Snowbusters: Everyone’s A Winner Baby

We know. It’s been a long, cold winter and, now that the snow is almost all gone (hopefully for the season), it’s time to embrace spring and the warmer weather to come. The last thing you want to think about right now is snow removal, right?

But don’t you want to know who won the Snowbusters contest*?

We’re getting to that, but first a little back-grounder: in lieu of an actual bylaw that would mandate the removal of snow from our public sidewalks — thereby making winter walking a much safer activity than it currently is — the City of Regina instead incentivizes the voluntary removal of snow by holding a contest where the grand prize is a snow blower. The resulting Snowbusters campaign asks citizens to not only remove snow from their own sidewalks, but lend a hand to neighbours who are unable do so for themselves.

The total budget for the 2014/2015 Snowbusters campaign (including the cost of a snow blower) was $109,938. On March 30, the city hosted a light lunch at the Queensbury Convention Centre, which was extended as a gesture of appreciation to the 305 gentle souls nominated for doing what we’ve been expressly told by the city that none of us has to.

“I think it’s always better to encourage people to do things positively as opposed to saying if you don’t do it we’re going to fine you,” says Mayor Michael Fougere.

“Council has, for a long time, said that we will not make it mandatory to clear sidewalks. That’s been a decision for a number of years and will continue in the future,” says Fougere.

But, as any number of experts will tell you, snow removal in a winter city like Regina is just part of what’s necessary when it comes to navigating the city year-round.

Even 305 exceptionally kind-hearted people can’t be expected to do that job indefinitely without support.

Steven Schaff, one of this year’s nominees, works with Summer and Snow, a Regina landscaping and snow removal company, and thinks that a bylaw is a good idea. He also doesn’t agree, as the City of Regina insists, that 75 per cent of residential sidewalks are kept clear in winter.

“Not even 50 per cent,” Schaff says. “Especially in the core area of the city – that’s pretty bad. It should be mandatory. All the sidewalks should be cleaned — for the [mail carrier], the people walking on the street. The city should be nice.” /Wanda Schmöckel

*Prairie Dog extends a hearty congratulations to David Ulrich, the City of Regina’s Snowbusters 2015 grand prize winner. And thank you to everyone who cares enough to keep their sidewalks clear. See you next winter!

Kiss Your Grad Rebates Goodbye

As a politics-obsessed Prairie Dog reader you undoubtedly know that this year’s provincial budget changed Saskatchewan’s Graduate Retention Program.

But just in case you’re not up to speed…

Starting next year, Saskatchewan university and college graduates won’t get rebate cheques for staying in the province. They’ll get tax credits which they won’t all be able to use.

As of 2016, the Saskatchewan Graduate Retention Program (GRP) changes from a refundable rebate that put cheques in the hands of graduates to a non-refundable rebate. That pesky little “non-” means the amount refunded will no longer be based solely on the tuition undergrads paid for their certificates, diplomas or degrees.

Going forward, the GRP will be based not just on tuition paid, but tuition paid capped by the amount owed on income tax. A single student who paid $20 grand in tuition must earn $36,000 a year ($54,000 for singles with one child) to use their full credit.

Basically, if you have a low income after you graduate, all you get is a tax credit you might never be able to use.

So if you stay in Saskatchewan but have a crappy job, well…

“At best the government is borrowing this money from our young graduates, but for many, the government will just keep the cash,” says NDP post-secondary critic Warren McCall.

The government will get an estimated $33.5 million next year from graduates who don’t earn enough money to use their tax credit. The grads who might get burned the most by this change are those pursuing an advanced degree, because they likely face years of lower annual incomes while they study.

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz  claims that the current changes make this “the best program we could have ever done,” adding that the change should allow most students to cash in on as much as they would have in the past.

Grad students, who will generally not earn $36,000-plus as they’re pursuing second degrees likely see it differently. /Ashley Rankin