Six Reads to Get You Through #elxn42

It’s the longest election period since 1872. When horse sh*t was the end product of the active form of transportation at the time, and perhaps the speech as well. I keep thinking speeches were better back then. Anyway it’s a long time. Between the gestation period of a wolf and a leopard, as noted by the Globe and Mail (although they consider it quite short compared to the campaigning that goes on down south). As active and engaged citizens, you’ve little excuse not to find time to do some reading. So here’s six books to take you through to election day. Those candidate flyers printed on card stock do make excellent bookmarks.

1. Harperland – The Politics of Control

“As a Reform MP, [Stephen Harper] …. said of one piece of legislation that ‘the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.’ The bill he referred to was 21 page long — or 883 pages shorter than the one he was now putting before Parliament.”

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2.  The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada

“Since Stephen Harper’s Conservatives had first formed a government in 2006, the pact between evidence and policy had eroded and crumbled and then finally given way at some fundamental level—the one that sent scientists marching in their lab coats on Parliament Hill. The process had been slow and sporadic at first—esoteric programs cut here and there, experts and their studies forced into the custody of media handlers, their conclusions massaged to corroborate talking points dictated by the Prime Minister’s Office.”

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3.  Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada

“The current Conservative government treats Parliament as an inconvenience at best and with contempt at worst. The current executive routinely shuts down debate by implementing time allocation (it has imposed strict time limits on debate seventy times since the last election); it has prorogued Parliament to avoid a confidence motion it was sure it was going to lose, shut down a parliamentary committee investigating the transfer of Afghan detainees without obtaining assurances against torture, and to avoid, for over a month, answering awkward questions regarding the PMO involvement in the Senate Expenses Scandal.”

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4. Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know

“Journalists make lousy politicians because they think they always need to tell the truth. —Stephen Harper”

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5. Party of One: Stephen Harper And Canada’s Radical Makeover

“Elections Canada is now banned from campaigning to boost voter turnout. The position of elections commissioner has been moved from Elections Canada to the office of Canada’s director of public prosecutions. Tellingly, the new law does not change the rules to ensure that people are required to cooperate with Elections Canada investigations.”

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6. Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

“Take the Harper government, whose individual MPs are required to submit their press releases for “vetting” through the PMO, according to Inky Mark. Whether you cite as evidence the Mark Warawa or Brent Rathgeber episodes, it seems clear that the Conservative political machinery frowns on anyone speaking out in any way that might be perceived to contradict the party platform – regardless of how their constituents may feel about the issue. The agency of the individual MP has diminished to a point where little remains at all.”

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Parties and Charities: The Tale of Two Tax Credits

“..lowering the charitable credit recognizes that people give for other reasons than tax rebates.” – Department of Finance Spokesperson, Metro News

It’s probably quite true that most donate to charity without expecting anything in return. The more sharp tongued of individuals might publicly ask if the same can be said of larger political contributions. Regardless, with Budget 2015, the tax credit for donations to political parties remains unchanged while that for charitable contributions over $200 drops to one of the lowest rates among provinces and territories. Falling from 21% to 12.5%, only Ontario (11.16% and Nunavut (11.50%) will have a lower rate.

My close-up charitable experience comes from volunteering with a food bank. To collect and distribute food across a city requires putting trucks on the road. So you can also factor in the rising gas tax as an increased price of doing business, and a driver of food bank demand as transportation costs raise the price of food. As I’ve mentioned before, food bank use is rising, in bad times and good.

How will the cut to the charitable tax credit impact food banks, and everyone who provides the services and supports that are used more and more as the economy sputters?

But D.D. Coutts, manager of communications for the Calgary Food Bank, said she believes many organizations, particularly those in the human services field, will be hurt by the move.

“We’re not concerned about people’s generosity because people were donating before there was any tax credit and are very generous to donate,” Coutts said. – Calgary Herald, Calgary charities worried about drop in donations after province cuts tax credits

The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, Calgary Chamber and Volunteer Alberta would agree, having launched their “Now is Not the Time” campaign:

Budget 2015 asks Albertans to pay more in taxes and fees at a time when many will have reduced earnings. Less disposable income means less money available to donate to charity.

When the economy slows, all forms of revenue for charities are reduced. Alberta charities are already seeing reductions in corporate donations and government funding continues to stagnate. At the same time, many charities are called upon to respond to increased community needs.

The tax credit reduction follows on the heels of the elimination of the Community Spirit Donation Matching program, which was also designed to incent charitable giving.

http://www.nowisnotthetime.ca/

A petition has also been launched at http://www.albertans4giving.ca.

This leaves Alberta’s charities and non-profits to do what they’ve always done. Maintain minimal admin costs, provide services and supports that the government does not, and do more with less as demand for services increases.

Lend them a  hand by continuing to be generous with your donations, and throw a letter to your MLA in with that as well.

Election 2015: Voting Today on next Year’s Budget

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The problem with trying to be the first out the door with a budget analysis, is that things can change significantly in 24 hours. In the time it takes to hold a spring election you can still go without a detailed look at how a budget will play out – how provincial administration implements the budget, the real funding cuts or increases when you factor in a department’s deficit or surplus from the year before. The impact on individual programs, fees, contacts, etc, takes months to become clear.

For example, the Department of Human Services accumulated a $50 million deficit last year. The likely impact is that a 6% increase in funding for Persons with Disabilities is more likely to be a 1% increase in real dollars. This is certainly not enough to provide a promised pay increase for woefully underpaid disability workers, and most likely not enough to cover uptake in the system. But it’ll be months before the disability sector has a clear look at how this will affect contracts and front-line services.

Budget 2015/16 largely holds the line on spending, and there’ll be some blood letting in most places where you’ll find growth pressure. Not a lot, but it’ll be there. It’s not the worst that could be. Certainly not in a province that’s failed to accumulate savings despite forty years of selling in large quantities, the most valuable energy resource on the planet. That stripped billions from the treasury and potential savings to implement a flat tax, voted in on ideology and high resource revenues, rather than seemingly any kind of evidence-based fiscal plan for the decades ahead.

It’s the budget Premier Prentice, along with a Ten-Year Strategic ‘Plan’, will use to justify an early election.

The Premier’s Ten-Year Plan, is 30 pages (36 if you count the index and blanks) of not much content or specifics.

That nurses, doctors, and teachers will face a hard line in bargaining in the years ahead is not new. They endured this in the 90’s and will again. But we have no specifics and can hardly judge whether the Premier’s future collective bargaining tactics are worthy of a four-year mandate until we’ve actually seen specifics come out in a contract negotiation.

The lack of any real mention of corporate tax would seem to make it fairly certain, combined with the Premier’s statements to date, that corporate Alberta won’t see any additional tax increases on profits earned. So go ahead and judge the Premier on that one.

User fees will be rising. “We’re all in this together”, except I’ll refer you to the last paragraph.

The rest of the Ten Year Plan isn’t much more than you’d find reading government news releases. We know we’re over-dependant on energy resources. We’ve known that the hard way since Getty. We know the government has committed to building new schools. When they’ll be completed and when school boards will be able to staff them isn’t quite as known. You can go ahead and read the document here, it won’t take you long.

As for the Budget, it’s not this one that you should be voting on, but the next, as his government moves to cut $8.6 billion over three years.

Is there waste and overspending in gov? No doubt. If you’ve seen the AHS wage grids for upper management and executives, they’re enough to make you rethink your career choices if you’re not on the list.

But to essentially cut out something twice the size of the Department of Human Services over three years? Probably doable. But probably not without creating another massive infrastructure deficit, driving nurses, teachers and other professionals from the province and cutting deep into front-line services.

I don’t envy the Premier’s task, he’s been handed a mess and left to climb a mountain with little gear and old ropes. But it’s those around him who put him in this situation, his party that’s proven unable to manage the good times, save for the bad, and overcome infrastructure and economic deficits of their own creation.

When times are tough, people need help more than ever. They’ll find the price of food rising with a rising gas tax, and hopefully our food banks won’t be impacted much by a cut to the charitable tax credit. The political tax credit staying the same won’t do much for Fred and Martha. They’re more likely to drop a bad of food in the bin at Safeway than to renew their PC memberships.

The knife is coming to Alberta’s budget and public services. We’ll lose more blood than we pump in. Is this the surgical team that you want to trust for the next four years?  I’d like to ask Rachel Notley, Laurie Blakeman and Greg Clark for a second opinion.

Booming business for Alberta’s food banks

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(Food bank use in Canada – 2014 Hunger Count)

An economy perpetually tied to the price of oil is stumbling, the government knows of at least 4,544 layoff notices being handed out, and business at Alberta’s food banks is booming.

One of the barometers for poverty and the health of our society is food bank usage. In Alberta, since 2008, demand for assistance from food banks has increase by 48%.

In September, the Edmonton Food Bank distributed 14,000 hampers to those in need. This January, demand rose to 16,000. Picture a capacity crowd in Rexall Place calling on the Food Bank for help each month.

As winter began, the Calgary Food Bank reported a 10% increase in demand from 2013. Within 2014, Calgary was distributing 200 more hampers per month in the fall, than they were at the beginning of summer.

Food Bank demand spikes as oil prices fall and Alberta’s economy stumbles. But in good times or bad, it still increases.

If Alberta’s soon to be past and future MLAs are looking for a volunteer opportunity in the next little while, donating some time to answer calls from, or packing food hampers for individuals and families who need help, might not be a bad idea.

It would certainly put them in the room with those who would like to ask the question; what’s next for social policy in Alberta? A topic that wasn’t the recipient of much discussion or debate  during the race for the Premiership, or during the byelection campaigns.

What of a soon to be upon us general election? Alberta’s Social Policy Framework, “the future direction social policy in Alberta”, seems to have stalled. Or perhaps exited the political scene with the departure of former Human Services Minister Dave Hancock. Working in the non-profit community sector, we seem to be a world away from the Premier’s office. Alberta’s child poverty rate is pretty much unchanged since 1989. 18% of children in Edmonton live in poverty according to the latest numbers from the Edmonton Social Planning Council. And food banks in Alberta are being flooded with demand.

In recent weeks we’ve talked about $800 dollar chairs and condominium priced tables in Government meeting rooms. The funding that the Auditor General and Child and Youth Advocate need to fulfill their extensive mandates, and the speed at which government-dominated committees give and take from their budgets. But the other issues out there..

To quote  from the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson:

Kill 500 ducks in an Alberta tailings pond and you hear outrage from around the world.

Yet, turn away 27,000 women and children from Alberta emergency shelters and you hear barely a whisper. Close six group homes for troubled children and there isn’t a peep. Shut down 12 foster homes and there’s only silence.

Non-profit agencies across Alberta are facing a crisis and odds are you had no idea — not unless you were an abused woman, a troubled teen or a neglected child.

Crisis is easy. It’s easily manufactured through apathy by voters and government. The latter enabled by the former. The next four years are too important to treat this election like a spectator sport, to keep your vote at home or to let it be decided by narrow and vague campaign messaging. People are hurting, people are in crisis and it’s happening regardless of the price of oil and where we are on the energy-dependance roller coaster.

Where does the candidate at your door stand on Alberta’s social issues? Do you know, do they know? Take the time to find out, to know the person who wants to represent you on the floor of the legislature. A lot of people in need are counting on you.

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Fort McMurray food bank sees dramatic increase in demand

Edmonton Food Bank experiencing record calls in time of need

Food bank use soars in Alberta as cost of living increases

Calgary Food Bank demand on the rise

Until the next boom floats us out to sea.

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The price of oil has fallen and it’s taken the sky down with it.

The price of oil has been falling and projected to fall for some time. It was projected when Jim Prentice was on the leadership campaign trail. It was projected while Prentice, Gordon Dirks and Stephen Mandel were on the byelection campaign trail. While promises were made for new schools and to complete the new schools promised by two previous Premiers. While sod was turned for photo-ops in fields that will remain empty for some time, and when Gordon Dirks was flexing the electoral muscle of his Ministry with promises of new school portables in his riding. While all four candidates to be government MLAs were sending empty chairs to candidate forums.

But now oil has hit bottom, at least for now, and $7 billion or so is gone from provincial revenues. The Premier’s plan thus far is to remove 5% from budget for the coming year, while withholding the 4% that would normally have gone to compensating for inflation, population growth and uptake in services.

An early election will be called, and voters will give a massive majority to the Prentice government.

The Wildrose will be led into battle by a leader who won’t be seeking re-election. The Liberals? There’s a very good chance David Swann will be in Legislature once the spring session resumes after the vote. Even if he’s only a caucus of one at that point. The Alberta Party? Calgary-Elbow has every reason to put an end to Gordon Dirks’ embarrassing tenure by electing AB Party Leader, Greg Clark. However, not everything needs a reason in politics (see MLA Genia Leskiw not needing any kind of articulate, sensible or coherent explanation for withdrawing $250,000 from the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate).

The Premier says that the opposition has a duty to be ready for an election.

Do they have a duty to be ready for a fixed election-date? Absolutely.

But with a year left on a his government’s mandate, an early election, without a dramatic plan to shift away from the poor fiscal management of Alberta’s PC government, is pure opportunism.

A dramatic shift being a clear and defined plan to finally remove Alberta from the resource roller-coaster and establish a course to stabilize government revenue. But there’s no sign yet that the Premier is coming to the table with a platform for a progressive tax system, royalty reform, heritage saving and so on. We may not even see a budget tabled before an election call.

So why wait until spring of 2016 for the next election? What’s in a year?

A year for Jim Prentice to develop an actual, detailed platform. To show voters how “new management” handles the books on the downside of resource dependence. A year for two opposition parties to elect new leaders. Time for all parties to finish developing a set of policies, and a heck of a lot of time for candidates to hit the doors, and for those who don’t have the benefit of incumbency or well-timed Ministry announcements, to let voters know who they are.

Alberta is more than the petrochemicals we drill and frack out of the ground. Our Premier can do better than drawing the curtains closed, dimming the lights and taking to the podium time after time with tales of fiscal woe.

Yes Mr. Premier, we know we’re dependant on oil revenue. We know there’s a glut of it on the market, demand is down and prices along with it. So what’s the plan, besides bloodletting until fortunes improve?

What’s our place in the world outside of non-renewable resources? What’s the future for education and healthcare, agriculture and farming? What’s in store for our cities in a province where population growth is in urban areas? How can we grow our economy by feeding the world’s population? How can develop and export knowledge, technology and renewable energy?

Just as important, how do we engage citizens to get there? We have a government that treats ‘consultation’ like a silly word, or perhaps a dirty one. The Legislature is a difficult building to walk into, even if all you want is a tour. Budgets, policies and decisions are treated as things developed behind closed doors, then sold and marketed to you and I.

This election certainly won’t be based on any of those broad ideas. It won’t feature detailed policy or broad debate on our future. No, it’s about securing the next four years for those who are comfortably unchallenged. What do they intend to do with these years? I doubt most sitting government MLAs could begin to tell you, beyond ‘fiscal restraint’ for the year ahead. We won’t know until months after an election, what that will actually mean for front-line delivery in areas like health, education and human services.

Cutting 9% from spending isn’t a plan for the future or a beacon of light and strong leadership by Mr. Prentice. It’s the hand (gently?) guiding us to the rocks until the next boom floats us back out to sea (we won’t waste the next one, right?).

So when you pick up that sharp pencil at the polling place, have a debate with yourself. Do you want this government to be comfortable for the next four years, or can we challenge ourselves and those we elect to do better? Voting for a candidate that’s challenging the government may be the only way we find out.

Laws, Sausages and Huge Massive Loopholes

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The good news is that Alberta has a Conflicts of Interest Act (coming in a future blog, Alberta’s Whistleblower Act and how it’s also full of holes). The bad news is that the definition of “conflict of interest” is either so thin you could put it in a razor and shave with it, or a loop hole so large you could store school portables in it.

Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, one of the Officers of the Legislature who found their budget cut in December, while clearing him of formal wrongdoing, released as scathing a report on the election tactics of Education Minister Gordon Dirks as Alberta’s conflict of interest legislation allows her.

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Download the full ruling

Not many punches pulled. Was the Minister’s announcement of portables for a school in his riding political opportunism? Sure. Would the commissioner have told him not to do it if he had bothered to seek her counsel? You bet. Will be legislation be changed to prevent this sort of thing in the future? Not a chance.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba both place restrictions on the use of Government resources as a campaign tool during general elections and by-elections. While the Premier was promising to “restore faith” with this fall’s Accountability Act, his government rejected proposed amendments which would have prevented government Ministers and MLAs from wielding government dollars and promises like someone waving an election sign at a busy intersection.

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Brian Mason in the Legislature on the evening of December 10th.

In fall of 2013, the Conflicts of Interest Act went before committee for review. The result was superficial, with recommendations such as changes to the definition of ‘private interest’, the ability to sanction members who don’t cooperate with the ethics commissioner and for the commissioner to instigate investigations on his/her own, being rejected.

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Read the full committee report

 

The NDP, in their minority report to the committee, addressed the issue of ‘private interest’, at that time in regards to the inquiry into lobbying efforts of the MLA for Edmonton-Manning:

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The Officers of the Legislature, who have had their budgets cut for the coming year, can find, highlight and point out poor behaviour by those in power and the abuse or mismanagement of resources. But they have little in the way of legislative tools to hold government to account and institute change. Only the voters can do that. So I’ll ask you, my fellow electors, when can we change the way things are done in this province? The more things don’t change, the more they stay same. And with a lessened opposition, difficult freedom of information legislature to use and navigate, and reduced funding to the legislative officers, the less we’re likely to even know about.

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Education Minister Gordon Dirks used office for political gain: ethics boss – Global News

The Alberta Legislature – A year in Photoshop

I follow our bizarre and frustratingly detached from reality and the average citizen, provincial political scene for both work and personal interest. It often leaves me wishing that I had the artistic skills for political cartoons. Photoshop however, still provides me with an outlet. So here you are, my best political ‘shops from the last year, or rather all of them, since they were all gold.

 

A Shout-out to Yeg’s Fastest Runners

1:00am in the river valley at the Tuxedos & Gowns run for @yegfoodbank #yeg

A video posted by Jamie Post (@jamiepost) on

It’s cold, snowing, the roads suck and I’ve seen one email stating that life as we know it is over for the year. In reality, the ice and day-time sub-zero have arrived a week later this year, than they have the past couple.

For the past several years, Edmonton runners and willing participants have defied poor weather and icy river valley trails and sidewalks to take part in the Running Room’s “Tuxedos, Gowns and Hotdogs” fun run in support of the Edmonton Food Bank.

Starting at 1:59am during the fall time change, runners provided donations and raised money for the Food Bank, heading into the high-demand Christmas Season. Despite the early arrival of winter these past few years, they still made the effort and even with the icy conditions, many finished before the clocks reached 1:59, again.

2014 will have been the final year for this event., with perhaps the best weather. As a Food Bank volunteer who looked forward to heading down to the Kinsmen Centre every year to help out, I’ll miss our fun and quirky fundraiser. Thank you to the runners and volunteers who donated and took part. As well as to the Running Room, and Judy from the Food Bank who made organizing it look easy.

A ‘market’ solution to our affordable housing crisis

Edmonton and Calgary are struggling with a lack of affordable housing, while Calgary’s shelters run at capacity with winter looming. Both cities are also grappling with the infrastructure and transportation costs of on-going urban sprawl and the servicing costs of new neighbourhoods.

Alberta’s big cities need affordable housing, and they need infill development that can attract families to the urban core. Both cities also have development industries that have grown and sustained themselves on the large margins of cheap suburban land and development.

The Premier has stated that he wants a market solution to Alberta’s affordable housing problem. The situation doesn’t need ideology, it needs concrete plans, of the sort that we didn’t see in this by-election. It needs housing starts; affordable homes and rental units, in places where a car isn’t a necessity to live. With some initial support, the non-profit sector could put the housing that Alberta’s cities need, on the market.

A few examples:

It’s called the Quint Development Corporation. Founded by residents with the support of government, it’s been building affordable housing in Saskatoon for almost twenty years.

It’s called the Central Neighbourhoods Development Corporation and was founded in 2007 to help revitalize inner-city Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

“A community development corporation (CDC) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated to provide programs, offer services and engage in other activities that promote and support community development. CDCs usually serve a geographic location such as a neighborhood or a town. They often focus on serving lower-income residents or struggling neighborhoods. They can be involved in a variety of activities including economic development, education, community organizing and real estate development. These organizations are often associated with the development of affordable housing.” – Wikipedia

I received my introduction to the concept of community development corporations while volunteering time to work on Edmonton’s Transit Oriented Development Guidelines for the EFCL. The city had brought in a consultant to speak to TOD, best practices, affordable housing, etc. The part that stood out to me was on affordable housing and how, in their experience, most affordable housing around transit/light-rail in the U.S. was being built by non-profit development corps.

For us community volunteers in attendance, the idea stuck, and we suggested it for inclusion into the final report for Mayor Mandel’s Community Sustainability Taskforce. Non-profit organizations that with some initial seed money, could take on a role building infill and affordable housing in some of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods. The suggestion unfortunately wasn’t included in the Elevate Report, but it’s still being pursued.

With the development and housing issues that Edmonton and Calgary are currently facing, it’s an idea that we should begin discussing on a provincial scale.

Initiating non-profit redevelopment agencies in Alberta’s cities isn’t just a way to help boost housing stock and increase neighbourhood density. They’re an avenue for community development; giving residents a chance to help guide the built-form of their neighbourhoods and educating residents on the trials and costs of building in older communities.

Our older neighbourhoods also struggle with derelict properties, and there are few legislative tools for municipalities to take action on them. A derelict property sees its municipal taxes decrease, while becoming a blight on the community. A new cities charter may or may not give municipal councils tools such as tax levies to encourage redevelopment of a property. Having a community-owned developer who’s ready and willing to purchase and rebuild a problem property into an asset for the community, helps regardless.

Between Government and ‘the market’ there’s a way to help build affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and alternatives to urban sprawl. It’s worked in the U.S., and it’s worked in other provinces. Community league volunteers have been talking about it for years. It’s time for MLAs and Councillors to do the same.

Almost an Action Plan

The City of Edmonton has unveiled its draft “Infill Action Plan” this week. 24 ‘action items’ to spur and facilitate (re)development in Edmonton’s mature communities.

You can find the complete document by scrolling down, or clicking here.

Given the development-centric nature of this plan, I’d expect that it’ll have more of a real-world impact on neighbourhoods, and a shelf-life far greater than the “Elevate” report – The end, and seldom heard of, product of Mayor Mandel’s Community Sustainability Taskforce. The creation of which included a great deal of planning & development discussion, much of which was never seen in the final product. (I had the opportunity to work on the taskforce’s development committee, along with five years spent on the EFCL’s Planning & Dev committee’s… Whose work is chronically under-represented, but I digress.)

After a quick read-through, and a slower second look, my initial thoughts:

 

Action 1
Develop and implement an infill communications strategy to share information clearly and widely, and to enhance communication between the City, builders and residents. This will improve the way the City shares information about infill with Edmontonians, help clarify how and where people can be engaged with the infill process, and encourage more discussions about new housing and change in established neighbourhoods.

The devil is of course in the details, but unless you live in a community with an active league, with an even more active civics director – You’re probably not going to see much advocacy or analysis of planning and development issues in your neighbourhood. Done well, this is a bonus for residents and volunteers.

 

Action 3
Offer a publicly accessible online tool that helps residents and builders visualize what could be built on a lot in an established neighbourhood. This will increase residents’ and builders’ general understanding of the Zoning Bylaw’s rules related to infill and the development potential of a property by visually communicating what sorts of new development may occur on a site that is zoned a particular way.
Action 4
Require notices about development permits to be posted on site to let everyone know what will be built and who to contact for more information. This will help keep community members informed about change in their neighbourhoods, direct them to the right people for more information, and support better relationships between the City, citizens and builders. Both good ideas. An online visualization tool however would hopefully include an analysis of sun/shade impacts for increased heights and lot coverage, abutting traditional existing structure.

Both good ideas. An online visualization tool however would hopefully include an analysis of sun/shade impacts for increased heights and lot coverage, abutting traditional existing structure.

 

Action 6
Pilot an “infill Action Advisory Group” made up of citizens and stakeholders whose role would be to provide objective advice on infill related matters to City Administration. This will improve communication and help build trust between citizens, builders and the City, bring a broad a range of perspectives into infill projects and processes, and provide an opportunity to learn from a new approach to engaging Edmontonians in advancing infill development.

I would say that the city actually already has one – in the EFCL’s planning & dev committee. The committee regually meets with city officials, developers, and through earned experience, its elected volunteers gain the knowledge to understand, and professionally & completantly analyse planning proposals.

 

Action 9
Support and work with partners to hold infill design awards or competitions in order to encourage more creative infill design and foster an ongoing conversation about what great infill means for Edmonton. This will catalyze innovative infill projects and ideas, foster dialogue around the design of new housing, and promote a wider discussion about residential infill in Edmonton for residents, builders and the City.

I think I read something about this once. 

 

Action 13
Develop an infill specific information resource to provide residents and builders with easy access to information related to how the City plans for, assesses and responds to drainage needs in established areas, and what people can do to address issues or concerns on their own lots. This will help answer residents’ questions related to
drainage improvements and planning, as well as provide options for individual actions that address drainage issues on private lots.

A frequent complaint community league volunteers have heard is that of drainage. Of the small bungalow which now finds itself flooded from runoff from a new, larger abutting development.

 

Action 17
Reduce barriers to building row housing in the RF3 (Small Scale Infill) zone by removing location restrictions and changing the site regulations currently limiting this form of infill on RF3 lots. This will make row housing easier to build by simplifying the approval process, responding to growing market demand for row housing, and may help increase affordability in older neighbourhoods by supporting more housing options.

When amended during the last set of residential zone changes, RF3 in several ways became the dog’s breakfast of zones – So it’s probably not surprising to see a push for its widespread use. At the time, community advocates (unsuccessfully) asked that the amendments be sent back for further work, siting:

RF3 Zone Amendments:

Send the RF3 Zone Amendments back to the Administration for more work.
There are a number of concerns with the RF3 zone which need to be addressed, including:

There will be difficulty in retaining any single detached housing in RF3 neighbourhoods, given the proposed Permitted Uses (which trump ARPs) and the proposed minimum site width regulations for 2-to-4 unit housing. If a variety of housing is the major goal of the Infill Guidelines, then there must be a way to ensure that at least some single detached housing is retained.

There is inadequate minimum site width for corner flanking row housing. The Infill Guidelines state, “Where Row Housing is developed on flanking lots, the lot should have an adequate width (min 20.0 m) to provide each unit with a private outdoor amenity area, and to maintain privacy and sunlight on the adjacent property.” In contrast, the proposed bylaw requires a mere 14.8 m site width for RF3 row housing, which is the same as two- unit housing. (This must be a mistake!) Plus there is no requirement to have an additional width requirement for the end corner row housing dwelling to accommodate the larger corner setback .

The Site coverage for RF3 Row Housing has been changed to the RF5 coverage of 45% (from the 40% coverage in RF3). Such a dramatic change should require a rezoning to RF5.

In addition, we trust that Administration will be adding a regulation which will indicate that, “Mechanical systems shall be located to ensure that noise does not impact adjacent residences”, as recommended in the Infill Guidelines, and directed by Council. We recommend that the mechanical noise regulation apply to all lots, not just narrow lots.

A widespread push for the use of RF3 zoning can be questioned – At the sime time Council is pushing for development certainty for newer neighbourhoods, permissive uses make it difficult to establish statutory development guidelines and vision through Area Redevelopment Plans in older ones.

Action 18
Revise the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) of the Zoning Bylaw to reduce barriers to small scale infill and improve the approvals process. This will help support more infill across the wide diversity of Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods, increase predict-ability and reduce the adversarial nature of the approvals process, provide more design flexibility, and encourage infill development that responds to the context of a property.

For this suggestion to have made it into a draft plan, specific amendments to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay must have been proposed. To development regulations, public consultation and appeals processes – specific proposals should be included, as approval of the action plan does compell administration to bring them forward to Council.

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The plan contains suggestions to be heralded, those that require caution, and all need to be laid out in detail and in a thorough consultation process.

What’s it missing?

Something big, and a suggestion that has put forward since the development of the Elevate report. The kind of development model with a record of success in Canada and the U.S. and the sort of thing we should absolutely be pilotting if serious about meeting quotas for infill development.

Community Development Corporations

Non-profit entities, started with a seed grant that are led by community board members. In targeted areas of a city, they take on redevelopment of underutilized, and derelict properties. Building attractive housing and amenities, that yield a return sufficient to fund future projects. It’s an idea the consideration of which deserves an action item.

 

Draft Infill Action Plan

The Misericordia – Spackle & Paint

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Last year’s flood at the Mis which closed one floor and spilled down into a few retail shops in the main lobby.

If the Legislature were in the same shape as west Edmonton’s Misericordia hospital, we’d probably have a new catalyst project for downtown, along with cranky government minister’s with leaky office ceilings. 45 years-old, built when West Edmonton Mall was still a field; the Mis was at the city’s edge, whereas its location now at 87th and 170th street, puts it in the heart of west Edmonton, easily accessible and along the Valley LRT line.

These days the Mis is known for its “leaky pipes, broken elevators, and makeshift ICUs”. A flood in mid-2013 closed a floor and spilled down into the main lobby. Labs and the ICU are subject to rain delays and snow melt. Elevators are frequently down for maintenance, and patient amenities are older than a number of adult patients.

As Edmonton media have pointed out (as have NDP and Wildrose MLAs over this legislative session), the facility was due to be replaced in 2008, until those plans were scrapped.

Fred Horne misleading Albertans over aging Misericordia, NDP says – CBC News

“I think I’ve been very open with Albertans and Edmontonians, in question period and through the media, that we’re well aware of the issues at the Misericordia,” he said.

Questions on this during question period, like most, don’t receive much of an answer, or at least one that’s of any use to west-end residents. The same goes for quotes from a health minister who may know of the issues, but might perhaps want to spend an evening in the ICU during a rain storm.

Meanwhile nothing is certain beyond more money being spent to squeeze every last bit of life out of a building on life support. And of course the question I’ll have for candidates at the first Edm-Meadowlark election forum.

What will come First?

View Results

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A pothole in the parking lot that nearly ate my care last summer. Just posting it because parking isn’t cheap. The surrounding neighbourhood of West Meadowlark has had to look into a residential parking program due to parasitic parking.
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The view out over the STARS helipad, and a couple hospital visitors.
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The television in my dad’s room at the Misericordia last year. Like me, another product of the 80s.

 

Alison Redford – Escape plans, flight plans & work plans

The President of the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview Progressive Conservative Association spoke to the Edmonton Journal on Friday, saying that his party hasn’t a chance if Alison Redford is still Premier come the next election. By coincidence, on same evening I happened to be having a beer with a long-time PC veteran and constituency exec. After handing him my phone so he could read it for himself, we had some back and forth which ended in me retweeting the article with the comment that I was sitting with CA exec who agreed with his colleague from Clareview, completely.

Within about a minute the direct messages from journalists started coming in, and a few, under the condition of anonymity, will end the weekend with some interesting quotes from a long-time Tory campaigner who’s had it up to here – about eyeball level – with his Premier.

I’ve held a PC membership twice. Not at all because I believe in the party or its management of the province. In full disclosure, I’ve voted Liberal, been an Alberta Party CA president, and have an appreciation for the NDP. I was a PC member once, to vote for Dave Hancock in his leadership run way back when, although I can’t at all remember why anymore. And once to attend a PC convention a few years back, to pester some cabinet ministers about a few community issues. My only memorable recollection from the event is getting a kick out of a guy in the lobby working two Blackberry’s at the same time.

So while I’m not a PC’er, I do know a few. And it’s provided me with an interesting view over the past month as the party suck and blew (in deference to Doug Griffiths), nearly imploding and exploding at the same time.

Some of my PC friends have referred to the actions of the Premier as “a betrayal”. I don’t see it that way. Maybe they saw something else in her, but from my seat just outside the season ticket section, I see her being herself. A political operator who cobbled together a winning coalition, that stopped being useful to her 25 minutes after the last election was called. Someone who’s more comfortable in board rooms than her office at the Legislature. A politician who certainly doesn’t make their own travel arrangements, or give them much thought, and certainly doesn’t pay much attention to those who do.

I listened to Doug Horner Friday morning give a talk in which he referred to the opposition continually focussing “on the small stuff”. Well of course they are, it’s the small stuff that resonates. A Premier spending more that many Albertans make in a year, to take a flight to attend a meeting that she could have rescheduled with a text message. That’s something that anyone can grasp. Throwing assistants and staff under the bus during sustained criticism? Pretty easy to call that out as anything but leadership. Eventually repaying $45,000 to squash an opposition talking point? A cheque made payable to “just shut the $#@! up already!”.

These are controversies easier to understand than say – why home-care has become an abysmal mess, or why the Province couldn’t be bothered to follow the recommendations of its own flood report, or when the consumer benefits of energy deregulation are eventually going to arrive.

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that the result of this weekend’s showdown between Alison Redford and her party’s Board, ended in an anti-climactic show of unity. There weren’t going to be more high profile floor crossings, or demands for her resignation, or even MLA’s plotting to defeat the budget and force an election. Nothing to rock the boat or upset the entitlement cart in the middle of the term.

Besides, there are no star leadership candidates in their wings (or at least ones that aren’t grounded with baggage), and why would PC’s be eager to put on a circus while standing in contrast to the calm, cool, collected and well-funded with large and small donations, Wildrose. The Wildrose who have gone from lakes of fire, to standing with union members and disabled Albertans on the steps of legislature. While the PC’s have endured rallies and smack-downs from judges, all while destroying the progressive coalition that pushed the Premier into front-row centre, and keeping the party in power for another term.

With the weekend over, and PC executive director Kelley Charlebois not being replaced by a close friend of the Premier, the party will carry on with big smiles behind their leader. The opposition will ask questions about public sector appointments, government flights, debt & healthcare, and we’ll see what lands on the frontpage. Upset grassroots troopers, who fundraise, donate, and run constituency associations, without the benefit of being invited to the good meetings like this weekend’s, will go back to largely thankless volunteer work.

The Premier, who’ll suddenly find more time on her schedule to take meetings with caucus members, will no doubt also take a bit more interest in those “small things” that garner attention. There may even be a bit more extra cash in the budget to be announced at quickly arranged press conferences. And the PC Party will go on, united behind its leader.

It may seem out of touch, backing a leader short on humility and sincerity with a 20% approval rating that’s only headed downward

But it’s what will happen. Until the next scandal that sticks. One doesn’t line-up behind a leader this embattled without an escape plan. In this case, call it a “work plan” for deniability, regicide, and proclaiming ‘change’ with a poker face in an election year.

It’s not “crap”, it’s just not very good.

molson

I promised myself at one point this past winter, that I’d make the time to head down to the Molson Brewery and spend some time taking pictures of brick, and masonry..and history. Passing by the site today, I see that a dismantling of the Molson sign has begun. It might have started a while back, but I noticed it today. If were moving forward with an unpopular development proposal for the site and expecting media cameramen to make an appearance, I’d probably pick this as a good time to have an iconic feature removed from view.

Folks in Oliver have a great community league. It’s active, it’s engaged, it’s forward thinking, and it’s home to the next generation of volunteers on which the future of the community league system will depend. As a community league civics director, and as a member of the Federation of Community Leagues Planning Committee, I’ve been impressed by how they’ve approached the proposed redevelopment of the Molson Brewery over the past year.

Identifying concerns with the site’s proposed rezoning, it’s amenities, and a lack of residential uses on a downtown property along a major transit corridor; The Oliver League has connected with all the right people. They’ve held community meetings. They’ve developed positive recommendations and have been ready and willing to work with city planners and the property owner to develop something positive for the area, for downtown and for the preservation of it’s history.

And today Council passed a proposed rezoning which pretty much ignores all of that. The kind of decision that ends with volunteers leaving forehead sized dents in the fabric walls outside Council Chambers.

The Mayor and Council that famously promised “no more crap” didn’t exactly pass crap today. They just did what they’ve frequently done over and over again, in simply accepting what was deposited at their door. Councillors are meant to be the keepers and dreamers of a city’s vision, someone else could be the status quo rubber stamp society.

It’s the legal role of the Sustainable Development department to process applications to rezone a property. And herein lies my challenge to the next Council that will take shape at the end of October.

Rebuild the road that leads to you.

It’s the job of planners to prepare zoning applications and bring them to Council. They don’t have to like them, and they don’t have to recommend them, they simply have to prepare them for Council’s consideration. Outside of that, our planning and development process is open to a world of change. We don’t hire individuals trained to simply process applications. We hire educated, professional urban planners. Minds that can interpret and articulate a city vision. That can work with engaged stakeholders and incorporate input from all sources into a recommendation for Council.

Council could have sent today’s rezoning application back to city administration for reconsideration. Or city administration could have gone to Council with an additional alternative proposal, built collaboratively with all interested parties, and with our planners’ own sense and vision of what they want for the core of our city.

Voters will pick new faces for Council in October. Which of those, if any, will take on the role of changing the face our city’s administration. The city has hired some excellent individuals to work in it’s sustainable development department. Encourage them to come to Council with more than cookie-cutter proposals built on narrow vision and input. Developers in Edmonton aren’t known for being particularly experimental or open to taking risks. Don’t be afraid, current and future Councillors, to say ‘no’ once and awhile, and show them that the risk they perceive, might just be a great development that a community wholeheartedly wants.

Edmonton Molson brewery site rezoned amid controversy – Edmonton Journal

Edmonton city councillors approve controversial Oliver plan – Metro Edmonton

Controversial rezoning of Molson brewery site approved by council – CBC News

 

Councillor Anderson, Terwillegar, and Elevating the Plan to End Homelessness

Simons: Homeless-housing project has Terwillegar Towne in an uproar

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I appreciate that Councillor Anderson is eager to support a housing development that can put a roof over the heads of some families in need. However, I question the wisdom using such a project as leverage to oppose the plan to end homelessness which he and his Council colleagues have so strongly supported.

Might I suggest that the Councillor instead look at one of our mature communities such as Canora (home to JP health and wellness). A community which has lost children and families. A community which houses it’s fair share of our city’s and even our province’s socio-economic issues. A community which would no doubt welcome a multi-unit to house families in need, which could help to preserve mature neighbourhood community schools. t

Or perhaps this mature neighbourhood resident should simply sit back an accept that city-vision of some Councillors has a blind spot, in need of a political ophthalmologist. That blind spot being the centre of what could well become a donut city. A city that spends millions on infrastructure for downtown catalyst projects, but lacks the will to stand up for the communities which have grown over the past century around downtown.

Like or dislike JP Health and Wellness’s proposal, they’ve done an impressive thing here. They’ve taken a step to provide those in need of help with support options outside the core communities where so many addictions and issues have been fed. They’ve taken a step to provide families and those in need with a housing option in a part of the city that could not only help to provide a fresh-start, but help to keep those individuals nearly their family members who may well not live in the core.

Like or dislike JP Health and Wellness, they’ve forced us to talk about the future of our city.

Are we a donut city? Will we become one? A city of suburban enclaves; low-density communities short on amenities and welcome only to those who own a vehicle (a necessity to get anywhere) and their own home. A city which carries the weight of a large portion of Alberta’s social challenges, which then concentrates issues and troubled individuals in the downtown area and a number of specific core communities.

Donuts are bad for you, and our city deserves better. The plan to end homelessness doesn’t need another project in the same neighbourhoods. It needs a mix of solutions across the city. It needs communities to accept that they have a responsibility to accept some of our social issues. It needs Councillors who believe in building communities, near the core or elsewhere, that aren’t enclaves for those who can afford to buy a home and a car or two.

To suggest that a subsidized project in Terwillegar for families would be preferable is absurd and a slap to the face of our core communities. The same issues regarding the lack of local amenities and transit options would still apply, and the change would serve only to calm the nerves of reactionary individuals. I also doubt that they’d find a project proponent as committed as JP Health and Wellness is to addressing these issues.

Consider giving your support to the project Councillor Anderson. Council does have power here, and it should go into providing the amenities that a diversity of housing options and demographics require in all corners of the city. In the meantime Councillor, if you want to focus on famility-friendly housing options, consider putting some of that energy into supporting family-friendly development in mature communities. Unless that donut thing sounds good to you. Then fight against this, and our own visionary documents such as the Elevate report and the plan to end homelessness..

Edmonton Votes 2013 – ‘A Regular Contribution’

It’s the voters of course, or the 30% who do vote, who play the king-makers in civic politics. The path to voters in a civic election, free from party politics, is individual name recognition at the ballot. It’s evidenced in the near overwhelming deference given to incumbent civic candidates in Edmonton, and to those challengers whose past professional lives put their names out in the public domain on a regular basis.

Signs, small and large on lawns and public property, Canada Post mailouts, closets and trunks filled with printed materials, pens, pencils, re-usable bags and other swag – These are marketing tools of a campaign that drive recognition of a candidate. They cost thousands to produce and to get into the hands of voters.

Even those who have established name recognition on their side will spend $50,000 or more before October’s election.

The Journal’s Elise Stolte has done some great work (links below) breaking down the numbers from 2010, and some the early outreach efforts to campaigns by Edmonton’s development community.

Cash for campaigns: Winning a seat at City Hall requires lots of dollars from development-friendly donors

The data: Do developers play kingmaker in civic politics?

Fund raising at the civic level isn’t easy, I know, I’ve tried it. Municipal contributions, in large numbers, come from the development industry. Which in Edmonton is well represented by power-houses like the Urban Development Institute and the Edmonton Home Builders Association. As well as large-scale players such as Stantec, Qualico, Rohit and so on.

They build homes, multi-units, business spaces and towers and take a large part of the time and efforts of Council and Civic Adminsitration. From individual zoning bylaws, to land-use plans, visionary planning documents, municipal development plans and so on.

These are groups and industry representatives that have regular access and key stakeholder status with Council and Administration. That often outnumber other groups or community reps in a city boardroom. That are regular, and large dollar contributors to some municipal campaigns, and that can easily tilt a Council race in one direction through campaign contributions.

To candidates out there, I won’t say not to take a contribution if it’s offered. . It takes money to get elected, to advance a good platform, and that’s a personal decision that some individual campaigns and candidates will have to make.

I will say however, that those contributions do nothing to drive public debate or discussion. Nor do they help to create an equal field for each of a Ward’s candidates to put their materials and ideas in the hands of voters.

To voters, I’ll say that it really shouldn’t matter. The fact that a candidate can’t or won’t spend $50,000 or $100,000 isn’t at all a sign of their ability in or inabilities to serve in office. The fact that candidates trip over themselves to blitz the boulevard with signs coming into your neighbourhood, and your mailbox with the glossiest paper when you get home, isn’t terribly healthy for anyone; you, me, democracy or the environment.

To the Province and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the maximum allowable individual contribution should have been reduced. And the pre-nomination day registration and reporting requirments should have been applied to this election. It’s the 21st century, municipalities could have been ready in time.

To candidates; game on, good luck, and may the best ideas and the candidates willing to implement them, win in October.

Crime Stopped

I live in a mature neighborhood in the west-end. It’s straight, wide avenues running unimpeded between arterial roads happen to be a favorite for drug dealers who make no effort to hide their activities, as evidenced by the sound of screeching tires as they peel out after the deal.

A few summers back, the corner of my neighbour’s lawn became a favored gathering place for buyers and they waited for their delivery. The drop-off vehicles were always the same. We recorded make/model/plate numbers and put in the call.

I’ve been called as a witness before. A nearly 90 year-old neighbour was violently mugged while walking one-block home from the local market. I was more than happy to testify against a worthless thug from out of the province who used every stall tactic possible to build-up that ‘double time served’.

With what was clearly a well organized group with a small fleet of vehicles with commercial plates, I was less eager to potentially make a court appearance. So the call went to Crime Stoppers, not the EPS. The late night activity on the street ended very soon after.

Without anonymity that call wouldn’t have been made. I respect Crime Stoppers, I appreciate it, and I’ve used it to help protect my community. Letting it fail would be indeed be a crime. It’s a small investment with a big reach. I can only hope that those with the power and funds to keep it alive, be they private or public, step up and help ensure it’s sustainability. It may not be an arena, but it’s a world-class service with the criminal record to prove it.

Hey Hey Hey Goodbye…

Katz Group puts pressure on potential Edmonton Northlands contractor

Downtown arena may be dead if Oilers owner Katz doesn’t step up

An election is approaching – an unpopular arena funding model seems to become more so by the day – A provincial budget came and went without $100 million in arena funding, leaving the Mayor’s “the money is coming, the money is coming” reality distortion field, bleeding on the side of the potholed road – And a couple more City Councillors have toyed with the idea of possibly, maybe, sort of, voting against the Arena framework as it heads back to Council without the Provincial funding we knew it wasn’t going to get.

Did I mention an election is coming?

Anyway, as it all heads to either a tear-filled finale or a ramming through from throat to rectum, I’d like to offer Council and Council hopefuls a solution, free of charge.

Cut Katz loose.

Aside from a 30+ year lease for the use of the facility for 41 days per year + the playoffs (if any), let’s do it without him. Let’s do it without the Katz drama, the Katz ego, the $20 million marketing deal and the forfeiture of facility revenues. Let’s do it without his meagre investment to be spread out over decades.

I don’t begrudge Daryl Katz for making fantastically one-sided business deals, I just wish my city could do the same. Here’s Edmonton’s chance – cut Daryl out. If we’re going to build it, if we’re going to own it, if the city is going to stretch its borrowing capacity by a half-billion dollars to do this; then let’s run our rink, fill its seats, and profit fully from it.

If we need partners going forward, who have the expertise and the ability to bring shows through the door; Then starting with a trip to LiveNation, City Council can send Simon Farbrother on the road with instructions to fill the barn, not give away the farm.

Making it Easy

“I’m from the bureaucracy and I’m here to make things easier for you”. In a system that functions on meaningful consultation and two-way dialog, these could be comforting words, rather than ones that cause news articles, headaches and other pains.

Concerns raised over parking changes at Cross Cancer Institute – Global Edmonton

It’s my first blog post of the new year and a story I’ve been wanting to comment on for awhile now, as soon as free time allowed.

Last winter I volunteered to drive a relative to an appointment at the Leduc hospital. I’m not particularly experienced with medical facilities outside of Edmonton, so it was a new experience to me. Upon arriving I proceeded to do the first thing that any Edmontonian would do, ascertain where to pay for parking. This is the moment where one truly realizes that they’re not in the big city anymore, parking is free. No attendant to pass on the way in or out, no machine to pay, run up to, run back to the car, and then run into in the building.

Getting in was as easy as could be.

Whether or not you’re charging visitors and patients for parking at a major medical facility, as an operator you should have one particular goal in mind – making entry and egress for people who aren’t exactly there to have a good time, as easy on them as possible.

If you’re a cancer patient bravely facing a terrible illness, a scared and ill individual arriving at an ER, or a friend, family member, or caretaker of said person, the least we can do as a society and a medical system is make the process of arriving and getting inside, the least of one’s problem.

Alas, the administration behind the scenes at the Cross Cancer Institute has stepped in to show exactly how to make things harder in order to make them “more convenient”. In this case, with the removal of a parking attendant in favor of a kiosk system.

Where patients and/or their families had the option of simply dropping the deposit in the hand of another human-being and going about their likely stressful, painful and draining business, they now have the added stress of dealing with a kiosk and more than likely, having to overpay thanks to uncertainty over how long their stay is going to be. This, in addition to now having to park, visit the kiosk, run back to the car and then in.

You might say I’m going off over something that’s not exactly a terrible inconvenience, but I would strongly disagree.

I’m fortunate to be able to say that the Cross Cancer Institute is a building I’m not familiar with. Hospital visits for familiar reasons however, I’ve done my fair share of. A couple of times as a rattled and frightened patient but mostly as a worried and concerned relative. I can think of a number of scenarios where a situation like this, particularly at a major medical centre where patients can be found transporting themselves, can add unnecessary uncertainty and stress to the daily routine of someone who surely doesn’t need to bear anymore than they already do.

The obvious is, of course, not knowing the length of your appointment and overpaying to avoid having to worry about receiving a ticket or making your way back down to the parkade in the middle of things.

If you’re a relative or a caregiver, having a parking attendant to deal with at the end of the day relieves you from having to leave the patient alone in the vehicle or sitting in a wheelchair while you take care of this annoyance.

It adds more stress to the patient and their caregivers. It may be an easy task running to a kiosk and back again, or multiple times during the day. But if you’re ill, or exhausted, or physically run-down from the effects of facing illness or caring for someone who is ill, it’s an added and unnecessary burden.

To leave you with a personal example, on one trip to a scheduled appointment, a family member forget her purse at home. With a parking attendant on hand, it was a simple fix. They simply left their plate number with the attendant and paid later.

Finally, it’s simply safer for all involved to have a parking attendant on site. It’s a set of eyes on the site, not just for crime prevention, but to provide assistance should a medical incident, or a slip and fall occur within their line of sight.

The bureaucracy and facility administration can certainly study the issue, but in the meantime, put the attendant back in the booth and make these trips to the Cross Cancer Institute just a little bit easier for all involved.

Failing the Frail – Homecare reductions in Alberta

 Alberta Health Services cuts homecare services

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“…assessed by START (Short Term Assessment and Rehabilitation Treatment) to develop a treatment plan to improve her quality of life and allow her to continue living out in the community.”

Glenrose program keeps seniors active

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My headline for this blog post is, of course, recycled from when I wrote last year about the closure of the START program at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. The program, highlighted so well in the above quoted article from 2006, was shuttered last year. My father, thanks in no small part to the advocacy of some diligent and committed home-care staff, was one the last patients to benefit from the impressive rehabilitative care offered by the program, and the efforts of staff, a number of whom had been with the program since its very beginnings.

Alas, with little consultation, and wave of approved soundbites in the face of criticism (namely from former patients contacting any local media who would listen), START was quietly closed. Assurances followed that opportunities would be there to treat patients in the community, and that the level of care would not suffer.

Over the past two years, over 5000 additional patients, being treated in their homes, in their communities, have been added to rosters of the Edmonton area’s various home-care providers.

No one asks to suffer from, to endure, and fight to overcome the effects of age, illness, injury, etc. And it’s hard enough finding obstacles and barriers everywhere, and everyday, where healthy individuals may see little more than some steps to climb, a distance to walk, or a curb to step upon. What’s desired is a level of care that enables them to maintain some quality of life, to avoid complications that can lead to setbacks, and hospitalization, and some help for families that struggle to provide and care for a loved one in need.

None of this can truly be appreciated unless it’s been seen or experienced up-close. Unless you’ve witnessed and/or cared for a loved one with medical difficulties, unless you’ve been a nurse, or a therapist, or one of the many talented individuals in the medical field or provide these supports to individuals in their homes, it can be so incredibly easy to under appreciate the issues at hand.

And it would seem that our decision-makers, elected or otherwise, exist detached from the everyday struggles of many Albertans. Perhaps it can be seen in a government that allows a compassionate care bill to die on the order paper. Or maybe in the statement of an AHS official who seems to believe that there’s little connection between a level of care, and the time health-care providers have available to spend with a patient.

“”We are not reducing the level of care for any of our clients. We will be reducing the amount of time spent with them in some instances,” Williamson said.”

 

“I’m sorry Mrs. Johnson, we’re reducing your daily exercise program by 15 minutes, the program that allows you to stay mobile and active”.

“I’m sorry Mr. Jones, we don’t have time to treat all your diabetic sores today, we’ll do the rest tomorrow, or Monday”.

 

The day-to-day life of a homecare worker isn’t just time spent with the patient. Time seems much shorter when a worker new to a patient and unfamiliar with them and their care must deal with the situation. Time which is well used to do more than run through a prescriptive routine, but which can be used to fully assess a patient’s state and condition. Time which is also consumed by travel and the transportation of supplies and equipment.

AHS is once-again acting upon a decision made behind closed doors, without any consultation whatsoever with those affected the most, failing those whose care they have been tasked with.

I challenge AHS to do better. I challenge everyone from senior management to the Minister of Health to set foot in our communities, in our neighbourhoods – to book our community halls and events centres and discuss this issue and many more, face-to-face with everyday Albertans. Listen to those who receive home care, those who provide it to the highest of standards, those who strive to provide the highest level of care to their patients, and those who support and care-for a relative or a spouse in need. It’s called public consultation, it’s called stakeholder involvement, and it shouldn’t take digging by a political party or the media to break an issue out into the open. Transparency, consultation, and open decision should, as a principle, be the standard of this government, and in particular the department with which we entrust our health, our lives, and that of those we care about.

Development Dialog – Summarizing a meeting of minds at a west-end community hall

Earlier this week a group of community and development industry representatives met at the Glenwood Community Hall to discuss proposed amendments to Edmonton’s zoning bylaw and mature neighbourhood overlay.

Some material from the EFCL is available here – below are the presentation materials from a city of Edmonton open house last month, and the complete Council report with mark-ups of all the proposed changes.

I spent a good portion of the evening in what became a very interesting discussion between community and development folks regarding dialog between communities and development proponents, the benefits of proactive consultation, and acknowledging developments which contribute positively to the community through both the quality of the product and up-front discussion.

Below is a summary of the notes which I took throughout. Coming from multiple sides of the development process, I think they speak to the potential for not only positive and enhanced consultation processes, with the potential to alleviate neighbourhood concerns and ultimately create a better housing product in infill situations, but avenues to create neighbourhood plans and architectural/design themes for neighbourhoods.

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Up-front discussion between the community and proponents of a project could help to also facilitate development (addressing concerns about timing) while improving the quality of the project. A positive relationship with a community can reduce time requirements and allow uses to remain as discretionary. “Balance is the key”.

From there the discussion went it the relationship between residents and development proponents. There was a consensus that nobody wants to a product that detracts from the look of the community, that’s constructed without regard to community character or strong design standards, by someone whose interest isn’t in building a community and their reputation as a builder.

There was discussion about design standards and a general theme being established for an area through zoning. As well, it was discussed that there are already some standards in place which development officers could and should be using to encourage duplexes with architectural interest, that don’t simply have a copy/paste mirrored look.

Developers noted that one or more poor quality neighbouring projects can adversely affect one’s strategy in a neighbourhood. As well, that certainty is positive when making an investment – leaving to much poorly defined or up to the discretion of the development officer, increases investment risk.

There was also talk about ways that communities can acknowledge positive developments & consultation practices. Highlighting those that make the effort above those who disregard community concerns or are simply looking to “get in/get out”.

Edmonton Zoning Changes – low-density zones and mature neighbourhoods

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Show Your Work – On the Alberta Legislature, open legislation and debate

As you may have gathered..and as I may have mentioned one or two times, I’m a fan of municipal government. I respect greatly, its importance in our day-to-day lives. I value its accessibility to residents, whether it’s an interested citizen or a community group looking to be engaged in policy, and in operation of their city, town, hamlet, summer village, etc. And I appreciate the ability of my councillor, and the small group of decision-makers next to them, to engage in debate and discussion in an intimate setting that allows my representative, and everyone’s representatives to ask numerous questions, to engage one-on-one and have an indepth say. An advantage of a smaller group that also isn’t encumbered by party lines.

Being a good politico I do of course closely follow provincial politics. Their federal cousins however, I tend to consider far out of reach of the average citizen; operating from a place where the concept of “all politics is local” tends to take a back-seat, not so much to national discussion, but party ambition and the ability to fall back upon party name rather than a personal connection with constituents come election time. Yes of course, provincial politics could well be accused of having the same flaws. But 80+ MLAs doesn’t quite match the bustle of 300+ MPs or the sound volume of national campaigns.

Anyways, where am I going with this? Debate, the development of legislation, the consideration of amendments, and consultation with the public throughout.

It’s budget time for municipalities. Aside from a few in camera sessions, the process is open for all to drop into Council chambers and view the proceedings. You can/could attend a public hearing, watch civic departments and agencies make their budget requests, see the Mayor lay into the province and feds over municipal funding and next week, see Councillors debate various motions before arriving at a final product. It’s a far cry from the traditionally behind the scenes provincial budget process with an often rhetorical public discussion.

Not that budgets or even municipal funding were a prime topic for MLA’s yesterday. This past evening I tuned into the proceedings in the Leg, and kept the live stream going mostly out of curiosity as to whether any opposition amendments to the topic at hand, the elections accountability act, would actually pass. I believe the final tally was 2 accepted amendments out of 100+ proposed.

I suppose if you swing heavily to the government side, the process doesn’t particularly bother you. But to this observer, there’s something aggravating about watching, what seemed to be some quality proposals, falling under the wheels of a party bus. Isn’t it supposed to be province first, not party first? Opposition MLA’s are generally strong when it comes to articulating their proposals (I say this regardless of whether or not I agree with their politics). But it’s from the chorus of “NOs” which shot down so many of these amendments, that I’d like to hear some articulation of their viewpoint. The reason for their vote.

Perhaps I’m missing something here and have just spent too much time listening to Councillors speak to their reasons for voting yay or nay, one by one, prior to a vote. Maybe I’m just irked by the differences in accessibility by the general public to the policy development process between provincial and municipal politics. Or maybe I’m just plain annoyed that my elected provincial representative can propose an amendment – good, bad, or in between – and see it shot down by dozens of members on the other side, seemingly along party lines with limited explanation justifying their votes.

With the tools of the 21st century, and with a laptop, a smartphone, and/or an iPad sitting in front of almost every MLA and member of the public, there’s a better way to do this; it’s in the development of legislation and amendments using the open source model. A model that inherently creates public consultation and transparency by starting with a blank page and drafting public policy with many eyes upon it.

 

OpenLegislation – It’s a tool developed for the New York State Senate and Assembly

OpenLegislation is a web service that delivers legislative information from the New York State Senate and Assembly to the public in near-real time.

The platform allows bills and their various versions to be published as they’re drafted and as the legislative process moves on. It shows, in an easily accessible manner, how various members voted and even provides the public with the ability to comment and engage in discussion along the way.

The size and bustle of the Legislature may not allow for that intimate debate that can take place in municipal Council chambers. This is however the era of Twitter, of Facebook, of blogs and online forums. There is absolutely no shortage of tools for provincial politicians to post their thoughts on policy, to elaborate on how they vote and make decisions – or for the government to only reveal a bill when it’s reached what they consider to be a final, or near final product. The only hindrance is laziness, a lack of desire for transparency and the failure of the public to provide any political hit for being aloof and disconnected.

Yes, the government does have some public surveys and consultation processes. And sure, many members of the Provincial Assembly and many politicians in fact do utilize social media. But a public meeting with no follow-up, a survey whose results are only revealed through an MLA/minister and social media broadcasts – “Proud to be…”, “Great day at…” “Thrilled to be…” – aren’t engagement. They add little or nothing to the public debate, and as a citizen, I’m not particularly interested in giving up an evening to attend a public meeting, the feedback from which I’ll never have any insights into how it’s actually considered. Nor am I interested in a politician’s events schedule and how productive and great their day was. Although, if they wanted to announce what interest groups they’ve met with and who’s set up meetings to lobby them, that wouldn’t be a bad thing ;).

Yes, we live in a representative democracy. We elect people to make decisions on our behalf. But it shouldn’t mean that we aren’t provided a window into the process, from the drafting of policy to its passing, or the ability to open that window and engage in discussion. It shouldn’t mean that we don’t closely follow the progress of our representatives through the term – asking to see why they’ve voted as they have – what their thoughts are on proposals and ideas from all corners of the assembly. When the process is dominated by party politics, much of which takes place outside the view of the general public or with media at a party AGM crammed into a little room – in failing to do so, we probably deserve what poor policy and debate comes down the pipe as a result.

On info, data & access to

I was thinking today about a Freedom of Information request I filed a couple weeks back. Dropped $5 bucks in an envelope along with the form and sent it off to Ottawa. I’ve filed a handful of these requests in my time, but never at the Federal level.

It’s a request that could have been avoided entirely, saving me the price of five small coffees at McDonalds this week, had my MP and/or the crown corporation in question, engaged my community in a public consultation process prior to making an impactful decision- or even if response letters had been returned. Better yet, the info I’m seeking could have been made available through an embrace of the open data movement. Falling within the vein of financial and operating data that could routinely be released to public, both for informative purposes, and as a open & public performance measure.

But with less public data, and more unanswered correspondence than I’d like – I’m out five bucks and left sitting here tapping out a blog entry and wondering if a reply from the government is going to come before Christmas.

In thinking about this blog post, my train of thought went east, then veered north, so we’re going to cover two different paths to the public disclosure of government info.

First, OpenData:

 

– Provide a single-source for information and data catalogs. Don’t bury and scatter this information across government departments and obscure websites. Edmonton’s opendata catalog is great example. A single well-maintained and well-publicized entry point for individuals, businesses, organizations, etc.

– Make the process for requesting data easy and within view of the public. Take an application like IdeaScale, which allows anyone to submit and rank thoughts/ideas, and put it to use for this. Let folks openly submit requests for government datasets, let us see what others have requested, and throw our support behind them. And like the data catalog itself, do it through a central, and easy to find portal.

– If it’s FOIPed as a matter of public interest, make it public. A few years back my Community League successfully got our hands on internal documentation and process info from the selection of a route for the West LRT expansion. The entire request was a few thousand pages, some of it good for mild curiosity if nothing more. But the documentation and internal analysis from the project team was interesting and highly informative. We can and did post some of it to our website, but its reach and availability to an increased audience would have benefited greatly from the city itself, placing the documents online.

 

Government is of course steered by politics, and in politics there’s always going to be those to whom the public disclosure of information, will either be a non-priority, an annoyance, or a curse. Politicians aren’t going to be lining up to put their briefing notes online. There’s always going to be a need to actually drop a cheque in an envelope along with a form asking for the disclosure of X, Y, and Z (oh, how it would be nice to be able to do this online as well).

There are also, always going to be nuisance requests. And there are ways that those who choose to file these, can be left to their own devices in what I’m going to propose. The value of freedom of information is shown constantly in those requests which bring valuable information to light – that which informs, and that which holds those in power, responsible for their actions and decisions. These requests are not always made by a media organization with the funds to pursue information, paying those extra fees that are often charged for xeroxing and a staffer’s time, (my Community League was quoted several thousand for our request), or the platform to widely release what’s revealed.

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, the “funding platform for creative projects”. I’d like to suggest something similar targeted towards government prosperity. Maybe it’s put together by media groups, the child of like-minded organizations, or some form of social enterprise.

I’m not going draft any potential non-profit or corporate bylaws for it here, but here is the Coles Notes version of how I’d envision its operation. Anyone – Individual, biz, etc lays out the information they’re seeking. For low-income individuals, this is the chance to have the cost of initial filing fees covered. For others, if they’ve filed a request and have been quoted additional fees to have it fulfilled, this is where our funding platform kicks in. With interested donors covering the fee request with the agreement that the information received will be published online, through the platform.

So if there are folks out there in the media or in the non-profit sector looking for a long-term transparency project, please consider this idea open to all.

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Study ranks Canada’s freedom-of-information laws dead last

Alberta gets a ‘D’ in freedom of information audit

Planning Jasper Place – a first meeting of minds

 

This past evening, 20 individuals, residents and business owners from the communities of Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown met at MacEwan University’s Jasper Place campus for the first meeting of the Jasper Place Area Redevelopment Plan “Evidence Team”. By the way, we’re all eager to an official confirmation as to whether or not the city is going to be purchasing the campus.

So what is an “Evidence Team”? Land-use CSI?

The overall objective is to create a shared and transparent source of evidence through collaboration between the City of Edmonton and Jasper Place community members through the creation of learning scenarios. The purpose of the learning scenarios is to understand the anticipated impacts of potential future development scenarios. These learning scenarios will be used to inform the drafting of ARP policy options and as a basis for technical studies in the second phase of the ARP process.

To break down the discussion from the last night:

What would you point out as signs of a healthy and vibrant Jasper Place?

Responses:

-Street life & complete streets – accessible to all modes of transportation with welcoming ground-floor retail and services.

-An influx of young families to preserve our community schools

-People, eyes on the street and feet on our sidewalks

-Densities that can support local business. Allow more Edmontonians to enjoy our location, amenities and connectivity with the rest of the city.

-Housing choice, to promote diversity and create options for residents at all stages of their lives.

-Destination of choice, a place residents want to stay for the long-term, or return to.

-Community of pride, where residents are proud and enthusiastic about the place they call home

-Adequate park and green space

-A feeling of safety and security

-Attractive facades

-Revitalization of empty/derelict sites

-Improved streetscapes

-Defined branding for the area

-Vibrant arts and culture

 

Some of these are the sorts of things that can be defined in a statutory land-use plan. Some are, hopefully, the end result of a successful plan that encourages certainty and reinvestment. Some are entirely in the hands of the community and it’s ability to see and partake in a vision for the area. And some are issues to be dealt with by existing tools or new ones which can be defined through this process.

So what are the definable metrics for success. How do you measure the state of community, it’s needs as well as the success of a community plan? A next step for the group is to define suitable indicators and metrics to be used. That create an informative, clear and transparent process as part of performance-based planning.

Population, density, square footage.

Attractiveness and quality of life

Another task for the group is in examining broader scenario’s for the future of these four communities. There are some past Council decisions and old policy in place for the area which is, in ways, contradictory to present policy – the municipal development, the residential infill guidelines & the transit oriented development guidelines. The status quo – transit oriented development with modest land-use changes – higher changes to the area’s built form. These are the scenarios which the team has been tasked with examining over the next while.

As for the team itself. One demographic lacking is that of parents with young families. So if that’s you, and you’re interested in taking part in helping to plan the future of Jasper Place, visit Edmonton.ca/JasperPlaceARP to get involved. As well, it’s important that all four communities are well represented, so if you’re a resident of Glenwood, please consider whether this is a process you’d be interested in contributing too.

More than just a great place to live, Jasper Place is uniquely situated as a gateway to downtown and the west-end. An ARP is just a start, a part of a future vision and while I’m exited to see how it develops, emotional and financial investment, community pride and volunteerism are going to play a large part in how these neighbourhoods develop and the way in which they’re perceived by investors, both on the business side and those looking for a place to call home. Without those, an ARP is just a planning document that may well not attract reinvestment or withstand the test of time.

State of Democracy

EDMONTON—In findings that should disturb every politician across the country, a series of new national surveys suggest record numbers of Canadians are fed up with the state of our democracy.

Worse for elected leaders, more and more Canadians believe that politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, don’t listen to them, don’t care about the issues that really concern them and aren’t willing to act to preserve and improve our democratic institutions and traditions.

Only 17 per cent of Canadians trust Parliament and only 10 per cent trust political parties.

Read the rest @ TheStar.ca

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I can’t find myself disagreeing with the results of any of the referenced studies. Anyway, I’ve hacked out some thoughts..bit of a rant on the subject of engagement, good governance and political involvement.

 

“Neuman told the delegates that growing numbers of Canadians are disillusioned with elected officials and have now turned to supporting grassroots citizen actions, such as the last fall’s Occupy Movement, the B.C. referendum on the HST and this summer’s Quebec student protests, as a way to make their voices heard.”

 

It’s pretty simple at the end of the day:

No un-returned phone calls.

No unanswered letters.

No letters advising you “to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school”.

No party whips, and party leaders, and party agendas to wade through.

And no bureaucratic and political hills to climb and barriers to entry, that have been built up to the point of inaccessibility for the average person.

 

These are things that don’t exist in any successful and inclusive grassroots & community movement. And for the average person who wants to be an engaged citizen, who wants to be involved and have say – these require the strength in numbers of grassroots organization to overcome.

It’s why I joined a community league. To advocate on behalf of my community with like-minded individuals, in way we could never, ever, do on our own. It’s the reason Edmonton’s community league movement was built, to provide citizens with the ability to positively affect the growth of a city in which the voice of the individual was increasingly being drowned out.

As for other levels of government….

In the provincial legislature, my community is represented by an MLA who was thrown out of government caucus for bluntly laying out the state and management of health care in Alberta. Party came first, and a decision was made behind closed doors. against our constituency, our MLA, without any consultation. And yet their smiles were warm and friendly when they came to ask for our support in 2012.

Federally, my riding is represented by an MP who is chronically disengaged, and often unreachable. What accessibility to government and policy can there be for an individual or small-group when even a simple discussion can’t be had, or an inquiry answered?

Of course Canadians feel disengaged, unheard and detached from government. Time during the day is short, our lives are hectic, and we have little tolerance for spending precious free time talking to a wall or wading through rhetoric.

But if we want something more than a depressingly low voter turnout, policy developed in a vacuum, and partisan sniping, then folks need to find the time and fortitude to go out and demand it. It’s the only way we’re going to cultivate future leaders with the will and desire to make their time in government as demanding one them and their colleagues as possible, by initiating engagement, transparency and citizen participation from the top-down.

Opportunity, right in the centre of Jasper Place

Update – The purchase has been approved by Council!

 

Second only in impact to the approval of a statutory Area Redevelopment Plan next year, in a single-effort tomorrow, City Council could be in the position of granting a substantial opportunity to the west-end and in particular, the communities of the Jasper Place area in Ward 1.

The orange building at the corner of 100th avenue and 156th street, the site of a former school in the Town of Jasper Place, has long-been a distinctive mark. It’s also centered between four communities undergoing a dedicated revitalization, across the street from the Jasper Place transit terminal, and adjacent to a future LRT stop, within an active business revitalization zone, and within an area of Stony Plain Road envisioned to be a walkable pedestrian coordinator and vibrant urban market.

A decision by MacEwan University’s board of governors in 2009, to consolidate operations around it’s downtown campus means an open opportunity for the future of the building and site.

Slated to begin construction in 2013, with a opening targeted for 2015;

The new facility will house operations for the Centre for the Arts & Communications (CFAC), which will relocate from the west end campus.


Students will remain in the west end until the new facility is complete.

Yesterday evening several interested community league’s gathered to learn more about MacEwan’s plans and possible future options and processes for repurposing the site. Officials see a likely future for the facility in serving the public in some way, and any sale will need the approval of the provincial government through an order in council.

City staff have been discussing a possible purchase of the facility for some time now. With a possible future use an “arts incubator”.

With the surrounding communities looking for an investment in local amenities, and an adjacent business revitalization zone looking to create an attractive urban market, there is opportunity here. And with a decision today, Council can move the purchase forward. An arts incubator perhaps, space for community meetings, activities and programs, or more – right next to a future LRT transit station.

The loss of an educational facility in the community need not be a loss at all, just a new direction for an accessible, centrally located facility, at the four corners of neighbourhoods with a combined population of over 15,000. Officially sponsored revitalization efforts will have ended by the time MacEwan University has moved downtown, a decision to purchase this orange icon tomorrow, could be the best way for the city to end those efforts and send the communities of West Jasper Place, Glenwood, Canora, Britannia-Youngstown as well Sherwood, Jasper Park and more, off into their future.