COMMENT: 2013 a grim year for taxes, sports, labour unions

Rogers Place GigCity EdmontonBeyond death and taxes, end-of-the-year review lists seem to have become de rigueur in the information age. At the very least they serve as good reminders not to forget history lest we be doomed to repeat it. Or maybe we will anyway. If you weren’t paying attention over the last 12 months, don’t fret, for here is all you need to know before we run headlong into 2014:

Arena deal cemented … kinda

On January 23, city council voted 10-3 to resurrect what many thought was a dead deal, and without any apparent urging from Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, either. You know, the deal for the new hockey arena that we’ll pay for and never collect a cent of revenue on? Without any direct money from the province? Premier Alison Redford said that the city is “free” to reallocate monies to fund “infrastructure” projects. City council is currently looking for ways to make up the current $55 million shortfall to fund the new Rogers Place. Maybe the Oilers could go door to door selling chocolate covered almonds? At $3 a box, they’ll need to sell approximately 18 million boxes, or roughly 18 boxes per resident of the Edmonton metropolitan area.

Mother Nature’s Revenge

Calgary Flood GigCity EdmontonClimate change affected Alberta as we encountered the worst flooding in recorded history, with the devastation in Calgary and surrounding communities this summer making international headlines. After a torrential rainstorm dumped nearly half of the regions average yearly rainfall in less than 48 hours, the rush of flood waters caused the evacuation of 75,000 Calgarians from seriously affected areas and homelessness for up to 200,000 more. More than 2,200 Canadian forces troops, not to mention scores of volunteers from around the province, pitched in to help complete strangers in the cleanup process.

(Read an eyewitness account of clean-up in High River, which suffered some of the worst flood devastation)

Damage was estimated at $5 billion, and the insurance industry paid out $1.8 billion in claims, establishing the mid-June floods as the biggest environmental disaster in provincial history this side of Fort McMurray.

You know it’s news when rock stars help out, with Nickelback and Rush, among many others, doing their duty to perform benefit concerts for victims of the flood.

(Read an eyewitness report from Kevin Maimann covering the washed out Sled Island Festival).

As it affects Edmontonians, our own disruptive weather issues vis-a-vis recurring freeze-thaw patterns continue to brutalize city roads, so much so in 2013 that the city received 1,800 claims – more than in the last four years combined – for vehicles damaged by potholes, totalling $464,000. City Transportation Manager Bob Boutilier has asked that the current $20 million pothole budget be increased to $50 million by 2015. We need a pothole benefit concert.

Iveson Elected Mayor

Don Iveson GigCity EdmontonAlong with six brand new city councillors, 34-year-old Don Iveson was elected Edmonton’s 35th mayor in November – in a landslide. The Mayor’s work in the next year involves more than a little singing for the city’s supper, as it relates to finding money to finance Rogers Place and finish the LRT, as well as convincing Leduc to allow us to annex chunks of their county so we can build a few more Payless Shoe stores. Iveson looks as inoffensive and harmless as Stephen Harper – and we all know how well that guy is turning out.

(Read a year-end interview with Don Iveson)

Go, Local Sports Team

Long after area sports fans stopped expecting any joy from the Oilers, Edmontonians still had the Eskies to fall back on for some reliable civic sporting pride. Or did they? The 64-year-old franchise suffered one of its worst seasons yet. The Esks tied their fifty year old franchise record for most losses in a season (14, set in 1963). While (now former) Coach Kavis Reed’s post-loss freak-out yielded impressive YouTube view stats, it accurately encapsulated the feelings of many captive season ticket holders. Yes, THERE HAS TO BE CONSEQUENCES NOW! Well, it could’ve been worse. The Eskimos still weren’t as bad as Bombers, with three wins and 15 losses. Winnipeg … more losses, more mosquitoes, worse weather. Just what DO they have? Oh yeah, a decent hockey team.


Labour UnionForty years ago this week saw the release of legendary horror thriller The Exorcist – and four weeks ago saw AUPE president Guy Smith’s head spin around like Linda Blair’s when he caught wind of Bills 45 and 46, meant to restrict the AUPE’s ability to respond in labour disputes. Bill 46 took away arbitration, allowing the government to impose unilateral solutions on contract negotiation impasses. Like, the one coming due in, oh, a month? Bill 45 stems from a wildcat strike staged by corrections officers earlier this year, and criminalizes not just threats to strike by AUPE staff, but apparently extends to CONVERSATIONS about striking, subjecting offenders to large fines, and conceivably, more chocolate almond sales campaigns to pay said fines.

Enacted a little over a week after it was first tabled, the law is already being challenged in court over possible Charter of Rights violations, as both sides accuse the other of bad faith. Meanwhile, the government of BC settled negotiations ahead of schedule with 25,000 union members there, culminating in a five year deal with 5.5 % pay increase, with something called an” economic stability dividend” tossed in, resulting in “added wage increase in years when the provincial GDP growth exceeds projections.”

You have to wonder what would happen if in negotiations with the AUPE this government put forth a similar caveat tied to increases in oil and gas revenues in the province.

Hey, we can dream, can’t we?