What does Alberta’s Budget 2015 mean for Edmonton?

Today was budget day in Alberta. Budget 2015 is being called “a bad news budget” but it could have been much worse. There are tax and user fee increases, cuts to spending (including the first cut to health spending in 20 years), and a new “Health Care Contribution Levy”, and still Alberta’s deficit will grow, to a record $5 billion this year. On the other hand, infrastructure spending seems to be mostly intact, programs for the most vulnerable have not been cut, Alberta retains its tax advantage, and the Province is taking some baby steps toward getting us off the energy price roller coaster. Here is Dave’s take.

Budget 2015

There’s a lot of truth to the “government town” label that people often apply to Edmonton, so any Provincial cuts are going to have an impact. According to the City’s chief economist John Rose, 22% of Edmonton’s employment is related to health care, education, or public administration.

Still, Rose said in recent weeks that Edmonton as a whole would weather the storm better than others in Alberta. From his Labour Force Report issued on March 13:

“Although the impact of lower oil prices is evident in some sectors, the diversity and depth of
Edmonton’s economy has insured that employment continues to grow in Edmonton and that the
City remains a very attractive location for those seeking new opportunities.”

So what does Budget 2015 mean for Edmontonians and for Edmonton?

Highlights

Here are some of the key takeaways from the budget that I think are relevant to Edmonton:

  • For 2015-2016, Alberta Health Services (AHS) faces a decrease of $286 million or 2.1% and will need to cut nearly 1,700 positions
  • The budget includes $926 million in capital spending for health-related “capacity expansion projects” in Calgary and Edmonton
  • There is $50 million over at least two years to renovate emergency rooms in Calgary and Edmonton (specifically the Misericordia, Grey Nuns, and Royal Alexandra hospitals)
  • The budget promises than 300 new restorative care beds in Calgary and Edmonton
  • Post-secondary institutions face $114 million in cuts
  • Campus Alberta institutions (which includes the University of Alberta) are facing a 1.4% operating grant reduction in 2015-2016 and a 2.7% reduction in 2016-2017
  • School boards will receive no money for more students and must cut 3% from non-instructional costs
  • The Province says that “most” school projects announced in 2013 and early 2014 will open in 2016-2017
  • Family and Community Support Services, which helps to fund more than 60 agencies and 80 programs in Edmonton, will be maintained at $76 million.
  • Funding for police remains the same
  • Capital spending of $1.1 billion for the next 5 years includes $124 million for NAIT expansion and $120 million for NorQuest downtown
  • GreenTRIP funding remains intact, which means the first portion of the Valley Line LRT will continue to move ahead
  • MSI funding will remain stable, even if it is more of a loan than a grant
  • The smart fare proposal from Edmonton, St. Albert, and Strathcona County is still “under consideration”
  • The budget contains no funding for the proposed Galleria project

Discussion

Certainly the health care sector is going to take a hit and that will have some impact on Edmonton. The Province maintains that we can get the same quality of service for less, while critics disagree and suggest the effect of this budget won’t be felt only by those at AHS who lose their jobs but also by Edmontonians in need of care. “The time has come for us to start looking at how we can do things in a more efficient manner,” said Health Minister Stephen Mandel. “I don’t think Albertans should have to pay 20 and 30 per cent more for things.”

In addition to the cuts in health-related spending, the budget also introduces the Health Care Contribution Levy, which will apply to individuals with taxable income greater than $50,000 per year. There’s a sliding scale from $200 to $1000 depending on your income bracket. This tax takes effect on July 1, 2015, and applies to roughly 1.1 million Albertans.

The health-related surprise though was money for hospitals, especially given recent suggestions that Edmonton facilities need more than $225 million in maintenance and repairs. The previously announced funding for emergency room upgrades will help in that regard.

It’s not clear how many cuts the education sector will face, but clearly the 3% reduction is going to have an impact. A lack of new funds to deal with growth will likely also mean larger class sizes. At the post-secondary level the cuts are much smaller than many expected.

While there is no provincial sales tax, there are increases to personal income taxes. If you make more than $100,000 per year your tax rate will increase from 10% to 11.5% (phased in over three years) and if you earn more than $250,000 your tax rate will rise to 12% when fully implemented (Edmonton’s media family income is about $100,000). We know that nearly 10,000 employees of AHS earn at least $100,000 a year, which means if they aren’t among the job cuts, they will face increased personal income tax. Though it likely won’t be those who make the most that face the cuts. According to the Herald, Mandel’s own department will spend 18% more than last year.

For most Edmontonians, increased taxes, fines, and user fees will be felt immediately. Gas taxes are increasing by 4 cents to 13 cents per litre. Cigarette taxes are increasing by $5 to $45 for a carton of 200. A bottle of wine or spirits will cost 16 cents more, and a 12-pack of beer will cost 90 cents more. Fines for speeding and other traffic offences are increasing by an average of 35%. Marriage licenses are increasing by $10 as are birth and death certificates.

There is some good news for the most vulnerable Edmontonians. There will be no reductions to child care subsidies for low-income families, nor are there any reductions to the Alberta Seniors Benefit income support. The budget will also accommodate growth for AISH and Persons with Development Disabilities. Starting July 1, 2016 there will also be a new Alberta Working Family Supplement refundable tax credit on earnings up to $41,220. Funding for FCSS, which supports many Edmonton agencies, will be maintained.

On infrastructure there’s mostly good news. Or at least a sigh of relief that important projects will continue moving forward, like the Valley Line LRT which the Province previously committed to.

Responses to Budget 2015

From Mayor Don Iveson:

“The city of Edmonton and Alberta municipalities faired reasonably well on this budget, all things considered – certainly compared to what we all heard and were concerned might be coming,” Iveson said.

“The numbers are fairly small and speaking to our chief economist just now, it may have a small effect on Edmonton’s growth, but we’re talking a decimal to Edmonton’s GDP, not a side-swipe,” Iveson said.

“We can work with the dollars provided,” said Iveson.

From Doug Goss, char of the University of Alberta’s board of governors:

“The message is clear — we all have to find new ways of doing business, we have to be a little more creative,” said Goss.

From Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta:

“This is a very good outcome,” said Samarasekera, “much better than many were expecting. The provincial government is facing financial pressures, but they’ve demonstrated they understand the importance of post-secondary to Alberta’s future.”

President Samarasekera will address the campus community at a forum on March 31.

From Michael Janz, Edmonton Public School Board chair:

“We’re going to see more students arriving at the school doorsteps with no new money provided to educate them,” he said. “I don’t think this is a good news budget for Edmonton public schools.”

From Marilyn Bergstra, vice-chair of Edmonton Catholic Schools:

“The budget cuts will make it increasingly difficult to support all of our students, particularly our most vulnerable, as well as the new students that are coming to our district,” she said.

From Helen Rice, President of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA):

“Sufficient funding for infrastructure is vital to address the deficit that has continued to grow across the province, and to provide for new infrastructure requirements to meet our obligations to citizens,” said Rice.

“Given the current economic climate, now is the time to secure funding to meet infrastructure needs when prices are falling and the availability of resources to work on projects is increasing,” said Rice.

The reaction from the business community appears to be more mixed.

Budget 2015

Budget 2015 Details

Here are all the budget-related news releases:

Here is the budget presentation from Robin Campbell, Minister of Finance:

You can also download the budget speech in PDF here. You can access the full list of budget documents here.

Roundup: Pre-Election Politics in Alberta

As you know I stay fairly focused on municipal issues, especially as they relate to Edmonton. But with the provincial budget set to be released on Thursday, a televised address from the Premier tonight, the review of the Municipal Government Act, and expectations of an imminent election, I’ve been thinking more about provincial politics lately. Here’s a brief summary and some thoughts on what I’ve been paying attention to.

Premier Prentice’s TV Address

Tonight, Premier Jim Prentice delivered a 16 minute address called Alberta Looks Ahead on CTV (which apparently cost between $80K and $100K). “We are a turning point in our province,” he said at the beginning. He described the need for “thoughtful decisions for the future” and said Albertans have told him they want balance.

The highlights as I understood them:

  • A 10 year plan will be introduced with the budget, with three pillars: strong fiscal foundation, building a lasting legacy, securing Alberta’s future
  • There will be no sales tax and Alberta will retain “the most competitive tax system in Canada”
  • The goal is to be back to a balanced budget by 2017
  • The government will hold the line on expenditures, which essentially means cuts in a growing province
  • Albertans will be asked “to contribute to the costs of the health system”, slowly at first but growing over time
  • By 2018-2019, 75% of energy revenue will go to program spending
  • By 2019-2020, 50% of energy revenue will go to program spending, with 25% going to emergency funds and paying down the debt and 25% going to the Heritage Savings Trust Fund

The Premier talked a lot about how he is determined to restore our commitment to the Heritage Fund, and said “paying off our debts is something we simply must do.” If I remember correctly, he mentioned only two former Premiers by name: Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein.

Perhaps this is a more accurate, succinct recap courtesy of Marty Chan:

There were no “look in the mirror” comments tonight, but I did love the soundbite toward the end when Premier Prentice spoke about “a spirit of openness across every segment of Alberta”. He offered some examples, including “from bloggers to loggers,” which led to this gem:

Dave is probably the most well-known political blogger in the province. You can see his latest nomination update post here.

The Premier is also planning to host a series of Telephone Town Halls along with various Ministers, on March 25 and March 30. You can dial in toll-free at 1-855-269-4484. Tonight I saw many complaints about robocalls, so it’ll be interesting to see how those town halls are received.

Budget 2015 Consultations

The Province conducted an online survey for Budget 2015 and in total received 40,513 responses. The survey was open from February 5-28. Some of the key findings include:

  • 9 out of 10 respondents feel low oil prices will greatly or somewhat affect the Alberta government’s ability to budget
  • when asked what is the right balance to respond to the drop in revenue, Albertans were split almost evenly 3 ways between reducing spending, increasing revenue and running a deficit budget
  • 9 out of 10 respondents feel government needs to take action either immediately or within this year

I’m not sure how representative the results are, but it’s useful data to consider nonetheless. Budget 2015 will be released on Thursday, March 26.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that the survey results were made available through the Open Data Portal! This enables you to ask the hard questions, like: how long did the average person take to fill out the survey? The average length of time was 7 minutes, with the median at 11 minutes. Ignoring the records that were greater than 90 minutes (people leave tabs open all the time) here’s what the data looks like in a chart:

budget survey time taken

You can download all the data as a 13 MB Excel file. Give it a go and have some fun!

I hope this is a sign of things to come in terms of making information available through the open data catalogue in a timely fashion.

Municipal Government Act Amendments

Last week, the Government of Alberta tabled amendments to the Municipal Government Act. You can get a brief overview of what’s changing here. From the news release:

“The last major consolidation of the MGA took place in 1995, after nearly 10 years of review. The current MGA review began in 2012 and has involved input from more than 1,200 written submissions, and more than 1,500 people at 77 community meetings.”

A few of the proposed changes I found interesting:

  • Municipalities would be required to adopt public participation policies that outline their approaches for engaging with stakeholders. Edmonton already has a policy for this and is actively review and improving its approach to public engagement.
  • Existing petition requirements make it difficult to successfully petition a municipality, so one proposed changed would allow municipalities to change the rules for petitions.
  • Currently municipalities need to use snail mail or newspapers to notify the public about things like bylaws and public hearings, but this is 2015! The proposed change would make it possible for municipalities to announce notifications online or using other methods as they see fit.
  • Another change would require municipalities to adopt three-year operating plans and five-year capital plans. Edmonton is already moving in this direction.
  • Municipalities are currently required to have statutory plans, but there is no explicit hierarchy specified, they simply need to be consistent with one another. The proposed change is to identify the hierarchy and relationship of those plans. In Edmonton, this could impact The Way Ahead.
  • Another change would allow for the creation of civic charters, which the Province, Edmonton, and Calgary have already been pursuing.

There are more amendments still to come. Additional review and consultation will take place this spring with the goal of proclaiming the fully revised MGA and regulatory updates by the end of 2016.

MSI Funding (March 2015)

Another pre-election, pre-budget announcement was about the allocation of $400 million in MSI funding. Edmonton is slated to receive just over $80 million out of that, which is less than half of what the City was expecting for 2015.

“Until we get the provincial budget, I won’t know how much additional dollars are available and we won’t be able to make any decisions about which projects go ahead until we see the provincial budget,” said Mayor Don Iveson.

For its part, the Liberals have called the MSI announcement “an elaborate ruse” due to some creative accounting with the Basic Municipal Transportation Grant.

Wildrose Leadership Race

Also tonight, we held our third #abvote Hangout at http://abvote.ca. In addition to Dave, Ryan, and myself, we had the three Wildrose leadership candidates join us: Drew Barnes (MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat), Derek Fildebrandt sitting in for Brian Jean (Former MP for Fort McMurray - Athabasca) and Linda Osinchuk (Former Mayor for Strathcona County). We started with a discussion about the Premier’s address, and then moved on to some other questions for the candidates.

You can watch the archived video on YouTube or here:

I asked a question about how they’d support municipalities, and of course the Wildrose 10/10 plan came up, which would allocate 10% of tax revenues and 10% of surpluses to municipalities.

They’re rushing this race, but with speculation the writ will drop on March 30, they don’t have much of a choice. You can learn more about how voting works for the leadership race here. The Wildrose party will announce its next leader on March 28 in Calgary.

Other

I have already mentioned these things in previous roundups but it’s worth linking to them again:

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for our next Hangout and follow all the latest stuff online using #ableg and #abvote. Now I guess I had better go update the Election Results dashboard

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #147

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 3/22/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

METRO INE MACAWAN STATION
Metro Line MacEwan Station, photo by Jason Woodhead

Upcoming Events

DSC_0002
Is it winter or spring? Photo by Bill Burris

Coming up at City Council: March 23-27, 2015

It’s Committee week again and it looks like it’ll be a busy one with lots on the agenda.

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, March 23, 2015

The week begins on Monday with a Community Services Committee meeting scheduled from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are thirteen reports on the agenda, plus one response to an inquiry from Councillor Knack and one private report. Here’s what caught my eye:

Urban Beekeeping Pilot Project & Bylaw Changes

This report provides an overview of the pilot project on urban beekeeping and also recommends some bylaw changes for Council’s consideration. Here’s how the pilot went:

  • Over 35 inquiries were made, but only 3 residential sites were setup. Timing and strict neighbour permission requirements are blamed for the low numbers.
  • All 3 sites successfully complied with the provisions of the pilot.
  • “The three pilot sites were managed by experienced beekeepers and conversations with enforcement staff were very positive.”
  • Just one complaint was received from a citizen, and it was about a noticeable increase in bees. Research about how to reduce bee hive impacts on neighbours will be “incorporated into an ongoing education and awareness program.”
  • Participants, neighbours, and community members were all surveyed – just one respondent indicated they did not support the idea of urban beekeeping.

A representative from Animal Control & Licensing met with the Edmonton Food Council, a meeting that I attended. We had a great discussion about the pilot and the proposed changes. The report says, “the Food Council supports the City to enabling implementation of urban beekeeping in a way that enhances the positives of beekeeping while minimizing the exposure of citizens to undue risk.”

Currently, the Animal Control & Licensing Bylaw prohibits citizens from keeping large animals (like Stampy I guess), poultry, bees, or poisonous snakes, reptiles, or insects, unless they have permission from the City Manager. The proposed amendments would allow those things if a citizen successfully obtains a license issue by the City Manager. This is not unlike needing to get a pet license for your dog or cat. The City could place terms and conditions on a license, such as the term, or the maximum number of animals that may be kept. They can investigate complaints and they can perform inspections. And of course, the license can be revoked at any time. The requirements are pretty straightforward:

  • You need to be 18 years of age or older
  • You need to pay any applicable fees
  • You need to provide all required information

A license to keep bees is proposed to be free. To get a license, you’ll need to comply with the City’s Bee Site guidelines, you’ll need to register with the Province Apiculturist and comply with the Alberta Bee Act, and you’ll need to complete a recognized beekeeping course. Guidelines include:

  • Hives can only be in the backyard, and must be at least 3 meters from a neighbouring fence line.
  • You can only have one active hive in your yard, consisting of a bottom board and hive cover with no more than four supers.
  • A fresh water source is required to minimize bees going to neighbouring properties.

This is really great to see – the guidelines are reasonable and approachable, the proposed process allows the City to take action when necessary, and the City is encouraging education and community around beekeeping.

I’m excited to see urban beekeeping moving ahead in Edmonton!

Electronic Cigarettes

Councillor Knack made an inquiry back in December about electronic cigarettes, seeking information about whether the current smoking bylaw is applicable or not. The report is very clear:

“The current City of Edmonton Smoking Bylaw does not apply to electronic cigarettes. This product does not contain tobacco and is not currently regulated under the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act or Public Places Bylaw 14614.”

There are no specific restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes. Because they are relatively new, Health Canada has not fully evaluated them and generally advises Canadians against purchasing or using them. Because of that, e-cigarettes cannot be used in AHS facilities nor inside City facilities.

Fire Pit Enforcement Options

This one is a follow-up to the discussion that took place back in November. As directed, Administration has identified “mechanisms to protect citizens from extreme nuisance impacts of neighbourhood fire pits”. They came up with three:

  • Existing Mechanisms – Rather than issue a $250 fine, officers could require a mandatory court appearance.
  • Create a Subjective Nuisance Bylaw Provision within the Community Standards Bylaw
  • Enhanced Responsive Services – This would require additional staff, and therefore, budget.

The first two would have no cost implications.

Other

Here are some of the other reports on the agenda:

Additionally, a bunch of reports have been given revised due dates, so get your calendar out and pencil in these dates if they’re of interest:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On Tuesday, the next Executive Committee meeting is scheduled to take place from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are twelve reports on the agenda, plus one response to an inquiry from Councillor Esslinger. Here’s what caught my eye:

City Council Policy on Open City Initiative

The recommendation here is that Council approve City Policy C581, the Open City Policy. “An open city is a connected city,” the report says. “Philosophically, an open city is connected and responsive to the goals and objectives of an informed and engaged public, who in turn are partners consulted in setting the goals and objectives of the city.”

The included draft policy incorporates the five most frequently occurring suggestions from respondents to an Edmonton Insight Community survey:

  • Emphasis on citizen and community involvement in decision-making
  • Embrace openness in all City employees’ and election officals’ actions
  • Clarify how privacy will be protected
  • Specify how the City will ensure all practices and processes will adhere to Open City Principles
  • Use understandable language

The draft policy says that as an open city, “Edmonton will create opportunity for diverse input and participation, inviting Edmontonians to play a larger role in shaping the community and enabling social and economic growth.” The core commitments in the policy would have the City:

  • Manage information and data assets as a strategic resource
  • Ensure information and data are open by default and private where appropriate
  • Expand opportunities to foster a collaborative environment and engage Edmontonians to ensure municipal activities reflect community values, priorities and standards
  • Embrace technology and new business models to deliver services to Edmontonians
  • Remove barriers to access and open up new possibilities for collaboration between Edmontonians and the City
  • Work with other public and private sector organizations for the advancement of Open City principles

I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the second point (I’d rather see a separate point on privacy and not diminish the “open by default” commitment), but overall, I think this is a big step in the right direction. I expect Council will be happy with it too.

Update on Infill Progress

This report provides an update on the 23 actions identified in Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap. Here are the highlights:

  • Three of the five communications actions have been completed, including work on the website and the development of the Good Neighbour Construction Guide.
  • Three of the five collaboration actions have also been completed, including the Infill Tour and the Infill Planning Academy Course.
  • One of the three knowledge actions has been completed – the creation of a document that provides a basic understanding of drainage services in Edmonton.
  • Twp of the five rules actions have been completed (these deal with zoning changes).
  • Two of the five process actions have been completed.

Northern/Circumpolar Initiatives Secretariat

Council is considering the formation of a Northern/Circumpolar Initiatives Secretariat that could help Edmonton “achieve significant progress in the Northern/Circumpolar region through supporting and building partnerships with northern communities.” EEDC was directed to develop a business plan for the initiative, which this report includes and summarizes.

The area of influence would be the Edmonton region, but also Whitehorse and Yellowknife. The hope is that Edmonton can form partnerships with northern communities around issues like health care, education, commerce, innovation, and community development.

The idea would be to formally create the Secretariat by the end of Q2 2015. The City, EEDC, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Alberta would provide funding and in-kind resources as partners in the initiative. Council has already approved a one-time package of $90,000 for 2015.

Other

Here are a few notes on some of the other reports:

The following reports have been given revised due dates:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The next Transportation Committee meeting takes place on Wednesday from 9:30am until 5:30pm. There are five reports on the agenda, as well as one response to an inquiry made by Mayor Iveson.

Cell Phone and Wi-Fi Coverage in LRT Stations and Tunnels

I don’t think there’s much new here, but the report provides an update on the inquiry that Mayor Iveson made about getting connected when you ride the LRT. The City is targeting Q4 2015 for service in the tunnels. They are currently discussing the implementation of “a single co-location solution” that would allow any service provider to “connect to a common carrier supported infrastructure”. So instead of every company installing hardware, one set of gear will be installed that all will share. Can’t wait to see this roll out!

Valley Line Stage 1 Environmental Impact Screening Assessment Update

This is a pretty big report with four attachments. The recommendation to Council is to approve the Environmental Impact Screening Assessment, to approve the list and locations of Major Facilities, and to approve the upgrades for the construction access route through the west side of Louise McKinney Park.

311 Calls – Snow & Ice Complaints

This report summarizes the process for managing 311 calls received for snow and ice control operations. Improvements for managing these calls have been made and more are planned. For instance, revised scripts reduced the ratio of calls being referred to Roadway Maintenance from 63% to 49%.

For the 2013-2014 season there was a total of 47,779 calls, and that decreased to just 22,186 in the 2014-2015 season. The report says that 82.7% of notifications are closed within 5 business days, which is an improvement from 53.8% last time.

You can see snow & ice maintenance calls into 311 using the 311 Data Explorer.

NAIT Line Transit Security

Since 2011, ETS says it has seen a 17% increase in security-related files due to rapid ridership growth “without a proportionate increase in Transit Peace Officer staffing levels.” In order to “maintain the reputation of Edmonton Transit as a safe, secure and welcoming system” with the activation of the Metro Line to NAIT another six Transit Peace Officers will be required.

The report also notes than the Metro Line presents “unique security challenges” due to its proximity to the downtown arena and entertainment district. And though the Transit and Police Partnership Team pilot project has been positive, it also demonstrated the need for more security as a total of 140 arrests, 450 warrant executions, and 329 ticket violations were generated in a five month period.

Alternatives to adding new Transit Peace Officers include sticking with the status quo, engaging police, or hiring private security. The cost for wages, benefits, equipment, and training for six Transit Peace Officers from June to December 2015 is $354,000 and $607,000 for 2016.

Other

The other reports include:

And a bunch of reports have been given revised due dates:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Executive Committee is meeting again on Thursday afternoon. There’s just one item on the agenda, and it’s a private, verbal report: Civic Agencies Recruitment – Applicant Interviews. This is a continuation of an ongoing item.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #146

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Red Bull Crashed Ice
Another cool photo of Red Bull Crashed Ice, courtesy of retired CTV cameraman Al Girard

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 3/15/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Red Bull Crashed Ice in Edmonton
Red Bull Crashed Ice in Edmonton, photo by Jeff Wallace

Upcoming Events

70,000 Strong
70,000 Strong, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Red Bull Crashed Ice - Edmonton
Red Bull Crashed Ice, photo by IQRemix

Coming up at City Council: March 16-20, 2015

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye. You can find my previous roundups here.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Monday, March 16, 2015

The week begins on Monday with a Public Hearing scheduled to last all day. There are 20 bylaws on the agenda. Here are some that caught my eye:

Bylaw 17011 – Adoption of The Decoteau ASP

You’ll recall that this bylaw was first considered at the February 9 meeting, where Council asked for some improvements. Here’s what has changed:

  • The net residential density of the proposed ASP has increased from 30.6 to 34.0 dwelling units per hectare.
  • An increase in the Business Employment designation is not being proposed as it would increase infrastructure costs, among other considerations. Administration says this can be further refined during the NSP phase.
  • Mapping and policies related to wetland and natural areas have been verified as providing “an accurate representation of the ecological network proposed for retention.”

This bylaw is ready for second reading only – third reading is being withheld pending review by the Capital Region Board.

Bylaw 17116 – Amendment to the Zoning Bylaw re: Garage & Garden Suites

This bylaw is meant to eliminate restrictions for Garage and Garden Suites and to enable the subdivision of sites zoned RF1 to narrower lots not less than 7.6 meters wide. These two amendments were brought to Executive Committee back on November 12 and address two actions from Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap (pdf):

  • Action 14: Create more and better opportunities for Garage and Garden Suites in established neighbourhoods by amending the Zoning Bylaw’s location criteria and Site regulations for these types of housing.
  • Action 15: Change the (RF1) Single Detached Residential zone to allow the subdivision of properties into narrower lots that are half of the average width of the other lots on the block (but not less than 25ft wide)

There are currently restrictions on where Garage and Garden Suites can be located, on the height of those structures, and on the minimum site area. The proposed amendment addresses all of these restrictions.

The second proposed amendment will allow a minimum site width for single detached housing of 7.6 meters, decreases the minimum site area for single detached housing to 250.8 m2, increases allowable site coverage for narrow lot developments to 42%, and allows the subdivision of a lot zoned RF1 to a maximum of two lots.

Public input came from the Evolving Infill consultation efforts as well as a pilot project that took place in the Prince Charles neighbourhood. The report says that “more than 1000 residents and stakeholders took part in both Evolving Infill and Garage and Garden Suite consultation.”

Bylaw 17114 – To allow for the development of Public Education Services, Allard

This bylaw is to rezone the property located at 660 Allard Boulevard SW from AP to US to accommodate the development of a public elementary school. This is being done “in conformance with the Heritage Valley Servicing Concept Design Brief and the Allard Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan.” No concerns or questions were raised as a result of the advance notice.

Bylaw 17132 – Closure of portions of 101 Street NW, 100A Street NW

This bylaw is about road closures yes, but it’s really about repurposing Fire Station 21 in Rossdale:

“On July 3, 2013, City Council approved a Community Services Committee Report that recommended, in part, that the existing Fire Station 21 be repurposed to house an active river rescue crew, provide backup service to the downtown core, house specialized apparatus, be approved as a major facility within the River Valley, and that the location of the facility within the River Valley be deemed essential and approved pursuant to section 3.5.1 of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Area Development Plan Bylaw. This road closure application is a step in the ongoing progression to achieving these recommendations.”

Apparently the station is built over several lots and road right-of-way created by “Plan Q” way back in 1893.

Other

A few others I wanted to note:

  • Bylaw 17111 is to allow a freestanding sign to be put up at 5315 127 Street NW to identify the new Eco Station.
  • Bylaws 17070 and 17071 will be considered together, and amend the Maple NSP to designate land that was being used for a cell tower to row housing as the tower has been dismantled and is no longer in operation.
  • Bylaw 17133 is an amendment to the zoning bylaw to reduce the required minimum Side Setback for garages in RF4 zoned areas from 0.9 meters to 0.6 meters, “specific to Garages where the vehicle doors face a Lane abutting the Site.” Currently constructing a detached garage for each unit of a semi-detached house would require a Class B discretionary development approval.

Tuesday & Wednesday, March 17/18, 2015

Next up for Council is a regular City Council Meeting scheduled to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday. There are 14 public reports, 3 bylaws, and 3 private reports on the agenda.

Council Members’ Updates on Agency & Initiative Appointments

This report provides an update on the agencies and initiatives that the Councillors are members of. Here are some highlights:

  • AUMA’s Executive Committee will be making its annual presentation to Council’s Executive Committee on March 24.
  • The Chair and CEO of the Capital Region Board will also be presenting to Executive Committee on March 24. The CRB’s Regional Services Committee may be disbanded pending a report in August 2015.
  • The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) will hold its annual conference in Edmonton from June 5-8. The mayor will host a reception in Churchill Square after the opening game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup on June 6.
  • Edmonton will be the host city for the 2019 International Council on Alcohol, Drugs & Traffic Safety (ICADTS). The 7th Traffic Safety Conference takes place here in Edmonton from April 27-30.

Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Strategy

This report presents a draft of the strategy and will be discussed in a facilitated session on Wednesday morning. So what is a Community Energy Transition Strategy?

“Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Strategy is a risk management strategy designed to protect Edmonton’s quality-of-life (social, economic, environment) from climate and energy-related risks.”

“The strategy responds to City Council’s 10-year goal to be “the nation’s leader in setting and achieving the highest standards of environmental preservation and sustainability both in its own practices and by encouraging and enabling the practices of its partners.” Equally, it responds to Council-approved goals in The Way We Green and to corporate outcomes and measures that call for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in both City operations and the Edmonton community.”

Energy transition is about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency and conservation, ensuring our energy systems are resilient to disturbances, and positioning Edmonton to take advantage of clean energy technologies. The strategy contains:

  • A Diagnosis of the energy and climate challenges/opportunities we face globally and locally;
  • Strategic Courses of Action for addressing these challenges/opportunities in coming decades;
  • An Eight-Year Action Plan establishing the first step (2014-2017) and signaling the second step (2018-2021) of Edmonton’s energy transition journey.

The strategy calls energy transition “the golden opportunity of our age” and says that “few places are better positioned than Edmonton in terms of knowledge, experience, and financial capacity to lead and excel in this area.”

To say there’s a lot to digest here would be an understatement. There are 11 strategic actions, 7 opportunity areas, 45 focus areas, and 10 community scale programs. Targets include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2035 (compared to 2005 levels), reducing energy consumption by 25% per person by 2035 (compared to 2009 levels), and generating 10% of Edmonton’s energy locally by 2035.

By 2035, Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Strategy is “expected to deliver a net present value of approximately $2.5 billion to citizens and community stakeholders.” The report argues that a City Policy is important to make this happen.

So, how much will it cost? Funding of $1.9 million a year is needed in 2016 and 2017 for startup initiatives. The programs beginning in 2018 would require another $27.5 million per year through 2021. No funding sources are identified in the report, but it does say that “additional federal, provincial, and municipal government funding will be needed to advance these initiatives.”

Communications Plan for LRT Funding Advocacy

The report isn’t available yet, but Council will be discussing how to advocate for funds for future LRT development. This item came up at the Transportation Services Committee back on February 25. As a reminder, there is roughly 32 km of the 69.7 km LRT Network Plan without funding.

Committee Reports

The Committee reports were all recently discussed at one of the four committees and have been referred to Council with a recommendation for approval. A few that I wanted to highlight include:

Bylaws

As mentioned, there are three bylaws on the agenda:

  • Bylaw 17005 is an amendment to the Procedures and Committees Bylaw 12300 to change the time for continuation of City Council meetings and Public Hearings. Currently they continue the next business day, but the amendment would allow Council to choose a time within the next three business days.
  • Bylaw 17128 is to decrease the borrowing authority by $9.6 million to $12.3 million for the Aurum Energy Park. This is required to enable the City to recover the actual cost of the local improvement rather than the estimated cost.
  • Bylaw 17101 increases borrowing for sidewalk reconstruction in the Hazeldean neighbourhood by $8,339 because the originally assessed area was short by 46 meters. This is a very small chunk of the $6.9 million project cost.

Private Reports

Council will receive three private reports: one is an intergovernmental update on the City Charter, and the other two deal with the performance evaluations for the City Manager and City Auditor. The 2014 performance evaluation results are time-specific at 1:30pm on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Another Community Services Committee meeting has been scheduled for Thursday morning, to allow Council to continue interviewing applicants for the Civic Agencies Recruitment effort.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Review: Inateck USB 3 Enclosure & Wireless Presenter Stick

From time to time I get invited to review various things here on my blog. I usually turn those invitations down, but sometimes I’m intrigued and agree. That’s what happened back in December, not long after I purchased the Inateck PCI-E to USB 3.0 Expansion Card that I wrote about yesterday. Someone from Inateck emailed asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a couple of their other products. I hadn’t ever come across the brand until I started looking for that USB 3 expansion card, and I was surprised that they reached out so quickly after my purchase. I was happy enough with the expansion card, so I figured, why not? Let’s see what else they’ve got!

They invited me to pick a couple of items off their website to review (and they sent me one of each for free). I decided on the Tool Free USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure (FEU3NS-1E) and the Perfect Laser Pointer Pen for Presentation (WP1002).

Tool Free USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure

An enclosure might seem like a strange thing to want to try, but I have used quite a few over the years. It seems I always have a hard drive that needs attention. Currently I’ve got a few Vantec NexStar enclosures, but nothing with USB 3, and I liked the idea of a smaller one for 2.5″ drives.

Inateck USB 3 Portable HDD Enclosure

The Inateck USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure comes with the HDD case, a short USB 3 cable, and a user manual (which is completely unnecessary). The enclosure is made of plastic and is really light at just 70 grams. It supports 2.5″ SATA HDDs and SSDs, as long as they are 9.5mm thick or less. For 7mm drives, there’s an extra foam pad that you can use to stabilize the drive.

The main problem with most enclosures is the time it takes to get them open, screw the drive in, and then close them back up again (for temporary jobs, I have started using the NewerTech USB 3.0 Universal Drive Adapter, which is awesome). That’s why the “tool free” nature of the Inateck enclosure really appealed to me.

Inateck USB 3 Portable HDD Enclosure

To open the enclosure, all you need to do is slide the top forward. Then you can lift it up, revealing the connector for the drive. To close it, you simply reverse the action. Even though it’s plastic, the build feels solid enough that I wouldn’t worry about it breaking with use (as opposed to say, the plastic releases on the QNAP TS-451 that I recently got). To get the drive itself in, you just need to align it with the connector, and then push. There are two small screws that you could remove if you had trouble with this for any reason (they are the only thing holding the connector to the case…I see that Inateck is now selling the connector as a standalone product basically too).

After the drive is in and the enclosure is plugged in, you simply flip the power switch. There’s a handy LED that comes on too. I have seen a few criticisms of the USB cable, as the enclosure uses the Type-A cable, as opposed to an A to Micro-B that you likely use for a mobile phone. Just don’t lose the cable that comes with it I guess!

Inateck USB 3 Portable HDD Enclosure

I tested the drive with both an HDD and an SSD. I’m a Windows 8.1 user and had no problem with plugging the drive in – it was recognized right away with no reboot or driver install required. I didn’t measure the transfer speeds, but it was as quick as expected. The enclosure does support UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) if your controller supports it and you’re using an SSD.

The Inateck enclosure is currently just $23.99 at Amazon, which is very affordable. So would I buy one? If I needed a basic 2.5″ enclosure, yes. The main selling feature to me is the ability to swap drives in and out very quickly. If that’s important, then the Inateck enclosure would work very well. If I was looking for an enclosure for one drive that I didn’t anticipate changing very often, I might look for something sturdier.

Wireless Presenter Stick

The second item I chose was the “Inateck Perfect Laser Pointer Pen for presentation”, which is a mouthful, so I’ll call it the Wireless Presenter Stick. It’s one of those devices you hold when you’re running through a PowerPoint presentations to switch the slides without having to walk over to the laptop to do it. I’ve never had one of my own, though I have used tons of them over the years.

Inateck WP1002 Wireless Presenter

The Wireless Presenter Stick requires one AAA battery, which is not included. It’s made of plastic and is really light at just 24 grams. Inateck says it has a range of 20m. It requires a little USB dongle that is conveniently stored in the base of the stick itself with a magnet for good measure. Bluetooth would have been nice, especially if the MacBook-led trend of fewer ports continues, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The stick also features a laser pointer, which is handy for pointing to thinks on the screen/wall.

Inateck WP1002 Wireless Presenter

I feel like a wizard wielding a wand when I hold the stick! It’s about 5 inches long, so it’s certainly going to be noticeable when you hold it. Most of the edges are rounded, except for the top edge which is straight. While it does help you orient the stick in your hand, it does make it a little less comfortable to hold. There are five buttons and a power switch on the stick. The three buttons along the top are the forward and back buttons, plus the laser pointer button. Along the right side are the Tab and Enter buttons. The left side is where you’ll find the power switch (the stick will automatically enter sleep mode if you don’t press anything for a while to save battery power).

I have used the Wireless Presenter Stick for maybe half a dozen presentations now, on a few different computers. No drivers or installation is required, you simply plug in the USB dongle and you’re good to go. I didn’t test the range but in a big conference room it never failed to work as I moved around. I am a little surprised to see some wear on the buttons already, maybe from dirty hands? Nothing functionally wrong, just some markings on the plastic.

I have also used it in a group presentation during which we passed the stick around to a few different presenters. Pressing the buttons always works, there’s never a stutter or pause, and you never have to press it more than once. But, the one problem we did run into, is that everyone kept pressing the wrong button! When you hold the stick properly (the way that feels comfortable), the “previous” button is at the top and the “next” button is at the bottom. But invariably people try to press the top button for forward/next! It’s a minor annoyance I suppose, but I was surprised at how consistently the issue came up with new people. Because there’s no software to install, there’s no way to remap these buttons, but that would have been one way to solve the problem.

Inateck WP1002 Wireless Presenter

You can use the stick for more than just presentations. If you’re inside a browser, you can use the up and down arrows to scroll the page. You can also use the tab button to move from link to link, and enter to select one. This is a lot slower than the mouse or touch of course, but it can be done. It would probably make most sense as part of a presentation.

Inateck’s Wireless Presenter Stick is currently $26.99 at Amazon. The most direct competitor is probably the Logitech Wireless Presenter R400, which is nearly double the price. The Logitech one is about the same length but is wider and thicker and slightly heavier. The Inateck stick is decidedly less ergonomic, but compared to most of the other options out there, it’s slim and light. It gets the job done for a great price.

Keeping my desktop computer fresh with recent upgrades

Yes, I still have and use a desktop computer. This post might be a little geeky for some of you, but I wanted to document this!

I bought my current desktop computer back in June 2010. It’s a Dell Studio XPS 9000 and I paid just over $1,500 for it at the time. I ordered it with a Core i7-920 processor (it’s a quad-core) and 12 GB of DDR3 SDRAM, so it was pretty powerful right from the start. I also included an NVIDIA GeForce GTS 240 video card and 1 TB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive.

Dell Studio XPS 9000

I have upgraded it over the years, which is one of the great capabilities that a desktop offers. I’ve added additional hard drives for data, I updated my dual monitors to 23″ displays, and I’ve added lots of peripherals like webcams, and various mice and keyboards. I have also upgraded the OS of course, from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1, and I plan to upgrade it again to Windows 10 when it is available later this year.

My desktop will be five years old this summer, and I have thought about replacing it. But I have also thought, as a I do more with mobile devices, that perhaps I don’t need a new desktop. Maybe I could extend the life of this one instead?

The main limitation to further upgrades is the motherboard, which only supports the LGA 1366 socket for processors. That limits me to Core processors built back in 2011, as it has now been replaced by LGA 2011 and LGA 1150. I think the best processor I could get to replace my existing one is the Core i7-990X, released in February 2011, but availability is limited and prices are high. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

So after I eliminated the processor as a potential upgrade, I started to think about what else might give me a performance boost. The first thing I decided to do was add a USB 3 controller to make importing photos and video quicker.

inateck usb 3.0 expansion card

I did a bit of research and landed on the Inateck Superspeed 4-port PCI-E to USB 3.0 Expansion Card, which I got for $26.99 CDN on Amazon. I wasn’t familiar with Inateck, but their stuff seemed to have a ton of positive reviews. Installation was quick and straightforward, and Windows 8.1 recognized the card right away. I did experiment with a couple different driver versions, and found the best performance using the latest driver (unsurprisingly).

I have both an external USB 3 hard drive and a USB 3 hub hooked up to the card now, and everything has been working great. Even though it is hidden away under my desk, I like that the card has a dark face; it’s interesting and different. This was definitely a worthwhile and pretty inexpensive upgrade.

Speeding along with an SSD

After I had the USB 3.0 upgrade working, it didn’t take long to land on the hard drive as a possibility for the next improvement. I had been reading about solid-state drives and I knew that having an SSD could make a big difference with start and load times. I’ve always marvelled at how quick my Surface Pro starts up and I’m sure the SSD plays a big role in that.

So I decided to purchase an SSD. I went with a Samsung 250 GB 840 EVO, which I got at Memory Express for $149.99. It seemed like pretty good price for a reasonable amount of space and solid performance. It’s not the biggest or fastest SSD, but it’s definitely not the smallest or slowest either.

samsung evo 840 ssd

I already had one drive for the OS and applications and one for data, so I just replaced the OS drive with the SSD. I decided to do a fresh install of Windows 8.1 and all my apps, because I had read some negative things about trying to do a migration or backup/restore. Now clearly a fresh install of Windows 8.1 will make a difference when it comes to performance, but not this much!

Before the upgrade it took:

  • 43 seconds to get to the login screen
  • 23 seconds to get from the login screen to the desktop being visible
  • 2 minutes, 46 seconds until startup was done

After the upgrade (and after installing all updates and all the usual software I use) the times are:

  • 23 seconds to get to the login screen
  • 4 seconds to get from the login screen to the desktop being visible
  • 23 seconds until startup was done

That’s a big, very noticeable improvement (and yes the stuff running on startup is comparable if not identical). Application launch times are also noticeably quicker now that they are running from the SSD. Overall I’m really happy with the upgrade. It was definitely worth the money!

Will I have a desktop computer in the future?

This may be the last desktop I’ll ever own, actually. The performance and capability of mobile devices has come so far, there’s less and less need for standalone desktop machine. I can already use my Surface Pro for pretty much everything. Combined with external displays and input devices, it could definitely serve as my one and only computer.

On the other hand, the cloud is (for me at least) dramatically changing how I think about my devices. The days of “that’s on my desktop” or “that’s on my laptop” are long gone. So are the days of “that’s on my USB key”. Now my stuff is available on every device all the time, and the definition of “my stuff” is expanding too. With OneDrive, my files are accessible no matter where I am. When I log into Windows with my Microsoft account, my settings and apps are also available. When I sit down at my desktop computer, it looks pretty much the same as when I am working on my Surface. In other words, there’s no need or advantage to having just one computer.

So maybe it does make sense to have a computer that just sits at my desk, permanently hooked up to large displays and the ergonomic mouse and keyboard that I love. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that the my current desktop is the last “tower” that I’ll ever own. I have been looking at is Intel’s “Next Unit of Computing” or NUC form factor. The idea is basically to shrink the desktop down into something that fits in your hand. I can imagine having a powerful, tiny box on the corner of my desk to drive a few large displays. They’re relatively inexpensive too. One day maybe.

Until then, I’ll make the most of these recent upgrades to my desktop!