Friday, June 19, 2009

Say Hello to the edmontonian

Good news everyone!

Edmonton news, events, communities, neighbourhoods, food, music, arts, opinion and citizen information is all going to be in one place; the edmontonian.

It's an Edmonton-focused website, started by my wife and I.

Take a look around, tell us what you think, send us your events, stories, photos and ideas and let's have a conversation about Edmonton. Period.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's going to be quite the debate

An interesting little fact came out in the latest version of an Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA) story. has the tidbit here.

People who come out in favour of something (or against something) can always have connections to people also involved in the debate. They may even form their opinions after hearing from others.

Looking at this story, however, it just seems to me that a guy involved in building stuff could have something to say about possible development, and jobs that could come of it. The story makes it seem like he was driving very hard on the health aspects, even when asked about possible work for his members.

The story also alludes to the building boss being "involved with" a pro-airport group. It's too bad that is part of the story because you'd like to think people coming forward to lobby councillors are doing so on their own.

And STARS can land at any hospital in Edmonton, which makes a big portion of the "life or death" argument a red herring.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"...TV the way it's meant to be."

Thanks to my Facebook contacts including a bunch of people from southwestern Ontario I happened upon a new venture in Windsor.

Today's Windsor is an online television show.

A quick Google shows the hosts, Houida Kassem and Bevin Palmateer, both worked for CTV at the London "A." That station was gutted by the broadcaster earlier this year.

The show appears to be much like you'd expect a morning show to be; local, colourful, community-based and funny in a kind of cheesy way. The great thing is the website is full of local ads and sponsors and just plain Windsor, Windsor, Windsor.

It seems like some people might have a better idea of how to "save local TV."

I hope they can find ways to expand into news and information coverage too.

The homepage of Today's Windsor can be found here, they're on Twitter, and a Facebook group is here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Stairs For You

It might only be news to me but I noticed this morning the long (and steep) stairway from Ezio Farone Park down to River Valley Road is gone.

You can see a notice posted on this Sidewalk Closed sign. It says the stair construction will run until mid-July. (Oddly, this City website says it will only take one month, not six weeks.)

So until then, the trick is to stop at the bottom of the hill.

Or there's the trail just to the right (west) of the "stairs."

If you're looking for more park and trail closures in the City of Edmonton head to this website.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My opinion really counted

I attended the first of three open houses gauging public opinion on what to do with the Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA). It was at Grant MacEwan's downtown campus and it was, umm, not well attended.

(This photo is only slightly misleading. By voting time there was one other guy.)

There were a few people around 5:30-7pm while I hung around Grant Mac. So there were a few paper surveys dropped off. I'm also told (by that lonely survey organizer in the photo) that there were a few people for the electronic tabulations at 4pm.

The neat thing about the open houses is the survey of three-dozen or so questions. You get a little electronic gadget, just like "America's Funniest Home Videos," which lets you lock in your vote. The questions are all about the two possibilities for the ECCA and ask you if you agree, disagree, strongly agree, don't know, etc...

The results for each question are then shown up on a screen. Since it was just me and one other guy most questions had two answers, split 50-50. We did agree on a couple "undecided" ones though.

While it will be much better for the whole process if more people come out to the second and third open houses it was cool to see my answers go head-to-head. It certainly was no secret after one or two questions that me and this other guy were on opposite sides of the debate. Things were kept cordial, we did not end up throwing punches.

Make sure you have your say on the airport and its land. The survey results (with comments from the paper versions) will be part of the package submitted to City Council for their decision.

The two remaining choices are an airport with reduced air traffic (likely just one runway), a few more transit connections and some new buildings - one of which is being called a "Mayo Clinic" of the north, with little explanation. The second choice is a mixed-use development with a transit hub, places for business, more NAIT, and residential neighbourhoods.

Don't forget to follow the online debate on Twitter. Search for the hashtag #ecca.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Oh no

I really hope the City of Edmonton and others backing the Expo bid don't take this loss as a reason to try harder for the Expo.

I hope they take it was a way to bow out of such bids for a little while and fix a few things around the city.

You want to know what world class cities have? Nice stuff, including world class transportation and transit. Then everyone will be happy to tell their friends to visit.

If the Mayor of the winning Universiade city is slagging your outdated venues how about you build some new stuff, then you bid.

And since the Universiade and Expo 2017 stories tend to include economic spin-off numbers, how come we question the same numbers from the money-losing Indy race but these numbers look solid to people?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oversimplified Diagnosis

This week I'm flying solo on my look at something that could use a little more detail in the news.

I have no doubt medical news is vastly important to provide. It can open a window into research happening close to home and around the world and it can inform about how to possibly stave off disease.

A lot of the time (especially in television news) the important information gets lost in profiles of disease survivors or fighters with slight mention about where to go for more information or prevention detail. The rest of the time you get a scary headline and scant detail about the true impact for you. This doesn't mean the constant research occurring or the studies being produced are misleading; that's for the doctors and scientists to decide. But without reporters going over all the research how can people be given an accurate story?

The latest to irk me was a headline about cell phones giving brain cancer to kids. The story mentions "...a 5.2-fold elevated risk of malignant brain tumour in children who begin using mobile phones before the age of 20 years..." but doesn't mention what you're multiplying 5.2 by. If the risk was one in 10-million it's not much of an increased risk. A one in five risk and now we're warranted with scary headlines.

People should know that cell phone use and the developing brain of teens is being studied and perhaps the research bears out a real risk but this story doesn't give that an accurate explanation. It also gets bogged down in stats about how many 12-19 year-old Canadians
use cell phones.

The trouble is; there are a lot of frightening headlines that seem misleading once you read through the whole story.

This one about alcohol and prostate cancer talks about the increased risk of developing the cancer but the last line of the story quotes one of the study's authors as follows: "This is just saying that (prostate cancer) is just another thing to be concerned about if you're a heavy drinker." So does drinking increase the risk of prostate cancer? It may. But so does a long list of other things.

Something else that can get lost in the lead idea of a story is context. This story about the number of Canadians living with cancer fails to mention if this kind of statistic has been tracked for decades, it doesn't show how the information proves more people are getting sick and how about some common sense: Canada's population is as large as ever and we're living longer than ever before. Wouldn't more people simply mean more of everything, including cancer?

One blog I'm in the habit of following is that of Mark Hamilton. He's got some of his own thoughts on how reporters can stop fear-mongering or burying the fact this study or that one might not really prove an increase in your chance of getting sick. He breaks down the basic formula for a medical story that caught his eye. (For those clicking on that link; pun intended.)

A book I recommend to anyone working in news, interested in medical stories or just plain interested in medicine is "Selling Sickness." It's more about prescription drugs and the advertising from drug companies but it gets into talk of drug studies. The studies can sometimes talk about increased risk but gloss over the fact the original risk was very small. A lot of that can not only be applied to any studies you see from drug companies but also medical stories. It goes for drug ads you might catch on American TV.

Canadian TV too if Conrad VonFinkenstein looks around for easy money:

"Moreover, the CRTC chairman said new sources of revenue -- such as allowing U.S.-style drug ads -- could be part of the solution. At present, those type of ads are not allowed in Canada."

That kind of knowledge is doubly important when a lot of medical news is just drug studies and spin from companies anyway.

My rant against fear-mongering headlines, about studies that sometimes mean very little, now done I hope this allows someone else to read such stories with a more discerning eye. And I'd hope reporters spend a few minutes either digging through the facts and figures of medical studies and reports or explaining to their editors and producers why the story isn't actually a story.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And the sky is still blue

The Alberta Enterprise Group continued its fight to keep the Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA) open, this week.

They loaded up two planes with reporters and photographers and held what was called the Great Airport Race. The plan? The two planes would take off from the ECCA, fly up toward Westlock, Alberta and head back to Edmonton. One plane would land at the City Centre and the other would touch down just south of the city at the Edmonton Internationl Airport (EIA).

The reporters et al. would then race by cab to downtown Edmonton. You'd think the name of the airports alone would have told you which one was closer. One is named "City Centre" which leads me to believe it would be in or near a downtown area.

Not surprisingly, it took longer to taxi across the larger tarmac of the EIA and then get a cab ride up from Leduc. It also is not surprising to learn the longer cab ride cost more money. The Edmonton Journal had a balanced take on the race.

I don't doubt a lot of business dealings happen in downtown, since there are lots of office buildings and the Alberta Legislature. So I get why some people want the smaller airport to remain.

Unless they're coming from outside Alberta and likely landing at the EIA anyway. Or if their dealings happen at a business in the south end or somewhere not downtown. I do, however, like the idea of all important business people landing and only having 20 minutes to get to meetings. If that's the case, I wonder if we shouldn't close the City Centre Airport just to help them with time management.

There's also the constant mention of the life and death situation landing air ambulances at the International vs. City Centre poses. I am pretty sure Edmonton hospitals have helipads. The Mazankowski (whenever it opens) is even supposed to have one. I bet heart patients are among urgent cases we keep hearing in the threats.

o conclude my rant against the most obvious of outcomes to a race, here are other things closer to downtown than the Edmonton International Airport, you know, in case the City Centre Airport is closed:

The Greyhound station - Businesses could bus it instead of flying to the EIA.

VIA station - It's already in the city, but only works for people east or west of Edmonton.

Roads - People could drive if the Edmonton International was such a hassle.

And as a bonus - webcams and phones. I hear stuff can be accomplished over these sometimes.

If you're on Twitter you can follow this discussion under the hashtag #ecca. It will be (mostly) free of me rolling my eyes and have comments from lots of smart people.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Economic spin indeed

I recently wrote about how I found it misleading for news stories about the 2009 Rexall Edmonton Indy to not mention the projected deficit for this year's race. It was nice, however, to see the mention of last year's (taxpayer covered) $5.3-million deficit. Now I've just got an issue with the race organizer, Northlands.

After last year's deficit became known, and Edmonton taxpayers were reminded they were on the hook, Northlands talked about the economic spin-off of the race. They claimed the race put $80-million dollars into the Edmonton economy.

Those numbers were quickly questioned. The problem (or the good thing for Northands) is that it's hard to nail down (dispute) a spin-off number because you're guessing at how much people paid for a hotel (if they used one) a rental car (or taxis, transit), shopping and meals. It should be noted, however, Montreal race organizers only claimed a $75-million dollar benefit from their race.

Soon after my rant I wonder if Northlands even cares about running in the red. There's a projected deficit of more than $1-million for this summer's race and instead of trying to cut costs they're paying to put Alex Tagliani in the driver's seat.

It seems to me that if a driver can't find anybody to back him financially he may not be the draw that's going to help you turn a profit, or break even.

You may have to spend money to make money, but it will be interesting to see if spending money where nobody else cared to will help the 2009 Rexall Edmonton Indy, make money.

Or maybe the idea is for Edmonton taxpayers to buy a ticket and cheer on Tagliani. After all, their tax rate depends on it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Going Green

I had the time to check out the "Going Green Eco Expo" Saturday. It was a pretty good mix of big and small green ideas.

Personally, I would have been better off as a house-owner since a number of the booths related to home heating, decoration and renovation.

But it's a trade show so you can always put your name in for draws. I certainly did as I like free stuff.

My Flickr account has a photo rundown on what I saw.

While I was there the crowd seemed eager to see what was available for their homes and their lives. And the Segway guys seemed to always have someone in need of a test ride.

The sunny Saturday weather may have kept some people away from the climate-controlled Butterdome, and there was a rally or two planned, but this is the kind of event that is a success if even a few people find some new ideas to try.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Saving the original small screen

With more and more of my life taking place on the Internet (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc...) and a lot of work done on the same computer screens I sometimes forget there are people who don't live online. Or spend as much time online, anyway.

It certainly explains the anger and frustration across the country in cities and towns now threatened with the loss of their local TV station. There's the newspaper debate too; but that's for another day.

I can remember watching Barrie, Ontario's CKVR (as CKVR and its "The New VR" incarnation) through my early and teen years. There was news out of Toronto available but this was as close as it got to my home on Georgian Bay. Even now, after working in newsrooms around the country I'm impressed by the geographic range this station covers from its headquarters in Barrie. Sometimes a newsroom rarely ventures outside of its base city for a story but VR reporters have to rack up the kilometres to cover central Ontario. It's stations like this that are threatened as large broadcasters CTV and Canwest try to save money; and try to survive the information revolution.

Some may argue the same news can be provided with an online venture (I have thought the same) but long-standing London, Ontario TV newsman (and broadcast journalism teacher)
Bob Smith, a man I would consider wiser than myself, mentioned the reality is there are people who still come home at 6pm and turn on the news. They aren't yet living online and they are in danger of losing not just a part of their daily routines but a source of local news and information. Perhaps in five or more years, Bob pointed out to me in a recent phone call, they'll be on the Internet looking for local news, but not yet.

It's a point that has me taking a different look at my recent e-mail conversation with the General Manager of Brandon, Manitoba's CKX-TV. That's a CTV-owned station that broadcasts a mix of local news and CBC programming. The station may be more important (at least in the next few years) than I had thought.

I talked to Alan Cruise because I wanted to get a sense of what's happening at a smaller station that really is one of the few news links in Western Manitoba. Winnipeg TV news is popular out in "Westman" but CKX is still the place people can tune in to get a sense of local happenings. Cruise notes the potential loss won't take long to sink in.

"Initially, I think the main impact on the Westman area will be the 'drop in status' as we become a city without a TV station," he writes.

"Beyond that, people will notice very quickly that they’ve lost an important link to their local governments and municipal boards as well as the day to day coverage of events happening in all parts of the region. Viewers in towns 50 miles south of Brandon will become uninformed about what is happening 50 miles north. A sense of community will be lost."

It's been business as usual at CKX, Cruise notes; lauding the 40 employees of the station. In fact, it's been business as usual at all the stations on the verge of going dark, even as employees see co-workers lose their jobs and others spend their free time on the streets trying to drum up local interest in preserving their broadcasts.

Hamilton's CHCH is possibly the most visible example of such. As Canwest looks to sell the long-time southern Ontario fixture (and its other second-tier stations) staff and people in Hamilton have risen to offer the CRTC an option of selling and licensing the station to them as more of a public or local access broadcaster. It would actually return CHCH to something akin to its roots.

Cruise notes there are options which might end up enticing owners to buy individual stations.

"Each broadcaster has the right to have one station per province on satellite (Express Vu and Star Choice). With carriage on satellite, CKX would immediately double its reach in our market."

"Twice the viewers (or more) would obviously convert into increased revenue from advertisers," he concludes.

And since the CRTC looks to offer more money later this year for home-grown programming there's yet another option for a smaller broadcaster or at least one staying out of Canada's largest cities.

"An owner without a station in a major market would also be eligible for the Small Market Programming Fund," notes Cruise. "This fund would likely yield anywhere from $350,000 to $700,000 per year."

Cruise wouldn't detail the costs of running the local programming, but one could estimate that in the range of $2-3-million dollars at a station around the size of CKX or slightly larger. That’s a guess at providing a few news shows a day. A full day of programming will, of course, cost more.

CKX's deal with the CBC complicates matters. That affiliate deal expires at the end of August which is when CTV plans to shut down the station. That would leave the station with nearly a full day of dead air to fill. And they've got little time to find that new programming or a way to pay for it.

Another cost that's not really mentioned, but is likely a factor in CTV and Canwest's decision to close stations, is the conversion to a digital broadcast. Canada has a couple more years than the U.S. on the conversion of all television broadcasts to digital signals, but 2011 isn't that far off. Cruise notes the cost for his Brandon station to convert its on-air signal might be around $2-million and with CTV having to convert stations around the country he thinks they "...must channel their resources to larger markets."

I'll go with his numbers since the CRTC couldn't ballpark a figure for me, instead telling me to get an engineer to provide estimates.

There are plenty of financial options for a small station like CKX. Especially if a new owner isn't currently running a station in a large city. There's the possibility of being picked up on satellite, the Local Programming Improvement Fund and an old idea likely to come to fruition.

"The CRTC is being pressured like never before to grant a 'fee for carriage' system," types Cruise. "And that would probably amount to another $350k per year to CKX."

It's an idea the regulator has rejected. Broadcasters like CTV and Canwest are expected to ask again at hearings set for the end of April. It would allow the companies to ask broadcast providers (Shaw, Bell, TELUS, etc...) for a fee for every subscriber to their services. It was last requested to be 50-cents per subscriber to a cable or satellite package. That number is now likely to be a minimum request. The last time the request was made it was tied into using the proceeds of such a fee for local and Canadian programming.

The good news from Cruise is there are "interested parties with the capability to run the station" in the process of "due diligence" to see if that can become a reality.

"We'll see..." he said over the phone Friday, during a conversation to confirm his e-mail responses.

CHCH in Hamilton also has some potential white knights, outside of the pitch for staff and community to buy the station.

The world may be moving to a more connected online format, but we're not all there yet. And thankfully there appear to be people ready to fight for those options. There also appear to be people ready to fight for local news and information, even as the larger broadcasters say it's a money pit. Time will tell if local TV can survive but I'll bet local news certainly finds a way to thrive. It just might not fit into a larger corporate picture.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Zoom Zoom

I don't know whether to file this under "reminder" or "critique" but it's been bugging me.

Back around March 19 those behind the 2009 Rexall Edmonton Indy called a news conference to talk about this year's race. It got coverage in the Edmonton Sun, iNews880 and the sports sections of the Sun and Edmonton Journal.

I appreciate the news stories mention the fact last year's race lost $5.3-million dollars and that tab falls to Edmonton taxpayers. What I'm not keen on in is the fact none of those stories mention the race is projected to run a deficit again this year (more than $1-million) which will again be picked up Edmonton taxpayers. I believe a column from Graham Hicks on the same publication day as the Sun news story was the lone source to mention it.

It seems to me that talk about the brighter financial future of the race requires a reminder to Edmonton taxpayers that they could still be on the hook, for at least two more years. It strikes me as a needed fact to balance the rosy comments from the president of Northlands.

The stories also take on a "spin" feel when I'm reading about how things are going to be better this year but I know there's a deficit predicted and it's not a hidden fact.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oversimplified Tuesday - 2

For a quick recap of what the heck Oversimplified Tuesday is, go here.

A funny thing happened on the way to simplifying a news story...I fell back into the same trap I would have as a reporter; answering questions by filling space but not necessarily giving the detailed facts. Ironically it's also the same thing we're trying to break down during the conversation: stories give you facts and comments and people have to try and figure out what the full picture is and what can be done about the topic at hand.

If only all reporters had someone like Sally to keep them on task.

Here now is an "oversimplied" conversation where I do stop trying to fill space and just answer the questions:

Sally: ok. the article i have questions about is here.

okay, so this is going to reveal what a complete imbecile i am, but i have no idea how government works. which means that this story means absolutely nothing to me. so, back to the article: my question is, when they say "The province unveiled a plan Monday to end homelessness in Alberta by 2019," does that actually mean anything? or is that the equivalent of me going to work and being like "hey, everybody, i think we should get donuts tomorrow."
does that mean i have unveiled a plan to get donuts?

Jeff: You are correct. Also, I want some donuts now. The plan has work behind it, people looking into the issue figuring out what the causes of (in this case) homelessness are and how things could be solved. At this stage though it's only a plan.

Sally: okay, so basically what happened, in my language is: (wait for it)
- i suggested we get donuts.
-then i did some recon to find out the cost of donuts, who gives us the most donuts for the least money, which are the best donuts. then i went back to work and was like "based on my evidence, i am sure we should get these donuts, from this place" and everybody went "okay!"

but nobody ponied up any money or took the initiative to get the ball rolling. so now we wait until the budget comes down to see if we can afford donuts.

Jeff: Yes. But you are in charge of the donut fund (as the government is in charge of the budget) so it's really your call as to whether or not it gets funded.

Sally: but the problem i have - and again, i am PARTICULARLY uneducated when it comes to government matters - is that i need that FRONT and CENTER! to me, the fact that this was a front page story suggests that this is urgent! that it's happening right now! that it requires my attention! but it doesn't. basically they did some research, they figure they have a plan, but no one knows if it's going to happen or not.

Jeff: Yup. The same (ok, similar) story came out from the City of Edmonton earlier this year. They had a look and figured they could solve the city's homelessness in the same 10-year timeframe for $1-billion. But most of that money had to come from the provincial and federal governments. Calgary also had a look and figured they'd need $3-billion. It was certainly front page in Edmonton when that story came out and it was even less of a certainty.

Sally: so i guess my question then becomes, WHAT THE HELL? i can see the argument that you would want to publicize this story now because, gee, maybe i want to get involved and offer up some ideas for this plan. but nowhere on this article does it say, "hey, if you have ideas, call or email so-and-so." but if you aren't going to tell me why i should care, then WHY IS THIS IN THE PAPER?????

Jeff: It's in the paper because it was a big announcement from the government and that's easy to cover and get reaction to.

Sally: but doesn't that pose a problem, in that dummies like me read the paper, and i figure "look, it's on the front page, it must be important." because arguably, this isn't terribly important. this belongs on a page 4 or 5.

This story does me no good if you don't add "say, if you like/don't like this idea, here's what to do about it..." or is that not the role of news? I always think of it as being like a junior high teacher. You should be taking the big complicated stories that are happening in the world and making them relevant to me. But I don't feel like that is happening here. Is that something reporters think about? Am I being unfair in expecting them to?

Jeff: I'm generalizing here, but reporters are thinking about getting a story done. They are thinking about taking the facts (in this case the highlights of the plan) and grabbing someone to comment on that. They aren't necessarily thinking about making it relevant to you. A story like this, because it involves an issue most of us encounter frequently, is assumed to be relevant simply because of that. They are boiling down the facts of the plan here, and not thinking (or not being provided space) to tell you what you can do about it. And because this is just a plan, not something that's guaranteed to move forward why would they (newsrooms and the government too) waste time soliciting your feedback if this is dead soon?

It's fair to ask what to do; it should be part of the story.

Sally: That's validating, because I often read stories of this nature and think, okay, what do i do now? Am I a dumbass because I don't really understand how this information is relevant to me?

Jeff: You're not a dumbass. People putting together the news are immersed in the stories they are covering. This story is going to be put together by reporters covering the provincial government and city beat, they talk to everyone involved in the announcemnent a lot, they have heard similar details before and they write the story that way. People producing and editing are in the same boat basically. The story gets written in a way that you need to already know where to go and what to do. If you don't, and they don't mention it, yes, you get a feeling it's being taken care of or there's nothing you need to/should do.

post-chat update:

If you want to see this kind of plan actually go somewhere or if you want nothing of the kind you should tell your MLA how you feel.

If you know who your MLA is go here to contact them. If you don't know; go to this website and find out.

* links added post-chat

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A broken spin cycle, I hope

I have a tendency to refer - only half-jokingly - to people working in public relations and media relations as those on the "dark side." It just sounds scary; like they're trying to create and sell their own reality to the public, instead of just telling their side of the story.

Maybe the spin in Alberta is worrisome to me because after living in Ontario and Manitoba, both places that have changed ruling parties since the Internet came into our lives, I can't understand how there's anyone else to blame except people in the current government. The latest stories out of Alberta Environment are especially troubling.

First, we learn from the CBC nobody at Alberta Environment mentioned Suncor and two of its contractors were facing charges for allegedly dumping untreated waste into the Athabasca River, and fudging the facts about it - and - they were charged more than one year ago. Minister Rob Renner says it's not their style to say anything before a company has its day in court.

That's scary because maybe those speaking for the government feel there's been enough negative publicity about the
oil tar oil sands and they'll speak only when spoken to.

It's not as scary if those around the Minister knew nothing about the charges and this was back in the enforcement section. Wait, my bad, that may be scarier.

Then, the day after, CTV goes off on a dig of their own and finds Suncor is facing more charges nobody trumpeted in a government news release. That came shortly after the Environment Minister and the Premier said things were going to be open, honest and transparent. Oh, after this one. Probably?

This is scary if nobody bothered to do damage control and prepare for more reporters to run energy company names through court databases the day after a fairly big story. Heck, there might have even been some muted adoration for the appearance of a new approach from Alberta Environment if they had made this public on their own after questions about court case #1.

You can certainly leave things to the courts and you can make reporters work for the story without news releases. You can't, however, try to show everyone you're serious about being green after one incident, then hide behind the court process when nobody has pictures of oily ducks to call you out on your
connections to the energy industry environmental record.

The public has a right to know if their government is taking action for alleged abuses. You'd think that would be something to trumpet.

Now after these stories, people in the Alberta government appear to either be hiding something(s) or not having any idea what's happening between various areas of even the same ministry.

Ultimately, I'm not sure what I would prefer; that this has been about disconnect or straight up deceit. We're equally screwed in both scenarios, but one can be fixed (theoretically) with communication and clear governmental processes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Oversimplified Tuesday #1

What this is all about:

I have the pleasure of a job that helps people but also
forces allows me to read newspapers all day. News reporting used to be my day-to-day so I also have a feel for this kind of stuff.

Basically I now read about city and municipal councils across Alberta all doing the same things and making the same mistakes. I also get to read all kinds of different takes on the same provincial stories.

Sometimes you may find reading one story leaves you asking questions, or not really getting the whole picture. It really does feel like most times you've got to tackle multiple stories to get some context.

You are not alone. My wife is right there with you. She tells me she can't spend all day reading newspapers and looking at other news sources to figure out what's actually going on. She tells me it's because she has a job. Apparently other people may be in same boat.

So, we're going to try and chat each Tuesday about one story in very plain terms and see if we can't figure out what the heck is really going on.

This is one of those stories:

Sally: so i need you to explain something to me.
i read this article and i don't really get it. i mean, i get the obvious stuff, like that the premier is down with the idea of going into debt to do infrastructure stuff, but i don't get how i'm supposed to know if this is a good idea or not. because in all of the artcles i have read, it's just one talking head pitted against another.
so i guess i'm asking, is the premier right? is this a good idea?

Jeff: If the question is simply one of whether or not it's a good idea to spend (and maybe borrow to do so) in bad economic times, the answer is usually yes.
At least for anybody following old JMK.
That's John Maynard Keynes for non-economic nerds.
That tends to be what everyone running a government is doing right now, spending on infrastructure (schools, roads, buildings) to keep some jobs going.
The idea is to then tax people when times are good.

Sally: i was just about to ask that. okay, but so why then is the guys from the tax association mad about it?

Jeff: The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) usually is upset. They aren't fans of taxes and don't like to see government waste. a province that was rife with cash they think it's kinda dumb to be going into debt all of the sudden. Also a fair argument.

Sally: But isn't that a moot point? Like, regardless of what the government should or shouldn't have done with oil royalties and budgets, it's over. The screwed up, they didn't save enough, and now we have to deal with the realities of the situation we're faced with? I guess the federation of texpayers' arguments doesn't seem like a real argument.

Jeff: And that would make the Premier's comments about spending and borrowing now somewhat "spin." Yes, most people agree to do it, yes it would offer some construction jobs and keep the economy moving but it lets the Alberta government gloss over the fact they spent everything they had.

The Taxpayers Federation is right to call for cuts to government waste. I bet you could find some in just about every department. They're also ideologically against government spending for the sake of it, so this is kind of their usual mantra.
Plus...they're an easy quote for reporters.
You find me a story that involves taxes, or government spending that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation DOESN'T want to comment on and I'll eat my hat.

Sally: Ok, which brings me to my next point, which is, isn't this article addressing two separate issues?
Like argument 1) we are broke and should we provide economic stimulus by going into debt for infrastructure.
and argument 2) well you guys really boned our economy by not demanding better royalities from oil companies, and ostensibly pissing away billions of dollars.

Jeff: Yes, the story here is two-fold. 1-The Alberta government wants to use its good credit rating to borrow some money and wants to spend its way into deficit to create jobs and make up for infrastructure it didn't build while it cut, cut, cut away the debt in the 90s.
2 - What boom? We didn't have a boom that showered us with cash. You must be mistaken. That's why we have to spend, spend, spend.
2a - Yay! We can blame the rest of the world economies for not saving squat.

Sally: But i guess my point here, and don't get me wrong, I think the conservatives should all be in jail, is that what's done is done. So should this article not be more focused on the actual reality of infrastructure spending; featuring things like numbers to substantiate the Premier's claim that labour costs are down? Or maybe somebody could look into whether his brother in law owns a contracting firm or something? I just find the additional opinions from the Taxpayers federation and Brian Mason unneccessary and ultimately irrelevant.
not to mention confusing to simple dullards like myself.

Jeff: Costs likely will be down for most projects because oil is down and that makes transportation costs cheaper, the big energy projects are stalled or just about cancelled and that frees up construction firms (which means less bidding-up).
Also, I don't know the Premier's personal connections but if a government has been in power for 40 years, it's going to be tough to find someone who building big projects and has not benefited before.
In terms of the paper also needing Brian Mason and the Taxpayers Federation, you need more than one voice in a story. Plus...opposition politicians and lobbying groups are really easy to get. I bet I could call them for a comment on this conversation.

Sally: I understand that you need more than one voice. But my problem is that in this instance, you failed to follow through on the central argument. To me, I should have seen actual proof that labour costs are down. Basically, what I took away from this article on the first reading was one guy says "we have no money, let's go into debt to build infrastructure." and another guy saying "no, you're a douchebag." but nobody saying, given the current economic state we are in, REGARDLESS of how we got there, this is or is not a good idea.
does that make sense? am i total simpleton for not getting this?

Jeff: Oh, I forgot to mention the other key to the Keynesian plan. You should probably save some money during good times to spend during the bad. So...yeah, somebody out there could probably say "Don't spend and borrow if you've never shown yourself to be able to manage money succesfully." Some may point to the slaying of the debt as successful money management but since the same guys are in power, umm, kind of nobody else to blame. I bet the CTF was trying to go somewhere near this idea but either got caught up in easier ideological statements or it got edited in a different way.
Oh...and the story was from Sunday, so don't expect anybody to be around to offer stats/info/comment on labour costs. Also, probably shouldn't expect many newsroom resources to be available for such on a Sunday.

Sally: Well-played, sir. Well, thank you for clearing that up. To review: 1) me, not an imbecile. 2) Government infrastructure spending, acceptable method of stimulating the economy. 3) We wouldn't even be having this discussion if the current government hadn't pissed away all the boom money.
Oh, and 4) newspapers is hard.

Jeff: I would clarify 2 - Acceptable, but REALLY acceptable if you have some money.
Which this province did. I swear I saw some money, like, last year or 2006 or
4 - breaking down a story beyond "here's guy A, here's what guy B says about guy A" = rare.

Sally: Okay, but the many flaws of the fiscal policies of the Alberta government is a discussion for another day.
When we have A LOT more time.

Jeff: You mean, when we run the place.

Sally: Yes, that's right. I mean when hell freezes over. Alberta boom: third time's the charm.

* links added post-chat

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Really, a stapler scared you? I hope never to be in that kind of situation myself but I think with everything that's coming out of the inquiry it's clear that things are at a laughable stage when staplers are seen to be frightening weapons to people who may very well be shot or stabbed any day they go to work.

Could we have avoided this embarrassment with an apology and admission of error at an earlier stage, possibly even before the damning video became public? Perhaps.

Does the video of the death and the constant contradiction of statements from the RCMP officers Tasering Robert Dziekanski affect police officers right across the country? Likely.

Their evidence in court will, or should, not hold the weight it may have before. Ignoring the allegations of coverup right now this inquiy proves officers are as fallible as all witnesses and their testimony cannot be given precedence at a trial. Maybe one of the tough parts about the inquiry is the fact we have to accept police may put their lives on the line for us but they are also just as human and error-prone as you and me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is "better than Mexico" good enough?

If you're looking for a place to throw out your love/hate police comments why not check out Matt Klein's post over at SomethingTV.

He has a personal connection to one of Alberta's darkest days, of which today is the anniversary.

He also brings up some interesting points about police in Canada that could easily get lost right now with daily reports coming out of the Vancouver Airport Taser inquiry.

If you don't feel like going there just yet, you can read what I had to say below. It might not make a whole lot of sense out of context though.

While it’s too simple to slam the RCMP or any police service for their mistakes, or the mistakes of one or more of their officers, and say that they are all corrupt and everything needs an overhaul I think it’s also too easy to fire back that we are just lucky to be here in Canada.

Canada certainly has a higher standard of living than all or most of the places referenced above but much as John has alluded to we can’t simply be happy to be “better than Mexico.” As a First World nation we have to strive to set the standard and accept nothing less. There will always be human error but if people can learn from those errors and improve training or systems we will be in a better place. If we can strive for that we will set the example for other countries and be in a better place to go there and teach them how it’s done.

Learning and adapting is the biggest step but there also has to be open dialogue between those that serve the public and the people. An example of this comes from the Vancouver Airport Tasering.

People were told by the RCMP to wait for everything to come out through the usual investigations. After the airport video was released and after recent testimony from the inquiry it’s beginning to feel like there were things that might have been kept from the light of day. I’m not saying that’s the case or would definitely have been the case but there’s a feeling of that coming out of testimony that includes references to Robert Dziekanski wildly swinging and coming at police when the video shows nothing of that kind.

People who clamour for constant overhaul when something goes wrong might be a little more on board to wait for change if the other side (in this case, the police) were a little more willing to be open from the get-go that a mistake might have occurred and they seemed willing to accept change. It can’t be all or nothing on either side.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Call it MyTube

It's 20 years after the under appreciated “Weird Al” vehicle UHF and while it may have seemed just a dream of everyday people to actually be in charge of a TV station it turns out you don’t have to win a station in a poker game. You can buy it for $1 when the economy tanks.

CTV Television Inc. is looking to sell CKX-TV in Brandon, MB, offering it to CBC for $1 (the channel airs CBC programming) and after the Corp turned that down the station is up for sale to any takers. You can have a TV station for the cost of the land in Brandon, MB if you can show the CRTC you could run things. I haven’t lived in Manitoba for a few years but I doubt that land is going to set you back a whole lot. You get the building, the equipment, even the staff!

This is among the local news options Canadians look to lose in the near future as CTV is also going to fail to renew licenses at its Windsor and Wingham, ON stations and CanWest is checking on its options (including sale) of stations right across the country in places such as Victoria, Red Deer and Hamilton. This is just TV because newspapers are another story.

There are about three weeks left before CTV just opts to let the station go dark when the license expires August 1 so I think my wife and I will see what it would take to own a station in this new economy. We may not buy the station but maybe we’ll end up doing some leg work for some George Newmans out there just waiting to bring us their version of “Wheel of Fish.”