Monday 29 August 2011

McFadyen's platform: smart or sell-out?

Oh goody! A platform leak! I shall naturally assess everything I see against the paradigm of provincial election platforms, located on this blog.

First of all, the PC platform posted on the Free Press web site does NOT have rainbow-coloured category titles. Big fail right off the bat.

In terms of content, let's go through some of the items:
  • program to provide financial resources to landowners to preserve natural wetlands and riparian areas.
    - something similar was suggested in the comments of my blog post, but I was skeptical about how much potential there was for preserving or reclaiming wetlands this way. It's probably a good policy though.
  • re-route Bipole III to the east
    - you know how I feel about this.
  • Join the New West Partnership
    - I suspect it's not that simple. Were we not denied entry because we're a "have not" province? If we make strides in the right direction, perhaps we may be allowed in, but I don't think we're excluded because Doer/Selinger forgot to ask.
  • Provide funds to pave unpaved back lanes in Winnipeg
    - smacks of vote buying. I prefer my promise of rebuilding Winnipeg's sewer systems to reduce overflows into the Red River. Less glamourous, but important for the environment.
  • Elimination of the enhanced Manitoba driver's licence to save $13 million
    - Depends: it was a bad program to begin with, but set-up costs are sunk. Are we losing money on an on-going basis?
  • Reduce administration costs at regional health authorities
    - Yes, also on my platform. Probably easier said than done, but certainly lots of opportunity.
  • Cuts to personal income tax
    - Good, but I hope part of that includes indexing tax brackets.
  • No harmonization of PST with the federal Goods and Services tax.
    - Bad. As unpopular as it may be, HST is more efficient and implementing it would net us a nice bonus from the Feds. Alternatively, we could implement it temporarily, then reneg on the deal and refuse to give back the bonus money like BC.
  • Extend $700 property tax credit to cottage owners to make cottage ownership more affordable
    - don't quite get this one. Why not just have the credit for primary residence?
In a list that is mostly unremarkable, there is one promise that really stands out:
  • Balance the provincial budget by 2018, four years later than the NDP is currently targeting
Clearly this is intended to knee-cap the NDP's assertions that the PCs would hack and slash everything into oblivion as soon as they get into office. It may be a smart promise in that sense, because it reduces the fear factor for the on-the-fencers who value healthcare more than fiscal responsibility, and conservatives will still vote PC because they know that the NDP won't balance the budget any sooner regardless of what they say.

It is, however, a risky position. After hammering on the NDP for fiscal irresponsibility, Hugh could lose credibility because of this. Is Hugh just saying what he thinks the voters want to hear? Can we believe him? The whole "I won't privatize Manitoba Hydro" thing hinges on his credibility. Being in opposition, Hugh has had little opportunity to build trust with Manitobans, and can not afford to squander what he has.

This promise is a half-baked attempt to combat negative ads by the NDP, but it could very well backfire. The political analysts here at The Peanut believe that Hugh would have been better off staying true to his principles rather than letting the NDP drive his policies.

Over all, it's a less than stunning platform, although there are some good things in there.

Monday 22 August 2011

Jack Layton

We here at the Peanut are sorry to learn of Jack's demise. Jack was a dynamic figure in Canada's political scene and as leader of the NDP he provided an important counter-balance to the traditional governing parties.

I certainly feel for Olivia and the rest of Jack's friends and family, but I am not going to pretend now that I have any particular personal attachment to Jack simply because he has passed away. And though I regret his passing, it is certainly no surprise. My mother, like Jack, won a battle with cancer but lost the war. I know others who have fallen to cancer's sword as well, including both parents of a family that I am acquainted with. In both cases cancer struck with shocking speed, taking both parents (years apart) in less than one month from their initial diagnosis. Once cancer grips your body there is little than can be done to stop it.

That is why, when Jack appeared in his press conference, suddenly frail and weak, less than a month ago, I feared the worst. I was not one of those who optimistically predicted that Jack would be back in September or even that he would be back at all. I knew he would not. I suspect most people knew as well, but did not want to face reality. I read all of those tweets and commentaries that said Cancer better watch out because it doesn't know who it's dealing with and other silly things, and I shook my head. Sure, hope for the best, but if you convince yourself that he's going to beat it, it will only hurt more when he does not. It may be a blessing for the NDP and its supporters that the end came as quickly as it did, rather than stringing them along with false hope of a return of Jack.

On a personal level his death is no more or less tragic than any other, but it has great significance to the country on a political level. With his loss, we have not just a rudderless opposition party, but an extremely inexperienced rudderless opposition party. It is a party that has a lot of work to do just to sort itself out. There will be a leadership race that could potentially become nasty, having recently adopted a lopsided Quebec-oriented posture but with most senior MPs coming from other parts of the country. When at one time the NDP knew what it stood for and had a small but solid base under a charismatic leader, it is now spread thin, with no leader and a suspect agenda.

I don't know if there has ever been a time in Canada's history when a national government has ever has so much leeway. There have certainly been larger majorities, but as far as I know there was typically some sort of effective opposition to hold them to account. (Mind you, I am no political scholar.) But here we have a situation where Harper is faced with a full term of majority rule, and every opposition party is in complete disarray, with the exception of the Green Party which only has one seat.

Layton was a remarkable man, and the rise of his party to official opposition status under his leadership was stunning. The void that will be left by his departure will be equally remarkable. The NDP was over-achieving with Jack at the helm, and now that he's gone and Nycole Turmel is temporarily in charge, the party is completely out of its league. In retrospect, the rise of the NDP may have been more of a victory for the Conservatives than it was for the political left. In any case, the man went out on top and had an impact on the nation, and that is something to be remembered.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Thoughts on Hydro CEO Brennan

As reported, Manitoba Hydro Big Cheese Bob Brennan is retiring. Dan Lett suggests in his commentary that "it is meaningless to ask why he is stepping down." I think otherwise. Being at 70 years of age you certainly can't blame the guy for packing it in, however the timing is meaningful in that it tells a story about how Hydro has been run over the past 11 years.

I have been very critical of Bob Brennan in the past, however I don't doubt that, if left to his own devices, he could have been an excellent CEO. As Dan points out, many of the more controversial decisions were not made by Brennan, but by the very "hands-on" (nice-speak for politically interfering) NDP government. The decision to spend an extra billion dollars on the less environmentally friendly and technically inferior west-side route was made by the government, not by Brennan. Likewise, the decision to plow ahead with aggressive northern Hydro development for export, regardless of the financial viability and irrespective of the risks, was made by the Provincial government, not by the CEO.

My beef with Brennan is not in making these decisions, but in so willingly supporting them. He sold out faster than a Winnipeg Jets home opener. He fudged numbers about Bipole III, he fired a consultant who dared to expose the risks of the Hydro development strategy, and he never wavered from the arm of his political masters. What I question is the man's integrity. If he had any, he would have put up more of a fight. He would have said: "look, according to our engineers the west-side route is inferior to the east-side route. I don't think we should do that." or "there is no need to rush into low-margin, high-risk export contracts." But he did not. Instead he committed to the ill-advised policies of the government of the day, and that now puts him in a bit of a pickle...

With an election pending and a potential change in administration on the horizon, Brennan has pulled the plug. I don't think this is a coincidence. Brennan's willing support of the indefensible NDP policies would make his relationship with a new PC government unworkable. He would either have to reverse course on everything he stood for in the previous years, or he would be in conflict with his new masters and would be forced out. Leaving now allows him to avoid that conundrum and leave on his own terms.

The announcement of his retirement is therefore a smart move, and it is not insignificant. It tells the story of a senior civil servant who too willingly steered the ship in the wrong direction, and fled in a life boat just short of it hitting the iceberg. The question now is: will we get a new captain that will direct it to safety?

Monday 15 August 2011

2011 Manitoba provincial election platform

If you elect me as Premier, this is what I will do:

- balance budget ahead of schedule
- strengthen balanced budget legislation, including requirement to balance gross budget incl. crown corps on 3 year moving average basis.
- reduce dependency on equalization payments
- end defined benefit pensions for public employees in favour of defined contribution (grandfather basis).

- reinstate a 1% income tax for small business (is 1% really too much?)
- phase out the payroll tax
- enact legislation to require the indexing of all income tax brackets. (see here)
- raise basic personal exemption 20% per year for first term.
- reduce education component of property tax & eliminate operational and capital funding for cities/municipalities. (see here)

- allow school divisions to close underutilized schools and redeploy resources
- consolidate school divisions
- lift university tuition freeze

- remove requirement for City of Winnipeg to remove nitrogen from wastewater (save $350m)
- fast track & help fund improvements to reduce the release of raw sewage into the Red River by the City of Winnipeg.
- review management of water levels and improve drainage, especially in the Interlake region.
- assess cost and practicality of replacing Hecla causeway with a bridge.

- immediately stop development of west-side Bipole III route and re-start assessment process for east-side route.
- direct PUB & Hydro to reduce electricity costs for base residential levels, and charge market rates for everything above that (inverted rates).
- reduce red tape allowing small private generators to feed electricity back into the grid.

- encourage private clinics to operate in MB
- review effectiveness of the regional health authorities and hospital bureaucracies and eliminate redundancies in administration.
- fire 1000 nurses and doctors. (just kidding. yeesh.)

- review building and electrical codes for hog barns and other animal barns.
- re-evaluate hog farm moratorium based on best scientific evidence.

- restrict scope of taxi cab board to safety-related concerns only. Open up taxi industry to competition.
- open up rural bus service to competition, eliminating Grey Hound's monopoly. Allow companies to bid on routes.
- improvements to Trans Canada Hwy, Perimeter Hwy & Hwy 75 including overpasses for key intersections, increasing speed limits to 110 km/h for entire lengths.

(to the extent possible)
- focus on rehabilitation for first & second offenses for property crimes and minor offenses, with exponentially harsher penalties for each additional offense (see here)
- crack down on parole violations
- implement training and educational opportunities for prisoners, and make them mandatory for any prison terms longer than 6 months
- parole must be earned through the completion of education or training.
- scale back penalties for DUI, but implement a new tier of criminal offense for: DUI over twice the legal limit, DUI while speeding & DUI while texting, with much harsher penalties. (see here)
- make penalty for texting and driving equivalent to DUI
- include hands-free cell phones in cell phone driving ban. (see here)
- *NEW* expedite serious offenses in the court system

- scrap rent controls and accompanying regulations, and restrict condo conversions until vacancy rates improve. (see here & here)
- immediately rescind all provincial funding to the Upper Fort Garry heritage park or whatever it's called.
- ban advertising by public sector unions in the 6 months preceding an election.
- revise Liquor Control Act to allow private beer boutiques and the importing of wine and beer independently of the MLCC.

This is a living document. Let me know if something here is out to lunch, or if you have a better idea, and I may very well update this list. If you have a blog, post your own platform!

Friday 12 August 2011

NewWinnipeg update

The NewWinnipeg forum is still dead, but a date has been set for the next and presumably last NW get-together:

Saturday, August 20 · 2:00pm - 5:00pm *NEW TIME*

The location is still TBD, but you can stay on top of it at this facebook page:

unrelated p.s. :

I was just cleaning up some old email and found this spam ->
Subject: Scotland acquired A of to Korean Tibetans
Body: When tilapia are raised in the tanks, they are able to eat algae, which naturally grows in the tanks when the tanks are properly fertilized.
Wove paper does not exhibit "laidlines", which are small regular lines left behind on paper when it was handmade in a mould made from rows of metal wires or bamboo.

Still the best spam I've gotten so far.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Winnipeg radio: FM station correlation

Have you ever experienced one of those times when it seemed like every radio station was playing Aerosmith?

Winnipeg FM radio is very predictable and lacking in diversity. If it seems like you're hearing the same stuff over and over again, it's because you are. I would estimate that we get exposed to 5-10% of the popular music spectrum, but there is a whole world of awesome music out there that we're missing. When was the last time you heard The Cribs on Winnipeg radio? Of Montreal? (seriously, have you heard a better bass line than that?) Gigi d'Agostino? Black Flag? Neko Case? The Rakes? Texas? Winnipeg's own Grand Analog?

Curve 94 showed some promise when it first came online, playing some things that you didn't heard elsewhere like Metric and MGMT. However Curve is now gone, opting instead for a sorry mix of classic light rock retreads. I don't for a second believe that 94's ratings went up after this change. The rating system is seriously flawed. Every comment I've heard about 94 echos my own sentiment: 94 is dead to me now.

But alas, there was hope on the FM horizon! A new station was coming! Evanov Radio Group bought that last remaining FM slot in town -- 106.1 FM. It was one last chance for something new. Something different. Would the heavy metal/hardcore hole be filled? Maybe it will be worldbeat? Would we finally get some interesting alternative radio here?

Nope ... the new format was released this month, and instead of breaking new ground and drawing in a new audience, the risk-adverse cowards at Evanov decided to fight over the exact same radio real estate that Hot 103 occupies with Energy 106. It's a lower risk approach, I suppose, but it's a loss for the Winnipeg radio audience because it brings no new choice in music.

(click to enlarge..)

The graphic above is based on a sample of the playlists only. In reality, there is probably much more overlap than I show here.

Now, to make matters worse, 99.1 Groove FM has decided that it can't make a go of it as a Jazz station and wants to change it's format to (buckle your seat belts...) "a variety of today’s pop and rock hits, mixed with songs from the 80’s and 90’s". (a tip of the hat to Kevin McDougald for noticing that.) If that goes through there will be still less choice on the radio dial, and one more station fighting for the exact same radio turf as all the others.

.. and one more station playing Aerosmith.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Congratulations again to Jon Montgomery

The 2010 Olympic gold medal is now his second biggest prize.

Russell Manitoba's Jon Montgomery successfully got married today in a small ceremony in Kelowna BC to fellow Canada sliding team member Darla Deschamps. Jon and Darla make a great couple, and Anybody Want A Peanut? would like to wish them a long as prosperous marriage, as well as a couple gold medals in Sochi.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Free Press: Comments not allowed!

Now I know that commenters can be idiots some times, but four of the top 5 breaking stories on the Free Press web site at the moment of this writing are not accepting comments:

The Free Press recently changed its comment system. I really like the new comment features, but the moderation of the comments (if I recall John White's tweet correctly) has been farmed out to a third party. Since that happening, the web site seems to be pulling the trigger quicker on closing down the comments. I have to wonder if the comments are really that bad, or if the hired mods are just being "proactive" (ie. lazy).

I have noticed as well that some times a disproportionate number of comments (in stories that do allow comments) have been censored. Perhaps, instead of all that exhausting work of banning users and censoring comments, they decided it would be easier if they just disallowed comments on anything remotely contentious.

The Free Press has the right to accept comments or not, but one has to question the purpose of accepting comments if anything contentious or crime related is automatically off limits. Are we interested in people's views of law enforcement? Do we care what people think of the 2-for-1 credit for time served, or the fact that it's being taken away? Are people concerned about arson, bus safety and sentencing? Or is the only thing we want people's opinions on is whether Ashton Kutcher is a suitable replacement for Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men?

Monday 1 August 2011

The Hacienda-ization of St. Mary's

Those who know me know that I am not a big fan of things that are fake. For example: the big plastic spoilers that douche bags bolt to the trunks of their Chevy Cavaliers, tofurkey, or Stephen Harper smiling. There are however certain exceptions to this rule, such as breasts, and ... uh ... there are others but I can't seem to think of them at the moment.

Anyhow, what I'm here to talk to you about today is faux-Mediterranean architecture. You may have noticed it popping up here and there, but especially if you communte up and down St.Mary's Road here in Winnipeg.

I can't tell you who started the trend, but I'll give credit to Piazza De Nardi for getting the ball rolling. Piazza De Nardi transformed the busy corner of Taylor Ave. and Waverley with a unique shopping experience that mimicked a little Italian market. With the recent expansion, it has become little more than a fancy-looking strip mall, but the success of the original design showed that frozen 'Peggers like to pretend they're strolling on the streets of Tuscany, even when they're wearing Sorels.

It was no surprise therefore that other establishments caught on to the idea. When Banville and Jones relocated to St. Mary's Rd. from Meadowood in 2005, they added a big splash of colour to the street with their Tuscan villa-esque store, one-upping Piazza De Nardi with a second floor terrace.

A couple of years later, and a little further up the street, Miller's Super Valu Meats had an opportunity to expand into the neighbouring building. They did not only that, but merged the two buildings and refaced them in a Mediterranean style with earth-toned stucco, little arches over the windows, and terra cotta roof tiles.

(Miller's, by the way, is a good place to buy more than just meat. They have a decent little grocery section with some specialty items you might not find at large grocery stores, and prices are generally pretty good.)

And just this year, even further up the street, Santa Lucia completed their overhaul of their Norwood location by turning it into a Mediterranean villa-style building with all of the same architectural cues, as well as a large roof top patio.

Three building on the same street in 6 years. It doesn't sound like a lot, but to me this represents a definite trend, and it got me thinking ... is this good? Do I like this faux-Mediterranean style of archtecture?

I have to say "yes", especially on a street that is so lacking in character as St.Mary's. Despite the attempts by the City at street scaping and turning parts of the street into a "villiage", there is no unity or personality that could possibly be harmed by this trend. Instead, these buildings add welcome life and colour to a drab palette of residential units, strip malls, and commercial buildings.

Faux architectural cues are nothing new. Some of our most beloved heritage buildings have fake columns and sconces and other such things. We should welcome any building designs that create a more interesting and more welcoming urban street scape. I therefore give these buildings my stamp of approval.


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