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Month: November 2011

Budget Wants

It’s that time of year.  Winter rolls in to stay, the Xmas shopping season begins, and City Council debates the City budget for the new year.  I spoke at the November 23rd public hearing on behalf of the Glenwood Community League, in support of Community League operating & infrastructure grants, as well as volunteer training.  These come with a city-wide scope that benefits all Community Leagues.  However, as a Jasper Place resident, I’ve got a budget ‘want’ for our neck of the woods, and you’re gonna hate me for it because it’s a big one.  The Grant MacEwan Arts Campus in West Jasper Place is centrally located between the Jasper Place communities, just across 156st from the Jasper Place Transit Terminal, and just feet from the JP station on the proposed WLRT conceptual design.  The building is valued at $37 million.  With Grant MacEwan centralizing its programs, the site could well become available in the near future, while the Mayor has already expressed some support for the purchasing of the building by the city.So why in difficult economic times should the city budget to purchase this facility in the near future?  Good question, I’m glad you asked:

1) The Community of West JP has been chronically short of park space since the old school site was turned over to Grant Mac for the construction of the campus.  Furthermore, the community’s only public park is the school yard of Sherwood Elementary, a school with an uncertain future, while the community hall adjacent to it isn’t getting any younger.  It’s not outdoor park space, but it could become a wonderful community gathering point and recreational facility.

2)  As many residents pointed out at the time, the campus was built chronically short of parking.  Furthermore, the proposed cut through the southeast corner of the 156st/Stony Plain Road intersection by the West LRT will remove most of the campus’ onsite parking.  The Jasper Place area is home to 15,000 residents who can get to and from it without much driving or hassle at all.

3)  The HUM.  The Stony Plain Road Business Association is still in the hunt for a home for their proposed Holistic Urban Market.  There’s more than enough room on-site to house it, and more than enough residential density around it, and coming through future infill to support it, while affording residents another amenity to allow them to ‘live locally’.

4) Both the Stony Plain Road commercial corridor and the four neighboring communities are under-going revitalization efforts.  There are three realms to a neighborhood revitalization – That which the community can do, that which the city can do, and that which land and business owners can do.  The Stony Plain Road Business Association has been active for several years and is looking to take a larger leap with the creation of a local market.  The city is in the process of preparing for streetscape work along SPR, but has much work to do to cultivate and help revitalize local public spaces.  The community itself is long-suffering, having endured numerous delays to local projects, namely those held up by ongoing uncertainty over the WLRT, while losing a number of volunteers along the way.  The purchase of the Arts Campus can positively affect all three – creating a centre that builds pride within the community, helps to support and grow the local business revitalization, and hopefully helps to attract new quality infill development along the way.

Well actually I’ve got two asks, but we’ll talk about redeveloping the neighboring Butler Park/JP transit terminal area into a town square centre, another day.

Park It

Going to the hospital sucks.  Being in the hospital sucks.  No, I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here, but having been to and around hospitals many times over the past decade for family members, and having gone through the UofA ER myself this past fall, I just wanted to say it.  Getting in to see family, to see a doctor, to deliver something from home, to ask questions, and/or to make some attempt to calm nerves, these are the priorities upon arriving, and once you get in the building of course.Once you’re on hospital grounds you should be in a place where care and compassion come first – where site design and operating procedures maximize to the extent possible the conveniences and minimize the distractions on patients, doctors, families and caregivers.This week, Rajendra Kale MD, Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, published an editor slamming parking costs and policies in Canadian hospitals:

Parking fees are a barrier to health care and add avoidable
stress to patients who have enough to deal with. They can and
sometimes do interfere with a clinical consultation, reducing
the quality of the interaction and therefore of care.

Dr. Kale also quotes from a 2008 press release from the Government of Scotland, announcing the termination of parking fees by their National Health Service:

“It’s simply not fair to expect patients or visitors to have to pay when they come to hospital, when they may be suffering personal anxiety, stress or grief. Put bluntly, a car parking charge is often the last thing people need.

The editorial can be downloaded in-full here: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2011/11/28/cmaj.111846

The Edmonton Journal, quotes Health Minister Fred Horne in response:

“I can certainly sympathize with the plight of people, and when you’re looking after someone who is ill, perhaps a family member, it can be just one more thing that you have to deal with,”
Hospital parking fees here to stay, province says – @EdmontonJournal.com

The larger issue here is, I believe a need for an independent Patient Advocate who can provide an ego and personal agenda free objective outside look at the system, with the resources to lobby and press for adequate changes to address patient needs, concerns and access limitations.

On this issue, the response of the Alberta Government is that $55 million of $60 million in collected parking fees is used to maintain AHS’s parking structures, and cover maintenance and staffing costs..  Perhaps something for the Auditor General to look at in the near future.  I can’t argue the government’s $ amounts with the information available, or the validity and value of parking lot construction, maintenance agreements and so forth, and I’m not really sure if I want to spend several months fighting through with FOIP request on this.  So instead I’ll talk about the 21st century, and how while we may not have flying cars and cities on the moon, we can surely do better than a parking system that leaves patients alone in the car while the friend or family member bringing them to the ER runs off to pay for parking, or where time better spent concentrating on treatment or asking questions of physicians, or anything that focuses on the patient and their care, takes a backseat to staring at the clock and wondering how much time is left on the metre.  Even while typing this I can already hear the sounds of someone, somewhere in downtown Edmonton, typing up a memo featuring some depressing cost estimates for a smart parking system.  So how about this, I’ll park, go see my relative who’s undergoing treatment, you grab my plate # when I drive in, and when I drive out, and bill me later when I’m not sick with worry, and far from being in a mood to watch the clock.


I’ve long grumbled about the formats used by City of Edmonton’s “Council on the Web” in broadcasting live Council and Committee meetings and streaming archived meetings.  It’s wonderful that the city does do this (St. Albert residents would probably agree, as would anyone who payed through the teeth for Council audio recording back in the day), however the current use of Windows Media by the city doesn’t allow for viewing on mobile devices or direct downloading (if registered to speak to an agenda item, it would be convenient to be able to check in on a mobile device to see how the speakers list is progressing).  So who does this sort of thing well, one example I’ve recently stumbled upon is the City of Cupertino.  Cupertino isn’t a perfect example by any means, and admittedly they aren’t providing the information in ‘open formats’, however their Agendas and Minutes page allows for the downloading of Council and Committee video and audio in a few different formats.  The kicker however, the city that serves as home to Apple…..broadcasts their live meetings using Flash (insert laughter here).

Anyway, if you do come across a city or town that broadcasts live Council meetings and allows for downloads of, in formats convenient for all devices, please let me know.


Steve Jobs speaking to Cupertino City Council in June of this year:

Three Years or Four

Alberta government plans to give municipal politicians longer terms in office – Global News Story


I’ll begin this with a bit of disclosure, I’ve run for City Council and may consider doing so again one day.  That said, my first reaction to the news of Council terms potentially being extended to four years could best be described as discomfort.  Municipal governance is part of our daily lives, we interact with it constantly whether we’re enjoying a civic rec center or just crossing the street.  As a community volunteer and advocate, it’s certainly the level of government dealt with the most in regards to what happens close to home – fire rescue services/policing, neighborhood revitalization, amenities, planning & development and other local policy.  Unlike provincial or federal politics, there is no forcing of elections, nor is there an opposition to serve as a check & balance for government, or to advocate for those persons and issues which have been overlooked or neglected.  Locally, the body of decision making is condensed. The advantage for residents, organizations, civic advocates, etc, is in having a Councillor, free from the restraints of party politics with a far greater ability to influence their level of government than a sole MLA.  The downside is the ability of a poorly performing official, simmering grudges/predjudices or hard stances on specific issues to become a crippling blockage for individuals or organizations trying to affect change. The longer the period of time between election cycles, the harder it is to hold civic decision makers accountable, or at the very least see them taking part in debates with challengers on their records, new ideas, initiatives, and etc.

A number of the arguments in favor of extending the council term have revolved around the time periods for orienting new Councillors to their roles, and preparing for elections at the end of their terms.  For the former, I beleive there is a greater onus on voters to inform themselves as to the experience level of candidates in dealing with City Council and Administration.   There is the merit to the argument of Council’s affectiveness in the lead up too elections, as decision items can become delayed, up to several months before an election, and time is needed to bring new Councillors up to speed on on-going items.  Three years however, I would consider to be a suitable amount of time to move one’s legislative agenda towards fruition, and again, there should be a greater onus on prospective candidates to spend the months leading up to election, informing themselfes of on-going projects and City/Council initiatives, leaving them able to discuss these issues with voters, and jumping into Council consideration and debate if elected.

Regardless of what happens in the spring legislative session, I do hope to see debate, research, and public consultation on this issue as there are many aspects to it worthy of consideration.  For more info, this a interesting discussion paper on the issue from the Government of British Columbia.

Your MP at OpenParliament

Since I used OpenParliament.ca to provide transcripts of House of Commons proceedings in a previous post, I thought I’d provide links to the OpenParliament pages for all of 0ur local MP’s.  The pages include the member’s statements in the House, as well as in the press and social media:

Mike Lake – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont 

Laurie Hawn – Conservative MP for Edmonton Centre (Alberta)

Rona Ambrose – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Spruce Grove (Alberta)

Linda Duncan – NDP MP for Edmonton—Strathcona (Alberta)

James Rajotte – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Leduc (Alberta)

Tim Uppal – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Sherwood Park (Alberta)

Brent Rathgeber – Conservative MP for Edmonton—St. Albert (Alberta)

Peter Goldring – Conservative MP for Edmonton East (Alberta)

Heritage Days

Sunrise Beach, Alberta
Sunrise Beach is situated an hour northwest of Edmonton, and a place where I spent no insignificant amount of time.  The Summer Village of Sunrise Beach sits on the west side of Sandy Lake, with the Summer Village of Sandy Beach (pictured off in the distance) on the east side.

A recreational location within a short distance of the capital region, the Summer Villages saw their fortunes decline with the water level as the lake became eutrophic, its underground springs overcome with mud and sediment, the waterbody riddled with noxious weeds, and eventually too shallow, and the shoreline too soft to launch even a paddle boat.  In there is a lesson of neglect and ignorance, as efforts to prevent the lake’s decline went either unfunded, left perennially in limbo without governmental support (dredging and weed cutting being the primary victims),  or simply misdirected all together.

The lake in its prime had a life all its own, from early homesteads and subdivisions to provide homes for soldiers returning from WWII, the formation of the Summer Villages, Regattas, Heritage Days, float planes, and fishing off of the causeway.  While there are two Alberta Heritage grain cars out there somewhere bearing the names Sunrise Beach and Sandy Beach, the heritage of this place is largely private, sitting in individual’s photo albums or community newspapers without modern digital records.  Council records from major decisions to major (and sometimes entertaining) arguments sitting in the closets of former Councillors, waiting inevitably to be thrown out as residents leave the area.  Perhaps most importantly, at least on the larger scale, the lessons in lake (mis)management which I dare say would serve future government ministers and public servants well, are likely to go unrecorded in any detail, or in any public record.

This is why the October 31st Edmonton Journal article on the Hamlet of Hairy Hill caught my eye.  Hairy Hill’s decline has links to causes all its own, but is not so unique on a grand scale, as Alberta’s, and Canada’s population is shifting towards more urban centres. While the Journal took the time to speak with long-term residents and provide us with a window into its history, as we lose older generations of Albertans and rural residents, first to population migration and then to time, a great deal of the past and heritage of Alberta’s smaller municipalities is on the verge of never being recorded in depth, or in detail.  It’s not oil or coal, but it is valuable, and something I think we should seriously consider mining, treasuring and banking for future generations, in a larger heritage endeavor, while we can.