Archive for October, 2012

The West Side Washing Machine

Frances: I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was.

Audrey: He worked really hard, Grandma.

Art: So do washing machines.

This scene passed my mind when I read Sean Shaw’s reported post-election analysis of the result of his campaign.

Shaw, who was also defeated by Heidt in 2009, said he was surprised by the defeat. “For me, it’s disappointing that we could put that level of effort in (and lose). Quite frankly, we outworked our opponent completely. In the end, it came down to name recognition,” Shaw said.

Shaw’s defeat surprised some people, including Shaw, but not yours truly.

Leave aside for a moment Shaw’s assertion that he “outworked” his “opponent completely”, because he has no idea how hard Davies and his team worked.

I suspect the bigger problem was Shaw himself.

Allow me to anecdote. I’m a part of our local community association in Hampton Village, and a few months ago both Davies and Shaw were invited to meet the association members and say a few words at one of our meetings. Here’s my paraphrased recollection of Davies’ speech:

Glad to be here. I was born in the neighborhood, my wife is from the west side, her parents still live here. I plan on being here to raise my girl. I was inspired by two councillors from the west side — Maurice Neault, who passed away, and Myles Heidt, who is retiring — and I hope to carry on their work in serving the people of the west side[, etc.]. I’m sorry, but now I have to go. I’m part of a group that raises money and we have a meeting tonight that I’m late for, but I hope to see you around.

Or something like that.

And here’s my paraphrased recollection of Shaw’s pitch:

Hi. I’m not from Saskatoon but I moved here a few years ago to work and decided to stay. Recently, my wife and I were looking for a house and, because I didn’t know all about the west-side stigma, we moved there. We just moved to Hampton Village and looked at a few houses. In fact [and he turned to me], we looked at a house right beside yours, Rob. We ended up buying a different house because that one was too small, didn’t have a lot of windows. Anyways, we’re here now, and we really like the neighborhood …

Again, I can’t recall this exactly, but that’s the impression I got, and I knew then that Shaw would be in quite a tougher ride than he knew.

Davies had no previous experience as a political candidate. He knew that he would have to reinforce his west side roots, as there is a stigma about living in this part of town, and that both long-time residents and newly arrived families would be sensitive to that. So that was his strong suit and, frankly, he played it well.

Shaw, on the other hand, is a little more experienced. He campaigned for himself in 2009 and, from what I remember, worked his butt off then. You’d think that, given his experience on the doorstep, he’s have his campaign pitch down pretty much pat.

But just look at his response. When he wasn’t creeping me and a few others out by indicating he knew where I lived (and, by extension, insulting me by implying my own house, which is almost exactly the same as my neighbors’, would be inadequate for his own needs), he seemed almost apologetic about living in the west side. We all chose to live over here because he thought that it was the best choice available. I’m sure more than a few of us wish we could afford to live in one of the mansions on Saskatchewan Drive or, at least, if we had the option of living in one of the more popular spots in town, like Stonebridge. But we made our choice, and we don’t need to be reminded that there is a stigma about our part of town.

If I were him, I’d crunch the whole “why I live here” bit to simply”I live in Hampton Village”, and then I’d work on discussing local issues or revealing positions I stand behind. He knew Davies didn’t have much of a policy platform other than take care of the roads and make sure services run smoothly. He could have done a lot of damage distinguishing himself using that tack.

In other words, Shaw didn’t get it. He thought the election was all about him, and that if he checked the right boxes — being informed on issues, knocking on all the doors — that would be good enough. But elections aren’t about the candidate; they’re about the electorate. Yes, the more you meet people, the better off you generally are. But if what I saw was any indication of what he said on the doorstep, then there’s no wonder why he lost. Who wants to listen to a guy be self-deprecating about their shared community?

When a politician gets on my doorstep, I want them to listen to my concerns or, at the very least, I want to know where that politician stands on the issues I care about. That’s what matters.

Davies got it, Shaw didn’t, and that’s why Shaw will have to tap-tap-tap away on his blog for the next four years trying to figure out how to oust a sitting councillor.

And that’s perfectly fine by me.

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Election Reflection

I’m pretty happy with the results of yesterday’s municipal election. The two guys I voted for — Mayor Atchison and newbie Troy Davies — took both their polls in relatively close races.

Both are decent men who seem responsive to the needs of their constituents. I wish they would both be a little more rigid ideologically in the free market sense, but pragmatism is a much more effective approach than the left-wing “progressivism” that always lingers like an acidic fart over Saskatoon’s city council. And these two are certainly more preferable than their respective opponents who seem to be much more eager to mould the city into their own left-wing image.

Personally, I called nine out of 11 races: I wrongly thought that Mike San Miguel might squeak by NDP stalwart Ann Iwanchuk in the west end’s Ward 3, and I didn’t really see 26-year-old Zach Jeffries taking out long-time incumbent Bev Dubois, even knowing that her popularity had waned over the years. Otherwise, I was pretty confident that the rest of the sitting councillors would carry through and that Eric Olauson would take the ward where he was born and raised and since settled down.

Normally, when eight out of nine sitting members of council get a vote of confidence from their constituents, a sane person might read that as an endorsement, more or less, of the status quo. Not The Finger however. No, the senior city beat writer in our newspaper of record interpreted this result as a call for change. Seriously.

Here’s The Finger writing today’s editorial:

In a rapidly growing and changing Saskatoon, the old ways of doing things simply won’t do anymore.

If anything, that’s the message newly elected Mayor Don Atchison has to take away from last night’s down-to-the wire civic election that saw contender Tom Wolf came close – about five percentage points or 3,404 votes – to unseating the three-term incumbent, and which sent one of the mayor’s council allies, Bev Dubois, packing.

[…]

While it might be gleaned from the outcome that Saskatoon voters were not yet ready to adopt the food charter or the 10-year plan to end homelessness, as Mr. Wolf was urging Mr. Atchison to do on Wednesday night, it needs to be recognized that these issues, along with other initiatives such as a more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly Saskatoon that the contender proposed, resonated with nearly 47 per cent of those who cast a ballot in the mayoralty race.

I suspect that if Wolf came within 20 points, The Finger would be writing the same thing. Maybe the citizens of this community are gunning for a more pedestrian- and cycling-friendly transportation system. But maybe they are more interested in expressing their dissatisfaction with the sitting mayor, who didn’t do himself any favours by running an unfocussed, lacklustre campaign. Who knows? After all, Tom Wolf never held back with his smears on the mayor’s past performance, including his incredulous criticism of the mayor’s role in not preventing the three rainiest springs in recent memory from delaying the South Circle Drive project.

Certainly, the criticizing-the-mayor angle resonates more with The Finger, as evidenced by his bylined column which happens to be situated right beside the editorial he wrote:

Over the past few years [Mayor Atchison] has increasingly tried to isolate those councillors with whom he disagreed and given closer counsel to those he saw as allies. It’s clear from how well they did relative to his close results that voters have greater confidence in these councillors than in Atchison’s performance.

But he’s all solely responsible for the cliquey nature of the last council. In spite of the relative youth of this council, it’s time to show greater maturity. Atchison talks about all he wants to get done over the next four years. Among the first things on the agenda must be to rebuild relationships with each of the councillors and ensure that council pulls together.

“Solely responsible for the cliquey nature of the last council”? Is this guy for real? Cliques are based on personal preferences, and there are some councillors who have been very clear that they prefer not to agree with the mayor on most issues. That’s somehow the mayor’s fault?

Take Darren Hill, the recently re-elected councillor and the axis of the anti-Atch clique on council. Petty character Hill hates Atch probably more than anyone else in the city, even more then The Finger. He hates him so much that he has been working diligently to gain control of city council through other means. For instance, two of Darren Hill’s employees ran for city council in other wards with one–Zach Jeffries–winning, yet The Finger doesn’t think this is worth mentioning. Darren Hill was also advising Sean Shaw’s campaign, yet The Finger doesn’t think this is worth mentioning. Darren Hill was also supporting mayoral candidate Tom Wolf’s campaign, yet The Finger doesn’t think this is worth mentioning.

Think about this for a second: one of our veteran city councillors is actively trying to gain control of council by promoting his own allies in other wards, and yet our senior city hall writer blames the mayor for cliquey behavior?

If The Finger doesn’t want to ask the tough questions, maybe I will. Considering the money Tom Wolf was spending (he placed half-page ads in the editorial section and bought 15 minutes of drive-time air on CKOM in the final week of the campaign), who was bankrolling the campaign of Tom Wolf, a previously unelected citizen who came out of nowhere and narrowly lost to a three-term mayor? Why was Darren Hill’s campaign manager from his recent federal election campaign texting messages to Tom Wolf during his first debate? Is Junior Achievement Saskatchewan, whose president and CEO is one Darren Hill, meant to be a recruiting ground for city councillors?

These aren’t difficult questions to ask, and I think they are more than appropriate to consider. I just expect that if The Finger is accusing the mayor of dividing council to suit his civic agenda, then perhaps he’d ought to provide some evidence of this that could be more damning of the alternative: that Darren Hill, weasel that he is, is doing his best to keep city council divided to promote his own agenda.

And what’s Darren Hill’s agenda? Why, it’s promoting Darren Hill. QED.

But alas, I guess we’ll just have to see how it all plays out.

In the meantime, I think The Finger’s overall premise is wrong: council didn’t move that much more to the left. He neglects to mention that left-wingers Robertson and Shaw were defeated by moderate pragmatists Olauson and Davies, and that there remains the conservative Randy Donauer and centrist Atchison with votes. Zach Jeffries might prove to be a decent find from a pragmatic sense, but history has shown than far too many bright, articulate, young politicians like to aggressively assert their progressive bonafides instead of responding to the concerns of their constituent majority. John Gormley is right when he says that we’ll soon see in the first few council meetings whether Jeffries is a puppet of Petty Character Hill or if he can be his own man. He’ll be watched carefully.

Congratulations to Troy and Atch. They are good men who get things done, and their respective victories were well-deserved.

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Answer me this

I’m not an American, so maybe I’m missing something here, but why does the First Lady have her own motorcade?

Two law enforcement officials were injured in a crash while part of a motorcade escort for First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday.

According to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, the motorcycles crashed at about 4:15 p.m. along U.S. Route 36/ state Route 37 and South Old State Road.

It was unknown if the motorcyclists collided or were struck by another vehicle.

Now, I get why she receives her own security detail. I’ve seen the movie Taken, and I assume Liam Neeson isn’t Michelle Obama’s father, so there is a security risk with leaving the First Lady without adequate protection. After all, she isn’t the Ambassador to Libya or anything.

My bigger question revolves around who is paying for her entourage. This woman is a private citizen campaigning for her husband, and yet the taxpayers are footing the bill. In this matter, whenever she is travelling away from the president (who is employed by the Republic 24 hours a day and thus requires round-the-clock protection), why doesn’t the Democratic Party or the Obama campaign pay for her security detail?

If she does anything else or goes anywhere else, then fine, taxpayers are obliged to protect her because that protects the ability of the president to make decisions. But if she forgoes one of her exclusive forays abroad to engage with clothiers in exotic lands and, instead, hits the campaign trail, then someone else ought to cover the expenses.

After all, she’s not a queen.

Damn, I’m glad I’m a Canadian, where our leaders’ spouses remain accessible even in their own private bedrooms.

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Wishful Thinking

William Marsden, intrepid reporter for Postmedia News, thinks Biden was the bee’s knees at last week’s VP debate:

DANVILLE, Ky. – The vice-presidential debate is usually considered more of an exhibition game for second-stringers. But Thursday night, Joe Biden transformed it into a main event that revealed disturbing weaknesses in the Republicans’ economic and in foreign policy programs.

Biden was his usual combative, assertive personality, telling it as he sees it, spicing his dialogue with smiles and laughter and appeals to heaven, flashing his super-white teeth like a shark. He was the dominant player. His rival, Republican Paul Ryan, was the foil. Biden simply played off him all night long.

Biden was clearly enjoying himself as he constantly accused an increasingly defensive Ryan of disgorging “malarkey,” questioning his facts every step of the way, bluntly stating several times: “Not a single thing he (Ryan) said is accurate.”

Marsden seems to have seen the same debate as the rest of us, but he comes to all the wrong conclusions. For one thing, Biden didn’t “reveal weaknesses” in the Romney-Ryan ticket so much as he claimed to, which is something altogether different. If Marsden was a truly objective observer, he’d make that distinction. Instead, he simply takes Biden at his word and refuses the same to Ryan.

I’m not not sure why he does this, considering Biden’s own side doesn’t believe half the stuff he said, but Ace of Spades thinks he knows:

So I was wondering how on earth liberals could imagine that Biden won.

There are two answers here, I think. The first is that they knew they had to claim, as a group and with one voice, that Biden destroyed Ryan, in order to try to push that particular interpretation. As Ryan said, they were all “under duress” to make up ground from the Romney demolition of Obama.

That’s certainly true.

But I also think they’re employing a crude metric to call the debate for Biden. Biden definitely “won” in one sense — he contradicted everything Ryan said. Whether it was chuckling, sneering, interrupting, or just stating “That’s a bunch of malarkey” to everything, Biden did contradict everything Ryan said.

I think what they think is this: Romney won the first debate because he contradicted everything Obama said. Hence, the winner of any debate is the one who contradicts the most. Biden contradicted the most, ergo he wins.

And while I agree with Ace on this, he neglects to identify the elephant in the room, those charming white chompers of Crazy Uncle Joe.

Cue the great James Taranto:

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength,” the longshoreman cum philosopher Eric Hoffer once observed. Hoffer died in 1983, so he probably wasn’t referring specifically to Joe Biden’s performance in last night’s debate. Still, the observation is fitting.

[…]

A smile is an instinctive gesture of submission. Often the submission is mutual, as when two friends exchange smiles or when Maestripieri’s strangers break into small talk on the elevator. But when a man uncontrollably smiles at a potential or actual adversary, it is a show of weakness.

That isn’t necessarily to say that Paul Ryan dominated Biden, although there is no question Ryan demonstrated self-control where Biden utterly lacked it. As some commentator or other (probably several of them) observed before the debate, Biden’s assigned task was to “right the ship” after the Barack Obama disaster. Since the ship has a titanic design flaw–a gaping O-shaped hole right in the hull–that was an impossible task. Biden had ample reason to find the situation intimidating.

And so he overcompensated for his weakness by acting the bully in an attempt to dominate Ryan. His behavior was not only consistent with Hoffer’s aphorism but in sharp contrast with that of Mitt Romney, who actually did dominate Obama in a coolly masterful way. If Biden’s rudeness was an imitation of strength, Romney’s poise was a display of the real thing.

It doesn’t surprise me that William Marsden got it wrong, as he’s as much of a True Believer as most in the Canadian MSM. However, it takes a significant kind of willful ignorance to illustrate Ryan’s supposed shortcomings because Biden disagreed with him yet leave out any mention of the administration’s Libya scandal. That is to  say, the biggest cover-up in at least the past 20 years is emerging out of Washington, and Marsden doesn’t think his readership requires that context.

How that man and his editors remain employed is beyond me, but I suppose that since no one reads newspapers anymore, I don’t think his malicious journalism will have much of an impact.

So, obviously, I can’t wait for his take on tomorrow night’s debate but, for now, I’m in the mood for some laughs …

UPDATE: Incidentally, this is how a journalist should treat Biden’s performance at the debate.

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Sounds about right

A Facebook friend of mine …

… is at a Presidential debate party in San Diego … for those who don’t know, I am Canadian, I don’t watch the news, or read about it online, but I smart enough to know that Barack Obama is the only choice ♥

Ignorance is bliss.

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Sask. min.-wage earners increase productivity 26% over 5 years

Economically, that’s the message being sent by the Saskatchewan government in yesterday’s announcement of the fifty-cent increase in the mandatory minimum-wage to $10 per hour:

There are currently about 22,000 people in the province earning minimum wage.

“(The increase) will make sure that people at the lower end of the earnings scale have sufficient funds that they are able to adequately pay for housing, food and are able to participate in the prosperity of the province,” [Saskatchewan Labour Minister Don] Morgan said.

Since taking office, our government has increased minimum wage from $7.95 to $10 an hour,” Morgan said. “That’s an increase of nearly 26 per cent in five years – well ahead of the rate of inflation.”

Wait — you don’t agree with me? Increasing a person’s wage does not automatically increase a person’s productivity?

You know what? I think you’re right.

In fact, if anything, this increase could decrease productivity in the province in several ways:

  • Some businesses will have to cut back on staffing, which affects the productivity of these businesses
  • Even more businesses will have to raise prices on the consumer, increasing local inflation which, or course, has a greater relative impact on the poor
  • Workers who currently are not productive at $10/hour will be more likely to have trouble finding employment, which would affect their opportunity to gain skills and experience.

True, there is a benefit to the minimum-wage hike. It will help some of the those 22,000 minimum-wage workers when they get larger paychecks. However, the wage hike will not help:

  • Those who are not currently productive at $9.50/hour, as it would be even more difficult for them to find a job
  • Those minimum wage workers who are barely productive at $9.50/hour, as they may lose their jobs
  • Those currently making $10/hour or more (because why would their rates go up all of a sudden?)

That said, given our current labour market, we may not even need to raise minimum wage. That doesn’t stop one HR professor from using this as an excuse to raise the rate:

“We’ve got a really strong economy, we need to attract employees and if you are going to raise the minimum wage this is a good time,” said Long, who teaches a strategic compensation class at Edwards and has written the leading textbook in Canada on compensation, Strategic Compensation in Canada.

Long said many employers will still find it difficult to attract employees at the new rate.

“The reality is most employers recognize that it’s very difficult to hire people at the minimum wage.”

Then why raise the miniumum if the current minimum is meaningless?

I should have known this wasn’t the greatest idea when I see the NDP endorsing it:

NDP labour critic David Forbes said the increase is better late than never.

Forbes said the Sask. Party shouldn’t be taking credit for most of the minimum wage increases in the past five years.

“I was labour minister in September 2007 when we announced the increases that would be phased in to take us up to, I believe, $9.25 in 2009.”

Buried in the story comes the rub:

Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president, Prairie and Agribusiness with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said there are better ways to help low income earners than raising the minimum wage.

“It is evident that the provincial government has decided to make a very politically popular decision by this and it is leaving business owners picking up the tab,” Braun-Pollon said.

“Presently a full-time minimum wage earner can earn about 76 per cent of their annual income before starting to pay provincial taxes. We believe the government should ensure the lowincome earner keeps all of their earnings and pay no income tax at all.”

Not sure I agree with people not paying any tax whatsoever, but it’s a better alternative than increasing pressure on businesses.

Unfortunately, the story ends with a bout of myopic insanity with the NDP, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the supposedly right-wing Saskatchewan Party all agreeing on the general course of action:

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) president Larry Hubich said they are pleased the government is increasing the minimum wage, but said the minimum wage is too low to start with.

“We would argue that (the minimum wage) has been too low for a long time and that the government needs to bring in a formula that actually pegs it at rate of pay that provides for a living wage,” Hubich said.

“This (increase) only puts us in the middle of the pack.

“If the cost of living was to increase in the way that it has been over the past couple of years, we’ll soon find ourselves in Saskatchewan with the worst minimum wage in Canada (again).”

Forbes said the NDP wants to see the rate pegged to Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Morgan said the government is looking at some form of indexing the minimum wage.

It could be tied to average hourly wage, the CPI or another external indicator – and there would be an annual increase based on that, he said.

We’ll have a position formally taken on that (indexing the minimum wage) when we introduce the legislation in the fall,” Morgan said. [emphasis mine–ed.]

Tell me again why the electorate voted in a Sask Party government?

I got a question for Minister Morgan. Once the Saskatchewan economy cools down–and it will cool down–what impact will this rate hike have on local busiesses and the low-skills labour market? With the rate legislated and, possibly, indexed, there would be less flexibility for employers to make cuts in labour costs, even if the employees were willing to take a cut in pay in order to keep their jobs. This means people will lose their jobs in a downturn.

How popular will the Sask Party be when their actions exacerbated the impact of our next economic recession?

For me, if I were in power, I wouldn’t cut the minimum wage. It’s there, and any continuing arbitrary fiddling would only muck things up. I wouldn’t raise it, however. Over time, with inflation and market forces, labour costs will align with market demands, and the natural minimum wage level would find itself, like it always did before the labour movement started to pretend it knew how to operate the economy better than the invisible hand of the free market. People without skills would be able to find work suiting their own productivity and, in a relatively short period of time, they would be given the opportunity to develop those skills necessary to be more productive and start earning a higher wage.

If you think I’m being delusional, then why are unpaid internships at professional firms and political operations so highly valued by some college students? Why would a prospective tradesperson be willing to apprentice at a low wage? Why do some young people volunteer as a means to pad their resume? The reason is that these actions are ways for these “exploited workers” to gain valuable skills and experience, making them more attractive to higher-paying employers in the future.

Therefore, if someone wants to work for a low wage in order to get the necessary skills to move up the labour market more quickly, why does our government prevent him from doing so?

I’ll let you figure that one out.

More minimum wageizing here.

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