This Post Had No Headline So Whitworth Just Typed This

I was totally going to make a couple of neat posts, including a bit of an obit for deceased Wilco sidekick Jay Bennett, and the beginning of my Reginian's Guide to Having Fun in Toronto. And I will be posting these, shortly. But in the meantime, may I direct you nerds to the Nethernet?

(Slinks back, hoping Stephen is so distracted with the New Game that he counts this as a "real" blog post.)

Kapow! Cabinet Shuffle!

While prairie dog was blogging about gas prices and kittens, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was announcing his newly-shuffled cabinet. Stephen LaRose will have more on this later--I predict an entertaining Yogi Huyghebaert diatribe sometime this evening. In the meantime, you can read the story in the Star Phoenix, here. And here's the government's official press release.

One quick note for Reginans--Regina Wascana Plains MP Christine Tell is out of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport and into Government Services, which means she's the MP in charge of liquor stores now. Maybe she'll let us distribute prairie dog through the LBs again! Yeah!

Friday Afternoon Kitties!

This is apparently generating Internet buzz. Can't see why. Oh yeah, because IT'S AN EXPLOSION OF CUTE.

Here's a link to kitten-bonking central. Not much to see at the moment but since someone went to the trouble of making and posting this eruption of adorableness, the least I can do is provide a link to their home page. Thanks, unheralded content provider! And thanks to Dog Blog BFF Peakay for alerting us to this.

Speaking Of Oil Patches...

And here's the price of gas in Fort McMurray this a.m., courtesy friend O' Dog Blog Rick.

By the way, Rick says gas went up in Fort Mac this a.m.--it was apparently 98.9 last night. So, Saskatchewan still wins with the highest fuel prices in the West. Go team!

Gas Gouged?

Gas in Regina:

Gas in Winnipeg:

Both photos taken yesterday afternoon/early evening. You'd think with a bigger oil patch Saskatchewan gas would be cheaper. Nope. Snort.

Thanks to Carle Steel and friend O' Dog Blog Peakay for the pics.

Six In the Morning

1 KILLER CLIMATE Former United Nations leader Kofi Annan's think tank just released a study that estimates global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year. (Guardian)

2 QUIET ON THE KOREAN FRONT U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates says missile-happy North Korea isn't moving its troops to attack the South. And speaking of South Korea, that country is mourning its former president, who jumped off a cliff last Saturday. (New York Times)

3 DOLLAR GOES UP! The Loonie flexes its might. (Globe And Mail)

4 TRUST GOES DOWN! An NDP MP says a Canada Post contract with Purolator smells fishy. (CBC)

5 IT WOULD BE SIMPLER IF WE JUST LEGALIZED POT The Supreme Court says a convicted, home-based marijuana farmer--a 57-year old Vancouverite whose garden was showcased in Gardens West magazine--will keep her house. (Toronto Star)

6 STEVE'S FAVOURITE HOCKEY TEAM IS IN TROUBLE Noooo! I went through all this nonsense with the Jets! Now my current favourite NHL team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, are in trouble and making noises about needing public sector help. Boo! Hiss! Boooo!

What Will An Extra $300 A Month Get You?

A piece of angle iron. But I'll get back to that in a minute.

Several months ago prairie dog ran a story about the Viva Apartments. In case you didn't read it, the Viva was another of those three-story walk-up apartments that was up for condo conversion. Thanks in large part to dogged activism of one of its tenants, Christina Luberti, that condo conversion was stopped. The only condo conversion to have been denied by city council in... well... ever, despite the city's vacancy rate plunging from 1.5 percent to 0.5 percent in the last year. And despite the fact that city policy states that condo coversions are supposed to be denied if the citywide vacancy rate drops below 3 percent unless 75 per cent of tenants support the conversion and none of them indicate they will face substantial hardship as a result of it.

The Viva conversion was halted not because of the vacancy rate being 0.5 percent, by the way. Council has passed several condo conversions while the rate was that low, both before and after and the Viva controversy. No, the conversion was halted because Luberti was able to demonstrate to council that there was not 75 percent support for it among Viva residents.

Throughout the process, representatives for Viva's property manager, Nicor, warned that rents in the building were below market and that to finance the substantial renovations the Viva needed, rents would have to go up dramatically if the conversion was not approved. Some saw this as a threat. On more than one occasion, I even heard it described as the developer was holding city council hostage.

To soften things, Nicor came forward with a seven-point tenancy agreement for residents in their apartment buildings that were facing condo conversion. It guaranteed them multi-year tenancy along with rent controls. And while Nicor was lauded repeatedly for coming forth with such a generous agreement, it's worth noting that the agreement council saw is very different from Nicor's original offer to tenants. It was thanks to negotiations and pressure from the city and thanks to tenant activism and the threat that several Nicor-managed conversions were imperiled that the property manager relented.

Anyway, around the time Viva was being considered, Nicor had four other buildings up for conversion. All were passed and those tenants were protected by some version of the seven-point agreement. As the Viva conversion was denied, those tenants are not protected at all.

And I had a chance to talk to Christina Luberti recently and found out that her rent will rise from the low-$500 range when Nicor took over management of the Viva to the mid $800 range.

"It feels kind of punitive," she remarked.

She says that in her discussions with the Nicor-employed building manager the rent hike is to finance work on the facade and the common areas. She says she doesn't know what kind of work the building needs that's so expensive it would require such a substantial hike in tenants' rents.

I asked her what work had been done so far. She pointed to a piece of angle iron bolted to a post alongside the front steps -- the piece of angle iron in the picture above. Several of the buildings tenants are elderly, she says -- one being in her 80s -- and they've been asking for a railing out front for years. That angle iron is Nicor's solution. You'll note that it is only secured on one end and waves freely at the other. The ends were left cut sharp until Luberti wrapped them in electrician's tape so none of the neighbourhood kids would get injured on them.

The lesson to developers in the Viva should have been that the city's condo conversion policy had teeth -- if a conversion didn't meet city standards then it could get turned down. It could be argued that the example of the Viva is why so few conversions were brought to council in its immediate wake, and why developers have been so ready of late to accept a restriction included with the latest wave of conversion approvals that any building converted to condos must remain 75 percent rental.

But the example of the Viva also shows that in the absence of any provincial rent-control scheme or some kind of independent tenants' rights group, the developers really do hold all the cards in this game.

As reported earlier on Dog Blog, city council approved three more condo conversions on Hamilton Street.