Recap: 2010 EEDC Annual Luncheon

Today I joined hundreds of other Edmontonians at the 2010 EEDC Annual Luncheon, held at the Shaw Conference Centre. The event was an opportunity for EEDC to share its accomplishments over the past year, and to provide thoughts and guidance on the economic outlook for our city. Outgoing EEDC board chair Randy Ferguson got things underway with some thoughts on two of his favorite subjects: downtown, and EXPO 2017. Randy reiterated how important a downtown is to a city, and said that we must have the courage and commitment to make EXPO happen.

Next up was EEDC President & CEO Ron Gilbertson. Something that Ron has been showing a lot lately is the Edmonton Economic Dashboard, which grades our city on eight different aspects. Here’s where we are today:

  • Income/GDP – A
  • Retail Sales – A
  • Unemployment – B
  • Insolvency – C
  • Office Vacancy – A
  • Housing – B
  • Air Service – B
  • Inflation – A

Overall, that gives us a B+. Looking long-term, Ron gave Edmonton an A, saying:

Though Edmonton was not immune from the 2009 global decline, our economic fundamentals remain strong. Few economies have as bright prospects over the coming decades as Edmonton and northern Alberta.

EEDC Annual LuncheonEEDC Annual Luncheon

The 2010 EEDC Awards of Excellence were also handed out:

EPCOR President & CEO Don Lowry, Innovotech President Ken Boutilier, and AGA Chair Allan Scott were all on-hand to accept the awards on behalf of their respective organizations.

University of Alberta President Dr. Indira Samarasekera closed out the event with a phenomenal speech about the importance of working together (which you can read online here in PDF, or here). She focused on innovation, smarts, and creativity, and shared some really interesting and scary statistics (such as the low percentage of Albertans that go to post secondary). My favorite part though, was the beginning:

“I would like each of you to take your trusty digital device – Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, whatever you use – from your belt or pocket, or out of your bag and purse, and hold it in your hand,” she instructed. “Now, take a second moment to take a good look at it. In your hand, you hold the symbol of innovation. We call them smart phones. These smart phones have transformed our lives – our social lives, our business lives, our family lives, even our emotional and physical well being.”

It was a great way to start. She said one of our biggest challenges is speed – we have shorter incubation times than ever before, and we need to keep up (Innovotech’s Ken Boutilier talked about that too in his remarks). She also said that we need some BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And she stressed that both the City and the University desperately need to diversity their talent and economic bases. Dr. Samarasekera is a great speaker, and was definitely the highlight of the luncheon.

You can read the 2009 EEDC Annual Report here in PDF. Stay tuned to @EEDC on Twitter for updates.

Alumni outreach at the University of Alberta

A little over a month ago, Avenue Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2009 was announced and I was fortunate enough to make the list. So many people have said “congrats” in tweets, wall posts, emails, and other messages, and I really appreciate all of them, thank you! I was somewhat surprised, however, to receive a letter and a follow-up email from the University of Alberta’s Office of External Relations.

The letter itself was fairly standard, and basically said that as I am a graduate of the University they wanted to offer congratulations. The email was from Jen Panteluk, a Development Officer at the Office of External Relations. She invited me to meet for coffee, and I happily accepted. We met at Credo Coffee yesterday afternoon and had a great chat about what I do, what she does, and about social media and the University of Alberta.

I learned that Jen is meeting with as many U of A grads on the list as she can, and that the idea to do so was hers. Alumni Affairs rightly or wrongly has a reputation of only reaching out to alumni when they are able to contribute back to the University financially. Jen decided to do something about that perception, and that’s why she pitched the idea of meeting with the Top 40 Under 40 grads. I think it’s fantastic!

Jen and I talked about social media quite a bit, and how effectively local schools are using it. Slowly but surely the various U of A departments are starting to embrace social media. For instance, you can keep up with Alumni Affairs on Twitter and on Facebook. There’s a long way to go, however!

If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #ualberta for U of A related stuff. SU President Kory Mathewson and his colleagues are hoping it becomes the standard, because it’s less ambiguous than the rival #uofa. Makes sense to me!

Edmonton’s new Centre for Public Involvement

One of the items that was discussed at today’s Executive Committee meeting (agenda in Word) was the proposed Centre for Public Involvement, a joint venture of the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta. The idea is to combine the strengths of both organizations to “intentionally consider and apply the most effective means to undertake public involvement.” Here’s the proposed mission:

To provide leadership in understanding and applying innovative practices and new technologies for citizen participation, engagement, and deliberation.

The centre would try to strike a balance among research, best practices, and consulting. Annual operating costs would be $300,000, split equally between the City and the University. Other partners may join at some point in the future.

I really like the idea. That said, I want to echo the opening statement of the prospectus:

The timing is right for establishing the proposed Centre. In reality, the timing is probably late by ten years.

Both the City and the University have already started exploring new forms of public involvement. The City has been quite successful with its social media endeavors, and the University is starting to experiment as well. It seems there’s a new U of A account on Twitter each week (the latest I’ve come across is the International Centre)!

While it is true that there is some frustration among the public with regards to being able to impact decision-making, not everyone has become angry and complacent. Initiatives such as ChangeCamp are proof that some citizens are already engaged in re-imagining public involvement.

I think there’s a great opportunity here for the City, the University, and the public to work together to explore the future of public involvement. I think Raffaella nailed it in a recent post discussing the new City of Edmonton blog she’s been working on:

We seek to create informed communities, engaged citizens, and generally make our lives better.

You can download the Centre for Public Involvement Prospectus in PDF here.

U-Pass Facts & Figures for 2008

Last month, the City of Edmonton’s Office of the City Auditor completed a review of the Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) pilot program (PDF). They found that although costs for the program rose, ridership has increased. I took a look at the report, and thought I’d share some of the more interesting facts and figures from it.

For those of you new to U-Pass: it’s a partnership between Edmonton Transit (ETS), St. Albert Transit (StAT), and Strathcona County Transit to provide a universal transit pass to eligible students at the University of Alberta and MacEwan. The current pilot started in the fall of 2007 and will finish up in the fall of 2010.

A total of 84,954 students were eligible in 2008 (counting both the Fall & Winter terms). Here’s the breakdown:

Here’s the revenue that each municipality received in 2008 (the City of Edmonton receives 84%, and the other two each receive 8%):

As the report was created by and for the City of Edmonton, it’s not known what, if any, service changes were made by St. Albert Transit or Strathcona County Transit (unless they too have a report somewhere). ETS made the following changes:

  • 437 service hours were added
  • 3 new routes were added
  • 19 more buses were put into service

Again, we only know the costs for the City of Edmonton. Here are the key figures for 2008:

  • U-Pass Sticker Production costs were $14,500
  • U-Pass Advertising and Promotion costs were $2,928
  • The opportunity cost of the U-Pass program, which is the loss of other ETS fare revenue, was estimated at $10,480,846
  • The cost of providing extra bus service hours was $2,571,221

Add it all up, and you get a total cost of $13,069,495. For the U-Pass program to break even, a fee of $155 per student per term would be required (up from the current $94.50).

In the Edmonton Journal, Councillor Krushell said that ridership nearly doubled from 2006 to 2008, from 7.3 million trips to 13.9 million trips. I’m not exactly sure where she got those numbers, because they aren’t in the report. What is in the report are Campus Passenger Boardings:

As you can see, boardings increased by 21,353 or 12.7% from 2006 to 2008. The report notes that some of this increase may have been caused by factors other than the U-Pass. Other non-financial positives include:

  • An 8% decrease in student parking permits at the University of Alberta since 2006
  • A greater than 8% drop in monthly parking passes at MacEwan for 2007 over 2006

And of course, there has likely been a positive impact on the environment with fewer students driving.

What’s next for the U-Pass?

Although NAIT students initially rejected the program in 2007, a recent survey indicated that a majority would now be interested in joining. The NAIT Students Association hopes to hold a referendum on the issue early next year. The expansion of the LRT to NAIT will no doubt have an impact on interest. If approved, NAIT could join the program for the 2010-2011 school year.

I suspect the program will continue after the current agreement ends, though it is likely that U-Pass fees will rise. Watch for news on a new agreement early next year – the U of A will be holding a student referendum in March to approve new fees, according to The Journal.

5 Days for the Homeless 2009 in Edmonton

I think homelessness is a very important issue, and like many others I’d love to see it come to an end. It’s crazy that there are more than 3000 people without a permanent place to sleep in Edmonton. Fortunately, the issue has received a lot of attention lately. On January 29th, the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness released its 10-year plan (which called for nearly $1 billion in funding). On February 4th, City Council unanimously endorsed the plan and established the Edmonton Homeless Commission (pdf). Yesterday, the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness released its own 10-year plan to end homelessness in Alberta, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

It doesn’t take a report and billions of dollars to make a difference, however. That’s why I was particularly interested to chat with Tim Hankinson, a business student at the University of Alberta spearheading this year’s 5 Days for the Homeless event. Here’s their mission:

“To raise awareness of the issue of homelessness, monetary donations for local charities around the country, and help change the image of business students.”

The concept behind the campaign is simple. Participants are homeless for five days (March 15th to 20th). They receive only food and drinks received through direct donations, have only a pillow and a sleeping bag (plus a cell phone for emergencies/media, and a camera to document the experience), have no access to showers, and must sleep outside.

Five Days started in 2005 at the University of Alberta’s School of Business. After a very successful first year, the event began to grow. There are now 16 schools participating across the country!

Tim explained to me that money is raised through donations on the website, not pledges. The donations in each city go toward a local charity. Here in Edmonton, all money raised will be donated to the Youth Emergency Shelter Society. The goal for this year is to raise $30,000 locally, and over $100,000 nationally.

Equally important is raising awareness. Tim said the biggest impact the campaign has is on making their fellow students and others in the community aware of the problem. To that end, they’ve made an effort this year to make use of social media to spread the word. Like most of the participating cities, Edmonton has a Facebook group and a Twitter account. Participants have also been making use of the #5days hashtag.

The total amount raised for Edmonton is currently $3349, while the national total sits at $51,120.12. National Bank Financial is matching student donations up to a maximum of $10,000. Other local sponsors include Time Line Construction and Xerox, both of which will be spending some time outside with the participants. I’m planning to do so also – you can see their schedule here.

I think 5 Days is a fantastic initiative. It’s a great example of how a handful of people can make a big difference. Well done to all participants and supporters!

Restricted Access

restricted access I’m rarely on the University of Alberta campus anymore, so I only heard about the SU’s Restricted Access campaign fairly recently. The main event takes place tomorrow morning at 7 AM, roughly an hour before the U of A Board of Governors’ meeting. Students will be gathering to send a message that access to education is an issue:

The cost of a full educational experience is rapidly increasing. Mounting financial burdens are preventing a growing number of hard-working, qualified students from completing or even starting their university education. Join the Restricted Access movement and protect the right to an education that all qualified students have earned.

If ratified at the meeting, tuition will increase 4.1% next year while residence rent rates will increase 8%. Dave Cournoyer, who may be live-blogging the meeting tomorrow, says that “residence rates at the U of A will have increased by $220 per month since 2006” when the increase is approved tomorrow. That’s quite a bit!

It sounds familiar. I remember all the students protesting tuition increases back when I attended the university. And yet tuition always seemed to go up anyway. The university isn’t immune to the current financial crisis either. By March, it is estimated that the U of A’s endowments will have declined by nearly $100 million.

The increases don’t affect me directly anymore, but I still find the issue important. I’m one of many former students trying to repay student loans to the federal government:

Investments in post-secondary education must be part of the federal government’s economic recovery plan, and it must help relieve massive student debt, which on Wednesday hit $13 billion, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

According to CFS estimates, the average student graduates with a total debt load of $25,000 to $28,000. Big numbers, indeed.

Back to the campaign. The Students’ Union has distributed red scarves and handbills to students, hung posters, and manned information booths. They’ve also made use of social media tools to help spread the word. There are over 1900 members in the Restricted Access Facebook group, and nearly 400 have confirmed attendance at tomorrow morning’s event. The SU recently created a Twitter account, and they’ve been regularly updating their blog. The website also has a form that makes it easy to send letters to MLAs. Good stuff.

As this Gateway article notes, the campaign provides a platform for future discussions:

“This project is truly broader and deeper than the yearly tuition and rent increase debates that have happened. Access is a long-term project and it’s going to take a long-term push from a lot of students to make real, substantive, systematic changes,” [SU President Janelle Morin] explained.

They’re off to a good start, I think.

If you’re a student looking to participate tomorrow, meet at the tent in Celebration Plaza (outside the Admin building on the bus loop) at 7 AM for free hot chocolate and donuts, and don’t forget to wear your red scarf!

Talk Sex with Sue Johanson in Edmonton

sue johanson Last night Sharon and I went to see Sue Johanson speak at the University of Alberta. She was brought to Edmonton by the Students’ Union as part of their Revolutionary Speakers’ Series. We decided to eat at SUB before the event, to ensure we had plenty of time. It’s a good thing we did, because the line was probably 100 people deep over an hour before it was set to start! I guess we shouldn’t have been that surprised – I’m sure everyone has seen her show at least once!

Sue spent most of the two hours lecturing. Unlike most of the lectures I attended during my time at the U of A however, I wasn’t bored to tears. Quite the opposite in fact – Sue is really funny! She manages to bring all the humor from her show onto the stage. And it wasn’t so much a lecture as a story. Sue essentially told us the story of how we grew up without learning about sex. She’s fond of saying, “there’s so much to learn!”

Some highlights:

  • She wasn’t afraid to act out the things she was talking about – very entertaining!
  • As expected she was very honest about everything. I particularly liked that she admitted that talking to her own kids about sex was incredibly difficult!
  • Sue said that most girls are told “nice girls don’t do that” when they are little, and that’s the main reason they don’t learn about sex and their own bodies as well as boys do. She repeated that quote many times as much of what she talked about related more to females than to males.
  • Another expression Sue repeated over and over was “but nobody told you that” or “we never told you that”. Really good for dramatic effect! She’s kind of like a motivational speaker in that regard.
  • Sue’s favorite sex toy is “the bullet” – she shared a bunch of them and listed the pros and cons of each.
  • She talked about fantasizing and said she likes Richard Gere and firemen!
  • By popular request, she demonstrated how to use a condom at the end of the event.

She didn’t talk much about homosexuality, only making reference to it once or twice. Though she did save time before the question period to express her concerns about anal sex (not specific to homosexuality of course). She called it “high risk” behavior and encouraged everyone to get properly informed before making a decision. That was the only topic that she got a little preachy about.

Sharon remarked that the talk wasn’t quite what she was expecting. Instead of a lecture, she anticipated something more like Sue’s show on TV (more question and answer). That would indeed have been entertaining, and it would have been good to have more time for questions. Still, I thought Sue did a great job of making everyone laugh while learning.

I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and I’m glad I went. If I could do yesterday over again however, I think I would have stayed home to watch the election results. It was pretty cool when someone yelled out “Obama won!” and the entire Horowitz Theatre erupted into applause and cheers, but I still feel like I missed something (though I was constantly refreshing the NYTimes on my iPod).

At least I’ll never forget where I was – listening to Sue Johanson talk about sex toys!

UPDATE: There’s an article on the event in the latest issue of The Gateway.

Green and Gold Day

ualberta 100 years Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first day of classes at the University of Alberta. To celebrate, September 23rd, 2008 has been declared “Green and Gold Day” by the City of Edmonton and the U of A. And last Thursday and Friday the City turned on the waterfall on the High Level Bridge, lit in green and gold. You can see some photos I took of the waterfall here, and a video too.

Unfortunately, my first day of classes at the University of Alberta predates my blog (and Twitter), so I don’t have a record of it. Nor do I really remember what my first day was like back in the fall of 2001. I remember briefly attending Orientation and leaving early to hang out with friends. I spent a lot of time in the basement of CAB (Central Academic Building) and at the PowerPlant (the campus bar) in my first two years. I didn’t get very involved with any clubs or groups or anything though I did always vote in the Students’ Union elections. If I could do it again, I think might have gotten more involved. For example, I did have one article published in The Gateway, and I wish I had submitted more (surely you noticed I like to write! heh).

As for academics – I don’t miss any of that. The thrill of attending university-level classes wore off very quickly! I was an average student, and I was eager to simply graduate and move on. That’s probably why it seems like it has been a lot longer than just over a year since I finally graduated.

Still, I feel very lucky to have been a part of the University of Alberta’s first 100 years. I always say that I have no interest in going back to school, but as the saying goes, never say never!

To learn more about the University of Alberta’s Centenary celebrations, visit the website at


democampedmonton I meant to blog about this earlier and simply forgot. Tomorrow evening I’ll be attending the first ever DemoCamp here in Edmonton. Wondering what a DemoCamp is? It’s a kind of BarCamp:

DemoCamp is a variation of the un-conference style of event, started by the TorCamp group as an excuse to have more regular meetings.

Essentially a bunch of people get together and a few of them demo something they are working on. The only rules are that you can’t use PowerPoint or slideshows (you need to have something to demo) and that you’re limited to 10 minutes.

You can read more about DemoCamp here, and about BarCamp at Wikipedia.

If you’d like to come to tomorrow night’s event, here are the details:

Date: Wednesday March 26, 2008
Time: 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Location: University of Alberta School of Business B-9
All are welcome! & It is free to attend.

The event is also listed at Upcoming and on Facebook.

If you can’t make it, check out this page for future camps, and the BarCampEdmonton blog.

U of A forces students to use ancient software

frontpage I’ve written many times before about my disappointment with the state of technology education at the University of Alberta, most recently here. My biggest complaint has usually been that they teach outdated or otherwise useless concepts in Computing Sciences and other fields, but the tools and technologies they choose and use are often just as bad (and these influence the concepts).

Here’s an example from my friend Eric, who is nearly finished his MIS degree at the School of Business:

Our latest project requires us to develop a single web page using Microsoft FrontPage that includes an Access database we created last week. This is worth 10% of our course mark.

Microsoft discontinued FrontPage in 2006, two years ago.

Technically the product was discontinued in 2006, but the last release was actually back in 2003. Yes, nearly five years ago.

I remember FrontPage with a very tiny amount of fondness. It was the first web page building tool I ever used, back when I was in junior high. It was so fun! Then I got a little older, a little smarter, and realized that FrontPage was absolute crap. Microsoft did too, and decided they’d give up on the application that they had originally purchased for about $130 million. It has since been replaced with SharePoint Designer and Expression Web.

Eric asked his professors why they are being forced to use FrontPage, and was told that the university has a contract for support until the end of the semester.

This is completely unacceptable. Students are being taught to use a tool they’ll never use in the real world. A tool that hinders development more than it helps (due to some very strange functionality, such as not keeping code and design views in sync). A tool that generates such terrible, invalid HTML that Microsoft felt it was better to start over.

That point about standards is particularly important, IMHO. By using FrontPage, the U of A is essentially teaching students that generating crappy code is okay. The garbage that FrontPage generates (and that IE used to support) is part of the reason for this mess. Microsoft has decided recently that IE8 will interpret pages in the most standards compliant way it can, a welcome change (even if it doesn’t completely pan out).

Eric finishes with:

You wouldn’t pay $468.60 for a math course using slide rules, so why should we pay to use outdated software?

It’s a good point, but more important than the tool is the concept. You wouldn’t pay $468.60 for an accounting course that taught you how to create non-standard balance sheets, so why should you pay for a technology course that teaches you to create non-standard web pages?

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