Canadian and U.S. healthcare – a debate

I can never resist a good debate, especially when politics is involved. Recently I had the opportunity to debate Canadian versus American healthcare on Facebook. It was short-lived. I guess the person whose Facebook page it was decided they didn’t want the debate there! EAVB_YHQVSKDEAR

No problem. I’ll continue the debate here. I don’t have the original comment about Canadian healthcare, which I don’t remember being particularly negative, or my comment, but I do have the comment I’ll be responding to. Thank you, Facebook, for emailing responses to me.

Here’s the comment (verbatim):

And i’m sorry Alain….you have absolutely no idea what your talking about. Those so called greedy corporations that your mocking…just so happen to be the reason that the U.S. has become the super power that it is. It’s called “free market”. And no thanks to these liberal jack offs in our govt they are ruining what we have spent 200+ years building and defending.

You really wanna get in a debate with me over socialized heath care? Let me tell you a little something about your perfect system.

Do you have any idea how many other countries come to the united states for health care??? You don’t see Americans flocking to Europe or Mexico for heath care do you? Hmmmm i wonder why. Also…do you have any idea where most of the drugs and health treatments come from in the world??? They sure as hell don’t come from Japan. Germany. France. etc. They come from HERE. So educate yourself before you mock my country sir. Here’s just a tidbit on how messed up socialized health care is.

1.In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors can run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide. which means they control every aspect of your health because your on a federal file….

2.Doctors are hurt financially by single-payer health care. Because they don’t make crap compared to those “evil” american greedy doctors who’s only goal is to take your money. Funny thing is… unlike your “lotto” system when your govt runs outta money to fund your health care. They take whoever no matter who is sicker or not. Ours have the best interest in keeping you alive because if your dead….they don’t get paid!!!

3.You have to wait forever to get a family doctor. where i can choose from any list of private health care providers.

4.Wait times in Canada are horrendous… and on…and on…and on…and on….

So, Trevor, while I don’t have my original comment to refer to, what I do know is that I never claimed the healthcare system in Canada is perfect, but I prefer it to the US system. I readily admit that it’s not perfect.

I also was not mocking the US system, but criticizing it. The US healthcare system is definitely worthy of criticism. How is it that what is arguably the wealthiest country on earth cannot have healthcare for all of its citizens? How many are left out? 10 million? 30 million? Estimates vary, and I’m talking about US citizens, not illegal immigrants.

Even for those who do have healthcare, if you’ve got a health condition under one insurer, you may not have that condition covered if you were to move jobs or try to get a different healthcare provider because it’s a “pre-existing condition” with the new insurer. It effectively turns patients into slaves of those healthcare providers and potentially your employer.

If your health condition was sufficiently serious, you’d be crazy to change jobs, at the risk of your health care coverage ceasing in relation to that condition. How is this considered ethical or just? Is this the kind of society we want? I don’t.

From an economic perspective, it certainly limits labour mobility. That’s not a bad thing from a company perspective, I guess, but not an employee perspective. I can’t imagine an unhealthy employee is going to be particularly productive either.

Also, health care coverage in the US, from what I understand, can also be limited, as you’re saying apparently happens in Canada. I understand that in the US, health care companies routinely decide which procedures will be covered and which won’t. If there’s not a likely positive outcome or it’s not included in your policy, etc, it’s not covered. I’ve also heard of many cases where people had their coverage dropped completely.

That’s a superior system alright. Your coverage gets dropped when you actually need it most.

People say that in Canada bureaucrats decide on treatment, which actually isn’t true. Your doctor decides on the appropriate treatment, and yes, you may need to wait in line. Waiting lists in Canada are a problem that our governments are working on. How successful are they? Jury’s out on that right now. If cases are serious enough, they can be moved up quickly though.

Contrast this with the US where, in my opinion, it’s actually worse. Your case may not be decided by a government bureaucrat, but a corporate one! Brain tumours can’t be a profitable thing, so I can see why companies would routinely deny people coverage for serious medical procedures. After all, if you deny many of the most serious procedures, the shareholders will be happier. Sorry, but I don’t want my case decided on when there’s a profit motive involved. If insurance companies could get away with it, they’d be happy to collect your premiums and never pay anything out

I’m not aware of any countries seeking care in the US, but I know some citizens of other countries do seek care in the US. The US is blessed to have a large number of skilled, experienced and well-trained physicians. There’s no doubt about that. Treatment can happen quickly, provided you have the money. Sometimes governments or private insurers will help to pay the cost.

Sorry Trevor, but Americans are also seeking treatment abroad. It’s called medical tourism. And what is the most common reason for this? Price. Many Americans can’t afford the treatment at home, so they get it elsewhere. That’s a superior system at work. Many Americans also like to buy prescription drugs in Canada. Why? It’s cheaper.

I acknowledge that many leading edge treatments and drugs are developed in the US, but the US is hardly the only place where health treatments and drugs come from. This typifies the ‘ugly American’ attitude that the US is the centre of the universe and ‘how come they don’t do it like we do in the good old U S of A?’ kind of thinking.

I don’t really see the need to start listing off medical discoveries and drugs discovered outside the U S of A. I don’t need to mock the US, but I will criticize it. Don’t take it personally. I criticize the Canadian government too.

Socialism – so what?

The US is 31st at 78.1 years. Even Bosnia is higher.

The funniest thing about the whole healthcare debate in the US is the hysteria over socialism. If our socialized healthcare in Canada is so bad, how is it that Canada is fourth in the world in terms of life expectancy? The US is 31st. Not too hot for what’s supposed to be the best medical system in the world. Looking over the top 10 countries for life expectancy, how many have a socialized healthcare system? Those citizens don’t seem to mind.

I don’t understand the fixation so many Americans have with anything resembling socialism. I guess they look past the socialism at work in their own communities like firehalls, police stations, roads, libraries and other evil, socialist institutions.

How’d you like the firehall to come to your house when it’s burning and leave when they notice you’re not covered by their firehall? Not that it ever happened in America. Or a cop that doesn’t investigate your car being stolen because you don’t pay into their police fund? How about a toll on every single road you travel?

Another way to look at socialism is that it’s a pooling of resources for the common good of a group of people. Countries are kind of like that. It’s community. People unite around a common belief. Nothing wrong with that.

So, who cares if some doctors in socialized medical systems work for the state? Really, who does, other than some Americans? In Canada, our doctors run their own practices and they don’t seem to mind it. We do have some private clinics here and there is some debate about how much private care to allow and how that might work.

In fact, on a per capita basis, Canada spends just over half what the US does on healthcare. Another source of information on per capita spending on healthcare (PDF).

That’s some system in the US that doesn’t cover everyone. Where does all that money go? Seems rather inefficient to have 150 health care insurers with all the overhead to administer each company. It certainly simplifies things from the doctor’s perspective too.

For the record, I don’t believe US doctors are greedy, nor do I believe Canadian doctors are. In fact, I’m sure there are many US doctors pissed off at the whole system there because the decisions on treatment are often decided by the insurers and not them. Your health records are available to private corporations and mine are held by my doctor. The billing information and some treatment info is held by government. So what?

Government accountability, especially on an issue so important to everyone, is a good thing. I’m glad my governments are accountable in that way. Accountability in the US system is elusive at best and non-existent at worst. Health care companies, from what I’ve heard, are the biggest lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Oh, look at that. Health is in second, just edged out by real estate, finance and insurance. $3.8 billion for lobbying? I think lobbying is synonymous with bribery.

If Canadian doctors have a problem with how much they’re paid here, and they’re paid well, I guess they could go to the US. We still have doctors here. I guess they don’t mind. Physicians and health workers in Canada, as in the US, are consistently among the top earners.

And Trevor, I’m not sure where you get the idea that somehow US physicians have a higher purpose and dedication to keeping you alive because they want to get paid. So Canadian doctors don’t care whether their patients live or die? What an asinine statement. I think that’s also an insult to professional physicians in the US who are doing the best they can for their patients, no matter what.

I think you illustrated the key difference between the US healthcare system and the “evil” socialized healthcare systems around the world: “They take whoever no matter who is sicker or not.” You’re right. Insurers in the US have no interest in you if you’re sick. It’s double jeopardy if you’re sick and don’t have the money to pay. You’re as good as dead in the US then.

At least in socialized healthcare systems you have the opportunity for coverage and treatment. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why if you ask most Canadians or citizens of countries with a socialized medical system, they’d never want the US system in their country.

As for getting a family doctor, I’ve never had an issue in finding a family physician here in Canada. I know it’s been tough for some. The same baby boom bubble there is happening here and many doctors are retiring. Our governments in Canada have also made mistakes in the past by restricting the numbers of physicians and nurses being educated. I guess they forgot about statistics.

Free market?

Tell us how you really feel.

Perhaps you haven’t been to Canada. You should come and visit some time. You might find that we also have a free market economy, and a still healthy one at that. How’s that free market working for you lately? Nothing like a little deregulation of the financial, real estate and insurance markets, combined with those “greedy corporations” to unravel your entire economy .

Fortunately, Canada’s economy has remained relatively healthy, all things considered, through the near collapse of the world’s economy. See, a little banking regulation is necessary, despite the attempts by Canadian banks and some Canadian politicians to go the virtually complete deregulation route in the US. Had we done that, we’d be as screwed as the US. I’m not particularly fond of the big banks here, but they’re among the strongest in the world now

I believe in a balanced approach when it comes to regulating business. Regulation and enforcement is needed to protect citizens, employees and consumers, but also to allow business to operate. It’s a sensible, Canadian approach and it’s generally worked pretty well for us here.

What’s happening in the US right now is sad. So many US citizens are still caught up in the “us versus them” style of politics between Democrats and Republicans, but they fail to see that both parties are the same. They’re beholden to special interests and lobbyists and are consistently screwing American citizens.

We can blame much of what is happening right now on the Republicans though. It was under George W. Bush’s reign that the US went from a $250 billion annual surplus from Bill Clinton in 2000 to $1 trillion deficit in 2008. US debt in that time went from about $5 trillion to $10 trillion. So much for the idea that Republicans are brilliant money managers.

I am certainly sympathetic to the plight Obama found himself in: an almost ruined economy and two unfinished wars, one of which was completely unjustified (Iraq – there were no weapons of mass destruction).

Americans have every right to be angry right now, but that anger should mostly be directed at the Republicans for what they did (or didn’t do) during their 8 years in power. That doesn’t absolve the Democrats of their duplicity either.

The problem in the US is far from being the “liberal jack offs” as you say. Your country is being ruined by rampant greed and outright theft of public money. Bush started the ball rolling on paying out companies like Goldman Sachs, Citibank and others with public money. Now the US taxpayer is on the hook for their criminal behaviour. You can’t blame it all on Obama.

If Americans are going to pull out of this nosedive successfully, it relies on Americans seeing their current politicians for who they really are. America used to command a lot of respect around the world, but that is not the case these days. So many Americans still hold outdated views about how the world sees them. Things will only change there when Americans open their eyes to what is really happening and how they’re being screwed by their own government, financially and in many of its corrupt actions around the world. Good luck.

Thoughts on the Alberta Party & Alberta politics

Alberta-Party-logoPolitics in Alberta, it seems, is a blood sport especially when one feels their turf is threatened.

With the reigning Conservatives on the ropes in terms of their approval ratings, the Wildrose Alliance has seen support rise for its party. It seems like a natural thing, since they both occupy similar real estate in the political spectrum.

The Conservatives are especially defensive after the defection of two MLAs to the Wildrose Alliance. This defensiveness apparently has spread to the Wildrose Alliance now that the Alberta Party has merged with the Renew Alberta movement

The Wildrose Alliance has the attack dogs out on the Alberta Party questioning a number of things such as the party apparently suspending its constitution as a result of the merger, appointment of board members, etc.

I had to laugh at Jane Morgan’s claim:

“Sorry to disappoint the WAP detractors; but the WAP has absolutely ZERO to do with this. It’s just lil’ol me typing away on an otherwise boring weekend; trying to get to the bottom of some very bizarre switch-a-roos.”

Using someone else to do your political dirty work, paid or unpaid, is a political tactic as old as the hills and helps politicians maintain plausible deniability. I get the impression Ms. Morgan is now a former party official, though I do not know what role she played in the WAP.

I understand what they’re doing. They’re hoping to frame the debate about the Alberta Party as one that is acting illegitimately, in violation of its constitution and without the support of its members.

The Alberta Party could potentially siphon off support from every party as Alberta voters don’t seem to be satisfied with any party at this point. No surprise that the WAP sees the AP as a threat. WAP would like to be the protest party of choice for Albertans. Having two out there muddies the already very murky political waters.

My view of the Alberta Party

Anyone who knows me, knows I have some strong views on politics and I’m suspicious of political parties in general.

I am interested in what is happening with the Alberta Party and may yet participate in their “Big Listen.” Will I vote for them? I can’t say at this point. It really depends on a number of factors.

I think it’s fair to raise questions about the party’s constitution and how that was handled. Political parties do need to ensure they operate according to the rules they’ve laid out for themselves and to ensure they’re in compliance with any government legislation.

Alberta-Party-Big-ListenI would also like to see what policies develop out of the “Big Listen” process and subsequently at any policy convention. I’m not worried, as some anonymous poster is, that the “Big Listen” is similar language used by Hillary Clinton; oh, and also that poster was concerned about “starting conversations.”

So, Democratic party leadership candidates have a monopoly on listening and starting conversations? Does using similar language mean that you have the same policies? Please. Pull your head out of your ass and start listening. Hell, start a conversation while you’re at it.

A key issue for me is the autonomy of party MLAs and party discipline. I believe in free votes on everything.

Political parties should not impose their will on duly elected MLAs. An MLA should always be free to vote according to their conscience and the will of their local electorate. I don’t believe in small- or large-scale authoritarianism. This is one of my main problems with virtually every political party.

I don’t tend to be a labeler and bristle at attempts to label me. I like ideas from across the political spectrum and, really, I am a centrist if you’d like to use the term. Frankly labeling is an overused American political tactic to short-circuit critical thinking. Many Canadian political parties are importing this tactic. Why? I guess their critical thinking skills have been short-circuited. Judging by the political situation in the US and how well everything is going there, do we really need ANY political tactics or policies imported from there?

Open finances

Another concern of mine is that the Alberta Party’s finances be completely open and transparent. That goes for political campaigns as well as leadership campaigns. I have some serious concerns about WAP leader Danielle Smith hiding her leadership campaign supporters and donations from public scrutiny. What does she have to hide?

Furthermore, how can the WAP leader have a party policy of an “open and comprehensive Freedom of Information Act” as well as wanting to “institute strict conflict of interest guidelines facilitated through the Provincial Ethics Commissioner’s office” yet not have her leadership campaign fully open to public scrutiny?

It seems more politics as usual. Money talks and I wonder what money is talking to Danielle Smith? I can bet I know. It’s the same money that talks to everyone in politics in Alberta. That concerns me.

The energy lobby in Alberta is obviously tremendously powerful. We need governments that are transparent, open and not unduly influenced by any lobby. We need a government that implements policies that are in the best interests of Albertans as a whole and do not cater to any lobby.

The citizens of Alberta elect governments, not businesses. That’s not to say that business is not important. It’s not a dichotomy. A balanced approach is appropriate. I’ve been a Chamber of Commerce director and I am fully aware of the needs of small business. I also know that governments tend to focus more on the needs of large business, typically at the expense of small business.

I also believe in a balanced regulatory approach between government and business. The economic meltdown we’re still in is proof that there has to be regulation of business. Business operating without regulation is, quite simply, stupid. Government’s role is to look out for the public interest. Laws and enforcement of those laws is how we keep things fair for everyone.

The supposed architect of the boom and bust, Alan Greenspan, a noted Ayn Rand sycophant, admitted he was wrong about essentially letting business regulate itself. How is it that some could claim one group, government, can’t sufficiently look after the public interest, yet put blind faith in business to do the same? It’s either stupidity, willful ignorance or outright duplicity.

Looking to Alberta’s future

Unfortunately, Alberta governments really haven’t looked that far into the future, looking more towards the next election and staying in power. We need governments that are looking generations ahead. We haven’t had it here. In fact, most governments operate much like large corporations, by the quarter, it seems. Maybe it would pay for Alberta governments to think of Alberta citizens as shareholders? We do have all the voting rights and should be the ones collecting the dividends.

This short-term thinking has to stop. We are facing serious issues on this planet, and while the Alberta government, whatever its political stripe, isn’t going to solve them, it can play a role in not making those problems worse and also look after the interests of Albertans.

These are just some of the things I will be looking at in the Alberta Party. I’ll give them a fair shot, like I have with every other political party. For now I am willing to engage in the listening and conversation, and so should every Albertan because the discussion transcends just one political party.

Art Gallery of Alberta grand opening – sneak peek

art-gallery-of-alberta-edmontonI was one of a group of lucky Edmonton bloggers to get a sneak peek at the new Art Gallery of Alberta building in downtown Edmonton. The new AGA building is set to officially open on January 31, 2010.

I’ve heard that some people aren’t so fond of the design of the place, from the outside, but I actually don’t mind it. It’s certainly not the style of building I’m used to seeing in Edmonton, not that it’s a bad thing. I think it’ll be something that grows on people as well. You certainly won’t forget it!

Personally, I think it’s a fine addition to Edmonton’s downtown. The new art gallery is adjacent to Churchill Square  and has already attracted a great deal of attention downtown. I’m sure they’ll see a lot of walk-in traffic to the gallery during Edmonton’s many festivals held in Churchill Square.

I would like to thank Gilles Hébert, Executive Director, and Sarah Hoyles, Media Relations and Communications Coordinator, for taking time out to talk to the large group of Edmonton bloggers assembled there. I can imagine that January has been an extremely busy month for them as they work towards their grand opening in less than a week.

Quick facts: AGA Edmonton:

  • Grand opening day: January 31, 2010
  • 85,000 square feet
  • 30,000 square feet of exhibit space
  • Permanent art collection of more than 6,000 pieces
  • Designed by Los Angeles architect Randall Stout
  • AGA was founded in 1924
  • Cost – $88 million

I hadn’t been sure of what to expect of the gallery tour, but I love art so I was curious to have a look at what’s going on. I’m not an art snob either, so I wasn’t too worked up about not seeing the displays or galleries yet. There will be time for that later.

Art Gallery of Alberta – Edmonton – Q&A session from Alain Saffel on Vimeo.

Check out more of my Art Gallery of Alberta photos on Flickr.

I also wasn’t too worried, as apparently a couple in our group were, that our two guides didn’t have every answer during the question and answer period. One question in particular, about whether the theatre could show Super 8 movies, was controversial (not that you’d know if from the video). (The Super 8 exchange starts at 1:45 in my Vimeo video.) Sarah and Gilles weren’t sure and I don’t think that’s a big deal. Ask most younger people today and they’d probably wonder why you were talking about movies from a motel. As any good reporter knows, you can always follow up and get that information.

Yousuf-Karsh-displayOutside of that tempest in a teapot, I enjoyed the tour and the photo opportunities. I was actually quite caught up in taking photos, which I really hadn’t expected this day. With the facility not being complete, I’ll get a fuller look around once the galleries are open to the public. I think the intent of this tour was to get a little word of mouth happening in social media, and I applaud them for that.

Edmonton has been lucky to get some major art exhibitions in the past, and this new, expanded gallery should further assist in that effort.

Upcoming AGA exhibitions

  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Franciso Goya: The Disasters of War and Los Caprichos
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Yousuf Karsh: Image Maker
  • Jan 31–May 09, 2010 – The Murder of Crows by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Building Art: Photographs of the Building of the AGAby Edward Burtynsky
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – BMO World of Creativity: Play on Architecture!

art-gallery-of-alberta-interiorI don’t know what the daily admission will be, but I noticed that an AGA family membership is only $85 and gives your family free admission for a year. Talk about cheap! Worth the investment I think. The individual and student rates are also quite low. The art gallery is also working on corporate sponsorship to be able to offer free days for public visitors.

If you’re a fan of architecture or art, looking for something different to do, or just trying to occupy the kids for an afternoon, the new Art Gallery of Alberta is definitely worth a visit.

Haiti: looking ahead to reconstruction

haiti-earthquake-devastationThe horror and devastation we’re seeing in Haiti after a massive earthquake leveled so much of the country barely a week ago is almost unimaginable.

I don’t think we’ve ever seen a country hit so hard by an earthquake and Haiti is hardly a country equipped to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.

What really surprised me is how so many of the buildings in Haiti crumbled under the magnitude 7 earthquake. I suppose, considering it’s such a poor country, we shouldn’t have expected the buildings there to be up to modern earthquake standards.

With the level of destruction and complete chaos still reigning in Haiti, it may be too early to talk about reconstruction, but it will have to happen at some point. I was watching a news story about the earthquake in Haiti when I saw a scene from the docks of Port Au Prince. Shipping containers were strewn about the dock and had fallen into the bay.

It occurred to me then that when Haiti finally does get around to rebuilding its battered buildings, it should consider a relatively new form of construction that might be quite appropriate for this hurricane and earthquake prone region.

hillside-shipping-container-homeUsing shipping containers as homes and apartments in Haiti may be a quick and easy way to create large amounts of secure and safe housing for the citizens of Haiti. Shipping containers have the advantage of being cheap, strong and are able to be built with in a modular fashion. It’s been done in other areas, unplanned, but it could be planned here.

Once a secure foundation is built, these containers can be welded together and stacked up to seven levels high, effectively creating a strong, cohesive structure.

Haiti has many problems with its infrastructure and these containers could be used as a template for construction in other areas around the world. Systems could easily be implemented on a cargo container apartment building to provide the occupants water, energy and safe waste disposal. Best of all is that their new home would withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.

On the building’s roof it would be easy to set up a series of solar panels and small wind generators to provide residents with electricity and the entire roof could be used to catch rainwater for residents’ use. Combine that with a storage and filtration system and residents have a way to secure some of their water needs. A greywater recycling system could also divert water to gardens for residents to be able to grow some of their own food.

modulute-container-apartmentsInstead of regular flush toilets, it would make more sense to install composting or incinerating toilets to preserve water. It would also lighten the load on Haiti’s overtaxed and destroyed infrastructure.

A layer of spray foam insulation for each container unit would help to reduce or eliminate the need for air conditioning, freeing up electricity for other uses.

I’ve talked before about going off-grid in the city, and while that may not be entirely possible, an increased level of independence would be beneficial for residents of such a building.

Ideally these containers would be converted in another location, shipped to Haiti and assembled there. The world has thousands of unused shipping containers and I believe it would be an ideal way to give Haitians a secure form of housing that could help them recover from this disaster.

Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant

edmonton-snow-clearing-end-of-seasonEdmonton had its first major dump of snow. Winter is upon us! And, of course, many are complaining about the state of the roads. You know what? They have good reason to complain.

Yes, I know, Edmonton is a big city and it’s a big job. Tell me something I didn’t know. What I do know is that I grew up in a place that got a hell of a lot more snow than Edmonton and it was dealt with just fine. Obviously when you get hit with a big dump of snow, the roads will suck for a while.

How the City of Prince George, B.C. deals with the roads now, I don’t know, but I know they actually did a pretty good job when I was growing up. They’d have graders and loaders out clearing main roads and residential streets and make pretty quick work of them. The graders even had drop gates to clear the front of your driveway so you didn’t have a three foot tall mountain of ice to clear.

Before I moved to Edmonton I had been here in the winter before, including during April 2005 when it snowed about a foot in one day. What a gong show! It seems better now, but marginally.

Now we have a house here and pay taxes here. So, we have a right to complain. Period. If the city isn’t doing a good job of spending the tax dollars of Edmonton residents and is proposing to raise taxes by eight to 10 per cent, we have a right to complain. Period. It would also help if we suggested ways of improving how they go about spending our money.

In that vein, I will throw a few suggestions out there and make a few observations.

In this sprawling city (whose fault is that?) there are a lot of streets to clear and the major routes should be the priority. I do find it puzzling that when I was sitting in a restaurant at 137 Ave and 97 St. on Friday night I saw nine snow plows in a row heading north on 97 Ave. Spread out a bit guys.

I was out driving the next day on 137 Ave and it was a mess, and that was down towards 66 St. They can’t even cut the snow back to the curb. I would think three plows should be able to clear the entire two lanes to the curb. Done.

And get the windrows as close to the curb as possible. I know it can be tough. God knows driving in Edmonton can be brutal when you’ve got people chit-chatting on the old cell phone, even in snow. I saw that yesterday too. Seriously.

I do wonder about how efficiently those resources are allocated out on the streets when this kind of dump of snow happens. I understand they won’t get to my street for a while, if ever, but at least do the major routes properly! They really aren’t.

I was also puzzled last year when I watched out my window after a snowfall, as at least three or four graders cleared snow on my street one day. I swear they must have made three or four passes each, and it’s a two lane street.

WTF? I’ve never driven a grader, but I’m convinced I could clear my damn street in fewer passes. I might even move a few neighbours’ cars off the street in the process. (Snow route anyone?)

End of season snow clearing

I have talked about the city’s end of season snow clearing a few times, perhaps even ranted. I’m prone to that, but I’m justified. (Usually)

Why, particularly on a residential street, do I need the snow cleared from the side of the roads at the end of the season? I took a bunch of pictures of the City of Edmonton snow clearing efforts in the early spring of 2009. There were:

  • Three graders
  • One large snow blower
  • One flag person
  • Someone in a City of Edmonton pickup following the snow blower
  • A fleet of semi-trailer trucks hauling away the snow

I understand the city likes to recycle the gravel it spreads on the roads. Recycling is a shrewd and lofty goal. Sand and gravel are expensive, and recycling it makes sense. Here’s an idea though: let the snow melt. Novel, I know, but you’re going to send the street sweepers around anyway.

One sweeper with a couple of trucks (smaller and cheaper ones, I might add) to haul the gravel away is far more efficient than a whole fleet of people hauling away snow that will melt.

I would love to see the accounting analysis on this. Considering all the machines processing and hauling away that snow, I just can’t see them hauling enough loads of gravel per hour to make the activity pay.

How much does the city pay per load of sand? What’s the total cost per hour to do this snow clearing to recover the sand?

So, why not let it melt and let the sweepers pick it up? Yes, there will be more loads of sand, but it will be concentrated. You’ll need fewer, smaller trucks and they’ll only be hauling sand, not larger, more expensive trucks hauling a fraction of the amount of sand. That should save some money in the budget.

Street sweeping obsession

I have also noticed that Edmonton seems to have a bit of a street sweeping obsession. It’s not a bad thing that we like clean streets here, but I think there are limits. I swear I saw a sweeper on my street at least three times this summer, well after the spring sand and gravel had been picked up and well before my street had been repaved.

I would watch as they drove by, sweeping up virtually nothing! I was a little puzzled at that. Why not only sweep areas that actually need it? Don’t just sweep for the sake of sweeping. More money saved in the city budget.

Police directing traffic

edmonton-city-police-directing-traffic-epsAs if the preceding cases weren’t insane enough, I have repeatedly seen Edmonton city police out directing traffic. At first, I thought there was an accident. Drug bust? Murder? Umm, parade? Nope.

Construction! Yes, our police, who apparently cost around $100,000 per officer, are out directing traffic through construction areas. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if they’re part of traffic services. They should be out stopping the speeders, red light runners, drunk drivers, texting drivers and others who make this city such a danger to drive in.

Instead the City of Edmonton installs green light cameras, like that’s going to solve the problem. It’s certainly going to chip away at the $20 million extra the Edmonton Police Service was hoping to get this year.

Why do they need $20 million more this year? I guess the City of Edmonton is going to be doing a hell of a lot more construction next year!

Why not get the EPS out stopping drivers causing problems and not directing traffic? Are we to believe there are no flagging companies who would like to bid on a city contract to control traffic in Edmonton construction zones? Are there not enough unemployed people in this city to fill the inevitable positions that would come out of this?

I know flag people don’t each cost $100,000 per year. More money saved in the budget and hopefully some dangerous drivers off the road.

Citizen auditor: Alain Saffel volunteers

Maybe our city needs to start ripping apart a few departments at a time and make sure they’re doing things properly. I have cited only a few examples here that just don’t make sense. Maybe an outsider perspective is needed? I’d be happy to help out. I’ll be a citizen auditor. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the city who would also like that opportunity.

For those who are telling people to leave the city if they can’t handle a bit of winter, you’re missing the point. It’s about efficient allocation of resources, and there are legitimate questions about how the City of Edmonton allocates its resources. I would prefer that the City does not waste a single tax dollar, especially when they want to raise taxes again. Every citizen in this city has the right to hold our city councillors and the accompanying bureaucracy accountable for its actions.

I’m sure we can find plenty of money to save in these tough times, with a sharp pencil, creativity and a critical eye. Can I just ask for one teensie weensie little favour please?  Could we spend some of those savings on taking care of the sewer smell that seems to be so pervasive in this city?

Should Edmonton close the Edmonton City Centre Airport?

edmonton-city-centre-airportShould Edmonton city council close the Edmonton City Centre Airport? This is the questions facing council today, after much debate.

I’ve only been in Edmonton since early 2008 and I’ve sat on the sidelines of this debate listening to both sides. I really haven’t had an opinion on it until recently because I wanted to get both sides before deciding.

I’ve listened to the each case and I believe that Edmonton city council should make the decision to close Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA).

I understand the argument for having scheduled service available right inside the city limits, but it seems that was decided in the 90s to consolidate scheduled passenger service at Edmonton International Airport (YEG). Makes sense because there’s absolutely no room to grow at ECCA, nor would it make sense to split scheduled passenger service between Edmonton’s airports. Making connections to different airlines would be a nightmare.

Mack Male has been blogging about the issue quite a lot lately and started the website NotMyAirport.ca. Check out this video with him debating about closing ECCA.

So, who does the ECCA serve now? It seems that it’s private pilots, charters, medevac flights and flight schools. Of course there are a number of businesses related to the operation of ECCA that rely on it, including a number of hotels.

It’s never easy to make a big decision to close this type of facility and not one to take lightly. While I am in favour of closing the airport, despite the negative impacts it may have on the businesses related to it, I believe that it will be a positive thing for Edmonton in the long term.

Benefits to closing ECCA

  • NAIT will have room to expand
  • Taller buildings in downtown Edmonton – Edmonton’s had height restrictions on its buildings due to safety issues related to the airport. Taller buildings around Edmonton will allow for greater density of development. The benefit? Perhaps this will alleviate some of the sprawl Edmonton is notorious for.
  • Development – imagine the amount of economic activity that would be generated by developing an area larger than Edmonton’s downtown. Alberta’s still got one of the strongest economies in North America and it would have one of the hottest development areas in the world too. Vancouver experienced a huge boom in development with the Expo lands redevelopment. There will also be economic activity created by the businesses moving from their locations at the ECCA.
  • Certainty – by finally putting the issue to rest, the city can focus on what is going to happen with the ECCA land. While it will cause consternation among users of the airport and those who rely on it economically, it will also (I think) excite the rest of the city about the possibilities the land could be used for.

Caveats

edmonton-mapWhile I am in favour of ECCA’s closure, I wonder if the current Edmonton city council is the right council to lead the charge to redevelop the Edmonton City Centre Airport lands.

Redeveloping Edmonton’s City Centre Airport lands would be a huge job and I would hope that council would get a lot of community input on it. I would also hope that they would take the windfall from selling off and developing those lands and maybe do something like, oh, I don’t know, build an LRT extension to the airport?

Looking at a map, the area of the ECCA is larger than Edmonton’s downtown. This is a rare opportunity to create something great, so we need to make sure it’s done right. That opportunity we’ll never see again.

We need people on council with vision. Do we have that now? I can’t comment with any authority there. What do you think? I look at the state of Edmonton now and wonder, who do we blame for the absolutely stupid sprawl, ridiculously limited LRT, etc?

I hope council makes the right decision and closes the airport completely. The spineless route would be the phased route. I understand the rationale is to give businesses time to adjust and relocate, but if the lands are going to be redeveloped, then just do it.

Edmonton moves forward by closing ECCA

There is some speculation that the decision won’t be made today, and I think that’s fair. It’s a big decision and better that it be an informed one than not. Ultimately though, the decision needs to be made to close the airport entirely, not in phases. Edmonton needs to move ahead.

(Related post: Summer 2010 – With the city moving ahead with its decision to close ECCA – Edmonton Centre Airport & Envision Edmonton calling for a plebiscite, there’s a debate on again about what should happen to ECCA.)