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How Heenan Blaikie’s stunning collapse started with a rogue African arms deal

It’s amazing how quickly Heenan Blaikie fell apart

The stunning collapse of Heenan Blaikie LLP, once one of Canada’s largest and most prestigious law firms, stemmed from a “loss of trust” in management over international business activities including dubious forays into Africa, where former partner Jacques Bouchard and former prime minister Jean Chrétien lobbied governments on behalf of clients, former Heenan partners and associates say.

Founded in Montreal in 1973, Heenan grew from 18 lawyers to more than 500, in offices across Canada and in Paris, where it established a beachhead in 2009. It was considered a rock-solid full-service firm — and a favourite of the Canadian establishment — until a crisis of confidence caused its foundations to crack. Lawyers began leaving, first in a trickle, then in droves, and the whole enterprise came crashing down this month.

Increasing financial pressures and friction between partners in Montreal and Toronto were key factors behind Heenan’s failure, the biggest ever for a law firm in Canada. “Montreal didn’t understand Toronto; Toronto felt the Montreal office was way overpaid and overpraised,” said one former partner.

But many also agree that Heenan’s excursions into Africa caused so much tension and tumult that partners began shaking their heads and taking their leave. “People like me said to themselves, ‘I want to work at a firm that values the practice of law in Canada, not international dictators,’” another former Heenan partner told the National Post. “It’s not what I signed up for.” He quit the firm last year.

There came “a point where confidence and faith started to disappear,” said Jean-Francois Mercadier, managing partner of the firm’s former group in Paris, Heenan Blaikie AARPI. “Partners started to lose any kind of faith in the management of the firm. There was a loss of trust in the partnership, and I think the origin is in the Jacques Bouchard story.”

Related: The End of Big Law: What Happens When the Money Dries Up

via @dlcrawford

Invest in transit now or suffer severe consequences

Same thing could be said about any city that has inferior transit (ahem Saskatoon)

Last week, the Premier of Ontario’s Transit Panel — comprising 13 citizens from across the region and the political spectrum — unanimously recommended a strategy to fund transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The report’s title, Making the Move: Choices and Consequences, highlights the urgency of investing in transit expansion today, failing which there will be severe consequences tomorrow.

Road congestion and transit crowding in the GTHA have already reached a tipping point. With 2.5 million people and one million more cars expected to come into the GTHA in the next 18 years, the existing severe state of congestion will become intolerable.

We have come up with a revenue plan that works. Our recommendations call for a fair and balanced contribution from all stakeholders, without asking too much of any one group. Because new transit infrastructure benefits all of society, costs should be shared — by business, drivers, and transit users. Since riders contribute through fares that rise regularly with inflation, the panel chose not to ask more of them. We have asked the government to redeploy the HST revenue it earns on gas and fuel taxes.

As for the tools, our report outlines two variations on a new funding model. The first combines a phased increase of gasoline and fuel taxes starting with 3 cents per litre in year one, a modest increase of 0.5 per cent to the general corporate income tax, and a redeployment of the GTHA portion of the HST charged on gasoline and fuel taxes. The second option is almost the same, but proposes less from gas and fuel, and more from HST.

Taken together, the combined increases would raise between $1.7 billion and $1.8 billion annually for transit in the GTHA. This revenue stream would then lever the additional borrowing to build three-quarters of the Next Wave sooner than expected. People would see the benefits from this investment, thereby generating support for The Big Move in its entirety. This revenue strategy also provides enough money to pay for local transportation improvements and to retire the debt over time.

We researched the possible options rigorously. We favour the gas and fuel taxes because they match usage, affect travel behaviour, are simple to administer, raise a lot of money, and haven’t been raised in more than 20 years. Even with the increase, the GTHA would be below Montreal or consistent with Vancouver.

The impact on households is very tolerable — about $80 per household in year one, just $260 per household after eight years. Compare that to the cost of the gasoline wasted due to stop-and-start commuting for 32 minutes on a daily round trip if we don’t remedy the situation. This amounts to $16 every week or $700 per year. The choice is obvious.
The most common and forceful message that emerged from all of our public meetings and consultations is that the public has very little trust in how transit decisions are made, how money is managed, and how projects are delivered. When it comes to funding transit, the public told us: “Dedicate it or forget it.”

We address these concerns head-on. Our recommendations, when enacted, will ensure that new revenue will be held in a segregated Fund to be spent solely on transit expansion in the GTHA. And they will guarantee accountability and transparency for how funds are spent and reported on.

We emphasize the importance of comprehensive, publicly available business case analysis prior to project approvals. We cannot afford to waste billions of dollars on projects that result in low ridership and huge operating subsidies.

We also cannot afford more congestion and more gridlock. We cannot afford continued losses in productivity and missed opportunities to create more jobs. We cannot afford more pollution and commuting stress. Above all, we cannot afford to wait.

So Toronto is going deeper into debt (and so is Saskatoon)

Does this sound at all like Saskatoon?  It was Toronto under Mel Lastman who felt he needed to freeze taxes.

Perks noted that Lastman froze property taxes during his first three years in office. During that time, the Toronto Transit Commission was rebuilding 18-year-old buses instead of buying new ones, and the backlog in road repairs was growing.

“We had a mountain of backlog. We were in a profound crisis. Between provincial downloading and Mel Lastman’s tax freeze, we had a giant hole. Now we’re catching up.”

This week’s flooding demonstrates the need for sturdy infrastructure, said Di Giorgio, who on Tuesday was visiting homeowners hit with flooded basements.

“When you talk to people, they’re very irate, and you can’t blame them. They’re really upset that this kind of thing would happen and they blame the city for not having proper infrastructure.”

Borrowing allows the city to do more capital projects each year, rather than put them off to future years, he said.

“To do things quicker, you have to go more into debt. I do think it’s okay to grow your debt a little bit at a time each year, because you do have to replace infrastructure.”

This is what Toronto’s debt is being spent on.

In 2011, on Ford’s insistence, the city froze property taxes. The next year he limited the increase to 2.5 per cent, in line with inflation.

About half of the borrowing was to pay for transit infrastructure, such as replacing worn-out vehicles. Other big-ticket infrastructure spending went to areas such as roads, parks and housing.

That is what happens when you put off infrastructure and transit spending.  Eventually it catches up to you and it’s exactly what we are doing here in Saskatoon and it will take a couple of terms to catch up which will mean more debt.

Holding the line on taxes is always popular but those costs don’t go away.  In Saskatoon it is our roads where we used to pay for but not longer do.  Doubt me?  Check out the 2012 Roads Report which gives funding options to city council.  It includes this line.

Although funding for paved roadways has, in general, increased over the past decade, from 2003 to 2008 the annual roadway budget only increased by 0.5% per year, while  the cost of treatments increased by 15.2% per year. This erosion of purchasing power, combined with the general ageing of the network, has resulted in a degradation of the roadway network since 2002.

The result? Check out this 2012 article in The StarPhoenix by David Hutton

Mike Gutek, the city’s infrastructure services manager, said old crumbling roads such as Koyl are a “victim of priority.” The road rates as “very poor” under the city’s ranking of which roads require resurfacing.

Roads are ranked based on condition and traffic volume. The city has 650,000 square feet of roads that are considered in “very poor” condition, but can treat 15,000 square feet per year under the current budget, Gutek said. Ten per cent of local roads in Saskatoon are rated as “very poor” and in danger of failing, according to the city’s latest assessment.

“(Koyl) has not failed. It’s in horrible shape, the asphalt is very old and it doesn’t drive that well,” Gutek said. “It’s really our worst condition (of road), but it hasn’t failed yet (and turned to gravel).”

Saskatoon has fallen way behind in road maintenance and repair as costs for fuel, asphalt and labour have skyrocketed.

Since 2003, the road repair budget has grown 31 per cent while the cost of fixing roads has jumped 216 per cent. But council declined last year to add a phased-in property tax increase over eight years to bring the annual roads budget up to the point where the city isn’t falling further behind annually. Instead, one-time funding was added for a number of individual projects.

City administration estimates $18.5 million per year is needed to maintain the current state of the roadway network. In 2012, roughly $9.5 million will be spent on roadway rehabilitation, including the discretionary funds.

Koyl is not in the city’s five-year road rebuilding plans and likely wouldn’t be fixed until the annual funding amount surpasses $18.5 million, city staff say.

Where does the money go?

The infrastructure department is tackling as priorities high-traffic roads that have completely failed or on the brink of turning to gravel, Gutek said. 

Council likes to pick on Mike Gutek but when they give him a fraction of what he needs each year, what are city staff supposed to do?  Year after year city council says that they hear that roads are our number one concern and instead hold the line on taxes and don’t add any more new money into roads.

So when does Saskatoon start to dig ourselves out this infrastructure hole that City Council has dug us into and how long will it take?  How much debt will we have to take on to pay for these years where council made a negative infrastructure investment.  As we have seen here and in Toronto, unpaid infrastructure bills come due with interest.

The Ford’s radio show is a bunker in which they can regroup

From the Globe and Mail

For the past 15 months, the brothers Ford have spent two hours on Sunday afternoons moonlighting as comically pugnacious AM radio talk jocks, jawing about key issues – fiscal restraint, lazy politicians, the primacy of subways – and shining a light on important community causes.

As they are targeted by aggressive local media, especially in the past two weeks as allegations of drug involvement swirled about them and the mayor’s office suffered some key departures, their Newstalk 1010 show, The City, has proven a comfortable bunker where they can shut out their naysayers and regroup.

And while they may infuriate critics by using the show’s bully pulpit to beat up opponents, the station’s management intends to keep them on the air for as long as it can without running afoul of Canadian election law. If they delay registering their candidacies for the 2014 election, it may be difficult to remove them until late in the race. (Mayor Ford has said he will be registering “the first day I can possibly register” in early January next year.)

Newstalk 1010 hatched The City in the fall of 2011, with centrist councillor Josh Matlow as host because, according to the station’s program director Mike Bendixen, “a lot of our listeners were fed up with just hearing about all the screaming and yelling and nonsense that was happening at City Hall.” Six months later, after an overture by someone on the mayor’s staff, Mr. Bendixen handed the show over to the Fords.

Critics instantly howled, but many of them have helped give the show a wider resonance than it might otherwise have. Twitter traffic during the shows overflows with mockery of the Fords, an apparent love-to-hate phenomenon. What are deemed as outrageous comments are dutifully reported, echoing out across social media.

That may be in part because sitting mayors hosting radio shows are rare in Canada. They are far more common in the U.S. One of the most high-profile examples was New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who regularly antagonized enemies and common folk alike who dared call in during his Friday morning radio show.

So the situation in Toronto seems to be resolving itself nicely

From the Toronto Star on Rob and Doug Ford’s radio program today.

Two Star reporters viewed the video three times, a Gawker journalist once. The video appears to show Ford smoking crack and uttering an anti-gay slur. However, the Star could not verify its authenticity.

Doug Ford, as he did on Saturday, vehemently denied a Globe and Mail article that reported he had been a dealer of hashish in Etobicoke when he was in his teens and early 20s. “I was not a dealer of hashish in the 1980s,” Doug Ford said.

Rob Ford fired his chief of staff, Mark Towhey, without public explanation on Thursday. He said Sunday that he would not discuss “personnel issues.” He did deny a Star report that he had fired Towhey in part because Towhey had rejected his demand to seize thousands of dollars of football equipment he had donated to Don Bosco Catholic Secondary.

Rob Ford was dismissed Wednesday as Don Bosco’s volunteer football coach. He said on the show that he had Don Bosco players “over at the house” after his dismissal. Though council loyalists have long advised him to quit coaching to focus on government, he also said he will now consider coaching offers from other schools.

“People keep coming up to me, saying, ‘Have you retired from coaching? Are you getting another coaching job?’ As of now, I don’t have a job. So if something comes up, you never know. But I really want to concentrate on getting, basically, our platform through,” he said.

Rob Ford read out the names of councillors who handed him another legislative defeat last week by voting against allowing expanded gambling at Woodbine racetrack. Doug Ford said the “vast majority” of councillors “couldn’t get a job” outside politics. He also pledged to reveal damaging information about any councillors who criticize him and his brother.

“I can go through all 44 councillors right now, folks — and I’m sure I could do it, but I’m not going to. But I have a message for the councillors: you want to keep throwing stones, I’m going to throw boulders right back at you. It’s very simple,” Doug Ford said.

The Ford’s aren’t happy with the media either.

The mayor called reporters a “bunch of maggots,” describing them as relentless and telling listeners “no matter what you say… you’re never going to make them happy.”

His brother, Councillor Doug Ford added that only “80 per cent of them are nasty son of a guns.”

As for the denial of the video, Warren Kinsella’s column reminds us of this

Arrested in Florida for drunk driving and drug possession; pleaded no contest on the former charge; denies it during the 2010 Toronto mayoralty race, until presented with the evidence by the Toronto Sun.

He has denied his past behaviour before.

As someone quipped on Twitter, Toronto is stuck in an abusive relationship with its mayor.

Housing homeless tackled

Excellent op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press by Sam Tsemberis and Vicky Stergiopoulos

In Canada, we conducted the largest randomized controlled trial of its kind in the world on homelessness by comparing housing-first to services as usual (the At Home/Chez Soi study) involving 2,255 participants who were homeless across five Canadian cities (Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver). The one-year results, recently reported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, indicate HF is significantly more effective than services as usual in providing stable housing for people who had been homeless for years and who have complex clinical needs.

Also compelling was the finding that for every two government dollars invested in the HF program, $1 was saved. Savings were even greater for those who used services the most, with $3 saved for every $2 spent.

It’s no wonder the federal government supports housing-first: It is highly effective and can save money.

So Canada is on the right track. We have both funds and evidence-based policy for moving forward on homelessness. However, we still face two major hurdles in order to successfully meet a housing-first model.

First, the majority of programs currently funded across the country can be described as providing services for people who are homeless. Shelters, drop-in centres, and especially transitional or short-term housing programs must be helped to shift resources to programs that end homelessness instead. We will need to invest in providing training and consultation services to communities so they will obtain the guidance and support, timelines, and performance indicators necessary to move the system toward this new, much-needed direction.

The second hurdle concerns implementing housing-first programs so they are consistent with the basic principles of the model that achieved the outstanding outcomes in the At Home/Chez Soi study. Housing-first moves people rapidly from shelters or the streets into stable housing and provides evidence-based clinical and social supports to address social, mental-health, health, addiction, educational, employment issues and others. By providing services using a team approach and co-ordinating housing, clinical and social supports, this model reduces problems associated with fragmentation of services and improves inter-sectoral collaboration that usually plagues individuals and families seeking treatment.

In other words, housing-first, if implemented properly will transform public services across the country as we know them, and to do this effectively, teams will need adequate support and guidance to do so.

Eva’s Phoenix

The video quality is poor but this is a great view of what is happening at Eva’s Phoenix

Where have I seen this before

From the National Post

The City of Toronto appears to have “starved and neglected” the Gardiner Expressway by spending millions of dollars below what had been budgeted for rehabilitation over eight of the last 14 years, the chairman of the public works and infrastructure committee charges.

The largest recorded difference is in 2009 — the same year a study commenced on potentially dismantling a section of the aging roadway — when the city allocated $20.3-million in funding, but only spent $3.2-million, according to a tally of budget versus actual expenditures dug up by finance staff, and obtained by the National Post.

I know all cities do this; Saskatoon included but it’s frustrating.  We build infrastructure but then have no appetite to maintain it properly and then we have to deal with it falling down all over the place.  Preventative maintenance isn’t sexy but look at the bills once they come due, they can be overwhelming.  Saskatoon is looking at about a billion dollars in unfunded maintenance (which is for those keeping track, about a 1000% mill rate increase).  We needed probably a 3% levy instead of the 1% one that we got just to keep our current road and bridge conditions.  All across the country we just keeping digging a bigger and bigger hole.

This is when Rob Ford began to lose it

To call this radio appearance odd would be an understatement

Doug Ford spoke proudly of his frequent media criticism. “Think of this, folks, think of this: we’re the only two elected officials — think what I’m saying here — we’re the only two elected officials, Rob, in recent memory — federally, provincially, or municipally — number one, has put a halt on the gravy train, but number two, talks back to the media,” he said.

Rob Ford said, “We’ve done more in this administration than any other administration ever has, and the media just — I don’t know what, I don’t know what they want. I guess they want bankruptcy. I guess they want a ghost town. I don’t know.”

Doug Ford claimed that members of Chicago’s media had approached him during the trip to say, “What is wrong with your media? They’re embarrassing your city.”

Chicago outlets largely ignored the trip. NBC Chicago published a blog posting that called the mayor “obnoxious” and mocked his weight.

Are the influx of casinos a result of our regressive taxation policies?

Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star

We’ve lost our moral compass in recent years — not by embracing gambling, but eschewing taxes. We have been contaminated by the anti-tax compulsions of American political culture that prevent governments from maintaining a progressive taxation system. This pathological aversion to taxation has driven the explosion of casinos everywhere, as governments rely on gambling to take money from the poor while sparing the rich.

Column: Managed Alcohol Problems Help

In today’s The StarPhoenix

Over the years I have received a lot of phone calls about a couple of people who are well-known on the streets of Saskatoon.

Others see them on the streets during the winter months and want "someone" to help them – that someone always being emergency shelter providers. The problem is that while these individuals want a place to live, they both are slaves to their addictions.

If you ask either one what they want to do, it’s to drink. Nothing else. There is no life separate from their next drink. Their desire for alcohol overwhelms even the ability to maintain personal hygiene or go to the washroom.

In the summer, my compassion for either one isn’t that high. A poor lifestyle decision means sometimes sleeping along the riverbank, but as the weather cools, that decision can lead to death. I have made many emergency calls over the years because of their alcohol or drug use. The cost of ambulance rides alone is significant, not to mention the repeated health-care costs.

But these two aren’t unique. Countless people with whom I have talked needed help, but would rather live on the streets than give up alcohol or drugs. The addiction has a bigger hold on them than their need for survival.

Life becomes a day-to-day existence.

Historically, we have simply waited for such people to hit rock bottom. The problem is, when life is so bad to begin with, there isn’t a big gap between doing great and reaching rock bottom. For many, the best life has been is time spent in prison or in a halfway house.

While to you and me the idea of spending the night outside might seem horrendous, for them it’s been such a part of their lives that it doesn’t even register as unusual.

Toronto has taken a different approach to dealing with such people. Seaton House, one of Canada’s largest homeless shelters, opened a "wet shelter" in 1997 where alcohol could be managed. In the past, shelters such as Seaton House forced people to be dry and sober before they came in.

While some did sober up, others found their addiction was too strong and went off in all sorts of weather to get their next fix. A relapse wasn’t just one beer but many, and often they would use a variety of substances such as mouth wash, rubbing alcohol, glue, gas, or even cleaners.

The chemical dependency makes it impossible for hard-core alcoholics to dry out, so the idea is to try to take them off it slowly. At Seaton House a drink is given every 90 minutes (five ounces of wine or three oz. of sherry) until the person can’t go on, or until he falls asleep. They are weaned off the alcohol over time. When the physical dependence is broken, more traditional approaches to treating the addiction can be undertaken.

A 2006 study reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that a managed alcohol program reduces consumption.

Participants went to having eight drinks a day from 48 drinks. Police and hospital usage dropped, as well. The study figures it saved the system about $450 a month for each person.

While such numbers are difficult to quantify, it is important because it means more police available to fight crime and more hospital beds available for other patients. When you factor in the extremes of Saskatchewan weather, the savings could be potentially more.

Drug and alcohol abuse is not rational. No one wakes up hoping to drink a dangerous amount of moonshine or cleaner, yet it happens too often. They end up in emergency rooms or the police cells night after night.

On nights where there isn’t anyone around or something goes wrong, we hear about it the next morning and wait to see if the family releases the name.

Managed alcohol programs, such as Seaton House’s, provide a safe way to deal with chronic alcoholism and start the process toward allowing residents to finally deal with the issues that have dominated their lives. But critics have called similar programs "bunks for drunks" and see them as enabling alcoholism.

However, alcohol doesn’t need an enabler. When you are at the point where your desire for alcohol overwhelms your ability even to take basic care of yourself, a different approach is needed. It may not be one that we are comfortable with, but it’s better than having someone freeze to death.

jordon@jordoncooper.com

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

The role of the arts in building a great city

The Mayor of Calgary has headed east to tout the virtues of living in Calgary.

In his speech in Toronto Tuesday night, Nenshi discussed a host of promising cultural projects and investments into artistic spaces in Calgary, including the construction of Canada’s National Music Centre, a new downtown branch for the city’s public library and an initiative to transform old or derelict buildings into new arts centres, performance venues or artist studios.

Public-private partnerships serve a key role in helping these projects succeed and the municipal government is an important facilitator, for instance in passing zoning law changes to permit more artist live-work studios, according to Nenshi.

"Calgary is becoming a city where artists are moving to… rather than coming from. A lot of that is due to the incredible entrepreneurism and creativity of the artists themselves," he said.

"But it’s also important that the government creates an environment in which this makes sense… The role of government is to make sure they’ve got spaces to do it in and the ability to be able to do this work."

While I hate the design for the Mendel Art Gallery, err, Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, umm, Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, I am still supportive of a larger and downtown art gallery, even if it is a big ugly box.

The Game

The Toronto Star had a fascinating piece from 2006 about gang life in Toronto.

One successful drug dealer said the teens he sees are uncontrollable. "It’s going to be very hard to reach them," he said. "Somebody has got to create more programs for kids. They’ve got to keep them busy. They’ve got to teach them to stay in school."

This man has made enough money selling cocaine that he no longer fights daily to survive. Bright and articulate, he has the luxury of surveying gang life from a distance. He says a lot of the youngest gangsters are hyperactive, impulsive and unable to concentrate, so they fail in a school system that is not set up for kids with their needs.

When they get expelled, their education simply deviates from the classroom to the street.

Det. Peter Duncan, who runs the street crime unit in North York, knows there is no easy solution. He grew up in a poor, single-parent home in a high-crime Vancouver neighbourhood and understands the challenges facing the kids he sees in Toronto.

During his presentations about high-risk youth, he is constantly asked if there is hope. Always his answer is yes. "If I can do it, they can do it," he said.

Duncan, who is writing a book on the issue, said that most of the children he sees in Toronto are missing key skills, even basic hygiene. And they need to be taught how to communicate, to think critically, and to understand that in a democratic society people have the freedom to express opinions without getting shot.

Gangs prey on the weakest kids, he says, those whose lives have little structure and parental support, kids who are alienated or not doing well in school. "While they don’t use the terms ‘high-risk youth,’ gangs seek out kids that fit that description very well," he said.

It describes almost every gang member and drug dealer I know.

When social housing was paradise

An interesting look at the Chicago housing projects during the 1950-70s by Joy Connelly

The communities created by the Chicago Housing Authority were all, by current wisdom, destined to fail. The new-built estates were large and isolated – Regent Park-style low-rises punctuated with high-rise towers. They were overwhelmingly black communities, drawn from the tenements on Chicago’s South Side and migrants from the southern US. They were not mixed-income communities either. The CHA selected families – one third of them women-led — exclusively from the bottom third of the income scale.

An incubator for leadership

Yet Fuerst credits public housing for creating Chicago’s black middle class, providing an “incubator for leadership” for African Americans. Account after account describes the children of stockyard workers and unemployed widows who are now lawyers, teachers, business leaders, police officers and senior public officials.

What made Chicago Housing Authority a launching pad to success?  The tenants’ stories are filled with praise for the clean, well-managed buildings and grounds, where prizes were given for the best gardens. They spoke about housing managers who knew everyone’s name, encouraged local initiatives, and found jobs for teenagers. They spoke about the schools, churches, clubs, sports teams, and womens’ associations that were integral to the community’s strength.  And they talked about the community itself, where everyone would look out for local children, and did not hesitate to pick up the phone if they spotted trouble.

Paradise lost

Today, public housing in Chicago and elsewhere is seen as anything but paradise. What went wrong?

The answers offered by the CHA’s former residents and staff will induce squirms in Toronto’s right- and left-wing readers alike.  Here they are:

Abandoning tenant screening.

In CHA’s early days, preference was given to applicants with the lowest incomes in the worst housing conditions. But only those prepared to pay their rent, keep their homes clean, and supervise their children were accepted.

Once in the housing, the management strictly enforced standards, and so did other tenants. As one tenant recalled, “We kids cleaned those halls. And if somebody messed up our hall, we were quick to tell them, ‘Get that paper off that floor. Don’t you do that on my stairs, cause I got to clean it Saturday.’”

By the 1970s, federal rules forced CHA to give preference to the poorest of the poor, with no other screening. Today, tenants and former tenants quoted in the book say that “destructive and dangerous” tenants – anywhere from 10 – 30 per cent of tenants – need to be evicted to allow a return to healthy community life. Draconian as this move is, they argue it would be less disruptive than Chicago’s current practice of evicting all tenants to demolish entire buildings.

The Worst of Saskatoon

When we moved to Saskatoon in the mid-80s, there was a magazine called Western Living that we received and it listed the Sturdy Stone Centre as one of the ugliest buildings in Western Canada (Moose Jaw’s crushed can was also on that list).   I am not a big fan of brutalist architecture either downtown or elsewhere in the city (the same firm designed the College of Education building) and the Sturdy Stone Centre falls into that category.

Study Stone Centre in Saskatoon

Of course it isn’t Saskatoon’s only example of bad brutalistic architecture.  The Federated Co-operatives Building rivals it, concrete block by concrete block.

The Federated Co-operative Building in Saskatoon

It was built during the great window shortage of the 1970s.  I couldn’t find out who the architect was but who would want windows facing the riverbank anyways?  It takes bland architecture to a whole new level.  Two sides without windows, no distinguishing features, it kind of defines a new kind of architecture, prairie brutalist.

Every city has their own examples of it.  I remember when I first saw Boston’s City Hall and I thought to myself, how did that thing get here and why has it not been demolished?  In Liverpool there is the Metropolitan Cathedral, in New York there is the Port Authority Bus Terminal and in Toronto, there is the famous Fort Book, a library so inviting that it was used for exterior shots of the prison setting in Resident Evil: Afterlife.  

Holiday Inn SaskatoonMy point in all of this is to show what happens when a city doesn’t have or take it’s own design guidelines seriously.  While the Study Stone Centre does have street life aspects incorporated into it, the Federated Co-op building does not.  When these are absent or ignored (like the city is doing in the warehouse district), you get left with cold impersonal buildings that are defined more by parking lots rather than what they contribute to city life.  I keep thinking the city has learned it’s lesson but then again by looking at some of the latest developments take form, maybe not.

The truth is that a city is the one that creates it’s architectural ethos.  Years ago I was in Chicago when strongman Mayor Richard Daly threatened to halt new developments unless the architecture improved and met city guidelines.  When I was in Toronto and I wandered through the Allen Lambert Galleria, which came as a result of the city of Toronto’s public art requirements.  Even Martinsville has a neighbourhood with some architectural controls in it (must have stucco).  A city can lay down standards and expect that they are followed. 

Allen Lambert Galleria

A quick look at 275 2nd Avenue South shows that not only can projects meet city design guidelines, they can surpass them (in this case going for LEED Gold Certification).  A decade ago the city was desperate for new development but things have changed and how we handle the prosperity will shape the city for decades if not longer.  Is the next 75 years going to be dominated by buildings sitting on parking garages or something better?