Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Canad Inns Hotel - Health Sciences Centre

Canad Inns Hotel from William Avenue
It was hard to believe that it would ever happen and after 8 years, I think Canad Inns owners might have wondered what they got themselves into.

It is the 12th hotel in the chain and the only one in Canada that is part of a health campus. At 16 floors and 191 rooms, it cost $40 million and will employ 300 staff trained in how to provide care to hospital patrons. This was not a HSC project. This was privately driven.

This hotel is not the solution for everyone. It is just one amenity among others at the hospital. The two restaurants and Starbucks are likely to be well used even by those who don't stay at the hotel.

Canad Inns Tucked in beside emergency and general hospital
I have some seen some online comments about the hotel criticizing private enterprise. Some suggested the hotel should have been paid for by the province and that room rates should be really low. I have heard similar comments about parking and other areas of hospital features.

I have a lot of sympathy for the rising cost for those who have to go back and forth to the hospital for treatment. Even for those in the city, the cost of parking can be brutal. Still, the cost to build the parkades run upwards of $50 million.

Who should pay for parking or hotels when needed? It is a tough question. If parking was free, chances the lots would be full all the time with staff and those coming to and from the hospital.

One of the reason parking rates and hours were changed downtown is because some people rolled up to a meter at 5:30 and that is where they remained for several hours.

There is no doubt that free parking is never really free. Even in a place like Polo Park, the price of parking is added to your bill of sale.

At any rate, the harsh criticism against Canad Inns for the price of their hotel likely ignores the fact the rack rate of a room is always negotiable. Long terms stays, members of automobile associations and government and university rates probably apply.

There have been several hotels that have gone up in the city. The prices generally create some sticker shock for those thinking Grand Forks or Fargo prices of about $60 or $70. The truth is that despite the amount of new hotels up, we don't compete at the level they do in the U.S.

It is probably best not to read comments on the news sites. It might lead you to believe this is the worst thing that has ever happened to the city. It isn't. The Canad Inns at HSC will provide other options for the hospital in terms of food and overnight stays for people. Even the university is likely to benefit as they will probably put an overnight guest lecturer at the hotel, host a function in the meetings rooms or have families stay there as their kids get situated at the medical school.

The costs of people having to park or stay overnight in the city continues to be a factor. Ronald McDonald House showed one way to help. We need others. But let's not pile on a private investment that has 300 workers employed and is like nothing seen in this city or country before. It will fill a need and may encourage others to follow suit.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Long Hot Summer of Crime

Winnipeg Police Ford Interceptor
Kudos to the Winnipeg Police Service for massive arrests to the Hell's Angels last year and the Mad Cowz now. In 2012, 11 members of the Hell's Angel's got taken down in arrests centered around trafficking drugs. One leader was sentenced to 10 years prison and his house on Autumnwood and two motorcycles were confiscated along with $500,000 in cash.

Police estimate the Hell's Angels operation brought in $100,000 a month.

A side note: Where does all the confiscated money go?

Today, another 11 gang members were arrested. This time from the Mad Cowz. Once again the arrests center around trafficking, specifically cocaine.

If the belief in Winnipeg is that the arrest of so many in organized crime will make the city safer, it is probably not going to happen.



There will be demand to fill the insatiable need for drugs in Winnipeg and the province.

If you wonder why there is so much organized crime in Winnipeg, it is because there is so much demand for drugs. Looks to your friends, your neighbours and yourself. If you are using in some form or fashion, it is likely you contribute to organized crime. The harder the drug, the more likely that organized crime was responsible for bringing it to you.

I know some recreational users of drugs probably don't want to responsibility for their behaviour citing that they have never been arrested or are not scum like those who distribute but it hard to reconcile with outcomes.

The fact of the matter is that Winnipegger's demand is responsible for the fight amongst distributors of drugs.

Now people can argue that the government should take a role in these drugs as they did with alcohol and still do today. I don't disagree and some police say the same thing. I personally don't have a use for drugs but then I am not suffering from cancer where the doctor might be recommending it either.

The point is that our morality on things like alcohol and gambling have run into a brick wall with things like demand. The government gave in on the first two. No one in their right mind has called outright for Prohibition despite the huffing and puffing.

And while government may be addicted to alcohol, gambling and cigarette taxes, it is probably better than the carnage of illegal activity. At some point, we ought to...need to think about this in regards to drugs.

But we don't live under government sanction and control of drugs now. Our provincial and federal governments are pressing ever harder on drugs and large segments of the population are pushing back with demand and those that supply illegally are jumping in.

It is something to think about when the various names of arrested suspects appears on TV. How many are them are there to supply the supposed victimless crime of using drugs?

In the end, what we can expect is a long, hot summer of violence connected to the vacuum left by another police sweep of suppliers. While I certainly don't advocate the police not doing their jobs, it does seem like an endless circle.

People who demand drugs should know their part in this cycle.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Canadian Mennonite University Expansion

As mentioned back in July on this blog, Canadian Mennonite University is building a library and overpass to connect the north and south campus. The plans this week went before a city committee for approval.

I originally opined that if an overpass was built that hopefully the public would have some general access to it.

Library and parking and overpass
The 20,000 square foot library connected over Grant Avenue met approval of those who like the idea of a public overpass and wishing better trail connections to Assiniboine Forest.

The only naysayer is the Winnipeg Police Service who as a "johnny come lately" caution about sight lines for their new regional office.

Baseball players look to lose their fields in this development by the looks of the plans but the fields surrounding the campus have been woefully underused for years.

Not included in these plans are lighter shaded future development that look to truly link north and south campus locations of CMU.

It is without a doubt excellent news about this development. I fully expect CMU to continue to attract students in greater numbers and having a top notch library furthers that growth.

This is perhaps one of the better moments where a development gets top marks for enhancing the value of the the neighbourhood and providing solutions to long sought goals such as public access.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Condos for Osborne Village

583 Stradbrook between Wellington Crescent and Nassau
A large stately old house that has seen better days on Stradbrook is slated to become condos in the Osborne Village if the city approves with some conditions. The density of the area has crept higher since the 1980s when multi-family dwellings started to migrate in from the river.

The height restrictions have usually kept condos in the area under three floors. This has preserved the green canopy of trees in the neighbourhood.

The proposal is for a three story condo complex with most of the parking underground.

The demand for such housing in the area is undeniable and the chances that someone might buy the old house for a single detached family dwelling is fairly limited given the restoration work needed to bring it to safe and modern standards.

It is hard to really get an idea of the attractiveness of the building from the present specs.

The development of Osborne Village is now spreading out to more areas.

This is a development in keeping with increasing density but also staying in character for one of Canada's most resilient and interesting districts.

Siouxsie & the Banshees - Kiss Them For Me

Siouxsie & the Banshees - Ode to Jayne Mansfield

Kiss them for me was the name of the Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield movie of 1957.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The 8% Tax Increase - Manitoba Provincial Budget

The provincial finances are awful. The NDP government blames the flooding and the economy for their predicament. They are not inaccurate for saying these are two important aspects of why this province is having problems.

The Doer and Selinger governments through four majorities have blamed the provincial Progressive Conservatives for their sorry state. And most recently, they have blamed Brian Pallister for why things are the way they are. It is a narrative that has worked for them and might again if they keep hammering at it.

Or maybe not. At some point a party outstays its welcome. Taxes go up, services go down and still the end of the tunnel is not in sight. The governing party resorts to fear and anger and it ends up getting them kicked out.

That old axiom that governments are not voted in, they are voted out is often true.

 The NDP government is behind the 8 ball with their 8% sales tax.

There were probably a few alternatives out there for them to avoid the tax and they didn't take them. It is hard to imagine that Gary Doer would have chosen to raise the tax. It is unlikely that he would have so dramatically gone against calling a referendum.

The NDP pledged in the 2011 election not to raise tax. They also pledged to live by the rule that a referendum be called if the government ever did raise tax. They have sidestepped and created loopholes in the legislation this far but raising the provincial sales tax was going to obviously create legal problems.

Premier Greg Selinger decided the best way to proceed with Finance Minister Stan Struther's budget was to negate the rule on calling a referendum. Legislation to gut the balanced budget rules have been introduced.

The reason the NDP gives is that there is not not enough time and it is too costly to call a referendum.

The plain truth is that Greg Selinger knows there is fear on the part of the government that their budget will be defeated by the public. They would rather ram through the budget in the Legislature and then lay low for months when the session ends and hope the public cools down. The majority they have in the assembly pretty much guarantees their budget passes unless...

The big question is whether sidestepping the law is legal. Timing is everything. If the government had attempted to remove the referendum prior to the budget, the law would clearly favour them. However, it raises questions that the budget can be passed ahead of negating the law at the same time. It remains to be seen whether this goes to court.

The $278 million brought in from the 1% hike is designated for infrastructure. However, don't expect much of it to pave your municipal streets. The money is for provincial infrastructure with only special projects getting anything within cities and towns.

There is a lot of debate about what to do with the money and certainly, it could do a lot for provincial roads, bridges and the like. However, the list of demands is so great and the restrictions on institutions, school divisions and municipalities even greater.

The tuition freeze and restrictions on local governments and boards from raising their own taxes aside from property has created a deficit in infrastructure and programming.

The spending the government does do puts it $500 million in the hole every year.

In the last election many governments in Canada were re-elected based on patience and uncertainty that a change was the right way to go. Now we see a number of governments facing defeat. The patience has disappeared.

The Official Opposition through Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives has found an opening to attack Greg Selinger and the NDP on this budget. The miscues on how much the budget would cost and how much would be directed to infrastructure have left the feeling the government is directionless. The reasons given for no referendum sound like cowardice. The speed of which the legislation is pushed through feels like arrogance and contempt.

The alternatives to the budget are being offered right now rather than just straight out criticism. This is a moment where the government looks to have faltered. The tax changes they did make seniors and the programs they announced for nurses feel like distractions to the bigger story here: The government doesn't know what to do about the future except hope.

There may be a sea change going on in Manitoba.

If the Progressive Conservatives can hold off on forming a circular firing squad and keep offering alternatives to NDP policies, it might show just how empty the Greg Selinger pantry is of ideas.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Harper: The Root Cause of Terrorism

Harper in London
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, Stephen Harper decided this was a good time to do what he does best: Kick someone in the balls. With no encouragement from the media, Harper attacked Justin Trudeau for comments made about the awful events in Boston.

While in London, this is what Harper said:

When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes. You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.
And this was in response to Trudeau saying:

We have to look at the root causes. Now, we don't know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, where do those tensions come from?
It would appear from the CBC interview that Trudeau neither excused or rationalized the attack. His first response was shock, condolence and offer to help. Then he asked about motive.

The question of motive is always important because knowing about it leads to prevention. This isn't about a soft touch but to head things off before they happen.

This is food for thought for Stephen Harper. Under his government, we have seen terrorists develop under his nose and result in one of the most brazen attacks in the world this year.

The Algeria oil refinery attack appears to have been led by Canadians who quite possibly were recruited in in Canada and were responsible for  the attacks overseas.

In Harper's view, you don't look at the root causes of this. You condemn it after it happened and deal with it harshly after.

It was Mr. Harper who didn't catch the Canadians involved in the Algerian attack. Why? It is because he doesn't think about root causes and motive for such things. If he had, he might have removed Canada as a possible recruiting ground for international terrorism.

Perhaps it would help Mr. Harper to look at why things happen to prevent them from happening. It is hard to see prevention is making excuses or rationalizing behaviour.

What motivates Harper from saying what he does? It is starting to look like a distraction from his government missing four Canadians becoming involved with radicalism and terrorism.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Justin Trudeau — Judgement — He's in way over his head.

From the Conservative YouTube website.

The attack ads begin fast.

In the past few years, the Liberals have not attacked back. This has been a reflection of how financially strapped the party has been but also how they did not heed advice on addressing the issue. A posting on YouTube doesn't cost a lot of money. However, it is likely to garner lots of extra press.

Trudeau said he would try to stay positive but I think that they have to respond and respond hard.

The Harper government loves talking points and they stick to them like glue.  They talk about experience in their ad and some of the big errors made by Trudeau. It is hard not to think of Harper's gaffes when he was new to politics.

Negative ads work. But they also makes for cynical politics and many disengage. However, this good for parties who rely on hyperpartisan support. What do they car of electoral votes drop even further when being elected is more important?

We'll see if Trudeau responds. If not, his lead in the polls right now could collapse.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Liberal Leadership

Martha Hall-Findlay
In the Liberal leadership race, I support Marc Garneau and donated to his campaign. I admired his achievements, his ideas, his disposition and his humility. Sadly, he dropped out of the race. I understood why he did it and given the numbers of members and supporters voting, he was probably right to think he was a ways off in achieving numbers capable of achieving the lead.

Justin Trudeau leads the Liberals in signed supporters and later today probably will become the leader. The race is for second now.

 Joyce Murray is at the head of a campaign to merge the Liberals and the NDP. I think the parties are too different and do not support this at all.

I looked carefully at the remaining candidates and chose Martha Hall-Findlay as my first choice. I support her call for reforming out tax system and focusing on helping local governments. I believe her idea of looking at what the true value of the marketing boards are and how fair they are must be followed through. She has put up ideas that the NDP and the Tories have not shown as much interest in.

I realize my choice of candidate is a longshot. I don't want her ideas to be.

I expect Justin Trudeau if he becomes the leader will need the Hall-Findlays and the Garneaus to be the vanguard of new ideas for the party.

I am a centrist at heart: a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. I hope the outcome of the vote will be a vision and a mission.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Porter Airlines to Winnipeg?

CS100 Jets Porter Wants to Buy
Porter Airlines announced that they want to be Canada's third airline. To do this will require jets, an expanded Toronto Islands airport and approvals to break a camel's back.

For some time now, Porter has been a thorn in WestJet and Air Canada's side since 2006. The proximity of their Toronto Island base to the majority of Toronto and the prop planes they fly have become popular with those who take to the air.

For those near the lake shore of the city or out on Lake Ontario, the sight of Dash 8 Q400 prop aircraft taking off from the island at impossible angles is a something to behold.

Winnipeg's airport has been in the hunt for this impudent airline for some time but the the city has been beyond the range of the props. If Porter purchases the Bombardier C100, a "whisper" jet, it would open up the entire country to its reach.

This will be easier said than done. Toronto Islands is North America's largest car free environment. The people of the city run there in the tens of thousands each day to escape the city and enjoy the lake. In 2003, the primary election issue was a bridge to islands. This was crushed handily by the fear that jets would one day take off and land at the airport.

Toronto Island Airport as seen by CN Tower

In 2014, a pedestrian tunnel over 800 feet long with connect the airport to the mainland. It will be equipped with people movers similar to many airports around the world.

Toronto Islands
It is difficult to imagine how much controversy this will create in Toronto. Jets on the island will be an explosive debate. Some critics say it will be impossible to approve. Other critics say it will be a difficult market regardless and Porter could be relegated to the scrap heap of Canadian failed airlines.

We have seen many airlines come and go over the years. While Winnipeg flyers desire more competition, we generally see only two main players at any given time.

It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds but Winnipeg is likely only to be an observer in the matter. The decision on whether we get a Porter Airlines connection lies in Ontario not Manitoba.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Outcome of the Katz Trial

Chan versus Katz Global News
On April 2, the deliberations of Queen's Bench Judge Brenda Keyser came down in Chan versus Katz in the case conflict of interest in regards to a 2010 Christmas party paid with taxpayer money at a restaurant owned by the mayor.

The judge decided that the Manitoba Municipal Conflict of Interest law was not intended to cover such things as a Christmas party. Her reason for such decision was also coloured by the "utterly disproportionate" mandatory penalty if she did make a finding of conflict of interest.

What the judge did find was "bad political and ethical behaviour" but when applied to the provincial law (which she read very narrowly), it did not constitute what she discerned the law's intent was.

In layman's terms, the law was vague, the penalty disproportionate and the judge was not going to remove an elected official based on the evidence presented.

For Joe Chan, the repercussions in terms of all this is going to be $10,000 to cover costs. It is hard not to think of this a punishment directed at Chan and people like Harvey Smith and other NDP/progressive types for trying to do an end run to achieve what they could not get done in past elections.

For a long time the NDP and certain labour groups have targeted Katz and have run NDP supported slates. It has been almost a complete failure for decades.

To a great extent the failure of this conflict of interest challenge lies completely with the provincial NDP. It is the law they set up that received the harshest treatment at the hands of the judge. She basically said that she would not have found guilt because of the disproportionate nature of the penalty.

Greg Selinger needs to fix the legislation. The judicial system has stated plainly they won't do the dirty work with mandatory and one option only penalties. The law needs to be clearer about what constitutes a conflict and the punishments have to be scaled accordingly.

Lest anyone think that Sam Katz is totally innocent of this, lets go back to the words that describe the mayors actions. The judge found that Katz used bad political and ethical judgement in taking city elected and unelected officials to a Christmas dinner at a restaurant that he owned. The Winnipeg Sun editorial didn't mention this. They said the lesson for Katz to learn from this was to ignore the critics. Presumably they meant the judge as well in their comment?

No doubt there are Katz haters out there. A mayor is going to be a lightening rod for criticism. However, over and over are issues related to private and public matters and governance that keep tripping up officials.

Even for Katz supporters there has to be disappointment that there is not more pointed debate to keep elected officials feet to the fire. The system is gamed to prevent opposition from taking root. Step out of line and have your top committee status revoked by the mayor. This leaves many councillors on the outside looking in on a lot of decison-making with no strong tools to mount an opposing view.

It is important to remember the system in place now is exactly what Greg Selinger and the NDP government want. They would rather continue the present system rather than risk it knocking them from provincial office. And that is a very real risk. In 1988, the provincial NDP saw provincial Liberals use municipal politics to crush them in the election. The rule allowing city elected officials to run for provincial office was closed to prevent this from ever happening again.

It suits the NDP to leave things be. It remains to be seen whether the Progressive Conservatives or Liberals will be interested in democratic reform in this area.

The suggested reforms should be:

* A completely retooled Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. A judge has said she doesn't like it and she did a work around. The law needs to be clear. It needs to have scale. It needs to be fair.

* Manitoba needs an Integrity Commissioner. Such a person would be responsible for lobbyist registration, expenses review, ethical conduct and for public disclosure of wrongdoing.

At the moment, only the court of public opinion seems to be governing certain behaviour in government offices. And by the routine way we see elected officials act, one might presume they think there are no repercussions.

That must change if there is any hope for better governance.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sam Katz Denies Run for Mayor of Scottsdale - a satire

Sam Katz News Conference
At a hastily called new conference, Sam Katz denied reports that he had attended a meeting in Scottsdale over the Easter weekend to explore a run for the mayor's job in 2014. The problem is that it wasn't for the city of Winnipeg but for the city of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Canadian Press learned over the weekend that Katz was in high level talks with senior people of the Arizona Democratic Party and produced documents stating he had American citizenship as well as resident in the state, specifically Scottsdale. In the year 2012, CBC News revealed that Katz was the owner of a $1 million house in the tony community of Scottsdale just outside of Phoenix.

In recent weeks Mayor Katz has hinted at running ahead for the mayor's job in Winnipeg, a position he has held since 2004. However, in recent weeks unnamed sources south of the border indicated that a committee of state Democrats in Arizona were looking to recruit Katz to run for office south of the border.

Until this Easter weekend, it wasn't known that Sam Katz had obtained American citizenship in 2011 and had lived in Scottsdale enough days in 2012 to have it qualify as his primary residence. Insiders who attended the meeting say the presentation of documents satisfied their concerns prior to a fundraising effort that was to begin in June of this year.

The mayor was asked about his weekend meeting at the Winnipeg airport this morning by Canadian Press but said he was not available for comments. By late afternoon, news media had gathered outside his office to await his official comment. Eventually, Katz scrummed in an unscheduled news conference.

"It's inaccurate," Katz revealed when asked if has was running for mayor of Scottsdale. "I attend meetings all the time." He refused to answer if the meeting in Arizona was in regards to elected office there.

When asked about the report that he held dual Canadian and American residence, Katz said this: "It is a private matter and has nothing to do with my office."

"I intend to do my job as Mayor of Winnipeg," Katz said before leaving the scrum with more questions than answers.