For a person who only bikes a half-dozen times a year, I'm surprisingly supportive of active transportation infrastructure. In a quiet sort of way though. I don't go around pushing the active transportation gospel on unwilling victims, and I realize that regardless of how much you try to develop it, only a very small percentage of people will ever commute by pedal power in a city as sprawling as Winnipeg.
However, I would love to see an integrated network of paths that would let me bike around the city without having to compete with vehicular traffic, and was therefore pumped when the brand new Bishop Grandin Trail West opened late last year. Now, if I wanted to I could bike all the way to Assiniboine Park or my friend's place in White Ridge without riding on a major road!
Winnipeg's newest active transportation corridor claimed the starring role in this year's International Trails Day festivities in Winnipeg, and earned sparkling praise from Winnipeg's AT Madame Janice Lukes: "This new trail is a stellar example of community connectivity."
It also happens to be a stellar example of poor planning, because this is what the trail looks like now:
Less than a year after it was paved, the trail was torn up and the communities are connected no more. That's about $2 million of trail torn up to make way for the construction of the Kenaston extension through Waverly West -- something that has been planned for over six years.*
I suspect the Winnipeg Trails Association is in denial because they have not yet recognized this destruction on their web site. Both the Bishop Grandin Trail West map and their spiffy new BETA version Bikeplanit.org map show the trail as being intact, which it very much is not. In fact, there are "No Trespassing" signs at the start of the trail section (which I, um, didn't notice until after I had taken the above photo. I mean, after my Research Assistant Julio took the photo.)
How does this happen? This particular section of trail was funded by the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, which is an extension of the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program. This is separate from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund that gave birth to many other active transportation improvements of questionable wisdom, but like that program this one is a use-it-or-lose-it affair with a specific deadline for spending your money. I have noticed that putting a drop dead date on spending money will ensure the money gets spent, but greatly increases the chance that it will be spent poorly.
I can't tell you if this botched trail was a result of deadline-related pressure, or bad communication, or something else, but there is really no excuse for it. Somebody at City Hall needs to oversee this stuff and connect the dots. I've heard of other instances where a road was repaved, only to be torn up right away for sewer repairs or some such thing. Perhaps a big chunk of Winnipeg's multi-gazillion dollar infrastructure deficit it due to one $50k/year slacker who spends his time on Twitter instead of cross referencing project dates?
Anyhow, at some future time we'll get to see if this stellar example of community connectivity will be reconnected, and if there will be some reasonable way to navigate the new intersection at Bishop and Kenaston. I sure hope so, because some day I might actually want to hop on my bike and ride to Assiniboine Park for the afternoon. Well, okay ... I'll probably take the car, but it would be really nice having that option of biking though.
* Waverley West Area Structure Plan, December 2005. Dollar value estimated based on this article that specs $20m for 12 km of trail. Total length of trail between Waverly & Scurfield is 1.8 km, much of which is torn up,
did you know: that the MTS Centre got $34 million from the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program?
Monday, 26 December 2011
For a person who only bikes a half-dozen times a year, I'm surprisingly supportive of active transportation infrastructure. In a quiet sort of way though. I don't go around pushing the active transportation gospel on unwilling victims, and I realize that regardless of how much you try to develop it, only a very small percentage of people will ever commute by pedal power in a city as sprawling as Winnipeg.
Sunday, 18 December 2011
If you follow local Winnipeg news, you probably heard about the kerfuffle over a photo radar speed trap at Grant Ave. and Nathaniel St. where the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and anti-speed trap advocates Wise-Up Winnipeg are urging people not to pay their tickets because they believe the speeds aren't being measured properly.
Earlier in the year, Wise-Up Winnipeg also questioned whether the speed limit was properly posted on this stretch of road.
Here's the thing: even if the speed limit signage is posted correctly, and even if the radars are calibrated properly, these tickets should never have been issued. Why? Because the speed limit itself is incorrect.
This is not just my opinion. It is fact. I'll explain: In 2003 a report was submitted by the Winnipeg Public Works Department titled "SPEED LIMIT ON GRANT AVENUE AND ON KENASTON BOULEVARD". The report was conducted by traffic analysts and signed by J.A.Thomson, Director of Public Works. It has since been removed from the City of Winnipeg web site (at least I can't find it) but I happen to have a copy.
"The measured 85th percentile speeds on Grant Avenue between Stafford Street and Kenaston Boulevard and on Kenaston Boulevard between Grant Avenue and Academy Road range between 61 and 68 km/h. The collision rates ... are comparable to the city-wide average of 3.3 on regional streets with similar characteristics. Based on this information and on the widely accepted practice for setting speed limits using the 85th percentile speed, it is reasonable to set 60 km/hr speed limits on Grant Avenue between Stafford Street and Kenaston Boulevard and on Kenaston Boulevard between Grant Avenue and Academy Road. Furthermore, it is expected that making these changes ... will (i) result in more efficient transportation routes along these streets, (ii) reduce the incidence of short-cutting traffic on adjacent residential streets, and (iii) provide motorists travelling along these routes with a more consistent driving environment in terms of uniformity in speed limits."When this study was brought before council it was rejected for unspecified reasons:
"The Standing Policy Committee on Public Works did not concur in the administrative recommendation and therefore did not increase the speed limit.The traffic analysts collected all this data, did all that analysis, and council just tossed it into the garbage can without any apparent consideration. Even if the policy is good the optics are bad, therefore the elected councillors won't even touch it. Get the Community Committee to agree and maybe we'll consider it ... as if that will ever happen. That's leadership for you.
Further, the Standing Policy Committee on Public Works requested that in the future, consideration of speed limits be referred initially to the Ward Councillor and if necessary to the respective Community Committee." (soucre: Minutes - Standing Policy Committee on Public Works - January 13, 2003)
There is a permanent red light camera installed on Kenaston Boulevard between Grant Avenue and Academy Road at Corydon Ave., and this Nathaniel St. mobile speed trap is on Grant Avenue between Stafford Street and Kenaston Boulevard. In both cases tickets are being issued to drivers that are driving a safe speed according to traffic industry standards. It is immoral and objectionable and counter-productive to issue speeding tickets to people in areas where you KNOW the speed limits are too low.
The reason I found this study in the first place is because a few years ago I was nailed with a photo radar ticket on Kenaston Blvd. I challenged it in court. I presented this study as evidence to show that the speed I was driving was safe according to accepted standards and argued that enforcing this ticket violated the intent of the law, which ultimately is to make streets safer. In fact, enforcing an artificially low speed limit can make streets more dangerous because it causes speed differentials to increase (less consistency in the speeds people drive) which leads to increased accident rates.
Unfortunately the judge I got was completely incapable of comprehending this argument. "But .... you were going over the speed limit."
GAAAAAA! This is why you're almost at retirement and still stuck working traffic court! (I didn't say that out loud.)
Perhaps if I had appealed I would have got a judge with a capacity for independent thought and abstract concepts, but appealing takes time and money and I wasn't up for the challenge at the time. However, if one of you have recently been dinged with a ticket in one of these areas, I will gladly send you this study and I will give you my full support and encouragement as you attempt to fight your ticket.
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
The news that the City of Winnipeg seized an apartment building under their vacant building bylaw stoked up a little idea that was smoldering amongst the moss and twigs in my mind: Perhaps this bylaw could be expanded to include empty lots as well.
I am thinking of a couple in particular. One is on Portage avenue between Edmonton and Kennedy St. It used to be a small park with giant jelly beans that you can sit on, and apparently had a name other than "Jelly Bean Park" which is what I called it, but I don't recall what that name was. It was purchased by a fellow named Ray Rybachuk, fellow developer Russ Knight and his lawyer friend Ken Carroll who came forward with a plan to build a 12-story office and parkade there. That plan was probably a ruse from the beginning, as nothing ever happened there and it doesn't appear as though anything ever will. Instead, the park was turned into a make-shift gravel parking lot that violates every rule the city has about surface parking lots, which are an eye sore at the best of times. (See the bottom of this post for more dirt on Raymond J Rybachuk.)
If only the city had some sort of way to reclaim emply lots by law that are being willfully misused by derelict owners. We could call it a "bylaw" or something. Yeah, a "derelict property bylaw". That sounds catchy!
Honesty though, the city should have the ability to reclaim this land, as the owner is clearly not going to develop it as intended and is blatantly flouting city rules. It is also an ugly "missing tooth" on a high visibity street, and thus has greater negative impact than just any old vacant lot. Perhaps if the rules had more teeth, like the ability of the city to secure this property, then owners like Rybachuk might be more inclined to get their act together.
Another property that I fear may befall the same fate is the old Fat Angel lot on Main Street. Yes, I know what I said:
There are certain buildings that are just so ugly -- so disfiguring to the urban streetscape -- that they must be destroyed, even if it means replacing them with a gravel parking lot.but to be fair, one of my staffers wrote that piece because I was busy smoking pot and counting ceiling tiles. I am slightly worried though: cars are starting to appear on the site of the old Fat Angel on Main -- another high visibility area -- although they may only be on what used to be the paved area behind the old building. However this may creep into becoming a full blown contraband gravel parking lot as well.
We need a carrot and stick policy. There should be incentives or encouragement for developing crucial areas like this, possibly including access to Tax Increment Financing. The city also needs to get out of the way of progress. There are numerous stories of costly red tape, most recently Basil's fight for a simple liquor license to reopen an establishment in Osborne Village. But there also needs to be a stick to move things along and prevent abuse.
The name "Ray Rybachuk" comes up in another unseemly story as well, about stealing proprty. And then there's this: one guy on a website called scaminformer.com writes:
Keep in mind Raymond Rybachuk is a convicted cocaine dealer, so how much credibility should you extend to someone with that kind of history?Probably the same guy goes on another rant about "big fat guy Raymond Rybachuk" on a web site called ripoffreport.com.
And more importantly, why is a lawyer Ken Carroll or a real estate professional Russ Knight associated with a known cocaine dealer? Or are they anymore, considering Raymond Rybachuk was evicted from his office on the 8th floor of the Boyd Medical Centre, and is now continuing his slumlord business from Lead Management on Notre Dame St in Winnipeg.
If you are a business professional, be very wary of dealing with anyone associated with Raymond J Rybachuk, including Lead Management, Ken Carroll, Russ Knight, Boyd Medical Centre or any investments offered using the phone numbers 204-951-6750 or 204-989-0635 these are the main numbers used by Raymond J Rybachuk in perpertrating his investment scams, including his most recent attempt at selling property in Belize that he doesn't even own.
More bizaarly, the website rayrybachuk.com advertises oceanfront property while accusing Rybachuk of being a scam artist and "convicted cocaine dealer". I don't know if this web site was hacked or what, but it is very strange.
Only $50k for a convicted cocaine dealer? And I can finance? I'd be crazy not to buy!
I didn't link to these web sites on purpose because they are kind of icky, but you can find them easily enough. Sombody certainly has it in for this guy though.
** Update **
Thanks to a certain person with access to the Free Press archives, I can confirm that Rybachuk was in fact arrested in relation to a drug smuggling operation.
Monday, 5 December 2011
This is depressing. The global economy is imploding, my city is bankrupt, and now I'm being told that my country is going to explode into a civil war between whites and Indians.
We all agree that the Indian Residential School system was a grievous mistake. If you can't turn back the clock and reverse the mistake, what can you do? I thought we were on the right track here: the PM formally apologized, the government has allocated $1.9 billion for compensation, and we put in place a forum to allow IRS survivors to share their stories and begin the healing process.
I guess I was mistaken, because the man in charge of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commision is predicting "great violence" if we don't pick up our game. Those quotes by Justice Sinclair in that article are remarkably inflamatory by somebody in his position. This man whom we entrusted with ecouraging the healing process is instead creating greater divisions, and giving tacit approval to violence by implying that such violence is understandable. This is highly irresponsible, in my opinion.
Douglas Bland expands on this in Saturday's paper, saying that there are no positive stories to tell and that there is no way to bring these issues to light in a non-violent way. The solution? A rebellion!
There is, of course, another way beyond aimless violence to convince Canadians to redress past wrongs... Paradoxically, a unified nationwide aboriginal rebellion may be the best way.I makes me feel so much better that the "great violence" won't be aimless.
I couldn't help but think of Machiavelli's The Prince as he goes on to pragmatically explain the conditions and preconditions for a rebellion based on "current research". You know, there are some places where advocating a rebellion would be called treason, but I had better let that line of thinking go, as I sense that it won't lead me anywhere good.
So how do we avoid these dire consequences? Please explain in point form with clear understandable steps so we don't screw it up again. You first Sinclair:
You can contribute to that solution by understanding, supporting and engaging in those conversations, by encouraging society to do those things that need to be done and by acknowledging the validity of that state of respect.Oh geeze. We're doomed. Please Bland, give us something to work with:
Work with the First Nations' community vigorously and immediately to reshape this young population into a positive, community-oriented work and leadership cohort. Finally, and again in co-operation with First Nations' leaders, we could launch a national campaign aimed at convincing these young people they are indeed prized citizens in our national community.I think people are getting frustrated that we're spending billions of dollars and not achieving any of these nebulous objectives that are supposed to solve the problem. And maybe that's because it's impossible for the government to solve. The government creates laws and spends money. That's really what it does. It can attempt to do more, as it has with the Truth and Reconcilliation Commision, but if you're looking for pride and respect, well, that's a little more complicated, because those are things that start first within your own families and communities. Allowing private ownership of land on reserves might be a step in the right direction, but if you're expecting Canadians and the government to find some way to conjure up these things in a short time frame, well ... just first give me some time to fortify my house for the rebellion.
Saturday, 26 November 2011
I am writing this from somebody else's computer. Mine blew up the other night. Not with flames and all, but in an explosion of hard drive errors. I had it booted up in safe mode when the phone rang.
Hi. I'm from Microsoft support. We've been getting error messages from your computer. I will walk you through some steps to fix the problem.
(Microsoft calling me to help me with my computer? This is highly unusual ... but I have been having problems lately...) You've been getting messages from my computer?
Yes, for a long time. You computer has been infected with viruses and malware for a long time.
(Well I have had virus problems, but why did they wait so long to call if they knew I had a problem? ) I can take control of your computer and get rid of the problem, now go and turn on your computer.
My computer is on, but it's in safe mode so I doubt you can take it over; but I'm not sure I want to ...
What key is next to your left control key?
Uh .. the windows key.
Good, press the windows key and the "R" key.
What does that do?
Just hold down the windows key and press R. What do you see?
Tell me what it does first.
I'm going to help you fix your problem. Just hold down the windows key and press R. What do you see?
Geeze, okay: the 'run' command opens. (Boy is this guy ever rude...)
Good, now type e-v-e-n-t-v-w-r.. What do you see?
What does that do?
Just type e-v-e-n-t-v-w-r. What do you see in front of you?
Tell me what it does first.
Just type it sir. What do you see?
Look dude, I don't know who the hell you are. I'm not going to type it unless you tell me what it does first.
Just type the command. Okay, what do you see on your screen?
Can I have your phone number?
No, just type the command. I'll give you the phone number after you log in. Now enter e-v-e-n-t-v-w-r. What do you see in front of you?
I'm going to hang up unless you give me your phone number.
Just type the command first.
Okay goodbye. *click*
A quick search on the 'net shows that this scam has been going on for a long time. Eventvwr itself is harmless, but it produces computer logs which few people understand and may appear to indicate that your computer has a problem. The scammers use this to convince you to download a program which allows them to obtain control of your PC, and then you're fucked.
The weak link in this scam is the notion that Microsoft would actually call you to help you with your computer. The only thing that made this even remotely plausible in my case is that by coincidence my computer completely crapped out shortly before he called. I know my readers are far too sharp to fall for something like this, so I post this for your ammusement rather than as a warning necessarily.
This isn't the first time I've been scammed. My favourite was a 2-page handwritten letter in 2003 from Uganda. It had Ugandan stamps and was post-marked Uganda. The return address was a box at the Kabale Police Station, which appears to be a real place. It refered to me by name and came to my address, but it did not ask for money outright. The letter writer claimed he was a police officer who was guarding my father. He says "It is a really long time since we last met at Kabalagala Kansanga Kampala at the residence of your father... ". Wow, thats pretty bloody specifc! It's also not accurate. He goes on to mention other inaccurate details including relative's names and so on ... to the point where I almost wonder if the letter was legit and just went to the wrong person. It's impossible that they would randomly mail that to somebody who actually fit the narrative of the letter.
The letter ends with him explaining that his brother died and left him with 5 kids, and that he is struggling with money. Ah here we go, I thought. He wants money.. Still, the whole thing was so intriguing that I held on to the letter. I would scan it for you, except that my PC is toast. Maybe some day, if I ever make it to Uganda, I'll stop in at the Kabale Police Station and ask if Tumwebaze Alfred ever worked there.
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
This intervention into the collective bargaining process at Brandon University is as dangerous as it is outrageous," he said in a statement. "It confirms for us the pro-employer bias shown by this allegedly 'labour-friendly' government."
Federal audit finds no evidence jobs created by $1 billion in stimulus cash.
The recession ended so quickly, not because money was spent, but because people think money is being spent. Just like golf, or the voices that tell me to strangle dogs, it's all in the head.
I do like having something tangible. I admit that, but I think many people do as well. So if you were thinking of putting a CD in somebody's stocking this Christmas, I just want to let you know that it's still okay to do that.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Edit: oops .. I forgot to give the post a title! How embarrassing! Oh well ... fixed.
A few days ago Brian Kelcey wrote an op-ed in the Free Press admonishing Chief McCaskill for his failure to produce a crime reduction strategy, and our politicians for failing to motivate the Chief of Police to do so. Now today, we finally have a plan! Apparently the planning started over two years ago. The delay was probably a result of a low toner cartridge in the printer or something.
The document starts off with a message from the Chief that includes this:
"we must not allow ourselves to get comfortable with our past successes."Comfortable? COMFORTABLE??? We've had 35 murders and countless arsons in less than 11 months ... who the hell is getting comfortable?!? Oh and by the way: buying a helicopter is only a "success" in the sense that you have successfully spent money. Success is in results, not actions.
You might think that if a plan is serious about dealing with violent crimes, they would provide some analysis of the violent crime problem. You know: you have to recognize that you have a problem before you can fix the problem. Later on they do claim that violent crime is going down, however all we are given in this document are three bar charts for broad categories of crime that are generally flattering to the police force. There is an effort here to make it appear as though everything is proceeding very nicely, and that by even putting forth a plan they are going above and beyond what is necessary.
Edmonton, our competition for Crime Capital, doesn't gloss this over:
New challenges have emerged including a marked increase in the severity of violence that we must address... and they provide 9 "immediate initiatives" to deal with the violent crime problem, and remember, their Chief has been in office for less than half a year. How does our approach compare?
Jumping to the Violent Crime Reduction Strategy on page 20 ... we are given three goals:
• Reduce incidents of sexual assaults by 3% by 2014.
• Reduce incidents of assaults by 9% by 2014.
• Reduce incidents of strong-arm robberies by 3% by 2014.
Reduce murders in the murder capital of Canada? Not a goal. Murders are too unpredictable.
"Adopt a philosophy of law enforcement in Winnipeg to be proactive and fluid in the approach to policing higher crime areas and the rest of the City."Is that all? What about "thinking outside the box" and "drilling down to the root causes"? Even "leveraging synergies in the pursuit of efficiencies in law enforcement" might be a good way to go. Geeze, do I have to do everything for them?
Thankfully the proposed actions are marginally more specific:
A. Establish and Enhance New Permanent Beat Foot Patrols
B. Implement Project-based Initiatives.
C. Create High-value Target Suppression Database
D. Develop Crime Prevention Partnership Program .. notably the MLCC
E. Did we mention Beat Patrols?
There are other little things here and there, like "give apartment owners and managers the power to evict or deny residency to those residents who partake in criminal or nuisance activities" and "Recruit and train Crime Analysts", but overall I am somewhat underwhelmed. It would have been nice to see more details and creativity ... but at least we have targets, like reduce assaults by 9% in 3 years. The real target that everybody else will be keeping an eye on, however, is that pesky murder rate.
The Police can't do everything however: What we really need is greater differentiation in sentencing. A focus on rehabilitation for new offenders but progressively harsher punishment for repeat offenders. For that we need reformed legislation at the Federal level, and a reformed attitude at the Provincial level.
The report provides an interesting summary of our urban sprawl:
"Since the 2006 Census, Winnipeg has developed, and is in the process of developing a number of new neighbourhoods. Notable new neighbourhoods include: Amber Trails, Canterbury Park, Richmond West, Royalwood, Sage Creek, Transcona West and Waverley West. Together, these neighbourhoods add 3205 hectares (7919 acres) of newly inhabited land in Winnipeg. The new developments represent an increase of 6.74% of patrollable land within Winnipeg’s boundaries."Winnipeg's population increased by less than 5% during that same time frame, therefore population density has decreased as well over that time. Just FYI...
Related: The Crime Scene .
Labels: crime and punishment
Monday, 14 November 2011
I'll give a plug for the new Scoop.It! website for Winnipeg Internet Pundits. This is the link.
Friday, 11 November 2011
Monday, 7 November 2011
Some 'Rods' have stepped forward with solutions: The Black Rod's solution is a secret formula that he/she/it wants to sell. The Rouge Rod is proposing a merger with the Liberals. Clearly we need more ideas.
Problem: Manitobans consume more electricity than any other jurisdiction on the planet.Solution: Implement inverted rates that will keep electricity affordable for small households while increasing the benefits of reducing energy use.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
According to Blade Runner, filmed in 1982, we will have colonies on other planets and androids so perfect as to be "more human than human" by the year 2019 -- only 8 years from now. Think about it: that's when Hugh McFadyen was planning on balancing the Manitoba budget. In fact, in the movie the 'Nexus 6' model of replicant has already reached the end of its 4 year life span, meaning in only 4 years we will be building these 6th generation bots that are so advanced that you can have sex with them and make them breakfast without even knowing they aren't human.
People, I think, have a tendency to believe things will happen faster than they really will. Sometimes things do progress quickly ... for example: in 1918 we were flying biplanes in WWI, and less than 30 years later we had jet airplanes and nuclear weapons. In other cases the pace of progress disappoints. Which brings me to the point of this post ...
The City of Winnipeg has unveiled their $1.25 million Transportation Master Plan. There are two major components to the plan: a $2.7 billion rapid transit initiative, and $2.1 billion in road improvements. Sorry: "improvements". All of which is to come to fruition (did I really just use that word?) in a mere 20 years. (The active transportation component is mostly window dressing and can be discussed separately some other time.)
To me, road improvements would involve making existing roads better. Maybe I misunderstand the term, because the focus of the "improvements" in the Master Plan mostly involve adding miles of new roads on the periphery of the city, sucking more infrastructure money away from the populated areas of town. I personally would call this "facilitating sprawl", but what do I know?
There are plans to widen Kenaston and St.Mary's, which will help. Otherwise, the focus is on building a ring road network inside the perimeter highway and around CentrePort. This plan is a component of the overall OurWinnipeg plan. In the Our Winnipeg plan, there is a map that identifies key "Regional Mixed Use Centres" and "Major Redevelopment Sites". For giggles, I decided to plot these destinations on the map of road improvements from the Transportation Master Plan -- green circles for Mixed Use Centres and yellow rectangles for Redevelopment Sites:
Virtually all of the road improvements on the map lie outside of the key urban areas identified by the City's own visionary document. We are building a web of roads around the city while the roads in the city that people use everyday get more cluttered and dangerous. Supposing we could actually get our hands on $2.1 billion for road improvements, I propose fixing some of the poor planning of the past, rather than just saying "oh well, what's done is done .. let's build more roads!"
I'll give you an example: Fermor @ Lagimodiere is a busy intersection and a dangerous one, ranking #2 in the city with $5.9 million in bodily injuries in an eight year span.
I looked for answers at the Master Plan Open House today
A lot can happen in 20 years, but apparently not rapid transit in Winnipeg. I don't even know when the rapid transit planning started, but in the last decade all we've accomplished is a partially completely 3.2 km piece of pavement for a yet-to-be-determined mode of transportation. I was not encouraged by the sign board at the open house that said the SW Rapid Transit Corridor was expected to be completed "Before 2031". What, is Sam planning on running for mayor another 5 times?
I certainly support its development, and I have no initial complaints about the proposed routes in the plan -- except the maybe it will maybe it won't .... But it will ... jog in the SW transit corridor away from Pembina highway into the controversial proposed new development. But let's be realistic: we just came off a decade of economic growth, budget surpluses, and increasing transfer payments, and we got nothing done. We are now in a period of slow economic growth and massive budget deficits. How will we get money for this? If comes down to a choice between rapid transit and new roads, I fear new roads will win out. After all, we at least know what kind of roads we're going to build, and there's less resistance to building them given that most are in the middle of nowhere.
The bottom line is that if we really want to make rapid transit happen, we need determined and decisive leadership, both within the City of Winnipeg and the Province. Place your bets now. While we can put together glossy $1.25 million transportation plans, the sad reality is that I'm more likely to have my Nexus 6 sex bot order filled before we have anything close to efficient transportation infrastructure in this town.
Sunday, 16 October 2011
Acid wash architecture
There has been a small kerfuffle about what to do with the old YWG airport terminal now that the fancy-pants James Richardson International terminal is opening. Heritage advocates are crying out for somebody to save it, because it is an excellent example of mid-century modernist architecture. That may be, but modernist architecture happens to be the acid wash jeans of the architecture world. Nobody, for example, would ever say “Wait! Don’t throw out those parachute pants -- they’re still perfectly good!”
Modernism ranges from the bland and block-ish, like our terminal, to the Jetson-ish stylings of the Winnipeg Clinic building, where the designers gambled on the look of the future and lost. But looks aside, the terminal building has a couple of other knocks against it: size and location. It is big and expensive to maintain, and it’s located (obviously) at an airport, which drastically limits potential uses, as does the purpose-built interior that would require massive renovations for almost any other use.
Heritage advocates should pick their fights. We have a hard enough time preserving our turn of the century classics in the exchange district to be distracted by this. If a legitimate proposal comes forward that doesn’t require a bundle of government money, then fine .. but otherwise take one last good look and say good bye.
Blog action day
Apparently today was blog action day. Apparently this year’s subject was food. I do not have anything to contribute because (and this is true) I was busy building a garden. A small raised vegetable garden for next summer. Plus I completely forgot that it was blog action day. That was a factor too.
Since I have failed you, here are a couple of other local Blog Action Day blogs that are worth reading: Conceited Jerk & One Man Committee
Brain damage in two languages
I read that bilingualism prolonged cognitive function in people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Brain scans showed that “bilingual patients had twice as much atrophy” when diagnosed as unilingual patients, leading to the conclusion that speaking two languages helps you overcome brain damage from the disease. That is one possibility, but I think the researchers are missing the obvious conclusion: that speaking French causes brain damage.
Late addition: Ramblin' Dan
I feel I'm not offering you enough with this post, so here is a video for you ... local artist, prolific songwriter, and old buddy of mine "Rambling" Dan Frechette, with a reggae-ish tune recorded at the Park Theatre a couple weeks ago:
Check out Dan's YouTube page for more, or better yet: go pick up one of his albums!
Friday, 14 October 2011
The bottle also tells me that Lia Fail is a "Scottish Dark Beer", although Beer Advocate tells me that it's more precisely an Ale. She comes in a 500 ml bottle and weighs in at a welterweight 4.7% alcohol. The ale pours a cloudy copper colour with a nice foamy off-white head. My nose picks up toffey and citrus, and a little bit of foam if I stick it in too far. The beer feels a little flat in the mouth when you drink it, and I can't say that there is an explosion of flavour exactly. I can taste hops, and maybe ... rye bread? There is a finish of orange peel and stomach acid. It's not as bad as that sounds.
Friday, 7 October 2011
Monday, 3 October 2011
I sat down with The Green Party of Manitoba leader James Beddome for a coffee at Stella's on Sherbrook. I do not guarantee that the transcript that follows is 100% accurate, but it is at least a close approximation:
Anybody Want A Peanut?: So, some background: you're studying to become a lawyer ... what brings you into this nasty, dirty arena of Manitoba politics? Why not work as a lawyer for 10 years, make a pile of cash, and then enter politics?
James Beddome: You know, politics has always been my passion. At a very young age I have wanted to get into politics. I think I looked at it the other way: law was going to be my way into politics, along with a Political Science and Economics degree. So for me, the question is why not be involved, and how could I not be involved? I literally am a little bit of a political animal, so that's why I am involved and I'm enjoying it as it goes along, and I hope that I get elected as MLA, but if that doesn't work out, then the plan B is I go through law school and I'll see what happens in four years.
AWAP: You did a great job in the televised debate.
JB: Thank you.
AWAP: You have been excluded from other forums, though you seem to be getting more recognition in the media. But as a party that does not have any members in the legislature and does not have a full slate of candidates, why should the Green Party be considered as one of the big players?
JB: I think that all parties should be included, and I extend that beyond the Green Party, because I think it's really important that we get the ideas out there. I think voters are smart enough to be able to determine which ideas are good for themselves, and to not include the smaller parties creates such a structural disadvantage in the sense that all you hear is the status quo ideas. I think it's good for people to hear new bold ideas, even if they're not ready to agree with them, because I think it helps to create change in and of itself.
AWAP: But you have to draw a line somewhere...
JB: Our argument was that we had candidates in 56% of the seats -- 32 of the 57. We did want a full slate. We're going to keep pushing for that four years from now, so our point is we want some credibility, we are becoming a provincial party: we've got a candidate in Flin Flon, we've got a candidate in Kewatinook, we've got a candidate in Brandon, we've got rural candidates and we've got candidates in Winnipeg, so it's not as if we don't have fairly accurate diversity and representation. I should put another diversity plug out there: we have a 50% female slate, we've got I think five candidates of aboriginal and/or Métis descent, and two people you could identify as visible minorities as well as people who are part of the gay and lesbian community, so we have full diversity in Manitoba.
AWAP: Okay. So... tax: In the past 12 years the tax brackets have rarely been increased, resulting in a de facto tax increase every year, and we have one of the lowest basic personal exemptions in Canada, meaning overall we are one of the highest taxed provinces in the federation. Does the Green Party promote any meaningful tax reform?
JB: Ya, we propose bold tax reform, and I have to be frank and admit that we know it will take a while to implement, so what we're trying to sell as a party is that, look, we'll give you the 20-year vision and work towards it rather than people who only look at their four year fortunes. So, to go to our tax plan, it actually deals with what I talked about on the debate which is the universal basic income, and it would work as a de facto positive tax exemption.
The way that we want to structure it is such that everyone is guaranteed a certain set minimum -- let's say $10,000 per year.. maybe that's too high, but it works well for the numbers that I'll use here -- so, $10,000 per year is what people would be guaranteed to receive -- about $800 per month -- so you have that positive amount. Now, on every dollar you earn ... let's go high, let's say 50% -- now I know that's going to scare voters but this is just hypothetical ... but if we're taking 50% of every dollar you earn but you're guaranteed $10,000, when you start earning $20,000 you've actually paid fully back into the system. The system would operate in such a way that it ladders up as you earn an income. It's a more fair way that we think we could reform the tax system. Now it would require a lot of cooperation from the Feds, and we think we could replace a lot of social service programs -- employment insurance, other social services, employment and income assistance programs -- with this, while still retaining some special programs for people with disabilities. So we think it's a bold way to reform the entire tax system. I'm not naive enough to think that it will happen overnight, but that's why I hope we get into the legislature and have some of the resources available to research this, talk to the people in the tax department and have a little more weight as to why I'm requesting this information ... why I should be entitled to have it.
AWAP: One thing that I write a lot about on my humble little blog is Bipole III. We've talked a little bit about this before. If I understand the Green Party's position, it's that the Bipole III line doesn't need to be built at all. We can use our existing capacity and build on that with conservation and clean energy. Is that more or less correct?
JB: That's fairly correct. I would just caution it with saying that we may build it at some point, but what I think is most important is that our own regulator, the Public Utilities Board, is warning that we may lose money on these export deals that we're signing. Maybe over time we'll be able to pay down this debt, but of course Manitoba Hydro wants to increase its debt to equity ratio. We don't have a Manitoba energy plan. We have some good programs like Power Smart, but I don't think we've taken energy conservation seriously in terms actually trying to focus on demand management. Further to that, we think that there is a lot of capacity in southern Manitoba for the 1000MW of wind energy that's already licensed. That adds to your reliability factor because you have some local electricity -- granted intermittent electricity, so there is a need to overcome some of the technological barriers with intermittent renewable energies -- but the fact that we have the base of hydro that we can generally count on I think very much helps us, because we can learn to become leading edge managers in what they call "smart grid technology" and how you manage energy flow with intermittent energy and a baseline of stable electricity, in our case hydro. So, it's sort of like "let's hold off and think this thing through." We don't have to build it right away. The real driver for building Bipole III is Keeyask and Conawapa, so what we're trying to say is let's not just talk about one line, let's talk about the whole energy development strategy and then let's try to map out an actual plan, and I think there are so many more possibilities that might open up if we look into creating an actual plan.
AWAP: Your hair always looks great.. Do you have a stylist you can recommend, or certain products that you use?
JB: (laughing) Really I don't even have a consistent styling product that I use, but thank you. The Free Press has some pictures of my hair dangling in my face so it doesn't always look great.
AWAP: Actually it's better that way.
JB: Oh you think the hair in the face works? Okay..
AWAP: As a former employee of AECL, one thing that caught my eye was a promise by your party to stop, if I understand it, the transportation of nuclear products across Manitoba. I can tell you, as far as risks to the population goes, this is one of the smallest ...
JB: It may be a fairly small risk. I know that they have very secure cement containers. I guess for us the biggest problem though is they want to store it up in Creighton Saskatchewan, is basically the issue, right? They want to store waste coming from Bruce in Ontario in Saskatchewan, and what that means is the waste is going to be transported through our province, and I think that Manitoba needs to stand up and say something. Yes, the risk needs to be mitigated, but not only that it's wear and tear on our highways .. we're basically on the losing end of the stick on that one on so many levels and we need to stand up and say something. Why should we get pushed over by Ontario and Saskatchewan? I do know that it's a small risk but there are a lot of people who are concerned about it and I suppose Greens are not particularly in favour of nuclear energy. The waste factor makes it problematic, so part of it comes from that.
AWAP: All of the other party leaders seem to be in favour of hiring more police officers for Winnipeg, even though we have high per capita staffing levels already. I know you have a different idea about that. Explain ...
JB: Ya, it's about actually interacting police with the community. Basically what we would like to do is embed police officers in the same community on a regular basis. So in my riding here in Wolseley you would have, I don’t know the staffing levels so this is hypothetical, let's say you had 6 police officers, that's 2 police officers per day on a rotating shift. So let's just say .. you would have two officers who regularly work in Wolseley all the time. They would get to know the people in the neighbourhood. If you get to know the people in the neighbourhood they will be more comfortable confiding information and you will also be able to figure out the patterns and habits of people and you'll have a better idea of where you should be keeping a closer eye, and we think that's a way of making policing more effective. The province already funds police officers here in Winnipeg and in other places in Manitoba, and basically what we're saying is, we're fine with that but here is how we want you to implement it. There is a lot of power with the province to actually work with municipalities in terms of offering funding but making it conditional on certain conditions.
AWAP: I was going to ask you about that too, because Winnipeg is a big battleground and all of the parties are planning things for Winnipeg: soccer fields, police officers -- here is how many we want you to hire and how to deploy them. Why is it the province's responsibility to sort of micromanage the city this way in the first place? Why not allow city hall to deploy officers as they see fit, or build soccer fields as they see fit?
JB: Well, because inevitably city hall is going to be coming to the province for money. That's just the reality of finances in Canada. If we're going to be funding the municipalities -- and we should be better funding our municipalities in Manitoba -- then let's try to do it in such a way that we can work constructively together. Too often we have the city and province working at opposite aims, and it's the citizens that pay. We get ineffective government and we get waste of your tax dollars because one level is trying to do one thing and the other level is trying to do the other, and it creates needless expenditure of time and money.
AWAP: Alright, so last question: there are I imagine lots of undecided voters out there who don't who to vote for because they are all promising the same thing or they're disengaged. For somebody who is going to the polling booth on Tuesday, what would you tell them if you could say something? What should be the one issue on their mind?
JB: If they don't want to vote then they need to understand that they're letting somebody else make the choice for them. If they're scared into voting for one party or the other because they're being told they have to vote strategically, they need to understand that a vote isn't just a vote for the party that's going to win, but you should vote with your conscience, vote with your heart, vote for who you think would make your best representative. You're not voting for the Premier, you're not voting against Hugh McFadyen or Greg Selinger. You're voting for the representative of your local area. People should to take that into consideration as well. I'm finding a lot of undecided voters here in Wolseley. This isn't a riding that the conservatives are going to take. This is a riding where you have a choice of a number of people and you have to make that choice.
AWAP: Good. Thank you very much and good luck in the election.
JB: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to do the interview.
The Green Party finished a distant second in Wolseley in 2007, but they have since increased in stature on the political scene. If they have a chance to win a seat, this is where they would do it. It will be interesting to watch on election night.
Monday, 26 September 2011
I don't blame you. Choosing between the parties in this provincial election is like choosing between a light grey Chevy Malibu and a dark grey Chevy Malibu. If only a bright red Dodge Challenger SRT8 was available...
So far in this election, the boldest idea has come from the Green Party: free bus fare. The second boldest idea has come from the Liberals: relax Sunday shopping laws. Both the Greens and the Liberals are holding back on the excessive spending promises, meanwhile the NDP and PC parties are dropping money bags from helicopters. Unfortunately, neither the Liberals or Greens have a chance in this election. John Gerrard may get re-elected as the Liberal's only seat, meanwhile Green Party leader James Beddome is an underdog in Wolseley and no other Green candidate even has a shot.
The realistic discussion pertains to the NDP and the PCs, but when you look at the two main parties from a high level they look pretty much the same:
NDP: more cops on the street
PC: more cops on the street
NDP: more doctors and nurses
PC: more doctors and nurses
NDP: won't balance the budget
PC: won't balance the budget
NDP: minor tax credits with no significant tax reform
PC: minor tax credits with no significant tax reform
NDP: spend lots of money
PC: spend lots of money
Rather than campaigning on ideas, the NDP is campaigning on things the PCs might do, and the PCs are campaigning on things the NDP failed to do. The only difference is the NDP has a track record, and the PCs do not. Whether you think that track record is good or bad may be your deciding factor in voting, but if you're looking for something to tip the balance, this should be it:
I haven't blogged about Bipole III 2,587,398 times because I think it's just that interesting. I've written about it because it's an irreversible and extremely costly decision, and also because I have a very low tolerance for idiotic behaviour. The NDP government has routinely addressed problems by throwing money at them rather than making any sort of difficult decision, and this is the most extreme example of that, except in this case there is more at stake than just money.
Let's just cover the main aspects:
COST: The west route will cost about $1 billion more. That's "billion" with a "B". This is if we build additional capacity with Keeyask and Conawapa. If we scrap our export plans because they turn out to be too high-risk or may result in losses for Manitoba Hydro, then the East side route will not require converters, saving us an additional $2 billion, for a total of $3 billion savings.
FOREST: The argument is that the last piece of "pristine" boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg need to be protected. A) the forest east of Lake Winnipeg is not pristine. There are mines and communities and roads and other things. B) Even if it were "pristine", there are thousands of square KMs of pristine forest elsewhere, from Labrador to the Northwest Territories, in the vast Boreal forest. C) Even if it were the last piece of pristine forest in Canada, the government has already promised to damage it even more than a HVDC line would by zigzagging a new road right through it. D) There are scarce aspen parklands to the west of the lakes. I don't know to what extent the preferred route impacts them, but I know it was a concern in the routing study. E) The west side route plows through as much forest as the east side route. In terms of the quantity of lumber produced, it's a saw-off. (haha, get it? "saw off". Anyways ...)
LINE LOSSES: The amount of electricity burned off in transmission depends on the how close to capacity the lines are running, but whatever the amount, it will be much greater for the west side lines. The cost in lost exports will be in the tens of millions of dollars each year. These lost exports have another cost too: pollution. The wasted 'clean' hydro energy will not displace 'dirty' fossil fuel energy in the US, resulting in thousands of tonnes of additional green-house gas pollution each year. How green is that?
CARIBOU: Yes, there is a threatened caribou herd on the east side of the lake. Based on the 2005 Caribou survey, there are also four or so caribou herds that might be impacted by the west-side line, at least three of which are threatened. Furthermore, these herds have less territory to maneuver than the east-side herd, who's territory extends right into Northern Ontario.
UNESCO: A) A UNESCO official is on record as saying that the east side route will not preclude UNESCO designation. B) the government hasn't even applied for UNESCO designation. C) the east side line would only graze one corner of the proposed UNESCO site, and D) In what way is a UNESCO designation worth $1 billion anyhow?
LAND USE: Aside from forest, there is agricultural land to consider, and to this point, the west side route involves huge compromises. Land owners will need to be compensated; route adjustments will probably be required to avoid owners who refuse to be bought out (since Hydro will not expropriate), further increasing the cost; aerial spraying will be difficult or impossible to do safely along the route, impacting farm productivity; etc ...
EXPORTS: The argument that an east side line will somehow risk exports to the US is laughable. Environmental groups can't stop the US from buying every drop of oil sands petroleum that we can give them. On what grounds could they prevent the US from buying clean power? There are parties who are associated with power producers in the US who want the exports blocked because Hydro is a competitor, but they don't give a shit what side of the lake the route goes down. Honestly. It's preposterous. In fact, this Hydro report suggests that export sales could be compromised by the west side route, because it can't supply reliable power.
RELIABILITY: The west side route would be much less reliable because A) it is in an area of the province that is more prone to tornados and other weather-related disasters, and B) it's a longer route and therefore has more potential to be damaged.
ENERGY SECURITY: Should the Interlake lines go down, the west route would NOT be able to support our energy commitments, whereas the east-side route could carry the load.
TECHNICAL: Lastly, there are other technical aspects of the Bipole line that I can't begin to explain because I don't understand them, but what I understand is this: Hydro engineers prefer the east route. In fact, the east route is not just preferable ... it is the only route that makes sense from a technical perspective. In addition, the west route could require us to build another bipole line 25 years sooner. (source)
In the televised debate, Greg Selinger berated Hugh McFadyen for his "reckless" plan to move the bipole line to the east side. Only Greg would call accepting the advice of engineers, reducing pollution, protecting our energy security and saving $1 billion reckless. The venom and conviction with which Greg lied about the east side route was almost shocking. This isn't a matter of opinion. This isn't a case where each side has equivalent pros and cons that have to be weighed. This is a case where the east side route is superior in every tangible respect, and the costs of going the other way are enormous and long-lasting.
So if there is one issue in this election that should turn your vote, make it this one.
here are a couple of other related blogs
ice & grain with a good post
Saturday, 24 September 2011
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Monday, 19 September 2011
Two blocks down from where two people got shot half a day earlier, the Provincial leadership candidates got together for a debate on downtown issues. Most of then anyhow. Greg Selinger sent one of his ministers, just as he did with the Bipole debate earlier.