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Mairin Loewen

Contextless Thoughts

  • After the Saskatoon Transit lockout is done, I can’t see Ann Iwanchuk winning a second full term.  Especially with Mike San Miguel quietly running again.  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.  I am not saying councillors will lose their seats but rather could face much tougher re-election races than they would have.  The right opponents will capitalize on this.
  • Despite what people think, this won’t hurt the mayor at all.  That is what the attack ads are targeted to protect (at the expense of councillors).  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 Mayor’s Cultural Gala.  You had some city councillors tweeting pictures of the city’s elite having a fun time while lower class people were being kicked off buses and having to walk home.  
  • Why would the city run attack ads against the very union it needs to negotiate with on the first day.  Saskatoon already has laughable communications and that didn’t exactly make the city look good.  Of course the political nature of the ads was bizarre.  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.  It’s not exactly breaking news that council members lie to me on issues.  
  • 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.  If only they had a way to investigate the leaks…
  • 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.  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.  Empathy for those who have been hurt by this strike has not been something that has been communicated well.
  • I don’t really miss the NFL.  You would think I would after watching it every week since 1987 but I haven’t.   I glance at some scores but other than that, I haven’t really missed it.  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.  He sent back out a quarterback with a concussion back onto the field.  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).  You send out a player with a brain injury, you are fired or suspended, especially in the NCAA.
  • What could Stephen Harper be thinking?  $300,000 courtesy ride for a couple of European diplomats because he wanted to have them at a reception?  Does he just not care anymore?  That does not look like a move by a politician who is planning on re-election.  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. “We 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, I’d talk to the people behind Nuit Blanche right now.  Over 5000 people were on 20th Street last night for the inaugural event and it was a big time success.  People were partying, shopping, and hanging out all over the place.  What a great event.  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.  So yeah, that kind of sucks.

The StarPhoenix: When it comes to transit, Saskatoon talks a better game than it delivers

From today’s The StarPhoenix editorial.

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.  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.  Some of our busses are so old that people travel to Saskatoon just to ride of them like rolling museum pieces.  They shouldn’t be repaired by Saskatoon Transit but the Western Development Museum.  Instead of replacing them, Saskatoon City Council is building a bridge for cars.

It is to be expected.  With the retirement of Myles Heidt and the defeat of Bev Dubois, there are no councillors who are strong on public transit.  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.  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.  Whereas Manitoba pays for almost half of Winnipeg’s transit costs (and injects capital for BRT), we get nothing except some money for Access Transit.  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.  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.

What Saskatoon Council is Spending Your Money On (no you won’t believe it)

You aren’t going to believe what Saskatoon City Council is spending your money on now and with the incompetence they are doing it with.

Back when the city moved to their new governance model (the one they say is like all other cities but really isn’t), they created new committees as a part of that.  Committee memberships are done in one of two ways.  They are voted on or they are decided by seniority.  There are many examples of both but when I hear seniority, I tend to think of the U.S. Senate and Congressional committees which are decided exclusively by seniority (the longer you are around, the wiser you become, or at least that is the hope).  

You always hear Saskatoon politicians speak of the “made in Saskatoon” solution.  Our solution was to draw names from a hat for one of City Council’s committees.  It was done in executive committee so it was supposed to be confidential but instead of deciding on a committee by seniority or by merit (as decided by colleagues), names were put into a hat and drawn out.  I first heard some rumours from other media and city sources soon after executive was done who didn’t think it was normal (it wasn’t).  After confirming the rumour with some people from council (who were less then impressed that I knew), I tweeted it.

That upset some on council who were frustrated that council went down that course of action and others found out about it.  As I said to more then one, “If you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns”.  From that the city solicitor was asked to draw up a memo/report to remind council that they were not supposed to be leaking confidential executive committee stuff.  I assume that the term, “acting like a bunch of clowns” was not used in the report.

A couple of weeks later, I was to appear on the regular Saskatoon Afternoon with David Kirton roundtable with David and Bronwyn Eyre.  Show topics are emailed to us by the producer Brittany Higgins.  I like Brittany as she does a good job of politely refusing topics that I suggest that would take David, Bronwyn, myself and a panel of foreign affairs experts a week to talk about and instead sticks to her 5 minute topics which are way better radio.  That day she sent us a link to Charles Hamilton’s article about the Mayor again mentioning that we should have a Twitter Wall in City Council.

I don’t know why the Mayor is always asking for a Twitter wall in City Council chambers.  First of all Twitter is public already.  All of the interesting posts can be found at #yxecc and can be read by anyone at anytime.  Thirdly and I mean no offense to the Councillors that tweet, it’s pretty boring stuff.  You will get the occasional link posted to a report or something but other than that, they may be reading comments but they aren’t making that many comments in council.  Whatever it is that the Mayor wants, is already there, all they need to do is turn on a projector and go to the #yxecc link.  I doubt very much I’ll get credit for this in Council Chambers.

So Bronwyn and I start talking about the Twitter wall and it wasn’t our best segment.  On a good segment there is a sense of flow and cadence and it wasn’t there.  I also called out some on the school board for tweeting during meetings which wasn’t expected and in the end I walked out of the CKOM studio and tweeted something like, “I wish the mayor would stop talking about this stupid Twitter wall”.  If there is a topic that I never want to talk about again, it is the Twitter wall.

(This is a media roundtable gone wrong.  You really haven’t had a fight on air until this or this happens)

Apparently at that exact time, the Mayor was in executive committee and was talking about the Twitter wall.  So the conclusion was made by our wise political leadership that someone had to be leaking to me the contents of executive meetings to me.   It never occurred to anyone to listen to David Kirton’s show or to read the mornings StarPhoenix or just ask me, “what’s up with that tweet?”

A simple subscription to Google News Alerts would have told city council the truth but they decided they needed a leak investigation to find out the source of the leaks.  Or they could have asked me who told me.  While my sources are confidential, I would have no problem telling them that the source for the Twitter wall leak was CHARLES HAMILTON, you know since we talked about it on air and it him that published the Mayor’s on the record comments made during an interview to The StarPhoenix.

Well council couldn’t let this stand and decided to hire a private investigator to investigate the leak.  After rejecting some local retired cops, they rejected this guy for having too high of travel costs.

They rejected these guys because they couldn’t tell them apart.

They also wanted this guy but an agreement couldn’t be worked out with STARS over helicopter parking.

They really wanted this group of guys but they couldn’t find them.

So they hired a retired RCMP officer with the ability to question councillors and examine phone, computer and email records to see if they have been the ones that have leaked The StarPhoenix to me. If they were serious (and I don’t think they are), they would have a conversation about the FOI requests that were filed in the lead up to the 2012 elections.  Those FOI’s filed by The StarPhoenix and other media outlets covered @saskatoon.ca emails and there was a lot of embarrassing things said in those emails.  Since then councillors rarely use @saskatoon.ca email for non constituent communications.  Therefore they fall out of scope of the investigation.  Also since there are some precedents of government provided phones being able to be FOI’d, some councillors use two phones or don’t have the city pay for their own phone.  Thirdly, there is a thing called a manilla envelope and it works really well.  Some are just left in my mailbox late at night or mailed to me with no return address.

I have heard the questions that have been asked, the good cop, bad cop routine, and even the follow up questions.  I recently found out that I wasn’t supposed to find out about the investigation because that would compromise it (doh!) but that was after councillors phoned up to ask me if they had sent me anything they might have forgotten about.  Quite the investigation.  The ones that are calling for the investigation then go out and immediately undermine it.

Saskatoon City Council can’t even do a leak investigation properly (someone needs to do a Tumblr for things Saskatoon City Council can’t do properly).

Why is council doing this when most already know the truth?  Here are the answers I have gotten so far.

  • I need to be put in my place.  I am unsure how investigating each other is putting me in my place.  I have been accused (along with other media of making city councillors life more difficult before and apparently them attacking each other is supposed to change that.  While I am disappointed that they are wasting time doing this, I am unsure how this is putting me in my place.  I learn stuff and I write about it.  I am not sure how that changes.
  • This allows for frank discussions in Executive committee.  This is close to the truth.  Saskatoon City Council is the most secretive city council and city hall in Western Canada.  No one else comes close.  Executive Committee’s in camera proceedings are often used to hash out issues away from the public eye to avoid political backlash.  With confidentiality clauses, no one can voice the opposing decisions.  It’s also why media and people pack City Hall chambers from time to time to see a big issues passed without discussion.  John Gormley used to talk about the Gang of Five, now there is a Gang of Eleven.  By comparison, take a look at the Manning Foundation’s Council Tracker which looks at a much criticized Calgary City Council’s actions.  Saskatoon City Council is so secretive we can’t even track how secretive they are.
  • To weaken other councillors.  I have heard from a few councillors, “I know who your source is and they will pay”.  Umm, again… the source is the Mayor as told to Charles Hamilton?  Is this a power play against His Worship, Hamilton, Brittany Higgins, maybe even David Kirton.  I can’t keep track anymore.  In other words it is an investigation using taxpayer dollars for political games.  The truth js that some think that either Darren Hill, Zach Jeffries, or Pat Lorje are my sources.  If they are right (and they are not), then those councillors are weakened going up for re-election.  Pretty amazing work environment that they have going there. 
  • The weirdest explanation is that this will keep Darren Hill from running for the federal Liberals in Saskatoon West.  Apparently he had so muh fun running under Ignatieff and getting 11% he wants to do it again (I could be wrong but I think I was being flippant there).  Even with a 15% Liberal bump from Trudeau and the seat stays Conservative.

My favourite is the accusation that I am sort of a shadowy behind the scenes operative because I am never seen at political events.  This one makes me angry but I can understand it.  When you are a hammer, everything you see is a nail.  When you are a politician, everything is political.

First of all, I am non partisan.  I get attacked by liberals and conservatives (often at the same time).  I have a bias toward a lot of policies but the politics of council make me bored and sad for the city.  One of my most dearly held theological beliefs is best articulated by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens

When politics is brought to the attention of Jesus (Luke 20:20-26), the whole discussion is portrayed with such jocularity as to suggest that we are to take none of this with seriousness. When wanting to trap Jesus and hand him over to the police (Luke 20:20), they ask Jesus, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Note that was our question, not Jesus’.)

Jesus answers (Luke 20:24), “Who’s got a quarter?”

(Note that Jesus’ pockets are empty.)

When a coin is produced, Jesus asks, “Whose picture is on it?”

We answer, “George Washington.”

“Well, if he needs the stuff so badly as to put his picture on it, then give it to him, ” says Jesus. “But you be careful and don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God.”

Okay. We give up. Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?

From this we learn that a primary biblical way or treating politics is as a joke. Certainly, politicians can make much mischief, but it would be a liturgical and ethical mistake to take them too seriously. Idolatry is as big a problem for democracies as for non-democracies.

If you ask me what I think about politics, I don’t take it very seriously.  If someone, even a politician wants some advice, I give it to them.   I guess it’s why I enjoy commenting on it.   I love policy but the politics side is nothing more of a joke.  I also like most people and I hate the partisan process.  I like going out with people and sharing ideas.  It’s gets brutal when partisan lines are drawn and it interferes with friendships.

I want our city, province, and country to be a better place but at the end of the day, I’ll give that advice to their opponent or anyone who reads this blog, my columns, listens to me on air or a podcast.    Saskatoon is a weird place in that not only are we largely ignorant of best practices of other cities (even winter cities), when we find out about them, we reject them in favour of a “made in Saskatoon” solution.  In other words most of what I suggest is ignored which is fine, even if it does seem to cost us more money as a city.  The only piece of legislation I have ever tried to change was a flawed piece of affordable housing policy that myself and other housing providers opposed.  That’s it.  A public email sent to 10 councillors and the mayor.  10 of the replied.  The mayor did not but the motion failed.  That is what is important.

Provincially I once wrote a letter Premier Brad Wall about the problems of mental health and homeless.  One of his hacks replied with a letter about about hip replacements waiting lists.  I learned two things, writing the government is a HUGE waste of time and my lobbying powers aren’t exactly immense.  I have some sway with Cam Broten.  When I say “sway”, he doesn’t reply back with letters about hip replacement waiting lists.  My big piece of advice to him is that is to never by a Rider jersey without a number because they look stupid.  I also suggest going with a classic number like Ron Lancaster, George Reed, or Ray Elgaard so if the player you choose gets in trouble with the law, you don’t look like an idiot.  There you go.  That is my expertise in provincial politics.  I hate blank Rider jerseys.  That is my shadowy behind the scenes maneuvering.  Rider jerseys and homeless issues.

As for why I am never seen, this is a bit more personal.  Wendy has long struggled with depression and it is getting worse.  She wrote about it here and this has been by far the most difficult year we have ever had as a family.  Not only is her depression worse but it affects Mark in more significant ways as he grows older.  There are many times that we have plans and either Wendy can’t go out in public or Mark has asked if I wanted to hang out with him and Oliver.  The are other times when I come home after just cleaning the house and it is a disaster again.  When there is chaos in Wendy’s mind, there is chaos in my world and it hard to keep up.  So yeah, it means that I don’t go out a lot because I am trying to keep the family together. (why do you think I write about mental health issues as much as I do.  It is largely over how hard it has been to get Wendy good help). It is this and Hauerwas’ writings (which is actually rooted in John Howard Yoder’s writings) that I will never run for political office.  That and Mike Duffy has killed many options for fat bald guys from the media.  (Full disclosure, I was a long time member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan  growing up and ran in 1995 for the Tories in Saskatoon.  I was 21.  My views, hairline, pant size, and opinions on politics have changed since then).

So after I help Wendy deal with her day, help the kids with their world, I sit down on a chair and I read, write, and research.  No shadowy meetings.  No late night phone calls.  Nothing.  Most of it is spent trying to figure out who we get through tomorrow and hoping it isn’t as bad as today was. I don’t drink.  Urban planning, systems theory, and photography are my escape.  The photography gets me out of the house and the books and looking at things through a different lens and experiencing the city in a whole new way.

Considering that I have said in many columns that politicians are psychopaths, plotting world takeovers with them isn’t really high on my to-do list.  

Yes, politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this… That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow — but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.

As an aside, if any world dominating villain offers me the Denver Broncos, I will accept them with more grace than Homer Simpson did. 

I care about homeless issues, affordable housing, and challenging growing inequality in cities.  The stuff I write about is what I care about.   I don’t care if someone from the right or the left carries that stuff out, as long as it is done.

Maybe that is why I am so disgusted about this freaking leak investigation that isn’t a leak.  It’s cheap political games that are a pain to deal with, cost us as the City of Saskatoon citizens, and is a sham right from the start.  Plus by the fact that I know about it and councillors are actively undermining it, a city solicitor who doesn’t know realize this a game, and an investigator who doesn’t realize how the game is played, it is a massive waste of time and money at a time when the city has much more pressing concerns than finding out that I read The StarPhoenix (and apparently they don’t read Saskatoon’s paper of record).  As I have written and said before, I don’t think we are hiring (or electing) the best and brightest at City Hall.  Amateur hour shows it.

Leaks happen all of the time in Saskatoon, Regina, and Ottawa.  By the time I have heard something, I know The StarPhoenix has heard it, Rawlco has heard it, and CBC has heard it.  Even the television stations with constantly changing reporters hear the gossip because it goes right from counsellors to reporters.  It always has, it always will.  To stop all of us from finding out about what Council is up to, they have decided to do leak investigation.

My answer is the same as it always has been, if you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns. We deserve more from our City Council than a bunch of silly political games but this is what passes for leadership in Saskatoon.

So in summary

  • I follow a confirmed a leak about Saskatoon City Council behaving ridiculously and that embarrassed them.
  • Saskatoon City Council is full of a bunch of gossips.
  • I read The StarPhoenix and discuss it on the air.  
  • Sometimes Bronwyn Eyre wins those debates (okay many times) and I tweet about it.
  • In summary, it would be cheaper for councillors to sign up for Google News Alerts then hiring private investigators.  It would also be helpful to somewhat aware of what you say to reporters of The StarPhoenix.
  • If council is going to authorize a sham investigation, telling me about it immediately undermines it.

Oh yeah, I emailed Mark Rhogstad at the City of Saskatoon to ask how much the leak investigation was costing us.  He didn’t return my email.

Is the new governance model in Saskatoon for it’s citizens or for the councillors

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.  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.  Saskatoon City Council took this new arrangement so seriously that they actually drew names from a hat to fulfill one of the committee memberships.  You can’t do that and tell anyone that you take governance seriously.

I’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.

Look but don’t touch

I know most of us are more concerned with the roads but have any of you noticed the condition of many of our light standards in the city.  Some are almost completely rusted through.  I have poked at more than one and had my finger go right through.  Others are really swaying in the recent wind. 

According to city reports, City Council has not only ignored city roads but also our electrical grid.  I know, I know, marking priorities is hard.

There were roads, bridges, and snow to neglect and now we have light poles that are not structurally safe and are rusting out. It’s actually remarkable that council could let so many things at the same time.

Oh wait, amidst all of our infrastructure falling, we have a clear goal.  In case you have ever wondered what drives the Mayor and council’s desire to keep taxes low when our city needs revenue, it is Calgary.

This is from 2011.

Saskatoon’s mayor is eyeing a property tax increase of one per cent per year less than Cowtown’s over the next decade.
In 10 to 15 years, Saskatoon’s tax rate could equal that of Alberta’s biggest city, where ratepayers have the lowest property taxes among major cities in the country, he said.

Calgary has fun with this.

To help set its mill rate, Calgary relies on a so-called municipal inflation rate, a combination of costs for salaries, service contracts, fuel and materials. Saskatoon’s administration is coming up with a formula to calculate its own municipal inflation rate and Atchison has said in the past it makes sense to try to tie property tax hikes closely to that amount rather than the consumer inflation rate.

Property tax increases since Atchison became mayor have averaged 3.7 per cent annually. During the same period, Calgary’s property tax has gone up by an average of 4.2 per cent with the municipal portion jumping an average of 6.5 per cent.

Atchison’s wish already has a fiscally prudent Calgary alderman, Andre Chabot, chuckling.

He notes this spring council chose to boost the education portion of the property tax by a onetime whopping 10.4 per cent to take advantage of the province’s move to cut its portion of the property tax.

By comparison, Saskatoon’s property tax rose by a relatively small four per cent in 2011.

“For the mayor of Saskatoon to make a claim like that, it certainly is a politically astute kind of selling feature for his proposed tax increases,” Chabot said, “because he can always make the argument that it was at least one per cent lower than Calgary’s increase.

So how many miles of roadways does “politically astute” pay for?

Of course there is a reason why Calgary’s mill rate is lower.  They collect more business tax.

Jack Vicq, professor emeritus of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said there are differences between how Saskatoon and Calgary are funded that need to be accounted for. The amount in business tax collected in Calgary keeps its property tax rate lower, he said.

More from Vicq

“Let’s make sure the framework we’re in is the same,” Vicq said. “I would go at it from the perspective of really, what is it we should be doing in the city of Saskatoon and how are we going to do that? And maybe that takes a property tax that is higher than Calgary. You can get into trouble by just looking at Calgary and saying, ‘I want to be there.’

“You might lose sight of what you should be doing as a city or what residents expect as a city.”

As an aside, as the video below shows, I am not sure that our mayor even understands basic tax policy.

Back to what we are talking about.

First of all, the reason we have a lower rate is that we don’t fund the city the same way.  We have inferior snow removal and road repair policies to Calgary.  We also do things like underfund transit and force them to purchase worn out busses from places like Edmonton.  Parts of our bus fleet are so old that people come from all over North America to ride them.  The reason we keep using them, they are cheap to run (but you knew that already).

We don’t repair things like light poles is no big shock but now we have the cost of replacing them that is going to be a big shock to the bottom line.  Either that or we will just watch them fall over.

If you are ever in budget review meetings, you hear city managers say, “If you cut this amount, I can’t afford to do maintenance on parks” or “We won’t have enough for fuel”.  Those things are cut anyway.  You know because why do city vehicles need fuel budgeted for properly.  In many ways I think you can say that Calgary is getting far more bang for their tax dollars than we do.

Instead of funding the city the way it needs, we have actually developed our own spin that blames “freeze thaw” for bad roads (we don’t have a freeze thaw cycle, it just freezes) or that rain wrecks our roads (because we are too cheap to use rock base and instead only use sand).  My favourite is listening to council talk about how brave and hard working our city workers are doing instead of talking about how underfunding is creating this mess.  My favourite was when Pat Lorje suggested that city council was under siege last winter because of the lack of snow removal which was something she voted against.

The whole things reminds me of Winston Churchill underfunding the defences of Singapore in 1937 while First Lord of the Admiralty and then calling the British general performance there abysmal when Japan invaded in 1942 and they had no defences to work with.

We have roads that are brutal because the Mayor and council stopped funding the roads years ago.  We have light posts that aren’t safe because the city doesn’t have the cash (because of our desire to beat Calgary) and our city is dirty and grimy into July because it is cheaper to clean the streets slowly rather than quickly.  We get upset that we don’t have enough swim lessons but underfund leisure services as the city has grown.

Jack Vicq is right.  Instead of playing political games, we need a council (who can override the mayor) and fund the city properly.  Instead we get a Twitter feed that is constantly tweeting power outages because they take large dividends out of Saskatoon Light & Power, a #BetterRoadsYXE hashtag, new pylons and lots of emails from the city telling me how much they are doing (that’s another topic).

While the 2011 article mentions the mayor, it is also the fault of city council.  Darren Hill, Pat Lorje, Charlie Clark & Tiffany Paulsen have all been there at least two terms and are working on their third terms.  Mairin Loewen, Ann Iwanchuk, Randy Donauer have all been re-elected once.  They are all there when the council pulls a mill rate out of Calgary and agree to it.  When you are as integral part of the problem, can you be part of the solution?

Sadly repairing the grid or maintaining the Traffic Bridge doesn’t get people elected.  New bridges and low taxes do.  This problem isn’t going to go away and if we don’t do something about it in 2016, the mess will be just huge when we do.

An Open Letter to Saskatoon City Council

Dear Councillors,

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen three minor accidents along the northbound lane on Idylwyld South.  All three have been minor and have “exchanged paint” to use the old NASCAR phrase.  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”.  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.  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”.  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.  They are also unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.  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.  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.  You kept telling people how you heard about their concerns regarding roads on the doorsteps.  Instead you gave a small increase and congratulated yourselves on the back despite knowing it wasn’t enough.  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.  You hope to have enough money budgeted to bring hold the status quo by 2020.  By that time there may not be any roads left and the yearly amount needed to fix our roads will be much, much higher.  

Maybe city crews can’t find the potholes because street cleaning in this city takes months.  On Friday I was in City Park and they were finally cleaning it.  It was July 12!  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.  We have such a short summer, you would think this would be a priority but it isn’t.  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.  The quality of street sweeping is poor to say the least.  Talking to councillors in others wards I hear the same thing.  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.  We may as well have Prosperity Saskatoon but we have roads that failing and a bridge that is a laughing stock of the country.  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,  cities can’t grow themselves.  It’s the national and provincial economies that decide that.  It took Calgary 45 years to grow from 250,000 to a million people yet for some reason, we need to start building today.  Hence the $30 million extra for addition lanes on the north commuter bridge that your own city administration recommended against.  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.  The amount of head office oversight that a potash mine takes compared to thousands of oil wells all over the province is miniscule.  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.  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.  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.  

Eventually we are going to have to make a decision as a city.  If we keep on this path with crumbling roads and infrastructure many will just choose to leave.  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.  You can’t run old buses, garbage trucks, and city vehicles forever.  Eventually something is going to have to give and then you have to start paying for bills of broken equipment, water pipes, and roads.  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.  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.  I had to personally intervene several years ago while a city run backhoe hit a car and was about to drive off.  The utility cut took a couple of years to get fixed.  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.  The weather warmed up and it fell over.  We aren’t hiring the best and the brightest.

Councilor Mairin Loewen

Councillor Mairin Loewen

Councillor Mairin Loewen is on the latest OurYXE Podcast.  She talks about Ward 7 alleyways, bridges (we love to talk about bridges), taxes, snow removal, and her NCAA bracket.  It was a good hour long discussion where she shared some really good insight on the future of the city.  Our ambush style of questioning did take a bit of a toll when she threatened me with failing bridges but if Bob Woodward can be threatened by Obama’s staff, I can take it from Loewen.  Of course I can no longer go to the east side of the city until we get the water taxi issue sorted out.

Mairin Loewen Campaign Video

Mairin Loewen just released a campaign video about why she is running again in Ward 7.

Saskatoon Civic Election Roundup : October 1st Edition

This week’s roundup was more of a road trip with an extensive drive that took me through Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 & 10.  Other than learning that we need to spend more money on roads in this city, I did get to see a bit of the ground game as it is playing out across the city.

Ward 1: While Robin Bellamy has some sign strength in some parts of the city, Darren Hill is still out in front, especially on east side of the river/ward.  It’s a bit hard to judge as a lot of Darren Hill signs have been knocked over.  I saw ten down Saturday while driving around the east side.  I was able to observe both candidates in the same room this week as they were at the Mayfair/Kelsey Woodlawn/Hudson Bay Park Community Association AGM in the warm up shack of Henry Kelsey rink.  Seriously, we met in a hockey change room that still smelled like my hockey bag.  That’s the glamorous world of civic politics; awkward meetings in rooms that smells bad.  If I ever think of running for public office, someone show me this post while sitting me down beside a hockey bag.

Ward 2: Owen Fortosky’s campaign website has launched while I am seeing a lot of Pat Lorje lawn signs going up all over Ward 2.  Of course the secret of Ward 2 is not who has the best campaign but who can get the people out to vote.  Doreen Day Wapass ran a spirited campaign against Lorje last election but very little of her support came out to vote (or the alternative narrative is that she had very little support)

Ward 3: I spent a lot of time driving around Ward 3 Saturday and I have never seen a sign campaign like it.  There would be all sorts of Ann Iwanchuk campaign signs and then a bunch of Mike San Miguel signs in clusters.  Then a while further there will be all of these Iwanchuk campaign signs before another cluster of San Miguel signs.  I  returned on Sunday and Wendy and I actually took some notes on signs.  After looking at all of it, Iwanchuk is ahead. When you toss in the fact that she is an incumbent, I will put her out in front. 

Ward 4: Troy Davies is putting up a lot of lawn signs along 33rd but throughout the ward the sign war is being won by Sean Shaw.  A drive through a lot of Ward 4 Saturday showed that Shaw was holding a big lead in signs.

Ward 5: The big shift in the ward is that while city property seem to be supporting James Ford while actual households are still voting for Randy Donauer.  Ward 5 is always going to be a difficult place for a left wing candidate to win as there is no really provincial or federal NDP presence in the ward which means that each campaign will be starting from scratch.  

Ward 6:  I spent a lot of time in Ward 6 Saturday as ESPN Radio was quite compelling and I was killing time while waiting for Mark to finish football practice.  I managed to hit every neighbourhood in the ward.  Charlie Clark is handily winning the sign war in Ward 6 which has to be horrible news for Brandon Snowsell.  While I drove through on Saturday, Wendy and I were driving through the ward on Sunday and the Clark campaign had even more signs up.  Having talked to a lot of campaigns about this over the last couple of years, one of the reasons you announce early and start door knocking is to get sign locations.  People are not engaged in the political process in April and if you are going to be out there, you want to find people that will endorse you later.  When it gets to that magical start date, you a) toss up enough signs to show your strength and put up some later to look like you are building momentum or you b) toss them all us and basically try to take your opponent out of the race early.  A good example of this was the Eric Olauson campaign in 8 who gained enough sign locations (which are really endorsements) to establish himself as the front runner from the start of the campaign in Ward 8.  After all the door knocking, the robocalls, and giant billboard and you still find yourself losing the sign war; it’s very hard to see a path of victory moving forward for the Snowsell campaign.  As I took Wendy though the ward on Sunday, the Clark campaign had even more signs up which says not only is Clark ahead but he is the one with the momentum.  No sign(s) of the other two candidates that jumped in to the race.

Ward 6 is also an interesting campaign where you have Snowsell running on a platform while Clark is running on his approach to civic politics which is actually a lot more important when you think about the thousands of votes over four years a city councillor will make.  I have no idea what challenges city council will be facing  three years from now and in the end you are voting for the person you best think can handle that.

Finally, thinking politics while listening to ESPN Radio talking about college football is harder than you think.  At one point today I had Randy Donauer doing well in the Heisman Race while Tim Tebow was not doing well in Ward 4.  Best of luck to both Ward 6 candidates as they play Michigan and Alabama on the road next week.

Ward 7: Mairin Loewen has been hard at work and is beating Mike Bzowey in sign locations.  I keep hearing two things.  One that Loewen’s ground game is paying off for her and she is ahead but I also hear that because of Bzowey’s spending and the wildcard that is Stonegate that is much closer.  I think it is close but I Loewen works hard on constituency issues and is a thoughtful city councillor and effective campaigner.  I still have Loewen ahead in a close campaign.  

One odd part of the campaign is that after driving through most of Stonegate I never noticed a single lawn sign.  I assume it’s because of all of the construction and not because the neighbourhood has shunned all three candidates in the ward but still, it is kind of weird as the neighbourhood has made it’s feelings known before (they don’t like group homes for single mothers and their infants).   I don’t think it means anything either way other than it is just weird.

Ward 8: Some of Ainsley Robertson‘s supporters are saying to me that Sharon Wingate will draw enough support from Eric Olauson on the right for them to win up the middle. I agree it does happen as you saw that happen with several of Ralph Goodale’s elections but that only seems to make sense if there is a three way race and you still have to be stronger than the other two.  Three strong campaign’s lowers the number of votes to win but you still have to get to that number.  I still have Olauson out in front although Robertson does seem to be gaining in some sign locations and I think she is in second place.

Ward 9: Tiffany Paulsen has published her campaign platform and it has an interesting plank of free outdoor fitness classes for everyone in the city.  She hasn’t released how this would be paid for or how much it would cost but I like it and one of the reasons why we have these elections is to get new ideas.

Ward 10: This is the only campaign that has it’s own iPhone app and a paperless candidate in Mark Horseman.  Zach Jeffries is using a more traditional campaign to knock off incumbent Bev Dubois.  Dubois is going big with billboards, bus bench ads, radio ads and today, a pancake breakfast.  Three different approaches to a tough race.  While this is Bev Dubois’s sixth campaign (she lost previously to Don Atchison and then Tiffany Paulsen before winning the next three), both Mark Horseman and Zach Jeffries have experience running campaigns in the riding.  Horseman ran in the last election while Jeffries was part of the campaign team trying to beat Dubois back in 2003.  While my survey of Ward 10 wasn’t as extensive as my trips through Ward 3 and Ward 6, it is worth noting that Dubois seems to be losing the sign war to Jeffries and maybe even Horseman.  May she should have released an Android or Blackberry app?

Mayoral Campaign: Tom Wolf criticized Don Atchison for essentially being the incumbent mayor during the campaign and like most of council, the Mayor had some problems with the language around the Code of Conduct.  I agree with the Mayor, err, Don Atchison on this one and probably think it was a campaign mistake.  Wolf came out with his second phase of his campaign platform which focused on communities.  The other major news during the mayoral campaign is the excellent political campaign that the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan has run with several announcements during the campaign which has blunted some of the criticism that some candidates have made about the spending.  Both candidates have some lawn signs up around the city but I have Atchison out in front.

The interesting part of the mayoral campaign will be the mayor’s debate which is going to be televised for what I think will be the first time.

Useless Fact of the Week: Candidates are very, very passionate about lawn sign stakes.  Some use one stake, some use two and there is a divide between those that use 2×2 stakes (Hill and Jeffries among others) and those that use 1×2 stakes.  I also found out that NDP leadership candidate Cam Broten has a “stake guy” who makes stakes out of recycled wood.  It also sounds out that on several campaigns, the election allows them to clean out sheds because the stakes are all being used.  So by taking a lawn sign not only are you making your voice heard, you are helping out someone’s domestic situation.  That and if your fence goes missing during a provincial campaign, it could be Broten.

Number of the week: 288.  As in 288 followers that Tom Wolf has on Twitter.  Tom is doing a good job with social media but with only 288 followers, his campaign is not catching on as it needs to if he wants to beat Don Atchison (who has 810)

Statistically Insignificant Argument of the Week: I have heard from a couple of campaigns that “my opponent got the sign but I got the vote”.  I know that does happen but it’s a statistically insignificant amount.  It goes both ways and lawn sign strength is a pretty good sign of voter intentions.  The exceptions are rental housing where a landlord may authorize the lawn signs but of course the residents have their own idea on how they will vote. 

Decorum in City Council

I mentioned earlier that Mayor Don Atchison and some other councillors don’t think that Twitter should be used in City Council.  Darren Hill is the only frequent Twitter user in Council and by frequent, I mean probably three tweets in a four meeting month.  In Hill’s defense, he says that he does it to correct false statements or misinformation.  A look back at some tweets he has sent out, not only is he right but often I am the one that is spreading false information… I got the name of the city administrator reading a report wrong and was quickly corrected.

This has had a weird impact on council in that Hill is one of the reasons why people care more about city politics than ever before (I’ll also give credit to Charlie Clark, Mairin Loewen, Sean Shaw and his blog, Dave Hutton and his live tweeting Council meetings) because we can interact with them.  What happened was that people (and our smartphones) started to show up at Saskatoon City Council meetings and we interact with each other and those at home, and even councillors in other cities who are following the action using the #yxecc hashtag.  At the FCM meetings, I was told by several city councillors from all over they love the actions on the #yxecc hashtag on Monday nights (often during their own council meetings) and want to know how to get that kind of civic involvement in their city.

Councillor do follow along.  I have been given the slow glare by more than one councillor after disagreeing with them as they check Twitter on their phone discreetly.  Is that kind of behaviour appropriate for an elected official?  Let me describe for you the kind of behaviour one sees at City Council. 

  • During the budget review process, at least two and probably three nodded off during the deliberations.  At least once a month, someone has taken a nap for a couple of moments.  If they weren’t technically asleep, they were pretty close.  I can tell when it is after 9:30 as one of the other councillors gets cranky after that hour.
  • Cosmo Industries showed a music video/song that they had made to guilt councillors into voting their way and instead of calling them out for it for a grotesquely manipulative act, they fell over telling Cosmo how great they were.
  • Councillors lecture each other, voters, and city administration for extended periods of time, often in the identical way that the previous speaker had just lectured someone and it keeps going on and on some meetings.  Everyone knows this is just political posturing and is contributing nothing to the debate.  Sometimes this is contrary to statements given at previous meetings or even earlier in the meeting.  It’s horrible.  Of course some of these talks are all about building up their perceived electoral base.  It has nothing to do with the current debate but one persons politics and it takes up a lot of time.  It is painful for me to listen to, I can’t imagine what it is like  for other councillors.
  • One councillor is consistently unprepared, hasn’t read the council package, and looks to others (generally the mayor) on how to vote.  That doesn’t stop that councillor from speaking for extended periods of time on topics the councillor doesn’t understand.  What frustrates me is that they are paid to be prepared.  I don’t get paid to attend those meetings and I read the council package.  Why can’t councillors?  Oh never mind, we know the answer.
  • The administration reports to council are often interesting but I see many of them before hand.  If I see them, I am assuming that most councillors do as well (that being said, not always) and have a copy of it in their council package.  While it’s always fun to hear from administration, how much attention does it take to hear the same report at least twice.  Oh yeah it’s also on PowerPoint so you can get to hear the administrator read you the report.

Not to go all John Turner on you and say that television has destroyed democracy but that is the main reason why the speeches can be so long and at times the behaviour can be brutal.  It is a partisan place, probably more so now that previously with quips and shots being taken.  I can’t see City Council meetings being a rewarding experience for anyone.

Before I go any further, some of the councillors are really earnest who really speak passionately on topics that may be unpopular.  After one meeting I asked a councillor if there was a plan behind alienating himself from an entire neighbourhood that was outside of his ward.  There wasn’t, he just thought they deserved an explanation for his vote.  I was actually inspired.  Other councillors pick their battles very carefully.  While some come unprepared, others know the package inside and out. (I have jokingly chided Mairin Loewen on Twitter [whose laptop screen faces where I often sit] for paying too close of attention.  That can’t be good for her).

In the end City Council is not a professional group of administrators or board members.  They are politicians and too many politicians are out to their own self-interests (mainly re-election).  If I was going to tackle any problem with council (other than the councillors who are just mailing in their votes and debate are replaced), I would:

  • Greatly limit PowerPoint and media (and no Keynote won’t make it better)  Limit media to drawings and maps.  The rest can be posted to the website.  No music videos.
  • It’s impossible to police but make it clear that political posturing speeches have be kept short.
  • Go to blind voting.  We have these big debates and you have a couple of councillors who are looking around at others on how to vote.  Really?  If you are going to vote together and you can’t even plan that out before hand, you deserve to lose more votes.
  • Come up with with some rules for technology.  Former NDP MLA Hon. Pat Atkinson used to tweet Question Period.  It was loved by both sides of the debate and it opened up the legislature in ways that we hadn’t seen before.  Technology is good and if council members can multi-task and if it doesn’t distract others, good for them.
  • Let coffee into council chambers.  The water looks really dignified but those meetings are two and three hours.  If it keeps council members awake, it’s a good step.  I also suggest cookies and snacks.  If a little bit of caffeine helps foster a more articulate debate, do it.
  • Stop with the partisan crap.  We have right wing candidates pooling their resources for a call centre (but we aren’t a slate) and coordinating some of their campaigns.  You have councillors advising candidates all in favour of more councillors of a particular worldview.  Is this really where we want to go?  What happened to the idea where wards elected candidates that are best suited to represent their interests.  We are getting close to having the choice between two candidates and what they want to do.  It’s a big change and one that we will regret as a city.  I don’t really care if my councillor is right, left, or centre.  I want one that listens and is for what is in the best interests for my ward.  We are on the brink of losing that if the slate idea keeps building.
  • Of course the incumbents looking after their own electoral interests in excluding old lawn signs (the biggest expense in most civic campaigns) from election spending while making their challengers expense their signs is a joke.  I am glad there is a movement to change this (and credit needs to be given to Charlie Clark and Mairin Loewen for leading this charge previously and in the present).
  • Encourage Hill and others to tweet as they see fit.  It opens up City Hall and City Council meetings.  It encourages citizen participation.  I hear more about Calgary from @nenshi’s Twitter feed than from many other sources.  Who cared about Newark, New Jersey until Mayor Cory Booker started to tweet at @corybooker (and saved some people from burning buildings).  City Council does some a horrible job in communicating as a group, they need any help they can get.  As for the Mayor’s suggestion of a big screen with Tweets go, I am both in favour of it won’t stop trying to hack into it until I take it over one meeting.  Seriously if he was going to do it, stream the #yxecc tag with users that have to sign up each meeting.  I would love to see Mike San Miguel’s, Darren Hill’s, my own, Jeff Jackson, and other tweets as we went along.  I can’t imagine how big a distraction it would be to council but I think we have established that they don’t always pay attention.

So just like politicians everywhere, instead of focusing on the real issue, they are focusing on smartphones and Twitter.  I think it comes from not being able to see the forest through the trees.

Follow Your Councillor for Day

The Saskatoon Health Region convinced most of Saskatoon’s City Councillors to ride their bike everywhere for a week.  Here is Ward 7 councillor’s Mairin Loewen’s video blog for a day.

The reason I post this is that I was at a meeting with Councillors Charlie Clark and Pat Lorje that week in Riversdale and I stepped outside to take a phone call and joked with them that I was (briefly) tempted to take their bikes so they could have the total biking experience on the west side of Saskatoon. 

It was a good idea and nice to see people like Mairin taking a lead on making Saskatoon a more bike friendly place to live and get around in.

2012 Saskatoon City Council List of Candidates

The race for Saskatoon City Council race is well underway with fundraisers, door knocking and quips on Twitter breaking out all over the place.   Dave Hutton does have the definite candidates list on City Hall Notebook but I decided to create a page myself to keep track of the campaigns).  I have my biases and will disclose them.  Later on this summer I will offer up some endorsements in Ward 1 (where I live), Ward 2 (which I have long had a special affinity for) and perhaps Ward 6 (where I will work) once I have had a chance to talk to candidates and had a chance to review campaign platforms (umm, some platforms would be helpful).

This year I am going to do something different in that I am going to give up the blog (and access to my Twitter feed) for any candidate that wants to use it to reach out on.  I’ll create an account for them, give access to them, and let them talk about whatever issues they want.  If you are interested, let me know at jordoncooper@gmail.com.

Ward 1

  • Incumbent: Darren Hill 
  • Challengers: Carol Reynolds, Robin Bellamy

    The lowdown: Darren Hill will be running for his third term as Ward 1 city councillor.  He will be challenged on the right by Carol Reynolds who ran against hill in the last election and long time candidate and Ward 7 Public School trustee Robin Bellamey (who lives in Ward 8).   While Reynolds and Bellamey both say that represent the right, Hill is a fiscal conservative as well which means there isn’t a lot of room to run in a ward that probably is is more comfortable with the centre.  I am going to predict a Hill victory again.

    Ward 2

  • Incumbent: Pat Lorje
  • Challengers: Marcel Petite

    The lowdown: Long time councillor Pat Lorje is running again in Ward 1 and her opponent is Marcel Petite.  Petite is the executive director of the Core Neighborhood Youth Co-op and outside of a closed Facebook page, he hasn’t said a lot online.  I expect Lorje to win by a large margin.

    Ward 3

  • Incumbent: Ann Iwanchuk
  • Challengers: Mike San Miguel

    The lowdown: Mike San Miguel has been running hard in this ward since narrowly losing to Iwanchuk in the by-election.  Of course on the flip side, Ann Iwanchuk won by around 15% and it’s really hard to defeat an incumbent yet at the same time Iwanchuk in a by-election with a low voter turnout.  I have a lot of respect for both candidates which mean in the end Ward 3 wins.  It should be a great race.

    Ward 4

    The lowdown: Shaw ran hard against Myles Heidt three years ago and narrowly lost to him.  Shaw is an environmental geochemist, head of the Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee and local activist while his opponent Davies is the spokesperson for MD Ambulance and involved in Synergy 8.  This will be another really close race.

    Ward 5

    The lowdown: I am not sure why anyone would run against Donauer in Ward 5.  He won in the by-election to replace Gordon Wyant, votes to the right of most issues, and does an excellent job of communicating with his constituents in a riding that traditionally votes Conservative/Saskatchewan Party.  James Ford is a progressive and according to his website will be releasing his platform based on the feedback he gets from constituents.

  • Ward 6

    The lowdown: This isn’t expected to be a close race.  Clark, a popular two term incumbent is a centre/left candidate is a part of the city where centre/left is how they vote.  He is probably one of the more astute thinkers on council which means that when he makes a statement or decision, it’s defensible (even if you don’t agree with it).  My prediction is that Clark wins big.

    Ward 7

    The lowdown: Loewen beat Bzowey to win the ward after Bob Pringle stepped down.  Like Ward 3, this will be a rematch between a popular incumbent and challenger.  While Bzowey has been spending a lot of money in and around the ward with name recognition, Loewen is very popular in the ward and has a motivated campaign team.  My feeling is that with both the advantage of incumbency and a good ground game, she will win again.

    Ward 8

    The lowdown: Glen Penner grew tired of winning all of those elections and has retired.  Ainsley Robertson who ran in the Ward 5 by-election before narrowly losing to Randy Donauer and Eric Olauson who ran in Ward 3 before withdrawing are both running in their home of Ward 8.  Karen Rooney, registered nurse is also running in the ward.

    Ward 9

    The lowdown: The question isn’t if Paulsen will win (she will), its if she will win by acclamation (again).

    Ward 10

    The lowdown: Dubois is another long term councillor being challenged for the second time by Mark Horseman.  Horseman is a data analyst at the University of Saskatchewan and long time Conservative Party activist.  I keep hearing rumours of other jumping into the race so it’s too soon to start thinking about what will happen.

    Column: NDP Conspiracy Idea Baseless

    My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

    In the column, Political moves on Saskatoon council (SP, Jan. 27) John Gormley suggested an NDP takeover of Saskatoon city council.

    In addition to the "Gang of Five," he saw additional threats in Sean Shaw, Pat Atkinson and Frank Quennell as contenders in an organized attempt by the NDP to take over the city. In the coming "Leftaggeddon" there could be as many as seven left-of-centre councillors and a New Democratic mayor haunting Gormley’s dreams, with the apparent intention of tormenting the Saskatchewan Party from their stronghold in council.

    As fun as it is to imagine a vast left-wing conspiracy, it’s not why Saskatoon’s city council is the way it is.

    After last fall’s provincial election campaign, I am not confident that Saskatchewan’s NDP is able to organize a slo-pitch team, let alone a takeover of city council. Even if there was a nefarious effort to elect leftwing councillors in some wards, some did run against a well-financed and organized effort from the right. There are NDP supporters who run and campaign in civic elections, but the battle goes both ways, with Saskatchewan Party supporters getting involved, as well.

    It’s been a part of civic politics in Saskatoon for many years. Even then most civic campaigns are still won and lost by a small team of people working hard for a friend or candidate in whom they believe.

    With limited budgets and no city-wide campaigns for councillors, it often comes down to who gets out door knocking the earliest and stays out the latest.

    While Gormley is likely to disagree, the left-right comparison doesn’t work in civic politics as it does at other levels of government. There isn’t a lot of room for political ideology when councillors are discussing and voting on a karate studio in Westview, or the lack of access to dog parks.

    During the couple of town hall meetings I sat in on this fall, there weren’t a lot of wedge issues brought up. Even on bigger topics, such as what to do with the Traffic Bridge, or voting on the south bridge, the "Gang of Four" was replaced many times by the Gang of 11 as council voted together.

    Watching council you notice that differences exist, but not as much on a rightleft divide but on questions of how one builds a city and what kind of city one wants.

    Will it be a neighbourhood-centric city such as New York, or an endless sprawling suburb such as Mississauga in Ontario? Do we want a car-driven infrastructure like Los Angeles, or a public transit-driven one like San Francisco?

    Do we lay out rigorous architectural standards like Chicago or even Winnipeg, or toothless standards that lead to bland architecture, as we now have in Saskatoon?

    The kind of council we have reflects the kind of city we have. Parts of Saskatoon have done far better than others during the economic boom, and will have much different perspectives on what the next steps should be and what priorities we should have. The average income in the city in 2006 was $65,487, with 5.9 per cent of households living below $15,000 a year.

    In Saskatoon’s five core neighbourhoods, the average income is $35,003, with a staggering 13.3 per cent of families living on less than $15,000 a year. Eleven per cent of Saskatoon needs day-care help, but the number is double in the core. Only six per cent of Saskatoon adults have less than a Grade 9 education, but when you look at the core, that number more than doubles to 13 per cent.

    How many areas of Saskatoon have their own economic development corporation? None. We have city councillors that see the world differently from each other because we have a very divided city, and see the challenges and opportunities in different ways.

    A council that reflects our city’s perspectives is what we want. We need market friendly councillors as well as those who can advocate for other aspects of city life. Saskatoon has suffered through councils that were both too business-driven and anti-business.

    A diverse council is good for the city. We benefit from both the right and left because, as a city, that is who we are. As long as councillors keep doing that, I am pretty happy.

    Grandstanding over an international trade deal when the city doesn’t even have a local procurement policy? Let’s leave those stunts up to other levels of government and go back to micromanaging the transit department. It’s at least something both sides can agree upon.

    jordon@jordoncooper.com

    City of Saskatoon to seek exemption for international trade deal

    This still boggles my mind.

    Saskatoon should request an exemption to a large-scale free-trade agreement being negotiated between Canada and Europe, a city committee agreed.

    City councillors, sitting as an executive committee, voted 5-4 Monday to seek a permanent exemption to the proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, a free trade and economic integration pact between Canada and the 27 European Union countries that is in the final stages of negotiation.

    The resolution still requires council approval in February and will face some difficulty with two right-of-centre councillors, Coun. Myles Heidt and Coun. Randy Donauer, absent at the committee Tuesday.

    I know this will die in council with Heidt and Donauer’s return but still…

    Access to government procurement at federal, provincial, municipal, regional and local governments, as well as Crown corporations and utilities, is Europe’s main goal in the pact. Saskatoon has seen interest from European firms on a small number of major infrastructure projects, including the $300-million Circle Drive South project, which drew a bid from a Spanish firm.

    Cities only have to be concerned about the effect on construction contracts, not the takeover of city-owned utilities, according to a briefing from provincial officials, Jordan said

    “I’m confident from the information I’ve received there’s not much need to be concerned about that aspect of it,” [Michael] Jordan said.

    Okay, at least the city managers are thinking clearly on this one.

    Coun. Charlie Clark questioned if the private sector could challenge the city to open up municipally operated services such as Access Transit, the lift-equipped bus service, or if city hall could no longer enact a local food first policy or a bottled water ban under the agreement.

    “There’s enough unknowns about how this could impact the city and because we don’t have a seat at the table it’s best to request an exemption,” Clark said. “I think that as a democratically-elected city council we should make sure we can make the decisions we need to make to protect citizens and there’s no real benefits from what I can see for cities to be included — so it’s easier to be excluded.”

    Can local municipalities actually be excluded under international trade agreements?  The truth is that on big projects like the bridges that we are building are being designed and built by international firms because of their complexity and scope and the consolidation of international design and engineering firms (which as a city we benefit from).   I also hate the idea that we need to protect local companies from international competition.  The reason we need to protect them is that we think as the city grows, they aren’t good enough.  Sometimes they won’t be good enough (which is why international firms exist and why there has been increased consolidation around the super engineering firms) but protecting them from competition doesn’t make them any better either.

    Of course all of this was grandstanding because the city doesn’t even have a local procurement policy.

    The bigger impact is the New West Partnership which will open up construction contracts over $200,000 to companies across the west.  It will have a far greater impact on small and medium businesses in this province than CETA will, yet that passed.