Looking to City of Thunder Bay Budget 2017

2016 has quickly come and gone and it is time for the City of Thunder Bay departments to bring together their wants/needs/deferrals and dust off the projects that got put on the shelf a long time ago. As Thunder Bay departments look to the future I think its necessary that those on City council take a step back from the political posturing (Councillor Verdiramo) and really try to deal with Thunder Bay’s realities. Council last year deferred projects and items that will come back to make this years budget process even harder. The decisions that we make today are going to effect us going forward. We need to make the right decisions in order to truly create the city that people will want to live in and move to. Some of the items below aren’t going to be directly related to budgetary concerns but as the minds of Thunder Bays departments come together it could lead to policies that improve and help to direct the city going forward.

Policies:

  1. Density Targets – The Province of Ontario is setting new and increasingly dense targets for communities in Central and Southern Ontario to address the concerns of urban sprawl, transit and more. While Thunder Bay isn’t a part of this new plan its time that Thunder Bay adopted these guidelines and policies to help create the density it needs. Thunder Bay has a density of 330.1 people per square kilometer which is incredibly low for a community of this size. It means that our services are stretched longer and cost more and that the people that live in the community are less healthy. Adding to our density will work towards helping improve the life of our community and stretch our dollar further.
  2. Humanity and Clean&Green – As Thunder Bay moves forward and plans/builds new facilities I believe that it is time to provide a safe space for everyone. We continue to see groups of marginalized people like those of the LGBQT community face daily challenges. As a small means of solidarity; I would like to see the City of Thunder Bay develop a policy that includes gender neutral bathrooms in the design as a mandatory component for city buildings. Additionally I would like to see the city establish electric power stations at its new facilities to help facilitate the expansion of electric vehicles within the community.
  3. Green Buildings/vehicles – Many of the City of Thunder Bay’s facilities are older and are built for a time before climate change. Its time to look at creating a plan to reduce the footprint the City of Thunder Bay has and creating modern, efficient buildings that cost the city less and produce less harmful effects for the environment. The city of Thunder Bay as an entity created 30,078 tonnes eC02 and used 4.280 million litres of fuel throughout 2015. As we look forward we need to consider the types of vehicles and units we use; if there are legitimate environmentally friendly options for the city to use instead. Every penny that fuel costs rise cost transit $44,000 and with the projected costs only to go up we need to make these decisions now.
  4. Investing in Technology – Technology has become an important part of how we as a society function and operate. There are always new and emerging ways to make the job easier, quicker and reduce the negative effects on individuals bodies. Thunder Bay Police Service is one institution that could easily benefit from additional technology. Many officers are still stuck writing tickets by hand and stuck for extended periods of time writing multiple copies. Cruisers are small but they can be adapted to work for the officers benefit. Printers that double as a head rest are just one example. Instead of taking 45 minutes to write 3 copies of the same paperwork it could be done once on a computer and have the officer onto the next call in significantly less time.
  5. Modern Parking lot Codes – Thunder Bay is obsessed with parking and the opportunity to park as close to the establishment as possible. This is not only unhealthy for the user as it promotes a lazy lifestyle but for the environment as well. The modern parking lot acts as reflective shield bringing large amounts of water to the storm sewers and catch basins. Whereas green space would catch this or a portion of the water the asphalt deflects it. Requiring those who plan to develop parking lots or fix established ones in Thunder Bay to change how they create this space. If a business wanted to create a 200 stall lot under the old standard they would see this happen but if we introduced new rules it could develop more greenspace. Requiring 20-20% of land to be used as green space for shrubs, grass, trees etc would reduce water flow to city sewers and provide green spaces within the community.

Budgetary concerns:

  1. Printing Office – One has wonder if Thunder Bay needs to own and operate its own printing unit. Can things be done by the private sector for less cost? do we need to be printing as much as the city does? While I don’t want to see people lose their positions or their income one has to ask if there is a need for this under the city umbrella
  2. Staffing – Without knowing the direct operations of the City of Thunder Bay its hard for me to truly provide either a criticism or a positive on this topic but for many companies staffing amounts for 90% of their operational costs. This leaves little for other items and can handcuff corporations now and into the future. Conducting a review whether it is necessary to cut or add positions has to be a necessary evil. A review starting from the top and working down is just one step.
  3. Infrastructure upgrades benefiting urban sprawl – in 2018 the city has 750,000 projected for the NW Arterial route for property acquisition. Then additionally a projected cost somewhere in the tune of $20 million for the road itself. This infrastructure project only benefits those who live in the fringe of the community and make it easier for their suburban lifestyle. This project should be scrapped and the money reallocated for other infrastructure projects. Additionally as the expansion of road projects gets further from the cores we should start to consider additional factors like does it support urban sprawl, could transit/multi-use better suit the space etc.
  4. Development fee – Building in Thunder Bay continues to expand on the fringes of our community. A recent decision by council to increase the size of Neebing ward by 120 units means additional cost beyond revenue for the city. Its time to require development in the fringes to pay for their cost. I propose a distance based fee with the 2 downtown cores as the anchors. As the development gets x distance from the core the cost to develop increases. While developing in the core itself could net the developer a rebate on their building costs; building in Neebing or Mcintrye could cost someone 15-20% of their development costs through a fee which could be put towards infrastructure.
  5. EIRP – Simple enough, it needs to continue and potentially expand to work with Confederation College and Lakehead University to address some of their costs. Both institutions bring in youth and huge sums of money into the community. Making them more profitable and their image better only serves to benefit the community today and tomorrow.
  6. Proper Funding – Its hard to come to the community and say its going to be this percentage or this percentage. Its much simpler to let the department heads deffer projects because of variance issues at the end of the day. Its time to forgo this practice and properly fund the departments and stop dealing with the fires of variances as they arrive. Thunder Bay Police Service Chief J.P. Levesque continues to come to council with the budget they require and then council cuts it. At the end of the day we end up in the same place. When I budget I do so for my expenses and then a contingency for those issues that arise and the City of Thunder Bay should too.

 

References:

http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Code1=3558004&Geo2=CSD&Code2=3543042&Data=Count&SearchText=barrie&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&Custom=&TABID=1

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/Strategic+Plan+2015/docs/Implementation+Plan.pdf

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/Finance+$!26+Budgets/docs/Budget+2016/2016_TAX_CAP_I$!26O.pdf

 

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Victoriaville: The Future

The City of Thunder Bay is looking for input into what the citizens would like to see happen to this space. Since its inception it has polarized the citizens and for many is the reason that the Fort William side of town has gone into a decline. Much has changed since the days of old and the city itself has changed. The question still remains as to what do we do with the Victoriaville Mall and how do we move forward?

I think we need to take a step back and come to an agreement that no matter what decision we make whether to tear it down or to keep it up; the area will not boom like people seem to predict. Thunder Bay is a much different place then when the mall was created and we as a society have changed as well. This idea that if we tear it down everyone will come rushing back into the area is a fallacy and it just wont happen. Fort William downtown still struggles with a bad reputation, high crime rates and lack of a real draw. I know personally that if they tear down the Victoriaville Mall; I will still have no draw to go there.

The decision on what to do with this half filled building that has struggled to bring in business and customers is an extremely challenging one. On one hand if we keep the building as such then we run deficits and spend millions for repairs to a facility we may not need. Yet, if we tear it down the question becomes the next steps for the space, the people who lose their businesses and employment. The larger picture must also be considered in this decision. The decision to invest millions in the waterfront redevelopment was not done on its own; it was done with the implications it would help the surrounding area and the investment would incite other investment.

The City of Thunder Bay needs to look to a much larger plan then simply the space that Victoriaville occupies and create a plan to bring life into this area again. This means dealing with issues such as public intoxication, businesses supporting potentially illegal or antisocial actions and beautifying the area. We have a gentlemen in Mr. Habib who has taken the time to present his vision for the area in order to bring life back to this part of town. It is going to take a vision on a grander scale to address the issues facing this part of town and it is a multifaceted one. Looking to modern urban design principles, the realities of the city and its population along with a multitude of potential tax policies will be important.

The City of Thunder Bay cannot take this on their own and they need to introduce private partners to the plan. Residential development or having people live in the area is an important part of improving the area and bringing in other investments. Council can work with developers to create multi use facilities that build on each others success. There are a number of buildings that can be torn down to introduce these new spaces for developers to establish themselves. Toronto is one community that succeeds because they build on each other. Bottoms floors are rented out to things that the community would need like grocery stores, gyms and cafe’s while upstairs are residential areas, the people who work and use these areas. Thunder Bay needs to look to this vision beyond just the Fort William area but specifically for the plan of the Victoriaville Mall how to best create mutli-use facilities.

To the idea of what to do with the Victoriaville mall; I really hope that while the city gets input from the citizens as a whole it places more emphasis on those who work, live, and play in these areas. As someone who hardly uses this area my opinion should have less value then someone who would lose a business, employment or a recreation space due to this decision. I hope that the city looks to a pedestrian facility where people can come, sit and relax while taking in the area. A space for vendors to provide food, meals and allow for a community connection. I hope that the city takes into account aboriginal features as this area does have a larger Aboriginal population.

I guess my thoughts on this topic are that we cannot expect a miracle to happen either way. We need too look beyond this area and make the effective investments that improve life and the users of the space should have more say then those from Neebing, McIntrye or even the north core who haven’t used the space in 30 years.

Mr. Habib vision: http://visitfortwilliam.ca/NeighbourhoodNews/Avisionfordowntown.aspx

Lakehead University’s Board of Governor Student Position

Lakehead University annually opens up a position of its board of governors to a student appointed by the LUSU president. The role of this person is to press for student needs at the top of the food chain within the university bureaucratic structure. I came across this position and then wondered to myself what I would want to stand for as a student in this position and how I would try to make my mark in Lakehead University for students across both campuses. I thought I had a good understanding of the issues surrounding both the campuses; being born in Thunder Bay and then going to the Orillia campus as a student. Both campuses have interesting issues and both have much different outlooks when it comes to growth, investment potential and importance in the long term. I believe that there needs to be two separate outlooks for both campuses in order to truly make the university somewhere that students are proud to go to and investors clamor to be a part of.

Thunder Bay Campus strategy needs to be about rejuvenation and fixing the issues. Lakehead University celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015-2016 and the buildings it used to teach all those students are starting to show their age. Thunder Bay campus needs to see major money put into it by Lakehead for the building mid-life rebirth. Investing in the campuses to modernize them and to bring modern amenities that they can be lacking. This will provide students with a modern and elegant place to learn and be proud of their campus. I believe that the money could be gained in a number of ways to improving the look of the campus:

1. Asking Thunder Bay City Council to create allocate 0.1-0.2% of the EIRP fund to repairing and funding Lakehead University repairs at the Thunder Bay Campus. ($120,000-240,000 annually)
2. Asking Thunder Bay Students to pay a $50 annual restoration and improvement fee. This fee would mean that LUSU gets a more important role at the table of what gets fixed and when. ($50 X 7000 [Students] = $350,000
3. Looking to major Thunder Bay/NW Region companies to sponsor names on buildings and use that funding for renovations of that building. (N/A)
4. Crowd-funding like the Thunder Bay Regional does in order to bring in further investment to the university for repairs and renovations.

Total additional income: $470,000 – $590,000

The Orillia campus needs to work on expanding their campus in order to grow their student numbers. The potential at the Orillia campus is greater for short-medium term growth due to a number of factors 1) Only University in the area 2) Large metro-area [Roughly 400,000 people within 20 minutes) 3) Close to Barrie [Fastest metro Growth in Ontario]. So Lakehead here needs to really expand programming that is beneficial to both the community and the province but that will also attract students in the long run as well. Here Lakehead needs to look at growth oriented courses and getting enough funding to support this growth. It can do this by:

1. Asking City of Barrie to establish a funding package with the school like they had planned with Laurientian University. (8.2 million annually) with sufficient hiring/student quota from the Barrie area.
2. Asking County of Simcoe to increase their funding annually.
3. Working with local developers to fund a new residence building/ series of alternative homes.
4. Looking to courses that have growth potential outpacing applicants and filling that need while also filling up traditional courses like nursing and kinesiology.
5. Creating new opportunity with courses like Business with a focus on technology, Information technology and rocketry (hard sciences).

In order for these things to happen we need to really look at Lakehead and make it a better place for our students. This means addressing sexual assault, mental health and finances on our university campuses. All these have been swept under the rug for too long and need to be addressed in order for us as a campus to be healthy and successful. There are a number of measures that we can use in order to truly help the student and make their lives easier on our campus.

1. Fund a mental health study conducted to find what are the major stressors that are causing mental health spikes like stress, depression, suicide and anxiety and the major deterrents to getting help ie. Lack of services, stigma.
2. Create a 24/7 operation for mental health and sexual assault on both the Orillia and Thunder Bay campus. Adequately staffed to deal with issues brought forward by staff and students confidently.
3. Introduce a fall reading week for students
4. Work with other universities to purchase textbooks in larger groups in order to drive down the price and pass those savings onto students. Look at purchasing items through companies like Amazon or Chapters Indego to get a larger purchasing power in order to find savings.
5. Look at stream lining operations within the university to find savings. Starting at the top to be conducted by a consultant in order to provide transparency for students. Look at perks and at types of contracts being given out to individuals to find savings. Then look through the organization for inefficiencies and if staff wages are in line with private sector costs (i.e. librarians making $700,000 a year {multiple people}.

If we want to be a good school we need to look at the way that we teach and we have to make sure that the people we have are in the right place for teaching people. We need people with experience in the research field and people who have real life experience teaching students so that the lessons learned are more than just verbatim from a book. I remember stories and lessoned learned in college and from some university professors which stick because they are relevant and real. Improving the university experience can be improved in a number of ways.

1. Making classes 2 hours long (up from 1.5) many times things were cut as a result of snow days, people asking questions or just overreaching content. This additional 30 minutes should provide the teachers with the opportunity to really provide the information necessary and should make scheduling classes easier. Classes that are 3 hours now would be 4 hours with a 15 minutes break in the middle of the class.
2. Teachers can only teach subjects they are proficient in and comfortable in. If a teacher doesn’t actually teach criminology and doesn’t normally do lectures then sticking him in that environment isn’t healthy for him or the students.
3. Finding teachers who have completed the job for classes that have an emphasis on a particular topic. Ie. A nurse teaching a class that is done specifically about post-op surgery or surgery care or a lawyer for a Canadian Law class.
4. Delaying the choice of classes for the next year in order to make sure the schedules are set and work with budgets. The allowing registration in a structured way to avoid students sitting for hours trying to register and overloading the servers.

Looking back at the idea of running for governor on the Lakehead council I have a number of ideas to improve the university experience and to make Lakehead more respected. Basically they break down as follows.

– Thunder Bay Campus: Focus on the next 50 years by repairing and rejuvenating the campus.
– Orillia Campus: Focused expansion to feed students into empty jobs and build the campus.
– Students: Focus on Mental Health, Financial Health and the Sexual Health of students.
– Change the way we teach students and focus on 1. Real World uses and examples 2. Theory mixed in.

This is what I would try to push through in a year at the Governors table. It’s likely that most of this would never get done but if the seed could be planted for a couple then it would be beneficial in my mind to the campuses, students and to the university as a whole.

What are your thoughts?

The 800 million dollar question

The idea of putting Tbaytel up for sale is one that has been in the community for years. Proponents of the idea say that the sale of Tbaytel would rid the city of a potential liability and bring in a huge amount of cash to the city. People against the idea feel that selling would cause a huge increase in the city’s tax base (Tbaytel current subsidizes the tax base by 17 million or 12%) and that losing control would mean higher prices for consumers. Both sides have positives and negatives to them but I will look at what a potential sale of Tbaytel could mean for the city. Someone who works within the telecommunications industry believes that the city could fetch $800 million to $1 billion dollars for Tbaytel and its assets. Now these numbers are estimates and guesses but the $800 million is an interesting talking point.

So if we were to say that the sale has been completed; the government didn’t intervene in the sale and Tbaytel is now a private entity. Where do we spend the money and how do we go about spreading the wealth to the community. I believe that the city needs to look to the long term with this investment and take a page from Fort William First Nation and what they are doing with their land settlement claim money. A sudden investment of $800 million if not managed properly could easily be spent and gone in a matter of years. Making sure we have the right people in charge to make these decisions and involving the community are going to be incredibly important if we are too do this right.

If we were to sell Tbaytel we would lose an annual investment of $17 million dollars that are currently subsidizing the city budget. In order to reduce the burden on the city taxpayer some of the money would need to be used to pay down the city debt completely. Current the city debt stands around $180-$190 million dollars owed. Paying this off would allow the city to completely eliminate debt servicing charges and debt payments from its expenses. This means that we could reduce the burden of Tbaytel loss making the tax increase more manageable for the community. For ease of numbers sake we will say that the debt is $200 million which means that our total is now down to $600 million overall.

After the debt for me it gets a little murky on what we should do with the remaining money. We shouldn’t use it to subsidize our tax base to keep taxes low. We would simply burn through this money and then only delay the inevitable. We saw this with Mississauga who was forced to raise taxes 7% after burning through their reserve funds. I do believe that we should be setting aside a portion of this money to invest into our infrastructure and maintaining what we have. Roads, bridges, sewers, parks, sports facilities are all items that have been overlooked for years and are in desperate need of attention. If we were to set aside $100 million over 10 years over and above what we already spend we could effectively upgrade and maintain what we have. Making sure that fields like Chapples which are used by the Thunder Bay Chill aren’t unavailable for a majority of the season due to poor conditions. Managing effectively this money will be important to avoid the price increases that occurred with the marina. Of we throw a lot of money into a short period of time we may receive less then anticipated. If so this may need to be pushed back to a 15 or 20 year plan. We now have spent $300 million through this plan to invest in infrastructure and eliminate the debt.

With $500 million left it leave us with a lot of choices as to what we want to do with the money. I believe that if the sale of Tbaytel were to happen it should result in an improved quality of life for citizens in the community. The question then becomes how much money should we set aside and how should we be spending that money. I believe that $100 million over 10 years could be a fair number to not only the citizens of today but tomorrows taxpayers. $50 should be earmarked to increasing the size and scope of green spaces within the community. Investing in new playground equipment for children, bringing in new sports like Disc Golf, Cricket to the community and making these spaces enjoyable. The other $50 million should be earmarked for remediation of industrial land for future public use and removing dilapidated buildings in the community. These could include the industrial areas along the waterfront, removing grain elevators and old business/homes that are devaluing neighboring properties. After this additional investment into the community we are now down to $400 million in which to use.

This final $400 million should be split into two savings account where it can grow money through interest and benefit the community even more into the future. I would like to see $200 million go into the city reserve funds for future use and to help prop up the city’s reserves. This increase in reserves and a reduction in debt will increase the city’s credit rating and allow the city to take out loans at much lower interest rate. This will also allow the city some breathing room if the city goes over on snow removal in that budget year. Money in the reserve funds also grow interest which means the reserves will grow at a faster rate. The other $200 million should be put into a bank account where it cannot be touched for a 20 year period. This will allow the money to grow untouched for that period of time and increase the total amount available to the city in the future. When that 20 years is over there should be a restriction applied to the amount that can be taken out annually to protect from large project spending by the council members.

With this being said I have my own personal thoughts about selling Tbaytel. I believe that it is valuable asset to the community and is a good fit in our hands. Now it will be up to the council and community to decide if they want to sell the company or continue to hold onto it. I do believe however that the City of Thunder Bay needs to remove itself from Tbaytel’s annual contribution and allow the company to keep that money. With regards to the current dividend that the city is receiving from Tbaytel over and above that initial $17 million I think this should be up to the board. Successful companies provide a dividend to their shareholders when they are profitable and expanding. This money could continue to be pumped into a fund like ReNew Thunder Bay for projects such as the Event Center or Golf Links Expansion.

So this is what I believe we should do with the $800 million we got from a potential Tbaytel sell if we received it. What do you think we should do with the money?

Editors Note: The assessment value was provided by someone who works in the Telecommunication industry based on his assessment of the company. He didn’t have access to financial statements or asset values which would be necessary for a true costing of the company. This number was his belief.

Our Military Men and Women deserve better

The war in Afghanistan is winding down, all of NATO and ISAF members are starting to bring their men and women home. This means that war budgets are being reduced and military’s around the world are taking stock of what is good, what needs to stay and what needs to go. Add onto this that the world has been plunged into the largest recession since the 1929 great depression. This means that countries are looking to cut their budgets and the military is just one place that they can do that. Canada is one of those countries who have been cutting their military budget in order to bring their national budget into line. I personally believe that a balanced budget is one of the most important thing a government can do but the way that this government has done it has been terrible to watch. Men and women who have sacrificed their time, spent their blood, tears and sweat to protect this country and they are being left to the wolves. Soldier, sailors and airmen who have been forced to use antiquated equipment, sent to war without the proper uniforms and then when they come home left to suffer on their own. To place this blame entirely on the conservative government would be wrong of me, the previous Liberal government did little to provide for our men and women. The problem I have now is how this government made a propaganda machine out of the military when it served their purpose but are now shoving them into the dirt only a few years later. It really starts with the conservative governments $490 billion dollar (20 years) plan to retrofit the military and make it one of the best equip in the world. Everything from buying new helicopters, replacing ships, new planes and new tanks to improving the daily lives of the average serviceman. This plan released in 2008 is basically a shadow of itself and is nothing more then a pile of papers at this time. While I believe that this should have been delayed in order to help deal with the deficit the plan gets worse with each news conference.

The Aurora aircraft was one of the best surveillance planes developed and excelled at its role. It was designed to hunt down soviet submarines around Canada’s territorial waters before they could launch their ICBM missiles into North America. The plane is a staple of the Canadian Airforce and while aging does its job effectively. One of the purchases that was set out in the Canada First Defence Strategy was a new surveillance plane to bring us into the future and serve the forces for the next 30-40 years. It was announced in the 2014 budget that these planes wouldn’t see a retirement date in the near future but instead would see a retrofit to the tune of $2 billion dollars. This retrofit would extend the lives of the planes by 10 years and see them in service till 2030 at which time they will be almost 50 years old. This will be the second retrofit on the planes, the first coming in 1999 at a cost of 1.6 billion dollars which originally pushed back the end of life deadline to 2020. This investment means that we will be spending $200 million a year to keep these planes operational but only kicks the can down the road in terms of replacing the planes. These planes will be almost double the age of many of the pilots who fly them and will only increase in down time, cost and maintenance as they age. Breaking the cost of this purchase into a couple of years would have continued to allow the government to purchase the planes and meet the retirement deadlines for the planes by 2020. The Airforce said that it was there decision to retrofit the planes rather then purchase new ones. Covering up for the government is just sad but I guess that’s to be expected when its bad press and not good press.

There are a couple major black eyes for the Canadian Navy that continue to pop their heads up almost monthly in Canadian newspapers. The submarines that are the laughing stock of the Navy and the supply ships so old that some would wonder if they date back to World War 1. In all seriousness the supply ships aren’t that old but they are old and in desperate need for repair. These ships are closing in on the 50 year range; they no longer are adequate for the needs of the navy today or into the future. The current government and the previous Liberal government have all struggled to find the right design to use and find a pricing point that is fair to the taxpayers dollar. While the current government is moving ahead with its plan to purchase new ships it has not come without major headaches, design issues and bad press. The original plan is to purchase 3 ships for a cost of $2.9 billion that would be produced in Canada. The plan faltered when the tenders came way in over budget and the government cancelled the plan. They restarted the plan to purchase new supply ships but reduced the specifications in order to cut the cost and reduced the number of ships from 3 to 2. While these delays and changes may have reduced the price of the ships it left the Canadian Navy is a precarious position. It would only have 2 ships to resupply either coast at one time and there wouldn’t be any ship to replace it while the damaged ship was being repaired. This would leave the Canadian Navy completely reliant on other nations but would also impair the ability of the Navy to undertake operations and exercises. So the government which viewed the original tenders to be overpriced mumbo jumbo is now going to risk the Canadian Navy’s ability to operate and buy them ships that don’t meet their needs. At this point why are we even going to spend this money? Its a bigger waste of Canadian taxpayers dollars then if the original budget was to go over a little bit. Add onto this fact that the navy will likely be without a supply fleet for a number of years as the current ships are beyond their operating lifespan and you have yourself a major issue.

The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau thought that it would be a good idea to purchase for the Canadian Navy 4 submarines from Britain. Seems reasonable to purchase equipment from another friendly country for use in your own military. Save yourself some money, get the machines right away and push them into service while you look at something newer in the medium term projections. The one issue was that these submarines were used, abused, mothballed, left to rot and then sold to the Canadian Navy. These ships were in such poor condition that on the maiden voyage under the Royal Canadian Navy banner one of the submarines caught fire and killed a Canadian sailor. Turns out that the wiring wasn’t well enough protected and it caught fire when a bit of salt water got inside the submarine. This tragedy easily could have been avoided and this sailor would be alive had someone had the balls to say no to the crap they were buying from Britain. HMCS Chicoutimi was out of service for 10 years, the retrofit cost $125 million dollars and it can’t dive in the deep parts of the ocean. It will have to stay close to home in order to avoid going down and not coming up. What kind of navy has a submarine fleet that your concerned it wont resurface after its dived. Add onto this the fact that the Navy promoted recently that their subs were now able to fire torpedoes. Like seriously, what were they doing beforehand that your excited they can finally do the job they were purchased to do. It only took the Navy and its contractors around 12 years to do since they were purchased in 1999. The original cost of the purchase was $750 million dollars and about 150 million was spent on reactivating and making these submarines ready for life in the Canadian north. We have easily spent close to 1.5 billion dollars on submarines that are rust buckets, don’t meet the operational needs of the Canadian Navy and that are simply embarrassing. Its time for the government to stop shelling good money on a bad decision, its time to put these ships to rest and make a decision on new ships. Canada could look at purchasing either Virginia Class attack submarines from the US for $1.8 -2 Billion per year or look to the British Astute submarines or French Barricuda ($1.45 Billion) as replacements. While neither will be cheap they will give the Canadian Navy the operation capacity it needs to conduct its missions properly. Give the men and women who serve our country the proper equipment they need to do the job.

The Canadian Military is adaptable, its used to be handed old equipment and then be told make it work for the next 20 years. The one thing we can’t and should not accept is the poor conditions that the military puts its men/women and families into. Military bases with facilities straight out of the 50’s which are inefficient, cold, old and worn out. The government and the military knows that this is a major issue but has done little to fix these issues. One has to wonder why these issues are not addressed, is it simply because it is not glamorous enough to be press worthy. The 2008 Canada First Defense strategy says that the government will increase spending on base infrastructure to around 100 million dollars a year over the 20 year life of the plan. With so little being spent on replacing or renewing what the military already has one has to wonder how much they are behind. 100 million dollars a year is 1/4 of the cost of the new courthouse here in Thunder Bay and they are spending just that on hundreds of bases/reserve units across the country. Something here can’t be right. Such little money spent on providing a shelter, running water, sewers, etc for our men and women yet they are spending 1 billion dollars on a new special forces headquarters. Add to that $1 billion the $2 billion that the Department of National Defense spends on consultants every year and its begs to question really where the money is going. I’m truly not against either of these purchases, anti-terrorism activities are the future of modern warfare and having information behind making a decision is smart. It just kills me to see stories like this of Cpl. Darenn Tremblay busking for extra money because the rent continues to increase at market rates while wages are stagnant. No one would pay $1,500-$2,000 a room for a 50-60 year old house that needs nothing more then a wrecking ball and a good rebuild. Why are our men and women who are serving this country pushed into such terrible conditions. If you are going to charge that kind of money then provide them with a proper place to class their own and give them what they need to be comfortable. These people are going to potentially give up their lives to protect everyone in this country.

The biggest issue I have with the conservative government and their lack of action on the military front is the apparent lack of services for men and women suffering from PTSD and other ailments. The government and the military leadership had to know that this was something that would be on the rise after the war and were completely unprepared for this. I don’t want to bring the doctors/ nurses and psychologists who are working there asses off to help these people. This is clearly a failure of the decision makers in the DND and the government. To have been so unprepared to help treat these men and women is simply astounding and embarrassing. We need to provide these injured warriors with the tools they need to return to as much of a normal life as is humanly possible. We need to reduce the suicides being committed by members of the military and give them the help they need before this is an option. 9 suicides between November and February with many of the members having served in Afghanistan. This number is too high and these are all preventable with the proper consoling and treatment options. We need to do better on this topic for all the members of the Canadian Forces whether it be better recognition training or more money for better services. The status quo is not working and cannot be considered acceptable and this fact is also a nationwide epidemic. We are failing each other and we need the government to step up the the plate and do its job and fulfill its responsibility.

This blog post was meant to provide a forum for my thoughts on the state of the government/ the military and the Canadian Forces. This was meant to push the government to fulfill its promises and give the men and women serving this country what they need to do their jobs. I totally understand if it takes a little longer due to the recession but falling back on promises is something that can’t happen when it comes to life or death situations like the military. We need to stand with our soldier on the battlefield and at home and we need to do all we can for them. I personally want to serve my country and serve in the military which is why I take this so deeply to heart. If one day this blog post stops me from getting into the forces because they don’t like the message I will be ok with it. The people need to know what the government is doing and understand its far reaching effects. There is so much more that I could have posted on the failure of this government to the military men and women. You either support the military 100% or not but stop using them as pawns when the time is suits you. If you make a decision stand with it and accept the praise and the failure.

You can read the Canada First Defense Strategy here: http://www.forces.gc.ca/assets/FORCES_Internet/docs/en/about/CFDS-SDCD-eng.pdf

References:

Feds shelve plans to buy new military patrol airplanes
http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/canada-issues-rfp-for-cdn-29b-joint-support-ship-project-updated-02392/
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/rebuilt-hmcs-chicoutimi-submarine-to-return-to-navy-1.2486251
http://www.canadianperiscope.ca/#!victoria-class/cvpc
http://www.naval-technology.com/features/featureastute-arihant-ohio-worlds-top-nuclear-submarines/
After Cold Lake soldier caught busking to make ends meet, viability of military pay in booming 'little Fort McMurray' called into question
http://www.torontosun.com/2014/02/12/another-canadian-soldier-dead-in-apparent-suicide-2

City of Thunder Bay needs to find more cash

One of the benefits to having a large amount of time on your hands is that you get to investigate. I was curious as to the costs of the new event center that Thunder Bay is planning to build with construction roughly targeted for 2016. This popped into my head as the future of the Fort William Gardens is up for discussion. The idea of tearing it down or reusing it for future uses will be something that consultants and the community work to decide. My person opinion on this is that the building has served it purpose and needs to be torn down. The land can be reused to provide a new source of tax income for the city. Getting into more details is for another blog post. I was looking at the cost of the event center and wondering about how the costs have changed since they were first presented to us. If truly they will represent the total cost of event center when it is completed. So I went to the City of Thunder Bay’s website and found the numbers presented by the consultants and went to work.

The cost of the building (nothing inside it), a parking structure, a walkway and the prep work is expected to cost around $88,742,500 based on 2012 numbers. As I said before this building isn’t expected to be under construction till 2016 to at the earliest. 4 years is a long time in the construction industry and during that 4 years costs have increased. Inflation increases is accepted to be around 3% annually but has been lower with the economic downtown. If we use the 3% inflation number over that 4 year period then the price of event center has increased roughly $10,650,000 over the initial costs estimates. That number only gets us to the date when construction is expected to start; with a 2-3 year construction period these numbers will again jump by 4-6 million dollars. That puts us at roughly $104,716,150 for a shell of a building, a walkway, prep work and a parking structure. The contractors aren’t stupid right? They put in a 10% contingency fund to make sure that if there were any cost overruns that they would be covered. That 10% amounts to about 10 million dollars which makes this overrun more reasonable. It means that the city is basically covered till the date of construction and that how long construction takes will determine the overrun. If the 3% increase was to occur yearly that increase to the overall cost would run around $2.6 million dollars. To outfit the arena with the things it needs it expected to take roughly another 6 million dollars. $2 million will be payment to Thunder Bay Hydro for forcing them to advance their dates on tearing down the substation so this cost may not increase; same with the $800,000 that the city has put aside for art. The $3 million for fixtures, scoreboards and more likely will though and again using a 6 year time period and 3% increase in inflation will see this number increase to $3.5 million dollars. This could potentially bring the number for construction to $99,692,500 after the 10% contingency fund has been spent. ($88,742,500 + $14,650,000 – $10,000,000 + $3,500,000 + $800,000 + $2,000,000 [Based on a 2 year construction period]).

Truly to me this isn’t the only cost that needs to be brought forward when we are considering this final bill to the taxpayers. We will need to do something with the Fort William Gardens and that will cost money. That is a number that should be included in these costs as the decision on what to do with the facility is a direct result of the new event center. The cost of either its demolition or its restoration is something that needs to be clear and concise when it comes to what we are doing. Again, I personally believe that the building needs to be torn down as it doesn’t meet the needs of the community or its users anymore. With the loss of that ice to both the Thunderwolves and the Northstars comes with another issues that will need to be addressed. We will need to replace that sheet of ice with another one on the south side to provide enough ice for the users to use. This again provides the city with another cost to meet the demand of its recreation and sport clients. With some foresight I believe that we could properly introduce some additional costs to this project to have both the federal and province governments pay some of the cost of demolishing this building and providing a renovation to Delaney arena. An guesstimate of an additional 20 million to the overall cost of the multiplex should help to provide enough cash to either pay for the demolition and rebuilding or the retrofit of the Fort William Gardens. If we were to add these costs and use the money we have saved to leverage the cost we would end up paying roughly $6.5 million dollars instead of the full cost of these buildings.

So what would it work out to be if we were to break it down between the 4 partners. Currently, the city expects to pay around 33% with the other levels of government covering the other 66%. Its currently trying to leverage the 35 million dollars set aside in a ReNew Thunder bay fund to get the other 50+ million from the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada. If the City of Thunder Bay wants to truly get an equal billing between the 3 levels of government it will need to increase the expected cost of this endeavor. That $11 million dollar increase in cost means that the city will need to find an additional 3.5 million dollars to leverage the Federal and Provincial government. If it doesn’t increase the costs or find additional private funding to cover the added cost it will be stuck with the 11 million dollar increase on its own. While it likely wont go over well for the next city council to already have these added costs on so early on, to avoid the increase and accept it later shouldn’t be the better of the 2 options. There is also an opportunity here to pay for the demolition/refurbishment of the Fort William Gardens and any addition to other facilities that will become necessary for the city to meet its clients needs.

I believe that this is a great opportunity for the city to improve something that has been lacking in this city for a long time. I give praise to the current and past city councils for developing the different districts (administration, shopping and entertainment) that have created the foundation for future expansion. The development of Prince Arthur’s landing and now this has created a catalyst for the redevelopment of the north core. 500 additional people could be downtown Port Arthur on a nightly basis when the condo’s and hotel are full. This is as a result of the city’s investment into redeveloping its waterfront. On top of that the private sector has taken notice of the development being undertaken. An old bar has been restored to house lofts and is already 50% sold, a new development will build a 6 story 71 unit apartment building in an underused section of town. Other developers have taken over buildings in desperate need of repair and invested in them. All this in the build up to the potential development of the new event center. It will be interesting to see the changes that happen in the city as time goes on. I am in complete support of this project but I want to make sure that the city gets the best deal for taxpayers dollars. We need to have a more accurate dollar figure when we go to the higher levels of government and make sure that we aren’t stuck with the cost overruns to deal with ourselves.

Changing the Minimum Wage

Canada has a major problem. Many Canadians are stuck or have been pushed since the economic downturn in 2008 into lower paying or minimum wage jobs. These positions were once typically designated for younger people who needed to get some experience under their belt and didn’t have the responsibility of children, debts etc. This seemed to have changed as many of the positions that have been created and touted as the resurgence in the economy as minimum wage. Currently the minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 an hour or less if you work in the restaurant industry. As people fill these jobs that have families, debts, and responsibility there is more demand to increase the amount people make when they are working these jobs. Some people believe that with the increases in inflation and other costs it is necessary to get these raises. For others they see this as an increasing cost that will drive away businesses and cost more Canadians jobs. As it stands right now I personally feel that the best way to save the average Canadian more money is to reduce the taxes that governments take. Since this isn’t likely to happen I believe that there is another opportunity to kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

Youth have been pushed out of entry level jobs as middle aged and retired Canadians took a beating during the recession. Many of the jobs that they once worked at have left the country for cheaper markets and carved a hole into the middle class. While these events were occurring the youth sat silently and took double digit unemployment rates on the chin. During the recession and continuing today unemployment for youth has stayed in the 12-15% range while general unemployment is closer to 7%. Youth have brought on more debt, been forced into soup kitchens at higher rates then almost any other category. So how do we get youth working again while providing a fair wage to those with the responsibilities of children, household debt etc. \

I believe that we create a tiered system for minimum wage. One that sees a payment different depending on age that would allow for more younger people to be hired but also see older workers have a little more cash into their pockets. It would work something like this: Age 16-23 would start at $11.00 while people working 23+ would start at $14.00 and this would raise bi-annually at half the rate of inflation for those 2 years. This would continue till young workers were making $14.00 and older workers were making $17.00. At that time it could be reevaluated to determine if growth should be accelerated or if it should be slowed.

While initially young workers would take a hit to the pocket book it would allow for more young people to be hired. This would positively affect the huge unemployment crisis that is facing our youth today. It would allow more students to bring home some type of income and help to reduce the amount of debt they need to take on to get an education and provide a benefit to the economy. When fully implemented a young person working 20 hours a week would bring in $14560 or roughly the cost of university tuition (2013 numbers) with around 8,000 to spare. One might question if a dividing the minimum wage in order to make younger workers cheaper would negatively affect older workers employment opportunities. I don’t believe it would for a number of reasons.

Many students are unavailable during the daytime due to their education which means that older workers are the only ones available. The increase in pay would allow these workers to bring in more money and be able afford more items. It would be beneficial to both the economy and the employees with some negatives to smaller businesses that could be lessened by grants and tax breaks. A full time employee now making 10.25 an hour is making $21,320 annually to try and divide this by a family of 4 means that every person only has access to $5330 a year. If this number rises to $17.00 an hour the person is able to bring in $35,630 which is a $14,000 increase annually. This means that family of 4 will be able to access just under $9000 a year. This makes life much more affordable for people and allows more people to move away from the poverty line and services like soup kitchens, homeless shelters etc.. This reduces the demand on these services which allows them to help those who truly need it.

Raising the minimum wage all the time isn’t the answer to the issue of the loss of middle class jobs. We need to find a solution that brings back those jobs and figure out how we can recreate positions. It will take tough choices by all levels of government to stop viewing the middle class as a cash cow with unlimited resources, it will take cuts to government positions/services to reduce the amount of money taken off the average Canadian check. We will need political willpower to make ideas like these a idea for topic for discussion even if the ideas are not popular but they are necessary. We need to hold the government to do the right thing not the popular thing and do what is right for both the corporate citizen and the regular citizen.