Edmonton Journal Civic Election Candidate Questionnaire

Brent Schaffrick, 38 Running for Councillor, Ward 11

E-mail

brent@schaffrick.ca

Website www.schaffrick.ca Twitter Facebook What are the three biggest issues in your campaign? Your number one issue, and why?
The Airport I disagree with the current City Council's decision to not hold a plebiscite on the fate of the Municipal Airport. I believe that one of the major goals of all democratic governments should be to maximize the amount of public participation. I am a believer in True Democracy. I believe in the “Wisdom of the Crowd” and I have read many case studies demonstrating that group wisdom is far superior to any single expert or group of experts. For a good history of the subject, look up writer James Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds). For a modern example, consider the game show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” In that game show, contestants are asked a question and given four choices as to the possible answer. They are also given “lifelines”. They can call an expert, ask the crowd, or have two of the 4 choices removed. Over time, the experts have been right 65%, but the crowd, comprised of ordinary people that have nothing better to do on an afternoon than sit in a studio audience, that crowd has been right 91% of the time! What seems to happen is this: The people that don't know the answer evenly split themselves between the wrong answers, canceling out their votes, and the few that know the right answer are enough to sway the crowd vote to be the correct one! Now I do not say that groups of people are better at everything, certainly situations that call for creativity, organizing or planning, are certainly better done by individual experts (imagine a committee trying to write music or a movie script!); but the wisdom of the crowd has been demonstrated to be superior to an expert or group of experts at making choice based decisions. There are four conditions that must be held in order for the crowd to come up with the optimal solution. The crowd must be diverse, independent, decentralized, and aggregation must be possible. That is, the more diversity, the more uniquely different perspectives, the more likely the correct answer will be presented. However, independence between members of the crowd is necessary, or the crowd is likely to move from the optimal solution to a non-optimal compromise solution. Also, if the crowd is getting all their information from one centralized source, instead of being able to specialize and draw on their own local expertise, the answer is less likely to be the best choice. Finally, there must be a way to aggregate, or sort the crowds answers. Now I would like to look at the recent history of the Municipal in view of the wisdom of the crowd. I am aware there have already been two plebiscites on the Airport Issue already, one in 1992 and a second in 1995. Here is my take on how they went: In the early nineties, our economy hit a slump, and as a result, air traffic, which most people see as a luxury, decreased. Rather than point to the economy at large as a cause, the International Airport Authority blamed their losses on competition from the Municipal Airport, and asked the city to force all major passenger traffic to use the International. They city held a plebiscite, and the Citizens of Edmonton voted against moving air traffic away from the Municipal Airport, which was still turning a profit. This was proper use of the democratic process and a good example of the wisdom of the crowd. As the economic slump continued, the International Airport Authority continued to lose more money, and lobbied City Council to reopen the movement of passenger traffic issue. City Council agreed, and a second plebiscite was held, and this one was in favor of moving traffic to the International. However, I recall reading that during this plebiscite the International Authority's marketing campaign outspent the Municipal's marketing by a ratio of 3:1. In my opinion, the final result of this plebiscite simply demonstrated that the people of Edmonton can be swayed by mass media, and this result demonstrates to me that the wisdom of the crowd can be diverted from the right answer with mass media manipulation. Remember that the crowd needs diversity, independence, decentralization and aggregation, and a media blitz campaign can remove almost all of the diversity, independence and decentralization of the individuals thought processes. Now City Council has moved to completely close the Municipal Airport, and has done so without a direct say by the Citizens of Edmonton. I believe that a plebiscite should be held, and furthermore, to minimize the influence of special interests, and to enable the proper use of the wisdom of the crowd, any entity that is not a voting citizen that chooses to lobby for either side should have to register with the City, and the total dollars spent by non-citizen entities should be capped at a fair amount. Additionally, no individual voting citizen should be allowed to spend more than $5000 campaigning for either side. Following this approach would allow Edmonton's Citizens the chance to hear both sides of the arguments, and then make the wisest decision of what to do, without allowing vested interests with deep pockets an undue amount of influence.

Number two issue, and why?
Privatizing Public Utilities I am completely against the privatization of non-competitive public utilities. Public Utilities were created by Governments to serve the people when the resulting company would have a complete monopoly on the sector in question. The goal of all corporations is to maximize profit, and a monopolistic utility would allow a non-competitive corporation to make an excessive amount of profits

at the cost of the general well being of the society it was supposed to serve. Public Utilities in general should only be considered for privatization if technological or social change remove their monopolistic advantage. A good example of this would be Telus, which was formerly Edmonton Telephones. As cellular telephones started to become common and compete with land lines, the City of Edmonton realized that a competitive market would better serve the residents of Edmonton than a regulated monopoly, and moved to Privatize Edmonton Telephones. After privatizing the telephone utility, the Government introduced legislation to allow other companies to carriers to either set up their own cell towers, or to piggyback on Telus' existing infrastructure, and a competitive market was created. The end result was a temporary cash infusion for the city, and a choice of telephone providers for the people of Edmonton. Public Utilities that cannot reasonably be made competitive should never be privatized. You cannot have two or three or ten sets of water and sewage lines running to service your house, which is what you would need to give you a choice of provider. For this reason, I am upset with the privatization of Epcor. I see no way that the services Epcor provides can realistically be made competitive, and I believe that the resulting economic costs of creating a corporate monopoly will far outweigh the temporary benefit of cash raised by selling the utility. An excellent example of what can go wrong can be found in Britain's privatization of their countries rail lines. The English Government expected that the resulting rail companies would heavily invest in new infrastructure, and they believed that as a result their society would see an increase in services. Instead, the companies went after short term profits, as our current quarterly-earnings focused business society expects them to do. The result was an immediate decrease in rail safety, while the new private companies simultaneously decreased the amount spent on long term improvements and planned maintenance. If I am elected to represent the Citizens of Edmonton, I will always vote to keep non-competitive Utilities public, and if possible, I will vote to stop the privatization of Epcor.

Number three issue, and why?
Outsourcing of Police Activity I am also upset with the use of private third party police services to “enforce law and increase safety.” The current City Council has stated that photo-radar and red light Cameras, as delivered by third party corporations, is a cost-effective manner of increasing road safety. I feel this system is a “cash cow” and that this is the first step down a long, costly road that has led many American cities to financial ruin. Now, why do I believe this is bad? The goal of every corporation is to maximize profit. One of the best ways to increase profit is to increase the scope of your corporation’s business activities. To that end, as a manager or CEO, you should be spending part of your corporations revenue to lobby the government to increase your companies areas of responsibility; and even though your corporate revenue will increase, you need to point out to the government that giving your corporation more latitude will increase their general revenues as well. As as example of how things can go wrong, currently in California, the government is trying to add the following “distracting activities” to their photo-radar legislation: Using a cell-phone, hands-free or not; Using a personal electronic device; Adjusting the radio; Smoking; Eating; Drinking; Interacting with children, animals, or passengers; Performing personal grooming; Reading or writing. If this bill becomes law, there will be nine additional arbitrary excuses to ticket and extort money from motorists, and the corporations that benefit from the third party policing services they provide will have an even larger revenue base to lobby the government for more changes in their favor. As a counter example, a report from the Texas Transportation Institute is the result of a three year study of 181 intersections using police reports in three Texas cities, that showed the best way to increase intersection safety was to increase the length of yellow lights by one second. This small change decreased accidents by 40 percent and violations by 53 percent. Of course, this also means that corporate revenues from red light cameras in those districts dropped by over 50% as well. Here in Edmonton, in order to increase safety of our traffic intersections, I believe we should be increasing yellow light times by 2 seconds; unlike Texas, we have a thing called “black ice” that dramatically influences stopping distances for six to seven months of the year. As a general rule, I believe that the people of Edmonton should be taxed transparently, fairly, and justly. Any type of “hidden” or secondary taxes such as the revenues from third party police services simply increase the amount of distrust and disillusionment that citizens have of their governments.

Which should be a higher spending priority for council, LRT construction or road construction, and why?
LRT construction Both are important, but have different spending amounts attached to them. We need to maintain the roads (fix the potholes, and keep snow clear in the winter), but if we have a fast and reliable LRT, fewer citizens will need to use the roads. That said, the dollar values attached to expanding the LRT are high enough that we cannot reasonably consider expansion without higher government help. WIth higher government help, we should be prioritizing the LRT. Without higher government help, we are better off using our local tax dollars for smaller infrastructure projects, like road improvements.

City council has turned down a motion to hold a non-binding plebiscite on keeping the City Centre Airport as a general aviation facility. Should the new council reopen the airport issue?
Yes See my very long and detailed answer for my first issue.

Do you live in the ward where you're running?
Yes

How important is social media to your campaign?
3 out of 5

What is your favourite blog?
www.greaterfool.ca

What is the last book you read?
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

What is the last piece of music you listened to?
Manowar - Call to Arms

What is your favourite beer? Answer this question to humour Mark Suits, Edmonton Journal beer blogger
H2O

Favourite place in Edmonton, outside your home?
The hot tub at Hardisty Fitness & Leisure Centre.

Three fantasy guests you'd like to have dinner with, and why? Can be living, dead or fictional
Abe Lincoln - to discuss his creation and use of the "special interest" group of arms merchants to supply the North with the weapons to win the Civil War. I would like to be able to sit down with him today, and show him the long term consequences of his choice, and ask if he had any alternatives in order to win that war. Woodrow Wilson - similarly to Lincoln, but this would be better done with me traveling back to 1912, before he signed the document creating the Federal Reserve. I would like to be able to show him the long term results of his decision, and convince him that the powers of credit and money creation need to be kept in the hands of congress. Eric Janzen - his website is www.itulip.com. One of the few people who have been able to not only point out the tech and housing bubbles, but he was able to accurately forecast the tops. I would like to discuss the Canadian Economy with him, and get advice on how to deal with our own crashing housing bubble so we do not end up in a 20 year economic slump like Japan.

What type of car do you drive? Make, model and year
Honda Accord, 1992

What is the best advice you ever received
When I have a problem, I research the problem, and look for other people/communities/countries that have had that problem in the past. I look to see how different groups approached the problem, what they did to solve the problem, and what the long term consequences of their decisions were. After reading all this, I decide on what I feel is the best solution to my problem. So, what is the advice? Always remember that a glass can be simultaneously half full AND still be half empty; and that no matter how much you believe your point of view to be correct, other people with a different point of view may also be correct.

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