Thursday, 29 April 2010

Sam Katz

If you live here in Winnipeg, you are aware that Mayor Sam is getting some serious competition for the job of running this little berg in the prairies. I am not going to comment on his competition at this time, and I am certainly not endorsing her, but I wish to share some thoughts on Mayor Sam. But first, I will share a story:

Back when this blog was barely a little blogling exploring the exciting new world of web commentary, the Upper Fort Garry issue came up. I noticed the insanity in what was going on, including the biased media coverage (Bartley Kives excepted) and I made this post on it, among others. But I did more than blog about it ... I also sent an email to Mayor Sam.

It went something like this:
I believe that the Crystal Development proposal is respectful of the Fort Garry gate, and at the same time brings much needed population and economic development to the downtown area. The apartment building does not preclude the development of a park and interpretive center on the site of the fort, and it would add to our tax base instead of consuming tax dollars as the Friend's proposal would. This is an important issue to me as a tax payer and resident of Winnipeg, and I would urge you hold your ground in the face of misleading media coverage, and do what you know is right by opposing the proposal to extend the deadline for the Friends of Fort Garry.
Much to my surprise, the mayor called me on my cell phone the next day. "I totally agree with you" he said. He concurred that the coverage by the media was atrocious and seemed genuinely happy to have found somebody else who understood the situation as he did. He proceeded to give me his word that he would stand behind the Crystal development, in spite of all of the ridiculous "save the fort" crap that was going on.

Wow, how about that? He took the time to call me, and he seems committed to doing the right thing despite all the pressures to do otherwise. What a guy! Yes, well ... only about two weeks later, after a little summit with Gary Doer and the Friends, Katz backed away from his position. Crystal Developers consequently abandoned their contract with the city when it became apparent that their friend at city hall wasn't behind them anymore.

Oh Sammy, how could you betray me like that? A little tear rolled down my face, dripped off my chin, and landed in a puddle in the shape of disappointment.

That story illustrates my over-all impression of mayor Sam. He's a people person who knows how to say the right thing, and he's accessable -- he'll respond to ordinary Joe's like me, and he'll even make regular appearances on the Great Canadian Talk Show for face to face discussions with a raging, ranting ex-wrestler who could snap at any moment. (I mean that in a nice way, Marty. You know I'm a fan.) However, as nice as he seems, he can't always be counted on.

There are two main factors that influence Sam's decisions at city hall: optics and jealousy. In the example above, optics were not on his side so he switched sides. Sam, like all politicians, wants to look like he's working hard and accomplishing a lot, and he wants people to like him. Sometimes that means making politically expedient decisions instead of correct ones.

I'm not sure if the jealousy factor is actually jealousy or just a giant inner child wanting to come out, but it is clear that Sam wishes that he was a big city mayor. He wants all of the big city toys. He wants an IKEA and is willing to bend over backwards to make sure we get one, without bothering to plan for infrastructure to accommodate it. He wants a helicopter because all of the big cities have one. Never mind the cost, or the police officers we could put on the beat with that money. He wants an LRT. No .. a BRT. No .. an LRT. Yes ... definitely an LRT. Much cooler and big-city-like than a BRT. And what's with this bizarre obsession about a waterpark?

He wants all these things whether they make sense or not, process be damned. Maybe some of them do make sense, but we don't know because Sammy danced right by the due diligence part of the process, going straight from idea in the noggin to implementation. No master plan. No grand vision for the city, (like Chris Leo says, in a Sinclair column that's not nearly as bad as the one that prompted my earlier post.) Aside from general maintenance and flashes of fiscal conservatism here and there (property tax freeze, garbage collection outsourcing) his tenure has largely been a random mish-mash of ad hoc development and sprawl.

We now officially have a legitimate contender for the job. I have very few good things to say about the organization that she left, but I welcome the competition. Maybe if you throw a businessman with no plan and an NDPer in a press and squeeze really hard, some actual ideas will drip out the bottom. Maybe even a vision of some kind.

not looking very promising on the ideas/vision front so far:

She also refused to say whether she will raise property taxes, refused to say whether she prefers bus rapid transit to light rail transit and refused to offer her opinion on the stadium deal. She said she will consult with people during the campaign before she makes specific promises.

thanks to Policy Frog for the shout out on Twitter. (If I were on twitter I would have twitted that.)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Peanut apologizes to it's readers.

The bitterness of my last post seems at odds with my actual mentality these days. We've had four straight weeks of sunny warm spring weather in a month when we usually get hammered by at least one "Colorado low" that buries us in snow and dashes our hopes of an early start to summer. But this year we actually did get an early start to summer. I feel happy and glad, like I have sunshine in a bag, and yet I write an unnecessary post about Colleen Simard and her psychopathic ways. Do I care if Colleen is speeding around the west end with one hand on the steering wheel, and waving a cell phone in the air with the other, as she leans out the window screaming obscenities at another car?* No. Not really. Why did I even read her column if I was in such a good mood? I don't know.

Granted, that last post has been far from the most egregious example of poor judgment displayed by this blog over the past two and some years, but the weather wasn't as nice those other years. I don't have an excuse this time. So with that in mind, I will try to be more positive. There are still certain issues that I may rant about, but I will only do so if I think the issue is of actual importance.

Wait ... what's that little tingle that I feel in my brain? It feels like .. it .. may .. be .. another rant about Upper Fort Garry. No. I must fight it. It's too nice outside to start on that.

Uh oh..

* if she was in fact driving. One of you guys at the Free Press should ask her, just for clarification.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Friday night cruizin' with Colleen.

Did Colleen Simard really write this?

We followed them while I talked to the police, but could barely keep up. They were doing around 80 km/h at times heading down Maryland Street.
Let me get this straight: you were upset that these maroons "were driving dangerously and someone could get hurt", so you decided to get into a high-speed car chase with them while talking on your cell phone.

What did she hope to accomplish? "We decided to follow them to check it out, because if there's one thing I hate it's people who drink and drive." Yet it's been proven many times over that driving while talking on a cell phone is no safer than drinking and driving. I suspect that speeding down Maryland, enraged about egg-throwing yahoos, while talking on a cell phone is even more dangerous.

EDIT: as a commenter points out, it could be her friend that is driving. Colleen does not make this clear, using only the term "we" to describe their driving exploits. (If it was me doing the writing, I would have been sure to clarify that point ... if in fact I was the passenger.)


Somewhat related to my previous post, David Watson posts a transcript from our distinguished leaders in the Leg, including this bit:
(Selinger) The boreal forest is considered to be ... one of the best natural defences against global warming. The members opposite want to rip it up. They want to destroy the boreal forest.
"destroy" the forest? How does running a hydro line through a small edge of the 3 million square kilometre forest equate to destroying the forest? If Premier Selinger wants to defend against global warming, his concern should be the massive power losses from his preferred west-side route.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Bipole Disorder: Billion dollar insurance policy

Writing about the Bipole III debacle is like banging my head against the wall. People should be outraged about the apparent colossal waste of money, but instead the general public just yawns: "Oh there goes the silly government again, wasting money. Nothing new there."

Even though I know my efforts are futile, I still can't let it go. I had to try to find out more from our government about why they chose the much costlier and wasteful west side route. So, on goes my helmet ...

I spoke to an MLA and to a senior staffer in the department responsible for Manitoba Hydro. They essentially confirmed what I knew all along: that the UNESCO Heritage thing is just a red herring. It's a catchy and easily-consumable hunk of bull shit that they could toss out there instead of the dry, unpalatable truth. Not their exact words, but nor did they pretend that it was an important factor.

An important factor is the licensing process. This process includes a scoping statement and environmental impact assessment (the later not yet complete) followed by a one year period during which interested parties and communities can intervene. This is where the fun begins. Now, the people I talked to didn't actually say "we don't want to negotiate with the Indians" but it was made clear that doing so was expected to be an ordeal. That is understandable. Though some First Nations communities on the east side of the province supported the project, dealing with those that did not could certainly be painful. We know, for example, that the Hollow Water community can be a first class pain in the ass when it wants to be, and you can bet they're one of the communities opposing the project.

In addition, the government says it has a concern about opposition in the U.S. to the east-side route. Not from just one group, but from a coalition of interest groups including environmental groups, local power producers (imagine that, eh?) and others. It's not really about the trees though. It's an emotional issue. The transmission routing study on the Hydro web site refers at different points to the area east of Lake Winnipeg as an "upscale address" that has "emotional appeal" and could be a "cause celebre" should the opposition gain momentum. According to my government buddy, the combination of all of these factors that I cannot seem to type without using "quotation marks" threatens to elevate the opposition to the east side route from mere annoyance to something much bigger.

So strong is this opposition, says the government, that it not only threatens to derail future power sales to Minnesota, but all power sales to the U.S.. These groups are apparently just fine with the west side route, thus the additional cost of the west side route can be considered "insurance" for our exports. A $600 million insurance policy with annual payments in the tens of millions of dollars. This, I am told, is one of the major factors in selecting the west side route.
You would figure that a united coalition so strong as to threaten billions of dollars in exports of clean energy between two nations might warrant a story in a newspaper or something. So would I, so I ran some searches of the five highest circulation Minnesota newspapers (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Rochester Post Bulletin, Duluth News Tribune, Southwest Journal) and came up with no relevant reference to Manitoba Hydro at all. How do you alter government policy without getting your word out to the public? Maybe this coalition is a covert black-ops kind of opposition, where men in trench coats smoking cigarattes approach Minnesota politicians in empty parking garages and make veiled threats about buying power that requires pine trees in Canada to be cut down.
Let's consider the supposed opposition from environmental groups for a second. What environmental group would endorse a solution that would cause somewhere between 30-70 mW of electricity to be wasted? Enough power to light the city of Brandon, vanished into thin air in the form of heat from line losses, just to save a few trees? What about the scarce Boreal Plains ecozone on the west side that the transmission routing study says demands greater protection than the vast forest on the east side? What about the fragile Saskatchewan River Delta and other "Areas of Special Interest" on the west side that are not adequately protected?

So it amounts to this: If there is opposition from environmental groups, then that opposition has it's foundation in ignorance. Ignorance of the true environmental pros and cons of the two routing options. This is something that can easily be combated: "Hey, you in the hemp shirt with the granola bar. did you know that you're advocating the waste of 50mW of CLEAN electricity?"
Such granola-crunchers may be found in an organization called NRDC. This is not a Minnesota group. It is a large organization that opposes development of various ecosystems all over the western hemisphere, and like to interview native elders who say such things as "There's a big spruce tree that fell down in one of our rivers many years ago. And it's still there. Nobody's ever moved it." They have also interviewed Robert Kennedy about our forest, but if you read the related articles on their site there is concern about flooding, forestry and mining, but very little mention of transmission.

I am convinced that most environmental groups in the U.S. don't give a shit where we put our line, as long as they can buy our green energy. There is one exception: an organization called Fresh Energy. Fresh Energy is a non-profit organization that feigns environmental stewardship, but is a lobbying organization for certain Minnesota energy producers. It opposes exports from MB Hydro in general, according to the routing study, although it is very doubtful that they have the clout to actually stop those exports. However, the thinking is that disputes with native communities over east-side routing could give them additional ammunition, which brings us back to issue #1: navigating the hostile First Nations.

Yes, but let's also consider the difficulties negotiating the west side route: There are still First Nations Communities that need to be dealt with, but also farmers. Ukrainian farmers. (I have no idea what that's supposed to mean.) The point is, there is a great deal of territory that needs to be navigated including flood zones, parklands, and farms. Many many many farms. About that: Apparently* Hydro is committed to certain limitations in setting it's route through this farmland, including
1. Hydro will not expropriate any land. It will negotiate all settlements with the land owners.
2. Hydro will not run the line within 600m of any residence.
3. Hydro will not run the line diagonally across any farmland. Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, I do know what diagonal means.

I have input these limitations into an advanced computer model to simulate what the Bipole III route might look like on the west side of the province:

Who knows how much this will really cost and how much longer the line really will be when all is said and done. Why would Hydro, which is billions of dollars in debt already, incur all of this additional cost and hardship, rather than taking their lumps with the first nations communities (which they have experience with) thereby saving a freighter-load of money? A: They wouldn't. However, because this issue is so important to Manitobans, the Manitoba government took an "advisory role" in the process during which they advised Hydro to leave the east side alone. Why is this issue so important to Manitobans? Beacuse if the "coalition of environmentalists" in the U.S. (a.k.a. Fresh Energy/NRDC) causes all of our electricity export contracts to vanish, then the province will take a huge economic hit. We just can't take that risk, so it was critical that the province step in and direct Hydro on what to do. This is what I am told, anyhow.

Plus, Resource Management Areas (RMAs) are a provincial responsibility. These are arrangements whereby affected parties are consulted about development. However, they have to be managed properly, otherwise "rather than reducing conflict, these arrangements can create tensions whereby the government states that the relationship is one of consultation but in effect grants a right of consent to each First Nation."(pg16) In other words, there is work involved on the part of the provincial government to stick-handle the talks with the First Nations correctly. This requires effort, diligence, and intelligence. If the provincial government is unwilling to undertake these negotiations than perhaps they are lacking in one of those three areas.

What's the conclusion? I have seriously spent too much time on this and have to get back to my regular schedule of downloading anime porn. Also, I am not buying the idea that NRDC or any other environmental group would or could block Hydro exports to the U.S. -- a prospect that the routing study call "highly speculative" -- and I certainly don't agree with paying a billion dollars to guard against it. I think the real issue here is the willingness or the ability of the province to deal with the First Nations in a fair but firm manner, and to take a stand if necessary (as it likely will be). As always with this government, if there is a choice between making a tough decision or spending money, the choice will always be to spend money.


by the way, Hydro, thanks for the second bag of light bulbs. Is this going to be a weekly delivery? I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I can afford to buy my own bulbs.


*as discussed by Hydro personnel at recent open houses in Western MB.

h/t Mike Waddell

Friday, 9 April 2010

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Big One

Another earth quake has hit Indonesia. This, of course, is being reported by many news sources, but I need to link to something so I will choose at random Al Jazeera:

Dale Grant, of the US Geological Survey, told Al Jazeera that "the recent spate of earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and now Indonesia, were not connected in any way", adding that there are about 18 major quakes 7-7.9 in magnitude recorded every year.
So if you think the world is coming to an end, you're mistaken. That's not happening until December of 2012. The real reason for all of these quakes was identified by the ultra-genius Uncle Buck in the comments on the CBC web site:
I think the reason why we are seeing more and more large earthquakes is probably because the earth has become stressed and under a lot of pressure due to the fact that too much oil and natural gas has been taken out of the ground. A void or vacuum has formed and now the earth is reacting. Remember your physics, for every action there is a reaction. The time has come with bigger earthquakes. And bigger ones yet. Don't you think so ?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Farming water

Between Winnipeg and Grand Forks ND:

The highway is still open, but down to 1 lane in certain spots because of encroaching water. The boys in the orange hard hats are keeping an eye on it.

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