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DZIADYK: Edmonton Audit a wake up call for City Council

Edmonton City Councillor Jon Dziadyk writes that its time to cut the bloated middle-management revealed in a recent audit.

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Guest opinion column from Edmonton City Councillor Jon Dziadyk

First and foremost, your taxes should fund core municipal services. Frontline workers are the ones who deliver the services you expect from your city: pothole repair, snow removal, garbage collection, and the like. There is room for other municipal services – such as economic development – but we should master our core responsibilities first and be careful how we grow as an organization. 

Edmonton’s City Auditor recently released a report that confirmed some of my suspicions that our middle management is growing at an alarming rate. In fact, since 2017 frontline staff decreased by one per cent while management increased by 22 per cent. This causes me concern. 

The Management Audit Report also highlights a much lower ratio of frontline staff to managers than I would expect from a municipal organization. The average ratio for all departments – except City Operations – is one manager for every 3.5 frontline staff. In fact, there are 486 managers who manage only 1-2 frontline workers each. I am not going to prescribe the ideal ratio for the city, recognizing that each department will be different. But, I believe that core services can be delivered effectively without a stack of managers interfering. 

A resident who calls to follow-up on a basic permit should not have to go through multiple levels of bureaucrats to get a response. If that resident wants to build something of value, that should be encouraged. Managers managing managers does not typically equate to a faster permit or a faster pothole repair. These examples show inefficiencies. Taxpayers want results, not more process.

It is important that we remain competitive to attract talent, but the cost of salaries equates to over 50 per cent of the total City of Edmonton budget. Frontline staff decreases and yet the annual cost of salaries today is $44 million dollars higher than it was three years ago. The budget is becoming unsustainable. When our core services are not being prioritized to the levels that Edmontonians expect – let alone desire – increasing salaries and management is not the response required.  I believe that there is room in middle management for realignment given we have seemingly lost sight of what we should prioritize. 

I hope that focusing on frontline workers as a priority over middle managers will ensure core services are delivered faster and better. My goal is to ensure your tax dollars go towards the core services first. The nice-to-haves should come second and – quite frankly – we need to re-examine many of our priorities. No longer should it be acceptable to say “we have always done it that way.”  

A post-COVID world presents an opportunity for governments to reimagine themselves, and I will push for us to be adaptive. The good news is that reorganization could have a positive impact on our budget. Coincidentally, I will be pushing for a one per cent tax cut for the year 2021, which means we will have to find $17 million in savings. I know we can do that, but Council has to agree on some tough decisions. We can find this money simply by reducing management by 6.4 per cent. This will still leave the city with a higher management ratio than we had in 2017, which suggests that we could go further. 

It has been an extremely tough year for Edmontonians. You should not have to see your taxes increase and watch your service levels decrease. You should not have to call my office and wonder why the pothole that you reported twice is still not repaired. You should not have to ask when the overflowing garbage at your park will be emptied. You should not have to ask these questions and receive a higher tax bill at the same time. 

This audit is a wakeup call for Council. It is also a very clear outline for how we can reduce your taxes. My hope is that the rest of Council will also wake up.

Jon Dziadyk is the Edmonton City Councillor for Ward 3

Opinion

MORGAN: Should potentially dangerous candidates be given the voters list?

“One potential option would be moving for a court injunction against candidates – like Johnston – that have clearly signalled their willingness or intent to abuse the information found in the electors list.”

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Voter lists have long been provided to registered candidates in elections at all levels of government. Candidates have to affirm they will only use the information for campaign purposes and there can be significant penalties for misuse of voter lists.

Those voters lists are often, unfortunately, misused by some unprincipled candidates for everything from telemarketing to campaigning during non-election periods. While these abuses are not to be disregarded, they tend to be mere annoyances in most cases.

That has changed with the prospect controversial Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston may get access to electors lists.

While every candidate – including fringe candidates – has received the electors lists in the past without issue, Johnston is presenting a new problem. He has openly vowed to track down AHS employees and make an armed visit to their homes. This may just be Johnston’s usual hyperbolic online ranting, but it cannot be easily dismissed.

Johnston’s history shows him to be a very troubled individual who could very possibly be dangerous. He is facing multiple charges right now in different provinces, including assault. He has been known for targeted harassment of individuals on a racial basis. In Ontario he harassed and defamed a restaurant owner so badly that an Ontario court awarded the restaurant owner $2.5 million in a suit against Johnston. That kind of settlement is extraordinarily rare in Canada.

In light of his history, how comfortable should we be with the likes of Johnston having access to the address and phone numbers of everybody in your household? Unless things change, that’s exactly what will happen this fall.

This developing issue has many concerned. Most people didn’t even realize that candidates for office had access to these lists, and they are beginning to ask why candidates have access to such information in the first place.

There are three reasons candidates get access to voters lists.

One is they are very valuable tools for campaigning.

The second is that by providing challengers with the list, it evens the playing field with incumbents and well-funded candidates who have their own database.

The third and more important reason is that giving candidates access to these lists offers a layer of protection against electoral fraud.

In our electoral system, the candidates themselves actually offer the best oversight and scrutiny in order to ensure there has been no abuse of the process. Every candidate is allowed to have scrutineers who represent them during every aspect of the voting process from ensuring the ballot boxes are empty before being used, to ensuring that nobody is trying to influence electors in polling places to being present during the counting of the ballots. In giving access to the process for every candidate, the system has a very good internal checking method that actually doesn’t cost taxpayers any money.

Part of that access to the process includes giving candidates the list of electors. If candidates didn’t have voters lists, how could they ensure that a person wasn’t registered to vote multiple times? How could it be discovered if one household somehow had 50 registered voters within it? Would it ever be caught if a deceased person had somehow cast a ballot? While uncommon, these kinds of things have happened before in elections around the world – or inner party nomination races here – and tha’is why modern election systems give candidates the means to watch for these kinds of abuses.

Mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek has been requesting the practice of sharing electoral lists with candidates be ended for everyone. There’s merit to considering this, but it has to be understood in doing so with such relatively short notice, this will come at a cost.

Checks and balances can be created that would help candidates ensure the integrity of the electoral process without actually giving the candidates full access to the lists of electors. That sort of policy would take time to formulate, and there is no way such a policy could be in place in time for an election this fall. That would mean if electoral lists were not given to candidates this year, we would be losing that layer of protection in the process. This would unlikely make much difference to outcomes, but you can rest assured many people would use this as an excuse to question the process and the outcomes of the election.

Another consequence of the removal of access to electoral lists to candidates would be it would add to the already formidable advantage held by incumbent or major candidates. In municipal politics, incumbents already have massive fundraising and name recognition advantages over challenging candidates. While they will never admit it, you can rest assured incumbents still have copies of the electoral lists from past elections. While the data would be four years out of date, it would still be very valuable to the campaign. It defies belief no candidates would use those lists in the coming campaign while up-and-coming candidates are forced to build their own databases through manual door knocking. Coun. Gondek is well aware of this.

In all probability, Gondek, Farkas, and perhaps a few other more established candidates already have access to an older list. Freezing candidates out of obtaining the list would provide the big candidates with a huge, unfair advantage.

It’s worth considering ending the practice of sharing this information with candidates in the future. I know I wouldn’t want my personal information going to an individual such as Kevin Johnston, along with a number of the other candidates in the race for that matter. We have to remember, however, changing the policy on the fly like this will have an impact on the ability of many to campaign and it will reduce electoral scrutiny this fall.

One potential option would be moving for a court injunction against candidates – like Johnston – that have clearly signalled their willingness or intent to abuse the information found in the electors list. No city bureaucrat could be trusted with a delicate decision like this, but if it can be sufficiently proven in court, it should be fair enough.

Our political environment is far too charged right now for any nuanced policy debates to happen. Particularly in Calgary, where the mayor has been race-baiting and sowing division among the public and other elected officials. It’s clear we will have to address this issue of the privacy and safety of the electorate.

The only question right now is when.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

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Energy

GARYK: How environmental groups use kids as props

“There’s plenty of time to indoctrinate our offspring later. Is it too much to ask that the eco-extremists keep their politics out of the classroom?”

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Environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and others were quick to attack the Canadian Energy Centre – better known as the ‘War Room’ – for expressing their disdain over an inaccurate representation of the oil and gas industry in the Netflix movie Bigfoot Family, which depicted a mountain top being blown up to extract oil. 

It was overkill that brought some justified criticism upon the War Room, but there isn’t any fuss when these same groups use children to promote their extremist agenda. 

This agenda is pushed on young kids across North America. The made-in-Canada 3% Project, founded by self-described climate change activist Steven Lee in 2012 when he was 19 years old, tours across the country holding free assemblies in schools.      

Their website is transparent about their objectives.

“Our goals are simple: to achieve more consensus Canada-wide that climate change is real, that its biggest cause is human-created, and to empower youth to take local action towards climate change solutions in their communities.”

The 3% Project’s founder knows how to influence young people. He’s a policy advocate to the UN, a public speaker at international forums — including UNICEF, G8 Summits, NATO and UNESCO — and his website says he was trained by Al Gore as a Climate Reality Leader. It’s this extensive experience that has allowed him to realize “starting these projects young is a great way to keep climate change and empowerment at the forefront of a learning, growing mind. The leaders of tomorrow are already in our schools.” 

In Alberta, it may be up to individual teachers and boards to decide who gets an audience with their students; however, it doesn’t enhance learning to invite non-expert activists with an anti-oil and gas agenda that use extremist, fearmongering, and indoctrination tactics into schools. 

Climate science is a complex topic that’s worthy of serious study; however, without presenting a clear argument on both sides — and one that includes the positives that result from having access to abundant affordable energy — young people are not being offered enough information to make their own informed opinions. Rather, they’re being told what to think.    

There’s a push to create youth activists in schools. Under the guidance of a Coquitlam school counsellor, a group of BC youth researched plastics pollution and “plotted strategy” that resulted in a meeting with BC’s Environment Minister. Their request? Give municipal governments the power to ban single-use plastics. 

The group is a hodgepodge of students ranging in age from 11 to 17. One has to wonder how they happened to come together and whether they freely chose the cause they did? 

There’s also the metastasizing of climate lawsuits by young people around the globe. There was a recent lawsuit lead by Ecojustice, where seven Ontario youth took the Ford government to court alleging “the Government of Ontario’s weakening of its climate targets will lead to widespread illness and death and violates Ontarians’ Charter-protected rights to life, liberty, and security of the person.” 

Where did youth aged 13 to 25 get enough money to fund a climate-related lawsuit, and how did the seed for the idea germinate? 

Similarly, the David Suzuki Foundation was “supporting 15 youth from seven provinces and a territory taking the Canadian government to court for violating their [Charter rights by perpetuating climate change.”)

The Suzuki Foundation claims these youth, ages 11 to 20, are part of a global movement of young people holding their governments accountable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The goal is to reduce global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 410 to 350 parts per million or lower by the end of the century, by reducing Canada’s emissions and increasing carbon sequestration.”

Children are being taught the fear of climate change at a young age. Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg recently published a children’s book.

“Greta saw living creatures everywhere, struggling to stay alive”…“She saw cities swallowed under rising oceans”…“She saw the smoldering sun scorch the earth, leaving it bone dry”. 

The eco-extreamists are trying to scare our children into believing the world will end if we do not stop driving gas-powered cars. 

No one asks what the proposed solutions are or how what these children are doing as individuals to reach their objectives. Adults are not allowed to question the motivation of the kids or their handlers. Youth are expected to unquestioningly trust these activist’s knowledge of the complex subject matter, yet skeptical adults are expected to keep their distance because they’re “just kids.” 

There’s plenty of time to indoctrinate our offspring later. Is it too much to ask the eco-extremists keep their politics out of the classroom?

Deidra Garyk is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

HARDING: How I was fined $2,800 for reporting on Regina’s freedom rally

“Police interference in media coverage and enforcement of political doctrine might be standard practice in some parts of the world, but not Canada.”

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Sixteen people were fined following their attendance at Saturday’s “illegal” freedom rally in Regina, SK. Despite going to the demonstration to interview the speakers and cover the event, yours truly was among those who received a $2,800 fine. And it happened despite clearly demonstrating to police that I was there for journalistic purposes.

May 8 say hundreds gathered for a freedom rally in Regina’s Victoria Park to hear speakers such as Maxime Bernier, Mark Friesen, and Laura Lynn Thompson. This was a newsworthy event and a journalistic opportunity not to be missed. The opportunity to interview these members of the lockdown resistance movement in person might not come again. As they left the event, I walked with my recording device in hand to seize my final opportunity to get a few quotes.

As the crew readied themselves to get into a truck for subsequent events, police cruisers showed up to hand $2,800 tickets to the three noted above, and another speaker, activist R. B. Ham. At that point I introduced myself to police as a journalist with the Western Standard.

I asked the police if I would have problems if I went back to the event. They suggested I not cut through the park on my way back to the bus. I walked straight down the street and encountered another two police officers, whom I asked the same question: “am I permitted to attend as a journalist?” An officer who had been taking pictures of attendees told me that decision would be made by someone higher up the food chain than him.

At that point I overheard R C the Rapper, who hails from Edmonton. When his performance ended, I interviewed him, walked down the pathway for pictures. We were almost out of the park when police confronted us.

An officer I had not seen before asked for my identification. I told him that I was there as a journalist and showed him my writing portfolios online. Then he asked me why I wasn’t wearing a mask or social distancing. I pulled the mask out of my pocket and told him that I wore it until I got to the park, but after people started staring at me, I took it off. It was a place and time largely reversed from government-endorsed gatherings at Costco, where wearing a mask – outdoors – made one stand out. 

There is no cabinet order from the Moe government requiring one to wear a mask outside; just an order not to protest. 

Regardless, the officer decided to issue me a ticket immediately. (The rapper also received a ticket there, as well as one at an event the following day in Saskatoon.) Oddly enough, as this was happening, Premier Moe announced that as of May 17, the allowable limit for public gatherings would rise from 10 to 150.

My ticket begs some disturbing questions. Are only government-funded journalists that wear a mask outdoors allowed to cover events of this nature without being ticketed? Is it only government-funded media outlets that deceptively say few people were at an event that was, in fact, attended by hundreds? 

Police interference in media coverage and enforcement of political doctrine might be standard practice in some parts of the world, but not Canada. Already, big tech companies censor and regulate dissenting opinion, and Bill C-10 is preparing the way for the federal government to directly control the content not just of online media like the Western Standard, but of individual users. 

Canada, and Saskatchewan, have entered a dark chapter that we are a long way from knowing the end of. 

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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