Thursday 26 May 2011

A story about Regina

For reasons that I'll leave unexplained, I ended up in Regina last weekend. Saturday, what was to be the Day of Reckoning, was an overcast drizzly sort of day. I found myself downtown taking a short walk in the early evening.

As I walked past city hall and approached the drab-looking public library on 12th Ave, a gust of cool wind hit me. I looked at my watch: 6:00 pm. Isn't that the time that the Rapture was supposed to happen? The was no earthquake. No fireballs raining down from the heavens. Ha! I knew this end of days stuff was all nonsense.

I continued on my journey for a few steps before freezing in my tracks...

Wait a minute -- I looked up Smith Street, I looked back down 12th, I looked up towards Victoria Park -- everybody was gone! My GOD. It DID happen! I was expecting more drama, but the rapture took everybody and left only ME! Oh wait .. I'm in downtown Regina. Heh. Nevermind. Unless ... unless this is just the beginning of my 5-month period of horrible torment!

It was an uneventful walk .. there were few people milling about. I ran across only one homeless dude, who, maybe not politely, but meekly asked if I had any change, and I likewise ran across relatively few clean-cut people. As I often do when I'm in the downtowns of other cities, I draw comparisons to Winnipeg. Regina has a block of Scarth St. closed to traffic -- something that we've talked about doing in Winnipeg (perhaps Albert St.) although Scarth St. tends to be mostly vacant of people whenever I go there. Perhaps after Regina finishes renovating Victoria Park into some hybrid of Winnipeg's Central Park and Old market Square, there will be a larger mass of people attracted to the area ... though I doubt it. In terms of liveliness, Winnipeg definitely has the edge, except on nights when the Riders play. Winnipeg also has more shops, restaurants, and more and nicer heritage buildings.

It's not everyday that a Winnipegger can feel smug in the core of another city ... and then I came across a construction crane. There was a sign with a diagram of what is to be a third Hill Centre office tower, adjacent to the two trademark towers that are highlighted in Regina's logo, with the Mosiac head office as the lead tenant. I guess Regina will have to redesign their logo now. A quick look on the Skyscraper Page shows two additional proposed buildings which would be the two tallest structures in the city, and another 16 story office building, all of which appear to be driven by private investment.

Geeze .. when was the last time Winnipeg had construction like this from private investment? A few years back, a company called Crystal Developers was prepared to build a 15 story apartment building downtown, but current and former politicians and other miscellaneous elites made damn sure that wouldn't happen through a media-driven campaign of public deception and private arm-twisting. As a result, our skyline has remained untarnished by private development for many years now.

Feeling glum, I picked up a copy of Regina's local freebee paper and headed back to the hotel. Maybe this hillbilly publication will cheer me up with stories about the quaint little accomplishments of simple Regina folk. Back in the room, I brew a coffee, sit down, turn the page and read: "Winnipeg’s screw ups are a free lesson for Regina". Gaaaa! Even the Prairie Dog is beating us down.

The editorial, which reads like a blog post, riffs off of the Globe and Mail story about Winnipeg's downtown revitalization. It is written by the editor of the Prairie Dog who grew up in Winnipeg and "spent the first half of his life going bananas watching Winnipeg wreck itself"; and it contains a couple zingers, like:

When I think about the place I think of how Regina’s future could go horribly, horribly wrong. And I don’t just mean we could have a football team as bad as the Bombers.

He ends up concluding the same thing that the G&M piece does: that Winnipeg is heading in the right direction. "Even the dorkiest politicians are starting to get it." (He is referring to Sam Katz, in case you're wondering). Like Winnipeg, Regina is developing a comprehensive community plan. Unlike Winnipeg, they may actually follow it. When writing the curriculum for these free lessons for Regina, this should be at least one module: "Community planning -- more than just creating a document?" Other modules could include:
  • Creating traffic chaos with bike paths
  • Designing a new logo -- perhaps something that looks like a nipple?
  • Infrastructure planning: traffic lights good, overpasses bad.
  • Bait and switch with schools in new developments, and other ways to screw up sprawl.
  • Street banners -- the more the merrier.
  • How to be "world class": IKEA, Helicopters and waterparks
We could have a whole undergrad program on botching up rapid transit. Anyhow, we should all learn from each other, and I wish Regina luck with their own revitalization. Don't blow too much money on Victoria Park.


Although Winnipeg's skyscraper diagram page doesn't show anything proposed or under construction, there is some reason to be hopeful of new development downtown. First, there is a promising project brewing for the A&B Sound Building and adjacent area. Expect to hear more about that in the coming months. [UPDATE: Bart Kives has a story about this on the Freep website today]

Also, Crystal Developers, who should be given credit for not blowing off our city entirely, may eventually start building their new Heritage Landing project on the problematic Assiniboine Ave. lot that we stuck them with after screwing them out of the Fort Street location.

Also, it appears as though Regina does have a new logo (and slogan) although you don't actually see it anywhere when you're in the city. Sadly, it does not look like a nipple. I don't really like the new logo, but I'm glad they changed it because the old one bugged me because it was inaccurate. There was no angle from which the Hill Centre towers appear as they do in that logo.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Harpers new cabinet

Today, PM Stephen Harper appointed his new majority cabinet, with 39 MPs. People are calling it "bloated" and other derogatory things, simply because it's bigger than any other country's cabinet. For example, it is almost twice the size of the UK's cabinet, even though they have 650 MPs, 362 of which are part of the ruling coalition.

Well, to those of you who are all outraged by this symbolic example of government excess: have you ever considered that perhaps our cabinet is just the right size, and that every other country's is too small? Out of the UK's ruling Conservative/Lib Dem reckless coalition's 362 MPs, only 23 have been awarded full cabinet posts. In other words, only 6% of them are doing anything useful. The rest are probably just sitting there, collecting fat paychecks and charging their moat-cleaning bill to the tax payers.

By contrast, out of Harper's 167 Conservative MPs, 39 of them, or 23%, have cabinet posts. That's productive! Why not mobilize all the soldiers you can to take advantage of this historic opportunity to right all of the wrongs created by 5 years of minority rule and a decade of destructive Liberal negligence? You would be irresponsible not to.

With an inept minority opposition mostly composed of NDP newbies who need a GPS to find Parliament Hill, the government should have no trouble implementing the real conservative agenda that they have been yearning for all these years. With all these guys at work, I expect that within 1 year we'll have an elected senate with term limits, a balanced budget, and reduced crime. They will also unlock the shackles of the Canada Health Act, allowing provinces like Not Manitoba to experiment with health care reforms that could improve service delivery and lower costs.

2 Years, max. After that, they have to start thinking about getting re-elected, so they have to act quickly. But what's stopping them? Nothing! So mobilize those soldiers and go get 'em, Steevo!

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Spring Cleanup in St.Vital

If you're looking to get out and do something Saturday morning, the Bishop Grandin Greenway organization is holding it's annual spring cleanup.

Meet us in the south-west corner of the Home Depot parking lot near Bishop Grandin Blvd. and St.Anne's Rd. We will supply garbage bags and free coffee. All you need to bring are boots, gloves, and yourself!

It starts at 9:30 and goes until round noon. Check in at the Home Depot at St.Annes & Bishop Grandin.

Monday 2 May 2011

Election 2011: Anybody Want A Peanut? endorses:

Maybe not "endorses". Everybody sucks. We can't endorse any of them. However, I got together with my advisors and the Anybody Want A Peanut? editorial board to decide who I should vote for.

Here's the thing: An NDP government would be a disaster for the nation. They are a well-intentioned bunch, but the misguided economic policies, spending increases and economic interventionism would be bad news. Fortunately, I don't believe the NDP will win the election. They may be surging, but I think there will be some pull-back today at the voting booth. Just like the first time you go sky diving: when the moment of truth comes, you look out the door of the air plane and say to yourself "what the hell am I doing? This is crazy!" Plus, if the announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death will have any any impact of the Canadian election, it will be to detriment of Jack Layton. It brings an issue to the forefront that Jack is in the minority on, plus it brings new hope that the war in Afghanistan is not futile. In fact, it may be more winnable now than ever before, making an immediate pull-out of troops irresponsible.

Likewise it is clear that the Liberals will not win the election. This is a good thing, because Ignatieff, who could have chosen a fiscally conservative platform, instead chose to veer left into NDP territory. Not quite as far off into the socialist bramble, mind you, but too far for my liking.

I happen to live in a riding that is a battleground between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Between incumbent Conservative Shelley Glover, and former MP Raymond Simard. Those are my only two meaningful choices. Andrew Coyne puts the decision this way: "would the Liberals do more harm to the economy than the Conservatives would do to democracy?" That is a tough question to answer, however, since the Liberals will not win, I don't have to answer it. Instead, the question becomes: do the Conservatives deserve (or need) a majority government?

I have argued before that Harper would be on a path to an easy majority if he was only less of a dweeb. He is his own worst enemy. Every time he gained in the polls, he pulled some aggressive or mean-spirited move that turned off marginal voters and knocked his rating back down. I do not like his style of leadership. I do not agree with many of the things that he has done, and I think his current campaign that primary revolves around coalition fear-mongering is absolutely terrible. I think the Conservatives would do much better under a different leader, and I think the Canada would benefit from that change as well. As a result, I am inclined to say that Harper does not deserve the majority that he is looking for. To give him a majority is to give approval of his horrendous campaign and his systematic destruction of parliamentary process in Ottawa. When this election is over, I want the Conservative advisors to sit down and say to themselves: "Okay, that didn't work. What can we do differently?". Politics in Ottawa is sickening, and it's largely because of Harper.

If there was a chance that any other party would win, I would probably vote Conservative, because the alternatives are even worse. For various reasons I don't believe there will be a Liberal/NDP coalition government if Harper gets a minority, and if there is, I don't think it will last long. Therefore, my decision is based on giving a vote of disapproval to Harper and the Conservatives by voting for Liberal Raymond Simard.

At least that's the decision that my advisors and I came to. I might get a sky-diving flashback and change my mind in the voting booth.


Hey look! A couple of bloggers have awoken from their comas to post special election-edition commentaries!

Good to see your blogs come alive again.


My election predictions, as tweeted on Friday:
CPC 140, NDP 85, LPC 61, BQ: 21, GPC: 0, Ind: 1

Sunday 1 May 2011

Thoughts on the UofM CUPE 3909 strike vote

This past Friday, the University of Manitoba union CUPE 3909 representing teaching assistants, markers, and tutors voted to authorize strike action, rejecting the University's contract offer. The issue: wages, job security, and guaranteed hours, according to union President Matt McLean.

When I was at the U of M, I was all three of those things: TA, marker, tutor, as well as a research assistant. In fact, I too participated in a strike vote. I voted "no". Why? Because I had accepted my wage and conditions of employment when I took the job. What grounds did I have to demand more?

Besides, all of these jobs pay very well, relatively speaking. I was paid about double what I made at my weekend job. These were by far the best paying jobs I had in my life, at the time. Oddly, the hourly wage for a marker has not changed much from when I was doing it, although TA wages have gone up a fair bit. Even still, the $13/hr you make as a marker is better than what most students could expect at any alternative employment, which often involves a spatula.

In addition, it was common to get paid for more hours than were worked, especially for markers. My first marking job: I handed back the papers and told the professor that it took me 25 hours to complete them, even though he told me in advance that his budget was for 50 hours. "Are you sure it didn't take you 50 hours?" he asked? "No, only 25" I said. He looked at me like I was some crazy person, before explaining that normally profs are expected to spend their whole budget. I was only being honest, but I didn't know about "the understanding." I didn't make that mistake again.

On principle, I don't generally agree with striking for wages or job security. There are economic implications to having an inflexible labour market that such actions can lead to, but my general attitude can be summed up more simply as: "If you aren't happy with your job, get a different one." Mind you: the work force for these jobs is a captive one -- you can't exactly get a job as a TA at SFU when you're a student at the U of M. But on the other hand, these are plum jobs, and there is a lot of competition for them. I would have done the work for half the money, not just because I needed the money, but because at that stage of my life a TA position was by far the best looking thing on my résumé.

Although I don't agree with striking for wage increases or job security, I can understand the motivation in some circumstances -- but not this one. These are not career jobs. A person can not expect to be a marker or student lecturer for any more than a few years. Job security should be a non-issue, and the wages, for a student, are good. There is no rationale for striking in this stituation except for greed.

Collective bargaining agreement

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