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Month: January 2012

Fixed…like Jello to the wall

“They understand the issues that are coming. They don’t believe any political party should have even if it is a theoretical upper hand in managing the political agenda and then picking the date accordingly,”

Morinville’s mayor…will remain as Morinville’s mayor, a Strathcona County Councillor will almost certainly replace Ed Stelmach in the Legislature, and a whole bunch of other folks are either going to start the week in a really good mood, or a really foul one, following a torrent of PC Constituency Association nomination meetings.

While we don’t have the benefit of a fixed election date that tells us anything more than which of the four season we can expect to vote in, like the Mel Gibson movie with the ‘so-so’ ending, the Signs are here.  The folks who set the tensile strength of our ‘flexible election date‘, with just a few more nominations, will have stretched themselves across almost all 87 constituencies.  When will the snap happen and the writ drop?  Good question, and here’s mine.  Why, after the above promises from the Premier’s leadership campaign, are us outside observers, who don’t hold our meetings and get-togethers in Government House, still using rumor, innuendo, and best guesses as an election sun dial?  A ‘fixed’ date is impartial and bipartisan, it doesn’t care who’s ready for it, or who’s having a rough week in the news cycle.  Flexible, however, is still very much a ‘two-tiered’ system, mired in uncertainty.  If for example, you’ve gotta pick a window of time to take a leave of absence from your day job to campaign full-time, uncertainty is the last thing you need.  Even more so if facing off against an incumbent.

28 Days Later?

Last week, the Journal’s John MacKinnon did a write-up on potential uses for our soon-to-be downtown arena by the city during the 28 days per year City Council was “savy” enough to secure it’s use for, in the arena agreement.

28 days a year, in an arena we own….A couple Edmontonians react to the news.

Ok, I’m done being sarcastic now, at least until the next blog post.  So what do you do with the biggest rink in town for 28 days a year?

The article delves into some specific options, however with some time to go obviously before city staffers start booking bands or whatever, I think we’d do well to first decide on some guiding principles for it’s use during these days.  Namely, I hope, this one; that for 28 days a year, this facility and the district around it should be open and interactive, with events, activities and what have you that are easily affordable if not completely open to the public.   That are setup to keep people around, interested and active all day, rather than sending them off home after a few hours.  Surely in a full ‘arena district’ this is do-able, and at a policy level, this is an amenity which could well be tied into the developing WinterCity strategy, with the creation of new winter festivals and events.  We’ve got it for four weeks, I’d say that’s a few too few, but the deal’s done, the onus here should be, to make them full, active days, and even throw in the opportunity for the kids, little to middle-aged, to take a skate on NHL ice.  The arena can go back to being expensive the other 337 days per year.


I had the opportunity last week to attend both days of the WinterCity Strategy kickoff at City Hall.  The highlight to start was a wonderful talk by VANOC CEO John Furlong.   John’s recollection of ‘enduring’ (i.e. ‘threatening to stab with a pen’) IIHF President Rene Fasel’s desire to see the Canada v. USA gold medal hockey match enter a shootout was entertaining, as was hearing of the challenges faced by the organizing committee in overcoming a seemingly once in a hundred years weather anamoly, which left organizers and workers in a scramble to import snow to the venues.

However, on a night when we were gathered at City Hall to launch a body of work aimed at changing outlooks and attitudes on how Edmonton lives, builds for, and plays in winter, the highlights of the talk were the parallels to the development of a WinterCity strategy, and the emotional and organizational success of Vancouver 2010; the building blocks of public participation and involvement – Developing a vision, mobilizing, and creating opportunities for everyone to get involved and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  These are elements the strategy is going to need if it’s to overcome apathy, cold weather, sarcasm, a sedentary winter lifestyle in order to develop public, stakeholder, and political support.






For anyone who’s long grumbled about city documents (take a look at the Transit Oriented Development Guidelines as an example) flush with summery images, but little representation of our climate during the other six months of the year, the kick-off had something for you.  Day 2 started off with photos and a presentation from Coun. Henderson and several city staffers who hit the road to several northern European cities.  Sadly though, the presentation was just a taste of the photos taken and experiences collected.  Some of the more interesting aspects of active winter life in the above cities included the active public realm of the Olso Opera House, a soccer field cleared for year-round use, winter tourism in Rovaniemi, temporary outdoor markets and civic snow clearing for pedestrians in Copenhagen, and so on.

Among the talks that followed included a presentation by EEDC on the correlation between quality of life and the economic performance of Edmonton, as well as the opportunity to leverage a winter climate (certainly a far more progressive option than defaulting to viewing it as a constant negative).

The last speaker in the panel was John Furlong who quoted a couple of truths that should definitely be remembered, both for this initiative and any other meant to benefit and involve the public – That to be sustainable, every person needs a role, and that the public should never be underestimated.

For a Canadian case study, Montreal’s Plateau District was used as an example of a vibrant area remaining active year-round.

The work now falls to a core ‘Think Tank’ and subcommittees for urban design, livability, business/tourism, and marketing.  If any of this sounds familiar, the Mayor’s Community Sustainability Task force adopted a similar structure last year.  As this initiative kicks off, that group’s report is scheduled to be released on February 2nd.

Viewer Discretion Is Strongly Advised

The St. Albert teacher who faced disciplinary action after showing his class a video on workplace harrassment, apparently after not watching enough of it himself to spot the parody or ‘adult situations’, is back in the classroom this week.  Thus bringing the story back into the news….again, for some reason.  In honor of the new heights this story has managed to reach, which have included a permanent shaming for a single mistake (in which no laws were broken, or physical trauma incured), and the flinging of a giant boulder through a glass house (this on top of Wildrose demands for classroom legislation, and I thought they were the ‘small government’ party), I thought perhaps we should take a step back, relax, and watch an interesting piece by George Carlin on the words whose use on television is currently prohibited.  And before I end up dodging the boulder myself, yes, viewer discretion is definitely and strongly advised, enjoy.

Ah-Ha! Found it!

So I’ve been searching the Internets and Android Market looking for something, anything, that could play streaming media, such as mms, on my phone and tablet.  Finally found it in Daroon Player.  It’s free, and while I’ve only tested it with Council on the Web streams, it seems to do an adequate job of it.

Item out for delivery

Mississauga, ON – In transit with Canada Post __ Mississauga, ON – Order processed at postal facility __ Mississauga, ON – Item processed at postal facility __ Edmonton, AB – Item processed at postal facility __ Edmonton, AB – Item out for delivery __ Edmonton, AB – Item successfully delivered (awesome!)

I’ve ordered one or two books online from this source (not saying who, no free advertising), and they all travel the same path; scanned three times in Mississauga (I’m mentioning Mississauga as much as possible here to help me remember how to spell….Mississauga), an unnerving several day wait where nothing happens, and then the comforting arrival in Edmonton.  Anyway, amidst the reading for work related stuff, volunteer stuff and what have you, I did actually manage to buy and read a few books for myself in 2011.  Without further au jeux (that’s the joke), here’s the top 5, ranked by my personal preference and which ones friends have asked to borrow.

5.  Stupid to the Last Drop – How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by William Marsden

“This is a resource-based economy.  You just extract it and say, ‘What, me worry?’”.

Somewhat inflammatory in it’s title, and unapologetic about it, it means what it says.  There’s a slant here (obvious), but the footwork  done by Mr. Marsden makes this a legitimate body of work, and indeed provides fuel for his arguments.  While some may take issue with the politics involved, and admittedly my choice of politics is likely to find more here to agree with than others, and while Marsden does indeed take on the political forces, there’s indeed a consternation throughout the work at the abundance of politics involved in places where perhaps science should be left alone, and politics kept out of sight until the research has been done and left in the open for all to debate.  It’s a good read, and at a time when we seem to spend far too much energy (pun intended) yammering on ideology, the more we read on this subject and bring to a debate, the better off future generations will be.  For something on the side, there’s always this blast from the past.


4.  Harperland – The Politics of Control by Lawrence Martin 

“The PMO was structured on the basis of the silo system, with individual compartments and very little cross-pollination.  In this way, as opposed to the more circular patterns of organization where information is more broadly shared, only the prime minister and his chief of staff knew everything”

For a good deal of the volunteer time I’ve devoted to causes and organizations which directly deal with various layers of government, I’ve long grumbled about the “silo mentality”.  In my early naivete, I often wondered why someone, anyone, would want an inefficient organizational structure, where folks across the hall from each other could pass everyday without knowing what the details of what the other guy was up to.  Where as an outsider trying to gain access in, walls were everywhere, and gaining access to one part of organization bought you few if any lines of communication to other parts of the greater whole. But, for folks like the Prime Minister, perhaps ‘open concept’ just isn’t for them.   However, as a democratic society, I believe in not asking or demanding openness from government, but expecting it as a way of doing business.  Some may feel free to jump in here and tell me I’m being naive again, and that’s fine, as long as their name isn’t Frederick Lee.  It’s also why I considered this to be essential reading for last year’s election.

The prorogation of parliament, the placement of partisan individuals in the ‘non-partisan’ privy council office, the silo-ization of reporting in upper levels of the government, American-style attack ads – these are the things we’ve seen from the ruling Conservatives, reported on in the main-stream media, and oft discussed in blogs, Twitter and so forth.  Harperland is the equivalent of pulling the oft quoted and/or behind-the-scenes individuals aside and asking “what’s really going on”.  Martin does his homework, and the interviews with the behind-the-scenes players alone make it worth the purchase price.  It may no longer be election reading – at least for a few years  – but many of the controversial actions taken by the Prime Minister were born during a minority government.  If nothing else, it’s worth following along to see how the operation of our government changes, if it all, having accomplished a long sought-after majority.


3. Triumph of the City – How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser 

“Perhaps the most common error was thinking that these cities could build their way back to success with housing projects, grandiose office towers, or fanciful high-tech transit systems.  Those mistakes came out of the all-too-common error of confusing a city, which is really a mass of connected humanity, with it’s structures.”

If you live in a city you’ll probably enjoy this book.  If nothing else, just to read about how that density of humanity and services, that we take advantage of to buy groceries and find employment, has profoundly influenced  science, technology, and society.

If you’re an urbanite, an urban advocate, an urban planner, or an elected representative for an urban centre, you should definitely read this book.  Glaeser is clearly a tireless advocate for education and innovation.  These are things of course, which urban environments lend themselves so easily to becoming centres for.  Glaeser pulls strongly from examples and case studies which anyone can appreciate, the one which happened before our very eyes is of course the detailed rise and fall of Detroit and the “Industrial City”.  Once driven by creators and innovators in the automotive field, the lack of economic diversity within the City is explained in painful detail by Glaeser as he works through the downfall of the Detroit’s vertically integrated auto industry.

This however is far more than a lesson in economics and an advocate for investing in education and entrepreneurship.  The health benefits of urban living, the problematic rise of urban sprawl, NIMBYism, and lessons for urban renewal.  There’s a wealth of information here to make this a more than deserving read.


2.  When the Gods Changed – The Death of Liberal Canada by Peter C. Newman 

“What the Liberals should have been seeking was not merely a return to the comforts of power, but a new populist mandate that could become a revolutionary instrument.”

If there’s one thing that truly pissed me off about last year’s election it’s the Ignatieff attack ads.  He’s not here for me?  Well, the monarchy, the war of 1812 and the gun registry aren’t exactly on my priority list, but here we are.  Do I care that Ignatieff went out into the world, wrote, taught, spoke, then came back home and entered politics?  Not really, other than being proud, as a Canadian, to see the accomplishments of one of our own on the world stage, even if I disagree with some of his public statements over the years.

Anyway, the book, I may look like I’m going off topic, but I’m not.  Ignatieff is central to a body of work that describes in detail what every ‘Liberal’ should read, the fall of a party which Mr. Newman details to point in time far beyond the year when I was old enough to vote.  A party that did little to renew it’s mandate during it’s reigning years in the 90’s and the previous decade.  A party that failed to tap into, cultivate or empower volunteer assets.  The controversial nomination of Ignatieff in his Toronto riding, divisions within the party, internal fiefdoms, etc.  It’s all here, the good, the bad, everything, in detail and Newman’s wit.  The Federal Liberals may/may not be rebuilt but if they are, and for anyone who wants to avoid the same mistakes, there are many lessons here.


1.  The Savage War – The Untold Battles of Afghanistan by Murray Brewster 

“Khan went into hiding.  He locked himself in his office for days after the murder and refused to come out.  He would call at all hours, sobbing into the cellphone and pleading for some kind of deliverance.”

I stayed up to some ridiculously late hours reading this book, and I spent some time that I probably should have spent on reducing my todo list, reading this book.  Murray Brewster provides an immensely detailed and equally honest and emotional recount of his time covering the war from Ottawa and the streets of a savaged country.  Everything here is brutally honest, written in the detailed lengthy prose that can only come from a book, not a syndicated news story.  It’s as gripping as it is troubling.  There’s just so much here – a government at home desperately trying to control the story, confusion on the ground, the detailed accounts of living as an embedded reporter in a war zone, travelling the streets of an Afghan city, chasing the story without an armed escort bringing up the rear.  I highly, highly recommend picking up a copy as essential reading.