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November 20, 2017
October 30, 2017

Edmonton Headlines: Monday, October 30, 2017

Back in session

Written by Jeff Samsonow

Since we’re sitting between the municipal election and the first committee meetings at Edmonton City Hall, it’s a great chance to see what’s going on across downtown at the Alberta Legislature. This week is the beginning of the fall session, which means we get to see a whole new pile of bills tabled.

The government has already announced some of the legislation it plans to be bring forward before in this session. 

Probably one of the most watched items will be the stricter rules for school boards around gay-straight alliances. (GSAs) Certainly some private schools continue to be holdouts on rules to protect LGBTQ2S+ students (not to mention the questionable plans around sex education in Catholic schools), but the new opposition party also isn’t clear on what it would support if it formed government, or where it stands right now on protecting the privacy of students

Another item has become a more pressing issue after the recent death of a gas station employee. The government plans to bring forward legislation to make it mandatory to pay for your gas at the pump. This has been something that’s been in the works for a little while, with at least one chain moving in this direction, and British Columbia actually having these rules for years (also because of the danger to employees). 

For the second time since 2015, the government is also updating the Human Rights Act. The new amendments will include age discrimination, for the first time as an explicitly prohibited area of discrimination. While this stems from a case related to seniors, it could also include a spin-off right to allow families to live in any home in Alberta. Right now a condo association can ban children (among other age restrictions). 

I have to think our mayor will be watching the amendments to the Human Rights Act closely. There’s no way Edmonton starts to become the most family-friendly city if we keep children out of condos, which make up the large majority of infill housing in our mature neighbourhoods. Edmonton needs to see these changes or our density plans hit another hurdle. (A density plan built around one-bedroom condos is going to fail.)

There’s also continuing work around municipal rules and legislation, including city charters for Edmonton and Calgary. Let’s hope this work brings in some campaign finance options, so Edmonton can ban corporate and union donations. If the rules cut the donation limits that would also be great. Heck, it would be amazing to see spending caps for campaigns too. But I’d settle for banning the big money. 

Speaking of big money in politics… The priority provincially is figuring out how to legislate the fundraising of third-party groups. There’s a lot of unknown money flowing into conservative organizations right now, and we may never know how much or where it’s from. Giving all third-party groups similar rules to political parties could be a good start, but banning this kind of money completely would help to limit influence of those with cash to throw around, especially when that gives the impression they’re buying influence (or if they are trying to buy influence). 

It’s too bad we’re back at this discussion of big money in provincial politics. After banning corporate and union donations after the 2015 election, it didn’t take people cut out of those fundraising efforts to push money into new and grey areas. This is why I say the smartest move now is to just ban all third-party fundraising that ends up supporting politicians and their parties. It’s clear that conservative groups, politicians and allies are just going to keep creating new loophole fundraising if we don’t put in some blanket bans. 

Speaking of that dark fundraising money… this session will be the first for the United Conservative Party sitting as official opposition. Their new leader won’t be in the Alberta Legislature yet, as he’s not a sitting MLA. 


Around the city

When city council gets back to work on our new Transit Strategy, councillor Andrew Knack will likely push for another look at working with private companies to augment bus routes, particularly in suburban neighbourhoods which won’t have frequent service. While this often gets called “Uberization” because it could include rideshare companies like Uber and Edmonton’s own TappCar (and other taxi companies) this could also include carshare companies like Pogo (another Edmonton company), or something we haven’t even fully come up with yet. It’s going to be a real challenge to make sure people in neighbourhoods that don’t have frequent bus service have more options to keep them from simply driving their own vehicles. 

For some reason, an Edmonton MP is trying to whip up fear about safe injection and safe consumption sites in a neighbourhood likely to never see such a thing. Even though suburban deaths from opioids far out-number those in the city core, they’re likely too spread out, too inconsistent and too far from other medical facilities to properly set up such sites. 

That being said, this quote from a nurse who has worked with drug patients hits a lot of excellent points in one sentence. “…having ambulance crews racing around the city resuscitating overdosing patients is expensive and ineffective.”

Edmonton’s four drug consumption sites aren’t open yet, but will be part of growing healthcare plans to help save people’s lives, end homelessness and make our core neighbourhoods a little safer. I don’t know why people would fight that.

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Edmonton’s Take Back The Night walk and events were Friday night, with the annual march over in the 124 Street neighbourhood. This year’s event comes right as sexual harassment and assaults of women are in the spotlight, because of the “me too” campaign that has spun off the high-profile allegations against a Hollywood mogul. 

Similar to word last month that waiting lists for the YWCA’s counsellors have a four-month timeline, the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton is reporting growing waits for its services, looking at the “me too” campaign as a reason more women are coming forward about sexual assault. 

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The University of Alberta is preparing for budget cuts over the next three years. There was a deficit a few years ago too, but the U of A didn’t move to tighten up its budgets at that point. While more money from the provincial government or increased tuitions might help offset some of the deficit, the school is still projecting cuts in the next few years.
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Another iconic building in our downtown faces demolition. 

When the Bank of Montreal bought the Tegler building in 1978 to demolish it, heritage advocates gnashed their teeth. The building came down in 1982. And now, the building that took its place faces the same fate.”

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