forced to me.
  • Mark Cooper: PhotographerI don’t know how it happened but these arrived in the mail today.  Well actually I do.  Mark has been out with his Pentax K-x and now with his Pentax K-30 for up to six hours a day taking photographs of the city.  He went down to the Lion’s Skatepark and instead of guys being upset that he was taking their photos, they were excited and all wanted to know where they could see his photos.  Mark asked if I would help him design up and print out some business cards on blank stock.  In the end it was cheaper and easier to do some cards up at Vistaprint so we did.  This is what he came up with.  He is thrilled with them.
  • Mark is also talking about joining the Royal Canadian Navy for a three year tour after high school.  To say that Wendy is unimpressed by this idea is an understatement.   The phrase “rising tensions between NATO and Russia” does not go over well in our house.
  • I haven’t really talked about it but I did order a new Pentax K-3 with a 18-135mm lens last week.   I have been too sick to go out and use it but it did allow me to give my Pentax K-30 to Mark.

Pentax K-3 with 18-135mm lens

  • Mark is thrilled with his “new to him” K-30 and I am looking forward to trying out my K-3 around town.  First I need to get rid of the pic line in my hand.
  • Everyone asks if I am going to make it.  It’s been a week of injecting saline solution and antibiotics into my arm and the cellulitis is clearing up but it does that with oral anti-biotics.  The problem is that it comes back as soon as they stop.  So while it looks good, I really don’t know and won’t know for another couple of weeks.
  • The pain is a lot less in the leg.  Last week the dog licked me and I thought I would lose it.  Tonight socks were able to come off with no pain.  That is progress.

Is Saskatoon making a dangerous mistake relying on Field Turf?

When I criticized Field Turf going into SMF Field, I was ridiculed when I pointed to research that showed that the heat and things like ACL and MCLs would be on the rise.  The argument was that it was better then the old Gordie Howe field was often mentioned.  It never occured to anyone that we could put down good turf like the Hilltops play on each and every day at Ron Atchison Field.  It also never occurred to people that maybe high schools don’t need to bus down to Howe Bowl all of the time and instead they could play on their home field like other cities do. 

Now there is this.  Field Turf is made from tires which are hazardous waste when they are tires but for some reason we have decided to let our children play on them in pellet form.

These are the days when the Women’s World Cup becomes truly grueling. Fewer days off, better opponents, more pressure. And a persistent obstacle the men never have to face – the artificial turf.

"I have plenty of blisters on my toes," United States forward Alex Morgan said with a resigned smile on Thursday.

That’s not a good thing for any player, let alone a star on the mend from knee and ankle ailments. "Turf achiness takes a little longer to recover from," Morgan said.

Michelle Heyman of Australia was even more blunt: "You wouldn’t want to see the bottom of our feet after a game," she told one Australian newspaper. "They just turn white. The skin is all ripped off; it’s pretty disgusting. It’s like walking on hot coals with your skin ripping and slowly cracking, constantly."

Well that isn’t the worst part.

Field temperatures in Edmonton for an earlier match soared as high as 120 degrees, even though the air temperature was in the low 70s. This weekend’s forecast for the Australians’ match with Japan is calling for a high around 90. One UNLV study found synthetic turf can heat up to 170 degrees in summer months. That poses risks ranging from dehydration to heat illness.

Then there is the possibility of faster collisions with other players, and with the ground. Jeffrey Kutcher, one of the world’s leading sports neurologists, told Yahoo Sports that studies of turf vs. grass haven’t been conclusive in his field, but "I would still stand behind the concept that grass is likely safer from a concussion standpoint."

No wait, that isn’t even the worst part.  This is the worst part.

Artificial turf is used for playgrounds all over the continent, and battles are taking place over whether children are safe being exposed to the crushed tire rubber that makes up the turf. A Stockholm University study from 2012 found "automobile tires may be a potential source of highly carcinogenic dibenzopyrenes to the environment."

"It’s a serious, serious problem," says Nancy Alderman, president of the Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), an organization of physicians and public health professionals. "We are concerned about the health of a whole generation now who are playing on these fields."

Research on the topic is not advanced enough to conclusively determine safety hazards, but anecdotal evidence has hit close to home for the U.S. team. Amy Griffin, assistant coach at the University of Washington and former mentor to Hope Solo, has compiled a list of 153 student-athletes, the majority of them soccer goalkeepers, who have been diagnosed with cancer over the last several years. She has sent her research to the Washington State Department of Health.

"I never said this is giving people cancer," Griffin said by phone. "But if you were me, and you saw the number of goalkeepers [with cancer] was so high, you’d be alarmed.

"The more I know about tires, the more I think, ‘What the heck? What are we doing?’ " Griffin said. "In large form it’s hazardous waste, and in crumb form it’s OK for kids?"

The EHHI has been studying this issue at Yale University, and it released a statement earlier this month revealing it has found 96 chemicals in the materials used for synthetic turf.

"Of the 96 chemicals detected," the statement read, "a little under a half have had no toxicity assessments done on them for their health effects. … Of the half that have had toxicity assessments, 20 percent are probable carcinogens."

The lead investigator on the study, Yale University professor Gabdoury Benoit, called the rubber infill "a witch’s brew of toxic substances. It seems irresponsible to market a hazardous waste as a consumer product."

FieldTurf, the company that provided the playing surface for three of the World Cup stadiums in Canada, wrote in an email to Yahoo Sports stating that "Scientific research from academic, federal and state government organizations has unequivocally failed to find any link between synthetic turf and cancer. We are committed as a company and as an industry to the safety of our fields and the athletes that compete on them – which is why we have encouraged the rigorous work from third-parties that has taken place over decades to confirm there are no negative health effects connected to synthetic turf." The company also forwarded an array of documents supporting its case.

The lack of proof of causality is not soothing to some experts, however. "Cancer is a 30- or 40-year process," Yale oncologist Barry Boyd said. "So long-term exposure may not show up until years later."

Part of the uncertainty is the extent of a player’s exposure to the crumb rubber. The preponderance of goalies in Griffin’s research is troubling, as those players are interacting more with the turf by repeatedly diving onto the ground. But American players here have said they have found the pellets all over their body even after post-match showers. "Anywhere and everywhere," defender Lori Chalupny said. If the pellets do have toxic characteristics – especially under extreme heat – the proximity of athletes to those characteristics is there after games.

So kids start playing Kinsmen Football on turf.  They play three years on it at the SaskTel Soccer Centre and SMF Field.  Then they play parts of four years of high school football.  The best play four years of Hilltops and then Huskies on artificial turf.

Of course the reason we use turf is that it is cheap.  No other reason.  The NFL has known for years that it shortens careers, particularly of running backs whose knees pay the cost.  Countless NCAA universities who have had artificial or field turf are going back to grass because of the injuries.  Even the Arizona Cardinals who play in a dome stadium move the entire field outside during the week so they can have natural grass.

Good grief, the Blue Jays are paying $600,000 a year to Guelph University for them to develop a grass that will grow inside. Why? It is so hard on athletes, even baseball players to play on turf.  Now it appears that the turf that Saskatoon just fundraised to install has a major health risk to the kids who are going to play on it.  Nice job Saskatoon.

Darren Hill: “We’ve screwed this up completely”

No, it’s not Darren Hill’s re-election slogan, about Cosmo, the North Bridge, or about rising crime in Mayfair.

A Spadina Crescent home where author Farley Mowat once lived will not receive heritage designation, which could have brought the owner up to $84,400 in tax abatements to cover ongoing renovations.

Although the city had given the homeowner the green light to start his renovations a year ago and appeared poised to grant his application for heritage designation this spring, the provincial board that oversees heritage properties recommended last month that the application be denied. Council on Monday voted to accept that recommendation.

“We screwed this up completely,” said Coun. Darren Hill, who was alone in voting against the province’s recommendation.

“There’s no doubt that this was a comedy of errors from the start of that application process.”

Mayor Don Atchison disagreed.

“If the province wasn’t prepared to go that direction at all, I don’t know why we’d be going there either,” he told his colleagues before the vote.

So let me get this straight.  The City of Saskatoon told a homeowner to go ahead with renovations (that I assume they approved) and now that the province disagrees, the city walks away and leaves the homeowner with a $84,000 hole in his budget and no one on council cares.

I know this house in in Hill’s ward but it seems a little cold, even from a council that doesn’t often care about individual homeowners.

Charlie Clark wants more civilian oversight of Saskatoon Police

It’s a worthwhile idea

Coun. Charlie Clark wants city council to explore the idea of adding two additional civilians to the city’s board of police commissioners.

“Police boards are set up with the intent of providing a buffer between politicians and police,” Clark said.

The board currently consists of two members of the public, two city councillors and the mayor. If Clark’s idea is adopted, the addition of two additional citizens would mean politicians would be outnumbered by members of the public.

Clark said the board is meant to act as a independent body — not simply a “creature” of city council.

He said having members of the public outnumber politicians on the board would bring another “layer of independence” to the commission.

A couple of years ago the police commission met for a total of five minutes in public before heading in-camera.  Any change to that would be welcome as well.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere Sports - OutdoorAtmosphere came to Saskatoon last month.  I have been in a couple of times now to pick things up for some hikes.  Staff have been helpful but today I had some difficult questions of a couple of staff.  I was surprised what I experienced.

First of all, the staff knew their stuff which is rare for a new store in a new city.  The one staff did refer to what the rep told him about a product but then promptly tested out what the rep said about the product in front of me.  He also seemed interested and curious about a few negative reviews I mentioned about a product.  At the end of our conversation, I realized the flaw wasn’t with the product but how it was treated and packed by the reviewer. 

Next I ran into another staff person who was the manager.  I had some questions about a product which he had some strong opinions on (in a good way) but he also called over a co-worker who also had some opinions on it.  Of course before they shared those opinions, they asked me a bunch of questions about my question so we were all on the same page with my inquiry. 

So after going back and forth on it, I learned a lot, picked up a different product that is better suited for what I am doing and was thoroughly pleased with the store and the staff (I was pleased with the store before but it was my first time dealing with the staff).    I like Cabela’s and their staff but I love the selection camping and hiking gear at Atmosphere as well.  It’s a great addition to Saskatoon.

Kudos to the HR staff for hiring some great people and making sure they were trained properly before opening.  It has shown every time we have been in the store but was especially evident today.

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.