Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why do we treat politicians so badly?

I was motivated to write this as I read a Face book post from the spouse of a prominent provincial politician admonishing people for insults and threats of violence aimed at her husband. 
Now, peripherally, I agree that insults and threats of violence are in bad taste, threats generally don't translate into action and as for insults, well sticks and stone might break your bones but being called a "Jack Ass" hardly ever hurts. Might be hard to explain to your kids, but I doubt it will be the underlying cause for their extensive therapy.
In the case of the aforementioned politician however I have less than no sympathy as he himself has gone to great lengths to refer to his colleagues in many derogatory terms. My personal favorite: suggested a wheel chair bound colleague "Stand up for his constituents". Any insults fired off in his direction are well deserved.
Generally however, when asked what the public think of their elected representatives, the most likely response is "they don't".  Arrogance and the false trappings of power might delude some of our elected officials into thinking they are on the public consciousness but in reality they are not.  I cannot, off the top of my head name all of the MP's, MLA's councilors, or trustees who represent Edmonton and I was one. This leads me to believe that the old adage, "as long as you spell my name right" is about the best we, or most elected officials can hope for.
This is particular relevant as we head into the municipal election season, I know of three people running for council in my ward, I think it's a ward, there are a couple of others I don't know, but if I did not actually know three candidates personally I can think of nothing that would make any of them stand out.  At the provincial level, most people vote party, not candidate, the same is true federally, although admittedly since Brent Rathgeber is a very good friend I would vote for him no matter what party he chose to resign from. 
I have empathy and many good things to say about the various elected officials who represent me, I respect what they do, because I used to do it but I also understand the way things work and the real reason people are nice to politicians:
People want money.
It pissed me off that a local cultural group got a two million dollar grant to fight crime and the next time I met the Executive Director he was wearing a real nice suit and instead of driving his Crown Victoria Taxi had upgraded to a new Explorer, I still watch the group to see if any actual results are delivered for the two million: so far, some posters.
Another cultural dance group, and all cultural dance is really just mating rituals to music, was continually asking for funding. They needed money for gala's, suit cases to hold props, costumes, you name it.
As Alberta's cultural ambassadors, they seemed to think they were entitled to the amount of cultural welfare they received. Their Director was less than pleasant toward me when I said "no" once and he wound up doing an end run to the secret committee that hands out controversial or unnecessary grants. Since I was on the committee, I beat him there too. I might not have won the cultural dance vote in the next election but since I knew redistribution of the  boundaries of my constituency would make him someone else's problem for the next election I was free to stand my ground.
(The above paragraph tells you pretty well everything you need to know about decision making)
If  you want to get elected you have to pander to all these narrow focused special interests and if you don't, well you don't get re-elected, or so you think.
Photo-ops, handing out cheques and making deep and meaningful speeches at the various gala events politicians attend are very gratifying for the ego and hopefully translate into votes.
But with such awesome ability to freely dispense with the public purse comes the inevitable downside of having to say no, politicians are loath to pick winners and losers, yet most of what our politicians do is align themselves to winning the next election.
Policy and legislation are timed, the heavy lifting i.e. stuff you don't like, such as more taxes happen early in the mandate so you will forget about it by polling day. It's a rare politician indeed who will invite controversy in the latter part of a mandate, makes no difference what party. Opposition tries to stir controversy up and the governing party tries to sweeten the pot.
The public wind up being bribed with their own money and all hope they will get some.
It's hypocritical for the elected official to complain about how they are treated really, public service is one thing, but the lust for power is quite another. The public don't care: 21% of the people in Fort MacMurray voted in the last provincial election, over all voter engagement is falling, not because people don't care but because  there is really nothing to get engaged in.
It's been a long time in this city, province or country that we elected people because their ideas were better. If we did we might discover that the quality of decision making, the ability and responsibility to pick winners and losers would take precedence over the need to trump on polling day. 
As for insults and threats of violence, you reap what you sow.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

35 years after

I graduated from Archbishop O'Leary High School in 1978. Over the years I have stayed in touch with a few, but not many of the 440 odd people who graduated in the same year. In October we are having a hall party to celebrate our 35th reunion.
Our class is in no way unique from those who went before or came after, we have a collection of lawyers, plumbers, consultants and in my case a one term MLA. It wasn't being an MLA that garnered any one's attention, we had long before had semi monthly reunions at a local pub and had, as a group, taken up the cause of helping one of our own finance the Zamboni treatment.
It's a lot of fun to sit and chat with your friends and acquaintances from that long ago, in a school of 1,500 kids, most of us knew about 100 and were friends with maybe 25, more if you were a jock or a cheer leader, but most of the time, it's meeting strangers you have not seen for 35 years and you are only meeting now because they have not met you for 35 years either.
We all changed, a little greyer, fatter, more glasses, grand kids and marriages, but then 35 years is a long time and while nostalgia is one thing, a common bond of, for lack of a better word, safety, prevails.
North Edmonton did not produce a lot of monied families, most of us were raised poor, working class but taught to fend for ourselves and never realized that we were doing without.  By and large people continue to live the lives of their parents, maybe with a little more square footage and bathrooms but ultimately the same kind of jobs, dreams and more importantly, expectations.
We were the sons and daughters of Firemen, Bus Drivers, Grocers, Factory workers and our parents sent us to Catholic school because we were raised the best way they knew how.  As I drive to my house in Kensington, I drive by Angie's old place, Pauline's old place and Lang's grocery store. The Lang family still own the store, Pauline's home and family business P&H foods is gone and Angie's family long ago moved away. And I don't care because I will always call the white house Angie's, the building on 127 ave. Pauline's and while it's not called Len's Wellington Tom Boy anymore, Shop Easy foods on 132 ave. and 132 street is still open for business.
None of this mattered to me, really, until I ran for office in 2008 and realized that this really was my home and quite often I met the parents of the kids I went to school with. This was troubling at times for in addition to not being the best student, I also tended to get into my fair share of trouble.
What it really did was make me realize how important those years were to my development and what a phenomenal impact my peers had on making me who I am. I've written about the Spartan Class of 78 before and I probably will again, right after October 7th when I get to see everyone at the 35th reunion.
If you are a 78 Spartan, get off your ass and come out to the party.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The only thing wrong with your sewer pipes is the shite Epcor is feeding you about buying insurance

I received  a letter from EPCOR addressed to "Homeowner"  outlining why I needed to buy insurance for my sewer line from an outfit called HOMESERVE that for some reason knows I do not have insurance on my sewer line at my home address. Now had they used my name I would have immediately filed a formal complaint with their privacy officer as I have never given EPCOR consent to share my information with anyone, so to get around this they use the phrase "Homeowner" on an EPCOR envelope.

I will not buy, and I do NOT recommend you do either, buy insurance for your sewer line from EPCOR or their cozy affiliate HOMESERVE. It's a scam, but as EPCOR is largely responsible for the problem of plugged sewer lines in the first place, it's a clever way out of a sticky situation, let me explain:

EPCOR, is, of course and in reality, Edmonton Power and was so named until, in a attempt to deflect public scrutiny of the state of our infrastructure, it was reorganized as a private corporation who's sole shareholder is the City of Edmonton.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's Edmonton power. Further proof is that 100% of the shares in EPCOR are owned by the City of Edmonton, yet another clever dodge of accountability by your existing council and administration.
Now given the rather horrific cost of replacing the "public sewer system EPCOR has opted to use as system called Insitu lining, where a thin and flexible vinyl liner is inserted in the crappy old pipe and inflated to cost the inside, then once the liner dries technology is used to cut opening at each residential sewer pipe input point. This hole, which is never inspected or cut with 100% accuracy creates a slight obstruction where your home sewer line joins the public main. Because the natural direction of flow is away from your house toward the sewer main, any obstruction, particularly if you have one of those eco friendly low flow toilets will cause the solids that are normally suspended in the flush water hang up on the cut  and settle out   you will have a plugged sewer line, on your property, that you have to fix at your own expense.
The engineers at EPCOR and the contractors who install the pipe liners know all about this, but since you dear citizen prefer your poo to just vanish never to be thought of again, they are counting on consumer ignorance to never make the link between an increase in plugged residential sewers and the use of insitu pipe liners.
Besides, you do really want to think about where your turds go, or the technology involved.
Now there are a couple of things you can do about it, first, is flush twice for all solids, avoid all paper products and dump your grease in the garbage. I would also suggest you throw away your garburator, but you wont.  Ultimately though, you could switch to a no meat-high fiber diet to accomplish all of the above while maintaining a healthy colon.
EPCOR knows, however that you are not going to do this, so instead of you managing your sewer pipe, they simply sell you insurance for $15.99 a month. 
Now the guys who unplug toilets and auger sewer lines can pretty well charge whatever they want, rule one of their  business being "don't lick your fingers", so insurance might be a good idea if you have no money or interest in any of this. Very high ICK factor, but if you are reasonably conscientious, you can keep your sewers happily alive without the help of the costly insurance from HOMESERVE.
Now HOMESERVE is not really an insurance company, I can find no record of them being registered as such in Alberta and while I suspect there is some linkage between the executive of HOMESERVE and  EPCOR, I will wait until I have proof before I suggest  a sweetheart deal amongst old business friends. I would, of course be remiss in making any such suggestion without proof, so I wont..
None the less, if you call your own insurance company, they will sell you exactly the same thing for about a third of what EPCOR is charging through HOMESERVE, even though they are really convenient and will just add the insurance to the water bill for you.
At that point there is no longer a sticky PIPA issue with EPCOR giving your information to HOMESERVE.
As a consumer you'd be wise to learn a little bit about sewer lines, sewer pipes need maintenance, will fail for a variety of reasons that aren't EPCORS fault and generally you have to get a pro in to fix it. I don't recommend you rent a big sewer auger at the lumberyard as you can do more damage than you fix if you don't know what you are doing. but fortunately most sewer repair companies are reliable and, while costly, are problem free.
As for EPCOR: their violation of the spirit of the Personal Information Protection Act is undoubtedly the work of a clever legal department that will make the sweetheart deal with HOMESERVE look like a legitimate business transaction.  I am loath to suggest otherwise.
Bottom line, you don't need to buy insurance from them, do your homework it will save you money hand over fist and since you will never be able to prove the problem with insitu pipe liners, you might want to get a quote from a real insurance company, if you bother to do it at all.
My sewer line was replaced about 15 years ago, once I got rid of my water sucking birch trees from my yard I have had a sewer back up once and my house is 45 years old.
Buying insurance from EPCOR is about as smart as buying paint and upholstery protection for a new car. 
Caveat emptor, in this case seriously caveat!