Exciting Goings On On Scarth St. Mall

20160515_065510In early March, I did a post about the huge pile of pigeon excrement that was accumulating on the canopy of one of the office buildings on Scarth Street Mall. The pigeons were drawn to the ledge above the canopy, I noted, by the banner that had been strung on the building for a couple of years that afforded them a convenient place to shelter behind.

The banner was removed a few weeks ago, and as you can see from the above photo, a crew was out bright and early this morning (6:30 a.m. to be precise) to pressure wash the canopy to remove the baked on pigeon poop. So that’s one less eyesore in downtown Regina.

So That’s Why They’re Called The Weyburn Red Wings

There may be some straws in the wind – hearing a neighbor’s been laid off, hearing about the dysfunctional Target Canada coming apart like the Hale Bopp comet into Jupiter – but the news that the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Weyburn Red Wings are close to insolvency should set off alarm bells in the provincial Department of Finance, and not just amongst hockey fans.

As people from southern Saskatchewan are wont to tell us – at least until recently – the Weyburn-Estevan area, the Canadian area of the now infamous Williston Basin – became almost as large an economic generator as the Athabasca Tar Sands thanks to fracking and high oil prices. But those high oil prices are no more.

Weyburn’s also known for being an area where the business community apparently thinks that if you’re not working in the oil fields or directly supporting the oil field industry, you can go hang. The city fathers and the Weyburn District Chamber of Commerce launched a grand national freakout nine years ago, when some of the employees at the city’s Walmart planned to unionize the staff. And the district voted heavily for a SaskParty candidate whose party, amongst other things, would rewrite labour rules so it would be harder for employees to unionize.

More recently, the Chamber of Commerce strongly endorsed the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which allows businesses to bring in workers from Third World countries to work in jobs, even though local people may need jobs. It’s understandable, in a cynical fashion, why the Chamber thinks that way. If the labour market isn’t diluted, then the laws of supply and demand mean that they will have no alternative but to increase wages, or go out of business if they have to pay market rates for labour. I mean, you can’t have workers making too much money and having more disposable income, can you? Look at what happened to Seattle when it passed a hike in its minimum wage … okay, bad example.

But now, let’s see the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce try to convince these TFWs that the Red Wings survival is important. And let’s see the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce try to convince those people who got laid off or who couldn’t get a job because the local business thought they could save a buck and hired TFWs instead of local people, that they should care about the Red Wings’ fate. And let’s see the Chamber, who endorsed anti-unionization so workers have a harder time bargaining collectively for, amongst other things, better wages, tell those same people that they should spend their hard-earned money, which doesn’t go too far in a boom town, for a hockey team when, if they have cable, they can watch all they hockey they want at home.

Now, the likelihood that the Weyburn Red Wings don’t play next season is up there with the threat in bygone years that the Saskatchewan Roughriders would fold if they didn’t sell enough tickets. The threat is real insofar as it’s made to the public; appealing to its sense of community spirit, forgetting that the other ways of illustrating community spirit – like making sure everyone has an adequate income and shelter, that everybody can feel at home – should be ignored because it might inconvenience the business community.

The Wings will probably be bailed out by local businesses buying tickets for the remainder of the current season and season tickets for the next year. The businesses will then sell tickets at a discount (think of Safeways selling Pats tickets in the Hunter years) or give them away to their business associates and/or employees. This is what the Roughriders did in the 1997, ’98, and ’99 seasons to inflate attendance figures. The Riders’ problem with that strategy, however, was two-fold. It was only the truly dedicated, the desperate, and the ones with no connections in the business community who paid for tickets, whether seasons’ or walk-ups, and once businesses learned that they couldn’t give away Rider tickets, they started wondering why they were spending promotional money on a product nobody wanted. By the end of the 1999 season, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were in worse shape than in late 1996, when Fred Wagman threatened to pull the plug on the team because of its financial state. They were just as much in the hole as they were three years previous, they had a public that wasn’t willing to buy tickets they could get for free, and they had a business community who now knew the public wasn’t always willing to sell what the Riders were trying to get them to buy.

As the news reports state, the Wings are about $180,000 to $200,000 in the hole with, if it is in keeping with the rest of the SJHL, a budget of about $900,000 to $1 million. In the oilfields’ go-go days, the collection of drilling companies, service companies, and others associated with the industry could have raised that amount from their petty cash reserves. The fact that they can’t do that now, and the Weyburn Red Wings now are going cap in hand to a public that, until now, the business and political community have largely ignored, is not just ironic justice, it’s a major sign that the New Saskatchewan that people such as Brad Wall and John Gormley have envisioned is pretty much an illusion.

Weekly Reckoning: Authoritardian Edition

weekly-reckoningGood afternoon, everyone! Can you believe this weather we’re having? No. No, you cannot believe this weather we’re having, because weather is only the visible aspect of a system so complex that it embodies the paradox of chaos as the avatar of such an incomprehensible and terrifyingly sublime order that we can only understand it as transcendent perfection. It may be most useful to say “No, I can’t believe this weather, but I do believe in this weather.” Then, when your friend gives you the quizzical side-eye, hand him or her a little photocopied pamphlet with smeary illustrations and walk on.

Let’s have some news.

1. “CANADA HAS FAILED TO UPHOLD THE HONOUR OF THE CROWN” Strong words from Matthew Coon Come on Canada’s intransigence on aboriginal issues and our ongoing shabby performance on the global stage.

2. A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF THE AUTHORITARDIAN MENTALITY So it seems that a gay employee at a Taco John’s restaurant in South Dakota was given a name tag that said “GAYTARD” in big block lettering. Note to abusive employers: be subtle about your deranged bullying and don’t leave a paper trail. Which in this case is a name tag.

3. KIRBY ESTATE SETTLES WITH MARVEL Well, that only took forever, but it seems that the estate of the man who helped create of Marvel’s most enduring (and profitable) characters will be getting some piece of the action.

4. “BITTERSWEET,” MRS. FORD MUTTERED, AND DISAPPEARED INTO MEPHITIC CLOUDS OF BARBECUE SMOKE THAT HUNG OVER THE CROWD AND COHERED LIKE SOME GASEOUS ORGANISM OF PURE PROTEIN Rob Ford made his first public appearance since his cancer diagnosis at the annual Ford Fest barbecue. Reporters were on hand to collect comments.

5. PEOPLE STILL AWFUL A Saskatoon church cancelled a funeral after a volunteer told the deceased’s wife that they ‘did not want his kind there’. Apparently the obituary photo of the not-alive and not-likely-to-bother-anyone man depicted him wearing a Sons of Anarchy t-shirt. It’s not clear whether the volunteer mistook the deceased for a gang member or just really disapproved of the creative stagnation that set in on the TV show around season five.

Paul Constant And The Minimum Wage

Nigel Hood-Minimum WageA couple days ago I pointed out the upside of Burger King’s acquisition of Tim Hortons: namely, how all the moving-to-Canada tax savings will obviously translate to higher salaries for Whopper workers.

That was sarcasm.

Corporations don’t raise wages for workers unless they’re forced to. Especially fast food corporations. And that’s one reason higher minimum wages are important: it’s a good way to force big businesses to pay their workers enough money to have some kind of a life.

Conveniently, Prairie Dog’s Official American, Paul Constant, just so happens to have a story on raising the minimum wages in the current issue. Paul lives in (future NHL city) Seattle, which has committed to raising its minimum wage to $15/hour. It’s a bold move. It’s unusual, because this is happening at the city (rather than state) level. It’s really, really interesting, no matter what city or country you live in.

From Paul’s feature:

as a Seattleite, I’m proudest of the minimum wage increase because it addresses what I consider to be the single biggest problem of our time — rampant income inequality. One of my favorite thinkers on this subject is Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton. In his books Aftershock and Beyond Outrage (and, in a more simplistic way, in the documentary Inequality for All), Reich explains that the American economy is stagnating because more and more money rises to the top one per cent of all earners and simply stays there. The wealthiest of us all now make more money than they can ever possibly spend, Reich explains, and that top one per cent is now in possession of a larger percentage of money than at any time since the 1920s. The Mitt Romneys of the nation instead invest their wealth in tax-free offshore accounts and nations like China, where pesky regulations don’t get in the way of sky-high profits. A capitalist society requires a free flow of cash, but the middle and lower classes in America now have less money to spend than they’ve had in a century, and this could lead us to another Great Recession. Reich’s prescription for this problem is heavily increased taxes on the top wage earners in America, which would then be funneled back to the middle and lower classes.

That idea was not popular, because as John Steinbeck once famously said, “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exposed proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Even people below the poverty line hate the idea of raising taxes on the top one per cent of all earners because they suspect they are one lottery ticket away from joining the one per cent; here in Washington state, a vast majority of voters — 64 percent of us! — shot down a proposed state income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year. Because that could be us one day, right? Rags to riches is the American dream, even if it never, ever happens in real life.

It’s a good story and with this week’s big merger, even more timely than expected (we scheduled it when we did because Labour Day seems like the obvious fit). Go read it, and leave a comment if you like.

Daily Aggregation: Word Crimes

daily-aggregation-21. AUSTRALIAN FOOLS REPEAL CARBON TAX Ugh. I guess politicians down under don’t listen to scientists either. No wonder Harper likes PM Tony Abbott.

2. PASSENGER PLANE SHOT DOWN IN UKRAINE Two-hundred ninety-five passengers and crew are presumed dead. Story here, updating blog here.

3. KEEP ON KILLING No ceasefire in Gaza.

4. IT’S LEGAL FOR GOVERNMENTS TO RAID EI SURPLUSES Whatevs. This is just robbing unemployed Canadians to pay for unsustainable low taxation rates.

5. FRAUD! BRIBERY! BREACH OF TRUST! Expert scandaler Mike Duffy faces 31 charges. Note to all the children reading this: “scandler” is a made-up word. It’s okay when I use it, though. I’m a professional editor!

6. MEANWHILE IN MARVEL-VILLE All kinds of changes! Thor’s a lady! Captain America’s black! And more! It all sounds mildly interesting I guess, but I think I’ll stick to indie comics.

7. IT’S GETTING SMOKY OUT THERE Ninety per cent of Saskatchewan will get smoke from Northwest Territory fires today. Yup, including Regina. Northern Saskatchewan will be hit the hardest. Here’s what you can do.

8. POWER DUMB Here’s a story about SaskPower’s so-called smart meters.

9. MUCH ADO ABOUT FLAVOURED CIGARETTES Read all about it. If anyone cares/wants to yell at me, I’m opposed to banning flavoured cigarettes. No marketing them to children? Sure. rules for packaging? Definitely–what’s happening now should not be allowed. No advertising? Okay! Penalize the crap out of people who provide tobacco to children? Go for it. But at a certain point, after all the anti-tobacco public education (which is fantastic!) and all the restrictions and regulations (which I support!), adults ought to be allowed to smoke their goddamn gross flavoured cancer-candy. There must be better solutions than outright bans.

10. STILL MORE ON THE SHOUTY, FAKE CHRISTIANS Hey look, it’s another news story that doesn’t address the fact that the Scarth Mall evangelists were saying homophobic, misogynistic and culturally bigoted things. I think the free speech angle is important to cover too, but what’s more important is that these jerks oppose same-sex marriage. Would a protest against interracial marriage be legal? It definitely would face zero tolerance. Same-sex marriage is analogous. Love is love and same-sex attraction is normal. Infinitely more normal than joining a so-called “Christian” cult and shouting at strangers to repent.

11. A PRE-EMPTIVE OBITUARY FOR MUCH MUSIC Good article in Now.

VIDEO: WEIRD AL SCHOOLS I don’t think this has been on the blog yet. That’s not right. Barb Saylor, this one is for you!

Striking Diplomats Score One Against Harper

And once again let’s link to the good ol’ CBC:

The federal government has been bargaining in bad faith in its negotiations with striking diplomats, the Public Service Labour Relations Board ruled on Friday. The government “violated its duty to bargain collectively in good faith and make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement,” concluded the board.

There was a link in this morning’s Top 6 to a story on this ongoing scrap between Harper’s shitty, name-calling government and Canada’s diplomats. I thought I better share this update. And I have.

Now back to work. Those Friday afternoon kitties won’t post themselves.

Pick Of The Day: Labour Day Picnic

labour-day-picnic-2-reginaHeld annually on the lawn in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature, this family orientated gathering is sponsored by Saskatchewan’s Building Trades.

If you drop by today between noon and 4 p.m. you’ll be treated to all sorts of free entertainment and refreshments with plenty of activities including the ever popular dino bouncers and face painting to keep the kids busy.

As far as weather goes, it’s shaping up to be a decent day. So I’m sure a fun time will be had by all.

The Sask Party Has Now Overhauled Our Labour Laws

From The StarPhoenix:

The contentious Bill 85 — the Saskatchewan Employment Act — has passed a third and final reading in the legislative assembly, overhauling and melding 12 pieces of legislation into one omnibus law.

Two components of Bill 85 have been the subject of court battles for the past few years, as unions questioned the legality of both essential services legislation and the Trade Union Amendment Act. Unions have said they may appeal a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision upholding those laws to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Unions have also criticized the speed with which Bill 85 has moved through the legislature, as well as the number and content of regulations yet to be written.

Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union (SGEU) president Bob Bymoen has said the new legislation will make it more difficult for workers to form a union, and will erode weekends and standard hours of work.

“There is no substantial improvement for workers’ rights in this bill,” Bymoen has said.

Now, there’s going to be mountains upon mountains of nuances that will be fleshed out when the regulations are written and parts of it will be good, so let’s not go absolutely nuts quite yet. Having said that, it’s safe to say that Saskatchewan workers and organized labour are now weaker and managers and businesses are now stronger. And sadly, that may well be what most Sask voters–who, I suspect, are ironically mostly NOT employers–want.

Shortly before the legislation was passed, Simon Enoch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summed it up like this:

The government of Saskatchewan is currently undertaking a controversial overhaul of the province’s labour legislation into the mammoth omnibus Bill 85. But those that might be concerned about the rather rash decision to overturn 107 years of labour legislation in the period of a few months need not worry, because what the Saskatchewan government is actually doing is modernizing our labour laws. That’s a relief, “modernizing” has such a new shiny ring to it! Who could be against “modernizing” anything? This legislation must really be cutting edge stuff, thinking outside-the-box, labour legislation 2.0 and all that! So what innovative and pioneering changes are in this legal basket of advanced modernity?

Well the main change is that Bill 85 will reduce statutory protections for workers and undermine collective bargaining rights. That means that workers will have less protection in regards to work breaks, overtime, holidays, scheduling etc. In addition, given new employee categories contained in the legislation, many workers that were previously protected by a collective agreement may find that they no longer are.

Wait, this sounds very un-modern doesn’t it? When did workers in Saskatchewan last have the pleasure of not being protected by the eight-hour-day? That would be 1947,  a time most people would agree is not exactly “modern” (rural electrification would wait until 1949).

More later, and in Thursday’s the print edition — including what I promise will be a more flattering photo of Labour Minister Don Morgan.

Exciting Goings-On On 19 Block Scarth!

Ohanlon patio prep-0I was out for a walk on this fine evening. It included a trip to Central Library to revisit Carol Wainio’s excellent exhibition at the Dunlop, a 20-minute bask on one of the benches by the Cenotaph in Victoria Park, and a leisurely stroll up and down Victoria Avenue from Smith St. to Broad and back.

There are still clumps of snow lingering in areas that don’t get exposed to much sunlight, but as I was sitting in Victoria Park I heard the sound of a buzz saw on the eastern edge of the park. When I investigated, I discovered a group of gentlemen hard at work outside O’Hanlon’s Pub and the Copper Kettle Restaurant.

You can find more photos after the jump.

Continue reading “Exciting Goings-On On 19 Block Scarth!”

Bill 5 Dispute Could Be Headed To Supreme Court

In the May 2 issue I did a news brief on the unanimous Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling on April 26 that upheld the constitutionality of two labour bills passed by the Saskatchewan Party government in its first term. Bill 5 dealt with essential services, while Bill 6 introduced amendments to the Trade Union Act like providing for a secret ballot and permitting employers to communicate more broadly with employees about union activity in the workplace.

In February 2012 Queen’s Bench justice Dennis Ball ruled that Bill 6 did not contravene Charter provisions tied to s. 2(d) Freedom of Association and other constitutional rights. The Court of Appeal, while conceding Bill 6 did make it “somewhat more difficult” for workers to organize and bargain collectively, reaffirmed that ruling. So there likely won’t be any more litigation on that issue.

Where the Court of Appeal parted ways with Justice Ball was in relation to Bill 5. Last February, Ball had ruled that the legislation did contravene what amounted to a charter right of workers to withdraw their labour as a negotiating tactic during collective bargaining. It’s not that the Court of Appeal disagreed with Ball’s determination that the right to strike is protected under s. 2(d). It just said that given existing case law in the area, which is somewhat murky, it wasn’t prepared to make that determination.

As St. Thomas More assistant professor Charles Smith noted in the news brief it was like the Court of Appeal was begging the Supreme Court for clarification. Below are some additional comments from Smith that were cut from the news brief because of space constraints. And should the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and its co-plaintiffs seek leave to appeal in the 60 days allotted, and should the Supreme Court agree to hear the case, expect numerous labour, government and employer organizations from across Canada to seek intervenor status to argue their positions in court.

During our interview, Smith outlined a series of cases that Canadian courts have heard over the last 30 years that have shaped labour law since the passage of the Charter in 1982. Thus far, courts have determined that workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Those rights are protected primarily under s. 2 (d) — although s. 2 (b) Freedom of Expression, s. 7 (Life, Liberty and Security of Person) and s. 15 (Equality Before the Law) are also relevant.

But when it comes to whether the right to strike is constitutionally protected Canadian courts have done a nifty tap-dance, says Smith. “There’s been this continuing argument that you can’t have bona fide collective bargaining without the right to withdraw your labour. That’s been talked about in the lower courts in a host of cases.  So I think there’s definitely a need for the Supreme Court to answer this question.”

And from labour’s perspective, Smith says, Bill 5 is a favourable test case. “It’s the most restrictive bill in Canada. If any bill is ripe for being struck down because of its broad swath it’s this one. So I suspect there will be pressure on the SFL and other unions to appeal to get clarification.”

The Day After A Landslide Election Win, Brad Wall Threatens Labour

From CTV:

A day after his landslide re-election, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall hinted at a new battle with union leaders.

“We’re not going to be looking for arguments, but if there’s opportunities to increase accountability and transparency for union members, we’re going to pursue those,” Wall said Tuesday.

Wall, who has butted heads with union leaders since his Saskatchewan Party came to power in 2007, mused during the election campaign about requiring unions to reveal how they spend their members’ money. On Tuesday, he said that could mean legislation as early as this fall, although he wouldn’t provide details.

“We know there’s a certain amount of publication of union finances that happens now, but maybe it should be even more forthright,” he said.

I see, so more harassment of unions. Excellent. I particularly like this quote:

“We’re not going to worry as much about the relationship with union leadership that made it quite clear … that they’re not entirely interested in working with the government or the truth of the record of the government of Saskatchewan.”

Now that’s just rich. “Truth”? What nonsense. Here’s reality: it’s Brad Wall and his government who are “not entirely interested” in working with union leadership. Example: the Wall government swooped into power and immediately introduced anti-union legislation which Wall and his government brought in without any consultation with unions.

Not a surprise: the Sask Party certainly seem to be on friendly terms with the business groups that push for anti-union laws, and they seem far cozier with said business groups then the Sask. NDP has been to labour groups in the past three decades.

Yes, labour unions have historically supported the NDP, though often grudgingly and not without some big falling-outs. And yes, labour has mistrusted the Saskatchewan Party since the party was founded. But Brad Wall and co. proved that mistrust founded with their actions after they won the 2007 election (and let’s not forget Wall agreeing that “going to war with unions” would be an accurate description of his labour policy before he was even elected premier).

It is baloney for Wall to pretend that his government has been unfairly treated by union leadership. He came to power, threw a bunch of punches and now labour’s leadership doesn’t like him and he’s threatening to use that as an excuse to further the attack? Good grief.

Wall shouldn’t be so full of himself. He just won a landslide because 1.) the economy’s great 2.) many voters — and a lot of NDP supporters — loathed Lingenfelter, and 3.) voters aren’t yet paying close attention to the Sask Party (see point one).

Well, Lingenfelter’s gone and points one and three can and will change.

Brad Wall has a good gig here and a possible huuuge future in federal politics. He would be wise not to mess it up by waging elective wars with people whose he’s already pushed to the, er, Wall.

Happy Labour Day!

Today is one of the few days of the year politicians and business lobbyists won’t kick unions around. Well, I’m sure a few will but I’m not going out of my way to find their miserable, backwards opinions. Today’s a good time to remember why the labour movement is important and to acknowledge that it’s constantly under attack. Just look at Saskatchewan: we have a provincial government run by a premier who boldly stated that “going to war with unions” would be an accurate description of his labour policy. It has been: The Saskatchewan Party passed several anti-union bills in its first term. Sadly, the fact that they’ve done so with public support really shows that people are clueless about what unions do for them.

Even if you’re not in a union you probably benefit from them. Unions, especially in the public sector, put upward pressure on salaries by forcing private firms to compete harder for workers. Unions are also one of the very few forces able to organize against the whole tax-cut era we’ve had foisted on us by politicians looking out for their rich business buddies. It’s unions sticking up for things like social programs and public investment — which, obviously, is a big reason they’re always being pummeled.

Unions do a hell of a lot better job looking out for your interests than organizations like the Canadian Taxpayer’s Institute and Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Unless you’re a multi-millionaire. You know, I’m guessing you aren’t.

You can read a good, short piece about some of the good things unions do here, though it’s got an American focus. And here’s today’s Canadian labour news, about the coming battle against massive public sector job cuts. If you really want to melt your eyeballs on a computer screen — and who doesn’t! — the current prairie dog has a great, zillion-word feature here. Of course you could leave the house, enjoy the beautiful weather and pick up a hard copy: I’m sure there are still some kicking around in our oft-tagged street boxes and at Safeways, 7-11s and other places.

So that’s that! Hooray for unions — we’d be screwed without ’em. And a happy Labour Day to everyone. Feel free to share your organized labour stories and remarks in the comments below.

Bad Tippers Are Bad People

The Miami New Times food blog Short Order has a list of the top 10 bad celebrity tippers. From the article:

We would like to think of these wealthy stars as feeling at least a little gracious toward the public that has helped catapult them to the top. This is especially true when that member of the public is literally serving the celebrity, as when a waiter brings them their meal and drinks. I’m not saying every fabulously wealthy person has to be as generous as Johnny Depp, who while filming Public Enemies reportedly enjoyed a $2,600 meal with friends and left a $1,500 tip. And in 2009, Depp is said to have handed a lucky waiter a $4,000 tip.

Actually, maybe I am saying that every fabulously wealthy person has to be like Johnny Depp. But they’re not. And numerous websites apparently keep track of these things. We took a look at a slew of such sites and put together a composite list of the worst tippers among them.

(I found the link on the excellent blog Kotke).

Look, when you dine out or go out for drinks, you have to tip. I’ve occasionally met alleged progressives who don’t tip on principle — they say they don’t want to support an inherently exploitative service industry economy, or some such. A good-sounding rationalization that’s either a sign of epic disconnection between ideology and reality or, more likely, a sleazy cover for being a cheapskate asshole.

I always look forward to seeing how such (inevitably well-paid) heroes of the working class defend themselves against charges they’re selfish misers. Fortunately such creatures are rare, but they’re always memorable.

The bottom line: Buying a meal, or appy appetizer, snack, treat or drink? Tip. Coffee? tip. Latte? Tip more. Get a haircut? Tip. Can’t afford to tip? Then you can’t afford what you’re buying.