Have a rental crunch? Don’t be dense!

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Scarce and increasingly expensive rental properties in Calgary have been making the news lately. Mayor Nenshi took advantage of the issue to ignore basic supply and demand principles while trying to label Calgary landlords as being greedy and gouging.

It is no secret that Naheed Nenshi is a very ideologically dedicated to increasing urban density within Calgary by any means possible such as Calgary’s virtual suburban development freeze. While hindering and freezing outward growth in a city will indeed lead to increased urban density it will also inevitably lead to a higher cost of living, particularly in the rental market. This makes it understandable as to why Nenshi wants to distract people from the consequences of his development policies with a baseless and divisive attack on landlords within Calgary. It would be rather difficult for Nenshi to sell his density mantra if more people realized just how hard those density policies end up impacting low and middle income Calgarians.

The vast majority of people simply do not want to live in crowded downtown situations. That is why when the market is allowed to develop naturally, cities will grow outward to fill demand and it will keep real-estate and rental properties within the bounds of proper market price. When outward growth is hindered by obstacles such as an ocean or ideological city council, higher urban density along with greatly inflated housing costs soon follow.

Don’t just take my word for it though. The numbers tell the tale and the very direct correlation between urban density and high rent is very easy to see.

Below I have listed American cities in order of declining density based on people per mile square and then have the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in US dollars next to it.

New York City   27,778 people per sq. mile       Average rent: $2,933

San Francisco 17,867 people per sq. mile         Average rent: $3,413

Boston  13,340 people per sq. mile                    Average rent: $2,080

Chicago 11,864 people per sq. mile                   Average rent: $1,628

Miami    11,765 people per sq. mile                    Average rent: $2,049

Seattle  7,774 people per sq. mile                      Average rent: $1,402

Cleveland 5,107 people per sq. mile                  Average rent: $635

Portland Oregon 4,375 people per sq. mile       Average rent: $1,106

Houston 3,662 people per sq. mile                    Average rent: $1,191

Dallas 3,645 people per sq. mile                        Average rent: $1,090

Phoenix 2,797 people per sq. mile                     Average rent: $776

Las Vegas 1,659 people per sq. mile                 Average rent $766

The pattern is pretty stark. While variables such as local economy, taxes and desirable real-estate have an effect, it is clear that the higher the urban density you have, the higher the rent.

Even with a strong economy and an incredible landscape, the hipster’s Mecca of Portland Oregon keeps rents reasonable through outward growth and low urban density.

Houston and Dallas are commonly demonized by density proponents for their evil “sprawl” but they clearly offer a great standard of living as they both have strong economies and low rents. Phoenix and Vegas have all sorts of space to grow outwards and it shows with their very low density and their associated low rents. Calgary has plenty of room to grow outward too if we would just allow it.

Keep these numbers in mind as Mayor Nenshi continues to promote high urban density and constant tax increases. While Nenshi may indeed create his high-density utopia but it will come at a very heavy price for people with low or fixed incomes as rents inevitably continue to rise quickly. High density and low rent simply does not happen in the developed world.

 

 

 

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We have to stop pandering to extremist protesters!!

To put it simply, you can’t reason with the unreasonable. There is a collection of career protesters in Canada who are determined to protest any and every possible development in the country and they will not negotiate or compromise. We are wasting resources and putting our first responders at risk as we continually try to appease this tiny but loud minority of extremists. We empowered this directionless group when we sat on our hands for months while they squatted in and destroyed our public parks across the continent as we wasted time trying to negotiate with these people during the pointless “occupy” protests. In almost every situation we eventually had to get court orders and have these squatters physically removed. Our time in negotiation was wasted and waiting for them to move on was a waste of time too. These protesters really do have nothing better to do. Gainful employment certainly isn’t a consideration for most of them.

The list is long but the latest racket is coming from Burnaby where surveys are proceeding in preparation to expand the capacity of Canada’s Transmountain Pipeline which has safely operated and transported hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day to the West coast since shortly after World War II. Yes folks, we have had a pipeline across the mountains for decades and the world didn’t end. Kinder Morgan isn’t even proposing a new pipeline, it is looking to expand a current one. This still drew protest from the unreasonable and the extreme and now it has led of course to arrests.

One clear sign that these protesters are the same ones who took part in the pointless “occupy” protests a few years ago is their filthy living. The hypocrisy and sense of entitlement of these pigs is astounding as they demand that the world clean up while they themselves pollute their surroundings in ways that an oilfield crew would never even consider.

camp1 camp2Above are pictures of the filthy encampment where protesters have sat about for the last few weeks. Garbage is strewn everywhere and reports of a great deal of human waste a short distance away in the trees are coming out. Again, does this sound familiar? Of course it does. This is the same group of people acting the same way they did in “occupy”.

occupoopAbove is a picture of the Burnaby Mountain encampment along with some pictures from “occupy” encampments. The only real difference is that the Burnaby bunch didn’t have as much access to fast food as they did when they were squatting in more urban areas. One reason to arrest these fools when they set up camp sooner rather than later is ironically for the protection of our environment.

Below are pictures of these folks interacting with police.

Trans Mountain 20141120 coward dolt doltline loserI took part in a protest once that came to a point where police told me that I was to either leave or be physically removed. This was after hours of police seeking compromises with me. Despite claims from hysteric professional protesters, police are not actually that eager to physically remove or arrest people. The way I avoided being dragged into a police wagon that day was agreeing to move once things got to that point. I had made my point, why subject myself and the police to the mess of dragging me around?

Why do these idiots insist on making police drag them out? What point are they making? Many of them are hoping to create an impression of police brutality. All of the RCMP officers at this protest wore uniform mounted cameras and there were dozens of private cameras filming every second. While protesters spat upon, pressed and tried to provoke police, the officers showed great restraint as usual.

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respectOne idiot protester put himself in a tree forcing police to put themselves at risk to remove him. There should be extra charges for people putting police in harms way like this.

treetwitOther stupid and failed tactics to delay work were having one dolt chain her head to a piece of concrete while another moron climbed under a jeep. These acts accomplished nothing aside from making more work and creating a hazard even to themselves.

idiot moronThese ridiculous protesters even oppose the reversal of flow in an existing line as demonstrated in “Line 9″ in Ontario. Note the similar tactics of piling garbage for others to clean up and chaining themselves pointlessly to things.

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The right to demonstrate and protest is a vital one but there are limits and we are allowing extremists to increasingly pass reasonable limitations. The “occupy” idiocy cost taxpayers millions in extra law enforcement and cleaning up after them across the country. These endless protests against all energy projects are costing taxpayers and private industry alike millions of dollars. I would rather our police were out seeking and arresting hardened criminals rather than putting themselves at risk to move or babysit these extremists.

This is a fun game to many of these protesters. They are typically upper middle class kids who know that their Dadda will bail them out as they repeatedly get arrested. They are out having fun at the expense and risk to all.

twitsMichael Sona was just sentenced to 9 months in jail for his role in the “robocall” scandal. The judge wanted to make an example of him and rightly show that we will not tolerate infringement of the democratic process. It is time to make such examples of these protesters who insist in illegally disrupting progress and putting others at risk. These companies have jumped through all the legal hoops and done all the preliminary studies and work required for their projects. They deserve protection from these extremists.

Instead of constantly arresting and releasing these clowns with fines, perhaps it is time to give some of them real sentences. Maybe with a couple months in jail some of these kids may realize that their trust-fund doesn’t serve them well when Bubba is making eyes at them in the group showers.

There is no reasoning with these protesters. It is time to start demonstrating that we have had enough of their antics and make them understand that enough is enough.

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Do we really need campaign signs on public space?

A few weeks ago I found myself in the familiar role of harvesting election signs after the by-election campaign. Again I could not help but note what a colossal waste of resources the placement of election signs on public spaces is. I have written on this before and I think it is time to bring it up again. Having municipalities ban signs on public spaces would benefit both political parties and the pubic in general. It is rare when a policy seems such a clear winner but I think councils need some more nudging on this.

There are a number of reasons why election signs should no longer be placed on public space.

They are ugly!

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By the end of any campaign the number of signs piled on public spaces can be astounding and I really can’t think of anybody who likes looking at them massed like that. I have been in the USA for a couple elections and they make our sign placement look scattered in comparison but we are working hard to close that gap.

It is bad for the environment

I am not Mr. Environmentalist by any means but I do appreciate some common sense approaches to conservation. In a general election in Alberta alone there are tens of thousands of signs on public space throughout the province. While the occasional candidate may re-use signs, they are for the most part a one time use thing as the parties tend to change themes, slogans, colors and candidates.

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I found the sign pictured above while picking up by-election signs. The sign clearly had been laying under the grass for over two and a half years. Signs on private space are taken care of by the homeowner if the campaign lapses in picking them up. Public space signs often end up vandalized, blown away and forgotten by campaign teams.

Public space signs don’t work!

The only real reason campaigns insist on placing signs on public space is that they don’t want to be perceived as lagging behind any competitors. If the signs were only on private space it would have no negative impact on any campaign.

millingIMG626The Alberta Party dedicated almost everything they had to their campaign in Calgary Elbow. To keep this from being too evident, they did spend a small fortune and some time on putting out massive amounts of public space signs in the other constituencies.

While Mr. Millington is a decent fellow and while the Alberta Party got a surprising amount of press during the campaign, Troy Millington got a paltry 2.4% of the vote in Calgary West despite the constituency being blanketed by signs small and large.

Public space signs are no substitute for a real campaign. If they were to have any impact at all, the hundreds of them placed out for Mr. Millington would have brought his showing at least beyond an average polling margin of error.

Removing public space signs will improve campaigns!

Election signs do serve a purpose in bringing about relatively cheap name recognition and when on private lawns can lend a strong effect of momentums as people see where their neighbors appear to be landing on the electoral map. While election signs on public land turn into white noise in the eyes of the voter, signs on private lawns have a real influence on the election.

If the only option for sign placement was on public land, campaigns would bring their battle for voters to where it really belongs, on the doorsteps. Campaigns that want signs will have to approach voters directly and engage them. While any real campaign already knows this, a ban on public signs will force campaigns to focus even further on knocking on doors which is better for any campaign.

Resources will be saved as well. Volunteers who used to have to constantly place, repair and maintain public space signs can now be dedicated to something more productive while the thousands previously spent on public space signs can be spent on better things as well (volunteer beer and such).

Campaigns can irritate people and the waste can be astounding with signs everywhere while literature overloads everybody’s mailboxes for over a month. We could simply change this by having municipalities banning public space signs if we could just coax them to put that on the table. I just cant see a downside here.

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Wildrose Party 2014 AGM summary.

Every party has ups and downs and challenges and turnovers. This year has been a challenging one for the party and we had many things to try and figure out going into our AGM this year. While we were disappointed in not winning the general election in 2012, we still saw progress in that we had certainly grown and had gone from a handful of seats to a respectable opposition party in the legislature. This year’s test was in the four by-elections held last month and our showing was simply disappointing. To be blunt, if we couldn’t win at least one seat in those by-elections in light of the years of profound mismanagement by our governing party, we really have no hope in hell of forming government in 18 more months in a general election. The losses led to some kneejerk responses from party leadership and some heavy internal party squabbling as the party loyal tried to grasp what had just happened and why. Tensions that had been quietly building before the by-elections began to openly erupt as we saw a caucus member sent on his way and we saw all sorts of social media eruptions from both inside and outside the party.

While all of that negativity is not pleasant to see, there is a silver lining in that it made the powers that be in the upper levels of the party more receptive to listening and changing than they have been in quite awhile and it was reflected at the AGM. The AGM itself was a success in the exchanging of ideas and communications between the members and the managers. Time will now tell if whether the communications were taken to heart. It is promising though seeing a broad questionnaire included in every package for attendees (though not promoted well) and the reverse bear-pit was excellent.

For the first time since the founding of the party I was unavailable for the Friday portion of the AGM. I am of a mind that AGMs should shift to a Saturday/Sunday format but I do understand that some folks would take exception to that and it really isn’t a huge deal. It does make it tougher for folks employed full time to attend the whole meeting. From what I heard the hospitality suites were quite lively as usual and while I did miss participating in them, it was nice not being hung over for the Saturday portion of the AGM. I did watch Danielle Smith’s keynote speech live from home. The full text of that speech can be found here.

One thing that struck me right away was the choice of Tim Dyck and Cheryl Phaff to MC the AGM. Both of them are long term grassroots members who hold volunteer positions in the party. This helped demonstrate a recognition that some members are becoming uncomfortable with a perception that paid staff are calling all shots within the party. While the party needs managerial reform in a real way, the little symbols like this go a long way too.

Danielle Smith’s keynote speech

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There were mixed reviews on Danielle’s speech. I think overall it was pretty good but one of the key points was poorly communicated in it. When Danielle began to speak on how media was not covering our positive initiatives well, I slapped my head. There are few things worse to watch than political types blaming the media for their own failures and if nothing else it tends to piss off an already fickle element in the media which will make coverage even more unfavorable. In expanding further, we could see that Danielle was segueing into encouraging us to communicating more directly on the ground with people rather than trying to rely on media. It was pointed out how press events where we were exposing a scandal with the PC party would be jammed with reporters while when we put out a positive release with a policy plan we can’t find a reporter to save our lives. This is not so much a shot at the media (though some interpreted it as such) as it is just facing and pointing out the reality in conventional media. Positive policy statements while productive are dull while scandals sell newspapers and bring in viewers. Media are bound by having to report on what is broadly viewed as interesting which is understandable. This has led to the consequence that the Wildrose only ever gets broad public coverage when a negative event is happening however and that gives folks the impression that we are chronically negative.

What I am interpreting here is that Danielle Smith was not so much trying to attack or blame media as she was trying to encourage us to spread our positive messages ourselves and at a ground level. This will entail developing our constituency presences (something that has been sorely lacking) and speaking to people at the doors and on the streets. This also means being more positive and proactive on social media whether through blogs, twitter, facebook or any of the other platforms. We need to fix our ground game and modern communications give us great opportunities to do so if we would properly utilize them. It will be in direct communications with Albertans that we will win their support rather than expecting conventional media to do that job for us. One positive experience at a doorstep will have more influence on a voter than 100 positive editorials. We need to get out there and create those positive experiences.

That whole interpretation of mine though took some thinking and reading into the speech. I am not sure if the keynote speech was the best place to try and communicate that kind of initiative and it left things open for people to portray it as a petty attack on media. Many on social media took to mocking Danielle’s light reference to appointing “fun police” as well. It was a simple pair of words used while making the very good point that politics and ground level organizing can be fun if we want to make it so. It is actually important that we do so. It is much easier to draw volunteers out when it will be a fun event rather than seeing it as a task or obligation. The Alberta Party demonstrated this excellently as they promoted their Calgary Elbow campaign. They were upbeat and held fun gatherings throughout the campaign. They drew positive and repeat volunteers which led to them having a respectable showing in Elbow despite having 2% support throughout the rest of the province. The ground game is critical and having some fun is key in building it. The other point again learned through this speech though is that we need to communicate directly as simply implying in a speech that we should have fun ended up being mocked and belittled by folks.

What I took from Danielle Smith’s speech was that some humbling has occurred and that she recognizes that we need to build up our member and community presence rather than centralize party control and rely on press releases to get the word out as we had been. Perhaps I am reading too much with optimism from this speech but this is what I gathered from it. It was not the most inspiring, fiery and profound oration to hit a convention floor by any means but it had positive messaging and some ideas that we need to follow through on.

Executive Committee Elections

On Saturday morning we began with one executive candidate speech for the only contested position at this AGM. It turned out that the opponent of the person giving the speech dropped out on Saturday turning the race into an acclamation. That meant there was not a single vote on executive positions. We had recently adopted changes extending terms and staggering their expiries. I think that still has merit but in light of having no members able to vote on EC members this year and many on the EC having been appointed rather than run for their positions, I think something backfired. We need to work on before the next AGM. The member selection of EC members is critical and we need to hold regular races for this. The races add a little competitive zing to the convention which we lacked this year as well.

Reverse Bearpit Session

bearpit

This was a refreshing, gutsy and innovative move by the party. A panel of a few elements of the party sat up and asked questions directly of the membership on a number of issues and solicited their concerns. This was purely unvarnished interaction with a full media presence. There was no effort to control messaging here. There was only an honest exercise to get feedback from concerned members.

Sitting on the panel were Danielle Smith, Dave Yager (Party President/Interim Executive Director), Jeff Callaway (VP Fundraising), Kathy MacDonald (Calgary Foothills by-election candidate), Rod Fox (MLA Lacombe Ponoka) and Brian Tiessen (Wildrose nominee Sherwood Park). The panel was modelled to cover the subjects being asked of the membership which were: issues, by-elections, operations and caucus.

On issues members came forward to the microphone and were pretty predictable in saying what motivates them. Healthcare, education and a repeated call to reduce government came in loud and clear. While perhaps unsurprising, a reinforcement being presented to party leadership on how reduction of the size and scope of government is considered a core principle by the active membership is a good thing.

On by-elections we heard stronger concerns. Some members reported a sense of poor organization in the campaigns that they volunteered on and that they were not well utilized as volunteers. One resounding message was that nobody liked the campaign slogan of “send them a message”. It is good to note that the members rejected that theme as well as the electorate. It is too bad this was recognized after the by-elections rather than before but in openly discussing this we can better avoid repeating mistakes. Members (and voters) felt that we simply were too negative in the campaign.

On operations things became more heated. Discontent on the party of the membership with party operations has been growing and I think it was a good idea to let them speak (and vent) on this. Many members wanted a bloodletting on the staff level of the party. It was confirmed that William Mcbeath is no longer in charge of political operations and that Vitor Marciano has been reduced to an advisory role and helping Danielle Smith write speeches. Personally, I think Vitor has been somewhat unfairly tarred by some within the party as the root of problems. Marciano was as key to the growth of the Wildrose to a higher level in these last few years as Danielle Smith has been but the details of that are fodder for a post another time. While Vitor has done some good, it perhaps was time that somebody else moved in. Marciano’s style did chafe with many in the membership and they expressed this.

In operations, multiple members spoke up on how terrible communications with the central party has been. Stories of repeated requests for documents, records or even simply advice languishing in party voicemail were related to the panel by frustrated members. It seemed no small coincidence that communications seemed at their worst when Constituency Association members tried to get nomination information.

Outside of communications, nominations were a huge elephant in the room. Multiple frustrated members again came to the microphone and spoke up on issues of party interference in their nomination processes and utter lack of communication on it. The response from the panel was unfortunately utterly disappointing on this one. When asked direct questions on nominations Danielle sidetracked into a speech about how a committee of MLAs is being formed to seek and recruit new nominees. That had utterly nothing to do with the question on party interference in nominations, in fact it implies that they want to take the recruitment process even further out of the hands of constituents. The party’s record on nominations so far has been abhorrent with nearly half of all nominations done over 90% of nominees were either acclaimed or appointed. Further nominations have now been deferred until January and I do hope that is because the party wants to repair the currently broken process. While the response on the spot was disappointing, I do hope the panel was at least listening and plans to come up with something better. The nomination mess is undercutting CAs and general volunteer morale in a terrible way and will bite the party’s ass hard if nothing changes.

On caucus little was said by members. I take that to mean they are pretty content with that. Some folks took the microphone to go on their own pet diatribes and some did some unproductive bitching but as a whole I think the reverse bearpit went very well.

Policy

The policy discussions were well organized and went quite smoothly. The system of having constituency associations rank policy proposals worked well in filtering out the more important from the less pressing proposals. There is room to work on getting more CAs to participate in the rankings and perhaps in the numbering system but it worked as well as it could. Our constitution allows any 5 members to bring forth a policy proposal and when I was VP policy we literally had proposals in the hundreds one year. These proposals simply must be pared down as not enough time exists at any AGM to debate them all. Tim Dyck’s organization of this was as good as any I have seen to date.

Discussion was typically well controlled. Three were allowed to speak for and three against before a vote was held on any policy. Something that was interesting was how many policies came to a pretty close vote requiring counting. I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing to be honest. I found myself torn on voting on a number of policies as I saw good points made on both sides. For the most part, there was little of controversy in our policy formulation.

We did manage to create some controversy for ourselves by regurgitating a failed policy proposal that wanted to try and identify each and every conceivable minority group on the planet and recognize their rights while replacing our current policy which already supports the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in full and the rights of ALL people being equally protected. This vote was not even close and members resoundingly supported the protection of rights for all as is already in our policies.

The differences are laid out here on Jane Morgan’s site. No sense reproducing all the details on this faux-controversy here. The bottom line is that some tall foreheads decided to ensure that the folks playing gotcha politics could find some sort of issue to try and paint the party as being intolerant and they gave them one. The Wildrose Party’s policies were inclusive and protected the rights of all the day before yesterday and they still do today. Rejecting foolish and divisive identity politics being enshrined in policy is not bigotry, it is common sense. It should be noted that not a single party sitting in the legislature lists all groups for protection in their policies either. The Wildrose policies on this are the same as the NDP, PCs and Liberals essentially. There is no controversy or intolerance here despite some trying to create it.

Constitution

The constitutional discussions went much like the policy ones. Pretty smoothly with good debate. The bar for constitutional change is higher than policy in that we need 75% in order to change something as opposed to 50% in policy.

Some housekeeping changes were made and some proposals were rejected. One proposal that would have reduced party interference in nominations won the support of the majority of the room but still fell short of the requisite 75%. Such is democracy. Perhaps next year.

The whole of section 9 of the party constitution was removed after some debate. The notions in section 9 were perhaps well meaning but in reality were unfeasible in the constitution. Section 9 called for party control over caucus actions. This clashes with proper government representation and simply could not remain in our constitution. The section was removed and we continue to grow up.

One proposal to enshrine our commitment to the protection for human rights for all was supported by about 98% of the room in a vote too so the party have reiterated commitment to human rights on more than one level now. It will still never be enough for some of course.

After constitution we had what I saw as a positive and standard sort of closing speech from party President David Yager.

The AGM as a whole was a success. No huge changes were made and people did not come out screaming with enthusiasm and ready to take on the world. A great deal of communication and open party introspection happened though and this is important. The Wildrose Party needs to reform itself and grow further and having frank sort of meetings like this is a step on the way there. The meeting this year definitely had a theme of listening on the part of party leadership. They listened indeed, now we will see if they truly heard us.

Informal AGM initiatives

On Friday evening a young party activist disappointed with the on again/off again leadership review idea handed out a parody “wiltedrose” ballot to members. It was not generally well received. Guess he made a point all the same and that is part of the game.

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A paper was distributed to gather more support for Rod Fox’s upcoming motion 501 on property rights.

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Most funny and sad was an initiative by supporters of Randy Thorsteinson who placed one of these under every vehicle in the parking lot calling for the formation of a Reform Party (how original) with what appears to be a very unapologetically socially conservative and anti-abortion platform. Aside from a facebook group formed a few months back, I don’t think he is really getting anywhere with this but he may at least draw a few of the less moderate away from the Wildrose. Good luck Randy.

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Calgary city councillors need to learn what their mandate is

 

Some members of Calgary city council have been complaining for some time now that they are overworked and that we need more city councillors to help share the burden. As is often the case, I have to call bullshit. If anything, Calgary city councillors have too much time on their hands. How else can we explain the amount of time that they dedicate to myopic pet projects that are way outside of their mandate and jurisdiction as a council?

Brian Pincott wants to ban fire pits and end the odious trend of apparent light pollution as well as banning people from cutting trees on their own property. Those all pale in comparison with the council time wasted trying to ban types of soup from restaurants however. With all those foolish initiatives, can we really believe that poor Brian doesn’t have enough time on his hands?

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Druh Farrell came up with the profoundly stupid “Bow River Flow” festival which was nothing more than an excuse to close a main road and poke a stick in the eyes of drivers. It failed terribly after a few seasons and thankfully was tossed in the dustbin.

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Diane Colley-Urquhart took on a pointless crusade against e-cigarettes which sadly has now been taken on by Mandel on a provincial level. I wonder if she opposes methadone treatment for addicts too or nicoderm patches?

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City council now has a triumvirate of twits wasting council time trying to get rid of payday loan companies as they apparently prey on the poor. Can we assume that liquor stores, tobacconists, used car dealers and rent-to-own outfits will be targeted as well? Lower income people tend to make up a disproportionate portion of the client base of those businesses too.

What have all the idiotic, busybody initiatives above got in common?

None of the above pet projects of our supposedly overworked city councillors land within the mandate of city hall!!!!

Below I will quote directly from the Alberta Municipal Government Act. The act is hundreds of pages long but our esteemed councillors really only need to read one part. It is three simple lines and I will quote them below.

Purposes, Powers and Capacity of Municipalities
Municipal purposes
The purposes of a municipality are
(a) to provide good government,
(b) to provide services, facilities or other things that, in the opinion of council, are necessary or desirable for all or a part of the municipality, and
(c) to develop and maintain safe and viable communities.

There you have it folks. A very direct and simple mandate. Nothing about specifying which soups are legal or not. Nothing about banning things like e-cigarettes or regulating or punishing businesses that may be predominantly serving folks in the lower income bracket of society.

Every month we see at least one or two mind-blowingly foolish pet projects and initiatives from our city council in Calgary. It is galling that this collection of officials can waste so much time and money on these things and then whine about being overworked at the same time.

To Calgary city councillors: read those three lines that describe what your mandate is supposed to be. Follow those instructions! The workload will suddenly be reduced and we will get better government for it.

Sad that council will need to be directed to that act over and over again as they seem to think that they govern some sort of city state with huge, intrusive authority to govern our lifestyle or business choices. If they really want to build such a nanny state, may I suggest that our city council pursue federal seats in parliament as that is where such potential powers lie, not in city hall.

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A repugnant anti-Christian display in Alberta

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In the selfie above, it can be seen that I sport a tattoo of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was formed in 2005 in response to a ridiculous court ruling in Kansas that called for the teaching of “Intelligent design” alongside the teaching of evolution in science classes in public schools. The rationale was that nobody can prove that God didn’t create the Earth thus it must be given equal footing in science class. A brain-dead judge in Kansas agreed. Nobody can prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster PBUH didn’t create the Earth either thus the church of FSM made an excellent point along with some great humour. More information on FSM can be found here.

What the picture demonstrates aside from my having a bad haircut and even worse taste in tattoos is that I am not a Christian by any means and am strongly opposed to seeing theology integrated into the public school system again. I have little use for any organized religion in general but do feel that people indeed have every right to believe in whatever fairy tale that they like as long as they never feel the need to have the state impose the delusion of their choosing upon others. This is why my ire is most often directed at the crescent moon rather than the crucifix when it comes to these matters.

Having established my lack of faith in Christianity, I will state clearly that I am not supporting the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta either. I have no simple photo to demonstrate that but there are dozens of postings on this site that pretty clearly demonstrate where I stand on things.

Now, on to the anti-Christian crap that has annoyed me. Premier Jim Prentice appointed Gordon Dirks as Alberta’s next Education Minister and this has caused elements on the left to go haywire calling the appointment controversial, inappropriate and even outrageous.

Why is the appointment of Dirks such an outrage? It is not that he is not well qualified. Dirks served over a decade as a trustee with the Calgary Board of Education, has a masters degree in education from the University of Regina. and served in multiple cabinet roles in the Saskatchewan government. Dirks has no record of controversy or extreme views so what the hell is the problem?

The problem is that Gordon Dirks is openly and unapologetically Christian!

Dirks has not called for bringing religion into the classrooms nor shown any indication that he wants to do so. He has not been a part of any of the crazy Street Ministries in Calgary or led any loony marches. All he has done is dare be open about his faith.

If Dirks starts moving towards trying to integrate church with government or classrooms I can assure you that I will be in the front of the line demanding that he be fired as minister at the very least. Until then though, the only real basis of opposition to this man is an overt and rather offensive anti-Christian outlook.

It has been said before and it is worth saying again, would these usual suspects be calling his appointment scandalous due to his faith if he were Muslim, Hindu or Jewish? Not for a second of course because those on this anti-Christian bandwagon are simply being shallow, hypocritical, anti-Christian assholes. Really folks, bigotry is bigotry no matter what faith you are pointing at. It is the actions one needs to be concerned with rather than the faith and we have not seen any controversial actions or intent from Dirks.

We are a free nation. That means that a person’s faith should not impact whether they qualify for a job or not. Do these anti-Christian folks not realize that when they say a person is not fit for cabinet due to their faith that this is the exact sort of prejudice that they love sending people to the Human Rights Commissions for?

Irony or hypocrisy it is distasteful all the same. The same crowd of folks who support people being dragged before Human Rights Commissions for the supposed crime of publishing cartoons feel that it is OK to disqualify a person from a position solely based on what their faith is.

The other thing that is annoying me here is that this display of anti-Christian attitudes is giving credence to idiots like Craig Chandler who like to claim that those who don’t like them must be “Christaphobes” Chandler just called me that name last week as a matter of fact. Just to clarify, my issue with Craig Chandler is not that he is a Christian. My issue with Craig Chandler is that he is a belligerent, unprincipled asshole who is poisoning Alberta’s entire political atmosphere. Let’s not give guys like Craig more excuses to play the victim here.

Being secular means keeping religion out of government, it does not mean keeping people who have religions out of government. I think that some of those folks who have been so outraged at the appointment of Dirks need to take a good long look into a mirror and think about who really is the intolerant one here.

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Let’s get real on secondary suites in Calgary

lawnpark

Every time secondary suites come before city council in Calgary, we hear the usual chorus bemoaning the status of secondary suites in the city. The process is indeed tedious and not an efficient use of city council time as every suite application comes before council for discussion for approval or rejection. There is no doubt that this is a terrible system of approval and it needs reform. That being said, this does not justify the radical changes to zoning that the secondary suite obsessed want to see throughout the city.

Nenshi has a vocal cult following and secondary suites have always been a frustrating pet issue of his. This of course has led to quite the crusade over the years by his faithful to push to have secondary suites legalized throughout the entire city. Every year the hype gets louder and if these zealots were to be believed, everything from homelessness to nose-warts would end if only those darned stubborn NIMBYs in the city would allow widespread secondary suites.

What we have is a mess in the system for approval and regulation that indeed needs to be addressed. The potential benefits of widely legalized secondary suites have been grossly exaggerated by proponents for years though and we have to get back to reality here.

To begin with, how many new secondary suites would Calgary really gain if they were legalized throughout the city? A study back in 2008 estimated that there were 50,000 to 80,000 “illegal” suites in the city already. In the six years since then the city has grown of course so those numbers are likely higher. What this tells us is that those who want to build secondary suites are building them already despite current regulations. Clearly whatever legislation there is against secondary suites is of little to no deterrent for people who want to build these suites. Getting realistic, how many more suites could we expect if the suites were legalized? To be blunt, not a hell of a lot.

The numbers above do not mean that there is no benefit to legalization of more suites, but it does demonstrate that legalizing suites will not be the panacea to solve issues of high rents and homelessness in the city as the fanatical pushers of these suites like to imply they are. The supply really won’t grow by that much.

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Druh Farrell has long been a strong proponent of the mass legalization secondary suites throughout the city. Druh loves to wax on about the misery of tenants living in illegal suites as they have limited protections in landlord/tenant issues and can often live in unsafe conditions. Druh then loves to point out how high rents are and how limited availability is within the city. The true depth of Farrell’s rationale came to light in a radio interview though when she vapidly went into circles in confusion when confronted with the reality that if we found and regulated all of these illegal suites as she wants us to that we would actually end up with less suites and much higher rent. Druh and her ideological kin have always had something of a deficit when it comes to the concept of supply and demand.

We may have as many as 100,000 “illegal” (grey market) suites in the city of Calgary. Likely well over 75% of them need at least some upgrades to bring them to code in a legal and regulated market. Bringing a suite up to code in Calgary can range in cost anywhere from $10,000 to over $100,000. It simply isn’t cheap. Landlords who find themselves confronted with the sudden legal need to upgrade these suites will have to choose between closing the suite and evicting the tenants or doing the renovations and raising the rent considerably to recoup their costs. Landlords are not charities people. The bottom line is that we will either lose a suite or costs will rise. Neither of those two options aids in availability of suites or rental costs of course (that supply and demand thing). We need to work to ensure that suites are safe but let’s not pretend that enforcement won’t have a very big impact on supply.

Now the next question is whether or not a big market of prospective landlords is waiting in the wings just salivating at the prospect of opening a secondary suite but has not done so yet because it is illegal. The city of Calgary waived their ridiculous $4,500 application fee which is a good thing. This led to what was described as a “rush” by homeowners to apply for rezoning. How many applications were in this “rush”? 11!!! Yes, folks even with free application costs the grand total of initial applicants for zoning was 11 people. There were a couple dozen more pending. We are speaking numbers in the dozens in a city of well over a million people. Folks who want to rent secondary suites are already doing so in the grey market and will continue to no matter what the regulations.

We need some degree of oversight and regulation on where we will or will not allow secondary suites. Some neighborhoods simply are not well designed to handle them. Some people purposely seek out neighborhoods with low numbers of rental properties and they pay a premium to live in these neighborhoods. These people have a right to speak up and be concerned if the city wants to suddenly change the deal in zoning. The fervent followers of Nenshi spit out the NIMBY term at such folks of course but it has to be kept in mind that most of those followers are hipster renters who dwell in the Beltline who have little regard for the property values or taxation of others. These are issues that cant be dismissed.

There is a great deal of overreaction to prospective suites too. As I pointed out, there really are not that many folks who want to open new suites out there and having a suite or two on your block wont be a disaster by any means. Stuffing 10 suites into a cul-de-sac however will cause havoc and that is why rezoning still has to be considered case by case even if not by city council itself.

There is a need to reform policy on secondary suites in Calgary. Let’s set aside the zealous density ideals though and be rational about what needs to be done and what benefits can be gained. If one’s concerns are about availability and cost of living in the city, they should aim their guns at the essential suburban land freeze that Nenshi’s administration is practicing. The effect that broadly legalized secondary suites will have on homelessness and cost of living in Calgary will be negligible at best.

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Legitimacy of next Progressive Conservative leader already in question

ballot

The lackluster race to lead the governing Progressive Conservative Party is finally coming to an end tomorrow. Thanks to the Westminster System, the person selected by the membership of the party will essentially automatically become the Premier of the province of Alberta. Unfortunately due to a series of terrible decisions in setting up the system for the leadership election, we will never be confident of the legitimacy of whomever ends up elected in this mess.

I served on the three person committee that managed the election of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Party in 2009. I learned many lessons through the course of that race. The hardest lesson for an idealist like me was accepting that even in an internal race there are many people who are eager to stretch and break rules in order to win. While most people have personal principles that would prevent this, sadly many will do whatever they can to try and gain an edge for their team. For example, one of the teams in the Wildrose leadership race literally signed up multiple dead people as members. This was caught and internal discipline was enforced. One day I will go into more full detail about some of the stunts attempted in that race.

Because of the reality that some will try to abuse the system, some checks and balances were built into the system to try and reduce or eliminate abuses.

1. In the Wildrose Party, aside from immediate family members, all members must purchase their own membership.

This one can be tough to manage but with the checks below, one can see how bulk buying of memberships is difficult in a properly run leadership system.

The Prentice team initially denied and then admitted to buying memberships for others. While the practice of buying memberships for others is frowned upon by most, it is not technically wrong in the PC leadership election system. I will explain below why this is a huge problem.

2. In the Wildrose race, after a period of time, the membership lists of all teams were shared for the remainder of the campaign. In the PC race this is not happening.

Leadership races put a huge strain upon the resources of the party. Teams typically hold their membership sales tight until the last minute and then literally dump tens of thousands of them on the party at once to be processed. Just entering these memberships into the system alone is a Herculean task, scrutinizing the veracity of the members effectively is nearly impossible for the party itself. This is where sharing the lists with the teams is critical.

Who better to check the lists of members and how they were signed up than competing leadership teams? You can rest assured that volunteers in the different leadership teams in the Wildrose were dedicated to scrutinizing the new lists of members for discrepancies the moment that they got these lists. This is indeed how some of the small but still egregious abuses of the system came to light in the Wildrose leadership race. It was the knowledge that these lists would be shared that kept some of the unprincipled from abusing the system in any large way. They knew that if there were 50 memberships coming from the same household or if one person was signed up 6 times with slight differences in the spelling of their names that alarm bells would go off so they didn’t even try.

In refusing to share the membership lists among the teams, the PC party has invited abuse and we know it is happening. The only questions are the degree of the abuse and how it may or may not have affected the outcome of the race. We likely will never be able to find out.

3. The Wildrose invited scrutineers to be present for every aspect of the vote counting. Now to be fair, one unprincipled team actually took advantage of that for their own benefit and I will indeed write in detail about that down the road. Either way, for the most part having representatives from leadership teams present helps prevent counting abuses and such. As with the membership lists, nobody is better to police the rules in these regards than the teams themselves. The PCs are not allowing such scrutiny which is very distressing.

4. The PCs are using a telephone/internet voting system.

There are countless essays and articles about why these systems are terrible and ripe for abuse. I will let the reader google that should they want more information as my posting is getting lengthy enough.

Aside from cracking the system itself, the phone/internet system of voting also allows anonymity in voting which makes abuse terribly easy.

Let’s say for example I was an unprincipled supporter of one of the campaigns and I had deep pockets for some reason. Let’s say I have access to voters lists from elections Alberta. I could theoretically sign up hundreds or possibly thousands of people for memberships without their knowledge. All I would have to change would be the email address to send the PIN for voting to which is an option in the system. The party’s only check is that the name and address matches the electors list. With the members list reaching the party at the last minute, no physical mail would reach the unknowing new member until the race was over. Communications would come through the email address. With online voting and over the course of a couple days, one person alone could vote countless times and how would they be caught? Scrutineers wont catch it as the party is not allowing them.

The provincial Liberals, Alberta Party and federal NDP all did remote voting in their last races. The turnout for all of those races were dismal so what is the reason to go with this terrible system?

As I type this we are hearing all sorts of reports about how the system is getting overloaded and people cant get their votes in. Odd in mid-day on a weekday. One would think most prospective voters would be working.

The voting system is turning out to be a gong-show of a disaster and the voting has only been going on for a few hours now.

In light of the huge exploits I have demonstrated above, how could anybody really be sure that whoever wins the race has done so fairly? The PC party is already reeling from years of scandals and have lost the trust of many Albertans. What they needed was a leader elected to refresh the party and get off to a principled start. This is impossible now as we will never be able to be sure if that leader was legitimately elected.

Opportunity lost again.

 

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Is there anything Albertan that Alison Redford actually likes?

I think that most can agree that one of the main causes of Alison Redford’s downfall was that she didn’t endear herself to pretty much anybody. It is hard to imagine a person in public service getting into such a high position while being so abrasive to all but Redford managed to pull it off. What Redford proved though was that while a miserable person can manage to get to a high position in public office they simply don’t have a hope in hell of maintaining it in the long run. Due to countless incidents and clashes with staffers, press, opposition members and even her caucus members, when tough times came for Redford she found herself with utterly no allies. The race to throw Redford under the bus by her own compatriots was unprecedented. Nary a voice has been heard to try to make even a weak defense for Redford and this is not for lack of defenses (politicians can always come up with some excuse). The reason nobody is coming to Redford’s defense is simply that nobody likes her.

redbean

Some folks have tried to point out that Ralph Klein routinely abused the provincial aircraft as if this somehow justifies Redford’s abuse of them. It is a sad justification of the abuse and really only proves that Progressive Conservative entitlement has been alive and well in government for a long time. It does bring an interesting question though, how did Klein get away with such abuses with only minor critique when similar actions outright destroyed Alison Redford? The simple answer is that people liked Ralph Klein.

When Klein got himself into trouble (and he often did), he had a masterful knack of extricating himself with an apology and a promise not to do whatever he had done again. That tended to close the matter and we moved on to other things. The reason Klein could do so is that his caucus and a great many of the Alberta public genuinely and simply liked Ralph Klein a great deal. Ralph had allies when the crap hit the fan. Redford had positioned herself to be all alone and it cost her everything.

Politics is a popularity contest no matter how some may wish it wasn’t so. Policy is important but the person presenting that policy is even more important.

So why did people like Ralph Klein so much when Alison Redford earned herself almost universal provincial scorn? The bottom line is that it was clear and evident at all times that Ralph Klein loved Alberta and loved Albertans. It is much harder to dislike somebody when they clearly like you and it is much easier to forgive their errors when they do. Ralph was one of us for better or for worse.

Alison Redford never really appeared to like Albertans. She seemed to suffer the necessity of us at best. Redford never seemed to leave her UN roots behind and felt that her world was to be an elite one of diplomatic functions where Albertans were there to serve her rather than the other way around. This was evident in Redford’s constant incredibly expensive world travel and her efforts to make sure she never had to travel with the unwashed. Redford spoke repeatedly on how she wanted to change Alberta’s culture. I don’t recall Albertans as a whole really asking Redford to change their culture. The only cultural change that Redford brought about was a short term aristocracy with her at the top which thankfully is over with.

The reason I am off on this tirade is a small thing I noticed in the latest FOIP release of information from the Redford Regime. This was from the communications of Redford’s personal travel scout for her globe trotting missions. I feel that trade missions are important but they do have to focus on promoting Alberta and Albertan products as opposed to preening in the diplomatic world of luxury that Redford did.

While on her $450,000 trip to India (the government site still bullshits and claims it cost $131,000), Redford’s very expensive personal travel scout reported: “Getting some intel on India gifting. I think ammonite will work here. I know it may not be premier’s favourite but gemstones are very popular.” This is actually some valuable information from this travel scout. Gifting is an important part of these sorts of missions. It is a sign of respect and it is an opportunity to promote items unique to your nation. This has been done since the days of medieval ambassadors.

It can be seen that the scout made a point to ensure that the translator doesn’t talk to Redford at any time. That gets back to that issue of why nobody really could find themselves liking her.

What is odd here though is that it is clear that Alison Redford does not like Alberta Ammonite (ammolite). Jewellery preference is a very subjective thing but that applies to what one wears personally. When it comes to gifts like this though, one has to look at what you are representing and promoting. Alberta ammonite gems are a growing industry with First Nations involvement. These gems are the rarest organic gemstone on earth as they are only found in Alberta. What could be better to promote on such a mission particularly when gemstones are very popular in the place you are visiting?

Well despite this sage advice, Redford chose to give watercolor paintings of grain elevators to the dignitaries. Art is nice to promote too but I wouldn’t be surprised if the paintings were done by a relative of Redford’s. Why deviate from the advice of the well paid scout? Honestly, why does Redford dislike this stone? Either way, Redford let her personal dislike of ammonite lead to losing an opportunity to promote this Albertan product while on her mission. Why was she supposedly there again?

redpaint

I have to give full disclosure here, my family is involved in the Alberta ammonite/ammolite business. We in partnership with members of the Blood Reserve have been mining and retailing in a manufacturing/retail outlet in Canmore. This is of course what made my ears perk up as soon as I saw the gem mentioned. It has taken decades for Alberta ammonite gems to get recognition worldwide but it has been steadily gaining popularity. Government has never really done the industry any favors unfortunately.

I will take advantage of this issue to segue into giving some background on this great stone though as it is better known internationally than it is right here in Alberta (and of course I will plug the family business).

ammonite

Ammonite is a fossilized nautilus from the cretaceous period around 70 or 80 million years ago. While ammonite fossils are found throughout the world, it is only in small portions of Alberta where the fossils demonstrate the brilliant colors as can be seen in the picture above. The best fields of these gems are on the Blood Reserve in the Saint Mary’s river area. When the gem is harvested from these fossils, it is then called “ammolite” which is why we see both terms used at times. The gem makes stones and pieces such as these below.

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finished

Tours and sales of course are available at the Ammonite Factory in Canmore. It makes for a great day trip and you can’t beat the mining/cutting direct prices provided.

Ahh, there are few things more satisfying than giving a well founded critique of Alison Redford while making a self-serving plug for the family business. ;-)

In summary, Redford’s abrasive personality and apparent dislike of most things Albertan led to her downfall and people should pop by the ammonite factory for a good deal on a unique gem.

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Druh Farrell and her goofy anti-auto ideology yet again.

jaywalking-downtownThe tiny yet vocal anti-automobile crowd in Calgary love going on and on whenever an auto/pedestrian accident happens about how this is due to our sick car-culture and such. They love to paint a picture of Calgary’s streets as if it is a never ending scene of carnage with cars mowing pedestrians down at will. Due to the laws of physics, pedestrian vs. automotive collisions often do end in tragedy and we should examine ways to reduce these sorts of accidents as much as is reasonably possible. This is where anti-auto ideologues such as Druh depart from common sense yet again.

druh

This week’s incidents proved that people like Druh Farrell and her supporters don’t really care about pedestrian safety. Their goal is simply to attack personal automotive usage however possible.

If we truly want to look at reducing accidents involving pedestrians the approach has to be multi-facetted and look at a number of things. Infrastructure, traffic movement and the enforcement of traffic laws all are factors in road safety. The anti-auto set only wants to look at one factor however and that is personal automobiles. They endlessly call for traffic calming projects, reduced speed limits, increased enforcement of traffic laws against drivers and even the outright removal of many roads. What the anti-automobile gang never mentions however is that we need to crack down on reckless pedestrians too if we truly want to reduce collisions.

Construction is a pretty common thing in a growing city like Calgary. With construction, we occasionally have to close some sidewalks temporarily for reasons of space and safety. BOMA Calgary excellently explains all of that here.

Sidewalk closures are clearly marked with bright orange signs and a simple detour making people walk on the other side of the street is typically required. At a construction project at 7th Avenue and 5th Street, many pedestrians were lazily and dangerously ignoring the clearly marked detour and walking in the roadway rather than crossing the street as directed. This led to a great hazard for both drivers and pedestrians and led to complaints. This led Calgary police to set up and write 40 warnings and 90 jaywalking tickets.

peds

Are the signs bright enough? Is the detour not clear enough? I think the picture above says it all. It is even a short block and it is not like it is mid-winter when walking is uncomfortable.

The straightforward enforcement of traffic laws on pedestrians made the usual suspects in the anti-auto set go haywire on social media led by the ever vapid Farrell who tried to imply that the construction company was somehow at fault for these jaywalkers. Druh feels that the pedestrians are not 100% to blame in this and they are sometimes “forced” into traffic. Pardon me? Forced? How? Only by their own laziness. There is a perfectly safe crosswalk and more than enough signage to show them how to get there. Nobody was forced to break the law Druh.

Some called this a cash grab. Really? A few officers for a day issuing 90 tickets? How much was the net fiscal benefit of this? A fraction of that of any red light camera or speed on green I imagine. If they simply wanted to make money, there are many lucrative speed trap spots they like to set up in.

Some said that if the police really wanted to stop the jaywalking they would have stopped people from doing it before they jaywalked rather than waiting and ticketing them afterwards. Huh??? Does that mean the only way for officers to stop speeders is to tail vehicles to make sure they never do it? Can we only stop trespassers who ignore signs by standing there and stopping them? Do we need to assign a police officer to stand day and night at every sidewalk closure to inform people what those bright orange signs mean? No! The signs are clear. The police did exactly the right thing and set an example. If common sense won’t stop these jaywalkers, perhaps the threat of fines will.

Reducing pedestrian collisions requires increases enforcement of all traffic laws and that certainly includes jaywalking. If anybody claims that they want to reduce pedestrian/automobile accidents in Calgary yet opposes enforcement of laws against jaywalking that person is clearly and simply full of shit. Drivers who run red lights and go through crosswalks with pedestrians in them should be ticket just as idiot pedestrians who blindly step into traffic should.

If nothing else this weeks incidents proved yet again that folks such as Druh Farrell and her anti-automobile supporters are driven only by blind ideology as opposed to outcomes. Anybody who is outcome driven and truly wants to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities would have applauded the Calgary police service and their crackdown on jaywalkers.

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