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Posts Tagged ‘sam katz’

Photo from CTV Winnipeg

Eliminator-RC recently moved their business into a new storefront on Higgins.  This move took both money and hard work, not just from owners Mike and Laurrie Gobeil, but from their family, friends, and contacts in various trades.  Like many other investments, the initial cost of setting up the new location is more than someone would pay for an empty building.  That’s because the investment is based on future revenues, and not on the “market value” of the property.  And this revenue comes from good products, good service, and a good location.  Now the City of Winnipeg intends to take away the location and force the Gobeils to start over with less money than they need to set up a new store.  And on top of that, there is no compensation from the city for the stress and loss of business that expropriation will bring.

This is all in the name of progress, to move Waterfront Drive over so that a pier can be built for the new Disraeli.  But like many other decisions made in this city, there are good alternatives that are not being considered.   Expropriation is unnecessary.

Bridge piers don't always need to block roads.

Yes, the current bridge design requires a pier to be placed where Waterfront Drive currently lies.  However, this does not automatically mean that Waterfront Drive needs to be placed where Eliminator-RC currently stands.  Even if the bridge pier is not redesigned to allow the road to flow underneath (which is more difficult technically and would likely increase costs and delay construction), it is possible to temporarily reroute Waterfront through MacDonald Ave and Gomez Street until the new bridge is complete.  At that time, Waterfront can be shifted to the West instead of the East.  That shift may also be temporary, as the development plans for Point Douglas with regards to both the Provincial Park plan and the Higgins Realignment / Louise Bridge Reconstruction may call for Waterfront to follow the river eastwards.  This will obviously depend on whether or not the industries in the path of such a redirection move to new locations as part of the long-term plans for the Point.

So why hasn’t city looked at these alternatives?  I don’t know the answer to that, just as I don’t know why the city did not look at a temporary span to double the capacity of the Louise Bridge during Disraeli Construction, or why the city needed to tear down a community centre a year before its replacement facility was built.  If I were to guess, I’d say the city doesn’t look at alternatives because the mayor and councillors don’t think they need to.  Mike and Laurrie aren’t going to be able to stop the city unless they can convince the province to get involved.  Barring that, their best hope may be a mayor who is willing to say as part of his or her election platform that they will do what is necessary to prevent the destruction of a longtime Point Douglas business.

Are there any mayoral candidates who are willing to stand up for a local business and its loyal customers?  Or simply to stand up for common sense?

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I’ve heard a rumour recently that there is an NDP-affiliated councillor considering a run against Mayor Katz in 2010; I won’t mention which one, as it’s not my duty to ruin people’s surprises, but I do think it’s nice to see the potential for a competitive mayoral race.

If this individual wants to run, he or she will need to make that decision soon, obviously.  In reality, the decision should have been made sometime over the summer, so that this new competitor could have returned to council in September with a bang, getting some press coverage going and framing the big issue(s) of the day.

Mayor Sam Katz is very popular according to opinion polls (see Bart’s WFP article from summer); this is despite many recent events that seem to have angered an increasingly vocal opposition, an opposition that may or may not be increasing in size.

As a dirty Liberal, my vote and support is not a given either for Mayor Katz or for the Mysterious NDP Candidate, but I do think that a real campaign from a challenger could give the voters in Winnipeg a chance to reflect on what kind of model they would like to see in this city.

There are two different models, each with disparaging names for the other.  But to try to keep some objectivity, I’ll call them the City-as-a-Business and the City-as-a-Benefactor models.  These models are based on a) how Winnipeg is currently run, and on b) how I would expect the city to be run based on the leadership of the NDP-supported challenger.   One model implies financial efficiency, perhaps at the cost of social programs, while the other gives the impression that the public good is paramount, and that this is achieved by a healthy dose of public money.

Here’s a handy comparison of these models:

City-as-a-Business (Mayor Katz)

1.    Revenue: Property taxes must stay frozen at all costs, and business taxes must be reduced wherever possible.  This could mean service cuts and user fees, with citizens paying only for what they use while being expected to accept that the city can’t do everything for them.

2.    Governance: Executive Policy Committee  reigns supreme, and the Mayor controls EPC (that’s why they call it his cabinet).  City Council Meetings are seen as a noisy formality, where it’s best to push things through as quickly as possible before the “negative nellies” have a chance to criticize every little decision.  The opposition may be angry, but since they don’t have the numbers to change anything, they don’t seem to be considered too much of a threat as long as issues don’t have a chance to linger.  Mayor Katz decides the direction and policy of the city, with input from his chosen city staff.  It is possible that the Mayor will also rely on the results of the OurWinnipeg consultation process, but no one knows for sure.  Mayor Katz’s reign is seen as efficient, because there is no need for three months of negotiation for every initiative as it moves its way through the decision-making process; sometimes decisions can go from one committee to the next on the same day.

3.    Relations with the Provincial Government: Mayor Katz has maintained a good relationship with the Province of Manitoba, and along with Councillor Swandel has been able to secure operating funds from the province to cover shortfalls in the budget.  The City-as-a-Business model has worked well with the Doer government, and it is expected that it will continue to work well with the Selinger government.

City-as-a-Benefactor (The Mayoralty of the Mysterious Stranger)

1.    Revenue: The belief is that property taxes should rise, and that businesses should pay their fair share of various taxes, with no cuts to business tax.  The middle and upper classes would support the lower-income families through tax dollars, rather than having blanket user fees, with the view that all citizens must have access to services in order for this city to prosper socially and culturally.

2.    Governance: Due to the current balance of power in council (which isn’t likely to change too much in the next civic election), the challenger would not have an automatic majority on most issues.  In fact, he or she would likely be in the minority for some initiatives.  EPC would change, most likely including representatives of all three major parties (Conservative, Liberal and NDP).  Initiatives from the mayor or from any councillor would not have a default number of supporters or opponents, leaving each issue to be reviewed on individual merit.  This may slow down the process of EPC and Council, but more debate and consensus-building is assumed to create better results.

3.    Relations with the Provincial Government: While there will be kinship between an NDP mayor and the current NDP government of Manitoba, it may also be more difficult to negotiate when the city has become an ideological junior partner whose mayor is more left-wing than the premier.  Also, the looser power structure within Council may serve to weaken negotiations with the provincial government.

Any challenger wishing to promote the City-as-a-Benefactor model needs to convince Winnipeg voters that the City-as-a-Business model is failing them.  It’s hard to argue that people should vote for someone who will raise their taxes, so the challenger will need a bigger issue to get people’s attention.  Service cuts probably won’t work as a focus, since most Winnipeggers haven’t noticed any cuts so far, and the “photo radar as cash grab” concept has limited appeal, particularly among the Winnipeggers who will actually show up to vote.

So what issue exists that could command the attention of Winnipeg voters?  Crime is a definite possibility, although it’s not an easy target for an NDP-affiliated candidate.   One other idea is to focus on governance itself.  It doesn’t sound like an interesting topic, but it may be possible to paint a picture of the various Winnipeggers who have felt abandoned, betrayed, or tricked by the current civic system.  Perhaps the challenger could collect quotes and interviews from Winnipeggers about the water utility, demolished community centres, or the Riverside Park story that will never die?  A nice crime story or two could fit in there nicely, too.

The notion of “Making Winnipeg Our City Again” isn’t as exciting as the Obama campaign or even the ongoing soap opera in and around the House of Commons.  But it is something that could resonate with the small minority of Winnipeggers who will cast their ballot in 2010.

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MP Jim Maloway is taking a page from Pat Martin’s playbook and prematurely announcing that the provincial government will be contributing at least $50 million to the city for a new four lane Disraeli to be built alongside the existing bridge.  The plan is to keep the current bridge open until the new bridge has been completed, which would eliminate most of the construction gridlock.

Mayor Sam Katz has responded to Maloway’s announcement, saying that it will cost $200 million to create the bridge that Maloway describes including Active Transportation.  (it’s unclear if the $200 million would include a separate Active Transportation bridge, or Active Transportation lanes on a new Disraeli span.

Quite a few people are upset that the plan is for only four lanes, and not six.  There are traffic delays along Henderson just north of the Disraeli bridge, so many residents would like to see a six lane bridge to ease congestion.  Unfortunately, a six lane bridge won’t ease that congestion, because the bottleneck happens at Hespeler Avenue and will continue to happen no matter how many bridge lanes are added.

One of the things about traffic flow is that limited-access expressways are different from regular thoroughfares.  Generally, a regular thoroughfare requires one extra lane both ways compared to an expressway, because it needs a lane for turning, bus stops, and cyclists.   Henderson is a thoroughfare, and that third lane greatly increases the efficiency of the road, because it usually means two unobstructed lanes available to traffic.  This gives Henderson as many unobstructed lanes as Disraeli has, since Disraeli has ramps for turning and for bus stops.

Disraeli Freeway is a true freeway for most of its length; of course, it’s an older freeway, so its on and off ramps are shorter than most.  It also has the issue of a pedestrian crossing on its Sutherland Avenue ramps, which slow traffic slightly.  Even with these shortcomings, the Disraeli does not have any major bottlenecks.  In truth, while traffic often slows during rush hours, particularly heading away from Downtown in the evening, traffic rarely comes to a stop on Disraeli.  When traffic is stopped, it is normally due to traffic backups from the lights at Hespeler Avenue, and in particular the light for turning onto Hespeler.

The addition of a third lane will not eliminate traffic backups at Hespeler, as it will not lower the amount of time spent at the Hespeler traffic lights.  There are only two ways to improve traffic flow on Henderson:

1.    Widen Henderson Hwy from three lanes to four, forcing business and residents to relocate: This is not considered a realistic or practical solution.
2.    Lessen the amount of traffic on Henderson Hwy or on Hespeler/Talbot/Midwinter: moving traffic to another route would reduce the bottleneck.

Other options do not result in better flow.  Removing access to Hespeler from Northbound Henderson would cause as much or more traffic problems as commuters attempt to use Johnson or a side street to reach the Redwood Bridge.  Building an interchange for Henderson, Hespeler, Talbot and Disraeli is even less practical than widening Henderson itself due to space limitations.

Assuming that population growth in North Kildonan, Transcona, and outlying municipalities will continue, it is reasonable to assume that traffic volume on Henderson will continue to increase.  Unless alternatives to even more cars on Henderson Hwy can be found, no amount of investment on Disraeli will prepare the Northeast for more traffic.

There are three major road projects occurring in Northeast Winnipeg over the next decade:

1.    Disraeli Bridge reconstruction
2.    Chief Peguis Trail extension from Henderson Hwy to Lagimodiere Blvd
3.    Louise Bridge relocation and reconstruction

All three projects are ambitious and will change the way traffic flows in the Northeast.  However, these three projects are missing one very important piece: connections between them.  Chief Peguis will function well for commuters who live at the North edge of Winnipeg, but will not alleviate traffic issues closer to downtown.  Commuters travelling to and from downtown will still need to take Henderson Hwy, and many will continue to take the smaller East-West routes to get to Lagimodiere and beyond.  The best route to take commuters from downtown to Lagimodiere is currently underused: the twin routes, Gateway Rd and Raleigh Street.

Gateway and Raleigh have the potential to become part of an efficient thoroughfare that runs directly from The Forks to Lagimodiere and the Perimeter.  This route does not need to become a high-speed freeway (or neighbourhood annihilation road); it can have speeds ranging from 50-70 kph as it runs diagonally to the Northeast corner of Winnipeg.  This route comes with room for a transitway and with an Active Transportation corridor that is mostly developed already.

Here is one possible path for the Gateway / Raleigh route (tongue-in-cheek suggestion: we could call it Gary Doer Blvd if that brings in some provincial money):

1.    The south end of Gary Doer Blvd is where Higgins Avenue meets Waterfront Drive.  The new road runs north to the CPR tracks and follows them to the Red River at the eastern tip of Point Douglas, where it crosses the river and Archibald Street via the new four-lane Louise Bridge.
2.    Once over Archibald, Gary Doer Blvd heads under the Nairn Overpass.  This portion is the most complex of the entire plan, because there are three rail lines to negotiate to arrive under Nairn Avenue.  Part of the new Louise Bridge is the offshoot that leads to the upcoming Russ Wyatt Parkway, which leads to Transcona.  This portion won’t of course be started until after Russ is crowned king of Winnipeg in 2020 (my timeline could be a little off).
3.    From under Nairn, Gary Doer Blvd crosses Talbot and heads along Raleigh and Gateway.  The boulevard has three lanes each way, but the right lane is a diamond lane.  It’s not a diamond lane for buses, which actually use the center lane to access their bus turnouts along the Northeast Pioneers Greenway, but for turning on and off the boulevard from the various side streets that pour into the road.
4.    North of the new intersection with Concordia and Kimberley, Gary Doer Blvd’s southbound lanes run alongside the northbound lanes, completely East of the Greenway.  The five residential streets from Helmsdale to Roberta Avenues see the once busy Raleigh Street replaced with a one-way and single-lane road to connect the streets to their back lanes and to each other, with outgoing traffic using Golspie St to access Kimberley.  This allows Centennial and Anderson parks to connect directly to the Greenway without any roads in between.  This arrangement continues, with only minor adjustments, all the way to Springfield Rd.
5.    Chief Peguis Trail and Gary Doer Blvd meet with an interchange, the only one that Gary Doer Blvd has between the Louise Bridge and the Perimeter.
6.    After Chief Peguis, Gary Doer Blvd continues to Knowles Avenue.  At Knowles, the route turns almost due east, where it connects to Lagimodiere and the Perimeter as part of a turbo roundabout.

Has the time come for a serious study of Gary Doer Blvd?  I think it has.  It seems silly to spend over half a billion dollars over the next decade on transportation in Northeast Winnipeg without having a complete solution in mind.

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Can Russ Wyatt win against Mayor Katz in the next civic election?

I don’t think so.  It’s not that I don’t think Wyatt is scoring some points right now against Katz, but I don’t know if anyone can defeat an incumbent mayor in Winnipeg, especially one who is still as popular as Sam Katz.  Despite how a very vocal minority feels about him, Sam Katz is still well-liked by a majority of Winnipeggers.

There are some parallels between the 2010 Civic Election and the current NDP leadership race.  Before Selinger launched his bid for leadership, it was a fight between two cabinet ministers (and apparently a member from Portage la Prairie).  Before Selinger, anyone who really understands the breakdown of NDP membership and expected union support could predict the outcome (I don’t have that info, so I can’t say if Swan or Ashton had the advantage).  Now that Selinger’s in, the three-way race has become much more unpredictable.  I personally don’t think that Swan would win against Selinger alone, and I don’t know if we would have won a two-way race against Ashton, but it looks like he has a better chance of winning because he has two well-known opponents instead of once.

The same could be said for a mayoral race, as long as there’s emphasis on the phrase “well-known“.  In the most recent civic election, Katz ran against Marianne Cerilli and Kaj Hasselriis.  While Cerilli had limited name recognition, Hasselriis had almost none among the general populace.  This led to Katz easily defeating his opponents, and from the results it didn’t look like either challenger would have been able to win in a two-way race, either.  Things would have been different had Katz run against two big names, but that would certainly have not guaranteed a different result.  Indeed, some may say that the leadership race and the civic election are completely different animals, as the provincial leadership is based on delegates and rounds of ballots, so a civic example would be nice.  Also in the 2006 election, Brenda Leipsic defeated incumbent Donald Benham and a third strong candidate, Jennifer Zyla, in River Heights – Fort Garry.  Both challengers had local name recognition as well as extensive media coverage.  It’s not possible to determine where Zyla’s 4000 votes would have gone if she had not ran, but less than half of them would have been enough for Benham to win.

So can Russ Wyatt win?  I still don’t think so.  What Wyatt would need is someone to split votes that would normally go to Katz, and anyone who could bring the kind of challenge needed would need to start their pre-writ campaigning around Christmas.  The chances of any big players getting involved don’t seem that good, and many big names might take more from Wyatt than from Katz, who seems to have a pretty solid following among conservative voters.

If I was Russ Wyatt, I would continue doing what he’s doing, making waves and building his reputation, but I would not give into the temptation to run in 2010.  If he wants a shot at the mayor’s chair, it would be an easier time in 2014.  At that time, he’ll be running against Katz 2.0, whether that’s Steeves or Swandel or even Fielding, and his chances will improve considerably.

Note on the EPC booting of Wyatt: while I can’t say I wouldn’t feel the same way as the mayor does about having an opponent in “cabinet”, it certainly did not look good for the mayor to kick Wyatt off the Executive Policy Committee.  Of course, that still won’t be enough to hurt Katz’s chances for re-election, so maybe the optics don’t really matter that much.

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The biggest problem with a new idea is that it often comes surrounded with so much noise that we can’t tell if the idea itself is worth considering.  There have been rumours and conspiracy theories regarding the new water utility, along with city hall’s rebuttal sales pitch, and it leaves many Winnipeggers unsure of what the city is actually planning.

From what I can see, most Winnipeggers believe in one of several different notions of what this utility would be:

1.    Privatization of all water: this is the idea that Winnipeg Water and Waste will be replaced with a multinational company that takes all the money it can from Winnipeg while doing as little work as possible.  This would be similar to the fiascos in Cochabamba, Bolivia and in Hamilton, where private companies took advantage of poorly-assembled deals and the public suffered.

2.    Business as usual: it’s just some internal adjustments and reorganization, and no big deal.  If anything, it’s just a chance for Mayor Katz’s opponents to take shots at him, or conversely, it’s a way for the mayor to distance himself from upcoming rate hikes.

3.    It’s a progressive way to trim the fat in the public service and a great way to bring environmental innovations and new revenue streams.  It also removes temptation from the city to raise water rates as a hidden tax increase.

The notion that this is a plot to privatize our water system is incorrect, as is the notion that nothing will change.  So that leaves us with option #3, but there are some very big risks involved.

In a perfect world, the corporatization of our water utility will lead to better efficiencies and innovations, and will create a stable service that is not affected by the whims of city government.  In a perfect world, our publicly-owned utility would have all of the cost savings and dynamics of a private company but without the endless drive for higher profits.

But we’re not dealing with a perfect world; we’re dealing with a world where city staff and city council are taking a risk on something new in the hopes that things will work out well, and where private companies will be placing bids on projects simply so they can make more money in the future than they make at present.

A perfect contract can bring us needed improvements to our water and sewage systems, with all of the risks of cost overruns and mismanagement being shouldered by the private company and not our city.  But can we get a company to agree to such a contract, or will we need to shoulder at least some of the risk?  And what happens if the company goes bankrupt, or simply defrauds us?  Even if we have the right to sue the company for negligence or wrongdoing, will we win the case, and even then, will the company actually be able to pay us our due?

There are risks involved in corporatization of our water and waste service and the planned inclusion of private partnerships.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks in keeping the status quo.  We have $605 million in upgrades that need to be made in the North End and South End Pollution Control Centres.  Our most recent capital water projects, a water treatment plant and an upgrade to the West End Pollution Control Centre, resulted in overruns of over 45% and 80% respectively, and a total of $116 million in unexpected over-spending.  According to the city, these overruns were due in part to the fact that we needed outside expertise to complete the upgrades, and that outside expertise in the form of consultants (rather than partners) was far more costly than predicted.

Consultants have no vested interest in bringing a project in within budget, because they receive no incentives to do so.  In fact, project overruns result in more profit for consultants.  This doesn’t mean that consultants are maliciously fleecing the city at every opportunity, but the temptation exists.  As the people at Despair, Inc. say about consulting:

If you’re not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.


Mayor Katz explains the new partnership model as the private companies having “skin in the game”.  This is a term from famed US investor Warren Buffet that denotes a relationship where the people running the company (or in this case, the project) have invested their own money, and are therefore just as motivated to see it succeed.  This could be through direct financing, or through the assumption of financial risk.

Using the two most recent capital projects as a guide, we can assume that the $605 million in upgrades can easily result in cost overruns of between 45% and 80%.  That’s a total of $270 – 480 million of extra costs that are a definite possibility on these projects.  The city’s plan is to move as much of the responsibility of these extra costs onto the private partner as possible, so that if overruns occur, the city would not be left to pay for them alone.  Of course, the ultimate hope is that the private partner would ensure that these overruns don’t happen, since every dollar over is a loss in profit, as opposed to extra consulting revenue.  In addition, the city hopes that this utility will then sell the service of its upgraded facilities to other communities in the Capital Region that will otherwise also be required to upgrade their waste treatment facilities in the next few years.  This will help to pay back some of this large initial investment, and will bring future revenues to the utility.  These service deals will be much easier to negotiate when the politics of city vs. bedroom community is removed.

The city needs to do something to fix a very big problem that already exists in our water services.  There may be other ways to prevent the cost overruns in future capital projects, but I haven’t heard any suggested as part of this debate.  The only rebuttals to the city’s plan have been tales of all of the bad things that could happen, rather than any alternatives.  This is partly the city’s fault, because it has not communicated well enough that we are dealing with a serious water and waste crisis in Winnipeg.  We have millions of dollars in upgrades coming, we’re not sure exactly how we’ll pay for it all, and we definitely can’t afford any large cost overruns.  Our water rates are likely to increase substantially over the next few years to pay for these needed upgrades, no matter what form our water and waste services take.

The city needs to be honest with us about the water and waste crisis.  While I know that the mayor wants to keep things upbeat, sometimes it’s important to tell us things that we may not like to hear.  Unless Winnipeggers understand the full reason why this utility is being planned, they’ll be left to ponder the various rumours and conspiracy theories out there.  And there’s no shortage of rumours and conspiracy theories on this one.

Meanwhile, the opponents of this new water utility need to present alternatives to corporatization of water and waste that will deal with the serious risk of cost overruns.  Show us that you have a better idea.  And please, stop using the term “privatization” to describe the utility, since privatization is not at all what the city is looking at.

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Mayor Sam Katz is speaking out against what some might call an NDP conspiracy theory.  Apparently he believes that some members of the NDP government, particularly Minister of Finance Greg Selinger, are trying to prepare the way for an NDP takeover of city council.

From what I can tell (or rather, imagine without any evidence), their diabolical plan seems to be as follows:

  1. Reduce funding for the City of Winnipeg budgets while throwing money into everything else under the sun, including high profile projects in Winnipeg that will forever be seen as Gary Doer’s legacy.  This will show that the NDP government is generous, while the mayor is stingy and ineffective.  Part of this step is to make sure that any contentious issues are placed squarely at the foot of the mayor, as opposed to the province, where true authority on many issues lies.
  2. Outlaw corporate and union contributions, knowing full well that unions have other tactics for donating to campaigns through the labour of members or the election-time issue campaigns they run in support of the NDP.  This is supposed to attack at Sammy’s support, by not only forcing all business owners to donate in the names of their friends and relatives, but also by restricting the amount of money he can personally donate to his campaign.  This also moves the issue of unfair campaigns into the municipal arena, while creating a smoke screen for the NDP’s provincial election funding scandal.
  3. Move Dan Vandal into position to be the next mayor, bringing their formidable machine into play in the next civic election.  This machine will be strengthened by turning the opinion of all NDP supporters firmly against the mayor (see step #1).  The NDP machine will also support NDP candidates against Katz’s most loyal councillors.
  4. Once Dan Vandal becomes the next mayor and surrounds himself with a slate of NDP councillors, the Tory and Liberal councillors will be demoralized and will eventually accept their new permanent home in opposition in this socialist paradise known as Manitoba.
  5. Repeat as necessary in Brandon, Steinbach, Winkler, and Morden.

I suspect that this has long been a concern of the mayor and his allies.  It’s no secret that there are two slates in city council.  A few years ago, I would have called it the mayor’s slate and everyone else.  I think I was mistaken.  It seems to be the NDP slate and everyone else, including the mayor.

I’ve certainly had my share of disagreements on urban matters with Mayor Katz, Councillors Steeves and Swandel, and many other elected officials.  It’s natural that people have different opinions on issues.  I’ve even said things about the mayor that I’ve come to regret (well, one thing), and I was wrong to even entertain for a second the idea that the mayor is involved in some vast right-wing conspiracy.  There is no vast right-wing conspiracy, because there’s no need for one.  People who have views to the right of the political centre are pretty upfront and honest about what they are trying to achieve: a business friendly climate, low taxes, crime prevention using a deterrent and enforcement approach, etc.  There aren’t too many surprises there.

Now the mayor seems to be convinced that a vast left-wing conspiracy exists in the NDP.  Since we all know that Premier Doer is as much a Tory as he is a Dipper, he’s apparently not involved.  Perhaps the alleged puppeteers of this conspiracy are the same Machiavellians planning the new post-Doer NDP.

I like conspiracies; I think it’s really fun to hypothesize and postulate about what this or that shadowy group is planning and why.  But I look at this vast left-wing conspiracy with quite a bit of skepticism.

Sure, it would fit in with my beliefs that the NDP elite are about power at all costs, rather than any ideology.  It would match my notion that Mr. Doer’s lieutenants are actively jostling for position, scrambling to be at the top of the pile when the Premier retires.  It would answer my question of why the province is working so hard to make the city look bad.

But conspiracies aren’t easy.  You need strong leaders, and committed devotees who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the cause.  The NDP only has one strong leader, and he doesn’t seem to be in charge of this effort.  And I doubt that the people at the top levels of the NDP pyramid are willing to sacrifice their positions for anything.

Here’s what I think is really going on: the Premier is spending his political capital while he can, and the rest of the NDP caucus is covering their own behinds on an individual basis.  Selinger did just that when he asked for a CYA letter for the campaign finance irregularities.  Health Minister Theresa Oswald does that every time she declares something akin to “I believe that every member of this House, every parent in the room, knows that waiting one day is too long when your child is in pain…” while avoiding any changes that could upset the NDP establishment.  And Mr. Blaikie is becoming quite astute with the tactic as he spends his time attacking Tories and making fun of Liberals, rather than putting forward the concerns of his constituents that are being ignored by the provincial government.

So where do I stand on the municipal campaign reform bill?  I do think that an equal playing field in civic politics would be nice, but I’m not sure that this legislation will make it so.  The bill may increase the strength of party politics at city hall, as candidates may start to need party support to handle tasks that perhaps could have been handled by a candidate’s deep pockets.  I don’t think Mayor Katz will have trouble adjusting his fundraising, as much of it officially came from individuals anyway.  So I am not sure if this bill provides tangible benefits in the quest for better municipal accountability.  I would have to be shown the merits before I would personally agree with this bill.  Without knowing the merits, all I can see is a political distraction and even more polarization at city hall.

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