Thoughts on the Alberta Party & Alberta politics

Alberta-Party-logoPolitics in Alberta, it seems, is a blood sport especially when one feels their turf is threatened.

With the reigning Conservatives on the ropes in terms of their approval ratings, the Wildrose Alliance has seen support rise for its party. It seems like a natural thing, since they both occupy similar real estate in the political spectrum.

The Conservatives are especially defensive after the defection of two MLAs to the Wildrose Alliance. This defensiveness apparently has spread to the Wildrose Alliance now that the Alberta Party has merged with the Renew Alberta movement

The Wildrose Alliance has the attack dogs out on the Alberta Party questioning a number of things such as the party apparently suspending its constitution as a result of the merger, appointment of board members, etc.

I had to laugh at Jane Morgan’s claim:

“Sorry to disappoint the WAP detractors; but the WAP has absolutely ZERO to do with this. It’s just lil’ol me typing away on an otherwise boring weekend; trying to get to the bottom of some very bizarre switch-a-roos.”

Using someone else to do your political dirty work, paid or unpaid, is a political tactic as old as the hills and helps politicians maintain plausible deniability. I get the impression Ms. Morgan is now a former party official, though I do not know what role she played in the WAP.

I understand what they’re doing. They’re hoping to frame the debate about the Alberta Party as one that is acting illegitimately, in violation of its constitution and without the support of its members.

The Alberta Party could potentially siphon off support from every party as Alberta voters don’t seem to be satisfied with any party at this point. No surprise that the WAP sees the AP as a threat. WAP would like to be the protest party of choice for Albertans. Having two out there muddies the already very murky political waters.

My view of the Alberta Party

Anyone who knows me, knows I have some strong views on politics and I’m suspicious of political parties in general.

I am interested in what is happening with the Alberta Party and may yet participate in their “Big Listen.” Will I vote for them? I can’t say at this point. It really depends on a number of factors.

I think it’s fair to raise questions about the party’s constitution and how that was handled. Political parties do need to ensure they operate according to the rules they’ve laid out for themselves and to ensure they’re in compliance with any government legislation.

Alberta-Party-Big-ListenI would also like to see what policies develop out of the “Big Listen” process and subsequently at any policy convention. I’m not worried, as some anonymous poster is, that the “Big Listen” is similar language used by Hillary Clinton; oh, and also that poster was concerned about “starting conversations.”

So, Democratic party leadership candidates have a monopoly on listening and starting conversations? Does using similar language mean that you have the same policies? Please. Pull your head out of your ass and start listening. Hell, start a conversation while you’re at it.

A key issue for me is the autonomy of party MLAs and party discipline. I believe in free votes on everything.

Political parties should not impose their will on duly elected MLAs. An MLA should always be free to vote according to their conscience and the will of their local electorate. I don’t believe in small- or large-scale authoritarianism. This is one of my main problems with virtually every political party.

I don’t tend to be a labeler and bristle at attempts to label me. I like ideas from across the political spectrum and, really, I am a centrist if you’d like to use the term. Frankly labeling is an overused American political tactic to short-circuit critical thinking. Many Canadian political parties are importing this tactic. Why? I guess their critical thinking skills have been short-circuited. Judging by the political situation in the US and how well everything is going there, do we really need ANY political tactics or policies imported from there?

Open finances

Another concern of mine is that the Alberta Party’s finances be completely open and transparent. That goes for political campaigns as well as leadership campaigns. I have some serious concerns about WAP leader Danielle Smith hiding her leadership campaign supporters and donations from public scrutiny. What does she have to hide?

Furthermore, how can the WAP leader have a party policy of an “open and comprehensive Freedom of Information Act” as well as wanting to “institute strict conflict of interest guidelines facilitated through the Provincial Ethics Commissioner’s office” yet not have her leadership campaign fully open to public scrutiny?

It seems more politics as usual. Money talks and I wonder what money is talking to Danielle Smith? I can bet I know. It’s the same money that talks to everyone in politics in Alberta. That concerns me.

The energy lobby in Alberta is obviously tremendously powerful. We need governments that are transparent, open and not unduly influenced by any lobby. We need a government that implements policies that are in the best interests of Albertans as a whole and do not cater to any lobby.

The citizens of Alberta elect governments, not businesses. That’s not to say that business is not important. It’s not a dichotomy. A balanced approach is appropriate. I’ve been a Chamber of Commerce director and I am fully aware of the needs of small business. I also know that governments tend to focus more on the needs of large business, typically at the expense of small business.

I also believe in a balanced regulatory approach between government and business. The economic meltdown we’re still in is proof that there has to be regulation of business. Business operating without regulation is, quite simply, stupid. Government’s role is to look out for the public interest. Laws and enforcement of those laws is how we keep things fair for everyone.

The supposed architect of the boom and bust, Alan Greenspan, a noted Ayn Rand sycophant, admitted he was wrong about essentially letting business regulate itself. How is it that some could claim one group, government, can’t sufficiently look after the public interest, yet put blind faith in business to do the same? It’s either stupidity, willful ignorance or outright duplicity.

Looking to Alberta’s future

Unfortunately, Alberta governments really haven’t looked that far into the future, looking more towards the next election and staying in power. We need governments that are looking generations ahead. We haven’t had it here. In fact, most governments operate much like large corporations, by the quarter, it seems. Maybe it would pay for Alberta governments to think of Alberta citizens as shareholders? We do have all the voting rights and should be the ones collecting the dividends.

This short-term thinking has to stop. We are facing serious issues on this planet, and while the Alberta government, whatever its political stripe, isn’t going to solve them, it can play a role in not making those problems worse and also look after the interests of Albertans.

These are just some of the things I will be looking at in the Alberta Party. I’ll give them a fair shot, like I have with every other political party. For now I am willing to engage in the listening and conversation, and so should every Albertan because the discussion transcends just one political party.

Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant

edmonton-snow-clearing-end-of-seasonEdmonton had its first major dump of snow. Winter is upon us! And, of course, many are complaining about the state of the roads. You know what? They have good reason to complain.

Yes, I know, Edmonton is a big city and it’s a big job. Tell me something I didn’t know. What I do know is that I grew up in a place that got a hell of a lot more snow than Edmonton and it was dealt with just fine. Obviously when you get hit with a big dump of snow, the roads will suck for a while.

How the City of Prince George, B.C. deals with the roads now, I don’t know, but I know they actually did a pretty good job when I was growing up. They’d have graders and loaders out clearing main roads and residential streets and make pretty quick work of them. The graders even had drop gates to clear the front of your driveway so you didn’t have a three foot tall mountain of ice to clear.

Before I moved to Edmonton I had been here in the winter before, including during April 2005 when it snowed about a foot in one day. What a gong show! It seems better now, but marginally.

Now we have a house here and pay taxes here. So, we have a right to complain. Period. If the city isn’t doing a good job of spending the tax dollars of Edmonton residents and is proposing to raise taxes by eight to 10 per cent, we have a right to complain. Period. It would also help if we suggested ways of improving how they go about spending our money.

In that vein, I will throw a few suggestions out there and make a few observations.

In this sprawling city (whose fault is that?) there are a lot of streets to clear and the major routes should be the priority. I do find it puzzling that when I was sitting in a restaurant at 137 Ave and 97 St. on Friday night I saw nine snow plows in a row heading north on 97 Ave. Spread out a bit guys.

I was out driving the next day on 137 Ave and it was a mess, and that was down towards 66 St. They can’t even cut the snow back to the curb. I would think three plows should be able to clear the entire two lanes to the curb. Done.

And get the windrows as close to the curb as possible. I know it can be tough. God knows driving in Edmonton can be brutal when you’ve got people chit-chatting on the old cell phone, even in snow. I saw that yesterday too. Seriously.

I do wonder about how efficiently those resources are allocated out on the streets when this kind of dump of snow happens. I understand they won’t get to my street for a while, if ever, but at least do the major routes properly! They really aren’t.

I was also puzzled last year when I watched out my window after a snowfall, as at least three or four graders cleared snow on my street one day. I swear they must have made three or four passes each, and it’s a two lane street.

WTF? I’ve never driven a grader, but I’m convinced I could clear my damn street in fewer passes. I might even move a few neighbours’ cars off the street in the process. (Snow route anyone?)

End of season snow clearing

I have talked about the city’s end of season snow clearing a few times, perhaps even ranted. I’m prone to that, but I’m justified. (Usually)

Why, particularly on a residential street, do I need the snow cleared from the side of the roads at the end of the season? I took a bunch of pictures of the City of Edmonton snow clearing efforts in the early spring of 2009. There were:

  • Three graders
  • One large snow blower
  • One flag person
  • Someone in a City of Edmonton pickup following the snow blower
  • A fleet of semi-trailer trucks hauling away the snow

I understand the city likes to recycle the gravel it spreads on the roads. Recycling is a shrewd and lofty goal. Sand and gravel are expensive, and recycling it makes sense. Here’s an idea though: let the snow melt. Novel, I know, but you’re going to send the street sweepers around anyway.

One sweeper with a couple of trucks (smaller and cheaper ones, I might add) to haul the gravel away is far more efficient than a whole fleet of people hauling away snow that will melt.

I would love to see the accounting analysis on this. Considering all the machines processing and hauling away that snow, I just can’t see them hauling enough loads of gravel per hour to make the activity pay.

How much does the city pay per load of sand? What’s the total cost per hour to do this snow clearing to recover the sand?

So, why not let it melt and let the sweepers pick it up? Yes, there will be more loads of sand, but it will be concentrated. You’ll need fewer, smaller trucks and they’ll only be hauling sand, not larger, more expensive trucks hauling a fraction of the amount of sand. That should save some money in the budget.

Street sweeping obsession

I have also noticed that Edmonton seems to have a bit of a street sweeping obsession. It’s not a bad thing that we like clean streets here, but I think there are limits. I swear I saw a sweeper on my street at least three times this summer, well after the spring sand and gravel had been picked up and well before my street had been repaved.

I would watch as they drove by, sweeping up virtually nothing! I was a little puzzled at that. Why not only sweep areas that actually need it? Don’t just sweep for the sake of sweeping. More money saved in the city budget.

Police directing traffic

edmonton-city-police-directing-traffic-epsAs if the preceding cases weren’t insane enough, I have repeatedly seen Edmonton city police out directing traffic. At first, I thought there was an accident. Drug bust? Murder? Umm, parade? Nope.

Construction! Yes, our police, who apparently cost around $100,000 per officer, are out directing traffic through construction areas. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if they’re part of traffic services. They should be out stopping the speeders, red light runners, drunk drivers, texting drivers and others who make this city such a danger to drive in.

Instead the City of Edmonton installs green light cameras, like that’s going to solve the problem. It’s certainly going to chip away at the $20 million extra the Edmonton Police Service was hoping to get this year.

Why do they need $20 million more this year? I guess the City of Edmonton is going to be doing a hell of a lot more construction next year!

Why not get the EPS out stopping drivers causing problems and not directing traffic? Are we to believe there are no flagging companies who would like to bid on a city contract to control traffic in Edmonton construction zones? Are there not enough unemployed people in this city to fill the inevitable positions that would come out of this?

I know flag people don’t each cost $100,000 per year. More money saved in the budget and hopefully some dangerous drivers off the road.

Citizen auditor: Alain Saffel volunteers

Maybe our city needs to start ripping apart a few departments at a time and make sure they’re doing things properly. I have cited only a few examples here that just don’t make sense. Maybe an outsider perspective is needed? I’d be happy to help out. I’ll be a citizen auditor. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the city who would also like that opportunity.

For those who are telling people to leave the city if they can’t handle a bit of winter, you’re missing the point. It’s about efficient allocation of resources, and there are legitimate questions about how the City of Edmonton allocates its resources. I would prefer that the City does not waste a single tax dollar, especially when they want to raise taxes again. Every citizen in this city has the right to hold our city councillors and the accompanying bureaucracy accountable for its actions.

I’m sure we can find plenty of money to save in these tough times, with a sharp pencil, creativity and a critical eye. Can I just ask for one teensie weensie little favour please?  Could we spend some of those savings on taking care of the sewer smell that seems to be so pervasive in this city?

Should Edmonton close the Edmonton City Centre Airport?

edmonton-city-centre-airportShould Edmonton city council close the Edmonton City Centre Airport? This is the questions facing council today, after much debate.

I’ve only been in Edmonton since early 2008 and I’ve sat on the sidelines of this debate listening to both sides. I really haven’t had an opinion on it until recently because I wanted to get both sides before deciding.

I’ve listened to the each case and I believe that Edmonton city council should make the decision to close Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA).

I understand the argument for having scheduled service available right inside the city limits, but it seems that was decided in the 90s to consolidate scheduled passenger service at Edmonton International Airport (YEG). Makes sense because there’s absolutely no room to grow at ECCA, nor would it make sense to split scheduled passenger service between Edmonton’s airports. Making connections to different airlines would be a nightmare.

Mack Male has been blogging about the issue quite a lot lately and started the website NotMyAirport.ca. Check out this video with him debating about closing ECCA.

So, who does the ECCA serve now? It seems that it’s private pilots, charters, medevac flights and flight schools. Of course there are a number of businesses related to the operation of ECCA that rely on it, including a number of hotels.

It’s never easy to make a big decision to close this type of facility and not one to take lightly. While I am in favour of closing the airport, despite the negative impacts it may have on the businesses related to it, I believe that it will be a positive thing for Edmonton in the long term.

Benefits to closing ECCA

  • NAIT will have room to expand
  • Taller buildings in downtown Edmonton – Edmonton’s had height restrictions on its buildings due to safety issues related to the airport. Taller buildings around Edmonton will allow for greater density of development. The benefit? Perhaps this will alleviate some of the sprawl Edmonton is notorious for.
  • Development – imagine the amount of economic activity that would be generated by developing an area larger than Edmonton’s downtown. Alberta’s still got one of the strongest economies in North America and it would have one of the hottest development areas in the world too. Vancouver experienced a huge boom in development with the Expo lands redevelopment. There will also be economic activity created by the businesses moving from their locations at the ECCA.
  • Certainty – by finally putting the issue to rest, the city can focus on what is going to happen with the ECCA land. While it will cause consternation among users of the airport and those who rely on it economically, it will also (I think) excite the rest of the city about the possibilities the land could be used for.

Caveats

edmonton-mapWhile I am in favour of ECCA’s closure, I wonder if the current Edmonton city council is the right council to lead the charge to redevelop the Edmonton City Centre Airport lands.

Redeveloping Edmonton’s City Centre Airport lands would be a huge job and I would hope that council would get a lot of community input on it. I would also hope that they would take the windfall from selling off and developing those lands and maybe do something like, oh, I don’t know, build an LRT extension to the airport?

Looking at a map, the area of the ECCA is larger than Edmonton’s downtown. This is a rare opportunity to create something great, so we need to make sure it’s done right. That opportunity we’ll never see again.

We need people on council with vision. Do we have that now? I can’t comment with any authority there. What do you think? I look at the state of Edmonton now and wonder, who do we blame for the absolutely stupid sprawl, ridiculously limited LRT, etc?

I hope council makes the right decision and closes the airport completely. The spineless route would be the phased route. I understand the rationale is to give businesses time to adjust and relocate, but if the lands are going to be redeveloped, then just do it.

Edmonton moves forward by closing ECCA

There is some speculation that the decision won’t be made today, and I think that’s fair. It’s a big decision and better that it be an informed one than not. Ultimately though, the decision needs to be made to close the airport entirely, not in phases. Edmonton needs to move ahead.

(Related post: Summer 2010 – With the city moving ahead with its decision to close ECCA – Edmonton Centre Airport & Envision Edmonton calling for a plebiscite, there’s a debate on again about what should happen to ECCA.)

Edmonton Transit Camp #yegtransit

transitcampedmontonOn Saturday I attended Edmonton Transit Camp at the World Trade Centre.

It was a half-day event where attendees could find out all about what the plans are for the Edmonton transit system and contribute their views on what should happen with the Edmonton transit system.

There were about 50 to 60 people attending the event and I thought it was worthwhile attending. It was interesting to be able to share ideas on the future of Edmonton’s transit system. We even had a few visitors come up from Calgary to join the discussion.

What will Edmonton LRT look like in the future?

...forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre

There have been a few stories in the news about what Edmonton’s LRT system will look like so we have a basic idea of what’s being proposed. There are also a few online resources.

What worried me early on in Transit Camp was a presentation from an Edmonton Transit official. I’ve forgotten her name but I thought her presentation was interesting.

So, here are my thoughts in general on Edmonton Transit Camp as well as the Edmonton transit and LRT system in general and what I would like to see in it. So it’s a combination critique and wish list.

I was worried because of the underlying assumptions ETS has used to decide on how Edmonton LRT will expand. At the end of her presentation we had a chance to quiz her on a few things. She had talked about one of the assumptions being that world oil prices would double. Hmm. Ok. Double from what price?

A little more probing and we discover that the assumption is actually from 2006 and it’s based on a doubling of the then gas price of 83 cents per litre. So, they’re forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre! Granted, I have not seen the plan, so I don’t know how that works into the plan or if they’ve assumed that we’ll be floating around Edmonton like the Jetsons at some point.

$1.66 per litre. Really? We nearly reached that last summer and I’m not sure when this 100 year plan is supposed to start. $1.66 a litre doesn’t seem too pessimistic to me! In fact, if gas is going to top out at $1.66 a litre for the next 100 years, why would anyone even use transit, aside from the population of the area being projected to grow to 3 million over that time (and the requisite parking problems).

I don’t know if the consultants on this project or the people at Edmonton city hall have taken peak oil into account on this. It is a reality. It’s going to make travelling by automobile a very difficult, if not impossible thing at some point in the future. Will Edmonton’s transit and LRT system be prepared for the huge influx of transit users? I’m worried it won’t be.

Star shaped LRT system, or grid?

edmonton-transit-platinum-bus
Checked out Edmonton Transit’s showcase platinum bus

Another issue I had with the Edmonton transit plan was the star shaped LRT network. The way they’re planning the LRT routes is to have all the LRT routes funnel through downtown. So, if you were wanting to take LRT from St. Albert to West Edmonton Mall, there wouldn’t be a route other than going all the way downtown, and then west to WEM.

Doesn’t seem to make much sense. Oh, and that’s assuming there will be LRT from St. Albert anyway. Outlying communities will have to get on the LRT at some sort of interchange between municipalities.

I believe that a loose grid network with branches out to communities outside Edmonton makes the most sense. I know the cost issue is a sensitive one, but a way should be found to connect the transit systems of all Edmonton area communities.

A loose grid system would allow travel throughout Edmonton without necessarily having to travel through downtown Edmonton. It’s one thing to project where transit demand will come from, but I know that when transit stations are built in an area, those areas grow. It’s an “if you build it, they will come” approach. Transit oriented design, I believe they call it.

Are there areas which would support growth away from downtown Edmonton? I think the current municipal airport is one. Not knowing the Edmonton region as intimately as some, I’m sure there are many others.

A loose grid works well in other locations and the value is where those lines cross, allowing transit users to access many areas quickly and easily via LRT. Toronto and Montreal have excellent systems with many cross-links. I know the bus and subway system in Montreal is very well integrated and it just makes sense to use it. I have, and I know from experience you can go virtually everywhere in the city quite easily.

Having lived in Vancouver, I have used Skytrain a fair bit. It was always a pain because it was one line. That’s it. It would have been far more valuable with good cross-linking transit lines. That’s the direction they’re finally going.

A star-shaped LRT system in Edmonton funnels everything through the bottleneck of downtown. And with the low step street level LRT they’re proposing (similar to Calgary), it’s going to be slow going, meaning inconvenient.

Time & budget considerations

free-scooter-parking-edmonton
Scooters & motorcycles should have free parking in Edmonton. More of these on the road would be good.

Edmonton is a big, thinly populated city, right now. They’re projecting a tripling of the population over the next 100 years though, so it’s going to fill in, increasing population density.

With transit now, it takes forever to travel across the city via transit, and I’m worried that won’t change with the proposed expansion of the LRT. I live in Northeast Edmonton, and am lucky enough to be within a single 10 minute bus ride of the LRT line. Still, if I want to travel south, perhaps to Ikea, I’m looking at anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours one way on transit. The end result? I’m not using transit.

The marginal cost of taking my family there with a vehicle is maybe a couple dollars of gas. Transit? If there are four of us, it’s $20 round trip. Transit is out and I’m clogging the roadway. There are many many areas of Edmonton where this calculation works more in favour of using cars over transit. I have used transit for many meetings in downtown Edmonton because the parking is so ridiculous, and if I don’t have other meetings elsewhere following it.

There were some good suggestions about group rates for events. I live close to Northlands and if my family wanted to go to a home show, it would make more sense to drive and park for $10 than to pay $20 round trip for transit. The cost of gas for the trip is virtually nothing. We have walked too, weather permitting.

My wife works out in Sherwood Park and transit isn’t even an option for her. Add another car to the congestion.

I bought a scooter last year, which is far more fuel efficient, but Edmonton’s parking system just views me as another car. There are few good options and certainly no financial benefits from a parking perspective for having it. You can park half a dozen motorcycles in the space of one car. There should be cheaper or free parking for motorcycles and scooters.

An efficient LRT and transit network might tip us into being regular users of transit. I’m not confident the proposed system will do that either.

Connecting with Edmonton airports?

And what about Edmonton International Airport? Apparently that is not in this plan. And what’s happening with the municipal airport? Well, nobody knows that yet, but you can bet it will be gone, given the ideas flowing from city council.

Here are some of the criteria used to decide on the LRT routes. Apparently the plan is being presented to city council as I write this. Not like I’ve got time to spend the morning there listening, but I wouldn’t have minded!

I’m not sure how a 100 year transit plan can be discussed, let alone implemented, without making solid decisions on what is happening with the airports. The presenter I’d mentioned earlier said people on the LRT would be looking out the window at people on the freeway doing 100 km/h towards the airport. Sure, whatever, but those people also have to park, and it’s not cheap there! LRT would be fine to go to the airport.

Conclusion

I have serious concerns about this plan according to what I heard Saturday. I’m concerned that the assumptions this report is based on won’t lead to the kind of transit system Edmonton needs in the future. Once I’ve seen the plan I’ll be able to comment more on it.

There are so many issues that I could go into and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Even with the issues I’ve raised, I feel like I could write a book on them.

This isn’t the kind of issue that we can just hand over to consultants and run with it. We need to have a serious discussion about the future of Edmonton and the very important role that transit will play here in the next 100 years. It may seem costly, but I think it’s going to be more costly to build a system that doesn’t work well for Edmonton and surrounding communities.

Clear your sidewalks!

tree-snowI understand why the city wants you to keep your sidewalks clean and sanded, and I don’t have a problem with it.

Threatening to fine you or have contractors clean city sidewalks at my expense is something I do have a problem with though. The City of Edmonton has a bylaw that means you have to keep your sidewalk clean or you’ll be fined $100. They’ll warn you and then fine you, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll clean it and put it on your tax bill.

Cleaning your own sidewalk will save the city money and God knows they have enough trouble with the roads, they don’t need to add sidewalks into the mix.

I think the City of Edmonton would have an easier time selling this idea if they did a better job cleaning the roads and keeping them safe. I find it amazing that in a city that has winters like we do that the roads here can be so appalling. It’s called moral high-ground.

And don’t tell me it’s because the city is so big and has so many roads. Whose fault is that?

I think that having the crews actually learn how to clean snow properly would be really helpful. I was looking out my window one day when I noticed four graders going up and down my street. I swear that they must have made three or four passes each and still didn’t clear the street properly.

I grew up in Prince George, B.C., and they knew how to clear streets. I’m sure they would love to do some consulting work with the City of Edmonton about how to clear streets quickly, efficiently and, most of all, effectively.

I don’t know what the city’s snow clearing budget actually is, but it doesn’t matter. I am positive they could do a better job with the resources they have if they worked more efficiently.

God help us if they call out the army like they did in Toronto.

Christmas, travelling & photos of Mt. Robson

mount-robson-bird-cloudThe last week has been a whirlwind of activity, both positive and negative. The two bad days I had earlier last week have given way to better days. There were no problems with school attendance after that. That was good.

I was able to pack a lot of work in at the end of the week, but I have much more! Saturday was spent preparing for “Christmas” on Sunday. I also did some last minute Christmas shopping and, with the help of the kids, got the house cleaned up and ready for company. My wife had to work Saturday, so we had to get it done. I’m sure she’s not complaining. : )

My Friday was interesting. I attended a Canadian Public Relations Society luncheon where Walter of fusedlogic was speaking about social media and avoiding public relations disasters. I was posting items and pictures on Twitter while Mack Male was live blogging the event. I know Walter was under the weather but it was one of the best speeches I’ve heard him give.

After that I attended the ProTraining open-house. It was a fun party and it was nice to chat with so many people I know and I met a few new ones too. It was almost like a Tweetup!

Early Christmas for the kids

We decided to have a Christmas celebration for the kids before they went back to B.C. to spend the holidays with their mom. The joys of divorce. Nobody in this house has had a “normal” Christmas in years.

Because we’re having relatives on Christmas day and will be having the usual turkey dinner, we decided to give the kids a choice: turkey or sushi. They, of course, took the sushi option. With the help of my parents we prepared several platters of sushi composed of crab, tuna and salmon in various forms.

The sushi was really good. It may not have been as fancy as you find in a sushi restaurant, but it was still good.

The kids were the only ones opening presents, except for my wife and I opening gifts from the kids. They were pretty happy with their gifts, and while I intended to spend a little less than average this year, I am pretty sure I spent more.

I have seen figures that the average spent per person on Christmas in Canada is in the $850-900 range. Per person! I think our whole family spends less than $1,000 together! It’s not like we’re just buying at Wal-Mart either. We get nice gifts but not too much and though I do feel like we’re extravagant at times, I guess we’re not.

Trip West: to B.C.

Yesterday we drove the kids “half way” from Edmonton to McBride. My ex-wife lives in Quesnel now. She was running late so I decided to tour McBride. I used to live there a while back with my ex-wife. My daughter was two at the time.

For me, the most interesting part of the tour was driving down the long country road to the old mill I used to work at. We couldn’t get in because the road was choked with snow. I could see there was no longer a gate, so there’s obviously nothing left back there. It was a neat old mill where they produced cedar post and rail fencing. There was also a sawmill with a planer.

We drove back down the road and I stopped at a small property halfway back to town. I stopped in to see if the people I knew were still there, and by chance, they were! The fellow I knew was now working out of town and unfortunately (for me) was going to be home today. I talked with his wife at the door for a while and got his email address. Everyone in the car had a laugh as the goat tried to butt its way inside the door I had cracked open slightly.

I hadn’t been through McBride much over the years and never really had time to stop. I’m glad I did this time. After 14 years in can be kind of awkward, but it always passes quickly. I would have regretted it if I’d driven right past and never stopped.

We found a local restaurant to relax at and eventually got the kids on their way to Christmas in Quesnel. We’ll miss them, as we always do. Hopefully they have a good Christmas there.

Mt. Robson

On the way to McBride we had stopped and taken some pictures of Mt. Robson, which was crystal clear that day. Anyone who gets to see that spectacular mountain on a regular basis is blessed. It’s definitely one of the most picturesque mountains in the world. My photos don’t do it justice.

We actually stopped there on the way back too. It was in early sunset, and looked nice still. I wish we had the time to wait because the sunset later offered the most amazing salmon pink cast. Now that would have made an even better photo. We have to go back that way again soon, so you never know.

After snapping off a few dozen photos, getting some video and some frostbite, we were on our way again. The rest of the trip was less eventful. We stopped in Jasper, one of our favourite towns, for supper. We often stop at the Earl’s there and did again this time. It’s perched up above the quaint streets and it offers a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

Snow tires are a good thing, studded tires are better

We arrived safely back home. I say safely because the way people were driving, it’s a good thing. I can’t believe the way people drive on icy roads and the roads lately have been icier than usual. They keep their all-season tires on and drive like it’s summer. We had studded tires on all four tires. It was so icy in places that even with our tires I could feel the car losing a bit of grip.

I think that investing in a second set of rims, and either snow tires or studded tires, is a sensible investment in a vehicle you plan to keep. Once they’re mounted, you can do the tire changes yourself, which saves around $50 twice per year. It also extends the life of your current tires because they are being driven on half the time. At the very least if you could have one vehicle in your family that was equipped like this, that would be good.

That’s the economic side of the argument. If you value your family’s and your own lives, it’s worth it no matter what the cost. If you’re “lucky” enough to have an accident with no injuries, I am curious how much that might cost you. How much do your premiums go up if you just go off the road and total your car? I am curious because I’ve never had it happen. I assume you’re found to be at fault. Interesting thought though.

If I don’t manage to make it back to my blog before Christmas, I hope that you and your family have a very merry, happy and safe Christmas!

Comments:

  1. Paul Says: I agree 100% about the tires. I’ll be shopping for a new vehicle soon, so it’s not worth the investment on this car, but wow…what a difference good tires make. Takes a lot of the stress out of driving.Great pics, also!
  2. Alain Saffel Says: Paul, thanks for the comment. It’s surprising how many people don’t drive on the right tires. It endangers everyone. Quebec had the right idea about making snow tires mandatory.I hate driving in vehicles without the right snow tires. My truck is like that, which is why it tends to sit in the winter. Right now I can’t afford to buy the rims and tires for it either.Thanks for the compliments on the pictures. You can check out my Flickr account too. I’ve got the widget on the page here for my Flickr account. :)