Friday 27 April 2012

What to do with the Master Plan?

About the only surprise is how soon it happened, though the fact that it happened was all but inevitable. On Wednesday, Winnipeg City Council rendered yet another planning document obsolete by approving a proposal to disregard the recommendations of the Transportation Master Plan and fast track road expansions on the periphery of the city:

Amid hubbub, $300 million in freeways approved

Said Dan Vandal, who is emerging as one of the few voices of reason on Main Street:

"I think it sends the wrong message to administration and to the province, who I'm sure paid for half of the master plan. The fact that we can make these $300 million in changes without any administrative comment on whether they're worthwhile is bizarre."
Yes, well bizarre is the name of the game at City Hall.

This change, while fast tracking new roads, no doubt also delays the rapid transit portion of the master plan until some time after the Great Apocalypse. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have wasted my time writing about it or going to the open house, although they do have good cookies at these open houses.

Nevertheless, we spent $1.25 million on this document, so we should try to make some use of it.

My first thought was to use it to line bird cages, but nobody keeps birds anymore. (Why is that? They're small and colourful. What more could you want in a pet?) 

My second thought was that we could use the pages of the Transportation Master Plan to teach kids origami. They could start by doing very simple projects like paper airplanes. This is ideal because it's tangentially related to transportation.

But then it occurred to me that the plan is in PDF format. It is very difficult to make a paper airplane out of a PDF file. I tried once and it was incredibly frustrating. In the end, perhaps the best use we can make of this document, as flawed as it is, is to lock it away in a time vault to be opened in 20 years so that the next generation of community leaders can compare what was supposed to be with what actually happened, and hopefully get cracking on that second leg of rapid transit to the U of M.

Monday 23 April 2012

Montreal protests: a photo blog

Before I went to Montreal I joked to a friend about getting caught in the middle of a protest. You know those French people like to protest, and they've been doing a lot of that lately. The target of the anger: the government's plan to raise tuition fees from by far the lowest in the country to a little bit higher but still by far the lowest in the country.

Anyhow, flash forward to Friday as the wife and I were taking a stroll through Old Montreal on our way the Montreal Science Museum. Do de do de do ... (that's the sound of us strolling along.)

It appeared to be an ordinary day. People milling about. Young adults chatting on a street corner, one of them wearing ski goggles. Hmm, that's kind of weird. Oh well. This is Montreal ... anything goes!

Do de do de do ... Oh! Look at the pretty building. I think I'll take a picture of it:

Did I notice the guy with his face covered? No. But then again, this is Montreal .. anything goes.

However it was impossible not to notice all the cops closing off streets. Every block, more cop cars. A helicopter hovering over head. Yup, something is definitely brewing here, but wha .... oh:

Ah ... I think we'd better keep walking dear. Dodedodedodedodedo.

What I didn't know was that the pretty building pictured above contained the Premier, and became the focal point of this only minutes later: Montreal student protest turns violent

Later that afternoon we passed back that way and everything was more or less back to normal, except for the dozens of police cars and trucks lining the streets, some of which had smashed windows.

We had successfully avoided the riot, but the movement itself goes on, and you can see signs of it everywhere. People with red swatches pinned to their jackets, red balloons tied to lamp posts, statues with red tape over their mouths ...

You see, a protest is just a protest, but when you add a COLOUR to rally around it becomes a revolution. Every good revolution has a colour.

Unfortunately for the students, every good revolution also needs something else: popular support, and this the students don't appear to have. I was told by people on TV whom I'm sure are reliable that the majority of Quebecers support the tuition increase, to their credit, and are getting annoyed by the blocked streets and mayhem and such. Yet the protests have been going on for almost four months, and don't show any sign of abating. The semester is a write-off for the striking students anyhow.

I can't even begin to guess at the cost to the Quebec taxpayers of all the destruction, but more especially the mountains of police overtime that go into containing these protests. I don't know how many cops were out last Friday, but I think it was all of them.

In a way it might have been fun to get right in the middle of the mayhem and get the genuine riot experience. I even thought about starting a Riot Tourism business. Search out hot spots around the world where chaos is about to erupt, and take customers there to experience an adrenaline rush that only getting hit by pepper spray or rubber bullets can provide. I'm sure there's a market for that.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Another water park for Winnipeg!

As expected, EPC approved the $7 million grant for an Alberta developer of road side inns to build a half-assed water park at the historic Forks site.

SAME DAY: Global Winnipeg comes out with this: Water park also planned for IKEA site in Winnipeg

It comes as no surprise to local developer Hart Mallin. “As it makes sense at West Edmonton Mall or Mall of America or anywhere else across North America where you have significant shopping installation you want some water facility,” Mallin told Global News Wednesday.

No surprise indeed. In fact some know-it-all blogger named Cheren-something wrote this back in March of 2009:

One last thing: I am making the call: You will see a water park on this site. Ledo's big waterpark at Polo Park is dead. This is where the big park is going to go: at the Ikea Centre CanadInn.
Little Gray Bird also wrote this last Sunday:
Let a private company buy some land out by the new Ikea and build a water park there on their own.
It was probably in the cards the whole time, but the announcement or leak was delayed until the uncertainty of Sam's plan was cleared up. Now that the IKEA developer knows that the water park at the Forks will be small and unlikely to provide competition for their plan, they are comfortable coming forward with it.

Ironically, Sam's overwhelming desire to draw a "world class" water park to Winnipeg probably threatened or delayed that very thing.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Waterpark: 7 reasons to say "no"

There is not much that I can add to the conversation that hasn't already been said, but in the spirit of blogger solidarity, here are 7 reasons to say "no" to the water park proposal:

1) The $7 million belongs to rapid transit. When Sam cancelled the planned BRT shortly after coming into office, he diverted this cash to one thing then another, but it was originally intended for rapid transit. Now that BRT is back on, the money is needed. The first phase that recently opened is virtually useless on it's own. Most people I've talked to say that it takes them longer to get to where they're going because the bus routes now all have to detour down Main Street to get to the start of the 3.6km BRT corridor, whereas before they took a more direct route. The BRT needs to be extended to the UofM and new football stadium ASAP. This $7 million will help.

2) Unfortunate juxtiposition: As Policy Frog puts it: "(The CMHR) has drawn comparisons to iconic architecture in cities like Bilbao, Spain and Sydney, Australia. Right across the street, the City wants a budget-hotellier from Alberta to build a moderate-sized water park, so we can compete with destinations like Grand Forks, Steinbach and Portage La Prairie." In both architecture and function the proposed hotel/waterpark will be completely contrary to the museum.

3) The proposal is an underutilization of a prime piece of real estate. The limited land at The Forks is valuable, and this particular area, "Parcel 4", is a high-visibility location. There should be a master plan for the development (or reclaimation as greenspace) of the remaining undeveloped areas of The Forks, but lacking that, at the very least the City should solicit expressions of interest for any area they're considering developing, with consideration of what would be the best fit. There was no such process in this case. For more related thoughts see Stumbling (A) Bordeaux.

4) This may very well be the site of an ancient Indian burial ground. I'm not kidding. Now I'm not saying this will happen, but there is a very good chance that when you jump in that wave pool, an angry ghost will grab your ankles and pull you under.

5) Conflict of interest: Make no mistake: this waterpark is Sam Katz's baby. He's the one pushing for this. The public is not clamourring for it. Council is not demanding it. It's Sam's baby, and this baby is being born directly across the street from Sam's ballpark and restaurant, very likely resulting is some positive spin-offs for Sam himself. Even if it's not technically a conflict of interest, the appearance of a conflict is certainly there. See also Bart Kives.

6) It seems sometimes as though every major decision by Winnipeg City Council is made in a rush with insufficient information and improper due dilligence. (An exception being rapid transit, where study after study is done without any decision being made.) What is the final design going to look like? What caveats are included with the free passes that will be given to low income people? We don't know these things. This habit of circumventing process and approving proposals without proper consideration needs to be put to a stop. On a matter of principle this development should be stopped.

7) There are much better uses for this money, than to give it to a private developer for a run-of-the-mill waterpark. Even if it doesn't go to rapid transit, it could go to community centres, or roads, or to our unglamourous but aging storm sewers, or to any number of worthy causes. If there is demand for a waterpark, it WILL get built with or without public money. If anything, this stupid $7 million bribe with it's attached conditions may have prevented a waterpark from being built by now.

Those are 7 reasons to say "no" to the waterpark deal. Pick one or pick all seven, or make up your own; but don't just say "no" in your head. Say "no" to the mayor and your councillor. Here are their email addresses:;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

To allow this to happen, as One Man Committee puts it, "would be a regrettable mistake and a civic embarrassment of the highest order."

Cherenkov, with files from Walt Krawec, Bryan Scott, Patrick Oystryk, Colin Fast, Rob Galston, and RM at Winnipeg ...One Great City.

X-ref: as published in the Free Press

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Hi I'm Mark Kelly and here's what I want to Connect:


To tell you the truth, I often enjoy watching Connect with Mark Kelly. Ya, he applies his own slant to certain subjects, but the interviews are snappy and generally well done, and the news segments with Reshmi Nair and more recently Genevieve Tomney are refreshing. They always start with the grim news and finish up with something light, so that they can banter with Mark and flash their smile for the camera.

I am a little surprised that they would cut this particular show. It does not seem like a large budget show. One host, a studio, a team of researchers and some teleconferencing costs, basically; as opposed to something like Republic of Doyle (oh that Crazy Doyle .. I can't believe he stuffed that police man in the trunk again) which is a scripted on-location drama with writers, actors, the whole bit. It's no surprise that Doyle was chopped.

Part of the problem is that CBC is just too spread out. They have English TV, French TV, CBC News Network, CBC Radio 1, CBC Radio 2, CBC French radio, etc ... I think what CBC does best is news and investigative stuff. Maybe they need to consolidate to 2 radio staions (English & French) and 2 TV stations and focus on that.


I can relate to Mark Kelly. I lost my job too, quite recently. Unlike Mark, and government employees in general, I worked with an axe hanging over my head for years. Layoffs and aggressive cost cutting were a way of life at my former place of employment. Every year I saw colleagues and teammates laid off, and more often than not I would have to absorb additional work. Sometimes the cuts seemed completely unreasonable, yet despite all the layoffs we got the product out the door. The quality of the product may have suffered on occasion, but company profits kept increasing, revenue grew, and work kept getting done. My experience is that if people are forced to do more with less, they can and they will. If they can't or they won't then they will be the next ones out the door.

Which makes me wonder about CBC and all the TV shows that have been cut. The CBC execs may think that they run a lean operation and that there is no choice but to chop shows, but have they really tried to do more with less? The cuts were quite large and sudden, so maybe it was necessary. I don't know .. I don't have a good grasp of how much overhead there is at the CBC.

I will say this though: when people panic at cuts to government spending in general, saying that core services will have to be cut, I call bullshit. Most government departments at any level have not had to cut back by any significant degree for years. There is certainly capacity to do more with less. Core services need only get cut if people refuse to work more efficiently. It is a choice, not a necessity.

I lived that reality for years. When the cuts come, you think "My God, how will everything get done?" Then you begin to find things -- reports, meetings, whatever -- that aren't really critical, and you get rid of those, and you get rid of travel, and you streamline other stuff, and you end up finding a way to get the job done. Year after year we did that. Any government department can do it too.

Monday 9 April 2012

$1.1 Billion deficit might not be our biggest problem

Note: just a couple more posts, then I'll ease off the Hydro stuff for a while. In fact I'll see if I can go the whole summer without posting about Hydro. Should be doable as long as they don't do something stupid like try to build Bipole III with these.


Manitobans were treated recently to the news that they are each $1000 more in debt, as their provincial government rings up a deficit north of $1 billion for the first time.

That may sound bad ... and it is ... but there is another financial shit storm brewing out there that you should know about. The name of this storm: Keeyask

Keeyask is a proposed $5.6 billion generating station that is currently going through the environmental assessment stage. The primary purpose of this mega project is to support export sales to the U.S., as we already have enough of capacity for ourselves, and have almost finished construction of the $1.6 Billion 200 MW Waskwatim station, which itself will be used exclusively for exports until 2020.

That's $7.2 billion in hydro damn construction. (The much larger Conawapa, if built, would likely dwarf both of those.) To transport all this power, of course, is the $4 billion Bipole III corridor. If you're keeping track, that's $11.2 billion in construction, the majority of which is only required to support electricity exports.

What's the export market like? Well, so far we have an estimated grand total of $4 billion in export agreements signed. That's a big gap to make up. Maybe you have faith in the electricity export markets ... I know Minister Dave Chomiak does ... but the outlook is not great. The supply of much cheaper natural gas is expanding, and there is no assurance of a big increase in demand for power. Our export contracts contain a fixed price component and a variable component that depends on spot price. We have already seen the variable export price of electricity drop as low as 0.5 cents per kilowatt hour -- about 7% of what you pay on your hydro bill.

What I'm getting at is that there is a huge element of risk here. But that's not the half of it ...

The $11.2 billion capital costs mentioned above are all based on Hydro's estimates. Hydro projects have a habit of growing. For example, Wuskwatim construction costs rose from $900 million to $1.6 billion -- 78 per cent -- and now we also find out that there are "increased operating, administrative and other costs" from this article, and it hasn't even started operating yet!

The cost of Bipole III, as you know by now, has ballooned from $2.2 billion to $4 billion, with construction still a few years away. Even with our current infrastructure it now costs 10 cents per kilowatt hour to produce electron juice according to The Black Rod, who also says that "we'll be losing at least 3 cents a kilowatt hour" on the power we'll export from our new stations. This, based on a PUB report.

Don't believe Black Rod? James Beddome, leader of the Green Party of Manitoba, also quoted vastly increased costs of producing power during the last election. I don't recall the figures, but they were not disputed by Hydro to my knowledge. Just know that, when you read "$11.2 billion capital costs" above, the actual total will be higher. Potentially MUCH higher.

So, at the end of the day, we could have billions more added on to our level of exposure. But wait! There's more ...

Hydro has formed a partnership with neighbouring First Nations communities, the Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership, and together they negotiated a revolutionary joint development agreement. That itself sounds reasonable, but here's the thing: the agreement allows the four First Nations to own up to 25% of Keeyask, the financing of which will largely be provided by Hydro itself. No ... that's not the thing that I'm getting at. This is the thing: The First Nations do not have to commit until much later in the process, when the actual construction costs become clear and export opportunities (or lack thereof) clarify.

What this means is that if Keeyask construction costs escalate, and export revenues do not, the First Nations do not have to buy in. On the other hand, if it looks as though revenues may exceed operating expenses and amortized capital costs, the First Nations can say "ya, we'll take a piece of that" and buy in for a quarter with Hydro as the major creditor.

The deal was arranged in this way to protect the First Nations from risk. Fair enough -- one could argue that they have little capacity to absorb massive losses from a mega project gone awry -- but this heaps all the risk on Manitoba rate payers. It limits the potential upside, while leaving us carrying the entire bag for the down side.

A senior Hydro official tells me that there will be an independent review of these capital investment projects. Other things that I have read elsewhere suggest that it may not be a certainty, or that it might not be completely independent and transparent. I sure hope it is, because these are big bucks we're talking about. If things don't pan out exactly right, billions more could be added Manitoba's summary debt.

(By the way, you should read the recent post by The Black Rod. There are some good quotes and points in there.)

Did you think that's it? Hell no. I'm only just getting started!! The rest is coming in a follow-up post just as soon as I can piece together the time to write it...

Friday 6 April 2012

April 6: The day Troy Cowley died

In my own sort of This Was Manitoba-esque type post... It was this day in 2003 that a friend of mine was murdered.

His name was Troy Cowley. Troy worked as a facilities manager at my place of employment at the time. It was an IT business office in downtown Winnipeg, and the nature of Troy's work brought him in contact with most people there at one time or another. He was well very liked in the office, as I'm sure he was outside the office, because of his outgoing nature and perpetual good spirit.

In the evenings, Troy worked as a bouncer in an exchange district nightclub called Lot 115. He was not on-duty on April 6. He was there as a guest, but when a fight broke out on the patio behind the club he went to go help. Shortly after he stepped out of the back door of the club to calm things down he was shot twice in the face.

I had heard something about a shooting at the club, but I didn't know who got killed until I walked into the office the morning of April 7 and saw a colleague crying.

Troy was killed by this person:

Manitoba Warriors gang member Russell Thomas. Russell was, as they say, known to police. For example, in 1999 he was charged with gang and drug-related offences. Convicted only of the drug offences he was sentenced to over 4 years in prison and was on day parole a year later. Other events transpired and by the time of the shooting he was under three separate weapons-related court orders.-cbc-

Maybe the justice system was too inept to keep this turd off the street prior to April 6 2003, but in his conviction of second degree murder for the shooting of Troy, the courts took the unusual step of doubling the minimum time until parole to 20 years. And then one year later they accidentally let him go.

Fortunately they got him back in custody, and as far as I know he is still behind bars. I am pretty sure he is because Gang Life Recordz, "the realist shit on this side of the boarder", is still rapping to "Free Russell Thomas".

But forget about them. On this day I raise a glass to memory of Troy Cowley.

Monday 2 April 2012

Bipole disorder: What's a caribou to do?

You might be surprised to learn that caribou is not just a delicious beverage. It is also a species of large deer-like creature that lives in the bushes of Manitoba. I have never seen a caribou, but I am inclined to believe they exist, and that we should protect them so that they continue to exist.

I was reminded of caribou while reading this post about Manitoba Wildlands and their concerns related to Bipole III:
Seven woodland caribou herds are located in the study area, with greater risks for four herds ... Manitoba Hydro was allowed to define the project area, study area, and local study area so it can pick information to use, including to self assess impacts..
Kind of funny that one of the people responsible for putting the beasts in harm's way has his mug on page 2 of the 2006 study that shows they're in harm's way. Also funny that the 2011 Caribou Action Plan only covers the two herds in Eastern Manitoba. One might get the impression that we only have those two herds!

So, let's go back to the 2005 report. It includes a map that shows where the all the various caribou herds were located at the time:

While herds move around, the general area in which they're located tends to stay the same. (There is a map from 5 years prior in the report to illustrate.) I took the map and added the "final preferred" route for the west-side bipole III line as best I could:

As you can see, the route definitely cuts through at least three caribou ranges (6, 7 & 10), and likely impacts herds 3, 8 & 9 as well as they move around. The seventh herd that Manitoba Wildlands is likely referring to is herd 2 (Kississing).

Of the six herds that are impacted by Bipole III, four are listed as a "conservation concern" -- one "high" and three "medium". In spite of the fact that there is a "high concern" herd in western Manitoba, the government's Action Plan only addresses the two eastern herds. Why is that? They certainly planned on studying western herds. From the 2006 report:
Such plans will be developed initially for the high risk ranges and will include population and habitat monitoring, research and communication. This plan development process is well underway for the Owl-Flintstone lakes range and has been initiated on the Atikaki-Berens, Naosap Lakes and Wabowden ranges.

What the hell happened to Naosap and Wabowden? I'm going out on a limb here and saying that with west-side Bipole III impacting both herds, they suddenly became unimportant to the government. If you have a better explanation, please speak up.

I don't have a good map of the proposed east side route because Hydro seems to have removed it from their web site, and it was never finalized anyhow, but it would look something like this:
The Atikaki-Berens range would be impacted, and possibly Owl-Flintstone as well, although this report says that the range historically never got any nearer to the lake. Atikaki-Berens has the largest range, extending right from Lake Winnipeg into Ontario. I'm not a caribou expert, but that suggests to me that perhaps the caribou have a little more leeway in avoiding the HVDC line than the western herds which are more constrained.

Jon Gerrard might tell you that the caribou could be avoided all together by sending Bipole III down the middle of Lake Winnipeg, and he might be right. In any event, the concern here is that the environmental impacts of the western Bipole III route are being glossed over. Let's be nice to our furry friends and make sure they're protected on BOTH sides of the province, so that maybe .. maybe .. one day I can see one in the wild. And shoot it. (Just kidding! Yeesh ..)

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