Cinema Politica and Council of Canadians St. John's will be screening Gasland 2 on April 8 at MUN!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A walking trail for Margaret's Place

Margaret's Place has emerged as a high density residential area; over a hundred condo units and dozens of row houses have been built on this central cul-de-sac in recent years, with another 44 unit condo in the works for Fall 2014. 

City councillors interested in improving walkability in the city should consider putting one or two short walking trails between Margaret's Place and Bonaventure Avenue.  I've indicated two possible routes below.

This would link these units directly the neighbourhood schools (Holy Heart, Brother Rice, Bonaventure), and the number 15 bus route leading to MUN/HSC and Quidi Vidi. It would also connect with an existing trail system leading to Churchill Square and provide a pedestrian short cut between Georgetown and Rabbittown.

These routes are already being used by walkers, even though this means clambering over snowbanks. Here are a few pictures of what pedestrians have to contend with to use these shortcuts.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Population projections

Population growth projections have recently emerged as a controversy. The Conference Board of Canada released a projection that the population of the province will drop to 482,000 in 2035.  Danny Williams declared the projection "bullshit" and city councillor Tom Hann also voiced criticism.

For fun, I decided to do my own projections using a very simple model under a few different scenarios.  In the models below, I assume:
  1. Every person dies on their 80th birthday.*
  2. There is an equal number of males and females in each age group.
* To be consistent I ignore everyone currently over 80 years old, so my population in 2013 is 507,000 instead of the actual 527,000.  This makes no difference to the projections, because 80 year olds don't have children.

Here is the chart.  The scenarios are explained below.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Peace, Consciousness, Community Weekend in St. John's

Check out this call out for an event happening this weekend, September 28-29.


We are human:  we all feel, we all have real beating hearts, we all need nourishment, we all need care, we all matter.  On what grounds do any of us dare to presume who is “worthy” and who is not?  And once we've recognized each others' intrinsic value, how can we continue to support an economic system that thrives on exploitation and inequality?  And how can we not question a political system that calls itself 'democracy' and yet is so entwined with such inhumane economics?
We know our lives are fundamentally interconnected with other humans and with the natural world that generously serves as our life support system.  How can we not see the insanity in continuing to harm each other and our planet?
The few have constructed many systems, structures & institutions, and now we, the many, are awakening to collectively reclaim them and re-imagine them in the spirit of basic human decency.
We are a beautiful multitude, with wide-ranging concerns, united in our compassion, our creativity, our commitment, and our spirit of cooperation.
This movement, this moment, is a call to conscience.  WE KNOW BETTER, so how can we not DO better?  With what excuses can we continue with such unfairness?
We speak from the heart and we celebrate our collective courage, imagination, and power!  We are truly all in this together. 

In that spirit, all are invited to participate this weekend:


Peace, Consciousness, Community Weekend in St. John's

Using our personal & collective wisdom (empathy + reason ;) to explore & enact truly new possibilities for 'Life on Earth' ~ from local to global levels! 

Saturday Sept 28 & Sunday Sept 29
10am-ish to 8pm-ish each day
War Memorial / Harbourside Park green spaces

A relaxed space for human-to-human conversations about things that matter.

A place for citizens to engage ideas, to use our IMAGINATIONS, to meet others who care, to get meaningful actions on-the-go, & so much more.... 

Kids & youth very, very welcome!

(If you want, bring along: blankets to sit on, paper or white boards to write on, sidewalk chalk, musical instruments... you get the idea ;)

The time is NOW!  Everything is a-changing... Look forward to seeing you there. Please spread the word far & wide!

- 30 -

Contact: Krista Koch, (look for me at the event ~tall, blonde, smiling! ;)

Monday, September 16, 2013

St. John's City Council candidates openness to electoral reform

One of the questions on the Independent survey of municipal candidates concerned electoral reform.  Candidates seemed fairly open to the idea - at least more open than I anticipated. I have tried to classify their answers into those supportive,  those open to the idea, and those who are happy with the status quo.

Question: The City of Toronto is planning to move to a ranked ballot system for municipal elections. This system reduces the problem of vote splitting in races with more than two candidates. Would you support a similar reform in St. John’s? Would you support some other kind of reform? 


Sherwin Flight: I would support some kind of reform, although exactly what that would be I am unsure of at this point. I believe this would require significant public consultations before determining the best approach to take.

Sandy Hickman: Toronto has a full ward system. This makes sense in ward and I would fully support for St. John’s. however, at large is a different situation and I like the current system. You can vote for four people or as few as you want. I like that flexibility. But I have always been open to new ideas. I thought the vote by mail was great idea when it came along but now feel we are behind the times in not having online voting (again this is held up by the government).

Lorne Loder: I would support electoral reform efforts, such as moving to a ranked ballot system, which would result in a council that better represents the residents. The first past the post system has been proven to produce a democratic deficit.

Fred Winsor: I believe we should explore other voting options.

Walter Harding: I actually would support that system. I feel a change is as good as a rest and this might entice otherwise apathetic voters to once again join the democratic process. I am saddened to see almost half of the ballots go in the trash during a municipal election as it costs hundreds of thousands of tax payers dollars to put off an election and I have worked hard over the past year to try and get 60 percent of voters to actually vote. An informed voter has my complete respect.

Scott Fitzgerald: I would support this type of reform. I would also support term limits. In my opinion, once a councillor serves two terms in one position they should have to run for something else. For example, after two terms as a ward councillor you could run at-large or for Deputy Mayor or Mayor. This would encourage new people to get involved in the political process.

Jennifer McCreath: I am always looking for ways to improve democracy. I would be open to looking at any possible electoral reform, that would promote and increase voters turnout and produce election results that best reflect what the electorate wants.

Open to the idea

Sheilagh O’Leary: Electoral reform, in all its many and varied forms, is a great interest of mine. Keeping in mind that one person’s “vote splitting” is another person’s “freedom to choose,” I would certainly be open to exploring this, and other, methods of reform to ensure clear majorities in all our electoral races.

Tom Badcock: While studying at university I had some very heated debates on this subject and I trust you will explain to your readers what a ‘ranked’ system is. Our system has flaws but it’s our system. Unfortunately, in a multi party system or in the case where there are many people running for the same position, the majority of voters do not select their party or their councillor. In Israel for example they have a party list system. This is a great example of democracy at its best but it leads to many more elections than we have in our fixed term system. I truly don’t know if the ranked system is the way to go.

Dave Lane: I’m always open to exploring options to improve our democratic system.

Deanne Stapleton: I would like to see the outcome of a ranked ballot system before I would support this reform.

Lionel West: I am in no rush to change the current voting process. I would consider viable options and discuss with citizens. Internet voting may be an option and one that is currently under consideration by the city. I would like to hear what citizens have to say about “term-limit councillors” and full-time councillors. If full-time councillors are employed, it may mean the number of councillors could be reduced.

Cecil Whitten: I am not familiar with the ranked ballot system, I look forward to learning about it. I would support the implementation of electronic voting.

Derek Winsor: I would like to look at a fair system of election that allows all taxpayers to consider themselves for election and not be based on who can put up the most signs and print the most flyers. I would like to see one area in each ward where signs can be posted from all the candidates. Once candidates declare their intention to run, there should be a section on the City of St. John’s website that posts links to candidate’s websites. I think that it would be worth looking at other options of voting procedures.

Lou Puddister: I believe in researching best practices from other jurisdictions, studying their merits, and implementing those best suited to our needs. I will take the time to review the proposed ranked ballot system and will post a response to this question on my campaign website.

Sarah Colborne Penney: I am not sure that this is needed here. I would have to fully examine this issue before taking a position on it.

Happy with status quo

Paul Sears: A. As a former member of St John’s Electoral Reform Committee I believe there will always be room for improvement in the electoral protocol and process. Having that said I would support having a review every 2 years to review the system and ensure we are maintaining the best approach for our city and citizens. B. No at present, I am content with our current system.

Bernard Davis: If our current system is working why would we change it?

Bruce Tilley: I feel that the current ballot system of mailing is fair but I would rather the old system (that of the Provincial and Federal system).

Andrew Harvey: I am never against looking at other options, but the current system seems to be sufficient at present. One piece of electoral reform I would like to see is a change in the provincial legislation to allow online voting.

Ron Ellsworth: I have never heard a complaint regarding the current system in place in St. John’s. If residents are satisfied with the electoral system we are using then there is no reason to change it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mapping urban sprawl

Population density and urban sprawl are big issues in this month's municipal election, talked up by the St. John's Board of Trade in particular. Here are a couple of maps that put the issue in perspective.

The first chart shows population density in the St. John's area by census tract (from the 2011 census). The darker the colour, the more dense the population (click on the image to see the legend).

Population Density - residents per square km

Next we see the percent change of population between 2006 and 2011. Dark red means the population is growing quickly. The palest colour is where the population is shrinking. 

Percent change in population between 2006 and 2011

With the exception of Georgetown and Bannerman Park, the population actually shrank in central St. John's. The big growth is happening in the suburbs and in the satellite communities of Torbay, Paradise, and CBS.  People are spreading out.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Battery Hotel and public transit

The former Battery Hotel was bought by MUN last year and is likely to be used as a student residence.  Students often use public transit and the closest busline to the Battery is line 15 running to MUN campus. It would be good for both Metrobus and MUN to build a couple of shortcut walking trails as indicated below in blue. These would reduce the distance to a bus stop to under half a kilometre and also help transit users avoid the steep climb from Military Road.

Monday, July 29, 2013

More on crime rates

****** Updated ********

In my column yesterday on crime rates, I noted that recent increases in the violent crime index were mainly caused by increased recording of minor crimes like uttering threats and common assault (meaning assault without a weapon and no bodily harm).  As an experiment, I put together a couple modified crime indices that use only serious crimes.  These indices use only crimes listed by Stats Can as having above average weight for severity and normalized so that 100 is the Canadian average in 2006. Here are the results.

Serious violent crime in Canada has fallen about 20 percent since 2006, which is very impressive progress.  St. John's has held pretty steady and remains below the Canadian average.

Serious nonviolent crimes have fallen about 40% in Canada since 2006 and have fallen about 30% in St. John's.  Impressive progress all around.

Here are some tables ranking Canadian metropolitan areas in terms of these crime indices.

Serious Violent Crime Index

Winnipeg, Manitoba (9,10,47)
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Regina, Saskatchewan
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Vancouver, British Columbia (12,13,14,28)
Edmonton, Alberta
Halifax, Nova Scotia
MontrÈal, Quebec (38,50,53)
Toronto, Ontario (33)
Abbotsford-Mission, British Columbia (8,28)
Canada (50)
Kelowna, British Columbia (8,28)
Sudbury, Ontario
Peterborough, Ontario (8)
Windsor, Ontario
Calgary, Alberta
Hamilton, Ontario (33)
London, Ontario
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario part (6,52)
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario/Quebec (6,52)
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ontario
Victoria, British Columbia (28)
Saguenay, Quebec (5)
Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec part (6)
Brantford, Ontario (8)
St.Catharines-Niagara, Ontario
Moncton, New Brunswick (8)
QuÈbec, Quebec
Barrie, Ontario (8)
Sherbrooke, Quebec (32,37)
Kingston, Ontario (8)
Trois-RiviËres, Quebec

Serious Nonviolent Crimes Index

Kelowna, British Columbia (8,28)
Brantford, Ontario (8)
Regina, Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Vancouver, British Columbia (12,13,14,28)
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador 
Winnipeg, Manitoba (9,10,47)
Abbotsford-Mission, British Columbia (8,28)
London, Ontario
MontrÈal, Quebec (38,50,53)
Edmonton, Alberta
Sudbury, Ontario
Trois-RiviËres, Quebec
St.Catharines-Niagara, Ontario
Moncton, New Brunswick (8)
Canada (50)
Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec part (6)
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Windsor, Ontario
Calgary, Alberta
Saguenay, Quebec (5)
Hamilton, Ontario (33)
Peterborough, Ontario (8)
Victoria, British Columbia (28)
Saint John, New Brunswick (4,47)
Sherbrooke, Quebec (32,37)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ontario
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario/Quebec (6,52)
Kingston, Ontario (8)
QuÈbec, Quebec
Barrie, Ontario (8)
Ottawa-Gatineau, Ontario part (6,52)
Guelph, Ontario (8)
Toronto, Ontario (33)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Muskrat Reckoning

You may be sick of hearing about the Muskrat by now. For the last year it has dominated the political discourse and is likely to continue to cast a shadow for some time (may as well resign yourself to that).

This most recent round of Muskrat folly centers on a court case by Hydro Quebec and a further twist in the tale from Nova Scotia. Good theater, but it's hard not to wonder if the curtain should have already come down.

What would have been the outcome had the province's public utilities board been allowed to do its job and review the project before it was sanctioned? What outcome had government listened to voices of protest and opposition? What need is there for such intransigence on the part of government if pitfalls have apparently gone unidentified? These are the most troubling questions, beyond even specific concerns raised from various perspectives.

No matter how legitimate concerns are explained away, it is increasingly difficult for people to be confident. The evolution of the project has produced a bottoming out of popular support for the government and the premier, creating an atmosphere where many feel it is no longer possible to simply believe. This sets the stage for a reckoning, one that has the potential to sweep government from office and bring Muskrat to a halt, which even for some of the project's soft supporters would now come as a welcome relief.

Otherwise, you have to practice ever more subtle feats of logical gymnastics in order to say, I support the Muskrat. Because now, when people say they support Muskrat, what they really mean is that they believe in the technical capacity of hydro dams to produce electricity, for who can speak to other outcomes of a project whose architects appear unaware of so many variables. It begins to look as though without a reckoning, if the government is allowed to continue the project and serve out its mandate, we should prepare to get what they deserve.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Proud Labradorian's response to Dunderdale

Premier Dunderdale's recent comments about the Nalcor - Hydro-Quebec dispute provoked a passionate response from a proud Labradorian.  Update: here is a video recording of Dunderdale's remark.

***** update *****

I've cut and pasted the comment so it is accessible to search engines.
"Dunderdale says Quebec doesn't believe that Newfoundland owns Labrador, saying it all goes back to the boundary dispute." 
good to know we are owned in the Big Land..we always knew we were just a resource warehouse for Nfld governments..something so insulting and sickening when the leader actually talks in the language of possessioon...not a response of NL working together on a project..but simply Nfld owns Labrador and will do whatever it wants to our Big Land..yeah thats about how history keeps showing it to. 
Now my question is will the leaders of Labrador roll over and be owned...will the people demand some respect and finally begin to get its independence..or will everyone have an opinion but no one will take any action...time will tell. 
Let's not forget that only last week Nunatsiavut government filed suit against NL government for not respecting their land claim rights... 
What will be the straw to break the camels back I each project devastates our land more and we are continually given nothing but a few jobs

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Q&A with Ward 2 candidates for St. John's City Council

********* updated *********

The following question was posed and answered in the Facebook group St. John's Municipal Elections 2013. If you would like to participate in future discussion, you are more than welcome to join in.

Q: Question for Ward 2 candidates Jonathan GalgayAndrew HarveySimon Lono.

This Metrobus transit study recommends upgrading route 10 (which joins Downtown to MUN/HSC/Avalon Mall) to provide buses every 15 minutes during peak hours. Would you support this? Would you push for this?

Andrew Harvey's answer:  Absolutely. I think that far too often the city pays thousands of dollars on studies which sit on a shelf and are never acted on. There are also many other issues which need to be addressed with Metrobus but that would be a good start. 

Jonathan Galgay's answer: I would support any recommendation which increases bussing for those who require efficient and reliable transportation, including the example you provided such as route 10.

Simon Lono's answer: I looked at the report and there are great things in it. Public transit is the kind of issue that really should be evidence/data based and it looks like that’s this report has done. It’s been a little while since I relied on Metrobus to get around (used it much more when my kids were younger) but in general the report jibes with what I recall and what I’ve been hearing more recently.
Should there be better, more and regular connections between Downtown to MUN/HSC/Avalon Mall (Route 10)? I’m not sure what route would have a higher demand than that one. I’d like to see what reasons Metrobus would have for NOT doing that because it seems to me pretty obvious that’s a heavily used route that many more would use if it ran at more convenient times.
One item that needs to be explored in more detail is the use of variable sized bus fleet. Why do all the busses have to be large, standard-sized, even during low traffic times? Why can’t we use smaller busses during low traffic times but still keep up the frequency schedule instead of a standard bus on a once in a blue moon schedule?

Scott Fitzgerald's answer:  I would definitely support improving the Metrobus services to the downtown. Ultimately we have to encourage fewer cars in the downtown if we ever hope to tackle the parking problem and make this a more livable city. Without a public transit system that people can depend on no one is going to opt for leaving the car at home.

It was also revealed in discussion that one of the candidates, Jonathan Galgay, lives in the neighbourhood of Airport Heights and not in Ward 2.  I wrote to him to confirm this and received the following reply.

Jonathan Galgay: As indicated on my web site, I live on Cherokee Drive which is in the east end of the City, the neighbourhood of Roncalli Estates. My wife and I moved to this neighbourhood a few years ago after living on Hamilton Ave, where my mother currently resides. I was raised and educated in Ward 2, and my father operated a business there for over 40 years until his death a few years ago. I would like to point out that there is no requirement for any member of City Council, or MHA to reside in their constituency. Like many others, Councillor Frank Galgay resided outside Ward 2 for the 16 years he represented the Ward. Where one lays their head at night should not be a determining factor in their ability to represent the best interests of residents.