Category Archives: 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.

A “high end” option for Saskatoon Transit

I read this today.

There’s a new private service in San Francisco offering luxury bus rides to downtown from a few select neighborhoods. For $6 each way, Leap buses have free wifi, usb ports, and sell coffee and fresh juice on board during commutes. Leap is just one of a slew of new startups that are providing luxury or private transit services in the context of San Francisco’s often overcrowded and less than stellar public transit.

Muni has been struggling to keep up with its ridership for awhile, and recently announced a plan to improve its service. Under the plan, Muni’s service hours will increase by 2.5%. The bus shelters will receive slight improvements, like better maps, solar-powered lights that will glow even when it’s foggy, and bike racks. Muni will also try to meet service standards with more regularity. These upgrades are much needed and long awaited, but whether or not they will result in meaningful improvement to Muni has yet to be seen.

In the meantime, services like Leap are trying to corner a sector of the market that public transit just isn’t satisfying. Although Leap may reek of elitism, it is also shaking up transit industry and may drive the public sector to improve. Companies like Leap are much more flexible and experimental than public transit, and as a result, are the ones driving innovation in transit. One great feature of Leap, for instance, is that riders can pay using their smartphones or even check in via bluetooth so that they don’t even have to touch their phones. Riders can also check their phones to know how far away the bus is and how many seats are left.

I have wondered why STC hasn’t had a high end passenger service to Regina for years.  You know, wifi, usb and power ports, good coffee and drinks onboard between here and the Queen City and charge premium for it.  Similar to what Red Arrow does in Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton.

I also wonder if something like this would as an enhanced BRT service in Saskatoon.  A high end option for those that do want to pay more.  More spacious seating, a cup of fine coffee, wifi for the trip from Lawson Heights, Confed Mall or The Centre.  More realistically from a regional mandate that took commuters from Martinsville or Warman and back.