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Zach Jeffries

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.

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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.

Community Support Officers (funding) Down

It looks like the Community Support Officer program is about to be killed.

The price and focus of community support officers is putting the whole program in jeopardy.

“$450,000 (a year) is a lot of money,” Ward 9 Councillor Tiffany Paulsen said at the administration and finance committee Monday. “I don’t see how council can measure if this program is working.”

At the end of July funding for the Community Support Officers (CSO) program expires. The city’s administration presented a report recommending city council expand the program for another three years into the end of 2017 for $1.35 million.

However, questions about what the CSOs patrol, how much its work overlaps with police officers, and the funding plan have put the future of the program on the bubble.

After reviewing the reports Ward 8 councillor Eric Olauson said he didn’t see the value of this program.

“I have a tough time supporting this because I think police here have to change their focus. This was a good idea at the time but I think its run its course,” Olauson said.
Councillor Zach Jeffries echoed his colleagues concern noting that five CSOs have written only 15 bylaw infraction tickets over 18 months. He said if they wrote more tickets, council could better measure the success of the CSOs.

“The number of tickets is very small … people say they want to see more tickets written,” Jeffries said, adding it would give council a measurement to determine the program’s success.

“I would personally appreciate seeing something more measureable and in my mind it’s something to focus on.”

Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill said he supports the CSOs, and although he sees how the police officers and the CSOs overlap, he sees the police acting more as a protection measure for the CSOs.

“We’re always concerned about their safety so on occasion we will send a patrol car just to make sure there isn’t going to be any violence,” Weighill said. “We’re supportive of the program we think there’s a space for them to do the work they do.”

For the program’s initial 18 months, the city resolved that funding for the CSOs would come from parking meter revenues because the patrolling areas (Downtown, Broadway, Riversdale) were metered. However, Riversdale Business Improvement District (BID) executive director Randy Pshebylo said he wants that money to go back into streetscaping.
“The BID board has been very clear that they’d support a pilot program and that would then extend to an alternative source of funding and that the existing funding revert back to the streetscape reserve,” he said.

Well let’s get the obvious one out there.  Eric Olauson doesn’t see the value in any program that doesn’t involve his ward getting sound walls.  That is his M.O.  

Secondly a year ago the same councillors were praising the work of the CSOs and talking about how awesome they were.  What happened?

The Partnership’s CEO, Terry Scaddon retired and he was one of the biggest champions for the program.  Without him there, councillors are feeling far more free to criticize the program.

The program was designed from the start to pressure the province in giving money to help with social issues in Saskatoon.  We had the Safer Streets Commission and the hope was that the province would help fund some of the solutions to social programs that we have in the cities.  It wasn’t a real need, crime in downtown Saskatoon was quite low but there was a perception out there.  Unfortunately we overlooked the fact that the Wall government is very comfortable with the status quo on social issues and that the Treasury Board doesn’t include a single member from Saskatoon.  To make a long story short, we never got the funding and the program is going to die.

Finally, I can’t leave Coun. Jeffries comment alone.  Could it be that the reason that there was not a lot of tickets written is that there was not a lot of need in the first place?  Also, encouraging law enforcement to write tickets is a really bad political direction to be giving them.  The intention of the CSOs was to be helping people access needed services, not writing tickets.  Countless cities across North America have cracked down on panhandlers and the homeless and it doesn’t work.  Criminalizing behaviour that is driven by extreme poverty is the worst form of public policy.  Zach should know better than that, regardless of which ways the winds are blowing in his suburban ward.

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.

The Backlot Tour of City Hall

The other day I was asked with some others by Councillor Zach Jeffries if I wanted to go on a tour of City Hall.  I have been in a lot of City Hall over the years but I realized that it was the boring parts (although I did see Mayor Atchison’s office when I interviewed him).  Here are the highlights.

I parked in the City Council parking lot.  It felt like a crime.

On the hallway to the committee rooms and offices are old City Council photos.  We spent most of the time looking at those and seeing how every changed over the years.  Some lost weight, some put it on.  Others looked like they were 12 when elected to office (not naming any names)

We saw the cubicle farm that councillors call home.  They get 1/2 of one cubicle but it’s a small cubicle.  When you think of it, each councillor gets about 1/3 of a cubicle.  Only Councillor Loewen and Jeffries don’t have to share (anti social behaviour maybe).  They also have a small shared boardroom which if it was a stand alone office, would be small.  The cupboard was… well your judge it for yourself.…  Your tax dollars are not being spent on opulent furnishings for City Council.

Of course anyone who has ever watched Council live is curious about the small room behind council chambers.  For me, it was kind of like the teacher’s lounge, it was a place of mystery and intrigue.  I was wrong.  It is a small sitting room with bad art on the walls.  There is a pop fridge in there so if anything when your favourite councillor is ducking out of the action, he or she is getting a Fanta or a Tab.

The coolest part of the trip by far was when Councillor Jeffries showed us the maps that are hanging all over city hall.  We spent the longest looking at the 1913 Yorath Plan.

1913 YORATH PLANClick here for larger version

When Mayor Atchison is talking about waiting 100 years to complete Circle Drive, this is the plan that he is talking about.  Circle Drive was referred to as a boulevard but it does span the city.   C.J. Vorath was a map maker, not a wordsmith and Circle Drive was called the Main Outer Encircling Boulevard.  That and a lot more bridges.  There were plans for a Swastika Park which is kind of shocking until you realize that in 1913 and swastikas had an entirely different meaning and use.  We also had nine different bridges.  No word on how many of those were falling down.

In a somewhat unrelated note, this map was for sale in a comic book store in Saskatoon around 18 years ago for about $100.  I had always wished I had bought it then.  It is awfully cool.

Of course we saw some of the not-so-glamourous parts of City Hall like the dining room (meals are cheap there) and a lot of time in stairwells going back and forth.  No taxpayer money was wasted on elevators.

I have taken the Universal Studios backlot tour and now this one.  There were no giant gorilla’s attacking our bus on this tour but it was cool to see parts of City Hall that I had never seen before.  It was also nice to have the time to just wander through and look without having a meeting to be at.  Hopefully sometime in the future money will be available to post some of the cool stuff in there online.  There is some cool history in City Hall, not including the dated decor.

About Saskatoon City Hall

  • Saskatoon’s current City Hall is the fourth building to serve as the City’s civic administration office.
  • Council chambers is located in the north wing of City Hall.
  • This section of the building was designed by Scott, Bowers and Walls, and construction was completed in 1983.
  • The older south wing, which once served as the third City Hall building, was completed in 1956.
  • The first and second City Halls were located at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 21st Street, and in the old King Edward School (on what is now Civic Square) respectively.

Interviewing Zach Jeffries

Councillor Zach JeffriesThe OurYXE podcast sat down and interviewed Councillor Zach Jeffries (you may know him from such roles as Campaigning for Ward 10).  We had a good discussion about suburban sprawl, the North Commuter Bridge, and his lucky campaign shirt.  It’s worth a listen.

Of course if you can’t get enough of Saskatoon politics and policy, you can subscribe to the OurYXE podcast via RSS, iTunes, or just stop by every Monday and see who else we have tormented (next week it is Councillor Charlie Clark).

In case you get tired of reading my stuff

Our YXE Podcast

For those of you who are tired of reading what I have written; I have put together a new medium to grow tired of; a podcast.  Sean Shaw, DeeAnn Mercier and myself (along with some soon to be announced contributors) are going to talking city politics, urban planning, and other issues that affect us as a city at ouryxe.ca.  We have some great guests lined up and at times it can get rather testy but a great city needs a place to debate things and talk about new ideas.  This just happens to be one of them.  The RSS feed is live and we hope to hear back from iTunes in a couple of days and I can post that link.  The first episode can be found online here.  Expect to hear our episode with Councillor Zach Jeffries to go live as soon as our iTunes page goes live.

2012 Municipal Election Roundup

So after spending last night at City Hall waiting for the election results to be made public, here are my thoughts.

  • It was fun doing a quick segment with David Kirton and CKOM on the election.  I have always been a fan of Kirton and my only regret was not seeing more traction on food trucks (Twitter joke).
  • I was shocked to see Troy Davies win in Ward 4.  I had picked Sean Shaw and all of the metrics that myself and others have used to determine campaign victories showed Shaw winning. Apparently I need new metrics.  Either that or I need to start putting polls in the field.  Congrats to Troy Davies for winning and earning the right to be Ward 4 councillor.  Sean is a good friend and I am sure he will be back politically but it’s hard to see friends lose races.
  • I was also surprised to see Ann Iwanchuk win as after 10/11 polls reporting, Mike San Miguel had a sizeable lead but as the old saying goes, “it’s not over until it’s over” and all of a sudden I was looking at a result that I couldn’t believe and that is that Iwanchuk won by 28 votes.  When I talked to her and Andy last night, they kind of had the same reaction. Congrats to her on a well run race.
  • If I am Mike San Miguel, I have to questioning my decision to go negative late in the race with a pamphlet that attacked Iwanchuk and an attacking robo-call that attacked her NDP background.  If anything it probably motivated people to turn out for Iwanchuk.  It was a great campaign to watch that came down to under 100 votes.
  • Zach Jeffries not only becomes the youngest member on council ever but knocked off three term incumbent Bev Dubois.
  • So Tom Wolf came within a hair of defeating a long term incumbent after getting in the race in September.  Impressive campaign by Wolf and they had by far the best campaign t-shirts.
  • Pat Lorje won again in Ward 2 which is what I predicted. 
  • Since this will be long forgotten by 2016, I am planning to do a series of push polls, probably just to candidate homes that go something like, “Would you prefer crazed socialist (or robber baron) [insert councillor's name here] or well respected columnist Jordon Cooper to represent your riding?” just to feed on their paranoia.  I have no intention of running but it would be fun to do.
  • I had a fun conversation with Andy Iwanchuk which is the first time we have ever met. When you think of it, the Iwanchuk family has been in campaign mode for a long time with Ann’s election a year ago, Andy’s provincial campaign and now her re-election campaign which makes for a hectic year.  No truth to the rumour that both of them are getting away for a vacation by working on someone else’s campaign.
  • After following the council pretty closely, I found the entire election disillusioning.  Part of it is the sausage philosophy where you don’t really want to know how it is made.  At the last of the last term, it was a very politically divided council.  That division came across during some of the FOI requests that dropped and also it showed that more than one councillor/candidate had lied to me about some issue or another.  Hopefully with some new councillors on council those bridges can be rebuilt but I am not hopeful that the partisanship will change.
  • I want to thank each of you last night that aggressively shook my hand.  If you noticed tears in my eyes, it wasn’t because I moved talking to you or about your victory, it is because I HAVE A TORN ROTATOR CUFF and it really HURT ME every time we shook hands.  I was ready to be put down by about 8:45 p.m.  It hurt that much.
  • The election day someone put up an anonymous Twitter account bashing Darren Hill to the media and anyone who would listen.  Sadly it was done by someone that knows Wendy and I and lives in Mayfair.  I have a pretty good idea of who it was but it’s still sad.  To be honest, if I was going to attack Hill I would stand behind them.  An anonymous account doesn’t do anything other than provide something to laugh at.
  • Got to hang out with Alex MacPherson and Liam Richards for the first time last night.  I always enjoy MacPherson’s writing in Verb and I have long been a fan of Richard’s photography (which always envying his gear). 
  • So this will be it until the next federal and provincial election when some councillors decide to run.  If they win, we get by-elections and the process starts all over again.

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. 

YXE Votes Roundup

I thought I would post some weekly thoughts on all of the civic elections which is guaranteed to upset all campaigns.  If I say they are winning, they complain I am setting the execrations to high, if I say they are losing, I am being unfair.  In the end I am not sure I care because if they win, they will eventually upset at something I write so here goes.

Ward 1 : The Ward 1 race is heating up with more and more Robin Bellamy signs appearing on both sides of the river.  Whatever he is doing to talk to voters, it is working.  I still have Darren Hill ahead but the lead seems to be shrinking up against a well oiled Bellamy campaign.

Ward 2 : Challenger Owen Fortosky doesn’t have a campaign website up yet which tells me that he isn’t campaigning that hard.  Pat Lorje seems to be caught off guard but she has been everywhere in Ward 2 and has one of the highest profiles on council.  She also was an avid advocate for Montgomery’s interests last year and since they (and Caswell) are going to be the high turnout neighbourhoods, I have her winning handily.  While Fortosky was the previous councillor before Lorje and that makes this race somewhat more interesting, Rick Steernberg was the old Ward 3 councillor before Maurice Nealt won the seat in 2003.  When he decided to run in 2011 the previous name recognition didn’t help him and he finished fourth behind Ann Iwanchuk, Mike San Miguel, and Derek Rope.  It will be interesting to see if Fortosky’s name recognition produces a different result this time.

Ward 3 : A close race with Ann Iwanchuk trying to hold off Mike San Miguel‘s campaign.  Mike San Miguel has not only built an impressive campaign team and name for himself but he has done it two short years.  Impressive whether he wins or loses.  I have this race within 500 votes.  It is also the campaign that has a bit of an edge to it with Mike San Miguel’s website saying on the front page, “Elect a candidate that lives in your ward!” which is a shot at Iwanchuk that lives right next door in Ward 4.

Ward 4 : If lawn signs are any indication, Sean Shaw is winning this race handily.  The only time I have seen a more dominant sign campaign was in 1983 in Calgary during Lougheed’s last campaign.  Troy Davies is trying to compensate with one really big mobile billboard that he is driving through the ward, a strategy I am not sure is going to work.

Ward 5 : If Randy Donauer doesn’t win with 80% of the vote, I will be really, really surprised.  Donauer is well liked in Ward 5 by supporters, independents, and even some ideological opponents.  When you are doing well with your opponents, things are going pretty well.  If I was going to run against Donauer, I would run on a campaign of hiring him back to run the city website as he has by far the best city councillor/ward website on council.  It’s more useful than the city website.

Ward 6 : I wonder if Charlie Clark took Brandon Snowsell’s campaign too lightly.  Snowsell’s campaign has been on the ground since March and has been rumoured to have raised a pile of cash.  They say the only way to beat a popular incumbent is to outwork them and Snowsell has done that.  If you can outwork and outspent, you are onto something.  My only thought is the robocalls may hurt Snowsell in that ward which would be kind of ironic.

Ward 7 :  Word on the street is that Mike Bzowey is delivering pizza to people.  I’ll be honest, if given enough pizza, I’ll vote for anyone.   That being said, I don’t think there is enough pizza to be delivered to overcome Mairin Loewen‘s campaign which has been at it for several months now.  Like I just said, you have to outwork an incumbent and I am not sure Bzowey is doing that.

Ward 8 : While Sharon Wingate is running hard, Eric Olauson has been door knocking since early spring and looks to have built up a sizeable lead.   I have Olauson winning a four way race with around 50% of the vote right now.  While Ainsley Robertson declared early, she looks to being out campaigned and door knocked by Olauson.  Of course what makes this race so interesting is that Wingate is going after Olauson’s vote which means that you could see a vote split as the race goes on.  With four motivated candidates, it has the potential to be the most interesting race in the city.

Ward 9 : As I told a friend who had been approached to run in Ward 9, “it’s not a ward, it’s an urban utopia where there are no issues”.  Not only that but it won’t be fun for to be destroyed by an articulate Tiffany Paulsen in the council forums and probably outspent.  Good luck to Dennis Nowoselsky who is about to electoral road kill in Ward 9.

Ward 10 : Both Mark Horseman and Zach Jeffries are running hard in Ward 10 but Bev Dubois has won with some massive pluralities in the past.  According to all three campaigns, they have a total of 164% of the vote and things are going great.

The Mayor’s Race:

I have been pretty uninspired so far.  You have two candidates who are talking about issues that they are not strong in and both sounding awkward while doing it.  That being said I keep hearing that there is a lot of frustration with the mayor inside Circle Drive, a voting block that Lenore Swystun won last time and got a total of 38% of the vote with spending very little money.  If Tom Wolf can spent close to what the Don Atchison is expected to spend, then we have a race but I think Wolf started too late.

So here is my survey of the Saskatoon electoral map. 

  • Ward 1: In play with Hill ahead
  • Ward 2: Lorje
  • Ward 3: In play and too close to call
  • Ward 4: Shaw who may also win Ward 3 and Ward 2 if his signs are any indication.
  • Ward 5: Donauer
  • Ward 6: In play but Clark leading
  • Ward 7: Loewen
  • Ward 8: Olauson
  • Ward 9: Paulsen
  • Ward 10: In play but with Dubois out ahead

I’ll post something each Monday leading up to election day.

Zach Jeffries to run in Ward 10

Local Saskatoon businessman and media personality Zach Jeffries is running for Ward 10 city councillor against Bev Dubois.  He joins, Dubois and Mark Horseman in the race.  I have gotten to know Zach and Mark over the last couple of years as they are both avid city council watchers and fun to talk city politics with and both made credible challengers to Bev Dubois’ re-election campaign.   Both have experience in civic, provincial, and federal campaigns with a large network of people to call upon.  It could be the race to watch in 2012.