Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: November 2013

More thoughts on the broken system…

So, the byelection was held on Monday night and in Brandon-Souris Larry Maguire of the Conservative Party of Canada won by 391 votes over Rolf Dinsdale of the Liberal Party.

Congratulations Mr. Maguire.

First things first, Forum Research’s polling in the riding was horribly inaccurate. The closest poll in fact was the straw poll done on Friday on 880 CKLQ radio’s Feedback call-in show. Had the polls been more accurate, there is a possibility that people who vote strategically may have changed their votes from what they actually voted. That is the strength of polls, they let people form a strategy in a first past the post system. It is also the downfall of polls, they let people form a strategy in a first past the post system. The question is, does a horribly inaccurate poll actually affect the outcome? I don’t know, but it seems a good question.

There have been various articles in the media about the results nationwide and how they show a Liberal increase and a Conservative decrease in support, however, one article in the Winnipeg Free Press by Deveryn Ross shows how the Liberal Party may have defeated itself in Brandon-Souris. Interesting read.


So, now that we have actual numbers, I’m going to go back to see how a preferential ballot may have affected the outcome of the race in Brandon-Souris. It has been suggested to me that a preferential ballot would unfairly benefit the Liberals because they are the second choice of many people. In Brandon-Souris that is probably true. Firstly, is that necessarily unfair? Secondly, is that necessarily the case? There are some ridings where the Liberals are a distant fourth; like Brandon-Souris in 2011.

Now to be honest, a preferential ballot in 2013 would have probably favoured the Liberals in Brandon-Souris. As a current Liberal supporter it could be argued that my advocating of a preferential ballot would show personal bias. However, I have been an advocate of the preferential ballot since before 2003 when I was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, one of the two precursors to the current Conservatives. My desire to see a preferential ballot has been steady for over a decade.

So, I’m going to approach this with various thresholds in mind. The standard way that a preferential ballot would work is the first to get 50% + 1 votes in a particular round would be considered the winner. Now, 50% +1 at first glance seems reasonable, because it is looked at as the most democratic, a majority. It could be argued however that a majority of voters isn’t necessarily what is needed, just something that would be considered a “good showing”. It could be argued that Mr. Maguire’s 44.1% of the vote should be enough to win, and I actually may agree with that. So, we’ll look at three levels 40%, 45%, and 50%.

So, round 1 with a preferential ballot. At 40% threshold, since both Dinsdale and Maguire are over 40%, Maguire wins. At 45% no one has reached the threshold, so you go to round 2, as at 50% threshold.

In round 2 we are going to assume that it is reasonable that all of Godon’s supporters would pick Maguire as their second choice. In round 2 that means that Maguire would be at 45.1% of the vote. At 45% Maguire wins, at 50% we go to round three.

In round three we assume that 25% of the Green vote goes to Dinsdale, and that 75% goes to the NDP. We would now have Liberals at 12152, Conservative at 12476, NDP at 3053. That is 43.9%, 45.1%, and 11% respectively. At a 50% threshold we still have no winner. So we now go to round 4.

Round 4. We’ll throw the Conservatives a bone here. For some reason, there are 150 Greens that select Conservative as their third choice, and 200 NDP pick Conservative as their second choice. Assuming the rest of the votes have the Liberals as their next choice, we end up with Conservative at 12826 votes, and the Liberals at 14855 votes.

Dinsdale wins with 53.66% in round four.

Now there are a few assumptions made in these scenarios. Turnout at the polls is exactly the same, and that everyone numbers the candidates in order of preference. An “x” beside one candidate would still count until that candidate failed to make a round. It is an interesting exercise though.

I personally do not know what the threshold should be with a preferential ballot, but I do know that the possibility, however small, of a candidate winning with no more than 21% of the vote in a 5 person race is unacceptable. We need to change something.

To me, based on percentage of the vote, Mr. Maguire’s win in Brandon-Souris is entirely reasonable; so I would be comfortable with a 40% or 45% threshold in a 5 person race.

However, first past the post in it’s present form is still broken.

Tomorrow I vote in a broken system

First Past the Post sucks. Sure, that statement may not be too eloquent, but it does sum up the current situation nicely.

In Canada, First Past the Post  refers to a system where the person with the top number of votes in a field of candidates wins a simple plurality. Simply put, in a five candidate race, if four people have 100 votes each, and the fifth has 101 votes, the candidate with 101 votes wins the election, despite statistically having no significant lead at all, and having had been outvoted 400 to 101.

It’s a bad system, we need to change it.

Now people have differing ideas as to what can be done to fix this glaring problem with our system. There is constantly floated the idea of proportional representation (PR), where the percentage of the votes given to each party help determine the make up of a legislative house. While I see the desirability of such a system, the Greens would have more than 1 MP for example, I cannot get past the fact that there would be people in that house that could never win an election on their own, but because they were on a party list somewhere. Unless carefully done, the thing opens itself up to cronyism. Since cronyism is currently part of how our senate is appointed, by the Prime Minister, maybe PR could be part of senate reform.

As for the House of Commons, which is what we are voting for tomorrow in Brandon-Souris, Provencher, Bourassa, and Toronto Centre, my feeling is that we need to go to a preferential ballot system. Basically, move the post. Nobody wins the election until someone gets 50% of the votes plus 1 more vote. My favourite is an instant-runoff voting system.

Basically an instant-runoff ballot would look the same as an existing ballot, but instead of putting an “X” by your choice, you number them in order of preference (see Wikipedia* picture to the left). Basically you get to vote your conscience, even if your preferred candidate has no chance of actually winning, yet you also get a strategic vote, because your second, and third (4th, 5th, etc) are also recorded.

So, let’s look at how this affects the real world. Here in Brandon-Souris we have a five person race happening; Larry Maguire for the Conservatives, Rolf Dinsdale for the Liberals, Frank Godon for Libertarian, Cory Szczepanski for the NDP, and David Neufeld for the Green Party.

Now, as of today it looks like Dinsdale has 50% of the vote. If that is true and he was the first choice of 50% + 1 voters, then he would be the winner, election over. But let’s say for a moment that the race is 46% Maguire, 44% for Dinsdale, 7% Szczepanski , 2% Neufeld, and 1% Godon. In our current system, Maguire wins. Hey, 46% is a good number and we routinely elect entire governments on less than 40% of the vote and then comically call it a landslide victory. Now, for ease of numbers, lets say that all of Godon’s voters pick Maguire as their second choice. Another round is counted, and now we have 47% for Maguire, with the other three staying the same.

Third round. Neufelds voters all picked Szczepanski as their second choice. Now we have Maguire 47%, Dinsdale 44%, Szczepanski 9%. Maguire still has not broken the barrier of 50% +1. Fourth round. Again, for easy numbers, all of Neufeld’s voters picked Dinsdale as their third choice, and all of Szczepanski’s voters picked Dinsdale as their second choice. In this final round the results become Dinsdale 53%, Maguire 47%.

Dinsdale wins.

Now, some will argue that it is unfair to Maguire because he originally had more votes than Dinsdale. Yes, that is a valid point. But it is also a valid point that with the choice of only Maguire and Dinsdale, more people prefer Dinsdale. What it in essence does is it forces candidates to appeal to more than their base to win an election. Sure, your base can get you a good part of the way their, but you need to broaden your appeal to actually get elected.

The other advantage of this system is that I think it is the easiest to implement. It requires the least change to our electoral system, and it has the least probability of needing a constitutional amendment to enact it.

This present system has produced huge “landslides” for the (Progressive) Conservatives and the Liberals while actually getting less than half of the population actually voting for them. It needs to end.

*graphic from

Pot, lies, and audiotape…

Some things just drive you crazy. The present incarnation of the Conservative party are one of those things.

First let’s listen to the attack ad audio that’s running on local radio stations…

Larry Maguire attack ad on Justin Trudeau

Holy crap, the world is going to end if we legalize marijuana for adults to use! That is the message of this ad. Legalize marijuana and the world will fall over and all of our kids will be getting high behind the school.

However, what Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are suggesting is that we legalize the use of marijuana for adults.

I’m not sure what part of Trudeau’s message that the Conservatives do not understand. Making something legal for adults does not mean that we want to make it easier for kids to get. I’m not a big proponent of using pot or any other drug. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and unlike most adults that I know I have never tried pot. Not even once. Never.

But here’s the thing, as an adult, that is my choice. I have chosen not to use them.

However, I take great umbrage at someone telling me that I can’t. I’m not sure who the hell Peter MacKay thinks he is, but he has no damn right to tell me, a 40 year old person with my own thoughts and convictions, what the hell I can put in my own damn body. Sorry if I sound emotional, but that kind of self aggrandizing behaviour that makes him think that he gets to decide what is best for me makes me sick. I am a grown man and I will make my own decisions.

And that is the rub. This is about adults, not kids. Not once have Justin Trudeau and the Liberals suggested that it should be easier for children and teenagers to get marijuana. In fact, that is the point of this proposed law. Control marijuana the same way you control alcohol and tobacco; licensed dealers who have to follow strict rules or lose their license.

Right now if I want to buy a pack of smokes, I need to go to a store to get them. I need to show ID and if I don’t they will not sell them to me. If I want some pot, I could call around to a few friends and I’m sure one of them would know a guy who know a guy who would sell me the weed, no ID check.

Anecdotally, kids will tell you that it is much easier for them to get their hands on a joint than on a beer.

And there is the thing. If the Conservatives think that government regulation over the legal sale of drugs and alcohol does not work, then perhaps Conservatives should make alcohol and tobacco illegal.

You know, for the kids…

Where the Great Plains Begin

It is probably obvious that the name of this blog is in some way related to the Tragically Hip song “At The Hundredth Meridian”, but it is also a reference to where Brandon, Manitoba lies on the map.


So, why did I hone in on this? It actually goes back a few years. I was sitting in the car waiting for my wife to finish an errand that she was doing, when a story came on the radio about branding. Now, this is just after the horrific train wreck called Spirited Energy was introduced as a new branding for Manitoba. It did not go over well.

So, I’m sitting in the car and I’m thinking of the horrible job that was done “branding” Manitoba by an outside consulting firm, and I’m wondering if Manitobans could have done better. So I started brainstorming and it occurred to me that songs are usually a fertile place to look for such a brand. (To this day, if you play Stevie Wonder’s “A Place in the Sun” to a Westman resident over 40, they will think of Minnedosa).

So, I start thinking of Canadian and Manitoba artists and possible geographic references. The Guess Who come to mind, but “Running Back to Saskatoon” is hardly a song for Manitoba. Then I think of “At the Hundredth Meridian” by the Hip. Now, at first I’m thinking about Manitoba, but it soon occurs to me that this should be more about Brandon.

Why? Well, simply put, the 100th meridian west actually runs through Brandon. It barely hits the city, it’s right on the edge over on the west side, but it does run through it.


The above picture from Google Earth is approximately where the 100th meridian passes through the city. It crosses Victoria Avenue just beside the Governor’s Gate Apartments.

So, when the city was talking years ago about iconic signage, It occurred to me that maybe Brandon should create new signs similar to some larger centres. Regina (example below) is a good example. Do a permanent sign at each entrance that says:

Where the Great Plains Begin

To me it seems like a much better slogan than “You belong in Brandon”; “Where the Great Plains Begin” is particular to Brandon.

reginaThe whole point is to promote something unique about your city. Seriously, “You belong in Brandon” could be changed to “You belong in Treherne”, or “You Belong in Boise”. There is nothing distinct there.

I have floated the slogan before, and I had some really good responses from a few people. The main detractors seemed to fixate on the point that there are areas of prairie east of Brandon. They are kind of missing the point. A great slogan doesn’t have to be completely true to be effective. We’ve all heard “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”; it’s not technically true, but it makes a great slogan. Besides, there is a lot of truth in saying that the Great Plains begin in Brandon. There are areas of prairie to the east, but it is west of the city that the prairie landscape seems to continue uninterrupted; east the prairie gets broken up by areas such as the Carberry Sandhills. Brandon is the first major settlement firmly situated on the prairie. Other arguments have said that the Great Plains refers to the American plains, a semantic argument at most, and not completely true. Some just don’t like the Tragically Hip.

Anyway, I’ve floated the idea in the past, and unfortunately it just didn’t manage to catch on. At the very least I would like to see a sign on Victoria Avenue telling people that they are passing over “The 100th meridian… where the Great Plains Begin”. Then we can at least lay claim to it for the future.

If Cozad, Nebraska (Pop 4000) can do it, I would think we can.

Is the Daly Overpass the Problem?

The week after my last post on the 8th Street Bridge, there was a new provincial budget presented in Winnipeg by the governing NDP. One of the points, and few mentions of Brandon, was the “redevelopment” of the Daly Overpass. A few days later, local columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press Deveryn Ross tweeted the following:

Shortly followed up by:

Yes, I have to agree on both points. I’ve already made my case for not replacing the 8th Street Bridge with a new traffic bridge, but I also have some reservations about “redeveloping” the Daly Overpass.

For those not immediately aware, the Daly Overpass is that bridge over the train tracks on 18th Street at Pacific Avenue. It is two lanes headed south, but it reduces to one lane over the bridge headed north. During high use times, the congestion exists as far back as Victoria Avenue and is quickly becoming a sore spot in the city.

Now many people have suggested that the overpass needs to be expanded to 4 lanes, which would rectify the situation for a number of years. However, it is my contention that there are a few facts being ignored in this approach. The first is the actual bridge itself. I do remember the bridge being expanded once already in the very early 1990s. It was made wider and the sidewalk was widened and separated from the roadway by Jersey barriers. For this reason it seems to me that the bridge could not be “expanded” again, because the current bridge supports probably could not support the load. The only option would be to twin the bridge, moving one existing lane and a new lane onto a new bridge. I assume the “duck plant” building would be razed for this new bridge.

I think that Deveryn Ross’ suggestion of less expensive ways may hold some water. If not less expensive, at least something that allows for future growth and actually pays attention to what is the underlying problem of why there is so much traffic on 18th Street.

If you look at a map of Brandon, it becomes evident that the three main ways over the CP tracks all are within a one mile stretch. You can get over the tracks at 26th Street, but it is a level crossing so most people make it their last choice; plus you have to slow down and turn at McDonald Ave which is not built as a main arterial street. So you have 1st, 8th, and 18th Streets which all have a bridge over the tracks; no stopping for a train. After 18th you have 26th which has the aforementioned problems, and then you have…


Yes, the next spot that you can get over the tracks (well, under) is Kemnay, almost 6 miles west of the city.

And that is your problem. Everyone from about 12th Street and west wants to go over the tracks at 18th street, converging on a single lane at the Daly Overpass. No wonder the thing gets backed up.

My solution, and I’ve been saying this for years now on other venues, is that we have to build a faster route west of 18th Street for people to get to the north end of the city. At the very least we have to make it faster. There seem to be two possibilities.

First option, extend 26th Street to curve over to Hilton Ave near the water treatment plant.

26th street

Now, this doesn’t immediately alleviate the problem with the level crossing at the CP main line on 26th Street, but it does speed up the trip from 26th to 18th enough that more people would most likely use the route. If we ever got an underpass or overpass at the tracks it would be a much more effective way to move traffic to the west of the city than over the Daly Overpass.

Second option, extend 34th street over the tracks and past the parking lot at the Wheat City Golf Course, then over the river to Grand Valley Road.

34th street

A couple of buildings would be razed, but it would work and you would have an express route from the west end to the Corral Centre shopping area. I’ve heard it said that there isn’t a viable route there, but I think there is. The only concern would be the fact of having to build the roadway up to a height and strength to withstand the flooding that we know happens to the area. It would probably be more expensive than a Daly Overpass “redevelopment”, but in the long run would most likely be a more effective transportation network.

It seems to me that we have trouble identifying what the real issue with traffic is in our small city, and therefore do not look for the right solutions. It just does not make sense to “fix” a road that has too much traffic on it rather than finding a way to get the extra traffic off of it.

We need to work the root of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.

*images courtesy of Google Earth.

A bridge unneeded…

There seems to be this feeling that just because you’ve always had something a certain way, that it should stay that way. At least that seems to be the attitude when it comes to the Eighth Street bridge in Brandon.

A couple of years ago Dillon Consulting was tasked with the job of coming up with plans for the aging structure. It is obvious to anybody looking at the structure that the bridge is nearing the end of its useful life, at least as a traffic bridge.

So, they came up with 4 options. All of them replaced the bridge in some fashion with another traffic bridge. According to a story in the Brandon Sun last week, the costs for these options range from $20 million to $34 million. Let me write that long hand:


This is where the study falls down. Where is option E? Build an “active transportation” link, for walking and cycling, and forget about building a new traffic bridge. It seems to me that in 2013 that the “no bridge” option is perhaps the best.

The problem lies in the fact that some people think that they are having something taken away from them. I recall some discussion on eBrandon about option E and there was definitely some resistance to not having a traffic link to downtown. However, if you really start to think about it, there is not really a good reason to have a traffic bridge between downtown and “The Flats”.

What are the reasons to have a traffic bridge between the two areas?

The first reason seems to be that the 18th Street Bridge is seen as too far away to be an effective link for the area. Some simple math shows this to be untrue. At 50km/h it should take about 45 seconds to get to 18th, about 30 to get over the bridge, and another 45 to get back to the other side of the 8th street bridge. At the speed limit it should take less than three minutes to make the trip, probably closer to two.

The second argument I’ve heard is about ambulance times to the hospital. My first point partly addresses this, and I suspect that at ambulance speeds that the extra time would be negligible. Combine that with the fact that the new fire hall is essentially IN the same neighbourhood and it could be argued that “the flats” have some of the fastest response times from the time of the call to the front door of the emergency department at the hospital. Someone calling from the west end would certainly have longer wait times both ways.

Yes, I can see how an active transportation link to the flats would be considered needed. On foot or bicycle, the distance is too far to go around, but in a car it is not enough of a hindrance to spend $20 million to $34 million.

In my opinion, the eighth street bridge cuts the neighbourhood in half that it is supposed to serve. The whole area looks like a nice place except for that area directly adjacent to the bridge. I personally feel that if the bridge was gone and had only a pedestrian bridge in its place, it would positively affect the neighbourhood. I suspect that most of the traffic is a shortcut to the Corral Centre and that 8th Street North would be safer without it.

Money saved could be used to start improving other routes west of Eighteenth Street where the traffic bottleneck really originates, or improving pedestrian safety in other areas. (Try walking down Currie Boulevard almost any day of the year, and you will not be able to comprehend the lack of a sidewalk for the people of Brentwood to get to the rest of the city. But that is another topic for another post.)

There is no sensible, economically sound reason to replace the Eighth Street bridge with another traffic bridge. 


Checked the mail…

Found this in my mail today…


Any guess which party it is from? Of course, it is the Conservatives. Not sure how they figure this will work.

I see two problems with this.

1) They possibly just sent mail to a bunch of people who like to smoke weed but that do not pay any attention to the news, that there is a political party that wants to make it legal. Will they vote? Perhaps not, but why take the chance.

2) The second statement is complete hokum. Ask any teenager what is easier for them to get; alcohol, tobacco, or pot; and the answer seems to be pot. Alcohol and tobacco are legal but controlled substances. There is no underground trade in alcohol or tobacco because most of the people who want it can buy it legally from a store. Seems to me that marijuana should be treated the same way. I truly believe that making marijuana legal for adult consumption will actually make it harder for kids to get, not easier.

Frankly, the Conservatives lose me more each day with their tenuous grasp on reality. Their logic is flawed. To me, it is an ad about why I should vote Liberal.