Tag Archives: city council

Edmonton’s fata morgana

An office tower and a hotel will revitalize Edmonton’s downtown. That’s what proponents of taxpayer-supported new arena for the Edmonton Oilers are trying to make us believe.

Why and how, they don’t say. We ought to believe in the tooth fairy, too, perhaps. Their reasoning is difficult to fathom, and no logical explanation has been forthcoming. Next time, perhaps.

Meanwhile, a mirage of Sahara desert proportions will keep us linked to Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz through an invisible umbilical cord. We’re going to be the mothers. He would be the embryo we’re going to feed.

It was bound to happen. As part of the highly suspect deal that has the city of Edmonton involved in building a private entrepreneur’s playground, taxpayers will be on the hook for moving their employees from their present location to a brand new office tower that Daryl Katz proposes to build downtown.

To Daryl Katz the new tower is supposed to be a cash cow. Based on his experience with Edmonton’s city council, he now knows where to find ready cash, neatly packaged and bundled, in no particular numerical sequence, so he can just pick it up and laugh all the way to the bank.

That’s what this deal is all about. The shovel hasn’t hit the ground yet, and the tower already has tenants galore. Who? We are the tenants. We as in we, the taxpayers. Wonderful.

How an office tower and a hotel can pretend to be places where people gather to enjoy their leisure time? That’s a question nobody has seemed to ask yet.

Let’s go back to the basics

Daryl Katz wants his Oilers to have a brand new arena. He’s of the view that he can’t build it all by himself. Despite being listed all over the place as one of the richer (if not richest) people in the country, he wants the taxpayers to kick in.

Why?

Because, he claims, the new arena will help revitalize the downtown area of Edmonton.

How? Somehow.

Let’s forget the question whether the Oilers really need a new arena. In all generosity, let’s accept this wish for a fact. After all, Rexall Place, formerly a.k.a. Northlands Coliseum, is an old building. It will turn 40 this coming November. It cost just above $17 million to build, about $81 million in today’s money. If we accept the publicly budgeted $450 million as the price tag for the new arena (and only a perfect fool would accept that amount), its bells would have to be closing in on 24 karats, pure gold, that is. And its whistles would have to be 100-carat diamonds. (Note: there’s a world of difference between karats and carats. You can look it up. The former describes purity of gold, the latter, gemstone mass.)

Anyhow, the Oilers’ owner says he needs a new arena. The almost-40-year-old building no longer suffices.

Let’s put aside the fact that if a 40-year-old building really is as decrepit as some proponents of the new arena claim, it doesn’t speak too well of North American building industry in general, and of Edmonton’s building industry in particular. Considering there are buildings aged centuries all over the world, still in overwhelmingly good shape and serving people, the comparison is shocking.

Of course, there’s another angle to consider: economic case studies after economic case studies after economic case studies show that professional sports organizations’ owners are wont to call 30-year-old stadia too old. They do so especially in cases where they had managed to get the original structures built with taxpayer participation. Now, they’re coming for seconds. The points they make are repetitive to the point of being boring: they claim that they want to revitalize whatever area they want to use. Except: economic case studies after economic case studies after economic case studies show those new buildings might attract visitors (not permanent residents) only as a consequence of what has been dubbed as “novelty effect.” There’s no permanency.

Downtown areas throughout the world, not only in North America, have been suffering for quite some time now. Office towers and sundry such buildings are not people places. They have pushed people as living creatures out. People who used to live there have been moving out to the suburbs. Once they have matured to the point of getting married and starting families, they prefer living in their own homes rather than condominia or rental apartment buildings.

The facts are simple: a new attraction, such as a new sports arena, with all the attendant bars and restaurants and whatnot around it, may slow down emigration from downtown for a few years. It will not stop it. And it will not reverse it, either. In fact, once the novelty effect wears off, the emigration returns to its previous levels.

Why oh why?

Why Edmonton city council bought into the downtown revitalization bluff in the first place will remain an enigma wrapped in mystery. It may very well happen that some intrepid forensic accountants will tell us in the not-so-distant future that not everything had been above board, but for now, this is pure speculation.

The only certainty we have here is that this city’s taxpayers are supposed to be on the hook up to their teeth for a private entrepreneur’s private playground.

And now, the city will be involved in a new office tower by moving its employees whence they’ve been working thus far into new digs.

Some say the city (its taxpayers, that is) will save money on this deal. Saying it is one thing. Proving it is another. Where’s the beef?

If the new idea is so incredibly beneficial, why did councillors have to debate it for hours on end behind closed doors? One would have expected such beneficial ideas to be aired with as many employers (taxpayers, that is) present.

Even the report that councillors would vote on remains secret. The only thing we know that the vote went 10 to three for.

And we also know that a former journalist (and city columnist) for the Edmonton Journal  heaps praise on the whole thing, without mentioning the details but once. Since it’s the details that matter, it’s rather surprising how low could a former intrepid reporter stoop.

City employees have been working in city-owned structures that, the city says, need renovations. Some city employees work in leased spaces, and the deals are coming up for renewal next year.

How are the savings going to happen? First and foremost, we are told that working space would be used more efficiently. Meaning: each employee will have less shoulder room. How’s that for efficiency?

The palatability quotient

Daryl Katz has been quite open about the fact an office tower would make his arena plan more palatable. For whom? Guess three times.

Here’s an interesting fact: the city has received more than a dozen proposals just last spring from potential landlords who had been hoping to house city staff in new and existing buildings.

But no, we need a new office tower. Not only spanking new, but also potentially the tallest such structure in the neighbourhood.

Some developers are licking their fingers: the new office tower would be the first swallow of the spring. It would signal the arrival of more such towers in the near future.

If anyone thinks building office towers downtown spells downtown revitalization, they’re dreaming in Technicolor.

One wonders what would have happened if city council was more responsible and told Daryl Katz that if he wants to build himself a new arena, here’s the development permit office, file your plans, pay the fees and build it.

Some have feared the Oilers’ owner would pick his toy and go to find himself another sandbox. Not only would it have been wise to remind him we had a similar experience with a former Edmonton Oilers’ owner, and look where he is now. It would have been prudent to call his bluff.

But no. City streets are close to impassable because city council has not the wherewithal to make sure crews keep them clean 24 hours a day, seven days a week. City infrastructure has been crumbling for years, closing in on decades.

But city council is spending money that isn’t its own on dubious projects that make no other sense than saving a local entrepreneur a pretty bundle while doing nothing to revitalize downtown.

We voted this gang in. Judging by election numbers, quite a few voters chose not to turn out and exercise their basic civic right. Things wouldn’t change if we voted, anyhow, many of them said.

Well, things will not change. You didn’t vote. That’s why they won’t. And that’s a shame.

City of Edmonton ought to be ashamed. Very ashamed!

Members of Edmonton city council (and employees within city administration) shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. They should be sitting in closed departments of psychiatric asylums.

Yes. The lot of them.

It snowed in Edmonton a week or two ago, and most neighbourhood roads are still impassable. The city makes huge announcements about neighbourhood blading, but guess what: most of the roads are still impassable.

Of course, a snowfall in Edmonton is such a rare occurrence, no wonder the city has been caught (again) with its pants down.

It is perfectly strange that a city of comparable size and climate (Winnipeg comes to mind) can have all of its roads AND sidewalks cleaned within 24 hours. It is even stranger that a city much bigger in size (Montreal comes to mind) can have its roads AND sidewalks cleaned within 24 hours.

In fairness, let’s not include Toronto in this equation. The place where the Earth will be getting its suppositories if and when it needs them, demands that the federal government sends in the army to clean up a few snowflakes. And let’s not include Vancouver, either. That’s the place whose city council is busy with social engineering so much it orders that from now on, there ought to be no doorknobs on newly built doors, just plain handles.

The city of Edmonton seems to be following in the footsteps of those two lousy invalids. In a social engineering fit, it busies itself in trying to force taxpayer-supported housing for the homeless on neighbourhoods that would have none of that. It spends our money (your money and mine) on creating bicycle lanes where nobody needs them, endangering pedestrians and traffic in the process. And it wastes untold millions of dollars that belongs to you and me on a professional hockey team’s new arena. Not one shovel has hit the ground yet, and we’ve spent close to $100 million. (You don’t believe it? Just add up all of the expenses already on the books: from lawyer fees to trips to New York, to time spent by city employees working on the file while they could be doing something much more useful. And that’s just expenses calculated at first blush. Never mind buying properties in the area.)

These were only a few examples, by the way. The list seems to be growing day by day.

Newly-elected mayor Don Iveson, answering the calls of enraged population that the city make it its responsibility to clean all roadways (and nobody mentioned sidewalks, not even in passing), says that would double the budget.

First and foremost: a community’s budget should reflect that community’s overall situation. Meaning: heavy snowfalls are a rule in Edmonton, not an exception. Logically, snow removal budgets should reflect that.

There have even been hints that municipal taxes are bound to go up; some have been mentioning increases in the five-per-cent range. The stated reason: the city is responsible for running recreation centres, and that costs money. First of all, that would be money that could have been saved elsewhere. And secondly, and just as importantly, a brief walk through the city’s recreation centres reveals that a huge number of available rooms sits empty. Why? Because the fees to rent them are way too high. Has anyone thought of the innovative idea of lowering the fees, thus making those rooms affordable? It would bring in some revenue; in fact, it could bring in more revenue than originally anticipated. If local groups can afford those rooms, they will be using them from dawn to dusk and beyond. In any case, some revenue is much better than no revenue at all.

If you go through whatever our city administration has been handling in the last few years, you’ll notice that things keep getting more complicated and, consequently, more expensive.

To put it bluntly: successive city councils have been spending our money (your money and mine) like drunken sailors on shore leave. And yet, we keep voting this kind of crowd in.

Pity the city employees who handle the 311 calls. They must have suffered incredible abuse lately, because of the impassable roads. They are not to blame, but they represent the city and the citizens take their frustrations out on them.

The citizens ought to be ashamed of themselves, in the first place. It’s the citizens who keep voting this crowd of irresponsible individuals in.

There should be one single question asked of all candidates: how do you propose to spend our money if we elect you? And no platitudes about spending responsibly and other such drivel. No, be specific: how would your budget proposal look? We want details. If you can’t provide them, no need to apply. And if your proposed budget happens to be strong on social engineering and weak on things that matter most, such as every road passable within 24 hours of a snowfall, no need to apply, either.

There happens to be a group in this city, and a pretty vocal group, at that, that would start yelling that keeping our roads safe shouldn’t be a priority. A vision, they say, that’s what the priority should be. A vision, say, such as spending more than a half of a million dollars on something that claims to be art, putting it right by the entrance to a bridge, that is, at a spot where drivers can’t even slow down to have a look at (never mind enjoy) this ugly contraption.

So, here’s a vision for you: a city where it is safe to live, safe to move from place to place, a city whose council treats taxpayers’ money like money that belongs to the taxpayers, not to council and its special interests.

Now, if that were to happen, we would live in paradise, snowfall or not.

It’s in our hands: if we all go to vote next time around and make sure these rascals don’t get in.

Edmonton city councillor promotes censorship

Edmonton’s brand new city council is opening its term with ham-fisted attempts at blatant censorship.

Bus advertisements offering help to Muslim girls threatened with honour killings are, so far as councillor Amarjeet Sohi is concerned, “racist.”

HUH?

Pray elucidate: which other religion these days condones, no, promotes honour killings of girls who do not obey their fathers’ (or their brothers’) orders? Speaking of brothers, we’re not speaking necessarily of older brothers, we’re speaking of brothers. Period.

An Edmonton Journal  story quotes Sohi thus: “The minute I found out about these ads, I called over to Charlie Stolte, our general manager of Edmonton Transit Service, and showed my displeasure.

“They target one group, and in my mind they were very discriminatory and racist, and there’s no place for that kind of bigotry on city property.”

What a warlord! Mill Woods, the ward he has represented since 2007, should be ashamed of itself for voting the guy in. If for no other reason than because decisions such as this one belong to council, not to individual councillors.

And even if entire council voted to proclaim that telling the truth is racist, it would still amount to unacceptable censorship.

Facts are facts, and we either ignore them because their consequences might not be comfortable (in this case: keeping his mouth shut could cost Sohi votes), and we are prepared to accept the peril of our actions, or we stand up and say, too bad, first, dear complainers, tell us where the advertisement is wrong. Factually wrong, that is.

The fact it says it’s Muslim girls who are in danger in most cases, well, face the facts, will you? And perhaps consider the honour killings that have happened right here, in Canada: all of them perpetrated in the name of Muslim traditions, with some of the perpetrators, when facing Canadian justice system for the crime, yelling it was bloody discrimination, and they had the right to uphold their traditions.

As the Journal  story describes it, the placards on the outside of buses show a photo of young women above the line: “Muslim girls honour killed by their families. Is your family threatening you? Is there a fatwa on your head? We can help.”

A link to FightforFreedom.us  follows. That’s a U.S.-based group that claims to offer tips for people facing threats just because they want to leave the Muslim faith. It also warns about the “encroachment of Islam on western civilization.”

SIOA (Stop Islamization of America) operates the site. This is the group that put up the same ad in Tampa, Fla. It also ran ads on buses in New York, San Francisco and Miami, offering help to people who wanted to leave Islam and faced family threats as a result.

The group also finds plans to build a mosque near New York’s destroyed World Trade Center site perfectly unacceptable.

What is wrong with all that?

Here’s your answer: NOTHING.

It is a fact of life that people from Arab countries (not all of them of Muslim persuasion, by the way) are leaving their birthplaces in quickly increasing rates, choosing to settle in Western countries, instead.

It is also a fact of life that many who were discontent with their lives in their native countries now try to bring their old traditions, customs and habits to their new homes. Surprisingly, whenever the existing societies object, someone would always raise the specter of discrimination and racism to defend them.

Yes, specter.

First and foremost: discrimination is not necessarily a racist tool. If you, gentle reader, happen to be, say, a girl, you would not be accepting all offers from boys, no matter how handsome, to spend a night or a life in their arms. You would discriminate, deciding on upon whom to bestow the honour and whom to ignore.

And if you happen to be a potential employer, you would also be discriminating when choosing future employees. Only those who know the skills you require need apply.

Is THIS racist in any shape or form?

This was a rhetorical question.

It is a fact of life that many people who come to Western democracies from environments much less savoury can (and often do) have difficulties adjusting to different laws, customs and traditions. First and foremost, they would have to learn that obeying their new countries’ laws is a law upon itself. They have no say about that so far as this aspect of life is concerned. Speaking of laws, this rule has its own name (in Latin, to boot): conditio sine qua non. Meaning: this is how it is, live with it. Secondly, nobody is going to bother newcomers about their customs and traditions with one proviso: they must not be breaking their new countries’ laws. Saying that banning those customs and traditions is discriminatory and racist just doesn’t cut it.

Discriminatory? Yes. Racist? Absolutely not.

It just so happens that Western traditions value life above all. Despite all claims to the contrary, not all cultures (read: traditions and customs) are equal. Some have grown up with times, others still remain drowned in the Middle Ages (or even in ages older than that).

There are a number of customs and traditions Western culture finds abhorrent and unacceptable (female circumcision comes to mind, honour killing comes to mind).

So, when somebody offers a helping hand to potential victims, we should applaud them rather than call them all kinds of politically correct invectives.

But there’s one more point here, and it is much more important than anything mentioned above: since when has a city council the right to censorship?

And, besides, does nobody realize that imposing censorship on any topic, no matter how insulting it can be to our sensibilities (legitimate or otherwise) is one of the first steps to society based on lies?

Most of us can agree that this or that topic is ludicrous, and this or that point of view is damaging to our present and, more importantly, to our future.

Most of us can be wrong.

“Is this how the Canadian Muslim community responds to the desperate circumstances of Muslim girls living in devout Muslim homes? They deny, obfuscate and dissemble,” SIOA founder Pamela Geller wrote when she learned of Edmonton city council’s decision to remove advertising one (ONE!) of its members found objectionable.

“The Muslim community protects the religious honour code, while smearing and libelling the truth tellers coming to the aid of these girls as ‘racists,’ ” Geller added.

Is Geller right? Is Geller wrong?

Facts show she is much closer to the truth than Edmonton councillor Amarjeet Sohi.

If Amarjeet Sohi thought the advertisements were lying, he should have said (and proven) so. Instead, he used a blanket description that, in itself, is a lie.

If remaining members of the Edmonton city council have got any courage left, they should tell councillor Amarjeet Sohi where he gets off. They should tell him in no uncertain words that they do NOT condone censorship.

And if councillor Amarjeet Sohi won’t agree, his voters should do whatever they can to have him removed from council.

Putting Edmonton on the slippery slope that is a direct path toward dictatorship simply won’t do.

Who knew? The price of land for new arena more than double of what was predicted!

As highway robberies go, this one surpasses the original deal our city parents agreed to in an attempt to square the circle and revitalize the downtown area. No, the land our city parents purchased won’t cost anywhere in the neighbourhood of $20 to $30 million, as originally mentioned. And please note: even that $10 million discrepancy is money most of us have never seen before (and wont see anytime soon, either).

Now, we find out, the land will cost in the neighbourhood of $75 million, give or take a few million either way once the dust settles.

Not only that: where the amended deal called for a $30 million commitment by the Oilers’ owner to the area development, it turns out that if he decides to buy some of the land back, that amount would count as part of his commitment.

Robert Moylers, the city’s spokesthingie, suggests the additional land purchase will allow the city to control the development that goes in the area in terms of the time, the type, and the form. Gee, one would have thought that’s what development permits were for: tell me what you’re going to build, and if we like it, you’ll get the permit. If we don’t, you won’t.

And even if the Katz group DOES buy back the land it said it was going to buy back (no guarantees there, either), it would still cost you and me a pretty penny to keep the rest: $41 million, give or take a million or two either way, again.

Is THAT the cup of tea even the most ardent supporters of the publicly-funded downtown arena bargained for?

Either our city council is a bunch of rank amateurs whose basic knowledge of economics ranks them close to the primates, or – as some whispers seem to float – not all is well with the entire scenario. Let’s remain optimistic and hope it’s the former rather than the latter. If it is the former, this would call for an immediate recall of the entire council, extraordinary elections, and those should be linked to a referendum with the questions spelt out clearly.

Do you still want to use taxpayers’ money to build an arena, with the cost to the city, and be ready for this, NOT $100 ($125) million, but that amount PLUS interest, and PLUS the cost of the land PLUS interest (and the amounts of interest should be spelt out, too)?

Lest anybody objects to including the interest, here’s a reminder: it’s an amount the city will have to pay as part of its spending, so, might as well include it. Please note: it’s spending, not an investment. Somebody else, not the city, will be reaping the benefits.

As mentioned so many times earlier, this entire plan reeks to high heaven. And, as mentioned so many times earlier, there’s no proof the arena, if and when built, would do squat to stop the bleeding from downtown, turning the trend around and revitalizing the area in the process. What does happen here is that the taxpayers are supposed to carry most of the risks while the Oilers’ owner, even if the downtown revitalization plan flops, will be laughing all the way to the bank: his will be the revenues from everything that takes place under his roof.

On top of all that, we are now the landlords for the Baccarat Casino, an outfit owned by the Burnaby-based company, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment. If that is so, where are the numbers we all have the right to know? Can we see the lease deal so we know exactly how much we are going to pay if we demolish the money-making eyesore and replace it with another money-making machine?

This is irresponsibility at its best.

There are some who maintain that even if the arena deal does NOT go through, it’s fine and dandy for the city to own the land: there will be other developments, and the city will be holding all of the real estate cards.

Perfect rubbish, of course. Civic administration is not, and shouldn’t be, a real estate developer.

Generally speaking, any government’s priorities differ from the priorities dear to entrepreneurs’ hearts. This is not to say which of the two sets of priorities is better. This is to say they are different. Governments have no business making such entrepreneurial decisions as imposing a ticket tax on Northlands patrons just to make the deal fair for another private entrepreneur in whose pockets they are sitting right now. To put it as simply as possible, so that even our city parents understand it: fairness in government has nothing to do with fairness in business. Why not? Simply because business is all about competition. Government isn’t.

Also: Mayor Stephen Mandel intimated not so long ago that if no money for the downtown arena project is forthcoming from the provincial government, he’s got a plan B, presumably to line up private investors. (Let’s hope it’s not to raise our taxes to pay for the shortfall.)

Guess what: if he were to show this unfinished piece of what is supposed to be a business plan to any shrewd entrepreneurs, they would do their due diligence, and once they’re done, they would chase him down their corridors with a whip cracking.

This is not to suggest we should apply such corporal punishment to the guy. This is to suggest we should demand, as mentioned, an immediate recall of the entire council, a new election, and a binding referendum.

If the majority of voters still say they want to proceed, highway robbery notwithstanding, let’s rename this place a City of Masochists.

And remember: this is NOT about shining visions. This is all about a perfect crime. Why fleece us one by one when you can fleece the entire city in one fell swoop?

A fair deal? Why not call it highway robbery?

As sellouts go, this one is close to being perfect. The Katz Group drops the no-compete clause demand it wanted to get from Northlands, the city will buy the land, etc., etc., and new arena supporters are ecstatic.

They’ve been taken for a ride and let’s hope the province will not be as foolish. After all, it’s got a strong incentive not to be: if there’s $100 million coming to Edmonton to build this new ice palace, guess what? Next thing you know, Calgary will demand (and justifiably so) that same amount to replace the Saddledome.

The Katz Group won’t be seeking the no-compete clause, and that’s a victory for the city? You’ve got to be kidding: that demand has been illegal from the get-go, and it dawned on the Katz Group leadership at long last that this might end up in court, where they would lose, plain and simple. Some victory, that.

The chutzpah our city parents will show if they approve this deal is endless. So, they will tax Rexall (or whatever it’s going to be called post-Oilers) tickets to help pay for their fancy. If THAT is not an attempt to cut Northlands’ legs under them in order to make the place less competitive, pray elucidate what it is, then.

Let us set aside the argument that putting professional sports facilities in downtown areas in attempts to revitalize those areas has failed all over the place. Yes, even in Columbus. Yes, even in Los Angeles.

The city will make sure nobody will be willing to park downtown, given the fees. They are shamelessly high as it is, and they will go higher still. And that to our enlightened council seems to be the way to drum up custom for downtown.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman did what his job description dictates him to do. But our Mayor is neither an NHL employee, nor an NHL flunky.

This nonsense that without a new arena the Oilers would move is something we’ve heard before. Peter Pocklington got run out of town because of it. Why the difference? Veiled threats to similar effect are cricket just because Daryl Katz claims he’s an Edmonton patriot? How foolish can our council members be? How short are their memories?

Just an aside: it was that same Peter Pocklington who brought the NHL to Edmonton in the first place.

But let’s get back to the main topic: anyone equipped with basic knowledge of economics will tell you that private and public money do not mix. The good old oil and water story. The two have different reasons for their existence, hence, they have different priorities. Or, at least, they should have.

If Daryl Katz is so convinced that his club’s arena downtown is going to be the proverbial goose that lays golden eggs, he should go for it. Himself, with outside (but private) help, doesn’t matter. But not with a cent of public money.

Of course, if he asks other entrepreneurs for help, they will want to know what makes him so sure that the plan will work in Edmonton when it hasn’t worked anywhere else. For whatever reason, our city parents have swallowed his pitch whole, never asking the hard questions.

Gary Bettman, in his spiel, mentioned it was a matter of economics for Daryl Katz to seek public support. Gary Bettman should stick to his knitting. It had nothing to do with economics. It had everything to do with business. These two terms have different meanings. Business propositions – if the outcome is ideally positive – work for the business entity that is involved. Economics are about society as a whole. Not only that, but economics also take a longer-term view, something many business people tend to forget.

If one were to start pointing out in individual detail where the city has been had and where Daryl Katz must be laughing, it would be a pretty long list.

But the most serious matter here is this: this council seems unable to provide the city with basic services. And yet, it is willing to go ahead and waste money that would be better (and more usefully) spent elsewhere just to satisfy a billionaire who has just found an easy way how to become even more affluent. Would if all of us were so lucky as to have our mortgages paid by other taxpayers.

One of the nicest gimmicks: the city will demand that the Oilers commit to staying here for another 35 years.

Let’s forget some warning signs that professional sports have been losing their spectator appeal the last few years and nobody knows if anyone will care some 15 years down the road that they even exist. Judging by the price hikes, the Oilers will price themselves out of the general market pretty soon, anyhow. The funniest (or saddest?) part is that professional sports clubs owners are of the view that their facilities become obsolete once they hit the age of about 30 years. That means we’ll be at this same point we’re today 30 years hence. A nice perspective if there ever was one.

To sum up: the murder capital of Canada, a provincial capital with the worst infrastructure in the entire country, a provincial capital that says it can’t afford to provide basic services, will have a shiny new arena for one of its professional sports clubs, all that paid using taxpayer money.

In Europe, they’re now so down economically, just because of follies like this, they have expanded their taxation base to demanding fees from farmers for bovine flatulence. Yes, and it wouldn’t be the insanely bureaucratic European Union if it didn’t come up with quotas: the rate is higher in Bulgaria than in Denmark. Why, nobody knows.

Is that where we want to end? Or what else will the city have to tax to help it pay for something private citizen Daryl Katz thinks he needs?

In addition to being a murder capital, we’ll become a laughingstock. Nice, is it not?

To whom is His Worship responsible?

“Obviously, my first duty is to the citizens of Edmonton, but at the same time, it’s unfair to my council colleagues not to be able to brief them on it, which we’re planning to do Friday morning. After that, I’d be glad to answer questions with the media.”

That, my dear friends, is a quote from His Worship Stephen Mandel, the Mayor of Edmonton, following his six-hour meeting Wednesday with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Edmonton Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz in the NHL New York office.

Once again, His Worship has got it all wrong. Yes, he’s right when he says that his first duty is to the citizens of Edmonton. But he must have forgotten one minor thing: members of council are citizens of Edmonton, too. And so is he. What His Worship is proposing is offering preferential treatment to one (very minor) group of citizens, while gaining time to ponder what to tell the rest of us, the masses of the unwashed, and what to keep secret from us.

It would be acceptable only if His Worship were in New York on his own room and board, representing himself. Of course, in that case he’d have no business committing any public money to what is a very private undertaking.

The entire scenario stinks to high heaven.

Facing a shameless deadline from the Oilers’ owner, and an even more shameless (and potentially illegal) demand for a no-compete clause from Northlands, His Worship and his top civic bureaucrat hurry to Big Apple because NHL Commissioner wants to play God. The Commissioner, of course, is talking about money that isn’t his all along. This money isn’t his Edmonton council interlocutors’, either.

In fact, if Gary Bettman wanted to be so helpful, he should have come to Edmonton, rather than pretend he’s an emperor whose wisdom matches Solomon’s, and then some. Not only would it have been more polite (decent, even), it would have cost less, too. After all, Daryl Katz is Gary Bettman’s boss. Takes a certain level of gall to summon one’s boss into one’s office.

In enlightening us on his motivation, Gary Bettman tried to explain that it was pure economics that had been behind Daryl Katz’s demand.

Gary Bettman has got this one wrong, too. It’s been a business sense, mixed with a sense of entitlement. Why should I be paying for the whole thing if I could be entitled to having the taxpayers cover at least a quarter of it, if not more?

Business and economics do not mix easily. There are some major differences between these two, and one would have expected an NHL Commissioner to be aware of those differences. But maybe it’s asking too much. After all, as mentioned, the Commissioner is the league club owners’ employee. He’s got to whistle their tune.

And the Mayor’s motivation is simple, too. As American economist Thomas Sowell observed, politicians think in election cycles. Economists take a somewhat longer-term view.

So, we’ve got the three motivations behind this entire deal: greed, greed, and some more greed. In all three cases with an incredibly high level of egotism thrown in.

What should motivate us, the mass of the unwashed citizens of Edmonton, those to whom His Worship has a duty, but who will have to wait?

An answer to just one question: would our dear council members be willing to fork over from their own pockets the required $100 million, and whatever compensation Northlands would require if it were to agree not to compete with Daryl Katz’s new arena? And let’s make it biblically simple: Yes? No?

Oh, they can’t afford it?

You know what? Immorality of public funding for private enterprise notwithstanding, Edmonton can’t afford it, either. And if Daryl Katz has got a problem with it, congratulations, he’s got something we don’t.

Case closed.

 

Summons to Big Apple a sign of bad manners

If there ever was an example of bad manners, this is it: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman invites Edmonton Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz and Edmonton mayor Steven Mandel to drop by for a chat about the downtown arena issue, and the two hicks accept and go, one of them, presumably, at public expense. No, wait, make it two of them: city manager Simon Farbrother is going, too, and nobody can expect him to pay for his flight, room and board.

Why bad manners? On two grounds.

Gary Bettman is Daryl Katz’s employee. He should be coming to see his boss. Not the other way ’round.

And Gary Bettman wants something from Edmonton’s council. Not the other way ’round. Again, he should be coming to Edmonton, hat in hand, and wait in the reception area until council is ready to hear him out.

Other than that, Gary Bettman is doing what he should be doing: trying to push his employer’s point of view. But, as a good employee, one would have expected him to do his homework first.

Even if city council gives in and binds taxpayers (its employers) to paying $100 million, there is still the minor issue of no commitment from the province. Without that particular commitment, everything’s been just so many puffs of hot air. And it doesn’t seem the province is in any spectacular hurry to commit a cent towards the project.

The other issue is much more simple: Daryl Katz is demanding a firm commitment from Northlands that what is known today as Rexall Place won’t compete with however the new downtown arena is called. There exist laws that specifically forbid such behaviour. Ever heard of anti-trust legislation? Not that such legislation pleases anybody who’s all gung-ho for free markets, but still, it’s on the books.

Gary Bettman, as mentioned, is Daryl Katz’s employee. He can’t be ordering his boss around, but he can offer him advice. Wise advice. Here’s what its gist should be: don’t waste your time looking for public money. If you want a new arena, build it. Downtown Edmonton, any of Saturn’s rings, wherever tickles your fancy. If you’re not a member of the proper clubs where moneybags gather for afternoon siesta, I could introduce you to some that have for their members people for whom your fortune is their weekly allowance. You can talk to them and ask them if they would want to chip in. You can also go and see your friendly neighbourhood bank manager about mortgage. But stop feeling you’re entitled to getting public money. You’re not entitled to anything. The period of overwhelming demands for social and financial entitlement is behind us. Live with it.

Both Messrs. Mandel and Farbrother should decline Mr. Bettman’s invitation. If they don’t, the mayor should reimburse us all for his and his city manager’s Big Apple extravaganza. The realization they can’t be doing as they please will only happen when our elected politicians become personally and financially accountable for all of their decisions. That’s when they might begin to see the foolishness of their ways.

In the meantime, they need to be reminded they are our servants, we’re not their serfs.