Tag Archives: Saskatoon City Council

Saskatoon City Council Meeting in Review

I haven’t done one of these in a long while but here are the highlights from today’s City Council meeting.

  • Both Pat Lorje and Zach Jeffries brought up the missing reports on the city council website.  Administration just kind of made up a reply and suggested they don’t have enough space to host all of them.  They are preparing a report on it and will present that to Council in April.  So yeah, administration was passive aggressive on the issue.
  • Now to be fair to administration, they scan stuff in the most inefficient way possible.  It is basically JPGs of paper reports converted to PDFs.  It means that the reports are often not searchable or indexed and are MASSIVE in size.  I am assuming that administration doesn’t have the space to host normal PDFs but it could be that they are handling these HULK sized PDFs. (“PDF Angry!  PDF SMASH!”).  Either way, disk space as an excuse is a weak one.
  • Eric Olauson brought up the issue of efficiencies for new businesses in getting set up in the city.  It’s a great point and Calgary has made some great progress.on streamlining processes in many areas of the city.  Administration seemed to shrug it off.  Hopefully Olauson keeps pushing for it.  I’ll just post this link to a Vox story that Olauson posted to Twitter last week.  I was hoping he would bring it up today.  It’s worth reading and would have made for an interesting debate considering Council voted to give Urban Systems a large contract to do what Houston did for free.  Of course the mandate for Urban Systems is larger than just transit.  In its mandate is all of active transportation (cycling, pedestrians, long boarding).  Some asked if there was much debate.  There wasn’t but with most of those kinds of things, the debate takes place once it comes back to Council.
  • Darren Hill asked the administration to take into account the impact city projects have on active transportation (walking, cycling, and long boarding).  I believe that if records were kept, Hill is Canada’s strongest long boarding advocate.
  • Olauson also brought up the issue that as a councillor gets complaints about an issue and it is kind of swept under the rug by admin who says, there is no issue.  As Olauson brought up, there is an issue because councillors keep hearing about it.
  • Clark brought this up twice but he called out the administration for using the term customer service in talking about citizens.  He essentially said that we are all in this together and City Hall needs to remember that.  It was a good thought.  Not that customer service is wrong but I am not a customer of City Hall but a resident of Saskatoon.  Clark later referenced that when he said that snow removal is an act of citizenship.
  • Ann Iwanchuk and Zach Jeffries both rose to talk about snow removal.  Both brought up the idea that we don’t want to punish people who are making a good effort or are on vacation.  I know what they are saying but isn’t that a responsibility of home ownership?  Shouldn’t you make arrangements or hire someone to shovel when you leave?  
  • I believe Pat Lorje was calling out City Centre Church for not shovelling their sidewalks.
  • Twitter feedback suggests that some neighbourhoods are way better at snow removal then others.  There seems to be some consensus that City Park is horrible at it.
  • There you go.  Short and almost sweet.  Councillors then retired upstairs where they had an executive meeting that was in-camera (closed door).

    Is the Lorje Leak ‘Inside baseball’?

    I tend to agree with Prof. David McGrane on this.

    Charles Smith, an assistant political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s St. Thomas More College, said if Lorje is found to have broken the law she will have a "professional obligation" to resign. "I think she’d have to step down," Smith said. "I don’t see how she could stay on."

    Regardless of the outcome of the police investigation, the "whiff of scandal" now surrounding Lorje will "dog her over the next two years," make a re-election bid challenging and "make it very difficult for her to act and do the work she was elected to do," Smith added.

    After her colleagues sanctioned her Monday, Lorje told reporters she had "no intention of resigning."

    She apologized for the breach, but maintained she did not know she was breaking council’s code of conduct when she sent a document to "a trusted adviser" for "private, independent, confidential advice" in early June. Cline, who received the document, was an NDP MLA alongside Lorje from 1995 to 2003 and served in cabinet with her from 2001 to 2002. He owns a home on 11th Street East in Nutana, where riverbank slumping has been a problem since 2012.

    City solicitor Patricia Warwick said the leaked document contains legal advice, is subject to solicitorclient privilege and contains information that could be "injurious" to the city if it’s made public.

    Councillors Darren Hill and Tiffany Paulsen told reporters after Monday’s meeting they have heard from numerous constituents calling for Lorje’s resignation and they would step down from their posts were they in her position.

    David McGrane, a political science professor at the U of S, said he doesn’t see "any reason" for Lorje to resign. He said he suspects voters with short memories will have forgotten about the leak – which he described as "inside baseball" – by the time the next municipal election rolls around in October 2016.

    "As long as this doesn’t reproduce itself, it should really wash away within a short amount of time," he said.

    I’ll add in some disclosure to this.  Wendy and I are both friends with Pat Lorje, something that came up many times in the previous leak investigation that didn’t find anything.

    I agree with Charles Smith.  I think that anyone that is convicted of a crime who is in public office should resign.  There is more than adequate precedent for that and I think it is part of a functioning democracy.  If she is not charged or convicted, I also agree with David McGrane that this will not affect her electability.  People just don’t tune in enough to care that much at the two year point of a mandate.

    Also kudos to McGrane for using the phrase “inside baseball” in his interview with Andrea Hill. 

    Looking back at the Saskatoon Transit Strike

    I chose not to write anything about the lockout because as soon as it lifted, I got several versions of the in-camera discussions and to be honest, the stories shocked me.  Instead I put together some excellent posts, columns and articles from other people observing the lockout.  

    The first comes from October 10th and is by University of Saskatchewan law professor Keir Valance who said back then that the lockout was illegal.  He was right.

    More importantly, though, the lockout may well be illegal, and so may be the City’s unilateral changes to the pension plan. And the Union quickly brought an application before the Labour Relations Board, arguing exactly that.

    On Sept. 26, 2014, the Labour Relations Board issued an interim Order (LRB File No. 211-14). That Order didn’t end the lockout, but it did prevent the City from implementing any further unilateral changes to the pension plan. On October 14th, the City and the ATU are back in front of the Board to argue about the legality of the changes to the pension plan and to the legality of the lockout.

    The Law

    The language that potentially renders the City’s actions illegal is the same now, under the new
    Saskatchewan Employment Act (“SEA”), as it was under the now-repealed Trade Union Act. Section 6-62(1)(l)(i) of the SEA reads:

    6-62(1)It is an unfair labour practice for an employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, to do any of the following:

    (l) to declare or cause a lockout or to make or threaten any changes in wages, hours, conditions or tenure of employment, benefits or privileges while:
    (i) any application is pending before the Board…

    [“Pending” means that the hearing of the application has begun but the Board has not yet rendered a decision, so an Employer or Union could not, for instance, file a frivolous application just to prevent a lockout or strike.]

    Unfortunately for the City, there was an Unfair Labour Practice (“ULP”) application pending before the Labour Relations Board when the lockout notice was issued. It appears the ULP was unrelated to the lockout – it related to discipline of a bus driver and was heard back in May – but the language in the SEA doesn’t say a “related” application, or anything of the sort. It says any application.

    In order for the lockout and the pension plan changes to be legal, the City has to convince the Labour Relations Board that when the SEA says “any application”, the statute really means “any related application”. That flies in the face of the plain wording of the legislation. However, in fairness to the City’s position, most of the time the ULPs in such situations are related either to the lockout itself, or to the collective bargaining process that was underway. The intention of s. 6-62(1)(l) is to ensure that employers don’t “raise the stakes” on a ULP by trying to place economic pressure on a Union that has decided to pursue its rights before the Board. It’s about protecting the integrity of the Board’s process, and not allowing the rule of law to be undermined by economic power.

    Still, the Board can’t simply decide what it thinks the law should be. It’s got to operate within the terms of the legislation that gives it its authority (the SEA). Without getting into the intricacies of statutory interpretation, the City would have to have some strong evidence that the Legislature somehow did not intend for the statute to mean what it says it means. That’s not impossible. But the Union has in its favour the fact that the Legislature could have changed the language of the statute when it implemented the SEA – but didn’t.

    Okay, so it got weird from the start.  I knew that law and when I probed members of council about it, they started telling me that the city didn’t like the law and it was ruining their strategy so the Board would have to overturn it.  When I brought up voices like Valance, they looked at me like I was mad.  Again, kind of weird.

    Oh yeah, there is also this sentence from Valance from that post

    Ironically, had the City waited two weeks, there would have been no question that the lockout had been properly issued – because the outstanding ULP was decided on October 3, 2014.

    Saskatoon City Council wasted over $1 million of “ratepayers” (you know those of us they are trying to protect) money because they could not wait two week?  Think about that for a while.  If they had waited two weeks, it would have been a legal lockout and they probably would have won.  

    So now the Mayor wants a judicial review on the ruling.  According to Valance, that stands little chance of succeeding.

    If the City pursues judicial review of the LRB decision, the question will be whether the LRB’s interpretation of the SEA was “reasonable”. In my view, it was (though I hasten to add we still don’t have the Board’s written reasons for why it ruled as it did). The Board has the jurisdiction, responsibility, and expertise to interpret its governing statute. It’s owed deference in its decision. And in my view, finding in the City’s favour would have flown in the face of the plain language of the legislation, and would have flown in the face of the fact that the Legislature has apparently – at least twice – refused to change the section in question.

    Whether ss. 6-62(1)(l) and 6-63(1)(b) are good or bad for labour relations is not the point. That’s for the Legislature to decide. And the Legislature has decided at least three times (in 1944 when it proclaimed The Trade Union Act, 1944; in 1993; and in 2013) that these sections were to stay. It should be up to the Legislature to change them.

    So let’s get Les MacPherson’s take on it as he arrived at many of the same conclusions as Valance and also the Labour Relations Board (and might as well toss this in there, the Government of Saskatchewan in 1944, 1993, and in 2013)

    I find myself mystified by this transit fiasco.

    I’m no lawyer, but, to me, at least, it seems crystal clear that the lockout was illegal in the first place. The labour act says there can be no strike or lockout with a pending grievance before the labour board. There was a pending grievance before the labour board, filed by the union in June. On the face of it, the lockout was illegal.

    City lawyers argued that the grievance was not relevant to negotiations. Except the act doesn’t say anything about relevance to negotiations. It says “any” grievance. The city, unwisely, was betting the board would read into well-established law what isn’t there. For that to happen would be almost freakishly rare.

    The city further argued that the grievance was not really pending because the board had not started formal hearings. Except the act doesn’t say anything about whether hearings have started. It just says there can be no strike or lockout if a grievance is pending. Again, the city gambled that the board would interpret the law to mean what it doesn’t say. Losing this bet will cost Saskatoon taxpayers into the seven figures in refunded wages for lockedout bus drivers, for refunds on transit passes and for legal costs. For the damage done to those who rely on transit to get to work, to get to the store, to get the kids to daycare, there is no accounting.

    The city argued that the law as it is invites labour turmoil. Any looming strike or lockout, otherwise perfectly legitimate, could be thwarted by filing a bogus grievance. Maybe so, ruled the labour board, but the law is the law. There are many legislated restrictions on strikes and lockouts, the ruling explained. This is one of them.

    “It is not for this board to rewrite the Saskatchewan Employment Act in the fashion suggested by the city.” The city should not have to go to the labour board to be told the law is the law.

    By appealing this decision, the city now will be asking the Court of Queen’s Bench to rewrite the law. Why the court would be any more likely than the board to do so, no one has explained. The board is appointed by a Saskatchewan Party government, and not because it is labour-friendly.

    As for the labour turmoil predicted by city solicitor Patricia Warwick if the decision is allowed to stand, I wouldn’t bet on that, either. The prohibition on a strike or lockout when a grievance is pending is nothing new. It has been a part of Saskatchewan labour legislation since 1944, and has remained in place after multiple revisions and amendments in the decades since. The idea is to prevent undue pressure on the board while it adjudicates a grievance. Why a law in place for 70 years suddenly would cause labour turmoil is no more clear to me than it was to the labour board.

    He summarizes with this

    To me, it looks like council got lousy advice. On a case that might have gone either way, an expensive defeat is bearable. In this case, council was advised to gamble taxpayers’ money on a crazy long shot for something it could have had anyway, and legally, in two weeks. If I were the client here, I would be angry.

    What kind of shocks me in this whole thing is that the city has several solicitors to draw advice from.  They also have a lawyer on Council (Tiffany Paulsen) and someone who is a labour expert (Ann Iwanchuk) who also overlooked or ignored the act.  There are also some other councillors who bragged to me about their knowledge of the labour act and were 100% confident that this was a legal lockout.  How did the all get it wrong? 

    What goes on in that bunker where everyone gets it wrong and is utterly shocked when a ruling where all of these outside voices are saying you are going to lose goes against you?  

    There is a weird reality that council puts itself in sometimes.  Remember snow removal when council voted against residential snow clearing.  Then it snowed a bunch that winter and in an “emergency debate” on it, many of them played the victims and used phrases like “under siege” and seemed shocked that it snows in Saskatoon in the winter.  The city wasn’t under siege but as councillors they were.  It was all about them.  Then the mayor starts to lecture manager who do not have the funds to do snow removal to do a daily press conference because it must be a misunderstanding right?

    The same thing happened with the outrage over roads.  The city for over a decade (it started when Atch was elected) cut back on road repair and maintenance.  What happened?  The roads fell apart and again council acted as it they were victims of this. Now we have the same thing.  A hashtag, website, new pylons (no I am not talking about new politicians but actual pylons with “Building Better Roads” on them) and congratulatory radio ads about doing what other cities just do, maintain the roads.  I don’t get it but it is a weird group dynamic.  There are some intelligent members on council but for whatever reason the sum of the whole is far less then the total of the parts and the result is a very, very low functioning city council and we as a city suffer because of it.

    Going for a walk

    A couple of weeks ago a local politicians phoned me up and simply said, “You are stupid and naive”.  That intrigued me so I said, “go on”.  During the conversation I was told the city “actually works” and no one cared about the social issues I was talking about.  I was reminded that “people vote in their own self interests” and they don’t care for others.

    They are right.  Statistically I can prove to you that people don’t care about poverty issues.  People don’t care about battered women unless it is an NFL player hitting them.  People don’t care about the children being prostituted or the girls taken from reserves to work the streets.  People don’t care about global warming very much or at least not enough to change.  People don’t care about how we can built a better city.  They only care about their own commute.  The proof is in the hashtag #yxetraffic when there is an accident on Circle Drive.  You would think the world has ended because people are delayed a little bit.

    People do care about their taxes.  Personally I have long felt that I am under taxed for the services we get but despite having a really low property tax rate, people tell me all of the time how much tax they pay.  Apparently they don’t read about anyone else’s tax rates.  People care about how rough they have it.  I get letters from people who live in multi million dollar homes on Whiteswan Drive telling me how bad it is there because of the traffic noise.  When I minimized the road design of Saskatchewan Crescent, I got email from many people who live there about how hard it is to live on Saskatchewan Crescent.  I know, who thought the two worst streets to live on are Whiteswan Drive and Saskatchewan Crescent and where do I send a donation to make it better?  

    Politicians tell me all of the time of the people that they fear the backlash from.  It’s not those that are struggling.  They don’t donate and they don’t vote.  It’s those who complain about their taxes, who think the city is spending their money in the wrong places, that only care about the pothole on their street.  It is why the communications that the City of Saskatoon ran as soon as the lockout started mentioned keeping a promise to taxpayers (a promise I can’t find anywhere) and putting the blame on the ATU.  Who runs ads attacking the group of people you are supposed to be negotiating with? 

    The special city council meeting that was called to vote on the pension changes had a great Q & A with Murray Totland where each councillor lobbed softball question after softball question at him to help build political cover.  What never came up?  What the city was going to do to help people who rely on transit.  

    This is a city council that spent hours a couple of years ago debating what kind of fence that the city should build.  Should it be wood, brick, chain link, cement block, a combination of materials?  Seriously, they went around and around over the most minuscule of things.  Yet when a couple of thousand of people were left out in the cold with no transit, there was no discussion at all?

    I agree with labour action.  Lockouts and strikes are part of the process.  At the same time this lockout is different.  There are some hard working people that are being negatively affected.

    • A guy I know who pulled himself off the streets lost his job because of not being able to get to work because he lived on the westside yet had a job in the far north side of the city.
    • A waitress I talked to lived on the westside, attends University of Saskatchewan and works downtown.  It’s almost impossible to get to class, work, and home in the same day.  When I went back to talk to her about it, she broke down in tears from just trying to spend an additional three hours a day walking and not being able to get home between class and work.
    • A couple that has been married for 62 years in our neighbourhood was separated last year when Alan had to be placed in a care home because of his dementia.  He doesn’t eat when his wife isn’t there so she takes Saskatoon transit from Mayfair to his care home everyday to help make sure he is okay.  Now she can’t see him and he isn’t eating.  As she said, “I talk to him on the phone but it’s not the same.  I’m so lonely without him”

    And where are city councillors?  Well they are refuting a story from the Huffington Post on property taxes but are silent on a transit lockout that is hurting all sorts of people.  I have some on council that I consider friends but as I have told them, they are failing the city as politicians and as human beings.

    A couple of people I have talked to have told me that they are leaving Confederation area at 6:30 a.m. to get to work or class on time.  Next Wednesday I am leaving the Confederation Bus terminal at 6:30 a.m. and am walking to the University.  It is 6.1 kms.  Google Maps tells me it is a 90 minute walk.

    To keep me company on the walk, I invited City Councillors along with me.  I thought we could talk about some poverty issues and maybe even a little about the lockout.  So far two have gotten back to me on the record. (out of town)

    We will be walking through parts of Wards 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1.  

    I am not sure why I am doing this except to work through the incredible disappointment I have with all of city council.  It’s not just disappointment with them as politicians (I feel that after every single city council meeting ever) but rather with them as the leaders of the city.  Of my city.  They are hurting people that I spent almost every waking moment for a decade trying to help and none of them even want to acknowledge that they exist.  Maybe by walking with me we can get some sort of understanding of the challenges they face just getting to work or class.

    You can come with me if you want.  We can talk minimum wage increases, Saskatoon Transit, and what it is life to work hard and be ignored.  You will see first hand that I can’t type on a phone and walk at the same time.  

    I’m not leading a protest.  I’m just trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with a city that hurts that many people and doesn’t think twice about it.  If you have any ideas why, let me know.  Or join me on Wednesday at the Confed Bus Terminal at 6:30 a.m.  I’ll be the guy that looks like me.  Bring your own coffee.

    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.