We Can Afford To Care For Each Other

The provincial budget was announced yesterday and it’s left me stunned and upset.  I can’t remember feeling gloomier about life in Saskatchewan since the droughts of the mid ’80s.

I mean, I literally used STC on Tuesday to send a birthday package to my niece in Prince Albert and now it’s gone.

Twenty years ago, my grandmother died so poor dad’s family got help with the funeral from social services. Now it seems that’s gone too.

The way I see it, everything we have in Saskatchewan we got by working together and working for each other. Have we forgotten that? Or is that a myth? I still remember in-school dental care and mobile libraries. When we were much poorer as a province it seems we all had so much more.

Nowadays our houses are bigger and our cars are shinier and our phones are magical, but public transport, public libraries and the like are things we aren’t supposed to want.

Is it selfish to want a service we all can use? Is it naive to want to contribute to services that help others, even if I don’t use it? Should we only care about the poor, the young, the sick, the elderly or the remote when times are good? I don’t think so.

But even I caught myself looking at the announcements through the lens of “how am I impacted.”  Look, aside from the tuition hikes, which impact my kids severely, the provincial budget doesn’t hurt me personally.  I’m a middle aged, healthy white man who owns his house and no longer works for a crown corporation.  I’m the ‘core’ and I’m not supposed to care about those who aren’t like me, I guess.

But I do care.  And it pains me when those who most need our help have to pay so the rest of us can maintain the status quo.  That’s not how this province was built.

The problem is the lack of a long term, cooperative vision for all the people of Saskatchewan.  It’s a classic dilemma: in boom times, we don’t need a vision because hey, things are great as is!  And in bust times, we can’t afford something as frivolous as cooperation.  We gotta take action and hey, poor people don’t really need funerals anymore do they? In good times sure, but even the poor need to get realistic here, right?

Let’s keep talking and working together. Talking about the kind of province we want to live in.  And working for each other, serving each other and building lasting institutions for all of us, even when times are tough.

A Tale of Two Bridges

Funky drawbridge, Rotterdam
Funky drawbridge, Rotterdam

During our recent cycling trip through Holland I was repeatedly struck by the beauty of what we would call the ‘infrastructure’ of the place. The street signs, the light posts, but especially the bridges.

In a country with as many canals as roads, you’re going to have a lot of bridges. I was surprised to see that many of them had unique and beautiful designs. They were functional works of art. And many of them had the builder or designer prominently displayed right on the bridge.

I can imagine the effort that went into designing these bridges. The design competition and the decision process to install this bridge here, and this different design three blocks over.  It would’ve added to the cost, but added something remarkable into the landscape.

Nameplate on a drawbridge, on the main road somewhere between Utrecht and Amsterdam

There’s a new footbridge near my home in Saskatchewan too. It connects the high school with a park and, beyond, a small library on the way to the city centre. The old bridge, no more than 60 years old but, alas, made of wood, must have been deemed unsafe in this modern age.

There is no art to my new bridge. It’s exactly the same as the other new footbridges that cross Wascana Creek. It’s made from galvanized steel (same as the recent grey/silver light posts) and pressure treated lumber. It may not be beautiful but it’s likely the cheapest way to cross the creek on foot. There’s no name on the bridge, or any of the other bridges crossing the creek, identifying the designer or the builder.

No doubt the decision to build the bridge in my town was based solely on cost. What design can give me the most bridges for the least money? Can we use existing ‘off the shelf’ components? Which installation crew is the cheapest? Then ask those questions in a blind bidding process and pick the cheapest option.

It won’t create anything lasting, or beautiful. It won’t make my heart sing every time I walk to the library. The galvanized steel handrail won’t feel good when I hold it. But hey, at least the builder was chosen through an objective and fair process. And Our Tax Dollars were used ‘responsibly.’

I find that sad.  And a missed opportunity.

There are a hundred opportunities every year to add art and beauty and good design to the world we live in. To choose the beautiful and interesting as well as the functional. To move people with our public spaces.

It’s time to add beauty to the conversation.

Buried Trolley Line on Albert Street

I took this photo while walking to work last week — it's a bit of urban archeology as a City work crew (who is re-paving Albert Street Bridge) uncovered the old trolley lines that used to run the length of Albert Street.  

Then they proceeded to cut them out and continue repaving.
Too bad in a way.  It made me think about what Regina would be like if it was still compact enough to support a trolley line.  Sort of like in this video:

Posted via email from madbaker’s posterous

Heading home

Writing this post from the waiting area in the Victoria airport. Anothe sunny calm morning – I’m going to miss these excellent mornings…

This was a great trip. Great sites, super adventures and really, really relaxing. Vancouver Island has a lot to offer, and the laid back attitude is a very important part of life here. We’re going to do everything we can to bring this attitude back to Regina. We’ve been blessed with very livable cities here – cities that remain about people rather than cars. I’m ready to recommit to moving Regina further in this direction – whether that’s local markets, bike lanes, or better public transportation. I don’t want to move, but I don’t want to have to drive everywhere either.

Let’s see how this new mood holds up when I go to work tomorrow…

Am I Fiscally Conservative? Do I Want to Be?

In Left or Right? « Touamoto Sakimata-Smith my buddy Greg talked about being ‘fiscally conservative’ and it got my blood flowing a bit — brought back an earlier conversation I had with my city councilor.

I’ve had a problem with the term ‘fiscally conservative’ for a while now, because I see it as having mixed meanings.

I think I’m ‘fiscally conservative’ with my own money because I don’t do into debt for things (pay cash whenever I can, pay down the mortgage ASAP, do without if I don’t have the money.) I also don’t own any penny stocks or precious metal funds.

But insofar as public policy, I believe that we’re better off as a society if there is a strong ‘Common Good’. I believe that there is value in public services far beyond the cost of them. Because of that I’ve been a strong advocate for public libraries, public education and city services.

I don’t subscribe to the opinion that all taxes are evil by definition and that we should cut every public service possible in order to keep taxes down. I want to make sure my governments are managing our shared pool of money well, but I WANT to pay taxes and I WANT my taxes to go toward strong public services. So I’m much more concerned about getting the most common ‘bang’ for my tax buck than paying fewer tax bucks.

I also don’t have a problem paying more taxes than someone who lives in a smaller house or makes less money. If I have ‘more’, I don’t have trouble paying more.

Can I still call myself fiscally conservative? Has the term been co-opted to imply ‘I Hate Taxes’ or am I using the term incorrectly?