Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 Election Update

Today marks the day before the election and thanks to technology and social media the coverage of the candidates and issues has been absolutely outstanding.  It helps that there are a few people in the community making sure that people get informed.

Daryl White has a website www.gpvoters.ca that posts a fairly comprehensive set of impartial election information.

David Biltek has been blogging continuously as the election progresses with an astounding level of detail that can only be obtained through research and interviews with sources in the know.  You can following his information at davidbiltek.wordpress.com.

Fred Rinne and myself will be covering the results of the 2013 election on the evening of Oct. 21st.  You can watch the live webcast starting at 7:45pm by using this link: http://www.cityofgp.com/index.aspx?page=1855.  We'll be presenting some background information along the way and sincerely hope that you'll enjoy it.

MY RESPONSE ON FINANCIAL RESERVES
At the risk of getting too involved, I felt I had to respond to the latest information released by the Gladys Blackmore campaign.  I have to provide a disclaimer that I am in support of Bill Given for Mayor for many reasons.  He has proven himself to be a strong leader who is engaged, good with the public and has a strong vision for the City.  At the very least, I feel he deserves another term to more fully realize his vision for Grande Prairie.  I also feel that Gladys would be a competent leader for the City, however, I'm not a big fan of the negative approach to politics.  Between the two candidates, I believe Bill Given to be the better of the choices and Monday night, we'll see what the public thinks.

The latest accusation from Gladys Blackmore is the insinuation of a misuse of financial reserves.  Not only is the information inaccurate and misleading, but the statement is suggesting that reserves should be used to lower taxes.  A short version of the statement is available on her website at www.gladysblackmore.com/news-blog/the-facts.  A more detailed email went out in the form of an email to members of the public.  The part of the statement being touted as fact says that:

"As a result, the city realized a NET PROFIT of over $30 million in EACH of 2011 and 2012. This money, almost $65 million, is sitting in reserves. Shouldn’t it be invested in infrastructure and economic development instead?"

Bill Given has already responded to the statement in his blog urging the public to not get misled:  bill-given.blogspot.ca/2013/10/you-dont-deserve-to-be-misled-city.html.  His blog describes what the reserves are used for and why it's important they be in place.

David Biltek provides a response of his own against Blackmore's statement: davidbiltek.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/thems-fightin-words-plus-final-statements-from-candidates/.

As a member of Council for a few more days, I can tell you that we go over financial reports on a periodic basis and the ability of council members to fully understand them varies from one to the next, which is why it's important to choose your council carefully.  The job isn't just a role where you get to vote yes or no on projects.

The $30 million and almost $35 million of "net profit" which is being referred to is the same pot.  It's a cumulative total not two amounts that should be added together.  So there is no $65 million in surplus.  The $30 million has been accumulated over decades and fluctuates from year to year.  The growth in the amount from 2011 to 2012 comes from 2 things:  the principle to always put a little away in the financial stabilization reserve (about $300k/yr) and an amount earmarked for strategic infrastructure investments (about $4 million) which I will explain later.  The bulk of the reserves are controlled through policies that clearly identify what they can be used for.  It's essentially a savings account to handle unexpected situations.  As a general good practice in any business you ideally want to hold 3 to 6 months of revenue in reserves that can be accessed in case emergent situations.  To drain these funds to reduce taxes is short-sighted and will cost taxpayers much more in the long run as it only serves as a one-time benefit.  Bill Given and David Biltek both explain that concept better than I could.

As for the increase in the reserve for 2012, over $4 million was held as a strategic infrastructure investment.  In the budget deliberations, council and administration had some disagreements in terms of what the next infrastructure priorities should be.  I remember making the motions to defer some of those projects which accumulated to $4 million.  Instead, I felt that other projects should be moved ahead that have more strategic benefits to the City from an economic development perspective.  Other council members agreed, although we didn't have time to discuss all the potential projects available.  Helen Rice solved the impasse by parking the money in a strategic infrastructure pot to be decided upon at a future meeting.  This means that $4 million of road projects was not completed and would be redirected to different roads or other infrastructure.

Since the time of filing the 2012 Financial Reports, the decision on the spending has been resolved and the $4 million has been allocated.  Some of you may remember the $4 million in investment into Aquatera for a sewer main for the north-west part of the City.  This investment will ensure that commercial and industrial developments can happen up to 10 years sooner than anticipated.  Without it, development would have been stalled due to capacity limits being reached.  As an added bonus, the investment into Aquatera has the potential to produce discretionary cash dividends meaning that the City has the opportunity to recoup the original investment over time.

To sum up, each of the reserves is in place for reason and the amount in reserves is reasonable.  These have been used from time to time to stabilize operations and without them, city taxpayers would see large swings in their taxes from one year to the next.  There are no politicians out there who don't want to decrease your taxes where possible and no one out there really suggesting the reserves be collapsed and spent -- that's why it's not explicitly stated as a solution.  This is an example of careful wording in an attempt to instill enough doubt in the mind of the electorate.  Like I've said, I have a problem with these tactics and negativity that is directed at the whole City as an organization, which is why I had to speak out against it.  I'm hoping that people see right through it and focus on the actual facts.



Disclaimer:  The views and interpretation of information are my own personal opinion and do not reflect the views of the City of Grande Prairie, City Council or any of their affiliates.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

2013 Municipal Election

As we head into election season, I feel a slight relief that I won't have to spend my fall running a campaign. I've really enjoyed my two terms on council and would encourage others to throw their names in the hat and take an opportunity to shape the city they live in.

The official nomination day is September 23rd and 15 candidates have already announced their intentions to run for city councillor while 2 candidates are running in the mayor's race.  Election signs are allowed to be posted from September 9th until October 28th.  For those who haven't been following as closely as I have, the candidates listed in alphabetic order are:

MAYORAL CANDIDATES:
Gladys Blackmore
Bill Given – incumbent
COUNCIL CANDIDATES:
Jeff Campbell
Jackie Clayton
John Croken – incumbent
Jared Gossen
Dwight Logan
Miriam Mahnic
Kim McDougall
Kevin McLean – incumbent
Justin Munroe – incumbent
Kevin O’Toole – incumbent
Lorne Radbourne – incumbent
Helen Rice – incumbent
Erin Steidel
Rory Tarant
Chris Thiessen

I have agreed to be one of the election night analysts/commentators on the evening of the election.  This means I'll have to note details on all the candidates as well as keep an ear to the ground to get a sense of what the general public is hearing.  It should be a fun job and I hope that we get a strong turn out for the election on October 21st.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stepping Down from City Council

My goal when I ran for council 6 years ago was to help make Grande Prairie a better place to live.  At the time, the city had undergone record growth which strained resources and created unprecedented demands on infrastructure.  An overwhelming cry for change came from the public.  Many candidates ran on that platform.  I ran with the hope of utilizing my experience to improve the community that I grew up in.

I have to admit that I didn’t follow politics very well prior to announcing my candidacy.  There were many hours of research that helped me get a handle on the issues.  Being an active volunteer in the community helped me stay in touch with concerns, but I originally ran hoping that people would elect me for my skills rather than my knowledge of the issues.  I would use my business experience to help the City make logical decisions, my volunteer sector experience to turn ideas into action, and use my education to present alternative solutions.

That being said, there were issues that I wanted to help with.  Grande Prairie’s tax issues stemmed from an imbalanced tax base.  Council would need to strategically increase the industrial and commercial tax base, but still ensure that we’re building a city that is attractive and welcoming for people to live in.  Enhanced facilities were needed to attract and retain much needed professionals and trades workers and to improve the quality of everyone’s life in Grande Prairie.   We needed to collaborate with partners in the region to leverage our resources.  Finally, the City needed to ensure that the community was being engaged and involved in the decision making process.  I believe that council has made great progress towards those goals.

My decision to step down from council was not an easy one.  I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to serve my community and have enjoyed helping people where I can.  At this time in my life, I can no longer afford the time commitment that’s required from being on council.  The commitment is more than most people recognize and it can affect your ability to advance in a career.  The experience has been invaluable and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  My decision is made easier by knowing that the City is headed in the right direction.  It’s also made easier knowing that there are good men and women out there to continue the good work.


As a final note, I want to send a message out to the public.  Please take an interest in the local government and in the next election.  Issues can be complex so I believe our city needs people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to offer a balanced cross-section of views.  I want commend those who have served on council and those who have put their names forward to be considered on the ballot.  I’d also like to encourage anyone who has the ability to take a run at sitting on City Council—especially those with the skills to be effective leaders.  City Council is needed to provide community direction, help turn ideas into action and be the face of the City in various situations.  It’s a fulfilling experience that I will always cherish.  For those people who stood by me, I am grateful for your support throughout the years and hope that I made you proud.

Monday, June 3, 2013

FCM 2013 in Vancouver

Cultural diversity is alive and healthy in the vibrant Vancouver metropolitan area.  The iconic Canadian city that bookends the west coast of this country is both a representation of what Canada is and what it should be.  As a visitor and conference delegate, I may have admittedly been exposed to the bias of the best that Vancouver has to offer.  Nonetheless, that does not take away from the genuine hospitality we received in this great city.  Our experience can be summed up with Mayor Gregor Robertson's greeting: "Welcome to the west coast, the best coast."  No disrespect intended to those living on any other coast of Canada.

Federal topics that affect all municipalities and Canadians were discussed in study sessions, although the majority of educational value was delivered through the study and companion tours.  The speakers were excellent, as always, and had positive messages to deliver.  There were many lessons learned from the economic recession and recovery which helped to develop federal infrastructure investment programs that will continue for the next decade -- a longer planning window than the Feds have ever planned for.

Touring through the city, we can bring home several ideas or best practices to our own city.  Not everything will work without adaptation, but it seems apparent that the stage for a healthy community has been set in Vancouver, notwithstanding their own challenges.  If we treat our experience in parts of Vancouver as a crystal ball into Grande Prairie's own possible future, some interesting parallels can be identified.

Vancouver's Stanley Park is a tourist attraction that has remained somewhat natural.  The park has been developed to highlight the beauty of the west coast.  One of the best features of this area is the paved walking and biking trails that encircle the park and runs along the coastline for several kilometres.  People of all demographics and fitness levels utilize these trails to enjoy the beauty of the area.  Grande Prairie's Wapiti River corridor has the potential to become a comparable asset.  People are drawn to water features and nature.  However, some development is necessary in order to enhance it and make it attractive for general public use.  It seems contradictory, but developing nature is sometimes the best way to preserve and protect it. Additional enhancements in the park included off leash dog areas, a groomed beach, the aquarium, nature trails and space for artists.

Granville Island is an area that was redeveloped from an industrial warehouse district to a large specialty market offering fresh food, entertainment an culture.  Many cities across the country have their versions of a farmer's market.  This is the same thing at much larger order of magnitude.  Grande Prairie's farmer's market has expanded and become a major attraction to the city.  As that area of the city develops, it is important allow the market room to grow and continue to showcase the unique goods that are produced in the region.

Downtown Vancouver is as vibrant a shopping, dining and entertainment area as any across the country.  Do we have a parking problem in Grande Prairie?  Apparently not as much as we have a lack of waking problem.  Public transportation can be enhanced, but I was amazed at how willing people are to walk for several blocks to get for one end of downtown to another.  As our city grows and grows up, I look forward to the shops and eateries that will become our downtown experience.  One of the challenges I can see any city facing is the crime and unsavoury element that accompany all downtown areas.  Another challenge that we all face is how to build a downtown park or green space that won't become the home for the homeless population.  I found no answers for this dilemma yet, just a thought to keep in mind.

Another great FCM experience and an enjoyable look at the workings of another great Canadian city.  The entertainment at the gala was also first rate and provided some inspiration as we plan the 100th anniversary of our own city.  A big thanks need to go out to the hosts, speakers, organizers and volunteers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Utility Costs

In reviewing the cost of electricity service in Grande Prairie, I came across a number of alternative providers that will help me save money on my monthly utility bill.  I also found out that a colleague of mine has started an electricity reseller company and is offering some very competitive rates as well.  He forwarded some information to me that I think everyone should consider (see below).

Here's a link to a story that I found really interesting on utility consumption.  It's written by someone who calls himself the Green Canadian.

http://thegreencanadian.blogspot.ca/2009/07/how-low-can-you-go.html

At the City Environment Committee, I've asked our Sustainability Manager to ask our local utility providers to include similar information on the utility bills they send out to their customers.  I believe that knowing how your bill compares to an average household will help people to monitor their own usage.  Let's hope they adopt this practice.

As for the letter below, this was sent out to our local MLAs, but the information is meant to be shared.  Chad Mielke is a reputable business owner (and fellow engineer) and I have no problems whatsoever endorsing his business and have no affiliation with Peace Power at all.  I believe we need more competition to keep prices in check.  Perhaps this information will help you save some money on your future electricity bill.
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I am sure you have heard of Peace Power; one of Alberta’s independent boutique retailer of electricity in the province.  Located in Grande Prairie, the company is operated by Chad Mielke.

During February residents of in your ridings of Grande Prairie, Smokey and Wapiti, who are buying electricity from Peace Power paid only 4.6 cents per kWh compared to the governments Regulated Rate Option, provided by Direct Energy at 7.7 cents. 

The Bottom Line?  During February the RRO energy rate is 66% higher compared to buying from Peace Power.

As you most likely are aware, Direct Energy owns the GP franchised territory and is the approved RRO Provider.  But why switch off of Direct?  First of all consumers in your region will save some money and this should be good enough. It is hard to comprehend customers complaining over 2 or 3 dollars added to the cost of transmission when they ignore the potential of saving +$20 last month alone as the difference between Peace and Direct.

Education and awareness are the obvious problem.  We hope that this is one of the key priorities addressed when the RMRC 5 MLA member group assembles.  Consumers need to know, that the government, through a well designed policy, guarantees that every consumer regardless who they select as a retailer will continue to be well serviced by their existing Wires Operator.  The lights will not go out !!!  Government policies have made it easy to switch retailers. 

Want another reason to promote Peace Power in your local market?  

Consider the following:

  • DIRECT: Direct Energy has outsourced call center jobs to the Philippians, Financial services moved to India and their marketing operations are run out of Texas in the USA.  Profits on the sale of the RRO are likewise exported for consolidation as part of their world wide income on the Centrica’s balance sheet in the UK.  This is good for the stock holders of Centrica.  (Cut costs, increase prices, consolidate profits)  But it does little for our local Alberta economy.
     
Customers have a choice and we hope that you and other MLAs will start to promote small independent business run by folks like Chad:
  • Buy Local (and reduce your cost of electricity).
  • Support the private sector (innovation is driven by small business ventures).
  • Keep the jobs and profits in Alberta (why not – it just makes good business sense).
If you or other MLAs want to sign up for Peace Power – it is easy:  Just Click Here

Support the private sector by signing up and letting your constituents know that the concept of choice is thriving.   

We hope that you will lend your support to one of your own independent business located in Grande Prairie.

Yours truly, Nick

Nick Clark, Managing Partner