Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fort Whyte Byelection


The biggest issue in regards to the byelection for provincial seat Fort Whyte is likely that people are unaware that it is being contested. Certainly there are signs up and door knocking going on but many  are kind of out of the loop. Hard not to think this is exactly what the NDP wants. Either they wanted a steal due to lower voter awareness and turnout or they wanted a Progressive Conservative victory to go by without so much as a ripple indicating any momentum.

By all accounts, the PCs have run an extremely organized campaign to get their leader Brian Pallister a seat in the Legislature. The NDP has run a quiet campaign.

The most spirited campaign has come from the Liberals running Bob Axworthy. There has been quite a few fundraisers, high profile Liberal assistance and a serious campaign since the election was announced.

In the end though, the margin for this seat will probably be too high to overcome. Even a combined vote of non-PC supporters would not have wrested the seat away from the Tories.

It is only the rare candidate and the rare campaign that can do the truly exceptional. Think Kevin Lamoureux's ability to steal NDP seats provincially and federally.

On September 4, I expect voters will show up in smaller numbers than a full provincial election. Will something unexpected happen? It is an extreme longshot. The leader of a party running in the area does have particular strengths with the voting public.

In terms of the issues? Locally, it is one things that is probably in everyone's mind: Traffic. Kenaston Route 90 is getting busier and busier. Despite the tens of millions spent, the area continues to be a source of problems. I am sure every candidate has heard it at the door. Come this fall, the irritation could reach fever pitch as IKEA is complete.

To those in Fort Whyte who are still deciding how to vote, think about what is important to you and ask the candidates hard questions. There is no doubt that some difficult times lay ahead in the direction of the province. It is best we think about who actually proposes solutions to the problems.

Monday, August 27, 2012


The Number 12 Fire Hall on Grosvenor in River Heights

The CBC reported last week that Shindico had placed an ad on their website indicating they were leasing the Number 12 Fire Hall. The ad had floor plans and interior pictures indicating exclusive access for the real estate company.

Keep in mind that the property and other empty fire halls had received no public notice indicating their sale and dispersal.

I was aware that a swap of property was under way months ago but city officials assured me that a deal had not been reached. I did not know who was the primary in the swap just that someone had given up a chunk of property for a new fire hall and was asking for a cash and land deal. In hindsight, I ought to have guessed it was Shindico since they owned the land where the new Taylor Avenue fire hall sits.

In principle, I am not against land transfers but it does strike me that it is hard to say what the market would pay for a property if it is never offered. City Councillor John Orlikow was told that the land was not declared surplus. The councillor's office had referred me to city officials several weeks ago where I was told that they were in negotiations for a land transfer. I am not sure how the councillor was caught flat footed and not know it was being disposed of.

And apparently, there is more than one fire hall being negotiated for. The list also includes the stations at Mulvey and Berry Street.

CBC reports this deal has been two years in the making. The 55 year old fire hall has been in play since then but no official settlement has been reached. The head of the property department says the land should not have been advertised as yet and indicated that Shindico was being "aggressive." However, the city official did indicate that the properties had been declared surplus in a council meeting.

John Orlikow says there is a process and indeed he is correct. A vote awaits on final sale or transfer of the property. However, he did seem shocked or didn't seem to recall the land had been declared surplus in a council meeting.

The old Sir John Franklin Community Club originally sold the piece of land to the city for $1 for the fire hall. I don't know if there were any provisos on the sale like there are on the Public Safety Building. Still, the club, recently amalgamated with Crescentwood and River Heights, was also interested in re-acquiring the land.

As indicated, I made a query about the fire hall on behalf of a third party. I had backed off when told that there was negotiations under way and was waiting to hear the city make an official announcement. If a land transfer was announced, I was expecting to hear more about the future of the fire hall. At the very least, I thought I would be able to tell the third party who they needed to contact to talk about leasing or buying.

The CBC made the link to Shindico owners and Sam Katz being business partners in the Goldeyes.  This is not the first time this has been mentioned and it won't be the last. I don't know that any undue influence has occurred here. On the face of it, I'd say no. Shindico had land, the city needed land. Still, with so many financial deals going on, the city needs to be an open and transparent as it can be.

This is also not the first time Shindico has acted ahead of the action. They listed the Winnipeg Square parkade for sale long before the city decided to sell or who would do the selling. There was a tonne of grumbling back then from other real estate companies and city officials. Shindico apologized and said it was just testing the market for the parking lot. This is a bit disingenuous. It is like listing City Hall for sale and then going; Oops! The company laughed all the way to to the bank because they eventually did get the sale and netted a $500,000 commission.

Shindico didn't get to be where they are by being mild. The city can be painfully slow to move but there is a process and if it isn't followed, there can be issues. One big example is the sign that went up on the Boyd Building. There is no doubt the owners thought they would get away with putting it up and that the city would cave in. They didn't.

The city and interested investors need to make sure things follow a protocol. There are many properties that will be coming up for sale soon. Police buildings, golf courses and the like. There can be no more oops moments where suddenly all the golf courses end up on a real estate site for sale.

Be transparent and keep people informed. Nothing worse than feeling that only insiders know what is happening or can make deals.

To close off, I hope the fire halls end up being useful. I think they can.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Redbox and Coinstar in Canada, Scotiabank ATMs in 7/Eleven


It is surprising that no mention is being made of a significant change in ATMs at 7/Eleven. They were the exclusive domain of CIBC but now Scotiabank machines are being moved in coast to coast. Now, normally this would not seem a big deal but the fact of the matter was the CIBC ATMs doubled for President's Choice bank from Superstore.

Score one for Scotiabank but fewer choices for those with PC or CIBC cards.

***

In the last several weeks, Coinstar has been moving their machines into Safeway. It is a coin counter that charges just under 12% to process your collection.

Now if this seems steep, look at this from the U.S. page of the company and not the Canadian page:

 For Coins to Cash™ service, we charge an 9.8% processing fee in the United States, a 11.9% processing fee in Canada, and a 8.9% processing fee in the U.K. Some retailers or financial institutions may choose to subsidize this fee. Coin counting is free in select regions of the U.S. if you convert your change to a nationally-branded gift card or eCertificate.
Holy high interest rate there, Robin!!

No option for free in Canada, no subsidy from retailers in Canada and no gift cards either. What a racket. With 600 machines in Canada, you figure that somehow they could get sponsors to make this free and at least put gift cards in place.

Just another example of Canada seems to be gouged on price of services and goods.

Safeway seems to have scored a deal though. In addition, DVDPlay is being yanked out of Safeways in favour of Redbox DVD which Coinstar owns.

Redbox charges 50 cents higher in Canada than the U.S.

The hits keep on coming. It remains to be seen whether the selection is better in Redbox than DVD play.

The aftermath of Rogers and Blockbuster closing continue to be felt.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Anniversary of Jack Layton's Death


I have talked about it before but the health of our leaders is important. Some people told me it is completely private. We still don't know what killed Jack Layton. His family and the NDP thinks it is no one's business.

The feeling as Olivia Chow stated that if the public knows the health of the leader, it will affect the ability of that person to run for office. I wonder if she only means of NDP leaders because it hard to imagine the NDP sitting on their hands of Stephen Harper was in and out of doctor's offices or looking gaunt.

I don't say this to be mean but transparency is important and we are not getting it.

If political parties are going to make leaders the most important asset of their party, they should expect more focus on their personal lives. Divorce records, tax records and health records are newsworthy if the leaders have authority over Canadian lives.

The fury of Vic Toews over his public divorce records being revealed was an important contrast to the legislation he proposed which might have put a lot of Canadians under surveillance. Both Liberals and NDP were interested in those records which they had a right to see under present legislation.

The media had divorce records of Vic Toews and felt they were not newsworthy. That is hard to imagine why not since Toews has had important roles on law as it pertains to marriage and divorce.

There is a lot of pussyfooting in the media about talking about leaders and their personal lives because of the backlash. It is okay to be soft and fawning but ask a leader revealing questions about their taxes, health and other things. Ask a leader such as a mayor how much time he is away from town in a year and who is in informed and ready to lead when he is away and what we get is evasiveness. Not good.

The Canadian Press asks impertinently on the anniversary of Jack Layton's death why he died. They won't get an answer.

What they should be asking is if the new NDP leader will release his health records. If Tom Mulcair says no and other leaders say they will, the NDP policy on not commenting on the health of the leaders will disappear.

At present, we don't know anything about the health of Tom Mulcair. I don't know that I will be satisfied he is going to be around just by watching him do one arm push-ups. That won't cut it.

The NDP policy on not revealing what happened in the last election was not transparent. It shouldn't happen again.

Public health record of our leaders are important. If the U.S. can do it, we should be able to do it as well.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Lower the Voting Age to 16


The Free Press laments about the low voter turnout. It is a worthwhile discussion and the talk has leaned towards a mandatory vote. Perhaps in the next election, the Free Press will get all reporters on board and engaged rather than writing a column about a treehouse in the middle of the last provincial outing.

There are around 30 countries that have one and it certainly increases the voter turn out. One suspects if Australians weren't forced to the polls, they would turn out in way below 50 per cent numbers. Canada should not be so smug. We are getting closer and closer to that.

I have no idea it is a strategy of the major parties to ensure that voter suppression happens. It would appear that it is in the interest of some parties that certain people don't get out and vote. There has been evidence of this in provincial and federal elections.

It will be interesting if one political party makes mandatory voting an election promise and see what the response of the other parties is. If they disagree, perhaps they can indicate what measures they are making to not fall below have the population voting.

If making mandatory voting seems too big a step, there is an alternative to ensure that more people vote.

Lower the voting age to 16.

It has happened all over the world. Austria, Nicaragua, Brazil, Ecuador, Hungary, Slovenia, and Norway already allow 16-year-olds to vote in certain circumstances. Some cities have also changed their laws to allow voting.

If the argument is that 16 year olds are too immature and it would be dangerous, perhaps we should raise driving age to 18 years as obviously the same argument applies. Right?

The age of 16 is good for operating a vehicle. Said vehicle could kill the user and others and yet we allow the young the opportunity to manage such a responsibility.

Can someone please argue why a vote should be disallowed when driving is allowed?

Does making an argument of not allowing 16 year olds the vote smack of the same reasons why women were denied the vote?

It is time for one political party in Manitoba to change the laws provincial and municipally to lower the vote to age 16. It is time to see just how democratic and far we are. It is time to make this a teachable moment in schools and for families. It is time to stop complaining about voter turnout among the young and actually do something about it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Compendium of Restaurant Openings


Five Guys Burgers Opens Second Location

Five Guys Burgers has now opened their second location at 2425 Pembina Highway. The place has an old school feel to it and the burgers are quite good. If burgers aren't your cup of tea, there is Papa John's next door in their second location for the city of Winnipeg.

The pizza wars continue in Winnipeg. Pizza Pizza is opening a Charleswood location in the former location of Body Sculpture by Lynn. Little Caesar's is right next door practically.

In the Charleswood Mall, Subway has opened where Quizno's was located.

Parents, if you ever wonder where your kids are during the summer, it is a good bet they are in the McDonald's parking lot at the Charleswood Mall. A whole herd of them this week.

Heading back to Pembina Highway, final hiring of staff for Woody's Barbecue had begun last week. Location opens soon.

On Kenaston, A&W is being built quickly across from Ikea. Hard to believe no other fast food place grabbed the spot.

All the blue and yellow walls are up for Ikea. Expect the final closing of some of the gaps in the next weeks and it is all inside work thereafter. The metal framing of a building beside the Ikea is almost done. I have not heard what will be going in there but a good chance is that it will be ready in the fall along with Ikea. The piles just went into the ground for Cabela's at the back end of the site.

It seems one of the favourite thing to do lately is to show pictures of the gluttony that can be had at Famous Dave's in Transcona. It is without doubt that Winnipeg families have opened their hearts and wallets to this rib joint. Expect to see more pictures on Twitter and Facebook.

Construction is well underway on Centrepoint across from the MTS Centre. But will we have a Jets season or a lock-out? The project will not come on stream till 2013 but what will be the two marquee restaurants?

Here are a list of possibilites:

Hard Rock Cafe Winnipeg
Bubba Gump's
Rain Forest Cafe
Hooter's
Shark Club
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
TGI Friday's
The Keg
Chiplote Mexican Grill
Outback Steakhouse

There are other possibilities too.

I have a suggestion for the Red River Ex expansion: Medieval Times.

It should be noted that the recession in the last year has led to closures of a whole passle of restaurants and stores in Fargo and Grand Forks in the U.S. People who first had a taste of Outback will be shocked to know Fargo's closed. Likewise, Timber Lodge Steakhouse gone. The last of the Bennigan's closed. In terms of stores Abercrombie closed in West Acres Mall.

The main point for raising this is that Canada is better territory for some U.S. retailers and restaurants.

Famous Dave's probably could not be happier about how it has been received.

Now I know I will hear the inevitable arguments about eating local and criticism of chains. My post does not for a moment dismiss the great local fare. The best scenario for the city is a variety of places in terms of location, food, price and type of food.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Heritage Landing


Heritage Landing on Assiniboine Avenue...if it ever gets done

Five years. This is the fall out from Friends of Upper Fort Garry reacting only when a developer wished to re-develop land that had been in use for decades. A developer wishing to put housing downtown waits and wait and waits.

Meanwhile, land cleared for an interpretative centre for Upper Fort Garry also sits waiting. The old city offices, Petro-Canada and the Grain Exchange Curling Club are gone. A fence was placed around the site and then nothing. A while back the group asked to use the site as a surface parking lot as they were cash poor.

Back in June, the Friends revised their plan and decided to clear the last of the debris from the site and build a wall and landscape the area. Even with $12 million committed, the site is a very long way off from being built to what was promised. And the total cost of $20 million seems to be a target that will only grow the larger the longer it takes to get started.

It has to be particularly disheartening to Crystal Developers who had a plan in place for the site and more than double the money to pay to build it. The $45 million original development costs have grown as a new site was found. It now stands near $80 million.

The city and Manitoba Hydro are very slow to move on preparing the site. It would seem the mayor or council would be concerned by the endless delay but they have hung up the "Gone Fishin" sign up for the summer.

Further delays and the developer will just go and do work in the suburbs instead where there is less hassle.

Frustration abounds as the city tries to encourage residential building in the downtown and all investors see are roadblocks and demands to create heritage sites only when someone expresses an interest in the area.

It is clear the city needs to re-focus their efforts on planning. The constant surprises of groups coming forward with last minute demands for preservation are the result of not having discussion about certain areas of the city about the future.

For example, a discussion needs to be made about the height of buildings in the south Broadway to Assiniboine area. Is the city interested in extending the park from the The Forks all the way to the Legislative building? How many public access routes to the river walkway need to be maintained? Does the city want above ground walkways incorporated into future residential towers?

I am just throwing a few things out there. The general aim for this is to think ahead is to make sure the needs and wants of an area can attract future investment in time, effort and money. This is why I am not adverse to the discussion of the CP Yards. It is better to discuss it now rather than be scrambling later on if it is revealed the yards will indeed move. Some discussions are way off in the future whereas some loom large. The Bay downtown is a good example.

It is sad to see years and years of waiting and runarounds.

It may be too late to get this project going in this year but City Hall needs to get off their duffs since they are the ones who have caused the delay. The city needs large investment and $80 million on residential building goes a long way to that end.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fort Whyte Byelection Part 2


Bob Axworthy to Run For Liberals

The Liberals have decided not to roll over in Fort Whyte byelection. They are running a resident from the riding and a well known family name in Manitoba politics: Bob Axworthy. The NDP and Tories are running people from outside the riding.

Axworthy is a well known coach in the city and community club participant.

Could this be a gamechanger? Hard to say. The Tories have a huge majority of votes from just over a year ago.

One thing for certain is that byelections are very local.

Fort Whyte Byelection

The provincial byelection for Fort Whyte has been set for September 4. It comes on the heels of NDP hinting they had no idea when a good election time would be for the area. It seems they decided that a possible victory for the Progressive Conservatives might be better before the fall legislative session lest it give the new leader Brian Pallister additional publicity that he lacked from no leadership contest.

In the background, the NDP quickly announced funding for a 65 daycare spaces in the Whyte Ridge riding, chose a loyal NDP footworker from Fort Rouge in Brandy Schmidt, expunged her Twitter account and any other online presence and have set her out with a fullly supported team. Quite possibly they are looking for a steal here in the dead of summer.

Fort Whyte has hosted a long line of Tory leaders. It is hard to imagine the politics in the area has changed all too much although the NDP have successfully won suburban seats elsewhere.

Could cynical politics win the riding? What else might we expect? A community club, a school or does Greg Selinger think desperate parents in Whyte Ridge in need of daycare will reward them with another backbench NDP member?

The Liberals have not offered up a candidate yet. The last time was a young candidate. It is hard to have someone step forward when the riding has voted almost 60% Progressive Conservative.

The Conservatives could make this much more than the just a byelection. It certainly would help raise the profile of their new leader who many people will not know well.

It is hard not to think the NDP are laughing at how this has turned out and are planning their next majority win three years from now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

CityTarget


CityTarget in Chicago

Target stores in recent weeks have opened their new urban concept store in Chicago to great fanfare. It is along a major transit corridor and built inside a beloved historic building. The store is smaller than their regular store and much smaller than the 180,000 square foot SuperTarget. Stores are scheduled for Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland.

Target already had two regular Targets in Minneapolis and Harlem, New York. The regular stores are not easily built or always suitable in large urban centres though. Also they are too large for the purposes of the company.

So what does a CityTarget have? It has food and quick service items for urban dwellers. Speed is what the store wants to offer cutomers. Get your milk and bread and oh, rain out...get an umbrella and light jacket. Quick, handy, urbane and needed.

With Zellers shutting downs its downtown store in the next little while and The Bay hanging by a thread along Memorial, one wonders if Target could be attracted to the location. And if not Target, one of the other retailers from the U.S. who are pushing hard for downtown locations such as Walmart.

The next big crisis downtown is The Bay.

In 2013, it is very likely the store will shutter the doors. If there is a retail chance in hell of saving the place, it will come from approaching companies like Target and seeing if it fits in their long view for Canada.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Shopping


New Sunday Shopping Rules

Today marks the first day of the new shopping rules. The only party to campaign on opening up the law for local governments in Manitoba to decide was the provincial Liberals. The NDP and the Progressive Conservatives wouldn't touch the issue with a barge poll so as not to offend their base supporters in the unions and traditionalists and the religious respectively.

This is the problem of do nothing government and political parties beholden to their major funders. Neither the NDP or Progressive Conservatives wanted to act on this issue. None of them acted on behalf of the consumer.

So why did the law change? Well, it seems obvious that Manitoba having the toughest Sunday shopping laws in North America was not starting to damage the economy in the province. Also, with a bad news budget, the NDP were hoping to do add something that would be appealing to consumers in the province. The unions acted shocked and angry as to be expected.

The NDP have always done things half heartedly on the issue. It seems to stoke huge controversy with right and left incredibly angry about in 1987. What we ended up with at the time was the most miserable of laws that restricted large stores to four employees. However, once the law was enacted, people found it was convenient and useful.

The restrictions the NDP thought needed to be put in place were totally unworkable. They allowed Safeway to be open but with only four employees. It was an out and out catastrophe. Osborne Village Safeway was overrun and employees couldn't handle it.  They got in trouble just for hiring a security guard for their packed parking lot as that was counted as more than four people.

The NDP government of the day acted helpless to to do anything about the mess they created. Obviously, the law was changed in later years if for no other reason than it was unworkable.

And so Manitoba had the same old law from Noon to 6 with only minor changes over the years.

No nothing government until the province is the last one left behind. The two big parties not speaking on behalf of consumers.

However, is it all abut the consumer? No. This is a vital economic issue. The NDP has had ample evidence over many years on the impact of Sunday shopping. The British study back in 2006 showed  the increases in economic activity and impacts on various elements.

Robert Warren said the incremental changes were needed and the NDP acted smartly. As brilliant as the man is, he can be wrong as noted by his belief that Ikea would never come to Winnipeg. He had solid evidence the big retailer's past actions made them an unlikely candidate for the city but ultimately he was wrong. Ikea had such solid sales in the province catalogue-wise and were missing sales left and and right due to not being able to ship certain products. It didn't take long for the company to consider the possibilities of what a store would be like and they didn't just put a tentative toe in. The store is a giant.

With respect to Mr. Warren, his thoughts that the malls need to be kept in check with some restrictions belies the fact that where no restrictions are in place, retailers often limit their own hours anyway. No doubt he has the same economic impact studies as I have seen but Manitoba is a special case? I can't agree.

The changes to the act allowing for 9 to 6 shopping will be appreciated by those who are standing in lone line ups at noon to pick up items at the store. I have been in those lines. Not fun. I have worked Saturdays for much of my life. I can't always get some grocery items other times. Sometimes Sunday was a good day for the family to get together to do household shopping since more people were likely to have the time off.

A Free Press column on Sunday shopping ended up stating that some Sunday shopping amounts to a  personal failure somehow. A tenuous link to Sunday shopping and debt is made. I guess you can make that link if you want. I guess you can make the link between Sunday restaurants and obesity too. Or Sunday football and divorce. Or Sunday newspapers and depression.

I think the reproval of some people on Sunday shopping will not change. Nor will do nothing government beholden to special interests to change the law only when the damage is evident to looking at the stream of traffic heading south or shopping online.

The NDP government has a problem in this province with an exodus of shoppers. Their timid response is insufficient. Some stores like Menard's are the busiest in the U.S. in part because of their actions. The pick-ups at the border because of their inaction grow and grow.

Who speaks for the consumers of this province? Why are we at the back of the pack always and forever? The people saying moving slowly is good on this issue don't seem to realize the house is on fire.

Let retailers set their own times.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sherbrook Street Developments


The New Rose n Bee on Sherbrook


The block across from Misericordia Hospital has always been sort of an oasis even as the rest of Sherbrook Street hung in the balance several years back. As reported in Slurpees and Murder from a Stylus story, The Standard Tavern has been bought and renovated by two brothers and re-named the Rose n Bee. It is a play on the new owners names.

The Standard was once known as Hooligans and it has been known for live music. However, it is safe to say that the place did not have the same profile as The Nook, Cousins or Bistro Dansk. Even Boon Burger a short baseball throw down the street drew more notice in the neighbourhood.

Bistro Dansk has been holding its own and serving Danish food on the street since 1977. Likewise, Cousins and the The Nook have a few decades on the street. It is good that new local owners have decided to kickstart the restaurant and live music venue.

There are many exciting things happening on Sherbrook. We see lots of solid restaurants. Could some quirky shops and store emerge next?