Our Blog – Helpful Items From The Capital Region

We understand that there are many considerations when undertaking a real estate transaction. Living somewhere doesn't simply come down to home value, often times quality of life is more important. That's why we put together our blog, it talks about some of the issues facing the capital region. Reading it will keep you informed about what's happening in the city at any given time, so come back frequently to read the latest news.


Tuesday June 12th/2012 – Economist Advise Bank of Canada Rate Hike Not Needed

Two economists from Scotia Capital are adamant about the Bank of Canada leaving the mortgage lending rate alone. Dov Zigler and Derek Holt both agree that Canadians are managing to get a handle on their debt levels and those massive sums are being paid down. It seems that households have peaked in their spending and hiking the interest rate to control debt would have no impact.

One point the pair made is that Canada’s adjusted mortgage debt increase has is at its slowest in more than a decade, at levels not seen since the 1990s. In 2008 the rate was 11 points higher than inflation; today it sits at roughly three percent. It is getting hard to make the argument that debt in the country’s households is still out of control.

Zigler and Holt also note that households are taking advantage of lower cost credit items, like home equity lines of credit and mortgages to pay off higher interest credit cards and consumer based loans. Too much emphasis is being placed on the debt to income ratio, a measure of the amount of debt held compared to the after tax income for one year. The pair considers that an unfair measure. They do take into account mortgages, which are financed over the long term, not one specific year. This makes this ratio a flawed measuring device.

Zigler and Holt are concerned that if the Bank of Canada does raise their rates it could lead to an increase in debt and play havoc with the country’s housing market. This is especially true if the rate hike is combined with stricter fiscal and regulatory policies. The best course is for the bank to leave things well enough alone.

Wednesday June 6th/2012 – Mapping Out Canada’s Education Results to Get the Big Picture

Canada recently conducted a study province-wide to see how children were faring in school. When looking at children from Edmonton, the study found that 32 percent of those in kindergarten were having considerable difficulties in at least one area of development. That is compared with the 27 percent average seen in Alberta, and the 25 percent average seen nationwide.

Some 33 percent are having trouble with general knowledge and communication skills, the area seeing the most difficulty. Emotional maturity came in second with 29 percent of children having issues, followed by 28 percent having problems with their physical health. In the area of social confidence, some 25 percent were having problems, and for language and thinking skills, 21 percent of children were struggling.

Susan Lynch, who directed the study, known as the ECMap Project, noted that the purpose was to find out why one community does so much better, or so much worse than another. Other information that will help assess individual communities is still being collected. These include items such as language and immigration, levels of unemployment and income levels. Lynch noted the study would also look at what community services are available for children in each area.

The project has been underway for over two years. It started with the kindergarten teachers being asked to complete questionnaires about their classes, noting items such as attendance, if the children come to school hungry, tired or ill, if they have difficulty concentrating, or if there are behaviour issues. The questionnaire also asked if children were able to pronounce their words correctly, if they knew at least part of the alphabet and if they had a hard time holding a pen or pencil.

One teacher from Tipaskan Elementary in the Mill Woods neighborhood noted that of her 27 students, 37 percent needed extra attention and support. In this area both parents usually work and there are few afterschool sports or social programs. It is hoped that when this mapping project is complete, it will be easier to target those areas that are falling behind and see what can be done. Conversely, those areas that are doing above the average can be studied and perhaps lessons will be learned on how to improve Canada’s education system as a whole.

Wednesday March 21st/2012 – Provincial Government Creates Larger Property Tax Increases

The city of Edmonton is blaming the province for the higher property tax its residents will see this year. Originally those residents were looking at a tax hike of about five percent, now it will be nearer to seven percent. Bryan Anderson, city councillor noted that residents were advised their taxes would be going up roughly 5.39 percent. That meant an average increase per property of $93. That was in December.

Thanks to an increase in provincial taxes, residents are looking at an average increase of $128. But that additional money would be going to the province, not the city. The city does always collect provincial money via the property taxes, but this year Alberta will be collecting an additional $120 million thanks to increasing property values and more homes.

Doug Griffiths, Municipal Affairs Minister, notes that the province always collects more money from municipalities because there is a larger and more concentrated tax base. But, he notes, the increase is a good thing because it puts more funding in education, which is what more people considered the most important issue.

But critics say this violates a campaign promise made by Premier Redford to not raise taxes. Rob Anderson, Wildrose MLA was one of the first commenting, noting that the Conservative party, as always, puts the financial burden of the province on average Albertan families.

Bryan Anderson notes that the breakdown of where the taxes go will be on the property tax bills, with those funds going to the province being highlighted. He also stressed the importance of Edmonton establishing a Big City charter, to keep this from happening in the future.

Thursday March 1st/2012 – Canada Has a $400 Million Mortgage Fraud Headache

Equifax, a consumer credit firm based in the United States, uncovered some $400 million in mortgage fraud in Canada’s lending industry in 2011. Those in the know believe that is only a small fraction of what types of cheating are found in the nation’s real estate markets. The firm noted that since lending companies are tightening their pockets the cheating is becoming more prevalent. Nearly two-thirds of the fraud found in 2011 had to do with real estate, particularly mortgages.

When money gets tight, people start doing anything they can to secure that mortgage, including, but not limited to, creating false paycheck stubs and otherwise finding ways to increase their income, at least on paper. Sometimes people go as far as creating false identities then building up credit for these fictional people. Once set, these “people” try and borrow money. Currently Equifax had more than 2,500 of these fake personas in their database.

The amount Equifax came across is limited to what was found doing research for their own clients. The company’s vice president John Russo noted that in 2011 there was nearly $1 trillion tied up in mortgages across Canada. Much of this, and a greater proportion of the fraud, was found in urban centers in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.

Friday February 3rd/2012 – Alberta’s Changing Demographics Affect Housing Demand

Housing demand is influenced by housing affordability. In turn, that affordability is influenced by job availability, interest rates and population growth, or lack of. As long as an area continues to attract new people, then housing demand stays strong. That means more construction, and even more jobs.

Alberta currently is attracting quite a few new immigrants from the rest of Canada and elsewhere. The booming economy and availability of work is driving up housing demand quiet nicely. But not too long ago, when prices skyrocketed in another boom, some Albertans, particularly the younger set, decided it was more affordable to remain at home or find roommates.

This trend is seen in other parts of Canada, as well as the United States. But in the last decade, construction of new properties, lower interest rates and affordable home prices have let more Albertans live independently. What remains to be seen is how the aging of the population will affect housing demand, and how that is counterbalanced with immigration into the area.

Smaller homes and condos appear to be the wave of the future and are becoming more in demand for both those starting out and seniors. These two housing forms are also becoming popular because they tend to be more eco-friendly, at least in the new developments. It is hard to predict future housing demand rates, but the face of Alberta is changing, and that is an undeniable fact.

Wednesday November 30th/2011 – Western Canada to Lead Economic Growth in 2012

Most of Canada’s provinces are expected to see economic growth next year, but clearly the stars will be in the western part of the country. On Friday, the Conference Board of Canada noted that Western Canada will see higher commodity prices and will enjoy increased investments in the energy industry.

Eastern and Central Canada are expected to be more affected by the debt crisis globally and the uncertainty in United States politics, as well as by provincial governments working on reducing deficits. The private sector is expecting to play a big part in economic growth in that region, offsetting the cutting in provincial and federal spending. The director of the Conference Boart, Christine Bernard, cautions that if the European dept crisis extends globally, then the provinces could be affected.

Alberta is expected to see the largest amount of growth, with an expected increase of 3.6 percent, compared to the 3.1 percent predicted by the end of this year. The demand for more energy means oil prices will remain strong. That in turn gives companies more profit to invest back into their projects. That creates more jobs in the energy and related industry, but down the road in the services and construction industries that are needed to take care of the influx of new people moving to Alberta.

Saskatchewan is having an impressive 2011, coming in with a 5.1 percent economic growth rate, the highest in Canada. But that same province is expected to slow to a 2.8 percent growth rate for 2012. That province is also seeing profit from its energy and potash sectors. British Columbia is expected to remain stable at 2.5 percent, while Manitoba will see a growth from 2.1 percent in 2011 to 2.6 percent for 2012. Ontario and Quebec are anticipating slight increases, while Newfoundland and Labrador will see a slight decrease. The rest of the Atlantic Provinces are expected to stay fairly stable.

Wednesday September 28th/2011 – Sylvancroft Estate Gets Heritage Bent Makeover

Sylvancroft is an 8,000 square foot family home that has graced Stony Plain Road for roughly 100 years. It is surrounded by formal gardens and the home itself is made of Scottish stone and brown brick. This past July the mansion finally passed out of the family’s hands in bankruptcy court. The entire homestead was sold for $2.5 million to Ivan Beljan, an Edmonton developer.

Despite the family’s lack of agreement on whether the home should be on the historic register that same developer has decided to preserve the home. Alter it of course, but keep the architectural features largely intact, though not legally obliged to do so. Beljan unveiled his designs for the new estate this past weekend.

The main home will be subdivided into four or five luxury flats, each selling for between $800,000 and $900,000. Each one will be roughly 1,600 square feet. In addition, Beljan plans to add ten single-family homes on the estate grounds, some of which will be semi-detached. All would be upscale and sold as condos, going for around $1.2 million.

This may seem pricey to some, but considering that the heavily wooded location above Groat Ravine offers a great deal of privacy, Beljan has no doubt the project will fly. It will take a lot of work though, particularly to turn the manor home into flats. David Holdsworth, who is a heritage planner from Edmonton, is pleased that Beljan is attempting to save the essence of the mansion. But, he has yet to see the plans, and hopes that in the renovation much of the interior can also be saved.

Tuesday September 20th/2011 – Art and Sculpture Combine to Create Architectural Beauty in Edmonton Studio

Art glass, whether formed into a piece of free-form sculpture or part of a wall design, puts a bit of pizzazz into a room. Marjan van Esch and Dana Videla have an intimate understanding of this fact. Both are glass artists, operating out of an Edmonton studio and creating colorful pieces of art to complement an assortment of living and work spaces.

But these two artists are known for thinking out of the box. Instead of making a wall hanging, why not make the artwork itself the wall? Go a step further and make that wall a cascading waterfall under and/or over glass. Other unusual pieces include room dividers, kitchen backsplashes and room dividers.

Both van Esch and Videla consider themselves sculptors and painters, rather than home decorators. But when dealing with people’s wants and whims, it takes more business sense and patience than many artists want to handle. The pair presents their own concept, and then tweaks the idea to meet the client’s expectations.

Simple window glass is the basis for their designs. Using a ceramic fiber blanket and heat from a kiln, the glass is softened and shaped around the blanket mold. Once cool, layers of paint are applied to the back and then the glass goes back in the kiln. The blending of glass and paint offer a three-dimensional look. This method works for both their large and small glass pieces. Samples can be seen at various events, such as the Whyte Avenue Art Walk.

Monday August 29th/2011 – Survey Reveals That Albertan Will Be Debt Free Sooner Than Other Canadians

CIBC released a poll this past Monday that showed that of Albertans between the ages of 45 to 64, only 18 percent considered themselves debt free. That is a long time goal for many across Canada. In Alberta, younger residents are confident enough in their financial planning that they will be debt free by the time they reach the age of 52.

Christina Kramer, an executive from CIBC notes that is important for Canadians to remain on tract with their plans to get debt paid off. Everyone needs a personal goal, perhaps a specific age, to use as their debt-free date. While Albertans averaged 52, those in British Columbia averaged 58, and residents of Ontario expected to be debt free by the time they reached 54. The average for the entire nation was 55.

The time it would take to pay off debts averaged between 10 and 15 years from their current age. That time frame didn’t vary no matter if the respondent was a young adult of 20 or a near senior of 55. Very few Albertans believed they would have debt for the long term, with less than four percent thinking they would be indebt until they reached the age of 70. Then again, 11 percent felt they would never be free of debt.

The key is to have a plan. This could include refinancing homes, making extra payments to cut down on interest paid and being realistic about what you purchase and can afford.

Friday July 15th/2011 – Canadians Curbing Spending Help to Slow Debt Increases

Consumer debt in Canada is not rising as fast as in the recent past, and is no longer climbing faster than income rates. It you exclude mortgages, the borrowing of money in the nation for what is called consumer debt is almost in the negative, according to a report released this past Thursday by CIBC.

The report also noted a slight softening in the debt market, which is a positive sign since the debt that is already out there is far too high for comfort. Household credit is showing the slowest increase since 2002, when you consider the year over year numbers. Non-mortgage consumer debt is experiencing increases not seen since early in the 1990s.

In the second quarter, total debt did outpace income, with a 1.8 percent increase over the first quarter of 2010. At the same time income went up by 0.7 percent. As of the end of June, the nation’s household debt was at 11.5 trillion. The debt to income ratio stood at 147 percent. CIBC advised that this was due to mortgage debt, but that consumer debt had pretty much stabilized over the past 12 months.

Bank of Canada also predicts that as household spending decreases, business spending will increase. The improvement in the economy is encouraging companies to hire people and in other ways expand. This will ultimately improve the country’s debt to income ratio.

Wednesday July 6th/2011 – Kilimanjaro the Goal of Soldier Injured in Afghanistan

Cpl Mark Fuchko walks with two artificial limbs. In 2008 he lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan. The vehicle he was riding in exploded after hitting an IED. After three years of recovery and rehab, the plucky Calgarian has decided that it would be fun to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Fuchko is determined to get to the summit, even if he has to climb up on his hands and knees.

The idea for this climb came about as a way to raise money for the Orthopedic Surgery Centre in Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital. Some 34 doctors and business professionals, along with Fuchko and three other wounded solders will be attempting to climb Africa’s highest peak, standing some 19,340 feet above the plains. The group is hoping to raise over $575,000. Fuchko got interested in the project because of what the centre does, rebuilding knees and hips for civilians and the military.

Climbers each have to raise at least $5,000 and in addition, pay for the cost of their trip. The Soldier on Fund organization, that funds grants to Canadian Forces personnel that are injured or sick, is covering the trip costs for Fuchko and his military climbing mates. The other soldiers going are Cpl. Dallas White, Cpl Lucas Mullens and Warrant Officer Quinn Begg. All received serious leg injuries while on patrol in Kandahar.

The group went on a practice climb in Jasper Alberta in June, and though it wasn’t easy, the soldiers made it to the top. They also talked to some American soldiers that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, some of which were amputees and found out that it is possible. Fuchko and his mates also have an advantage over the other climbers; they are used to surviving in the outdoors.

Wednesday June 25th/2011 – Summer is Renovation Season in Edmonton

The snow has melted, the sun is out, well, usually, and its time to fix up that backyard, build that deck or create a new doggie condo for your four-legged best friend. The Saturday crowds at the local building stores are evidence enough that Edmontonians are tackling those do-it-yourself projects.

Building season in the Edmonton area usually starts in April and runs until sometime in October. But we humans do not have the final say on that calendar. This year has been colder than normal and the snow stuck around a good two to three weeks longer. Mother Nature, one. Human population, better luck next year.

But the renovations are now in full swing, with composite decks being one of the early favourites. They are relatively easy to install and require little maintenance. This year bathroom renovations, usually a winter project, are still going strong. It usually costs less to upgrade a bathroom rather than a kitchen and still increases home value.

Some of the innovative ideas people are coming up with include building a mini-deck for a tree house that is suitable for very young children, creating a patio out of quarry stones, and even fixing up that storybook white picket fence.

Tuesday June 24th/2011 – Development Plans for Rossdale Area

Edmonton’s Rossdale neighbourhood is about to get bigger. Plans are underway to build four urban villages within the borders, creating four times the number of homes that now exist. Still in the proposal stages, and called West Rossdale, the idea is for a pedestrian friendly community with 12 storey condo buildings, ground level shops and an underground parkade. This will boost the number of homes from the current 460 up to 2,200 units.

With the intent of getting people out of their cars, the development will have wide sidewalks, park space, tree lined streets and plenty of places for people to gather and chat. West Rossdale is planned for the area northwest of the Epcor plant. It will reach from the water plant to 97th Avenue, and run from 101st Street to 106th Street.

The increase of Rossdale’s population will also attract retailers and restaurants to the area, so it will be easy to fill up the stores in the new development. While there is some concern that the towers may block valley views, Coun Ben Henderson concedes that they might give the busy roadways better curb appeal.

This isn’t a new idea. West Rossdale was originally conceived in the 1980s as a residential study area, but then the province, and the city, lost interest in the project. Roughly 80 percent of the land already belongs to Edmonton. The other 20 percent is currently a parking lot for Telus Field. The city would have to find another parking area for baseball fans.

Friday June 20th/2011 – Alberta Seeing Labour Shortage Worse Than Last Time Around

Alberta needs people. Period. There is a labour shortage and the pinch is being felt in several industries, but most of all in the oil sands. It has happened before, most recently right before the recession in the latter part of 2008. Albertans had to deal with long lines for service, and higher costs for items and those services. The difference this time around is the baby boom factor, and the fact that the rest of Canada is in better shape job-wise than in years past.

The first baby-boomers are expected to retire this year. The first of the post World War II babies is turning 65 and that will take many out of the work equation. Four or five years ago, employers had at least that much of a cushion. The other thing is that the stock market has bounced back since the recent recession and those that were due to retire feel safe to do so.

The other major issue is that Alberta previously went to other provinces to fill their jobs. Rather than hold out the job carrot to those living in Saskatchewan or the Atlantic Provinces, Alberta must now sell itself as a great place to live as well. Employment opportunities in people’s home provinces are much improved.

Another factor is that international companies are approaching Canadian workers and offering them jobs. Take Australia for example. They offer wages that are 20 percent higher, a warmer climate and the opportunity to see another part of the world. A tempting prospect. On the other hand, Canada’s immigration policies make it more difficult to recruit out of country workers. If that were not the case, Alberta would only have to look south of the Canadian border to find a willing and able work force.

Tuesday June 3rd/2011 – Walkable Edmonton Project in Full Swing

Sometimes we get into a rut. Sometimes that rut lasts for years. We live in a neighborhood and don’t really see it, or know it. We know how to get to work, to the store and the mall and usually do it in out cars. The City of Edmonton is trying to help people get out and walk and really explore their neighborhoods. They have come up with a program called Walkable Edmonton and so far 13 neighborhoods have been mapped and another 10 are in progress. That’s admirable considering that the project didn’t get underway until 2007.

Walking a neighborhood is also a great way to get a bit of exercise. Routes range from just a bit under a kilometre in length to almost five kilometres. They were designed with help from residents in those neighborhoods, and include the locations of off-leash dog parks, historic homes, hidden cafes or shops that happen to keep late night hours.

Every neighborhood has its own special character. Of note is Alberta Avenue with its funky collection of homes and businesses. Another local favorite is the Stony Plain Road area. No matter which map you are following, the important thing is to get out and walk. Walkable Edmonton has made their maps available at schools, city hall, the library, at local businesses and online. And of course there is an iPhone app. Just download and go.

Monday June 2nd/2011 – St Francis Xavier High School Raises Habitat for Humanity Funds

St Francis Xavier High School has been working on a two year project to raise $100,000 for Habitat for Humanity. That resulted in a single mother with children getting a new home in the city of Edmonton. The recipient of the home and her children came to school this past Thursday to say thank you.

The way Habitat for Humanity works is that homeowners must put in 500 hours of sweat equity with the organization as part of their home ownership. They don’t pay any interest on the loan and do not have to put a down payment on the property. Monthly payments are worked out to be 25 percent of their monthly gross income. The group built 80 homes in the Edmonton area this year, each costing about $100,000 to build.

The students came up with some creative ways to raise the money. One was a bike-a-thon where riders took turns on an exercise bike to keep it going for 50 hours. That raised roughly $50,000. Another idea was a wake-a-thon where students stayed up for 24 hours which raised another $40,000. Private contributions helped the students raise $108,000 in total.

The family should be able to move into their new home sometime in July. That gives them time to get settled before the new school year begins. At least now they won’t have to move every few months and will have a permanent home of their own.

Sunday May 25th/2011 – Edmonton Air Quality Still Good Despite Smoke from Wildfires

The smoke from the wildfires near Slave Lake has reached Edmonton. Unlike Slave Lake, which is under air quality advisories, the smoke in Edmonton, while it may be annoying, is considered safe. Air quality readings in the greater Edmonton area range from fair to good. Alberta Health Services will be keeping an eye on things and will post warnings if needed, according to Kerry Williamson, services spokesperson.

Another group keeping tabs on the air quality is the Alberta Capital Airshed Alliance. This is a non-profit organization that works with industry and the government. This organization reports that the city is having worse than normal air quality, measuring about 30 micrograms of particulates per cubed metre. The group also monitored air quality during the British Columbia wildfires in 2003, which caused much worse air quality, measuring between 200 and 300 micrograms of particulates per each cubed metre.

Kristina Freisen, speaking for the organization advised that even though the air might have lots of smoke, it might still not be that harmful. The way smoke affects visibility depends on the size of the particulates and how they are affected by the different wavelengths in sunlight. Visibility can vary according to the time of day, regardless of how much matter is in the air.

Thursday May 15th/2011 – Engine-Idling Opponents May Finally Succeed in Forcing Legislation

Two motions to ban engine idling have been raised to Edmonton’s City Council during the last four years. Both motions failed, but the issue of idling is far from stalled.

Keeping an engine idle has long been considered a health issue, and as another motion comes to City Council during the week of May 8, the health component is being intensified. The current motion seeks to establish regulations and fines for those who idle their vehicles’ engines near hospitals, schools and senior citizen facilities.

Councillor Kim Krushell commented on the continuing controversy surrounding idling, saying that Council needs to make a final decision.

Because the anti-idling proponents continue to resurrect the issue in front of Council, the fight will probably not go away until some form of controls are enacted over idling. The current motion positions idling as a danger to children, immune-compromised and elderly people who might be vulnerable to the unnecessary fumes produced by idling engines.

While councillors are loath to vote against the principle of good health, some question the universal support and enforceability of a law that would prohibit idling. Councillor Kerry Diotte said that such a law would represent a draconian measure, adding that he has never seen studies that prove any significant health hazards posed by idling.

Diotte said that efforts to reduce engine idling might best be handled by an educational campaign, similar to those that have promoted recycling.

Councillor Don Iveson said that anti-idling laws are probably inevitable, even though idling represents a small fraction of the overall fuel emissions problem.

Tuesday May 6th/2011 – Man from Gibbons Heading for Stardom on The Bachelorette TV Show

It seems that more than one Canadian has been invited by Hollywood to win the heart of a bachelorette on Warner Horizon’s reality show. The latest is Chris Malhomme, who owns his own firm, JVR construction, in Gibbons. He will be among 25 hopefuls on the seventh season of the show “The Bachelorette,” scheduled to begin airing May 23rd on the ABC network. The goal is to win the heart and hand of Ashley Hebert, a 26 year old dental student from Philadelphia.

The only Canadian in the running, Malhomme is 27, sports a couple of tattoos and considers himself “smart, fearless and funny.” And he admires his mom, a plus for most women. Malhomme definitely believes in living life to the fullest, having once booked a spur of the moment one way ticket to Asia for a bit of adventure. He also plans to be retired in five years and living on a nice warm beach. The show is still in production, so details about the show are under wraps, so to speak. Even though the Mayor of Gibbons, Bill Nimmo isn’t fond of reality shows, he will probably take a peak at this one just to see how this local guy makes out.

In 2008, Paul Brosseau from Edmonton was one of the men vying for the girl on that season’s “The Bachelorette.” He didn’t win, but thought the experience was worth it. Now he manages the operational side of the World Junior Hockey Championships for 2012, and is happily spoken for.

Monday April 28th/2011 – Time to Spruce-Up Edmonton’s City Streets

Warmer temperatures, a hint of green and the sound of street sweepers cleaning away the gravel and dirt on Edmonton’s roadways are sure signs of spring. The city uses some 180,000 tonnes of said material, along with road salt, to give driver’s traction on snow and ice covered streets. This past Wednesday saw the beginning of “road spring cleaning season” which means that more than 4,700 kilometres of the city’s streets, boulevards, alleys and median will be getting a much needed scrubbing. Almost 80 percent of the sand will be recycled and used again next winter.

Because of the heavy snowfall, the crews are getting started three weeks late. That also means there will be much more to clean up. The city’s 20 sweepers, as well as some 22 that have been contracted to help will be working the roadways round the clock. Residential area will be cleaned in the daylight hours; arterial roads will be done at night.

The city’s website will have a schedule posted so residents know when their area is to be cleaned. The streets will also be posted, along with no parking signs in the affected areas. Bob Dunford, who is director of Edmonton’s roadway maintenance notes that no cars will be ticketed or towed, but it would be helpful to both the crews and the residents to have them out of the way. Blocked areas just won’t get cleaned.

Friday April 25th/2011 – 20th Annual Garlic Stomp Raises $200,000 Plus for Prostate Cancer

The 20th annual Sorrentino’s Garlic Stomp was held this past weekend at Shaw Centre. The event managed to raise over $200,000 to go towards research in prostate cancer. Much of that money is thanks to the generous donations of stockbroker C J Woods. Bidding was hot and heavy on items Woods brought to the table.

First up was a week at Wood’s own Cabo San Lucas Villa, which went for more than $32,000. Bidding was so furious that a second week was also auctioned off. Ken and Judy Zender came away with one week, Dr Dennis Modry, a heart surgeon, took the other. Woods also threw in box seats for 25 events at Winspear Centre including dinners at Sorentino’s. Reza Nasseri from Landmark Homes won with an $11,000 bid.

Woods also contributed items to the silent auction, including a week in Las Vegas, a half dozen bottles of Sassicaia wine, vintage year 2005, gold goblets, sculptures and art objects carved out of soapstone. An emerald cut diamond ring, valued at $12,000 was also part of his donation. That was given away in a draw, with 16 people paying $1,000 to participate. Bruce Bentley from Maclab Enterprises won that one. It was an exciting and profitable night for fund raising.

Monday April 14th/2011 – Oilers Get Number One Draft Pick Spot

Edmonton Oilers fans have had little to cheer about lately. The team finished dead last in the NHL standings for the second year in a row. But there is a bit of a bright spot. That dismal showing gave the Oilers the first pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft on June 24th. That top honor is also something the Oilers have managed two years in a row.

The place in the draft pick is won by a lottery system combined with standings in the number of points won during the regular season. The Oilers had 62 points, and the lowest number. That gave them first pick. The Oilers are followed by the Colorado Avalanche with 68 points, the Florida Panthers scoring 72 points and the New York Islanders having 73 points. These teams have the second to fifth draft picks, in descending order.

Calgary came in as the 13th worst team in the NHL regular season, and surprisingly took the 13th draft pick. The Flames must use this pick carefully since their second pick doesn’t come until the fourth round. Calgary will be looking for a scoring forward above all else, and if the mock drafts remain true the team will have some strong players to choose from. Some that may still be available are Sven Baertschi from Portland who scored 85 points in the season, Mark McNeill from Prince Albert with 81 points and Mark Scheiflele from Barrie with 75 points. Managers often do deals to get an earlier pick, as Darryl Sutter did in 2010.

Monday April 7th/2011 – Conservative Party Draws Corporate Funding, Wildrose is More Grassroots

Even though the Wildrose Alliance got their financial contributions in small amounts last year, they outdid the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta in those smaller donations. The Conservatives were backed largely by big business, corporate donors and in total brought in more money. The Wildrose pulled in $550,716 in small contributions less than $375. The Conservatives brought in $495,921.

Does that mean that there are actually more people that prefer the Wildrose party? Word is that many of the donations came in from those unhappy with the Tories and that is expected to help at the polls. It shows that the party has grassroots support.

As far as larger donations, the Conservatives netted $2.3 million, compared to the $897,414 brought in by Wildrose. The NDP raised $326,220, followed by the Liberals at $284,927. Some of the notables that made large donations to the Tories include ATCO, Husky Energy, Rogers Communications and Bruce Power Alberta.

The way the numbers played out is not all that surprising. Most of the fund raising efforts of the Conservatives is aimed at big business. Wildrose focuses on the “little guy” that does most of the voting.

Monday March 3rd/2011 – Ring Road Targeted for Completion

Premier Ed Stelmach announced that the final segment of the Anthony Henday Drive project will move forward. The road that was intended to circle Edmonton was started over 40 years ago and it is definitely needed. The final leg of the Edmonton Ring Road will be built from Manning Drive to Whitemud Drive East.

But it will still be a while before work commences. The province has already issued what it calls a “request for qualification” which is a three month process for examination and approval. The final leg means building 27 kilometres of divided roadway of six and eight lanes, eight freeway connectors, nine overpasses and 47 total bridges. Construction on what is Alberta’s largest highway project is slated to begin in mid 2012. Targeted finish date is fall of 2016.

Alberta had planned to have the Edmonton Ring Road project completed by sometime in 2015 but because of the slackening of the economy it was delayed. There has been no word on what the final cost of the project will be.

Friday February 11th/2011 – Queen Mary Park Homes Flooded by Water Main Break

Bruce Borgel came home from his nightclub job at 4:40 am this past Sunday. The streets were dry. Less than an hour later his central Edmonton neighbourhood was under water. The area between 108th Avenue and 109th Street were flooded out by a water main break.

Borgel noted that his girlfriend’s car was flooded and other cars were trying to drive through the rising water.

The following day was devoted to pumping water out of a basement that just had a $90,000 renovation. But Borgel noted that others had more severe damage. His neighbour Leslie Smigorowski has a cracked foundation after her basement completely flooded. Her tenant woke her up at 5:45 am with the bad news.

The fire department rescued a few people from their homes using inflatable boats. Some ended up going to the hospital because of hypothermia. They had gone down into their basements and when the water knocked out their furnaces they couldn’t get warm. Bob D’Aoust, a chief from the Fire Rescue Service division said a three-block by three-block area was affected.

Thursday January 27th/2011 – Bombardier Eyeing Edmonton-Calgary High Speed Rail Study

Quebec based Bombardier, builders of commuter trains, electric locomotives and light rail trains, has its eye on Edmonton. That is because Alberta is considering a high speed rail line connected its two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary. Both of these cities are also planning to expand their light rail or LRT systems.

All of this means a lot of potential business for Bombardier which is already overhauling some of Edmonton’s light rail cars. The highly regarded firm developed Vancouver’s SkyTrain as well as passenger lines in South Africa, the United Kingdom and elsewhere around the world. Raymond Bachant, the company’s North American president, attended an Edmonton Chamber of Commerce meeting this past Wednesday and gave a speech on the environmental benefits of the high speed line.

Bachant gave a nod to President Barack Obama of the United States. The President gave his State of the Union address on Tuesday, stating the goal of having high speed rail access available to at least 80 percent of the country within 25 years.

Europe and Asia are far ahead of both Canada and the United States in the development of high-speed rail. The United States is planning to spend $10 billion to improve existing train service and to develop high speed systems in several states. In Canada only two potential high rail sites have been considered, the Edmonton-Calgary route and one between Windsor and Quebec City. No doubt we will be keeping an eye on our neighbours to the south to see how things work out.

Wednesday December 15th/2010 – Diotte, Sloan Battle Over Proposed Statue to Honour Seniors

In an age when the bottom line is more pronounced than just about ever before, constructing a $350,000 statue to honour Edmonton’s senior citizens is not being met with overwhelming approval. Councillor Kerry Diotte, who was recently elected, berated his co-councillors for even considering such a proposal. Diotte claimed that spending money on this project would be an insult at a time when many older people are struggling to pay property taxes.

The statue, even though not yet built, has become a lightning rod for both support and heated criticism. It was inspired by a declaration issued last summer by City Council, stating that Edmonton’s elder citizens deserve respect. Former city Poet Laureate Alice Major wrote the declaration.

While there were many ways for the city to express its appreciation of its older residents, it was felt that public art might be a more permanent and significant gesture. John Mahon, who is the Edmonton Arts Council’s executive director, recalled the positive public reception toward the sculpture of Ezio Faraone, a policeman who was killed while on duty.

Councillor Linda Sloan has been championing the statue, but Diotte and other councillors have been raising objections, mainly on the price of the gesture. Diotte claimed that nine of ten older citizens would not support the plan.

Although plans for the statue are currently on hold, Sloan is continuing her efforts. She and a committee are examining other ways, such as a plaque, a park or even a less pricey statue, to honour the city’s seniors.

Wednesday November 17th/2010 – Alberta Health Act Spurs Fears of Privatization

Alberta’s new Health Act has many at odds. The Act will set principles that the health system will operate under and includes the creation of a health advocate and a health charter. The charter will lead actions of regional health authorities, health providers, health boards, operators, patients and other specified persons.

When asked about who exactly the “other” people are, Zwodesky only said that other forms of medicine may need examination. It is the “other” specified person has many worrying about privatization, but Health Minister Gene Zwodesky told reporters at a recent press conference that the inclusion is not about privatization.

Still, many are wondering, especially as there is room in Alberta’s system for private procedures. Around 1,400 knee and hip replacement surgeries were performed in private facilities in early 2010.

David Swann, the Liberal opposition leader, said the Liberals don’t support privatization due to increased spending and lack of additional costs or benefits. Swann said the Liberal focus is on more beds, nurses and relief for emergency rooms.

Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Alliance leader, argued that a publicly-funded and delivered system where patients can choose their treatment centre would create incentives for better services, prices and efficiency.

Still, many of these concerns may be premature. The Act only passed its first reading in October 2010 and has hoops to jump through yet. Hoping to negate rumours and soothe fears, Zwodesky emphasized Alberta’s dedication to delivering Canada’s best-performing and publicly-funded health system.

Friday October 1st/2010 – Liberals: Conservatives Playing Politics With Sherwood Park Hospital

Edmonton’s Liberal representatives are claiming that when it comes to a new hospital, Sherwood Park constituents are being taken advantage of by the provincial government. Kevin Taft, who serves as Edmonton-Riverview’s MLA, said that the Conservative government has repeatedly promised Sherwood Park residents a hospital but have reneged on that promise for several years.

Plans for the hospital were first announced by the Conservatives in October of 2005. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in 2007, and the facility’s first phase is expected to open in the first months of 2013. However, some citizens are angry that the first phase will consist only of an urgent-care facility for non-threatening medical issues.

Sherwood Park resident Rob Parker has advocated for a new hospital for a number of years. He said that the hospital is now being used as a pawn in a political game. He is not convinced that even the second phase of the facility will include patient beds, as well as emergency/surgical care.

When asked when construction of the second phase would begin, Alberta Health Services Vice President Marianne Stewart was not able to advise on a start date. She was also not able to comment on the number of beds the structure would include.

In a September 25 interview, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said that Sherwood Park would receive a true acute-care hospital. While noting that planning is underway for the second phase, he did comment as to when construction might begin. He contended that some of the hoopla surrounding the hospital issue is politically inspired.

Friday September 10th/2010 – Internet Schemer Spends Jail Time In USA and Canada

Out of the jail cell and into…the jail cell. Alyn Richard Waage appears to have troubles on both sides of the Canada/United States border. After serving five years in a federal penitentiary in the United States, Waage is now behind bars in an Edmonton jail awaiting trial on fraud charges that go back to the 1990s.

Waage’s conviction in a California court was for a multi-million dollar Internet investment caper. He plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to launder money, wire and mail fraud. That was back in 2004. Waage had formed a company called Tri-West in 1999 and succeeded in defrauding some 15,000 investors from over 60 countries out of nearly $60 million. Much of that money went into purchasing real estate in Mexico and an $818,000 luxury yacht.

All was going well for the man until he was arrested in Mexico in 2001 for carrying $4.5 million dollars worth of money orders and cheques that were meant for one of his front companies. The money was undeclared when Waage entered the country. After making bail, Waage went to Costa Rica, hoping to hide out in that central American country. The FBI extradited him back to California.

After being released on May 21, Waage was ultimately deported back to Canada into the hands of Edmonton Police to answer the Canadian charges. His trial date is September 22nd.

Wednesday August 11th/2010 – California Zinfandel Wine Featured at Zin on the River Festival

The Zin on the River festival at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, Alberta is slated for Wednesday, August 18th. Another festival celebrating this much loved vintage will be at San Francisco’s Fort Mason for three days starting January 27th. This will be the 20th anniversary for the gala put on by the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers based in California.

What possible link could there be for two festivals, celebrated by two organizations in two very different locales? It is wine produced from a grape imported from the craggy landscape of Croatia, half a world away. Brought to California by immigrants, this fruit, and the wine produced from it, has flourished in the sun washed valleys of the Golden State.

Almost 11 percent of California vineyards grow the grape, from which is produced both white and red Zinfandel wines. As it turns out, Albertans find the wine the perfect choice to serve with local beef and bison. Though recently California has seen fierce competition from other wine producing areas, the Zinfandels, particularly the bold reds, are selling well. In the United States, the white Zinfandels outsell the reds six to one.

The Edmonton Zin on the River festival, now in its 9th year, is not only a chance for the unenlightened to sample fine Zinfandel wines; it is also a fund raiser for the Arthritis Society. Tickets are available at local boutique wine shops. For information call 780-424-1740. Information about the Fort Mason, San Francisco festival can be found at zinfandel.org.

Monday July 26th/2010 – Company Keeping Watchful Computer Eye On Indy Car Transport, And Your Family Car

It is now possible to keep track of your employees and the use of transport equipment even though they may be hundreds of miles from home base. Electronic monitoring systems developed by Safefreight Technology in Edmonton uses a computer program that can keep track of where a certain shipment is located and how a driver is performing.

If this seems like the latest version of Big Brother, perhaps in a way it is. But this GPS tracking system turns out to be just the ticket for keeping track of multi-million dollar racing cars for the Indy Racing League (IRL). Safefreight is the only Canadian sponsor of the IRL and that relationship is proving to be a big leg up for the company .Curtis Sema, CEO of the 12 year old firm, is heading to Chicago for the IRL sponsors business meetings. Some of Safefreights’s current clients include Roger’s Wireless, Bell, Atco, Saks Firth Avenue and Kenworth.

In addition to the truck/trailer tracking technology, Safefreight’s Smartfleet Pro system also does real time diagnosis of engines. The driver’s behaviour as far as harsh braking, speedy acceleration and making turns at an unsafe speed can also be tracked. This information can not only help improve a driver’s skills, but save money in fuel costs and ultimately cut down on accidents.

Safefreight also manufactures the Smart Vu, an after market tracking device available to consumers. This is installed on the family car, boat or RV so that you can track the vehicles whereabouts. Stolen vehicles can be more easily recovered and teenagers, when entrusted with the family car, can be closely monitored.

Thursday September 23rd/2010 – Growing Retail Field Offers Opportunities for College, MBA Grads

Several years ago, recent MBA graduates would have put a career in retail near the bottom of their job-search list. However, for people like Darren Bondar, retail has become an exciting and lucrative option.

When Bondar, a University of Alberta MBA, entered the job market, he quickly realized he could make his own job in the retail field. After doing an extensive amount of homework on the market, he saw a niche that could be filled. He founded Watch It!, a store that sells watches and sunglasses. Based in Edmonton, Watch It! has expanded throughout Canada.

Per Paul McElhone, executive director of the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta, students have often overlooked the idea of starting a retail business or investigating corporate positions in the industry. He said that today’s students are beginning to expand their explorations of the retail field. McElhone also commented that retail is attracting people of a multitude of backgrounds, including business, marketing, economics and law.

Bondar said that being in retail offers more opportunities than it did five or ten years ago. He said that there is considerably more potential for outreach and using a first store to launch a bigger business.

Jackie Ross, president of Vancouver-based JRoss Retail Recruiters, said that there are abundant opportunities in retailing for graduates with post-secondary degrees. She said that the market in western Canada is poised for growth, with expansions from Canadian retailers as well as entries from U.S. companies. Ross pointed to the success of the recent launch of Victoria’s Secret in the West Edmonton Mall. She also commented that a number of additional American retail companies are entering the Canadian market with stores in Chinook Centre and downtown Calgary’s CORE mall.

Tuesday August 3rd/2010 – Keyano Swim Club Gets Total Make-Over, Diagnosis – Success

Steve Price was coaching in Ireland when the Keyano Swim Club petitioned him to head their organization. Unsure of whether he wanted to make the move, Price laid down some ground rules prior to his signing on the dotted line. He wanted to make sure that the club was willing and ready to make the changes needed to turn the floundering organization into something that would produce future Olympic champions.

At one time the club was very successful in national and international swimming competitions. Formed in 1978, it produced top swimmers such as Donna McGinnis, Cheryl Gibson and Peter Szmidt. All was well until the early 2000s when the club seemed to lose its focus.

In 2007 Price did come back, evaluated the entre program and proceeded to turn Keyano Swim Club from a country club affair into an organization that produced dedicated champions. In 2010 Keyano had four swimmers make the Canadian teams that went on to compete in the Pan-Pacific and Junior Pan-Pacific championship games. Kier Maitland brought back a silver medal from those games. Other Kayano swimmers participated in national meets and brought home medals in age specific events.

It took time and effort to turn the Keyano Swim Club around, and Price is not done with the tweaking. He has his sights on an Olympic venue. With one of Canada’s best swimming pools at his disposal and support from the U of A and the Kinsmen Sports Centre, there is no doubt someone from Keyano will be vying for a spot on that celebrated podium.