Rhino's Ramblings: Eby is Back


Robert Thomas

In what some are calling a sleeper, the by-election is over and Heather Eby, with 41 percent of ballots cast, now finds herself back on Council.

Eby, to her credit, campaigned hard in her return to Council, easily surviving the forces of the ABE or “Anybody But Eby” movement which surrounded her. And with her return to Council the seventh vote is back, and in more than a few Council watchers minds, the return of 4 – 3 votes.

In many ways Council (and history) is preparing to repeat itself. Or is it? How will she vote and who will she align with are two big questions which will soon be answered.

Already, on coffee row there is a chorus of naysayers preaching doom and gloom for the City and saying we're about to see the “same old, same old”. The City of Moose Jaw is doomed to some great plague about to descend upon it similar to something right out of the Book of Exodus but only something much more Moose Javian, like a Plague of Four Way stops and detours throughout the downtown during a Royal visit.

But is this necessarily true? Despite what many detractors might believe things are very much different on the Council front.

We live in an age of financial downturn in the worldwide commodities market. The Province has changed tack in its course and financial austerity continues. The once large amounts of money available are seemingly depleted and/or gone; things which were available during Eby's two year absence.

The City has charted itself a much different course in terms of budgets and, despite what is being said, is being prepared for potential reductions in certain areas. Budgeting is now priority-based or on a system where you start with an assigned pot of funds and from there decide on how to allocate your financial resources.

Every item on the budget is prioritized and is allocated funding based upon on that basis. Some budget items with higher priority rankings might receive more funding than in the past, others less and finally others may receive no funding at all. I’m curious to see where infrastructure figures into the entire equation and if infrastructure is ranked on the basis of core infrastructure (roads, sewer and water) taking priority or is it just all infrastructure in general.

With that said, there were other issues overshadowing the entire election, which also helped mute the voices of the candidates.

There is a news cycle out there and the by-election didn’t seem able to catch it’s attention. Those issues are still there and they aren’t dying down within that core group.

For many seniors, the loss of the Moose Jaw Times Herald has left them out of the information loop.

News and advertising which would have caught their eye about the by-election just hasn’t been available. The Dean of Council coverage, Ron Walter, trusted by massive amounts of seniors and others in the community, keyed in on these side issues during the by-election and with two columns in my opinion devastated much of the hope the petition has of succeeding.

The columns have pointed to how sanctions were imposed by potentially political enemies and ulterior motives behind the petition. It has more than a few people in the community starting to wonder if some associated with it will, in the next 24 to 26 months, announce their own political ambitions. Is it all a political game to garner political support? If there is any truth to it all I have to say is shame on you for doing so.

Despite not feeling well with kidney related health problems I cannot see Ron changing course in his columns as we head towards what is best described as Black Thursday. And I will just leave that issue at that.

Also expect a big announcement this week when it comes to this City once again hosting the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Curling Championship. If it comes about it’s something which might catch the new Councillors wings as she was on the previous committee the first time they were here. It’s a great case which should prove you have to spend money to make money.

One issue out there which did garner the attention of residents was crime and community safety.

It’s a major issue which I can tell you is coming to the forefront. But the problems which helped create it and the crime itself has been in the city for awhile, it’s just where its appearing now that’s grabbing the attention.

If you carefully watched Heather Eby's Facebook feed of the debate she was asked a question about addiction at the hastily called community election forum. That question came from an Eby supporter who just happens to be the local director of mental health and addiction services. She is also the individual who videoed the forum.

Now here is a little secret I’m going to tell you about Meth, the driving force behind a lot of the headline grabbing crime here; it doesn’t discriminate. Wealth doesn’t dictate immunity to it. Naming people in poor neighbourhoods “skids” and those in more affluent areas “victims” isn’t going to make it go away. It’s a long drawn out and tough battle.

I’m not an expert on Meth. my experiences are anecdotal and stem from when I worked in Alberta’s Meth central the Breton, Red Deer to Edmonton triangle. Once meth creeps into the community it's seemingly impossible to chase it out. If you carefully look at Meth’s ascendance across the Prairie provinces right now there is seemingly one word always attached to it: crisis.

Perhaps it’s time we apply that word here in this community.

But crime is not the entire issue which must be dealt with. We still have the aforementioned Downtown Facility and Field House (DFFH) to deal with.

What sort of governance model is the facility going to have is yet to be decided. We have had a governance board model followed by a managerial board model and presently a direct City Administration-run model.

Despite what some might say and believe, the managerial board model of Councillors Crystal Froese, Scott McMann and Brian Swanson has been the most closely accountable to Council. In fact, the Interim Board was regularly reporting back to Council in behind-closed-doors updates.

“The DFFH Board meets every second Wednesday morning at 9:00 and the meetings usually last till noon or a bit after. DFFH members have been providing updates to the other members of Council at Executive Committee (in camera) or at Planning Sessions on a regular basis,” Coun Swanson wrote in an August 2017 interview.

In her coffee chat, as part of MJ Independent’s by-election coverage, Eby herself said the Board structure was different from her ill-fated tenure and this time around Council was running the DFFH.

It all leaves me wondering if there is more to be told about the DFFH? Are the speculation and rumours throughout the community true that Coun Swanson has another side to tell, which will set this entire affair on its head? I’m waiting to find out.

Council and Executive are both set to be broadcast live, which speaks well of transparency but personally I still see problems in this area. People need to remember that during this Council‘s first budget deliberations (not televised but open to the Public) Mayor Frasier Tolmie proposed reducing the number of Council meetings in favour of closed-door planning sessions. Councillor Dawn Luhning would later propose the same thing at Council only to have former Councillor Don Mitchell out maneuver her and effectively shut this down.

Since Coun Eby is a political ally of former Mayor Deb Higgins, who was heavily criticized for too much secrecy, I’m curious to see her reaction about what’s happening now when it comes to, statistically speaking, the most secretive Council ever.

Will Coun Eby speak up about it or just go with the flow? Will she play it safe or will she set the tone towards a potential election showdown and challenge Mayor Tolmie for his job tentatively scheduled in two years time?

The next two years could prove to be really exciting at the former post office or today’s city hall.

And finally, as a disclaimer, I personally know Councillor Eby. I have for years. On a personal level I actually like her. Do I agree with her politically? Sometimes yes, sometimes no but on a personal level she’s not a bad person. I was in the Kinsmen Club of Moose Jaw with her husband Eb well over 25 years ago. Also in that group was the late Russ McKnight. As someone from that era told me we had a really great bunch of guys in it back then.