Tag Archives: Alberta

Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

While in Banff National Park, Wendy and I took the boys up to Johnston Canyon which was insanely busy.  The parking lot was packed and by the time we left, people were parking over a kilometre in both ways down the Bow Valley Parkway.   We had plans to take the boys to the upper waterfalls.

So as the sign says, it is a 1 km hike to the first falls.  Yet when I started the Map My Hike app on my iPhone, it said that it was 4k with a return hike. 

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

I think I have met these three people before.

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

They enjoyed the walk.  They weren’t tired but the progress was at a standstill because there was a group taking selfie’s up ahead.

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

This is my favorite shot from the hike.

The hike along Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

A Parks Canada employee has what looks to be a long and wet day ahead of him.

Parks Canada employee preparing for what looks to be a long days work at Johnston Canyon in Prince Albert National Park

IMGP0396Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

This is the legendary lower falls of Johnston Canyon.  We had planned to go to the upper falls but as the photos show, the crowds were brutal and the antibiotics I had to deal with the infection in my ankle hadn’t beaten the infection back very far.  Combined it meant that it would be a long hike and since we are coming back next summer to hike to the inkpots, it wasn’t a big deal to call it a day and dodge the selfie sticks back to the car.

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

I think we can all agree that I nailed this picture of a chipmunk.

 Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

Did I mention that the trail was packed.  This is the main reason why we didn’t go to the second falls.  So many people (and my ankle was really hurting me).  Also, most of the people we passed on the trail were looking at their phones.  Apparently world class scenery and nature doesn’t compete well with Angry Birds.

 Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

If you want to see more photos from Johnston Canyon, check out the full set on Flickr.

Sawback

Sawback is a small picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Johnston Canyon.  It used to be small and has gotten smaller since Parks Canada has moved the tables near to the roadside turn off and allowed the vegetation to take over old picnic areas.

Growing up, it was my favorite place in the world.  We used to take a yearly trip from Calgary (and later Saskatoon) to Johnston Canyon and then picnic at Sawback.  I was looking forward to taking the boys there and was quite disappointed when all there was left was some picnic tables near the parking lot.

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It wasn’t the picnic areas that make it so great, it was the babbling brook of glacier runoff that make it so much fun to explore as a kid.  I knew that didn’t go anywhere so I followed an overgrown trail into the bush and 50 feet into it I found the brook.

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Mark and Oliver did exactly what I did year ago and this jump across it and get all wet.

Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkMark and Oliver at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkMark and Oliver at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

This shot was right after I had scolded the boys about making faces every time I tried to take their photo. 

Mark and Oliver at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

So while the picnic tables placement kind of sucks, we will return in 2016 with a proper picnic blanket and food.

Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkWendy at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkA forced family photo at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

I told Mark that there is a sacred Cooper tradition of dunking one’s head into the glacier water that ran out of the Sawback mountain range.  He put his hands in, screamed from the cold…

Mark dunking his head into freezing glacier water at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National ParkMark dunking his head into freezing glacier water at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

 

And dunked his head into it.

Mark dunking his head into freezing glacier water at the Sawback Picnic area in Banff National Park

After he got out and was struggling with hypothermia did I tell him that he was the first of the Cooper’s to do such a thing.  Yes, I am a horrible father.

All of the snapshots I took at Sawback can be found in their album on Flickr.

How the West Was Once

After two days of being up at 4:45 a.m., I feel like I am slacking and sleeping in today.  It’s almost 7 a.m. 

Today we are heading to Heritage Park.  I haven’t been there since I was in Grade 4.  Much as stayed the same but a lot has changed.  That was so long ago that the school I attended for Grade 4 has closed.

Before we go to Heritage Park, I need to take Mark to Chinook Centre so we can hit up the Apple Store and he can get a new iPod Nano.   His died and then I leant him my old iPod Touch which he then dropped.  So here we go again.  I wonder if he can get an Otter Box for it.

Oliver doesn’t know there is a Lego store in that mall but I can’t see us walking by it and not going in.

After that it is to the park where we will wander around aimlessly and eat homemade food, ride a steam engine, take a cruise on a paddle wheeler, and see how Calgary was once.

The Rockies

Another obscenely early morning around here.  Wendy posted late last night about the trip out here.

I am waiting for the crew to get ready before we head downstairs to grab breakfast and then hit the road to Banff National Park today.  We are taking the old highway through Cochrane along a winding road to Canmore.   From there we will make a quick detour into Banff for some fresh bread and food before heading to Johnston Canyon where will hike the trail to the second large waterfall.  It isn’t so much of a hike then a stroll.  It’s also a great place to people watch as there are tourists from all over the globe there and they are fascinated by a lot of things (like squirrels) that we find mundane.

From there we are heading to a picnic area called Sawback where we will have a quick picnic lunch, then proceed up the Bow Valley Parkway until we get to Lake Louise.  Along the way we are checking out a campground that we plan to stay at next year.  It looks good online but it’s always nice to see it first hand.

After we explore the Chateau Lake Louise, we are heading back to Banff where the Banff Gondola and Cave and Basin National Historic site wait for us.  After dinner the plan is to see the Bow Falls chill out (or warm up) in the Upper Banff Hot Springs before heading back to Calgary.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one of my favourite spots on earth.  I loved going there as a kid and I can’t wait until I can show Wendy, Mark, and Oliver the site.  As for the Chateau Lake Louise, it was there that I proposed to Wendy so it will be fun heading back there.

Saskatchewan lessons from Alberta’s Election

After watching the carnage from the PC Party crashing and burning last night, everyone in Saskatchewan seemed to have opinions on what the Alberta election meant for Saskatchewan.

For those on the right, they predicted a wave of people from Alberta moving from the business hating Alberta to the business friendly Saskatchewan.  They seem to expect that when Notley does the unthinkable and raise oil royalties, Alberta companies will flee for Saskatchewan (despite the fact that Peter Lougheed did the exact same thing decades ago.  They ignore the fact that the oil is in Alberta and therefore so are the jobs.  Also as Ontario proved during the Rae years, business will just stay put and vote in a new government before they move to another province.  Roots are important to people, they just don’t get up and leave.   So let’s cool down and ignore those idiots who have actually prediction an influx of a million people to Saskatchewan over the next couple of years and relax.   No one chooses a province based on partisan politics.  It is based on jobs and work.

Those on the left see this as another evidence of an orange wave.  I don’t think it was a move to the NDP as much as it was a total rejection of the PC Party of Alberta.  There will be some vote analysis done but I would suspect Alberta was a really frustrated electorate.  If Notley governs well, then great but if she doesn’t, then she will be done.   Also keep in mind that Alberta is a very progressive big government province.  It is just paid for by oil royalties.  It has lead the way in some of the most innovative housing, homeless, poverty reduction and education strategies in North America and do you know what, no one has cared.  In fact the Wildrose Party has pushed for more of those kind of programs, especially with seniors care.

I was musing online the other night that if I was in Alberta, I may vote for the Wildrose Party because even I don’t think Alberta’s big government social contract works in the long run.  They may be social conservatives in Alberta but they love to spend money. 

For all of the talk of the Klein cuts, let’s put that in context, the neo-Conservative NDP under Roy Romanow made even deeper cuts to fight our deficit.  Alberta may be the biggest spending government not lead by Bob Rae in history.

The big lesson from last night is that elections matter and polls this early out don’t.  That doesn’t mean that Brad Wall will lose and Cam Broten (or whoever the Liberal leader is will win) but it does mean that we have no idea what will happen a year out.  What looked like a political masterstroke to the chattering class five months ago didn’t survive last night.  Now it is the PC Party of Alberta who could be the weaker party in a merger with the Wildrose Party and the Liberal Party may not exist by next election in Alberta.

I heard a bunch of ridiculous talk that Brad Wall is still unbeatable but at different points so was Jim Prentice or Paul Martin.   I remember vote predictions saying that Martin would win over 200 seats and could challenge Brian Mulroney for the largest majority ever.  How did that turn out? Back in 1994, the Liberals lead by Linda Haverstock were well ahead in the polls in Saskatchewan.

In Alberta, Notley was at 10% not that long ago.  There was a feeling that the NDP would be reduced in seat count and only hold their base in Edmonton.

Last weekend I was out with some politicos.  We made some arguments that Brad Wall could win some more seats from the NDP or just as likely the NDP could gain a couple of seats in Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert and end up with like 17 – 19 seats.  That is a fearless prediction folks, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party will either win some more seats or lose some more seats in the next election.  Take that prediction to the bank! (of course now that I have said that, things will remain the exact same)

In the end, the average voter doesn’t read this blog, doesn’t follow you and I on Twitter, doesn’t read Murray Mandryk or Andrew Coyne and is focused on getting by in their life and job.  They have things like hockey games to get their kids to and they worry about the noise their car is making far more than whatever stunt has just been played in the legislature.  Politicos may live and die on what is happening (and for that we have Andrew Coyne, Kady O’Malley, and Murray Mandryk) but the rest of the world doesn’t.

Before you scoff at me, in the last city election there were candidates out every night door knocking from now until the election.  All of them, winner or loser told me at one point in that cycle that it didn’t really make any difference this far out from the election, people weren’t engaged.

They pay attention when the writ is dropped and the lawn signs come up.  Right now the vast majority of people are going, “What happened in Alberta and how did the NDP win there? I thought that Prentice guy seemed all right.”  That is the end of it.  I actually read one detailed vote analysis in the United States that showed a surprising amount of people (enough to turn electoral votes) voted on how much rain they got that year and the year before.  If you are a politician and you just read that last part, you need a hug right now.

So the lessons to take from the Alberta vote.  Elections matter.  You never know what can happen and probably never say, “look in the mirror” to someone that you need their vote in a couple of weeks. Other than that, there isn’t a lot to take away from it.

Will Saskatchewan Fall into Recession?

Will Saskatchewan experience a recession because of falling oil prices?

The Conference Board of Canada predicts this drop will cause Alberta to slip into a recession by the end of the year. Jeff Rubin, the author of “The End of Growth” and former chief economist of CIBC World Markets believes the dip in the sector could affect Saskatchewan as well, though not as seriously.

“I don’t expect Saskatchewan or Newfoundland to be as adversely affected as Alberta,” Rubin said.

“But it’s going to impact the economy, it’s going to impact tax revenues. Governments are going to be challenged in the sense that if they don’t challenge spending, they’ll see their deficits go off side.”

It could also affect property prices.

The Conference Board of Canada predicts that Alberta will slip into a recession before the end of the year. Rubin echoes that warning. He said Alberta could experience its worst recession since the late 1980s.

At the end of the day, Saskatchewan will be okay because we have what the world needs.  It may not be as great as it was in 2009 but we will be okay.  That being said, we are so reliant on commodity prices that these kind of dips are going to impact us forever with no way out.  In that way the new Saskatchewan under Brad Wall isn’t a lot different than the old Saskatchewan under Grant Devine or Roy Romanow.  Like the rest of the world, the global economy will always have a big impact on us for good or for bad.

Cam Broten has said before that he wants more eggs in more baskets.  I think we all do in Saskatchewan but man is it hard to do.  I posted before about Alberta’s struggles in diversifying their economy and the same thing has happened here.  I agree with diversification but we are a province of a million people and there are going to be times that the world economy conspires against us and makes it really hard.  This is one of those times.

Alberta has already tried to diversify it’s economy. It failed

From the Calgary Herald

As for policy, the Alberta government tried to diversify the Alberta economy in a deliberate fashion back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Starting under then Premier Peter Lougheed and also under his successor, Don Getty, the provincial government provided loans, loan guarantees and equity stakes to companies in the non-energy sector.

In one example, the provincial government backed “made in Alberta” banks, trust companies and investment firms. After the early 1980s recession and then a mid-decade collapse in oil prices (to $10.25 a barrel in April 1986, down from $26 in December 1985), Alberta’s real estate values also plummeted. That took down many of those same provincially guaranteed financial institutions, themselves heavily invested in real estate.

The price tag to the provincial government for that diversification effort was $1.8 billion, for everything from failed loan guarantees to partially covered consumer and investor deposits.
In another diversification attempt, the province also loaned, guaranteed and took equity partnerships in everything from a forestry company to a meat packing plant, a provincial bitumen upgrader, a waste treatment plant and a high-tech company. By the early 1990s, defaults and foregone capital investments from all of the above cost the province $2.2 billion — in addition to the $1.8-billion financial sector collapse.

These efforts didn’t help Albertans adjust to a new reality or diversify the economy. It was simply activist industrial policy, where governments pick winners and losers. The latter cropped up more regularly than the former.

Our Family Adventure with the 2014 Ford Escape

It’s been a long summer but one of the highlights was spending some time with the 2014 Ford Escape.  I reviewed in 2013 and the SUV is essentially the same.  Instead of just driving it around Saskatoon (done that before), I decided to take it on the road.  This is after all where a crossover is supposed to come in useful isn’t it (that and as a hockey kid taxi).  So the four of us got up really early one Sunday and took a long one day drive from Saskatoon to Drumheller and back.   It’s around 1000km in a day if you are keeping track.  At the end of the trip we were going to either love or hate the 2014 Ford Escape.

2014 Ford Escape Titanium Edition

We packed relatively light.  Even though it was a brand new vehicle we tossed our emergency kit in the back, three camera bags, a cooler, and some extra jackets in case the weather forecast was horribly wrong.  That took up about 5% of the rear cargo space.

After hitting Rosetown for breakfast where we met this old-timer, we made a brief stop at Alsask to show the kids the old NORAD radar dome  

Alsask Radar Dome

Alsask Radar Dome

Ford Escape meets giant dinosaur in Drumheller

We got into Drumheller at about noon where the Ford Escape met this guy.   I know I signed something that stopped people from smoking in the Ford Escape, I couldn’t remember if I was covered by stampeding dinosaurs.  So I sent Mark and Oliver up to deal with the T-Rex.

Mark and Oliver with the T-Rex

After an epic struggle, they subdued the beat and saved the Escape.

I have driven from Saskatoon to Calgary many times and each time (generally at Hanna), I would get out and feel the pain in my back after four long hours of driving.  This time it was completely different and here is why  With the Escape, there was none of that.  The air conditioner kept the kids cool while the heated seats kept Wendy and I feeling a lot more comfortable.  If only they had a back massage feature.

After lunch we checked the GPS for directions to the Atlas Coal Mine.  It couldn’t find it.  It found every other little attraction in Drumheller but missed this one.  Obviously Ford downloads these attractions from a database but I was surprised a National Historic Site was not on it.  Ironically enough Siri with it’s much despised Apple Maps found us a way and we arrived after our failed conversation with Ford Sync.  Apple 1 – Ford Sync 0.

Arriving at Atlas Coal Mine

Once at the Atlas Coal Mine, I discovered the true value of the Ford Escape.  We explored an abandoned wooden bridge (which was home to rattlesnakes) and was almost completely rotten.

Wooden Bridge at Atlas Coal Mine

Explored the mine site

Rusty and abandoned trucks

Wendy stumbled onto a model shoot

Photo shoot at Atlas Coal Mine

 

We took a mine tour

Oliver chimping on his camera

Mark and Oliver at the Atlas Coal Mine

Climbed the “walk from hell” (this is important)

Atlas Coal Mine

Where I tore my right quad and put myself in incredible pain (not all Ford reviews have happy endings).  After heading back down the “walk from hell” (it’s what the miners called it), I limped back to the waiting Ford Escape while the family kept exploring (thanks guys!)

Guide at the Atlas Coal Mine

The pain was incredible, my leg was almost useless and I limped back to the vehicle in incredible pain.  I got in and actually had to lift my leg inside, turned on the Escape, turned on the a/c and turned on the heated seat.  It didn’t take away the pain but facing a five hour trip back to Saskatoon and realizing how much better it made my leg feel, it was amazing. (and made me add a tensor bandage and A535 to my emergency kit) when I got back into Drumheller.

I felt good enough to limp out and explore the Star Mine Suspension Bridge in Rosedale.  While I never recommend walking on a moving suspension bridge with a torn quad, the heat kept it from getting really bad.

Star Mine Suspension Bridge

18 hours after, one rattlesnake sighting, two provinces, one radar dome, one torn quad, 1000 kms, three McDonald’s and one A&W run later, we rolled back into Saskatoon.  Instead of whining and complaining despite being well past their bedtimes, the boys hopped out the car and Oliver said that was fun.  He then hugged the Ford Escape goodnight.  Yeah you read that right, after an 18 hour day, my six year old hugged the Escape.  

It was then I realized why you want a 2014 Ford Escape.  It is a lot of fun to drive in the city and the highway.  It’s safe and like I wrote about the 2013 Ford Escape, it saved my families life when a guy lost control on icy roads.  It looks great.  Sirius XM radio is a lot of fun.

All of that is amazing but you buy one because the Escape facilitates fun times together with others.  Whether that is an epic road trip with family or a weekend getaway with friends, it made a great trip better.  It made a long day seem shorter.  It made an improbable one day trip possible.  It is small enough to be fun to drive but large enough that you can bring people along.  It is everything a SUV should be.  Since the first time I drove the Ford Escape, I fell in love with it and said that it was my favourite vehicle to drive.  Since then it has become my families favourite vehicle as well.  It facilitates fun.

You can read all about the technical specs here but in the end, they add up to one thing; great times spent together.

Some observations

  • I have been reviewing Ford cars for three years.  Oliver is now six and since her first saw the Ford Sync GPS display, he has been fascinated.  He sits in the back seat on a painful angle the entire time so he can see the display.  That hasn’t changed.  I hope to review a Ford car in 2015 just to see how long this continues.  It’s weird.  Of course the one advantage of Ford Sync GPS screens is not navigation but the fact that you never hear, “Are we there yet?”
  • The bad thing about turn by turn instructions is that if you deviate off your course to take the scenic route (which I did), everyone panics and start back seat driving.  Wendy is chirping at me, the boys are chirping at me.  Sync is telling to “turn right, turn right, turn right”.  I’m like, I just want see some scenery!  EVERYONE CALM DOWN and Sync is still going, “turn right, turn right, turn right”.  Why does no one trust me?!
  • The Escape is fast.  Shockingly fast for a SUV.  Very comfortable to drive on a two lane highway.  When I wanted to pass, I could.
  • The Sync still crashes.  Every Ford vehicle I have reviewed has had something go wrong with the Sync.  The last time it wasn’t that bad but it asked me to go to a dealer.  Turning the Escape off and on rebooted it (it is from Microsoft after all).  Instead of asking me to go to a dealer, it should just say, restart your car.  It’s not a big thing but I can’t believe it still does this.  Then again, Microsoft.  I should be used to it by now.
  • Speaking of taking the scenic route, you will take more of them.  The handling of the Escape is great and it kind of calls out for winding roads and rolling hills.  A lot of fun.
  • Even though the body design is older, it still turns heads.  As I was limping towards the Star Mine Suspension Bridge someone turned and said, “that is a nice looking SUV”.  

If you want more information about a Ford Escape, check out Ford’s website or stop by any Ford dealer (like Jubilee Ford or Merlin Ford Lincoln in Saskatoon)

Also thanks to Wendy for taking some of the better photos from this trip.  She posted some of her favourites to her weblog.

Alberta is “under new management”

Man I really hope that makes it’s way onto the official Alberta letterhead

“As of this moment, Alberta is under new management,” Prentice told party members and reporters who gathered at Government House for the ceremony.

I’d even put “under new management” on signs entering into Alberta.

Here are some other new cabinet ministers

“Building a new government means bringing in new blood,” Prentice said. “Both are strong and experienced leaders with a record of accomplishment. Across our province, they are both held in high regard. They will begin work immediately in their new portfolios.”

Prentice said Mandel has a strong record of public service as the former mayor of Edmonton and is ready to tackle the issues facing Alberta’s health-care system. Dirks is a former school board trustee and has served as chair of the troubled Calgary Board of Education.

“Both of these ministers are people of achievement,” Prentice said. He brushed off concerns that appointing unelected cabinet ministers would cause tension in his caucus. “They are exactly the kind of sharp and disciplined minds we want working on behalf of Albertans.”

Prentice said he will prorogue the legislature ahead of the byelections, but insists it will be brought back in time to preserve the same number of sitting days as originally planned.

I think if you are in the Progressive Conservative caucus and you aren’t in caucus, you are probably muttering under your breath to see outsiders named to the cabinet table but at the same time, you also have to realize that you really need to change the reputation of your brand or you will find yourself either in very crowded opposition offices or trying to adjust to like back in the private sector.

Jim Prentice may be an upgrade to the debacle that Alison Redford made of the Progressive Conservative Party but there needs to more than a new leader elected.  He needs to put a new look and feel on that government.

After Cold Lake soldier caught busking to make ends meet, viability of military pay in booming ‘little Fort McMurray’ called into question

Lower ranked soldiers struggle to pay rent in Cold Lake

“A lot of oil patch people will call Cold Lake ‘little Fort McMurray,’” said the town’s mayor, Craig Copeland.

“Rent in Cold Lake has gone up from five years ago. You used to be able to get a two-bedroom apartment around $1,000 to $1,200 a month and now, because of the latest boom in the oil patch, in the last year and a half or so … rent has really shot up. Now two-bedroom apartments, good ones, are going for between $1,800 to $2,200.”

About a decade ago, the military stopped subsidizing its on-base housing. Instead, they began to charge the local market rate for rents. In order to maintain a “nationally consistent process,” the military calculates the rents in Ottawa using Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation data.

That process isn’t forgiving to soldiers who live in remote towns struck by oil wealth.

“A normal person would look at this story, see a house built in the ‘50s and ask ‘Why in the world are you charging market rate rents for these people? They work for you? Why do we need to gouge them on the rent?’” said the mayor.

Fearing backlash, few soldiers were willing to speak candidly about the situation. Christine, a soldier’s wife with three young children, said even spouses are too concerned to complain publicly.

“We get crap living conditions,” she said. “Every year my husband gets a raise and our rent goes up. It doesn’t matter.”

After almost two years on the base, she said her husband’s paycheque of about $58,000 is not covering basic expenses.

“Our paycheques do not pay our day-to-day living. We were very lucky in the sense that when we came here, we had money saved up, but that’s all dwindled and we’ve been pulling out of our house-savings fund,” she said.

“There are no extra-curricular activities for the kids, we didn’t have birthday parties for the kids this year, we can’t afford it. Our quality of life is shot,” she said.

The mayor estimates 30% of the employees at CFB Cold Lake — many of them young soldiers with young families — have taken second jobs, like delivering pizzas.

A July report on economic conditions at the base from the Canadian Forces Ombudsman found 35% of one unit had taken on second jobs.

“It was to make ends meet,” said Alain Gauthier, the director-general of operations at the Ombudsman’s office.

In 2012, the ombudsman held four town hall meetings. He heard from military families who couldn’t pay Internet or phone bills, were dipping into their RRSPs and selling their belongings to cover the skyrocketing costs of rent and goods and services.

The report found that the average rent for a three-bedroom home on the base, $1,032, was about double the cost of identical accommodations in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

To add insult to injury, of the 854 homes on the base, almost 97% of them were listed in either poor or fair condition. The report noted that most of the homes have asbestos in the insulation, and many have problems with the electrical outlets and water lines.

So let me get this straight.  Soldiers in the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force can be ordered to give up their lives defending our way of life and for the privilege of doing that, they have to live in substandard housing AND take on part time jobs for the right to do so?

The end result?

Unsurprisingly, Cold Lake is registering high release rates as highly skilled soldiers find better-paying work in the labour-starved oil patch right next door.

According to the ombudsman, the release rate in Cold Lake is double the national average. Highly skilled military personnel are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate.

Christine said she had had that very conversation with her husband this week. If it means another three to four years of living in Cold Lake, she said, her family will leave the military.

“We can’t physically survive another three to four years here. We’re getting closer to debt every month and we don’t have snowmobiles or second vehicles. We don’t have anything,” she said.

I am pretty sure this isn’t just a Canadian problem.  Former General Norman Swatzkoff walked about U.S. soldiers in Europe having to use food banks to feed their families (especially when their wives could not work off the base) and substandard military housing has been a problem for years for most armed forces.  Yet it is disappointing that when you see the money that goes into weapons programs that we can’t figure out how to feed our troops and fairly compensate them based on their posting.  On top of that, Canadian soldiers can be punished for having too much debt or declaring bankruptcy.  Putting them into that situation where debt and having to live off of saving is unacceptable.

For the record, I also agree with those voices in the story that say that the soldier should be disciplined for using his helmet and mention himself being in the service while busking.  Mentioning his military service and using military equipment showed very poor judgement.

Silencing Scientists

An editorial in the New York Times this weekend

Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.

It began badly enough in 2008 when scientists working for Environment Canada, the federal agency, were told to refer all queries to departmental communications officers. Now the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Journalists find themselves unable to reach government scientists; the scientists themselves have organized public protests.

There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.

Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.

It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.

Nenshi: Calgary is being treated like a “farm team”

Proving that he can pick fights with all sorts of people, Mayor Nenshi wrote this in the Calgary Herald

Calgary has been accused of being a “bully” for trying to actually enforce our policies (based on the province’s own Water for Life strategy) for responsible water development.

The best example of this occurred in 2011 when the City was asked to provide water and water servicing for a large industrial development outside the city, in Rocky View County. This is precisely the kind of development the Plan envisions, but since the County has not signed onto the Plan, the City’s policy doesn’t allow for it.

But the province, without telling anyone, decided to pay for the water connection itself. The details are unclear, as the province has never publicly released them, but it’s almost certainly true that their solution cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than if they had legislated the Plan, and it’s not at all certain they will ever be able to recoup the cost.

Last week, the Premier met with the council of the Municipal District of Foot-hills (another of the holdouts), and was quoted in the local paper saying that she would not “force” the MD into the Plan (meaning she would not legislate the plan). She also implied that she is not sure the Plan is needed at all. The same day, her Minister backpedalled furiously, saying the Premier’s words did not represent government policy, that the decision was his to make, and that he would continue working to a resolution.

You might forgive me for being a little confused.

What I am not confused about is that the future prosperity of this city is the future prosperity of this province.

Treating the City government as the farm team in this relationship and managing important files as cavalierly as this is not good for Calgary, and it’s certainly not good for Alberta.

It’s weird seeing a mayor take this approach to government relations.  You see it with the provinces and the feds all of the time but rarely with cities and their province (Toronto would be the only other city that plays hardball with the province).  In Saskatoon former mayoral candidate was mocked for this desire to be more aggressive in asking the province for more.  We seem to have resigned ourselves to be reduced to thanking them for government handouts when they are so inclined.  Nenshi took a different approach and not only got his meeting with Premier Redford but also was offered mediation from the province.  

According to this column by Don Braid, there will be a political cost to pay.

Even as Mayor Naheed Nenshi was being invited to meet with the premier, provincial needling continued Thursday over the city charter.

The PCs don’t forgive readily, and they never forget.

Premier Alison Redford implied that Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel co-operates, and Nenshi doesn’t.

She said both Edmonton and Calgary city councils are satisfied with talks on the charter. So is Mandel.

By leaving out Nenshi, she suggests he’s the unreasonable renegade.

In an interview Thursday, the mayor said none of that’s true. He and Mandel agree on most points of the charter, he insists. Nor is he offside with his own council.

The mayor also points out, correctly, that he never called anybody names in this dispute.

He did say in a Herald op-ed piece that the province is fumbling civic issues and treating Calgary like a “farm team.”

Technically, he was only calling Calgary a name. But even that mild comment deeply irked the provincial types who, in recent years, have become almost fanatical about suppressing criticism from local municipalities and authorities.

In the midst of this dispute, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said Nenshi has “an election coming up; he’s going to puff up like a peacock and be tough.”

Answering a question Thursday, Griffiths said: “If there’s tension, it’s on his side. I don’t feel any tension.”

But the PCs do. They have ever since ex-mayor Dave Bronconnier scared the heck out of them 2007, when he accused then-premier Ed Stelmach of a “broken promise” over infrastructure funding.

Facing an election, the government had to back up. Bronco won that contest by a knockout. Everybody knew it — especially the provincials. They fumed, but didn’t forget.

During the 2008 election campaign, Jack Davis, then CEO of the old Calgary Health Region, declared a medical emergency and demanded extra funding from the government. Again the PCs were livid.

Within four months, the health regions were abolished.

There were many reasons for that decision; but one was the growing tendency of the health regions to speak up about local problems.

It will be interesting to see what this is going to cost Nenshi.

You are the cure

Great public awareness campaign and website from the Government of Alberta on the dangers of texting and driving.  I am amazed that despite the Saskatoon Police Service cracking down on it and the large fines that come along with it, many people I know text and use their phone while driving.  It’s not that hard to put your phone on vibrate, put it face down and ignore it when in the car.

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