Why we still have a ‘first past the post’ system in Canada

During the 2015 election the Liberals ran on a promise to change the electoral system from a first past the post to a proportional representation system.

Did you ever ask yourself why the Liberals abandoned that promise so quickly?  The 2019 election results provide the answer.

I’m certain the Liberals did a lot of result modeling and quickly realized that the proportional representation system did not favour the Liberal Party.

The table below show how the political parties would have fared in the 2019 election under such a system.


Party % of popular vote First past the post Proportional representation
Liberal 33.06 157 112
Conservative 34.4 121 116
Bloc 7.7 32 26
NDP 15.9 24 53
Greens 6.5 3 22


Both the Conservatives and the Bloc would have ‘lost’ a few seats under a proportional representation system but the big losers would have been the Liberals who would have seen their number of seats reduce from 157 to 112, a loss of 45 seats.

The big winners would have been the NDP (gain of 29 seats) and the Greens (gain of 19 seats).

Whether you like the idea of proportional representation or not it would certainly change the political landscape in Canada.

Mayor Sam Katz’s Irresponsible Comment Quoted at WPA Arbitration Hearing

On January 17th 2012 I wrote a post about Mayor Katz’s irresponsible comments to the media.

An  article by Bartley Kives quoted the mayor as saying  “I can guarantee none of us would do that job for what they  get paid”.  This quote was in reference to Winnipeg police officers.

In my original post I suggested that the comment was inappropriate, especially during a contract negotiation year, and that the mayor’s remark would likely be used by the Winnipeg Police  Association to bolster its argument for a hefty pay increase.  I highly doubt the Mayor would make such a comment in relation to an upcoming negotiation that involved his own personal  money as opposed to public money.

On January 31st  2012 I briefly attended the labour arbitration hearing between the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Association.

The day started with Keith Labossiere, the lawyer representing the Winnipeg Police Association, outlining for the panel, the reason why the Association believes its members  should receive an 11.5 % pay increase over two years.   Mr. Labossiere began his presentation by repeating the Mayor’s statement:

I can guarantee none of us would do that job for what they get paid”,  as the lead in for his argument.

Mr. Labossiere then launched into his presentation which gave me a real sense of  deja vu.  Having sat through many arbitrations previously I quickly realized the Association would be relying on the same arguments they have been using at arbitration hearings for the last decade.

I suppose, though, from the Association’s perspective, ‘why would you change your lure as long as the fish keep biting’.  The argument has worked reasonably well in the past.

The arbitration hearings are slated to continue  through  February 3rd 2012,  Millennium Room, Winnipeg Convention Centre and February 6th & 7th 2012,  Ambassador Room, Canad Inns Polo Park.

The hearings run from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. and are open to the public.

Police Staffing Through Election Promises

Election promises at both the civic and provincial level have become the defining vehicle in terms of determining police staffing.

Announcing proposed increases to police funding at election time is not a new thing.  In the mid 1990’s the Filmon government made the first foray into this area by announcing that the Province would provide funding to expand the complement of the Winnipeg Police Service by 24 positions.  This was a purely political decision made at the Provincial level without any prior consultation with the Winnipeg Police Service.  As a matter of fact the Chief of the day was advised on the morning  the announcement was made and asked to attend the announcement to serve as ‘wallpaper’ for the Premier’s announcement.  The Chief of course, not wanting to ‘look a gift horse in the mouth’,  attended and came away with an additional 2 million dollars for the police budget.

Over the years, announcing police funding increases at election time has become the norm.  It has proven to be a sure-fire way to attract votes and win elections.

During the last civic election the Mayor used the same tactic.  Mayor Katz pledged increases to both police and civilian staff and was endorsed by the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA).  Some argued that the WPA  endorsement was contingent on the commitment to increase police and staff positions while others believed the increase in staffing to be contingent on the WPA endorsement.  Others insisted that the two issues were unrelated and the fact that the Mayor announced the staffing increase at the same time as the WPA endorsed the mayor was purely a coincidence.

As the current provincial election campaign gains traction it is interesting to see the bidding war that is developing as the two main contenders attempt to outbid each other (using our money) on the policing and law and order issue.

One of the major problems with politically motivated spending on policing is that additional money (positions) are allocated not by the police service but rather by the politicians to coincide with their current political priorities.

But that’s only partially the politicians fault.  Blame must also be placed with the police executives.

In the absence of a well laid out policing and crime deduction strategy with specific goals and costs attached, politicians jump into the fray and set the agenda.  To a degree they are simply filling a vacuum created by the lack of strategic operational leadership within policing.

As I have said before, what should be happening in terms of policing, crime reduction and police staffing is that politicians should clearly state their goals to police in terms of what they want accomplished, ie a percentage crime reduction across the board or in specific offence categories.

Police executives should devise a plan complete with broad goals, strategies and tactics that would be employed to accomplish the stated goals along with an  outline of specific areas of responsibility within the police service.  Such a plan would be accompanied with a price tag in terms of additional resources that would be required in terms of increase in personnel and other costs.

Once such a plan was developed politicians could decide if that is was they want and whether they want to fund it or not.  If the plan is adopted and funded,  accountability then exists between the police and the elected officials.

Until this happens we will continue to see money spent haphazardly, at election time, based on the political priorities of the day.

Oh What Tangled Webs We Weave….

…when first we practice to  deceive (or  raise the frontage levy)

When not raising property taxes becomes a dogma,  common sense tends to become a rare commodity and politics take over.

If property taxes alone don’t yield enough revenue to pay the bills, but you doggedly stick to the idea of not raising property taxes – something has to give.  What are the options?  The options include raising existing levies (such as the frontage levy), raising or adding  user fees (at libraries,  or swimming pools), or reducing services (arenas).

Picture this:  let’s say the owner of a sports franchise  (for the sake of argument, the Goldeyes) doesn’t want to raise  ticket prices but  still wants to increase revenues.

How can you increase revenue without raising ticket prices?  The answer seems to lie in adding surcharges for the little things that patrons rely on in order to enjoy the experience.   You could charge for vehicle parking.  When patrons walk in the door you raise the price of printed event  programs.  Raise the price of the food and drinks at concessions. Patrons will need to use the washroom, so add a user fee.  You see where this is going.  There are all kinds of things that can be done to raise additional revenue without raising ticket prices.

In other words there are many ways that patrons can be ‘Sammed’.

This is what seems to be happening at city hall.  Councillor Russ Wyatt has brought forward several more examples of how we are being Sammed. According to Wyatt:

In 2007, after much public criticism, the Mayor ended the practice of ‘transfers’ from the water and waste utility of the city into the General Revenue Fund (in other words sewer and water rates were being used to balance the budget).  The Mayor at that time agreed, and likened the practice to the Province raiding Hydro revenues to balance their budget. So he ended the policy.

Now he is attempting to unearth and resurrect the same policy, except he is calling it a ‘dividend’ and not a ‘transfer’.  Don’t be fooled, as it means the same, and confirms that Winnipeger’s are obviously paying too much for their sewer and water rates, now the highest in Canada!

Today this tax/rate grab is equal to $17 million.  The wonders of an 8% dividend policy is that as the water and sewer rates continue to rise (as they are projected to do so), so does the tax/rate grab.

What is even more interesting is that this would never be allowed outside the City of Winnipeg.  Outside the city, municipalities are subject to a little thing called the Public Utilities Board. The PUB would never allow such a rate grab, indeed, they would demand such revenues to be returned to the customer.

At the time of the new Water and Sewer Utility debate, there was great internal discussion of making the utility subject to the PUB.  The issue of loss of control killed this idea.  We now see the benefits to balancing the budget at the expense of w and s rate payers.

Councillor Wyatt then goes on to summarize the impact in terms of the additional revenue flowing into the city and the impact on taxpayers.  He puts it this way:

What does all this mean to the bottom line for tax payers.  The Frontage Levy increase brings in $14 million (and no new money to roads), the dramatic increase in Rec fees hauls in $1 million more (which helps the city ‘market’ out their arenas, now that the Chair of Finance has said Parks and Recreation are NOT a core municipal service–Giving Wpg a monopoly on wisdom compared to every other city in North America), and $17 million more from the Water and Sewer Dividend.

The total is $32 million, or the equivalent of an 8 % Property Tax Increase. Now, I have been the strong advocate over the last few years of a modest tax increase in our budgets.  However eight percent is actually eight times higher than the latest Consumer Price Index for Winnipeg which was projected recently at 0.8%.

I believe these latest developments vindicates my position, as now Winnipeger’s are facing this massive rate/tax/levy increase all at once.  And why?  Last year the Mayor included tens of millions of ‘one time’ money just so he could balance his budget and get past the Civic General Election. Furthermore he continues, without any sense of reason or rational debate, to perpetuate the property tax freeze, now in its 14th year.

I think the Councillor from Transcona has a point!

Increase in the Frontage Levy: Are we being “Sammed”?

Question:  If the government (at any level) passes legislation that requires citizens to pay  money to government  and the people have no choice but to pay it or face consequences, what is that called?

Answer: A tax.

Question:  So when the government passes legislation to increase the amount we already pay, what is that called?

Answer:  A tax increase.

The increase in the frontage levy means we just got “Sammed”.  What is the differenced between being Sammed and being scammed? Just the letter “C”.

His Worship is up to it again. During the election campaign he mocked and ridiculed the idea of increasing taxes.  He suggested that a tax increase of 20-30 dollars per property would cause some Winnipeggers to have to give up their homes.

Did the economic condition for the average Winnipeg homeowner change dramatically in the past 6 months?   It must have because His Worship now thinks that homeowners can absorb a much greater increase and presumably not lose their homes.

Does it really matter what you call it or what the money is intended to be used for?  If it’s money that flows to government, and citizens have to pay, it is a tax by another name.

I’m sure the owner of a small older bungalow on a property with a 50 or 60 foot  frontage, valued at 200 thousand dollars won’t mind that they will be paying more than the owner of a 400 thousand dollar home in a new development built on a narrow lot.  I’m sure they will see that as their civic duty.  Not!

Yes, I believe we just got Sammed – again.

The Effect of Adding 18 Positions to General Patrol

Of the additional 58 police positions promised by the mayor as part of his re-election platform, 18  are destined for General Patrol, commonly referred to within the Service as GP.  GP officers are the uniformed officers assigned to work marked patrol units.  When citizens call 986-6222 or 911,  GP officers are the ones who respond to their calls for service.

Media reports have indicated that the 18 positions being added to GP will produce “another shift” .  The implication of that is rather misleading but up to this point I have not heard either politicians or the Police Service saying anything to correct the misconception or explain the actual effect of adding 18 officers.

Here’s how it works:

The Police Service currently fields a minimum of 27 2-officer patrol units at the start of each shift, 365 days a year.  This means that the day shift starts with 27 units, as does evening shift and midnight shift.  The reason the term ‘minimum’ is used relates directly back to the wording in the Collective Agreement between the Winnipeg Police Service and the City. The minimum number of units the Police Service puts out on the street  forms part of the collective agreement.  The Service can field more than 27 units if personnel are available but it cannot field less.   Starting a shift with less than 27 2-officer units would violate the collective agreement.

So, how many police officers does it take to field one additional 2-officer unit?  The answer is 18.

The 18:1 ratio

Prior to the mid-1990’s the Police Service used a rather loose calculation to determine how many officers were required to field one unit 365 days a year.   The commonly used ratio was in the 14:1 range with an allowance for additional personnel in Divisions 11 (downtown) and 13 (north-end), based on workload.  The problem identified by Uniform Division Commanders operating under the 14:1 ratio was that  they could not field the required number of patrol units unless they drew resources from other areas such as Traffic, Community Constables,   plain clothes units  or called out off duty personnel at overtime rates.

Around 1995 a couple  of newly promoted Superintendents decided to have a look at the ratio being used. This review resulted in a report being submitted to the Executive of the day  recommending that the ratio be changed to 18:1, which it was.

That perhaps makes it easier to understand why the Mayor picked the number 18.

Eighteen additional GP officers translates into 1 additional  patrol unit.

That’s 1 additional unit, not “another shift”.

In a future post I will examine why it takes 18 officers to staff one patrol unit.

Adding 58 Positions Will Reduce Police Overtime


As councillors were falling over themselves to support the addition of 58 positions to the complement of the  Winnipeg Police Service they cited a variety of reasons why they thought it was a good move.

One, that I heard several times and which was even tacitly supported by the Mayor despite the fact he knows or should know it is false, is that the additional positions will reduce overtime.

Intuitively it seems reasonable to assume that as more officers are added, overtime expenditures should go down.

In order to truly appreciate the impact of an additional  58 positions one must consider two things:  under what circumstances is police overtime generated, and how will the 58 new positions be deployed.

Police Overtime 101

Officers assigned to administrative duties, and inside (not on the street) supervisory roles have very limited opportunity to generate overtime.  This is why when you look at the compensation disclosure documents you will see constables drawing higher pay cheques than Patrol Sergeants, Staff Sergeants and in some cases even Inspectors.

Categorization of Overtime

Overtime falls in a numbers of distinct categories:

1. Hold-over of uniform personnel – The Duty Inspector has the authority to extend officers’ shifts to address a backlog of high priority calls waiting in the dispatch queue.

2.  Call Backs – The Collective agreement between the City and the union requires that each of the 3 shifts (day, evening and midnight) start with a minimum deployment of  27  2-officer units.  In situations where a shift is short of staff due either to sick leave, temporary assignment or the like, Sergeants must try to ‘borrow’ officers from another division.  If no other divisions have surplus officers, off duty officers are called out at the overtime rate to work a regular shift.

3.  Report Writing –  In some situations arrests are made close to the end of an officer’s shift.  In circumstances  where either due to necessity or policy, the report must be completed prior to the officer retiring from duty.

4.  Ongoing Investigations –  There are some instances where, due to the nature of the investigation (i.e. homicides), handing off the investigation to other officers at the end of the shift is not feasible.  Additional officers may be assigned to work with by the original officers who are kept on at overtime rates to ensure the continuity of the investigation.

5.  Operational Projects –  Projects where a particular group or a particular activity is being targeted are “gas guzzlers” in terms of overtime consumption.  Officers assigned to projects need to work flexible hours in keeping with the hours being kept by the target(s).  Many projects require 24 hours surveillance for extended periods of time. Mobile surveillance of a single target on a 24 hours a day basis can require up to 14 officers depending on how surveillance conscious the target is.

6.  Court – A substantial percentage of the police overtime budget is consumed by officers attending court on their days off or upon conclusion of their shift.    Despite efforts such as the Court Overtime Reduction Project, court attendance still eats up vast amounts of overtime dollars.


Of the 58 new positions being created, only the 18 being assigned to general patrol will have any impact on reducing overtime.  They may produce minimal savings in relation to reducing hold-overs and call-backs.   Such savings, however, may well be eaten up by additional overtime related to report writing, ongoing investigations and court attendance generated by these same officers.

Twenty positions are destined for an expansion of the Gang Unit.   Specialty units such as Gang Units are normally heavily involved in project work.  These twenty positions will generate substantial additional overtime.

The 20 positions destined for foot patrol, unless they become a pool of officers that can be drawn on by uniform patrol divisions to fill in for shortages (in which case they would totally lose their effectiveness), will generate rather than eliminate overtime.

The Bottom Line

If the Mayor and councillors were  led to believe that the addition of these 58 positions would save overtime dollars, they either failed to ask the right questions or they were misled.

What Do 58 Additional Police Officers Cost

During the heat of Winnipeg’s 2010 Civic Election campaign, Sam Katz sprung a headline- grabbing election promise to add 58 more police officers to the ranks of the Winnipeg Police Service.

Recently, when asked about the cost of the additional officers, the Mayor indicated he did not know the cost associated to the hiring of 58 additional officers.  Does anyone really believe that?  Would the Mayor make an election promise without costing it?  Well, I suppose it’s possible – after all, it’s not his money that’s at stake.

According to the Mayor the WPS will hire an additional 32 officers in 2011 and a further 26 officers in 2012.

For the benefit of the Mayor, and members of the public who have an interest in how the Mayor is spending our tax dollars, I did a quick ‘back of the napkin’ calculation and came up with the following estimate.

The additional expenditure in 2011 will be just over 750,000 dollars for the first 32 officers.  In 2012 when the remaining 26 positions are filled the cost will jump to 2.8* million. Five years from now when these officers achieve the 100% pay rate for constables the bill for these 58 positions will total 5.2 million.  And that figure of 5.2 million comes with a proviso:  the numbers quoted here are based on the current pay schedule.  If, for example, salaries were to increase, say, 3% per annum for the next 5 years, that number would jump from 5.2 million to 5.8 million.

Now Your Worship, we all know what your election promise will cost us.

*calculations are based on a starting salary of $43,000.00, plus 15% for benefits, and a onetime cost of $2000.00 (per position) to equip new recruits.  Figures quoted do not include the cost of additional vehicles, fuel or other additional costs that will be incurred by the Service as its complement expands.

Foot Patrols Part III – The Pre-Community Policing Era

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Winnipeg was at the very cutting edge of what later came to be known as Community Policing.  It was dubbed Operation Affirmative Action  (OAA).

OAA incorporated many of the principles and values first proposed by Sir Robert Peel when the London Metropolitan Police Force was formed in 1829.  OAA was an approach to policing that recognized the importance of forming partnerships between the police and the community at the local level.  Hence it was structured on a geographical basis.  It was an early  form of Zone Policing that was later popularized by many Canadian and American cities under the banner of ‘Community Policing’.

The main tenets of OAA were:

  • permanent long-term assignment of  patrol unit and beat personnel to specific geographical areas;
  • the use of problem solving as opposed to a strictly legal approach to dealing with issues at the community level;
  • being proactive in terms of developing a working partnership with residents and business people on the an officer’s assigned beat and patrol unit area as well as addressing local community issues in their early stages before they developed into full-blown community problems.

The concept was a sound one but ahead of its time.  The OAA approach represented a radical departure from the policing norms of the day in terms of values, goals and approaches.

Officers assigned to beat patrol received very limited training and for the most part continued doing beat patrol in the same manner as they had in the past.  The proactive side of the equation was not sufficiently explained to either beat personnel or members assigned to mobile patrol units.  The entire operation was administered by a Staff Sergeant and without any apparent support by the police executive of the day, many officers took and expressed the attitude “this too shall pass” and failed to buy into the initiative.

Lastly, the police executive of the day was not prepared to give up decision-making power or control to the officers working at the street level.  This attitude  prevented the a proactive approach central to the success of OAA from taking hold.

Like many good ideas OAA  suffered from insufficient executive commitment,  inadequate pre-implementation  training and a general lack of post-implementation  nurturing.

As a consequence OAA died on the vine.

Part IV will deal with foot patrols during the community policing era which was kick started with the publication of a discussion paper titled A Vision of the Future of Policing in Canada, published by the Solicitor General of Canada in 1990.

Election Promises Part II – Foot Patrols

Foot Patrol in the 1970’s and early 1980’s

Up until the early 1980’s the Winnipeg Police Service had 18 or so areas of the city that were designated as ‘beats’. These beats consisted primarily of major streets in the commercial areas of the city.  Beat officers were assigned to patrol these beats, on foot.

Beats 1 and 2, as an example, covered Main Street from James Avenue to Higgins Avenue.  Beats 3 and 4 covered Main Street from Market Avenue to Mayfair Avenue and beats 5 and 6 covered Portage Avenue from Main Street to Sherbrook Street.  Other designated beats included north Main Street from Sutherland Avenue to Inkster Boulevard, Selkirk Avenue, Logan Avenue, Ellice Avenue, Sargent Avenue and portions of Corydon Avenue.

Beats were described in a ‘beat book’ which laid out the geographical area of the beats and included comments in terms of specific duties that officers assigned to that beat were required to perform as well as ‘special attentions’ (an early version of a ‘hotspot’).  Beat 4, as an example, required the assigned officer to perform traffic duty at the intersection of Mayfair Avenue and Main Street between 4:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon to facilitate the smooth egress of traffic from the downtown area.

The highest priority beats were beats 1 and 2 – the Main Street  ‘drag’ as it was referred to.

Beat patrol was primarily a duty assigned to raw rookies or more senior constables who were being punished for some real or imagined transgression.  I recall one officer, who was senior to me, walking the beat without a gun.  The problem was that he could not pass the required spelling test.  He was, however, an excellent shot with a hand gun and had earned ‘crossed revolvers’ during training.  So he walked the beat with the little applicate of crossed revolvers stitched to the sleeve of his tunic, but no gun.  He could not be assigned to a patrol unit because policy dictated that officers assigned to a car had to carry a gun.  When we patrolled the beat together the standing joke was that if we got involved in a serious situation that required gun play, I would toss him my gun, he would do the shooting  and I would write the required reports.  Although not as good a shot, I was issued with a gun because I could spell.

Another very senior constable, close to retirement, normally walked the beat in the Fort Rouge area.  He quite frequently missed his hourly calls and at times after being ‘missing’ for most of his shift, other beat officers were assigned to go search for him.  He was usually located at one of his favorite haunts on Corydon Avenue, generally two or three ‘sheets to the wind’.

Beat duty was fairly basic: Walk the assigned beat.  During day light hours.  Be visible.  Respond to any citizen enquiries on your designated beat.  Do occasional traffic duty during rush hour periods and hand out the odd parking tag and ‘mover’.

Movers were moving violations, breaches of the Highway Traffic Act such as running a red light or having faulty equipment on a vehicle such as a burned out head or tail light.  During hours of darkness, beat constables would ‘skulk’ around and do property checks. They were to be familiar with the call box locations on their beat, call in every hour, and to watch for the flashing lights mounted on top of the call boxes which indicated they were needed for a specific duty on their beat.

If a beat officer encountered a drunk individual the officer was expected to call for the paddy wagon or a patrol car to assist in transporting the drunk to the drunk tank.  Back in the seventies that actually meant a  drunk tank on the 4th floor at the Public Safety Building.

As a rule, beat officers patrolled by themselves and were not normally dispatched to calls for service. Those assigned to Beats 1 and 2, however, were assigned in pairs to walk Main Street – two officers on the east side of the street and two officers on the west side. Beats 1 and 2 were part of the notorious Main Street strip (the drag) that was home to a large number of hotels like the McLaren (which still exists), the Brunswick, the National, the Occidental, the Patricia and the Mount Royal. Officers assigned to these two beats saw a lot of action in the form of alcohol fuelled disputes, thefts, robberies and assaults.

The biggest ‘sin’ a beat officer could commit (well actually there were several), was to not call in every hour as required, to miss a flashing light, or to not be available for an ‘officer’s visit’.  An officer’s visit was a visit from the Patrol Sergeant whose job it was to roam the streets (in a car) and check on the well-being of beat officers as well as to ensure they were on their designated beats.  And lastly, and in the eyes of some Patrol Sergeants, the most important thing was that the beat officer was to never leave his or her assigned beat area.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s being assigned to beat patrol put you at the very bottom of the pecking order. Beat patrol was a rite of passage, something you needed to work your way through before you were assigned to a ‘cruiser car’.

Because beat officers lacked mobility and were considered ‘non dispatchable resources’, it does not come as a big surprise that as the volume of calls for service grew, beat officers were removed from the beat and assigned to cars. Once assigned to cars they became dispatchable resources.

The next post will look at the advent of community policing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the move to return officers to the beat.