Coffee With Doug Blanc

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Robert Thomas

“I thought about running before but the timing was never right. I was doing some private contract work and could not give it 100 percent attention. You have to give 100 percent attention when you run or are in public office,” said Doug Blanc, a byelection candidate for a spot on City Council.

Blanc who has now been retired for 10 years says the time is right to offer his talents, time and expertise as a member of Moose Jaw City Council. A byelection is being held on October 17 for a city councillor to replace Don Mitchell who resigned for personal reasons. 

Although born in Regina, Blanc came to Moose Jaw when he was six months old and has called Friendly City home ever since.

By far the most publicly known aspect of Blanc’s life is the fact he served as president of the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) for two terms of two years each from 1998-2002. But Blanc has done other things in his life worth noting.

He attended what was then called Saskatchewan Technical Institute (STI) or what is today’s Saskatchewan Polytechnic, where he took a 10 month electrical construction course. He attended Palliser Heights School and Peacock Collegiate on his way to the STI.

After a couple of years he got out of the electrical trade and followed his father's footsteps in road construction and maintenance. Doug's father Joseph had worked for the Department of Highways and then gone out on his own and bought a couple of tandem gravel trucks and contracted all over the province but Moose Jaw still remained home.Doug’s mother Clara worked as a cleaner at the Midtown Hotel as well as the Grant Hall Hotel but she was best known for selling Tupperware for years in the city.

“Although she is gone we still have lots of Tupperware around,” Blanc said.

While at the Department of Highways Blanc would be employed as a surveyor, later moving to a specialty crew on Regina's old Ring Road where he was on a crew who installed and maintained signage. From there he would join a highway preservation crew, which looked after maintenance on already constructed highways.

"I was out on the road all week but back home in Moose Jaw on the weekends,” Blanc said.

While employed with the Department of Highways Blanc became involved with the union.

“I was working on the sign crew and while doing that I became involved in the union first a shop steward than a chief steward.”

From there he was elected as vice president of the SGEU for nearly a decade until being elected as it’s president. After being president he returned to the field.

“Following being president I returned to government for Highways for 11 months and was a supervisor in Morse but Moose Jaw was always home.”

He would retire from Highways and go on to be a Disability Claims Advocate with the SGEU. In that position he assisted workers who had been denied disability, workers compensation or CPP Disability Benefits.

Blanc admits he “always presented the facts and didn’t pull any punches” and the people he helped had legitimate needs and he assisted them to get their benefits when they were sick or hurt.

“Quite often with disability it was just to get more medical forms and information.”

From this position he would move to the position of a negotiator and would help in negotiations with many agencies in Moose Jaw with the Province. 

Blanc would also try his hand at farming and purchased a farm in Briercrest. 

“I had five quarters but the economics would force me out and I had to downsize to two quarters.”

Blanc said when first purchased the farm, despite using older machinery in 1981-82 the enterprise paid off financially but high interest rates a couple of years later decimated his farming dreams.

“I downgraded due to high interest rates. When you are facing high interest rates of 20 and 21 percent you know you cannot do it.”

After he quit active farming, the half section of land would be rented out until it was sold two years ago. 

A resident now of 12 years in the west end of the city, just off of Caribou, Blanc said he was opposed to moving the city to curbside collection for personal reasons and how it impacted others, especially seniors. He attended one meeting about it.

“When we moved to where we are now we designed our back yard for garbage can and recycle…we did make it work (curbside collection) but we prefer it in the back,” Blanc said.

At the forum he attended Blanc admitted some of what he heard were a few people against change but the majority in attendance had “very legitimate concerns.”

He said there were many who “physically could not do it and had to leave it in the front yards as they had no place to store it. Blanc mentioned a neighbour who was physically unable to move her can up three stairs in her front yard as an example of someone where curbside would not work.

Blanc admits he has not done a lot of door-knocking but has been attending local coffee shops and other places where people gather, to hear their concerns. 

“I’ve done a little bit of door knocking. The main reason I haven’t done more is my left ankle is fused. After I walk a block I’m in such pain I can’t do it,” he said, adding that to get around this people are free to phone him with their concerns and he is ready to speak with anyone.

The telephone number is 306-630-6780.

His concerns though go well beyond curbside collection but into the “lack of communication and I think a lack of planning.” 

“I question whether they look at that and what’s needed in the future.”

He gave the hypothetical example of the Moose Jaw Public Library and how proper and timely maintenance would pay off in the long run.

“At some point we have a wreck of a building. Let’s keep it up to date. I’m not talking spending lots of money on it. It’s like if you are missing a shingle on your house you get up there and fix it you don’t wait until you have major damage. Let’s keep it up to date and maintained.”

Communications not just with the public and the City but even between City departments is a concern.

Blanc told the story one resident told him of how the City had paved a street only to return a few weeks later to do a scheduled repair and dig up part of the road again. The resident, Blanc claimed, was told by the City crew “we don’t talk to each other, we are two different departments. If that’s true then that’s wrong.” Blanc would like to see moves made for the different City departments to work more collaboratively.

“In my years in government you have to work collectively. If you work independently, you become territorial and that can’t happen it’s not good for the City.” 

Infrastructure is a priority for Blanc, he questions how it’s being done, as residents seemingly are not informed as to what is happening.

“Communication is terrible. Go back over the last year, there was curbside garbage collection, free parking meters for the disabled and veterans. People need to be informed.”

Blanc said rebuilding our infrastructure helps not just in people getting water and better roads but it helps restore pride in the community. It leads to people telling others or people wanting to move to Moose Jaw and that brings more business and investment. It helps spread out the tax base lowering or maintaining taxes for everyone.

When it comes to assigning blame for the present state of infrastructure Blanc does not blame the present Council saying “they inherited a mess. Progress is being made. I think repairs are being done. One thing people do question is how they are being done. They need to be kept informed.”

Asked about a recent initiative to review whether a dedicated City crew or private contractors should do the Cast Iron Water Main replacement work Blanc welcomed the review.

On the issue of contracting out City work in general he said there needs to be a combination approach. 

“We should utilize the staff as much as we can. If it’s a specialized task such as the 1st Avenue bridge we need to contract it out.” 

“A City worker is doing it on a cost recovery basis but a private contractor has to make a profit. You can’t arbitrarily give it to City workers if a private contractor can do it better and more cheaply. You have to keep them in business as well.”

One thing Blanc does support is having a policy favouring local companies and employers as any profits stay locally as well as workers if local spend their money here.

“If a contractor bids $99,000 and a local firm bids $100,000 we should go with the local firm. The winning bud doesn’t necessarily have to be the cheapest you go with the one that’s the fairest for the City.” 

In the area of crime Blanc said it is a concern. 

“It (crime) needs to be addressed. Citizens concerns must be met.”

“I think there is more of it (crime) than there use to be. People are more transient than they use to be. People come from Regina and Saskatoon and are gang affiliated. The police are trying to put a kibosh on it,” he said, adding “it would make people happier with more of a police presence on the road. Quite often they have stop checks out. I think there needs to be more police presence out.”

Despite the feeling of more crime in the city Blanc stressed, though, that Moose Jaw is a safe community. 

He praised the two recent Police Commission meetings at the Library which were open to the public where the Moose Jaw Police Service explained local policing as well as allowed ordinary citizens to ask the police questions.

Blanc said it’s an initiative which could be translated to the Downtown Facility and Field House (DFFH) - commonly known as Mosaic Place and the Yara Centre – to help rebuild confidence through resident engagement. Residents could ask questions or express their concerns and get answers although Blanc admits there are areas where confidentiality had to be maintained. 

He felt building confidence in residents would spread to others outside the community and help restore confidence in others so when shows are brought in people will attend them.

Blanc felt his experience on committees and negotiations on both the union and management side of issues will help him as a councillor.

He spoke about disagreeing with someone in a debate but never allowing it to get personal. One day he might agree to disagree with one individual after a lengthy debate but the next day agree with that same individual on a different issue.

“I don’t hold grudges.”

In the end Blanc hopes he can help build pride in the City, pointing to social media where all too often he claimed people would ask about moving to Moose Jaw and residents would criticize prospective new Moose Javians from doing so.

“I want to see people proud of this City. I would like to see the negativity stop and the City prosper.”

Read: Coffee With Steven White

Read: Coffee With Mike Bachiu

Read: Council Candidates on Transparency at City Hall

Read: By-election Candidates’ Vision for Moose Jaw