Reviewing The News
An incomplete, hastily-compiled reprise of our top 2011 stories
by various writers
We covered a lot of stuff this year. Here's a recap of some of the stories we threw a bunch of words at in 2011. /Stephen Whitworth
DISASTER IN DURBAN Canada went to the COP 17 climate talks in Durban, South Africa and once again proved that we've become the biggest douchebag on the planet ever since Harper came into power. Oh sure, the official narrative that came out was that despite the stalling efforts of big developing-world emitters like China and India, an agreement was reached and everyone came away all smiles and back slaps. But the truth is the agreement sets no binding targets, lays no real groundwork for a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol and basically puts off any real work for another few years. Again. In other words, it was a waste of time. And while China and India are hardly blameless in all this, the behind-the-scenes shit-disturbing of countries like Canada and the United States received very little attention on this side of the Atlantic. And Peter Kent, our environment minister, with his "maybe we're going to pull out of Kyoto, maybe we aren't, but yeah, probably we are" game was a huge wrench sabotaging the proceedings and earned us the lasting enmity of much of the world.
And then, sure enough, he was barely home a week and Kent announced that Canada is indeed abandoning Kyoto. He made Elizabeth May literally fucking cry. And she's right to cry.
With our massive oil reserves and wickedly high per-person carbon emissions (second worst in the world), we are a major player in these global climate talks. And back when Stephane Dion (best prime minister we never had) was environment minister, we were climate superheroes who pretty much laid the groundwork for international cooperation on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Now, by flipping the globe the bird in the aftermath of Durban, Harper and Kent may have broken the back of the project to curb global warming. And that means it may now be impossible to bring down carbon emissions in time to stave off irreversible, catastrophic climate change.
In other words, in 50 years, the history books, if such things are still being written, just might remember Stephen Harper not as the helmet-haired leader of an amiable nation of beer drinkers but as a James Bond villain who basically destroyed the planet.
I hope you shook your kids' hands really warmly after you pulled that off, Stephen. /Paul Dechene
REGINA RENTAL HOUSING: TOTALLY SCREWED The fall numbers from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation came out and the news wasn't good. Regina's vacancy rate dropped from one per cent last year to 0.6 per cent in 2011, making it the tightest rental market in the country. Over the same period, the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment rose from $881 to $932. And while city hall will point proudly to the 194 rental units built in 2011, that was more than offset by the 196 rental units removed from the market because they were converted to condominiums. In fact, when you add in units lost due to renovations, demolitions and fire, the total number of rental units in Regina dropped by 126.
The Sask Party government did come through in August with a response to the province's housing crisis, their Housing Strategy for Saskatchewan, but it mainly focused on making home ownership easier and more affordable but did little to support affordable rental accommodation.
Coming up in 2012, staff have started work on a comprehensive housing strategy for the city. Meanwhile, there are 219 units of rental currently under construction which should help ease the pressure on vacancy rate somewhat. But there are still a lot of people moving into the city and already two apartment buildings are slated to be torn down which will force a total of 60 households to search for new places to live. /Paul Dechene
A PLAZA'S PROGRESS, OR SOMETHING The City Square plaza project was pretty much finished this year. Most of the lights were erected and paving stones were laid in time for Folk Festival, so it didn't disrupt the festivities much. As summer faded into autumn, it began to look pretty much completed and by the end of October, plastic planters were laid in two rows, marking out where traffic was to drive.
It looked like the plaza was finally about to open to automobiles as promised. Then, in early November, something odd happened: pedestrians on the plaza had colonized the place. Taken it over. And they didn't like the idea of cars criss-crossing their plaza, weaving where they shouldn't, parking here and there illegally, and just generally being the obnoxious things that cars generally are. And council took notice. And at the very last minute, council voted to keep the plaza closed to car traffic for eight months until a traffic study could be completed.
Many local businesses were pissed. Most pedestrians were pleased. And we've got to June to have a big think - again - on what we want that plaza to be. /Paul Dechene
BREAKING THE SEVEN BILLION BARRIER At the start of the 20th century, there were 1.7 billion of us on Earth. According to the United Nations, around Hallowe'en our population eclipsed seven billion - a one billion increase from 1999, when we hit six billion.
If you haven't already, stop by the Royal Sask. Museum's Ecology Exhibit sometime. It has a population clock. Watch it for a couple of minutes and it'll increase by a couple of thousand easy. And if forecasts are correct, the clock is only going to speed up. Current projections have us hitting 9.3 billion by 2050, with most of the growth in the Developing World. And worst-case scenario, we could reach 15 billion by 2100.
Until we find a way to colonize other planets, our days of being fruitful and multiplying are over. Yet in both Canada and the U.S. the Christian right pushes to defund International Planned Parenthood because a tiny portion of its family planning and health services are abortion-related.
Even contraception is verboten in some religious circles. Sure, when the Pope condemns birth control, we in the West all laugh. But in less developed areas, where the Church still has moral and political authority, it's a big barrier (if you'll pardon the pun) to overcome.
We're getting to be as numerous as ants. But with all the technology we wield and resources we consume, we have the ecological footprint of dinosaurs. Not good. /Gregory Beatty
THE TRUTH ABOUT TARSANDS The year 2011 ended on an inconvenient truth for Alberta and the Harper government. All year, we'd been hearing about how awesome the tarsands are. Groups in the U.S. were trying to block construction of a pipeline that would carry oil produced there and governments in Europe pondered weighty tariffs on the suspect crude. And in response the TV was awash with ads proclaiming this, the world's last massive oil reserve, to be clean, green and sustainable. Forget that a bunch of independent eco-organizations say tarsands extraction is an environmental disaster in progress. They would say that, amirite? Mother Earth loves it when you buy Alberta oil and Harper has the research in hand to back that up.
Only it turns out that he doesn't. Documents prepared last spring by Environment Canada lay out the growing clusterfuck that is the tarsands industry - everything from contamination of the Athabasca River system to the three barrels of drinking water wasted to produce one barrel of oil to the expected 900 per cent increase in greenhouse-gas emissions produced by the industry between 1990 and 2020. And you haven't read any of this because Harper has muzzled all government scientists. We only know about the reports now because Postmedia got all Access to Information on his ass. /Paul Dechene
AND OH YEAH, SASK ELECTED THE RADICAL, DANGEROUS AND RECKLESS STEPHEN HARPER CONSERVATIVES TO A MAJORITY GOVERNMENT And you know what? We don't really want to talk about it. Prairie dog pleaded with voters to not support this party. We presented facts and reasoned arguments and some entertaining ranting. And the majority of Saskatchewan didn't listen.
Maybe it's like one of my longest-standing Sask. pals, who's lived here all his life, always says: "Steve, you have to remember the motto of this province is, 'I don't care.'"
Then again, around 47 per cent of the province didn't vote like a bunch of mean, angry drunks. That's more than enough friends for this little paper. /Stephen Whitworth
NDPOCALYPSE A few days after the November provincial election, legislature correspondent Murray Mandryk tweeted an interesting observation - the nine New Democratic Party MLAs who survived the election blowout were the ones who, in the last session's seating plan, sat the furthest away from party leader Dwain Lingenfelter.
In reality, the election wasn't the NDP's to win: since the Second World War, every Saskatchewan government, no matter how crazed, inept or psychotic, gets two terms. And after Brad Wall's slick handling of the BHP Billiton file, the NDP has pretty much no hope of winning: the best they could hope for would be in better position come the 2015 provincial election.
The Saskatchewan NDP is at its weakest point since Tommy Douglas was knee high to a grasshopper. The major reason why the Saskatchewan NDP is now in the trouble its in - a small caucus unable to count on a core support outside of the leadership of organized labour - can be attributed to a fundamental flaw not just in Link's leadership but also the inner circle who brought him to power. Link and his crew failed to learn the lessons of Barak Obama in 2008, Naheed Nenshi (who won the Calgary mayoralty in 2009) and Jack Layton in 2010: Don't Get Mad, Get Smart. Link spent the months before the election mounting a futile attack on the popular Wall, and the effort ended up doing more to hurt the NDP than it did the governing Sask. Party.
It's not likely that the NDP will play much of a role, politically, in provincial politics in 2012. The party machinery is now totally banjaxed, many of its members drifting away into apathy. It's almost a given that there will be no leadership convention in the year, as John Nilson will handle the interim role. And while there may be a desire for some in the NDP to elect a leader from outside of the caucus, there are few people - at least, few not named Noah Evanchuk (defeated federal NDP candidate in Palliser) who would have the name recognition or the political expertise the party would feel necessary.
That's why, for now at least, most of the leadership action will happen in caucus, where Cam Broten, Warren McCall, Trent Wotherspoon and Danielle Chartier will all either consider their options, or have their options considered for them.
The major provincial political story in 2011 concerns the collapse of the Saskatchewan NDP. It remains to be seen whether 2012 sees anything more than a 'dead cat bounce' in popularity or recognition for what was once this province's natural governing party.
Link isn't around anymore - either as the weakest link in the NDP's chain of command, or to blame for the party's current poor dismal showing. /Stephen LaRose
NEW STADIUM IS NOT A STADIUM Add another grand plan to the pile of epochal schemes to lead Regina in the era of awesome. Joining such hits as the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (still not a bylaw and therefore unenforceable) and the Transit Investment Plan, we now have the Regina Revitalization initiative. Called a "generational vision" for the city, it was announced in April by the mayor at a surprise press conference in the warehouse district. The plan would see the CP container yards which sit just to the north of downtown redeveloped. Gone will be the train yards and in its place, retail, commercial space and condos will spring up. And in the midst of it all a massive new entertainment facility will rise that will not only act as a replacement for the aging Mosaic Stadium but also be a home to all sorts of other... yet-to-be defined miscellaneous entertainments. Once Mosaic Stadium is rendered obsolete, it'll be bulldozed to make way for approximately 700 new residential units and a massive chunk of new commercial space. As for that new facility, the mayor has been adamant throughout a series of announcements that it is not a stadium. Stadiums are not something that are built any more, oh no. This will be a "multi-purpose entertainment facility" -- hell of a mouthful, that. And in December, staff recommended and council approved a plan to seek out Public Private Partnerships to fund its construction. /Paul Dechene
BYE-BYE BOB BJERKE Prairie dog grew fond of now-former director of planning and sustainability Bob Bjerke. We liked how he seemed kind of nerdy about planning issues and was generally supportive of all sorts of progressive ideas. And we thought it was cute how he'd often phone up yours truly to do interviews after work hours while his kids were loudly practicing wind instruments in the background - we didn't think he was trying to tell us anything at all.
So, naturally, if we like the guy, he's got to go. And that's what happened in February when it came to light that he'd been let go from the city because the city manager's office wanted to pursue "new directions". Whatever that means.
That said, the new director, Diana Hawryluk seems great and is fun to interview, so maybe all will turn out well. But still... no one at city has yet to fully enunciate what this "new direction" is. And it still seems odd that Bjerke's firing would come hot on the heels of Transit Director David Onodera being let go in December of 2010 - another guy we thought was doing a bang-up job, the ink on his plan to revitalize city's transit system was barely dry when he was pitched to the curb.
What gives, city hall? You confuse us. /Paul Dechene
ENDLESSLY RECYCLING It was a great year for waste reduction in Regina. No, we didn't get that city-wide recycling program we've been promised, the lack of which still baffles the many newcomers to our town. But, city council did vote to get themselves tablet computers. To "reduce paper," we're told. Job well done! Environmental stewardship through gadgetry! And while they voted to institute recycling back in 2010 -- just one decade into the 21st century -- the big progress on that file this year was the decision to add a step to the implementation process and spend several months hunting down a private company to handle recyclable collection. Oh, and supposedly there was stuff going on behind the scenes. Things are positively zipping along. Why, next year, back alley dumpsters will be replaced with plastic rollout bins -- all that in just 12 months. Then in 2013, we will finally join the ranks of Canadian cities to have recycling programs. If all goes well, that is. And if it doesn't and something goes wrong to delay the process, the question will be, can we get a recycling program in place before council's tablets are obsolete and headed for the landfill? /Paul Dechene
BUDGET BUDGES Council passed the city's 2012 budget in December of 2011, voting unanimously in favour of a 3.9 per cent increase in property taxes. According to the mayor, the deterioration of our city's infrastructure made the tax bump necessary. As further justification, he also pointed to the Municipal Price Index of 3.4 per cent. That tracks the inflation rate for things cities buy like asphalt, concrete and labour, and generally runs higher than the inflation rate that regular consumers face. Apparently, the need for infrastructure renewal is becoming a priority for Reginans as well, as councillors reported that they received very few calls of complaint about the mill rate increase this year. And considering all that, it makes you wonder if we're not finally realizing that there's a bill coming due for those four years since 2001 when the mill rate wasn't raised at all. /Paul Dechene
THE GREAT SAFEWAY FREAKOUT OF TWENTY-ELEVEN This summer it was revealed that Cathedral's Safeway on 13th Avenue was slated for an expansion and redesign and when the new drawings were revealed at a public consultation meeting in August, people were far from in love with what the American grocery giant and P3 Architecture came up with. Too beige, too blocky and too suburban seemed to be consensus and when a modified plan was brought forward in November, few seemed mollified.
Other complaints included the loss of the city's mid-century modernist heritage with the destruction of the current store's marina-style arched front and the loss of the Bob Boyer mural on the building's west wall -- the contractors claiming it would be far too expensive to save it.
According to the Safeway's representatives, the expansion is necessary if the store is to survive in long run. It's currently losing business to larger stores in other parts of the city, most notably the Walmart in nearby Harbour Landing. And, worryingly, Safeway noted that if the 13th store were to fail eventually, it is their company policy not to sell or lease their property to competitors - so don't expect to see an Extra Foods or Giant Tiger moving into the neighbourhood if Safeway walks away. Sound a bit like blackmail to you?
In the new year, Safeway will be bringing their latest design to Planning Commission and then to council, likely in late January. If approved, work will begin almost immediately. And while the old store will be demolished in its entirety, construction on the expansion will begin first and be opened as it's completed. That means, the 13th Ave Safeway won't ever have to close even during construction. /Paul Dechene