You’ve just found the inaugural episode of The Jordon Cooper Podcast. Today I am chatting about the 9th Street on ramp, the ridiculousness of Saskatoon’s City Council’s reversal and the ugly precedent it set.
I was asked a few times today if I was going to run for Mayor in 2016. The answer is no. I have no political aspirations and have no desire to be a politician. That and I don’t like ties or suits. Even if I did, big boned and balding politicians generally don’t do that well… wait a minute, we do really well in politics.
I have very little respect for career politicians. There are many people I know (and we all have our lists) that desperately want to be elected to something and want to remain elected for financial, prestige, or even retirement reasons (I have heard of politicians whose entire retirement planning is based on getting elected and then government pension). They see politics as a career and as a path to greater political power. I don’t aspire to that. I have control of the both the TV remote and the Apple TV remote at home. I’m good.
I have a lot of respect for those that are public servants. Those are people who are drawn to the service of their city, province, and country and that is the main motivating factor for them. The problem is that most politicians start out that way but it’s a fine line until you transform into a politician where re-election comes before doing what is right. Some public servants can be elected for decades and serve only the public. I think of the Joe Clark’s, John Crosbie’s, or the countless MP, MLAs, and councillors that care far more about constituent issues and the big picture than party politics or personal gain. They avoid the meanness that defines many politicians and they genuinely love their jobs. I think they are great but I still wouldn’t want to be one. I simply lack the desire to compromise on things and in our system, it is based on compromise and doing things you hate.
Then you also have the campaign fight. That can’t be a lot of fun. I remember door knocking a couple of decades ago and a guy came to the door with a shot gun, I was bit by a stray dog, and some naked women answered her door. No wonder Atch stands on the streets and waves at cars. Who can blame him? If I was him I’d have a small portable fence with me at all times. If someone from the media questioned me, I’d have them stand outside the fence and deal with the dogs.
I was out with some candidates and councillors years ago and they were talking about lawn sign stake storage and what a pain that is. So let me get this straight, you win office and instead of celebrating, you have to clean out your shed and build extra storage for the stuff you need for the next campaign. Wendy would not be pleased with that. We have a small house, we don’t have a lot of storage. She’d be out campaigning for Atch or Charlie Clark on the provision that they took all of the lawn sign stakes when I lost.
I’d be going, “How does the other campaigns get all of these leaks from?” and Wendy and Mark would be avoiding making eye contact with me as they easily moved stuff in and out of our shed. Okay, that would be hilarious but still.
Also, the being recognized in public part is both good and bad. Bad when someone tells me how stupid I am in front of my kids. Good when they say nice things to me but I still find myself going, “please don’t punch me in the face” when someone goes, “Aren’t you Jordon Cooper?”. Of course I could just be like one councillor who makes me go, “I thought they quit council” the rare time they speak.
I guess I could run against Darren Hill but here is a list of his accomplishments in office and my position on them.
Darren Hill’s Record in Office
Jordon Cooper’s Position
Avenue B Diverter in Mayfair
Thought it was a good idea
Thought the Cosmo deal was a costly mistake
Disagrees with 33rd Street Bridge and says it would be built over his dead body.
We agree with that too although I hope no one has to die to stop it.
Wears colourful socks
Wears plain socks
Wears colourful ties
Has a tie just like Rob Ford’s NFL tie but has NHL logos on it. Wishes he had a tie like Rob Ford’s NFL tie. Would also wear a MLB tie. Now that I think about it, that is a solid three tie rotation.
Suggested that we wait a few years to buy a new city website when prices were lower.
Tweets at celebrities
Does that actually work? (update: Darren says it does.)
Tweets at City Council Meetings
Tweets about confidential in-camera meetings that he read about in The StarPhoenix.
Ran for the federal Liberal Party after two terms as councillor.
Criticized Hill, Paulsen, Olauson, and Donauer for doing the same thing and not resigning their seat.
Non committal about in Council Twitter Wall.
Totally in favour of Twitter wall. Really, really in favour of a Twitter wall. Have I mentioned how badly I want City Council to have a live twitter wall.
That would be a riveting debate. I can see the moderator saying, “So the only area where you truly disagree is men’s socks. Well let’s go back to that issue once more and Mr. Cooper, could you tell us where you got that NFL logo tie from?”
So after reading that chart over, I am not running in Ward 1 or anywhere else in the city since I live in Ward 1. Darren is doing a fine job… well there was the vote where he voted to “right size the bridge” that was waste of tens of millions of dollars. Nor do I ever aspire to being on Saskatoon City Council not now and not in the future. Here is why.
Outside of Wendy and the boys, not many people have seen how sick I have been this summer. It has scared Wendy and even made me wonder from time to time if I was going to make it. I have never been so sick in my life and it hasn’t been fun. Today my vital signs were so out of whack, the nurses freaked out and that happens all of the time. There is no way I am strong enough to make it through a campaign even if I did want to. I have never seriously considered it but I need get rid of the MRSA infection in my ankle and then get healthy again.
I have been married with 18 years this week to Wendy and for the first time since we have been married, her depression and mental health issues are under control. You have no idea how many times I have said, “next summer” will be better (well actually about 16 summers). To actually have a summer trip go well and her depression be managed was a huge thing in life but we have a lot of catching up to do.
Those lost summers have come with a price of me being there for Wendy and not having the time to spend with Mark and Oliver. It’s why next summer is being spent in the backcountry of Banff and Kootney National Parks. The only door knocking I plan to do is at the door of a mountain tea house at the end of a long hike (I hope I don’t get bit by anything)
I don’t know how politicians handle their commitments to the public and family. Is there a less family friendly job then being a politician at any level? For this I am not being sarcastic, I can’t imagine how hard it is to juggle all of that well. I enjoy being a dad.
So my plans are set for election night 2016, vote and watch Monday Night Football while writing about those that did decide to run. That is my goal for 2020, 2024, and 2028. It is also my goal for any and all provincial and federal campaigns. I have even a less of a desire to be told how to vote by a government or opposition whip who got the job because they are difficult to deal with in Question Period.
So yeah, I am never running for public office but thanks for suggesting it. Throw your support behind someone that wants the job, there are some good ones out there, support them.
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.
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.
I havenâ€™t done one of these in a long while but here are the highlights from todayâ€™s City Council meeting.
- Both Pat Lorje and Zach Jeffries brought up the missing reports on the city council website. Â Administration just kind of made up a reply and suggested they donâ€™t have enough space to host all of them. Â They are preparing a report on it and will present that to Council in April. Â So yeah, administration was passive aggressive on the issue.
- Now to be fair to administration, they scan stuff in the most inefficient way possible. Â It is basically JPGs of paper reports converted to PDFs. Â It means that the reports are often not searchable or indexed and are MASSIVE in size. Â I am assuming that administration doesnâ€™t have the space to host normal PDFs but it could be that they are handling these HULK sized PDFs. (â€œPDF Angry! Â PDF SMASH!â€). Â Either way, disk space as an excuse is a weak one.
There you go. Â Short and almost sweet. Â Councillors then retired upstairs where they had an executive meeting that was in-camera (closed door).
- After the Saskatoon Transit lockout is done, I canâ€™t see Ann Iwanchuk winning a second full term. Â Especially with Mike San Miguel quietly running again. Â Her campaign was largely financed by labour and with the city attacking the ATU like it did, her slim margin of victory, her constituents relying on Transit heavily, and a lack of a signature issue so far, it could be really tough to win re-election.
- It could hurt Clark and Loewen with their base and could mobilize the non voting parts of Ward 2 to really hurt Lorje. Â I am not saying councillors will lose their seats but rather could face much tougher re-election races than they would have. Â The right opponents will capitalize on this.
- Despite what people think, this wonâ€™t hurt the mayor at all. Â That is what the attack ads are targeted to protect (at the expense of councillors). Â In many ways he could come out of this the winner, especially if this weakens rivals and empowers his base which to be honest, never rides a bus.
- Of course the city being the city, coincided the lockout with the Mayorâ€™s Cultural Gala. Â You had some city councillors tweeting pictures of the cityâ€™s elite having a fun time while lower class people were being kicked off buses and having to walk home. Â
- Why would the city run attack ads against the very union it needs to negotiate with on the first day. Â Saskatoon already has laughable communications and that didnâ€™t exactly make the city look good. Â Of course the political nature of the ads was bizarre. Â Several city councillors swore to me that they never had any foreknowledge of the ads until they ran but both city staff and some others on council say that council saw and approved the ads in an in-camera session of executive committee. Â Itâ€™s not exactly breaking news that council members lie to me on issues. Â
- Speaking of executive committees, it would be a lot easier for them to lie to me if council and staff stopped leaking what happened in there. Â If only they had a way to investigate the leaksâ€¦
- I have had several discouraging conversations with people who are utterly dependent on the bus for work, to provide care for a spouse who is in a nursing home, to get to school. Â In Saskatoon we call those people collateral damage.
- It is weird to hear councillors go all out in defence of their real fiduciary duty but ignore their responsibility to those who rely on a public service. Â Empathy for those who have been hurt by this strike has not been something that has been communicated well.
- I donâ€™t really miss the NFL. Â You would think I would after watching it every week since 1987 but I havenâ€™t. Â I glance at some scores but other than that, I havenâ€™t really missed it. Â I still have some college football, the Huskies, and the CFL but I have never cared about them like the NFL.
- Brady Hoke needs to be fired from the University of Michigan. Â He sent back out a quarterback with a concussion back onto the field. Â That should be a fireable offence in any league (including when the Calgary Stampeders did it a couple of years ago in a playoff game against the Riders). Â You send out a player with a brain injury, you are fired or suspended, especially in the NCAA.
- What could Stephen Harper be thinking? Â $300,000 courtesy ride for a couple of European diplomats because he wanted to have them at a reception? Â Does he just not care anymore? Â That does not look like a move by a politician who is planning on re-election. Â Not only that but there is still widespread opposition to the deal in Germany.
- The NFL is talking with Texas head coach Charlie Strong who has taken some strong steps in dealing with player misconduct.Â â€œWe can’t compromise and sometimes that means getting rid of the best player.”
- If you are a big company and you want to associate your brand with a strong event, Iâ€™d talk to the people behind Nuit Blanche right now. Â Over 5000 people were on 20th Street last night for the inaugural event and it was a big time success. Â People were partying, shopping, and hanging out all over the place. Â What a great event. Â Someone needs to step up and get behind it in 2015 monetarily so it can get bigger.
- After reading this piece by Cathal Kelly, you will realize that the Blue Jays will never get any better than they are now. Â So yeah, that kind of sucks.
Given the fiasco involving route cancellations that greeted riders on the first day of a new school year, it’s difficult to take seriously the City of Saskatoon’s commitment to developing a bus rapid transit system, improve services to meet the demands of growth and lessen the urban carbon footprint.
City Hall seems to be pinning the blame in part on a shortage of qualified heavy duty mechanics in the market, as well as an inability to reach a contract with its transit employees, which is forcing it to advertise for mechanics at wage rates based on the expired 2012 contract.
A month after transit director Bob Howe apologized to commuters after cancelling seven routes because too many buses needed repairs for short-staffed mechanics to fix them all, and described the situation as an “anomaly,” frustrated university students and high schoolers on Tuesday saw the cancellation of direct routes to campus, downtown and many high schools.
In addition, no buses will be added to the busiest routes at peak travel times, and transit officials advise commuters to avoid peak morning and evening trips if possible. It’s those who are trying to get to work or school on time, and return home afterward, who are creating the “peaks,” and it’s transit’s job to accommodate their needs, not the other way around.
The cancellations and delays in the implementation of new routes were announced on Friday, before the Labour Day long weekend. Transit users, who have had to cope in recent years with frequent changes to routes and services, can’t be blamed for questioning why the city cannot seem to get its act together on managing the service properly.
“We have been in an environment of labour uncertainty for the last number of months which has proven to be challenging,” noted the city’s news release on Friday.
Yet, what isn’t clear is what role Saskatoon’s policy of buying second-hand buses that other cities don’t want is playing in creating the demand for more mechanics and a repair backlog that had rendered the transit service unable to field a full complement of buses for its routes.
Mr. Howe says transit has sent as many buses as possible to be repaired by private companies. Given that the problem has been obvious for at least a month, when the previous route cancellations occurred, when did the city began to contract out the work?
Surely, transit officials should have known long before Friday that they lacked enough buses and told the public, instead of waiting until the last possible moment to disclose the fact. This is far from acceptable customer service and effective issues management.
Mr. Howe said in July that transit was upgrading its aging fleet and expects to get five new buses this fall. It’s now obvious that the decrepitude of his 158-bus fleet has reached a point where even more replacements are needed soon, making council’s decision to use for the new commuter bridge the funding slated for bus replacements seem unwise.
When it comes to transit, Saskatoon talks a better game than it delivers.
Excellent editorial but I have one bone to pick with it. I am not even sure City Hall talks a good game about transit. Â If anything the message that I have heard from City Council at budget time is that transit is a burden on the city as they transfer more costs onto riders.
I have written about our aging fleet before but it is worth repeating. Â Some of our busses are so old that people travel to Saskatoon just to ride of them like rolling museum pieces. Â They shouldnâ€™t be repaired by Saskatoon Transit but the Western Development Museum. Â Instead of replacing them, Saskatoon City Council is building a bridge for cars.
It is to be expected. Â With the retirement of Myles Heidt and the defeat of Bev Dubois, there are no councillors who are strong on public transit. Â Unlike Calgary and Edmonton who both feature mayors who use and advocate for public transit, I am unaware of any councillors who actually use it. Â Maybe that explains some of the problems that we have.
The other problem is the Saskatchewan government contributes nothing to the bottom line of our transit in cities. Â Whereas Manitoba pays for almost half of Winnipegâ€™s transit costs (and injects capital for BRT), we get nothing except some money for Access Transit. Â Arguably that money is spent on STC which is still needed but it means that Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, and Regina are some of the few cities that are left trying to provide funding for transit with no help. Â While I agree that council has handled this poorly (again), a big part of the blame lands with governments going back to the Blakeney era that ignored public transit in the cities.
The StarPhoenix asks some hard questions about the new City of Saskatoon governance model that seems to more about the lifestyle of the councillors than it is about being good for the city.
When city council holds its next meeting a week from today, it will be the first such meeting in nearly two months after city hall adopted a new governance model that has cut council meetings in half to once a month.
Only a couple of voices on council expressed skepticism over the new system, while most heralded the change as making council’s activities more accessible.
However, there’s reason for Saskatoon residents to doubt whether the new system will improve how the city is run and increase people’s access to decisions and those who make them.
The StarPhoenix examined governance formats in seven other western Canadian cities and found little similarity to Saskatoon’s new model.
Few other municipalities hold council meetings just once a month and, of those that do, appearances can be deceiving.
Regina, for example, generally holds council meetings once a month, but held 23 meetings in 2013 and has held 10 so far this year.
Will Saskatoon’s new approach be flexible and allow for special meetings to be called to address urgent issues?
None of the other councils studied held all the major committee meetings on a single day of the week the way Saskatoon city hall plans to on Mondays (or Tuesdays after a long weekend).
Supporters say the new system will allow people greater access to committee meetings, which will now be held in council chambers and broadcast on the city’s website.
Why hold all the committees on the same day, though? That would seem to limit accessibility – particularly for those who happen to be busy on Mondays.
Is the real motivation access for residents, or convenience for councillors and administrators?
City officials cited Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton as the inspiration for the new system, but Saskatoon’s new approach bears little resemblance to the latter two Alberta cities. Both Edmonton and Calgary hold multiple council meetings each month, making one wonder if Saskatoon is really making an effective transition to becoming a big city.
I agree with questions that The StarPhoenix is asking. Â From the start I have said that this is about the convenience of City Councillors who want to streamline their work load, make themselves less accountable, and make it far harder for the lowly public to participate or communicate with their elected officials. Â Saskatoon City Council took this new arrangement so seriously that they actually drew names from a hat to fulfill one of the committee memberships. Â You canâ€™t do that and tell anyone that you take governance seriously.
Iâ€™ll give The StarPhoenix the last word.
No one can credibly argue these changes came about due to public pressure or through extensive consultation with voters.
It’s now up to the new model’s supporters to communicate how and why the new system is working and to be candid and admit when it’s failing the citizens who are paying for it.
Otherwise, Saskatoon residents will quite correctly feel they’ve been bamboozled and watched democracy get eroded by those who should be defending it.
Some thoughts from Charlie ClarkÂ on Saskatoon’s property tax ratio and why he is against changing it.
While the ink is barely dry on the Flat Tax debate – we are back into a discussion on taxation with the Administration’s proposal to further reduce the amount that businesses pay in tax in comparison to homeowners by shifting the tax burden from one to another. The proposal is to move our ‘tax ratio’ (the amount of tax a commercial entity pays compared to a residential property) from 1.75 to 1.43.
In real terms – moving from a 1.75 to a 1.43 tax ratio would means reducing business taxes by $6.9 million/year and adding them on to homeowner’s taxes. I have certainly not been getting the message lately that homeowners are enthusiastic about tax increases – especially if there is nothing tangible to show for the increase. $6.9million is about 2/3 of our road maintenance budget, 3x our street sweeping budget, or 3/4 of our snow clearing budget.
I frankly remain a bit dumbfounded as to how this debate has gotten this far at this time in Saskatoon. A quick survey of other provinces and municipalities shows that we are already way on the low end of the spectrum with this 1.75 ratio. Calgary’s ratio is 4.09, Edmonton’s ratio is 3.01, Vancouver’s ratio is 4.84, Victoria’s ratio is 3.66 and Banff’s ratio is 6.0! On top of this as I have pointed out before, Saskatoon has been rated the most tax-competitive Municipality in the country to do business, most recently by a 2012 KPMG report.
It is very important that we do what we can to build a strong City that has the conditions for businesses to succeed. As I travel the City the main concerns I am hearing from people in the business community have to do with the condition of our roads, growing traffic congestion, and other infrastructure challenges.
City Council has been struggling to find the means to pay for the costs of getting our roads back into shape – and providing better basic services such as street sweeping, lane maintenance, water main repair, snow clearing – all services that reflect on the City and affect businesses ability to operate. At this point we are doing well on the tax-competitiveness front – we need to ensure that we build a City that has a good quality of life and good services that attract talent and companies to set up and expand here. Raising taxes on home-owners without adding more services only eats into our ability to raise revenues that we need to deal with the challenges of a growing City. The cost/benefit analysis on this one is completely unpersuasive and I will be voting against.
Its weird. Â You listen to Calgary and Edmonton’s business community and while taxes are a factor, they are well down on their list of priorities of things they want the city to do. Â Even Regina has looked at our (lower) tax rate and yawned. Â It’s not what attracts businesses to cities and almost every urbanist, economist, and politician outside of the City of Saskatoon agrees with that. Â Glad to see Coun. Clark take a stand on this issue.
Over the last couple of weeks I have seen three minor accidents along the northbound lane on Idylwyld South. Â All three have been minor and have “exchanged paint” to use the old NASCAR phrase. Â They have been caused by someone trying to brake or avoid a massive pothole around a manhole cover which had been created but not repaired by a City of Saskatoon crew.
Today while caught in traffic along there, Wendy and I watched a man who was going no faster than 20 kph hit the pothole, blow his tire and bend his rim on a pothole that had been there for weeks.
Whenever I talk to any of you about potholes, I get told, “report it on the website”. Â When a pothole in on one of the major thoroughfares in this city, driven by police, fire, city crews and even you as councillors, one should not have to report a pothole to the city, it should be fixed like it would be in any other city in Canada. Â Especially when the pothole was created as part of a sewer upgrade*.
I have heard many stories this summer of Saskatoonians travelling to other cities and hearing apologies for the state of their roads while those same people are going, “this is so much better than the roads we have have in Saskatoon”. Â Some of the ways people have described our roads are “war torn”, “goat trails,” and most of all “unsafe”.
They are unsafe to our tires, our rims, and our suspensions. Â They are also unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians. Â It’s embarrassing that you as a group has allowed our streets to get to this point.
It’s not like you don’t know this would happen. Â The 2012 Roads Reports and reports before that ask for more money and tell you each year that unless we have more money, this is going to happen. Â You kept telling people how you heard about their concerns regarding roads on the doorsteps. Â Instead you gave a small increase and congratulated yourselves on the back despite knowing it wasn’t enough. Â Road repair costs rise about 15% each year but Council decides to give about .5% of an increase each year leading to a very big and unsafe gap in services. Â You hope to have enough money budgeted to bring hold the status quo by 2020. Â By that time there may not be any roads left and the yearly amount needed to fix our roads will be much, much higher. Â
Maybe city crews can’t find the potholes because street cleaning in this city takes months. Â On Friday I was in City Park and they were finally cleaning it. Â It was July 12! Â Two months citizens of City Park have had to deal with gravel strewn and dirty streets because again, the City of Saskatoon won’t pay for the equipment needed to clean our streets. Â We have such a short summer, you would think this would be a priority but it isn’t. Â An email from another ward councillor today showed that much of that ward hadn’t been cleaned yet so don’t feel back City Park. Â The quality of street sweeping is poor to say the least. Â Talking to councillors in others wards I hear the same thing. Â Locally I heard the sweepers but to be honest, our roads are marginally cleaner.
Sure we have the lowest taxes of any city our size in Canada but at the end of the day there is a reason for that, no city can maintain it’s infrastructure at the current rate of funding. Â We may as well have Prosperity Saskatoon but we have roads that failing and a bridge that is a laughing stock of the country. Â Instead of fixing what we have, all you can talk about is how we need to build more stuff (that needs to be maintained) so we can grow to a city of 1 million people.
While we are talking about growing to a city of a million people; here is a little bit of information you might find useful, Â cities can’t grow themselves. Â It’s the national and provincial economies that decide that. Â It took Calgary 45 years to grow from 250,000 to a million people yet for some reason, we need to start building today. Â Hence the $30 million extra for addition lanes on the north commuter bridge that your own city administration recommended against. Â Then again, who am I to question policy made out of a campaign promise?
Our provincial economy is far different than Alberta’s oil based economy. Â The amount of head office oversight that a potash mine takes compared to thousands of oil wells all over the province is miniscule. Â We may be overjoyed by BHP Billiton moving it’s Canadian head office to Saskatoon but look at the result, a couple of stories of downtown office space. Â It’s not a reflection of Saskatoon, it’s a reflection of the economy of the province we live in.
Combine that with a city council that just can’t get that quality of life matter in a city and you have a place where companies won’t be able to attract talent to and if they can, they won’t be able to keep it. Â Most of the cities that are growing in Canada have higher taxes because a) growth costs b) you need to have great public amenities to have a city that top talent wants to live in. Â
Eventually we are going to have to make a decision as a city. Â If we keep on this path with crumbling roads and infrastructure many will just choose to leave. Â For those that are left, we are going to have to borrow heavily to pay for the stuff that should have been paid for al along just like Toronto has had to do. Â You can’t run old buses, garbage trucks, and city vehicles forever. Â Eventually something is going to have to give and then you have to start paying for bills of broken equipment, water pipes, and roads. Â When those bills come due, it’s over whelming.
Council needs to stop playing politics and start doing their fiduciary responsibility for the citizens of Saskatoon and start taking proper care of our infrastructure and city. Â If they don’t, the only good news is that they won’t need to spend so much time worrying about it because we will find another group of public servants that will.
* I shouldn’t be that surprised by a city crew not repairing a pothole. Â I had to personally intervene several years ago while a city run backhoe hit a car and was about to drive off. Â The utility cut took a couple of years to get fixed. Â I also listened to Saskatoon Light & Power crews lie about a pole failure while I was working downtown where they went home for the weekend and left a power pole in a hole without any supports. Â The weather warmed up and it fell over. Â We aren’t hiring the best and the brightest.
I believe that the way forward is to work out a plan that lays out clearly our approach to approving services, a discussion about options for how to pay for this, and then a much improved communication approach that lays out clearly what we will get from the choices we make. I also think we need to set some measurable targets to show that we are achieving results. Snow clearing is but one piece of the puzzle. This year we have had the second highest number of watermain breaks in the 35 years of recorded history on this for example – so we need also to have a look at the big picture and make sure we aren’t just reacting to whatever is most visible.
While I have heard from many people the view that if we weren’t doing things like building the new Art Gallery or River Landing that we wouldn’t have these challenges. Yes the Art Gallery will require an increase in the amount of funding coming from property taxes – this is a signature project for the City. When stacked up against costs like the South Bridge or even building a single overpass it becomes clearer that this one project will have little impact on the overall bottom line of the City – especially with the money coming from fundraising and other levels of government.
That being said – I remain of the view that quality of life comes from attending to our hearts and minds as well as our car tires. If we want our young people to decide to stay here, and we want to continue to attract people to live here – we have to offer more than just cleaner roads. All evidence points to this, and any review of even just neighbouring prairie cities will show that they also are investing in arts and culture along with concrete and asphalt. We ignore this at our own peril.
I hope to carry on the conversation about this with you in the next months and years as we determine the best way forward in building a City that we all feel proud to live in and excited to show off to our guests.
I really like this and it makes a lot of sense. Â Clark is on to something here with this contract as he asks the question, do we want really low taxes or do we want to use this time to build a great and enduring city.
If the city goes through with this, it will be a tremendous mistake
The City of Saskatoon will likely curtail financial incentives for new affordable rental housing in core neighbourhoods in an effort to spread out social housing throughout the city.
A city committee voted in favour Tuesday of adopting rules that would make it more difficult for affordable housing units to be built in neighbourhoods such as Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, which are already home to much of the city’s affordable housing.
“We are never going to be able to rejuvenate these neighbourhoods unless we get at this at some point,” Coun. Pat Lorje told the city’s planning and operations committee.
The city provides up to 10 per cent of the upfront construction costs for people or organizations looking to build affordable units. If the new rules are endorsed by city council, new units would only receive that incentive if they are not built in core areas that already have a “concentration of affordable housing.”
Lorje has long been a proponent of moving social services and social housing away from the core neighbourhoods. She says neighbourhoods such as Pleasant Hill, Riversdale and Meadowgreen are bearing the burden of social agencies, affordable housing and, consequently, poverty.
But for many involved in affordable housing, the idea of “diluting” social housing is flawed.
“There has to be an understanding of people’s comfort level,” said Shirley Isbister, president of the Central Urban Metis Federation (CUMFI). “We know a lot of these people would not be going across town or downtown to get services. They won’t.”
CUMFI operates nine refurbished apartment buildings in the city’s core neighbourhood that act as shelters and affordable housing for at-risk women and children.
The committee was told operations such as CUMFI would likely be exempt from the new rules because they are able to demonstrate “positive impact on the neighbourhood.” But Isbister says the whole philosophy of moving social services and housing out of the core is based on a false premise that affordable housing is the problem, not the solution to neighbourhood problems such as crime and drug abuse.
Isbister was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but one city councillor echoed her sentiments. “I can’t understand the logic of this,” Coun. Charlie Clark said. “I can’t think of any of (affordable housing projects) that have contributed to the problems you are taking about.”
I am going to side with Shirley Isbister (and organizations like QUINT) on this one while disagreeing with Pat Lorje and the Planning and Operations Committee. Â This is a terrible idea and a tragic misunderstanding of the impact of affordable housing.
Charlie and I don’t always see to eye to eye but he is one of the most erudite councillors that this city has ever had. Â He’s also the most open and transparent which means he is a great person to interview. Â
Listening to the interview I am struck by how mayoral Charlie sounded. Â He has a lot of big ideas and is looking at big picture solutions that encompass the entire city, not just his own ward. Â Its an interview well worth listening to. Â If you want to keep following the people and topics we are posting to OurYXE, you can find us on iTunes.
Here is a short video why Councillor Charlie Clark is running for re-election in Ward 6. I have worked with Clarlie on a couple of issues and have talked with him a fair bit over the last couple of years and I am amazed at the passion and depth of knowledge that he brings to issues. I don’t always agree with him on issues but there has never been a time when I have heard him take a stance that was well thought out, nuanced, and contextualized. A couple of times I have chided that passion only to have him make it clear to me why what he is passionate about matters in Saskatoon. It’s this big picture thinking that Charlie brings to council week in and week out. If I was in Ward 6, I’d vote for him.
Note: Not sure who did the design work on his website but it raises the bar for design in the current election. Nice work.