Saturday, May 31, 2008
Unfortunately, my girlfriend has had to make use of the Québéc healthcare system and is in surgery right now as I write this. Thankfully it's a relatively common surgery which they can do without having to be too invasive. She made a trip to emergency early yesterday morning and had to go back later on in the day when things got worse.
On the downside; she's spent at least ten (very painful) hours waiting in the emergency room between the two trips. On the upside; of course the nurses and doctors are great.
What's really, really, unfortunate is that this all could have been avoided. She had booked four weeks in advance for the same surgery at the QEII back in GP ... only to have it cancelled on the day, after waiting at the hospital for 4 hours. So, rather than doing it in a planned manor where it was elective and she could have been back home in bed afterwards - it's now an emergency situation halfway across the country.
Well, hopefully everything will be fine... she'll end up with the surgery she needed (which is really good) and the worst that happens is that we may have to stay here a little longer than we thought.
Other times you'll see something on the floor that really tweaks your interest and has obvious uses back home that are immediately apparent. This year there were at least three that fell in to that later category.
Here's some various pics from the trade show floor. Some show the variety of displays and products while a couple are the ones I found really useful that I hope I can bring back to apply to our city.....
The entrance to the Municipal Expo
This gigantic mower is probably of more interest to rural municipalities who have to maintain a lot of ditches.
Here's a company that is at every conference; Waste Management...
... and right across the isle from WM is a company that manufactures bins. What a coincidence!
I thought this was really cool. This is the booth for mtsAllstream and you might recognize the image on the screen. They are using Grande Prairie's very own Muniportal.ca site as a promotional tool. They were only promoting three different "case studies", each in different areas of their business so obviously if Muniportal is good enough to put in the booth we must have something cutting edge.
In a previous post I mentioned Edmonton's Co2RE team, here's their booth.
This was really cool... LED street lights. You probably know that LED lights last a lot longer and consume less energy than traditional lights. That's a big deal when you taxes go to pay for the electricity bill those lights generate. GP has already converted most of the traffic lights (Red, Yellow & Green) around the city to LED. The next thing is these LED streetlights that Curtis Cartmill with LED Roadway Lighting is showing off. I want to see us move our system to these kind of lights to save some money.
Here's some guys selling decorative hardware for the plain old street lights.
I thought this was a really in interesting booth... the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. I kept my distance.
This was a sight that warmed my heart ... our City Clerk, Janette Furgeson talking with the folks from Intelivote Systems. If you've read this blog you know I'm a big proponent of moving towards internet voting as other cites have done. Well Janette is in charge of all the municipal elections for the city so she needs to know this stuff. I'm going to do more of a post on this topic and some of the stuff I learned at the booth later.
These next two are of something that immediately piqued my interest and made me think of at least one area where we need to use the product. This company (MCM Structures) sells a product that looks like a decorative bottom to a streetlights, only it's not.
It's called the MCM Base and when you open it up it is actually a junction box that can hold phone, cable and electricity connections for up to six homes.
This is another view of the open junction box that the streetlight actually sits on top of but they make actually make another product that is for retrofits to existing street lights. It's called, not surprisingly, the "Retrofit". When I get home I'll take a picture of a spot in our city where these need to be used.
From the conference program:
Making Transit Work in Smaller Communities
Room: 200 A
Moderator: Councillor Louise Poirier, City of Gatineau, Que., board and executive member of Canadian Urban Transit Association
Speakers: Huguette Dallaire, Director General, Société de transport de Sherbrooke; Dennis Fletcher, Director,Transit Solutions, ENTRA Consultants; Steve New, Senior Vice President, BC Transit.
FCM’s National Transit Strategy, released in March 2007, called on all three orders of government to develop a coordinated
approach to funding and supporting public transit. Part of this strategy called on provinces and territories, working with municipalities and supported by the federal government, to develop separate and appropriately designed and targeted policies
and programs to fund and support transit systems in smaller communities.What are the unique challenges facing transit in smaller communities?What is required from planners, transit operators, funding providers, and residents and businesses? This seminar will explore these questions, guided by municipal practitioners and public transit experts.
Huguette Dallaire the Director General of Society de Transport de Sherbrooke (STS) presented on the Sherbrooke experience.
Sherbrooke has a population of 150 000 residents, 25 000 of whom are students! (wow, that's a lot but in terms of transit that's a plum user group to target) The STS has a $26M budget per year with a mixed fleet including 79 buses and 10 adapted mini buses. The city is relatively low density, there is lots of parking and public had a low perception of transit, and high car useage.
When they conducted a survey looking at transit they found that bus routes were too long, schedules didn't seem to bare any relation to people's work or school schedules and so it was no surprise that there was a 11% decrease in ridership between 1991 and 2003.
Since then Sherbrooke STS worked to become an "Urban Mobility Manager". They have an integrated school transportation system. (We are just now working with the school boards to do the same thing in Grande Prairie) STS identified that it's service must be; Accessible, Speedy, Reliable, Frequent and Comfortable.
They then looked to develop specific "target client groups" using both B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) approaches and then focusing their efforts on the largest target groups with in those sectors. (Hmmmm, maybe those 25, 000 students?)
Speaking of students, the University of Sherbrooke stepped up and committed to paying the full transit costs for it's 14 000 students at a cost of $1.2m yearly. This led to a 125% increase in ridership for that target group in a single year. The local colleges also came on board but there the students paid for transit directly through registration fees at a cost of $50/term.
As for major employers, the STS worked with the hospital which now pays 40% of the transit costs for their 4000 employees.
And finally STS developed "Communal Bus" lines specifically targeted at seniors. The communal lines are served by mini-buses focused on stops that have special interest to seniors and provide shorter walking distance to stops (100m vs 400m).
For their efforts between 2003 to 2007 Sherbrooke saw a 16% increase in ridership.
Dennis Fletcher from Transit Solutions, provided some great examples of ideas that are working in smaller communities...
Rimouski, Quebéc has a "Taxibus" service which is a demand/response or zone bus systems that operates on a fixed schedule but not fixed route. It's operated through a partnership with local taxi companies. You call the number and a dispatcher arranges your ride which you share may share with other people who can be picked up and dropped off during your ride. in 2004 the municipal contribution to this service was $180 000.
PEI, is developing a Commuter Connector system that acts as a trunk line between municipalities with Community Connectors in small municipalities that operate off the trunk system.
Halifax has instituted a rural express service and developed a Community Planning guide for small communities within the regional municipality. The guide enables the smaller communities to plan their development to integrate with the larger system.
Dennis suggests that the keys to effective transit systems are; Imaginative Ideas, a Local Champion, Community Support and finally Stamina.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Other GP delegates attending the session were; Gladys Blackmore, Elroy Diemert, Dan Wong, Yad Minhas, Lorne Radbourne and Greg Scerbak (Director of Community Development)
Some of the key points I was able to catch from the presentations:
Green Municipal Fund (GMF) is a $500 million pot of funds provided by the Federal Government and administered through FCM.
GMF Grants are available for financing up to 50% (up to a maximum of $350 000!) of the cost of a project like developing a municipal Sustainability Plan. Some other examples of how municipalities have use the GMF grants:
• Sherbrook used a grant to help optimize their transit system.
• Laval, received $40 000 to develop an inventory of their Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
Mayor, Alan DeSousa from Saint-Laurent Borough, Montréal
spoke on the experience of developing a MSP of the island of Monteal....
"Many plans have been developed over the past 10 years but there have been little action." Key is to actually implement the plan. Doing a MSP is like building a house, you must; "Build a foundation before you can put the walls and the roof over."Community engagement was key in the development of the plan.
In first phase of the plan (2005 - 06) there were 24 specific actions that were identified in the plan and then in the second phase (2007 - 09) they have an additional 36 actions.
Asked community partners to publicly endorse the plan and commit to implementing at least 5 of the actions identified in the plan.
They first started with 49 community partners and are now up to 120 who have endorsed the plan and committed to meeting at least 5 of the 24 or 36 actions identified in the plan.
Councillor, Karen Leibovici, City of Edmonton
Edmonton council developed a City Vision looking forward 30 Years and then the work was in "back-casting" the actions that would lead to the realization of the vision.
Emdonton, like Grande Prairie, has a variety of "Master Plans" that govern how specific service are delivered or how the municipality develops. One of the outcomes of their work and visioning is that Plans like Transit Master Plan and Municipal Development Plan are being done in unison to ensure that they are integrated and both leading towards the vision.
In addition to the traditional Master Plans Edmonton also has a "Enviomental Strategic Plan" which I think is a great way to ensure that environmental initiates have a home and are approached in a coordinated manner.
First off the City of Edmonton committed to leading the way through their municipal operations. For example they; demanded a LEEDs Silver standard for all new municipal buildings, are testing 6 new hybrid buses, have converted 900+ traffic signal lights to LEDs, are working on a Sustainable Fleet Strategy and have funded a$30 million Energy Management Revolving Fund. ( ? - I'll need to do a little research on exactly what that is... )
They also developed what they call the " CO2RE Team" with community partners. Once again; "Partnerships were developed at the front end of the process."
The CO2RE team developed GHG reduction targets of 6% by 2010 and 20% 2020. Karen acknowledged that the recent growth in Edmonton is forcing them to review these targets to see how they can still be met.
A couple other initiates that have come from the CO2RE team;
• Home$avers how-to booklets, that are available in hard copy and on the web
• Home Depot partnership to promoting sales of energy efficient items
• Epcor $50 rebate on 6L low-flow toilets
I had hoped to do lots of blogging from the convention floor but unfortunately Videotron is charging $225.00 for access. That would let me get on the system for the whole conference from anywhere .... but, that's a little steep. Luckily I found the "Internet Lounge" where you can get access for $9.99 for 5 hours. So, posts won't come as rapidly as I'd have liked but they will come....
Quickly, some pictures from the opening before I go in to a session...
The entrance to the Convention Centre, with some great public art
Whoa!!! What was that...?! I didn't even hear it come up!
Some of the 2000 registered delegates still signing in. I ran in to Jack O'Toole from the County of GP as I walked in.
Delegates start getting seated for the opening ceremonies.
I think most of council is going to the session I'm heading into now:
FCM’s Green Municipal Fund and Sustainable Community Plans
Moderator:Mayor Jean Perrault, FCM First Vice-President
Speakers:Mayor Alan DeSousa, Saint-Laurent Borough, Montréal, Que.; Councillor Karen Leibovici, City of Edmonton, Alta.; Mayor Marcel Robert, City of Sorel-Tracy, Que.
FCM’s Green Municipal Fund (GMF) offers funding and other resources to help municipal governments meet their sustainable development goals. A key focus of FCM’s Green Municipal Fund is providing grants to assist municipal governments with the development of sustainable community plans. More and more municipalities are adopting sustainable community plans.
In many provinces, they are a prerequisite for federal gas tax transfers; in others, they are mandated by the provincial government, such as through Québec’s Sustainable Development Act.
This session will provide best practice examples of sustainable community plans. Panelists will discuss the challenges and
opportunities they encountered when developing their sustainable community plans.The session will also highlight funding opportunities available through the GMF.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference is this week from the 28th to the 2nd. Most of councils is going except for Mayor Logan and Ald. Gustafson.
Over the next few days I'll try to do some mobile blogging from the convention to let you know what's going on. I brought my camera too so I might post a few pics here and there.
Monday, May 26, 2008
This morning when I logged in to check out the newspaper I was surprised to see that the DHT had totally redesigned their website. The new look will take a little getting used to but I think it's great and I have a feeling that there are a lot of new features that will be really useful once one figures out they are there.
One of the best features is that they now provide a RSS feed. (For a description of what an RSS feed is check here.)The RSS feed is what has allowed me to add the "GP News From The DHT" to the right-hand side of of this page. So from now on you'll be able to get three of the latest headlines from the DHT whenever you log in here.
If you're in to using an RSS feed to get your news my blog actually has one too. Go to the very bottom of the page, you see " Subscribe to: Posts (Atom) " Click on that link and you'll see my feed. I've asked a couple of different organizations to start providing RSS feeds. Hopefully they'll be following suit in the future but for now, a big Congratulations and Thank You go out to the DHT for their website redesign and RSS feed.
Friday, May 23, 2008
He did miss the fact that a chunk of the $2.9m in extra money is actually coming from the new construction in the city, it's not all from the provincial reduction in Education property taxes.
Other than that I think over all he's pretty accurate on his post. The mill rates vs. tax rate thing can be confusing (I've looked at mill rate before ) but the essence of what he says is correct: The province is collecting less tax from property in Grande Prairie and the city is "capturing" it or "moving in to the space vacated by the province".
This isn't the first time this has happened the province has slowly been moving out the property tax area for sometime and in the last couple of years I've voted to support the City taking that space each time it's come available. This is a major plank in the AUMA's argument for funding for cities.... the province has lots of revenue sources (income tax, user fees, royalties), as municipalities we only have property taxes (and to a limited extent user fees and grants). So unless we get additional taxing powers (a whole other discussion) then we need all the room we can get in the property tax area.
The only thing that I'd suggest GPconservative might be off base about is that that it's an "Aquatics Centre Tax". The money is going towards the Aquatics centre, that's true. But it could have gone towards anything... all the way from lowing the tax increase (as you pointed out) to additional spending on some other project or service. So that's a matter of perception really and I can understand that some people will see it that way.
How ever you see it I firmly believe that it was the right decision.
Council choose to apply it towards some of the money we had anticipated borrowing, essentially increasing our "down payment" and decreasing the amount of the "mortgage" on the Aquatics Centre.
As you know, the more you put down up front, the less you pay in interest over time. The DHT article kind of mentions this " ...borrowing will decrease by $8.8 million and reduce debt services charges by $672,000 in 2010." but doesn't get the real scope of the savings... I'm pretty sure it actually saves $672,000 ANNUALLY starting in 2010. Over the term of the borrowing that equals a lot of tax payer dollars that won't be spend on interest payments!
So, yes this additional money is going towards the Aquatics Centre and yes it could have gone towards reducing the tax increase. But first off it wasn't planned that way a year ago, second the home owner will not pay more than the 9.7% increase council approved back in November and finally it will save tax payers over the long term.
I'm comfortable standing behind the decision.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The library would like to thank Scotiabank for all their efforts in raising funds for the Montrose Cultural Centre through their Spring Fling fundraiser. The staff from their two branches did an amazing amount of work and put on a fun-filled, festive evening!
The library is also very grateful to the County of Grande Prairie for the contribution of $1.2 million towards furnishings and equipment in the new library. A cheque presentation to library board chair Dennis Young from Reeve Everett McDonald was held at the library last week.
Partners in Reading
The library is looking for volunteers for the Partners in Reading Program. Children 11 years and older as well as teens and adults are invited to help improve a child's literacy skills by being a reading buddy. Partners meet twice a week at the library during the summer for reading practice and to play literacy games. Parents with children in Grade 1-3 who would like to enroll their child to receive reading assistance are invited can call the library to register. Last year over a 100 volunteers and partners took part in the program.
The C.O.W. is Coming!
The Literacy Alberta’s C.O.W. (Classroom on Wheels) bus will be visiting the library all day on June 4 (1:00 pm to 7:30 pm)& 5 (10:00 am to 5:30 pm).
The COW bus is a friendly, welcoming place for parents and kids staffed with literacy experts who help parents understand the value of early literacy as well as how parents can model literacy behaviours. Learn games and activities you and your children can do to make reading fun. For more information call the Children’s Library at 532-3580 ext 226.
Friday, May 16, 2008
I'm sure the DHT will have something on this but if you are looking for the story you can read about at the following sites:
Edmonton Journal, news
Edmonton Journal, opinion
In general I don't have to much of a problem with the new super board concept. I particularly like the integration of Cancer, Mental Health and AADAC under one banner. There will be rocky periods for all the organizations during the integration process but in the end it's positive that they are all being recognized as part of "Health Care". This is a natural evolution of what the province did when they took over ambulance service from peace country municipalities. We used to run it through GPREMS but now it's totally integrated with Peace Country Health - there are advantages to having "health care" start from the moment you are picked up in an ambulance.
The concerning thing for the regions outside of the Edmonton & Calgary heartland is the risk of all the resources being sucked back in to those two centres.
I can tell you that people in Grande Prairie are very concerned about what impact this will have on the plans for a new hospital here. It appeared as though our regional board was having a tough time getting support for it in the capital (even though the project had been trotted out quite a few time prior to and during the election by the Conservatives trying to show that they were investing in infrastructure)
As far as I know only about $250m of the funding has actually been approved at the provincial level. My personal bet is that the total cost of the construction will be close to $1B ... there's a pretty wide gap there and I am worried that first thing we hear from the new super board will either be:
A) 3P (Public Private Partnership)
B) WOOSH!!!! (That's the sound of the money being sucked back into Edmonton and Calgary)
It is totally possible that the new super board will speed up the process and that our desperately needed hospital will happen just as soon as if there had been no change - but, on balance I think the to alternatives above are just as likely.
So in the end I think the super board can be a positive change but I'm also wary of what the possible impact might be on people up here.
Somewhat related topic.... I find it interesting that the provincial government sees value in taking action on forced amalgamation in healthcare (and in the past education) but they have shown no appetite for it in municipalities.
If the economies of scale are so good in both of these other two areas why is it that municipalities are left to duke it out across the province?
** Update **
The Daily Herald Tribune website now has the local reaction stories up. Not surprisingly there is a lot of concern. It sounds very bad for our new hospital but on the good side we actually have someone from GP on the Super Board.
(Great editorial title by the way; "Wheel Reinvented Again?"
Thursday, May 15, 2008
If you missed my previous post on Complete Streets it's here.
Anyhow I spotted this today and I had to post it.
People obviously want to walk here - it's a really well worn path and no wonder; it leads to one of the major transit points in the city at the Towne Centre Mall. There is a great sidewalk on the other side of the street which is a good thing. It's just a shame that it's not on both sides.
Take this example.... If I was a senior who wanted to take the bus to my regular hearing test (I think there is a business in the building south of the tracks that does that.) What would my walk be like? Of course, being a little older I really prefer a nice even surface to walk on for safety - given that requirement, what do I have to do to get to the buildings just south of the bus stop?
First I have to go the opposite direction (north) of my final destination ... then I have to cross the road at a busy intersection. Then I walk back the way I want to go (south) and finally I cross at another intersection (that doesn't have crosswalk lights) and finally I'm where I want to be.
Obviously it would have been a lot less effort (and safer) to just walk directly south - had there been a sidewalk in place.
I'm not pointing fingers - I really think these things are "no-fault" items... they've been missed over the years for lots of reasons. I just think that once we start looking we ought to start working to correct them. I think we'd have a better city for our efforts.
I'm still looking for your help in identifying GP's "best" incomplete streets... send me your pictures or locations!
May 16, 2008
Red Light Cameras are in Effect
The Red Light Cameras are going “live” on Monday, May 19, 2008. For the first 30 days, warning notices will be sent out to the owners of vehicles found in violation. These notices will be clearly identified as warning notices. Following the 30 days, violation tickets will be issued. The specified penalty for a vehicle which goes through a red light is $287.
Included with the notice describing the offence, will be a violation ticket (yellow in colour). This violation ticket is the legal copy for Court purposes. The goal of Enforcement Services is to reduce traffic collisions through education and enforcement. Red light violations contribute to a significant number of injury and fatality collisions in Grande Prairie. Our goal is to reduce these through enforcement by using the red light camera technology."
So if you run a red light in the first month you'll receive a letter giving you a warning - then after that, you'll have to pay. Also, one of the system features that hasn't been mentioned much is that the cameras also record video. When you receive your ticket you'll also have the option of going online and actually viewing video of you going through the red light. Something like that is pretty tough to argue with!
If you are looking for more details on our red light cameras I've done postings on them here and here .
Monday, May 12, 2008
Simply put, a "Complete Street" is one that is useful and accessible for all users. That includes not only cars but also pedestrians and cyclists. The workshop facilitators had us consider streets from three unique perspectives; a senior couple walking, a young girl riding her bike and an adult in a wheelchair.
Some example of the needs of each; the seniors would want a solid, even surface and crossings that give lots of time to get across the street. The girl on her bike needs space to ride safely without having to compete with cars or pedestrians and the adult in the wheelchair needs curbs that are easy to navigate without fear of tipping.
There were many more examples but that gives you and idea. A street that is comfortable and useable for all three is a "Complete Street". There is some great information on the Complete Streets website.
Which brings me to what we see around Grande Prairie....
No wonder people don't walk - it's too much of a hassle!
Of course there are quite a few examples of this kind of thing around the city and there are many reasons why these gaps exist. One part of the issue is our rapid growth - sometimes a neighbourhood springs up and the connections to the older areas just haven't been put in yet. Other times they are what I like to call "sins of the past"; at some point in history we didn't force a new development to put in the infrastructure or it could be that when a development was built our standards didn't call for a sidewalk. Whatever the reason, I think these gaps are exactly the kind of thing that frustrate people and detract from our sense that Grande Prairie is a "nice city". These are exactly the kind of things I want to fix.
Do you have a favourite example of an incomplete street like the one above? If you do mention it in the comments section or email me a picture so I can post it here. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I just received this email from Robert Carroll who was at the workshop...
"Commuter Challenge is a national program that encourages Canadians to walk, cycle, take Grande Prairie Transit or car pool instead of driving alone to work.
The Challenge supports workplaces as they encourage their employees to leave their cars at home for their personal health, the health of their communities and the health of the environment. Individual Canadians can participate too.
The program is based on a friendly competition between workplaces and communities across Canada to see which has the highest percentage participation rates during the week.
By registering participation online, Canadians are able to see the results of their healthier commutes with respect to greenhouse gases reductions calculated by taking into account kilometers not traveled and leaving your car at home.
Employees of the City of Grande Prairie and Council Members are encouraged to take up the Commuter Challenge for the week of June 1 – 7, which is also National Environment Week.
Promotional information will be available at all City facilities shortly and Supervisor's should promote the Challenge and may want to offer some incentives to encourage their employee's to take up the Challenge!
Finding other more sustainable and economical means of getting to and from work makes even more sense now with the ever rising price of fuel.
All those who participate in the Challenge will be eligible for some fantastic prizes. The more days you participate, the more spectacular the prize!
All information will be entered into the Commuter Challenge database to compete for National prizes.
Check out the website at www.commuterchallenge.ca"
I think the challenge is a great idea, why not try something a little different for a couple of days? There is a pretty clear relationship between employee fitness/health and productivity so encouraging walking or cycling to work should pay dividends for employers. Hopefully more GP companies decide to take up the challenge.
And, if your employer isn't into it there is nothing that says you can't do it on your own! After all you'll be the one who feels better from a little exercise (if you choose to walk or bike) and saves money on gas!
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Flying High is a full colour book packed with pictures and information from the SPRA, Isebel Campbell's book Grande Prairie: Capitol of the Peace and the Daily Herald-Tribune archives.
The Archives are of course launching the book as part of the City's 50th Anniversary celebrations and they have printed a fairly limited run. If you are looking to pick up a copy (which I'd really recommend you do) you can get one at the museum for just $15 and also take in the exhibit of the same name.
Any, when you pick up Flying High on you museum visit you might as well also pick up the SPRA first publication; "Grande Prairie City" A Pictorial History from 1906-1958 ... after all you want to have the whole set right?
If you can't make it down to the museum you can probably contact the archives and ask them to send you one. All the contact info you'll need is here: www.southpeacearchives.org
Monday, May 5, 2008
Dean Ward sent me a note last week introducing himself and his blog. Dean is into his second term on council down there and while he doesn't have a lot of postings so far the ones he has are pretty neat. (I might copy his Affordable Housing post, substituting GP numbers of course)
So, as I like to do when I find Alberta municipal politicians blogs .... I'll be adding Dean's blog Crowsnest Pass Home to the Worthwhile Blogs section on the right side of the page.
After you've visited Dean and Gary in Crowsnest Pass, don't forget to visit Leslie in Peace River.