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Posts Tagged ‘gord steeves’

Maybe I can’t stay out of it. I have a big mouth, you see…

Lately the Manitoba Liberals have entered another exciting backstabbing phase, much like the last season of treachery that took place during the Elmwood By-Election and 2009 AGM. (Notice how I avoided “season of treason”? You’re welcome.)

One of the best things about Liberals is that we tend to be independent thinkers. That often results in the best ideas coming from the Liberals.

One of the worst things about Liberals is that we tend to be independent thinkers. That often results in people arguing in public and creating an impression that we can’t get alone with one another.

The NDP is successful because they know how to keep control. There are people in charge, and everyone else does what they’re told. That is why NDP policy conventions result in very little actual policy, since the real policies are decided by a small group of people beforehand and the less important people (known in the NDP charter as “members”) are generally ignored.

The Conservatives work in a slightly different way, but the result is the same. A small inner circle makes the calls, and everyone else follows orders. I’d guess around three of four people in Manitoba actually have any inkling as to whether or not Hugh is planning on privatizing Hydro; one of them may be Hugh, but I’m not sure on that.

I like that Liberals aren’t like this, that when you ask a Liberal to do something, they’re just as likely to argue with you about it than to just go and get it done. But this makes us bad at elections, since elections are about following a singular vision from start to finish while getting as many party volunteers to help out as possible.

Now we have a situation where we are fighting an election against two other major parties. One is tired and thinks “status quo” is working just fine for our sky-high crime rate and continued health care woes. The other is in my opinion about as trustworthy as the male enhancement e-mails I keep receiving for some odd and confidence-busting reason. But instead of seizing on opportunity, there are a good number of Liberals, some quite prominent, doing their best to mess up the chance to win new seats.

I understand that Anita Neville and friends are upset that one-time Liberal Gord Steeves decided to run for the Conservatives in Seine River. But strategically it makes no sense to support the NDP and a health minister who should have resigned years ago for her apparent indifference to a man’s death at HSC, no matter how personally offended they are by Mr. Steeves. (These endorsements are also an insult to the Liberal candidate for Seine River, Troy Osiname.) This is especially ridiculous considering that Gord Steeves has not changed; he is the same person he was five or ten years ago. Being angry at Gord Steeves switching sides due to opportunism is about as sensible as shaking your fist at the sun for setting at dusk, or cursing out your unneutered dog for humping your leg while you’re trying to watch The Amazing Race. It’s just the way things are. Anyone who believes that Gord Steeves was a Liberal due to deep ideological conviction must also believe that Wendy’s Baconator was created as a cure for the obesity epidemic.

Another story is the racial slurs being tossed around about Joe Chan in Logan. Now it’s not news to many political types that the NDP doesn’t like Joe, since Joe decided to exhibit some of that independent thinking that’s not well-received in orange-and-green-town. I don’t believe that the NDP orchestrated the letter, and I doubt that many people on the Liberal side believe that, either. For one thing, it doesn’t help the NDP, but it probably doesn’t do much for the Liberals, either. I think it just makes more people stay home on Election Day, and almost as importantly, makes potential volunteers for all parties wary of getting involved in politics.

For a party that the NDP and Conservatives love to dismiss, the Liberals are certainly getting some attention. I just wish the attention was a little more productive.

I’ve been mostly absent for much of the campaign due not just to being lazy and selfish, but for other reasons involving my work and personal life. But I’m helping out as much as I can now, working to make sure that the Liberal Voice is not silenced in this province. Because if we don’t have Liberals in Manitoba, we’re left with two parties that are practically allergic to critical thinking and new ideas. I don’t think there’s anything good about that.

There is an antique store that always has “close out” signs, as though he’s trying to clear out stock because he’s shutting down. Of course, this has been going on since the last millennium. I may or may not post occasional items on this blog between now and the year 3000.

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So it’s official: a 10-4 vote at city council in favour of selling the parkade (Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press).

Also, a post from Policy Frog on how the vote came about.

I personally believe that whenever a government sells off an asset that makes money, it should be for the right reasons.  The right reasons are not:

a.    To get some extra spending money.
b.    To gain personal reward for elected officials or their friends and family.

Despite the $400,000 commission for Mayor Katz’s acquaintances at Shindico, I don’t think that b) was the reason for today’s sale.  And despite the possibility that the mayor’s perception among the minority of Winnipeggers who would vote against him will be hurt by the involvement of Shindico, I doubt the majority of voters are particularly concerned.

However, I do worry about that first reason.  Sometimes when we’re having a tight quarter at the Wolfrom house, the fanciful idea of selling stuff comes up: “we could sell the — for some extra cash.”  But in truth, we know that a little bit of extra money at the moment won’t make up for long-standing financial problems.  The root of the problem isn’t that I haven’t sold enough of my stuff, it’s that I spent all of my money on multiple copies of Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection (backups in case of fire, flood, or act of Gunge).

In the city of Winnipeg’s case, the budget problems aren’t caused by not enough fire sales, it’s caused by a property tax freeze that has gone on longer than anyone thought would be possible (among other things that are off-topic).  Now, I don’t like paying property tax, but I’d certainly pay a little extra if it’s required [insert qualifiers here].  This would work if the Education Levy was removed from our property tax bills, with funding coming from the Manitoba government’s general revenues (but that’s another discussion).

So what are the right reasons for selling a government-owned revenue-generating asset?  I can think of only one at the moment: it makes sense to sell such an asset if the sale will improve or at least maintain the functioning of the asset (if it has value for the citizens, which this asset does) while providing favourable compensation to the government.  The city’s real estate officials estimated that $21 million was the minimum price to make the sale worthwhile, and the final sale will be for $24 million.  Repairs to the parkade are estimated to cost between $2.5-12 million.  According to Winnipeg Parking Authority figures, building a new underground parkade of similar size would cost approximately $45 million, not including the cost of the land.

The City of Winnipeg earns parking revenue ($1.5 million) as well as $326,000 in lease payments per year.  Selling the property will replace this income with new property taxes of $407,250.00 (which will probably not increase nearly as quickly as the parking revenue over the next few years).  This results in approx. $1.4 million less revenue every year.  Assuming that the repairs would have cost the city $12 million (judging from recent city construction costs which are at or over budget), the city would have lost between six and seven years worth of revenue had the repairs taken place, assuming no major increase in parking costs (note: the repairs may increase the value of the asset, but if it doesn’t increase revenue, it won’t increase by much).  Realistic increases would probably have resulted in the city only losing around five years of revenue, but we’ll use six in our comparison.   Instead, the city is receiving $23.6 million, which compensates for the city’s lost revenue of $1.4 million (income minus the new property tax) for 16 years, again assuming flat parking revenues.  This means that the city will be receiving in one payment the same amount of revenue that it would have collected from 2010 to the end of 2031.

Those calculations actually make the deal sound pretty good, but at the end of the day we’re still losing an asset, and we won’t make the money back over the long run unless we can manage a compound interest rate of almost 5% a year.  In reality, the money will be spent over the next few years on capital projects or to cover operating costs.

So at the end of the day, just as Councillor Steeves alluded to at council, it all comes down to individual philosophies about which services the city should run (and by extension, which assets it should own).  The existence of a Winnipeg Parking Authority had led me to believe that parking was once of those services, but I could be mistaken.  But it’s not just about parking; from what I can tell, the city of Winnipeg is currently run by a majority of councillors who honestly believe that the city should strip itself of services and assets until it runs as few services as possible, allowing private enterprise to handle the balance.  That is why garbage collection has been privatized, and why the water utility will become as private as the city can make it (which is around 49% private, I believe).  That is why the city would rather lease space for libraries instead of building new assets, and would rather tear down and sell the land where an underperforming community centre once stood.

I personally believe that any services and assets that either a) can be run efficiently by the city, or b) would not be as safe in the hands of private entities, should remain owned and operated by the city.  As a revenue-generating entity, parking can be handled privately or publicly, since it’s not a life or death service, while water utilities and fire and police departments are essential for human health and safety and should remain publicly controlled.  So in this case, it’s about the numbers, and for the Winnipeg Square Parkade the numbers aren’t that bad for either scenario.

So my problem isn’t with the parkade when it comes to city council; my problem is with the philosophy.  I’m trying my best to look at both sets of numbers to make up my mind, but I think philosophy is far too often the deciding factor for city councillors on both sides.  One side says “don’t own, lease” while the other side declares that you can’t trust the private sector.  Hopefully, we’ll see more councillors like John Orlikow, who votes on the issues not as part of a bloc, but as someone who is trying to represent his constituents.  Maybe if we see more councillors acting like that, I won’t be as worried about the city firesales of 2011.

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