The big news in Canada today is of a bus ride from hell last night: “Thirty-six passengers of a Greyhound bus traveling from Edmonton to Winnipeg Thursday night watched in horror as a fellow passenger reportedly stabbed another man sleeping next to him, eventually decapitating him and waving the man’s severed head.”
Archived entries for Edmonton
My friend Mike likes to claim that his hometown is “not that bad.” I’ve tried to be a booster of Edmonton, touting its merits to disbelievers (read: people who have no idea where it is, or that one-million people actually live there!). But a recent article by Toronto Star urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume is the reality check I needed to finally change my tune. What’s going on in this capital city, so awash with cash but devoid in style, is a prime example of the idea that having money does not equate to having class.
“What does Alberta do with all its wealth?” Hume asks. “Wandering around the capital of the oil-rich province, it’s painfully clear it doesn’t spend cash on its cities, at least not this one. Though Edmonton shows no obvious signs of disrepair or shabbiness, it isn’t a city that has anything special to recommend it, either. One feels one could be anywhere. There’s almost nothing here that stands out, that demands our attention, just endless strip malls and lowrise apartment buildings designed, it seems, to be anonymous. Perhaps this is all a result of some inherent sense of modesty, or maybe it’s a reflection of a boom-and-bust cycle that makes it hard for residents to have the kind of faith in their city that serious investment requires.”
The bloggers over at Queerty are on an interesting northern roadtrip, unearthing drag queens and lesbian cafes in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton. The best observation from the Dedmonton, aka the City of Subtle Charms? “Who would’ve thought that we would find the highest concentration of talented drag queens in Edmonton…Up until we left for this trip, we hadn’t even heard of Edmonton, which is the capital of the oil-rich province, and we saw more quality drag in one evening there than we have seen anywhere else on our trip.”
In an unintended side effect of Edmonton’s new smoking ban, school-buses-turned-smoking-lounges have popped up outside at least two bars. Bar owners have registered the buses in their own names to skirt the law, meaning they are essentially doing no more than allowing friends to smoke in their private vehicle, as far as the law is concerned.
One regular at T.B. Pub complained to theGlobe and Mail, “This city is becoming so…communist. You’d think we lived in freaking Toronto or something…This is redneck Alberta. We should be able to have a smoke wherever we want to.” The owner of the T.B. seemed to agree: “About 90 per cent of my customers smoke. I have to save my business. The city sure won’t.”
Edmonton is pinning its downtown renaissance on a new art museum — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — created in the style of Frank Gehry, by one the controversial architect’s proteges. The Edmonton Art Gallery, which is changing its name to the Art Gallery of Alberta, yesterday unveiled its expensive heap of twisted metal and wavy glass that looks strikingly similar to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, — again, stop me if you’ve heard this story before — the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Opponents of the project are already lining up for a fight. Letters to a local newspaper have called the new gallery everything from a “half-peeled potato” to a “poor man’s Gehry.” L.A.-based architect Randall Stout said of his building, “I think you can certainly look at this and think about the notion of the river running through Edmonton. And you can look at this and think of the northern lights.” Or something like that.
A member of the selection panel balked at criticisms and told the press, “We have produced an iconic piece of architecture, which will help put Edmonton on the map, culturally, architecturally, and as a place to visit.” (Let’s hope so — they call it “Dedmonton” for a reason.)
Oil money flows like water in Alberta, and provincial leaders have had a hard time figuring out what to do with all their riches. Not only will every man, woman, and child in the province be getting a strings-free cheque for $400 at the end of this year, but leaders in Edmonton are now discussing the idea of spending some of their oil revenue surplus to provide a free college education to residents.
Under the plan, the first two years of postsecondary education would be free to Albertans. A year’s university tuition in province costs $5,100 per year, the second-highest in Canada.
There must have been a good press-op in Fort McMurray, Alta., last week since the the Times joined the Globe in devoting a chunk of space to theregion’s booming economy and the impact on the environment that oil extraction has and will cause.
“Just north of this boomtown of saloons and strip malls, a moonscape is expanding along with the price of oil. Deep craters wider than football fields are being dug out of the pine and spruce forests and muskeg swamps by many of the largest multinational oil companies. Huge refineries that burn natural gas to refine the excavated gooey sands into synthetic oil are spreading where wolves and coyotes once roamed.”
“Beside the mining pits, propane cannons and scarecrows installed by the companies shoo away migrating birds from giant toxic lakes filled with water that was used in the process that separates oil sands from clay and dirt. About 82,000 acres of forest and wetlands have been cleared or otherwise disturbed since development of oil sands began in earnest here in the late 1960’s, and that is just the start. “
I’m pretty impressed that a reporter from the Globe ventured to Alberta to tour themassive oil extraction projects around the now-booming town of Fort McMurray, a frontier town that has grown 75 percent in recent years. The Globe never sends its own people to Canada, preferring instead to run wire reports whenever news happens north of the border.
Canada is already the largest provider of foreign oil to the U.S., and the huge oil sands projects in northern Alberta — where tarry sands are processed to extract the crude oil component — are poised to make the region even wealthier and strategically more important than they already are. The cost of extracting oil from the sands is expensive (about $24 per barrel) and extraordinarily labor-intensive (it takes 2 tons of the oil sands to produce 1 barrel of oil), but optimists say they hold the promise of reducing dependency on Middle East oil.
Extraction is also environmentally risky: “We’re dealing with a form of oil extraction where the intensity of environmental impacts is at an order of magnitude greater than any other form of oil extraction we have seen on the planet,” a policy analyst told the paper.
A parliamentary committee in Ottawa is recommending Canada take immediate action to legalize and regulate prostitution nationwide. Canada’s laws prohibit solicitation in public, which many people believe forces prostitutes to work in the most dangerous situations and contributes to crises such as the Vancouver disappearances and the Edmonton murders.
An MP who supports the measure says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the law itself is contributing to the incredible risk and harm that sex-trade workers face, especially those on the street…Women are being murdered, women are under increasing risk of violence and death.”
One Conservative MP, who is against the legalization, says, “These girls should be given every opportunity to get out of this high-risk activity and take the money out of it. There’s too much organized crime, and there’s a potential for even greater involvement of organized crime if you go the other way.”
As oil prices soared in recent months, Alberta was estimating they’d take in up to $7 billion more than they had budgeted thanks to the province’s immense oil wealth. The windfall was believed to be so great that provincial finance officials nearly began a road trip earlier this year to ask constituents how they should spend all that money.
Premier Ralph Klein has finally come up with a solution for the billions: give it away. Every Albertan will receive a tax-free $400 “prosperity cheque” by the end of the year. The issue has already begun to divide Canadians, many of whom say Alberta’s oil wealth belongs to Ottawa — not to Edmonton.
The premier takes a “keep your hands off it” attitude about the oil riches while the federal government has been mum on the issue, probably with good reason. The Globe reported that any political party “would face a national-unity powder keg should it wade into the issue, particularly during the coming election campaign.”
Alberta is one of only two “have” provinces — ones that pay more into the federal coffers than they get back. The oil bounty will only be increasing the divide between Alberta — which is increasingly vocal about having to support the fiscal imbalance between it and the poorer provinces — and the rest of Canada. Already the province has no debt, no sales tax and is a corporate tax haven; Calgary boasts more company head offices than all other cities in Canada except for Toronto.
This is all fine and dandy for Alberta right now, but what happens in a few decades when prices hit $200 a barrel and the province is tapped out of oil? A piece in the Star hypothesizes: “In Canada, it meant the decline of Alberta. With oil at anywhere from $40 to $70 a barrel, Alberta had prospered. But when its petroleum and coal reserves ran out, Alberta had little else. By the time the price of the world’s dwindling supplies of oil finally hit $200 a barrel, Alberta was a have-not province. Calgary, population 1 million, became a ghost town.”
According to a new poll by Western Standardmagazine, 36% of Western Canadians believe their region should look closely at the idea ofsplitting from Canada and forming their own nation. Support is predictably highest among (alienated) Albertans; 41% of them said they support the idea of considering western sovereignty while the percentage is slightly lower in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
“Westerners are very frustrated with their position in Confederation,” pollsters said. ”There’s really nothing aside from the ongoing institutionalized grievances to be angry about, and for the most part in all four provinces the economy is going fairly well.”
After two gay bashings over the past two weeks in Edmonton, some people are pointing fingers at the anti-gay Conservative leader of Alberta, Ralph Klein, for raising rhetoric to a point where hate crimes are being almost tolerated in the province. In the first incident, a group of men on their way to the city’s Pride celebration was attacked by four aggressors. “It was just because of what I was wearing, a fur coat, and how I was walking,” one of the men said. In the second incident, two men who were holding hands while walking down the street were attacked by eight other men as they exited a convenience store.
The response has been swift, despite the region’s notoriously conservative base. “It’s like a cancer,” an Edmonton police officer said, “and that’s why the Edmonton Police Service takes these crimes so seriously.” Meanwhile, Mayor Stephen Mandel decried the attacks, saying, “That’s so 1800s…I mean, get into the century. It’s a new century here. People have the right to live the life they want to live. I’m not going to be telling people how to live and I don’t think other people should either.”
In a recent poll, 39% of Canadians said they think the debate over same-sex marriage has increased discrimination against gays and lesbians; in Alberta, 52% agreed.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police admitted over the weekend that a serial killer is prowling the streets of Edmonton, suspected in the deaths of as many as 25 women, most of them workers in Edmonton’s sex trade. To aid in the manhunt, police are offering a $100,000 CAD bounty for the killer. The bodies of the murdered women have turned up in rural fields surrounding the 1 million-person city, which is a few hundred miles north of the Montana border.
The RCMP said, “He may be somebody’s brother. But he likely will not look like the monster we see in the movies. He is likely going to blend in with the rest of society, possibly never having had any interaction with the police. And this is why we need the public to help us.”
The news is eerily similar to the situation in Vancouver’s down-and-out Downtown Eastside, where two dozen or more women have disappeared and where one man has been charged in the deaths of 27 prostitutes
Tourists to Alberta typically head to Banff and Jasper, but even the booming oil sands of Fort McMurray, northeast of Edmonton, are getting in on the act, with the area that has generated much of the province’s vast wealth experiencing a massive influx of “industrial tourists.”
The Globe and Mail writes, “It’s the antithesis of ecotourism: gargantuan shovels scooping 100 tonnes of black earth in a single swipe, mud-caked dump trucks hauling oil sands along a network of mining roads. And among it all, a tour bus, carrying travellers who want to get up close and personal with mines and factories across the country … In the contrarian shadow of the much-ballyhooed ecotourism, it seems some people enjoy getting up close and personal with factories and plants during their holidays.” Who knew?
The conventional wisdom that Calgary is the best place in Canada to buy real estate is being turned on its head by Don Campbell, a consultant who wrote the book, “Real Estate Investing in Canada,” and who is urging people to buy in boomingEdmonton instead.
Edmonton also happens to be the fastest growing big city in Canada, with over 1 million residents. He calls Vancouver, where prices exceed incomes by a substantial proportion, “the biggest real estate bubble in North America.” (A little possibility that leads me to think, S*&%!)
• Alberta is about to get wildly rich and powerful. How will that change Canada?
• Also today, news that Canada’s housing boom may be ending because “rising cost pressures, fuelled by building materials prices, increasing development fees and rising land values.” Prices continue to soar in Vancouver in anticipation of the 2010 Olympics, and increase at a substantial pace in Montreal and Ottawa
About a year ago, I wrote a smugly funny editorial about the many pitfalls of flyingJetsgo, the rapidly expanding Canadian discount airline known for its $1 fares and old planes that tend to not make it to their destinations, either because they run out of oil or they run out of fuel.
This week, Transport Canada launched an investigation into an incident in Toronto last week during which a Jetsgo plane lost an engine during takeoff to Vancouver. The engine didn’t just shut down — it fell off the plane. Ready to take my advice to never fly Jetsgo now?!?
• Canada says U.S. plan to drill for oil in Alaska is a “big mistake.”
• Today in Edmonton, the four Mounties who were killed last week in the pot-fueled massacre, the deadliest attack on the national police force in 120 years, were laid to rest. The Christian Science Monitor reports on Canada’s booming marijuana industry, valued at an estimated $4-7 billion annually