Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saskatoon Municipal Campaign Donations

Following up on my earlier post on Saskatchewan Provincial Political Donations, here is a look at the top 5 donors for the last municipal election in 2012. While this information is publicly available on the City of Saskatoon website, as with Elections Saskatchewan, the required filings by candidates are only available in pdf format. F&#$ing pain in the ass. Now that I have this spreadsheet all set up, I’ll be adding the 2016 info once it becomes available.

While currently displaying the top five donors (more if there are “ties”) for each candidate, this embedded spreadsheet should allow you to also sort by individual, corporate etc donor and if the slicer on the right works, you can select only the candidates you want to display.

 

 

Special thanks to the other Hilary (twitter) (blog) who got this ball rolling several years ago and asked for my help creating the original spreadsheet of this info. She not only sparked my interest in the 2012 data, but working on the municipal spreadsheet spurred me to do the provincial as well.

 

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Merchant Credit Card Fees – Walmart Edition

A recent news item has popped up on one of my favorite topics, merchant credit card fees. Walmart Canada has announced that they will stop accepting VISA as a form of payment, with the phase-out to begin in mid-July in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The debate over merchant fees is one that is frequently not well reported by the media, and often is nothing more than the media regurgitating some absurd clap-trap from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

Often lost in the lackluster reporting is that the credit card companies like VISA and MasterCard generate their revenue from the merchant fees. Their SEC 10-k disclosures are clear, “Visa is not a bank and does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for account holders on Visa-branded cards and payment products“. It is the bank or financial institution that issues the card that gets the credit card interest and other fees. The relevance of which will become apparent shortly.

As I have written previously, merchants receive benefits from paying merchant fees, something that is too often overlooked by the media, and groups like the CFIB purposely avoid mentioning. Continue reading

Letter: Why not a memorial to victims of totalitarianism?

I’m no architect so I’ll leave the design criticism alone (for now), but this pretty much sums up this monumental mistake.

Ottawa Citizen

Dictatorships that identified as “communist” murdered tens of millions of innocent people throughout the 20th century; there is no denying that. My problem with this memorial is not that it commemorates those victims, but that it ignores the other side of this story – the victims of anti-communist, totalitarian regimes. The Cold War was a geopolitical contest between two superpowers and their allies. Ideology played a role in this contest, but it did not guide it.

To define it as a battle between capitalist liberal democracy and totalitarian Marxism-Leninism ignores too many factors. Namely, that the United States aligned itself with numerous, ruthless and totalitarian dictatorships. One of these, Portugal, was even a founding member of NATO, despite being led by a fascist dictator, Antonio Salazar. The narrative that the Iron Curtain separated the oppressed from those who enjoyed freedom ignores the repressive nature of anti-communist dictatorships in Spain, Portugal…

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University Bridge Repairs, Emergency Services, and Transit

The University Bridge is scheduled for repairs this year and as discussed here the City’s plan (so far) is to keep one lane open to all vehicles, eastbound only.

Based on the presentation at the Standing Policy Committee on January 12, 2015, the City didn’t appear to consider any other options, other than allowing the successful contractor to close all four lanes completely if that meant they could get the work done more quickly and minimize the disruption to automobile drivers.

This decision appears to have been based entirely on the average traffic volumes on the bridge, with the eastbound volume slightly higher than the westbound. So of course the one available lane should be allocated to the westbound traffic only. University has the least seasonal decrease in volume though volume and capacity of the other bridges doesn’t appear to have been considered.

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University Bridge and Les MacPhlawson

I just had to respond to StarPhoenix columnist Les MacPherson’s piece on the upcoming repairs to the University Bridge. So I sent this letter to the editor:

As Les MacPherson is lamenting the necessary repairs to the University bridge, he not only mis-counted the number of lanes on Sid Buckwold bridge, he failed to mention other pertinent details.

 At its peak, Sid Buckwold bridge traffic volume was over 50,000 vehicles per day. Since South Circle Drive bridge opened, volume has dropped 30%, and volume on Broadway bridge by 15%. That covers more than half the volume of University bridge. Even before South Circle opened, volume on Sid Buckwold typically drops by more than 50% in the summer, when the repairs are planned. That covers the remaining University Bridge volume.

 When Sid Buckwold bridge opened in 1966, Saskatoon Transit was providing over 8 million rides per year to a city population of about 100,000 or 80 rides per capita annually with a fleet of 40 buses.

 Today Saskatoon Transit does about 10 million rides annually to a population in excess of 250,000. Less than 40 rides per capita annually with a fleet four times as large.

 During the repairs, the one available lane on University bridge should alternate east and west direction and be restricted to Saskatoon Transit and emergency vehicles only. This would prevent a massive re-routing of almost every single transit route that crosses the river and provide a much more efficient means of moving large numbers of people.

 Les’ “water through a straw” analogy is also flawed. Water cannot change its route, carpool, ride a bike, walk, or take the bus. Water cannot choose.

University Bridge and Bus Lanes

As I was skimming the agenda for the City of Saskatoon’s recent Standing Policy Committee on Transportation (SPC-T) a late item was added just prior to the meeting on January 12 , 2015. It was an update on the plan for the University bridge refurbishment scheduled for 2015. In it the City detailed it’s plan to close the bridge to all but one lane, with that lane only open to eastbound traffic, weekdays from 6 am to 8 pm.

It doesn’t appear that the City considered any other option except for allowing the contractors bidding on this contract to include an alternate price and schedule if they were allowed a full closure. Potentially a viable option, if the work was completed quickly enough.

Another option crossed my mind, resulting a hurried email to all City Councilors on Monday morning, in the hope that at least some of them would read it before the meeting. Councilor Davies was the only one to respond and given his questions during the meeting he was thinking along the same lines.

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Property Tax “increases”?

Every year in late November and early December there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the “property tax increase” in the City budget. As I wrote in a letter to the editor, if the proposed “increase” is anything less than the inflation the City faces plus population growth then you effectively have a tax decrease.

As I’ve been digging through the City’s website, annual reports and financial statements my main focus has been trying to collect useful data with respect to Saskatoon Transit, as you may have noticed from some of my other posts.

I have also managed to collect property tax increases, population growth figures and the like and have noticed a predictable, but potentially troubling trend.

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Transit and subsidizing Provincial responsibility

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that sooner or later City Council will have to start making some hard and potentially unpopular choices. I’m going to outline one of them here.

Back in 2006 the City made an agreement with the Province to provide discounted bus passes to people who were clients of social services. Currently if you are receiving benefits from the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan (SAP otherwise know as “welfare”), the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement (SES), and a couple of other programs, you can purchase a discounted bus pass for $27. The Province currently pays the City $24.50 for each of these passes. This is a significant discount from the full retail price of an adult pass ($81), or even the “low income discount” of 20% (or $64.80) that Saskatoon Transit offers (since 2010) to people who meet the threshold.

Now this effectively means that the City is picking up an expense that should be paid for by the Province. If the Province wants the people in the aforementioned programs to have a bus pass, the Province should be purchasing them from Saskatoon Transit at the full retail price, or at least the 20% low income discount price, which is also the same as the price of the Eco-Pass offered to employers.

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Downtown Density

Recently City Council approved a zoning change (really just a variation by agreement) to the proposed City Centre Tower on 22nd street between 3rd and 4th avenue. The proposed development will have two towers, one of which will be an office tower, the other, residential and commercial.

According to the report to council, this development “supports the City’s long-range goal of increasing the population of Downtown to 15,000 people by providing approximately 290 residential units.” The mayor often talks about increasing the number of people living in the downtown, sometimes the goal is 10,000, sometimes it’s 30,000. As I touched on in The Transit Option, and as OurYXE touched on, neither the mayor, or the City administration really seem to understand what a population increase of that magnitude will take.

According to the City’s neighbourhood profiles, there are about 2800 people living downtown. With 1,974 dwellings (1600 apartments in buildings 5 stories or higher), means you have about 1.42 people per dwelling on average. To get to 10,000 people you need to get another 7,200 people living downtown.

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Saskatoon Transit and Budget funny business

Recently during budget deliberations by Saskatoon City Council Mandy Chen made a presentation to City Council on behalf of Bus Riders of Saskatoon objecting to the proposed increase to transit fares.

While I have a few quibbles regarding the percentage of people who use transit, one of her arguments piqued my interest and my “spidey sense”. She pointed out that per the preliminary budget, the fare increase was expected to bring in an additional $226,000 and that even a small increase in ridership would easily equal or exceed this.

Since my “spidey sense” went off I decided to go back and have another look at the preliminary budget, and look back at previous ones. Interestingly in the 2014 budget, Saskatoon Transit budgeted for a increase in fare revenue of $400,000 from the 2014 fare increase and additional $350,000 from ridership growth.

The report to council included in the agenda to the budget meetings held December 2-3, 2014, Saskatoon Transit budgeted an increase to revenue from the proposed fare increase of $313,000 (more than what the preliminary budget says), and ZERO from ridership growth. Saskatoon Transit predicted a 0% increase in ridership for 2015 over 2014.

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