2017 City Budget Warp Up

I’m waking up every morning wondering if today’s the day the whole system comes crashing down. Governments everywhere are teetering on the brink of collapse. Around here, Brad Wall is besieged by a slow gathering of inconvenient evidence about his government’s fiscal mismanagement and hinky Global Transportation Hub land deals. In Alberta, Notley’s reward for running the province in a manner falling well within the range of normal for the ’80s PCs is to be harassed and threatened to the point where she needs a security detail. Trudeau’s bloom has begun to wilt and the three frontrunners to lead his opposition are each some brand of toxic moron. And then of course there’s Trump… ’nuff said.

The world is burning around us. But there is one tranquil oasis of governance you can rely upon: Regina city council. On Mon Feb 13, they gathered to debate the 2017 budget and you may not agree with any of the goals laid out in that document, but holy crap, at least no nuns were ripped off in its construction, there was no line item which read “Build A Wall (to keep immigrants out)” and no one in Putin’s inner circle was secretly manipulating its outcome.

It was a boring, boring, boring, no big surprise budget. Thank all the Gods of Sensible Bureaucracy. And thanks to city administration for assembling something long, tedious and, dare I say it, entirely reasonable. Sure, I have a laundry list of things I’d like to have seen in this budget — the continued failure to support the Housing First program financially is shameful, for instance — but at least this wasn’t a clusterfuck. Can we all agree on that at least? It wasn’t a clusterfuck.

For those who just want to know the key deets: Council voted to nudge down the proposed property tax and utility rate increases. The property tax increase will be 3.99% this year (down from 4.18%). The utility rate increase will be 4% (down from 5%).

For those who crave a council play-by-play, here is a collection of my live-tweeting from that Feb 13 council meeting.

Government Opts For Investment (And Debt) Over Austerity in 2016-17 Budget

SaskFlag_605I’m writing this in advance of heading to the Legislature this morning for a press conference by Saskatchewan Finance Minister Kevin Doherty prior to him delivering the province’s 2016-17 budget this afternoon.

Based on my understanding of the embargoed copy of the budget that I obtained on Tuesday, despite all the gloom and doom that had been forecast, this doesn’t really qualify as an austerity budget. Yes, revenues from resources are down substantially from where they were a few years ago (around $968 million according to a government background document). But instead of slashing programs and department budgets, government spending will actually increase this year to $14.458 billion from $14.295 billion in 2015-16.

Budgetary allocations in most instances either remain the same as last year (as in the case of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Creative Saskatchewan), or even increase, as in the case of funding for Health, Municipalities, Education, Agriculture, Highways and a whole lot more.

What’s more, these increases are being achieved with only a modest jump in the deficit from $427.2 million to $434.2 million. Tougher medicine may lay in the future, as the government says the budget marks the beginning of a process of “transformational change” in how it delivers programs and services.

Questions that will be asked as part of this process include: What programs and services should be the role of government? Are they being delivered in a cost-effective and efficient way? Could programs with similar objectives be consolidated to save delivery costs? Could different governance models provide administrative savings while still meeting the needs of Saskatchewan people?

Where all that will lead is anyone’s guess. But for now, the government is holding off on any tough decisions related to our altered fiscal reality in the wake of a global slide in resource prices.

Oh yeah, and one more thing. The government is planning to borrow another $1 billion this year to help tide us over. Similar to the $700 million it borrowed last year, the debt isn’t included in the deficit calculation. As noted above, it’s projected to be $434.2 million, but when you throw in an extra billion dollars of debt the true shortfall is $1.434 billion.

If this was a NDP government presenting this budget, I can well imagine what the outcry would be from the various chambers of commerces, taxpayers federations and independent business associations that are out there. So we’ll see what happens later today.

Architecture Week

This week-long celebration of architecture as both an art form and expression of ingenuity when it comes to the functional quality of our built environment is being hosted by the Saskatchewan Association of Architects.

Architecture Week runs May 30-June 3, and the theme this year is Saskatchewan Savoir-Faire.

Feature events include: a screening of the documentary Collaborations  about British architect David Adjaye (RPL Theatre, May 30 at 7 p.m.); the Lt. Governor’s Architectural Heritage Awards (Government House, May 31 at 5:30 p.m.); a public lecture/panel on the quality of Saskatchewan architecture (Royal Saskatchewan Museum, June 1 at 7 p.m.); a lecture by Norwegian architect Vanessa Kassabian (Hotel Saskatchewan, June 2 at 7 p.m.); and finally the Prairie Design Awards (MacKenzie Gallery, June 3 at 5:30 p.m.)

You can find more information on the above-linked website. And if you want to get a head start on contemplating design issues related to our built environment you can drop by the RPL Theatre on Thursday May 26. At 7 p.m. there will be a free screening of the documentary Edge of the Possible which examines the epic saga of the construction of one of the world’s most iconic buildings — the Sydney Opera House, which from initial design onward took from 1959-73 to complete. The screening is sponsored by the RPL, Regina Advocates for Design, OPEN and the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation.

To close, here’s an excerpt from the David Adjaye documentary Collaborations

Saskatchewan Fashion Week

This is the fifth annual showcase of Saskatchewan fashion and beauty industries. The dates this year are May 12-14, and there’s runway shows featuring creations 22 Saskatchewan-based designers, along with local retailers who will be showcasing their Spring/Summer lines.

If you visit the SFW website you’ll see that the weekend passes for the runway shows are sold-out. Don’t despair, though, as the shows will be live-streamed. As well, there may be some single night and after-party tickets still available.

All the action goes down at the Can-Sask Sound Stage at College Ave. & Broad St. And here’s a recent Leader-Post profile by Irene Sieberling on the SFW founders Chris Pritchard, Candyce Fiessel and Chelsea Petterson.

Jabula

SavetheDate2016FlyerThis event is being hosted by the Regina chapter of Grandmothers 4 Grandmothers. As the organization’s name indicates, it’s a group of local grandmothers and those with a similar life perspective who conduct periodic fundraisers in the city to help support grandmothers in Africa who find themselves caring for young children who have been orphaned by the AIDS pandemic that has hit many countries on the continent extremely hard.

The support is channelled through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and the guest-speaker at this fundraising dinner is Lewis’s daughter Ilana Landsberg-Lewis who is the executive director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

As you can see from the accompanying poster (click to enlarge), Jabula is being held at Queensbury Centre on Saturday April 30. In addition to the dinner and guest-speaker, there will be a performance by the Campbell Collegiate Choir and a silent auction.

More information on Grandmothers 4 Grandmothers Regina can be found on the G4G website.

Another Globe & Mail Boo-Boo

20160424_140536A couple of months ago I did a post on a moderately glaring error I found in a Saturday issue of the Globe & Mail related to a music column by Giller Award-winning author Sean Michaels.

While catching up on last Saturday’s G&M I found an even bigger boo-boo in the Report on Business section in a feature on the declining economic fortunes of the so-called BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Actually, there’s two huge errors on display in the above photograph. Anyone care to point them out?  

Oink! Oink!

20160325_083647At left is an excerpt from a John Ivison column on the federal Liberal government’s budget which ran in the National Post section of Thursday’s Regina Leader-Post.

You can read the column here, but the general tone is that the government is being overly generous with its “largesse” and that the modest deficits that are forecast for the next few years risk plunging Canada into a financial abyss.

The only initiative that Ivison singles out is the new child benefit which is meant to provide support for Canadian families with young children. But in another National Post column in the same section, new spending is identified for, and I quote, “Indigenous Peoples, post-secondary education, middle and modest income families, municipal infrastructure, the recently unemployed, veterans and seniors.”

The analogy Ivison uses to characterize Canadian families in line for the child benefit speaks for itself, I guess. At the same time he (along with Jason Kenney in a tweet cited in the column) is critical of the Liberal government for not spending enough to counteract terrorism and for scaling back $3.7 billion in funding commitments for military equipment that the Conservatives had made before being turfed from office in October.

Just as we have no idea what the true state of Saskatchewan’s finances are heading into the provincial election, with former Finance Minister Ken Krawetz’s surplus of $106.8 million in the April 2015 budget having morphed into a $427 million deficit due to the ongoing resource price crash, it’s impossible to say what Canada’s books would have looked like had the Conservatives won the last election and been presented with the same challenge as the Liberals of bringing in a budget in a slumping economy — an economy they essentially created through their obsessive focus on resource extraction.

Anyway, I just thought I’d point out what PostMedia, via its columnist John Ivison, thinks of the average Canadian family.

Native Prairie Speakers Series & The Bat Man Of Mexico

The Native Prairie Speakers Series event goes tonight at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. Guest-speaker is Rebecca Magnus from Nature Saskatchewan. In our March 17 issue we had an interview with her tied to her work in habitat conservation and endangered species. She’ll be elaborating on those issues in this talk, which is formally titled “Stewards of Saskatchewan: Habitat Conservation for Species at Risk”.

The talk is at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free.

As well, there’s a second science/nature event happening in Regina tonight. It goes at the Saskatchewan Science Centre at 7 p.m., and is titled The Bat Man of Mexico. It involves a screening of a BBC documentary about world-renown bat researcher Rodrigo Medellin, along with a Q & A with him afterwards. The event is free, but seating is limited in the Imax Theatre so you’re advised to reserve tickets in advance. Donations will also be accepted at the door.

Here’s a trailer on the BBC documentary

The Ethics Of Bitcoin

I did a short post on Bitcoin back in April 2013. It’s a digital currency that’s been around since 2008. Supporters of the concept regard it as akin to the second coming (in a currency context) paving the way for an expanded digital economy and freeing people from the tyranny of the existing monetary and banking system.

Skeptics outnumber believers by a huge margin, though, with many people questioning the legitimacy of Bitcoin and the wisdom of having a currency that exists outside the boundaries of normal commerce.

Plenty of roadblocks have slowed Bitcoins acceptance in our society from wild swings in value to allegations of money laundering, to lack of merchants willing to accept it in payment for goods and services, to security of the coin itself. But Bitcoin continues to exist and circulate, so it’s not like it’s dead as a concept.

Tonight, as part of the ongoing public lecture series Philosophy Cafe, University of Regina academic Roger Petry will give a talk on Bitcoin. The full title is “The Ethics of Bitcoin: Lessons For Developing Money As A Social Contract”. The talk is at the Artesian on 13th with a start time of 7:30 p.m.

Regina Restaurant Week

After all the fun and excitement of the holiday season, January is typically a slow month for the hospitality industry as people tone down their spending and calorie consumption and seek to escape the typically frigid weather by cocooning at home.

But January’s just about done, and in order to showcase some of the new and renovated restaurants that have sprung up in the downtown over the last few years Regina Downtown Business Improvement District has partnered with over a dozen local establishments to organize a special showcase that runs Jan. 27-Feb. 10.

You can get all the details on Regina Restaurant Week here. But what each participating restaurant is offering is a special price fixe dinner with the choice of one appetizer, entree and dessert for a set price.

Restaurants that have signed on so far include Beer Bros, the Capitol, Copper Kettle, Crave, Diplomat, Famosa, Fat Badger, Flip, Golf’s Steakhouse, Malt City, 20Ten and Victoria’s Tavern.

Canadian Club of Regina Luncheon

When Regina Police Service went before city council in early December to seek approval for a 5.3 percent increase in its budget to $80.3 million to add additional officers and purchase carbine rifles, chief Troy Hagen faced tough questioning from some community members about police practices such as profiling, carding and excessive force that critics allege unfairly target the homeless, mentally ill and other vulnerable people in our society.

Hagen also generated some controversy in mid-December when he said that he had no reason to believe there were any problems with racism on the police service. His comments stood in stark contrast to a recent admission by RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson that some members of the federal force did harbour racist beliefs.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post. On Wednesday Jan. 13, the Canadian Club of Regina is hosting a luncheon that features Regina police chief Troy Hagen as guest-speaker. The topic of Hagen’s talk will be “Public Confidence in the Community”. The luncheon is being held at the Executive Hotel on Albert St. S, with registration at 11:45 a.m. If you’re planning to attend you’re asked to RSVP by Jan. 11 to 306-586-7347.

SpaceX Success

After a high-profile failure in April where SpaceX tried to land a rocket booster on an ocean platform, the company run by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk scored a major achievement just before Christmas when it successfully landed a rocket booster on a Florida landing site.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s primary mission was to install 11 satellites in orbit as part of a communications network. Under conventional rocket technology, boosters detach and fall to Earth while the space capsule (whether carrying astronauts or a mechanical payload) continues into orbit.

What Musk is seeking to do is create a reusable booster that would go a long way toward reducing the cost of space flight. Because of Earth gravity, a massive amount of fuel and thrust is required to achieve escape velocity. If the booster, which houses the engine where the thrust is generated, can be reused that’s a huge cost saving that would open the door to much more human activity in space.

Here’s footage of the successful landing here:

Property Rights In Space

MoonIf you picked up a hard copy of our Dec. 23 issue you might have spotted a mid-section top six called Private Space that recapped a possible conflict between a piece of legislation passed by U.S. Congress in late November and a 1967 U.N treaty.

The legislation is called The Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act. As described in this Washington Post commentary, The SPACE Act is designed to “recognize and promote the rights of U.S. companies to engage in the exploration and extraction of space resources from asteroids and other celestial bodies.”

Critics of the bill were quick to refer to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which bans all claims of national appropriation in space. The treaty, which the U.S. is a signatory to, is based on the guiding principle that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all [humanity].”

That principle is very much in keeping with the core values of the U.N. which generally champions fairness and equality in a global context. It even fits nicely within the counter-culture ethos that was alive in the 1960s.

We live in a different world these days, of course. Global expressions of human well-being are decidedly out of fashion. Instead, neoliberalism is the dominant political philosophy, and we obsess over ways to monetize/commercialize practically everything.

Proponents of The SPACE Act argue that it doesn’t contravene the U.N. treaty. The validity you attach to that argument depends on your enthusiasm for semantic nitpicking. As the Washington Post author notes, the treaty refers to claims of “national appropriation”. Back in the 1960s, because of the costs and level of technology involved, space exploration was largely a state enterprise. Now, private enterprise is much more active in space, and the bill’s backers maintain that because the U.S. isn’t claiming sovereignty over any extraterrestrial body, the bill doesn’t contravene the U.N. treaty.

One analogy that’s made refers to the world’s oceans. Outside of coastal waters, no nation can claim sovereignty over them. Yet when a trawler catches fish in international waters, it has the right of ownership to its catch.

Corporations are creatures of the state, so I’m not so sure that the distinction the U.S. is drawing is necessarily legitimate. And the “ocean” analogy is a little problematic too, as it raises the spectre of the type of free-for-all that we’ve witnessed with giant dragnet trawlers depleting stocks from formerly rich fishing grounds.

This issue is still a little bit in the realm of science fiction. But private corporations such as SpaceX, Planetary Resources and Bigelow Aerospace/Boeing are investing in space research and technology, and various space missions have been undertaken to survey asteroids and comets

One corporation called Moon Express has ambitious plans to locate deposits of ice water and valuable elements such as platinum and helium-3 on the Moon. Water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be used to make rocket fuel. Because the Moon’s gravity is only one-sixth as strong as Earth’s, that would cut the cost of space launches significantly, which would heighten the economic viability of missions to Mars and the asteroid belt.

Whether that future will unfold under the parameters of The SPACE Act or The Outer Space Treaty is still to be determined.

Railyard Renewal Project Survey

smoke ReginaThe City of Regina has an online survey going on where people can offer input on how they would like to see the redevelopment of the CP rail yard area between the Downtown and Warehouse District proceed (the area is 17.5 acres in size, and is sort of pictured above during warmer/smokier days last June).

The renewal project is tangentially related to the new Mosaic Stadium that’s being built on the Exhibition Grounds and the eventual redevelopment of the current Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium site. In the survey you can identify what you think should be development priorities from pre-selected lists, plus offer your own comments.

You can find out more information about the rail renewal project, plus find a link to the survey here.

Campus Master Plan Public Forum [Update]

[This had been set for Monday but now it’s been moved to Tuesday]

Every five years the University of Regina undertakes a planning process to chart the future of institution. A strategic plan for 2015-20 is already in place. It identified three priorities: Student Success, Research Impact and Commitment to our Communities.

As a companion process, the university has been doing some planning around the future development of the campus which includes the main and College Ave. campuses and lands east of the main campus that are also owned by the university.

You can find out more about this process on the University of Regina website, but Tuesday between 2:30-4:30 p.m. the university is hosting an open house at the multi-purpose room at Riddell Centre where the public will be able to review the plan and ask questions before it is sent on to the university’s board of governors.

Universities are a huge asset to communities, but judging by recent news reports the U of R campus, which includes both historic buildings dating back a century on College Ave, and newer buildings that were constructed in the mid-1960s, is definitely showing its age. So we’ll see what plans the university administration has for moving forward.

JSGS Public Lecture

During the recent federal election, and for a good number of years before that, there was a lot of talk about the importance of evidence-based policy development. I don’t want to rehash all the sins that the previous government was perceived to have committed in this area as it sought to advance its ideology, but Friday afternoon the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy is presenting a lecture on the topic by Munir Sheikh who is an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

Sheikh is the former chief of Statistics Canada, and his talk will focus on the benefits of evidence-based policy development. You can read more on the JSGS website, but the talk will be held at Rm. 210, 2 Research Drive, University of Regina at 12:30 p.m. You’re encouraged to register in advance, and that can be done through the weblink or by calling 306-585-5512.

Wintergreen

WintergreenThe above graphic provides you with most of the essentials about this annual art and craft sale hosted by the Saskatchewan Craft Council. Ages ago, I did an article for the SCC magazine Craft Factor on the occasion of Wintergreen’s 25th anniverary. It’s probably creeping up on 45 years now, and is still going plenty strong with all sorts of artists and artisans producing original works in clay, glass, wood, metal and more.

Wintergreen has always been a popular pre-Christmas shopping opportunity, so if you’re got so if you’ve got some gaps in your shopping checklist it’s definitely worth checking out.

Wintergreen runs at Conexus Arts Centre Friday Nov. 20 from 1-9 p.m., Saturday Nov. 21 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 22 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. If you don’t have an Affinity Credit Union card admission is Adults $5, Seniors & Youth $3, with Kids 12 and under free. You can find out more details on the Saskatchewan Craft Council website.

Digging Deep At Capital Pointe

20151114_161310When I was out for a walk on the weekend taking advantage of the gorgeous late fall weather I took this shot at the Capitial Pointe construction site on the corner of Albert & Victoria.

I believe the plan is to dig down five stories to accommodate underground parking and other elements of the foundation. The work will probably proceed more quickly once the remnants of the old Plains Hotel are cleared away, but for now it’s pretty tough going.

Urbanity Open Air

UrbanityIf you happen to be downtown Thursday you might want to stop by this event which is being held from 5:30-9 p.m. It’s being co-presented by the Queen City Hub, Regina Advocates for Design (RAD), OPEN, the Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative, and the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) and will take place in the alley running between 18 block Scarth and Cornwall St. between 11th and 12th Ave.

The event is subtitled “Building Safe & Welcoming Spaces”, and the plan is to have a variety of art installations and presentations addressing ideas of public safety in the downtown and how we can create engaging urban spaces for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Above is a photo of one installation that is being planned. It’s called “Orange Crush” — and no, it’s not intended as an endorsement of the NDP in any way. Instead, it’s a portable, immersive space made out of foam noodles. As part of the proceedings, RDBID will also reveal the results of its Imagine Regina survey.