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British Columbia Western newsletter: Alberta set for a cannabis retail boom while B.C. lags behind

Good morning,

British Columbia and Alberta have been a study in opposites when it comes to marijuana. For years, illegal marijuana dispensaries have flourished in B.C., particularly in Vancouver and Victoria, where city governments handed out business licences and local police departments turned a blind eye to dozens of so-called “grey-market” operations. In contrast, dispensaries in Alberta cities such as Calgary and Edmonton faced police raids and pressure from city officials, which meant they never grew to more than a small handful.

Now that recreational marijuana is legal, it’s suddenly the reverse. B.C. has a single legal store, a government-owned location in the Interior city of Kamloops, and it’s not entirely clear when more will open or at what pace. Alberta had 17 stores up and running on Day One. What’s more, Alberta is poised for a rapid growth in cannabis stores, with more than 100 additional stores expected to open in the next month in a province where the storefront retail sales have been turned over entirely to the private sector.

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Justin Giovannetti looked at why Alberta has been so aggressive and so successful in launching the new industry. People within the industry say a big reason is that the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, or AGLC, has been really efficient as it approved applications and brought in product. In other words, the agency seems to know what it’s doing.

In some ways, it’s familiar territory for the province. Alberta privatized its liquor stores in the early 1990s, and the result has been a proliferation of retail shops, from large chains to tiny beer and wine corner stores — all run by private businesses. A government agency handles importing and wholesale as the province gained a reputation for having an extensive selection of beer, wines and spirits, especially compared with other provinces. The same approach — and the same bureaucracy — has been brought to legal cannabis. Private retailers, however, are still warning about near-term shortages.

Despite the lack of legal retail outlets in neighbouring B.C., there are still places to buy cannabis. The province’s online mail-order store is up and running, and many dispensaries have continued to operate, unabated. Police departments and provincial inspectors have not staged any widespread enforcement. The local RCMP detachment in Port Alberni raided two illegal dispensaries on Wednesday, which appears to be the only crackdown on the day the drug became legal.

– James Keller, Alberta Bureau chief

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

Around the West

B.C. CIVIC ELECTION: British Columbians go to the polls Saturday to elect mayors and councils, but voters in Vancouver have the most bewildering array of choices. With 158 names on the ballot for 27 positions, with the traditional two parties in splinters and with an at-large system, what Vancouver Council looks like by the time the results are in is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain, though: Leafy neighbourhoods with exclusively single-family homes will change as all candidates for mayor advocate higher density.

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The city’s other crisis – the one that’s killing people – is the struggle against the fentanyl epidemic. The three leading contenders in the election acknowledge the situation is urgent, but the city has few tools beyond the ones it is using. Andrea Woo has frequently reported on the consensus among mental health experts that decriminalization is a necessary step. But independent candidate Kennedy Stewart was frank in saying it’s a non-starter with Ottawa. And NPA candidate Ken Sim was unclear on the difference between decriminalization and legalization.

If elections are a healthy way to hit the reset button, nowhere will that cleanse be more welcome than in Nanaimo. Justine Hunter dropped in on the Vancouver Island city, where residents have watched in horror and embarrassment during the last several years as the council chamber came to resemble a cage match, with a chair-throwing incident, an invitation to the mayor to “bite me” and RCMP investigations. The mayor isn’t running again and no one is more relieved than he is.

CARBON TAX: The C.D. Howe Institute is endorsing the federal carbon tax plan, with a new report that concludes the policy is the best way to reduce emissions and meet targets set by the Paris Agreement. The report comes as Ontario steps up its opposition to the tax, joining Saskatchewan, Manitoba and potentially Alberta, where an election next year could see the United Conservative Party take power. Intergovernmental Relations Minister Dominic LeBanc is warning Ontario Premier Doug Ford to focus on his own province rather than take his carbon tax fight out West. Mr. Ford travelled to Alberta earlier this month to rally with United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. Meanwhile, Canadian airlines are warning that carbon taxes — and the increase on fares — will send more travellers to the U.S. in search of cheaper flights.

KILLER WHALES: The endangered plight of the southern resident killer whale is a major reason why the Federal Court of Appeal put the brakes on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. One of the reasons the whales are so imperilled is because of a dwindling food supply, namely chinook salmon. But Ian Bailey exclusively obtained an internal memo from Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff, raising the alarm about what they say are insufficient efforts to keep track of salmon numbers for species other than the most lucrative, sockeye. The department says more resources have been added.

AGA KHAN GARDEN: The Aga Khan was in Edmonton for the inauguration of the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta’s botanical gardens. The garden, which has 25,000 plants, 120 fruit trees, 12 water features and more than 650 tonnes of granite and polished limestone, is designed to be a place for contemplation.

STEPHEN GALLOWAY: The University of British Columbia is having to pay author Stephen Galloway another $60,000 for breaching the confidentiality requirements of an arbitrated settlement he won following his firing from the school. The UBC Faculty Association, which worked on Mr. Galloway’s behalf, was awarded $15,000. When added to the money Mr. Galloway was given under the original settlement, the school has had to pay out more than $240,000 over its handling of the allegations against the former department head.

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FOOD: Alexandra Gill headed to Whistler to review the renovated, but not renamed, Il Caminetto restaurant, which is catering to an even wealthier class of tourist. Her three-star review notes that “money might not buy happiness, but it can stock a restaurant with good machinery, excellent products and great talent.” In Calgary, Dan Clapson takes a look at how restaurants across the Prairies are teaming up with artists to transform their dining rooms into art galleries.

THE LIBRARY BOOK: Author Susan Orlean writes the library is “where we can glimpse immortality.” But she tells Marsha Lederman that she seriously questioned her longevity as a book author seven years ago. That changed with a trip to Los Angeles’ Central library and the horrifying discovery of a fire there in 1986 that wiped out untold treasures. Marsha writes how the place – the library – became the storytelling tool of a crime mystery, but also the history of the city and even dementia.


Gary Mason on the Vancouver election: “Fair or not, the housing crisis effectively ended Gregor Robertson’s career as mayor. There isn’t a chance in the world he would have been re-elected. And the person who succeeds him is likely to be judged just as harshly if the city remains deeply inhospitable to average-income folks looking to put a roof over their head, any roof, no matter the size.”

Adrienne Tanner on Vancouver’s election and the year of the independent: “This election is up for grabs and whoever wins will likely be working with a disparate council. It will take a diplomat extraordinaire to achieve consensus, but it’s not impossible.”

Jeffrey Jones on oil-patch takeovers: “The big question for investors is whether another company in a short list of potential white knights is willing to pay a higher price only to offer similar benefits. In recent history, the initial bidder has won the day with a slightly higher offer.”

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Dwight Newman on the Indigenous consultation and the Supreme Court: "This is not the first time the court has evaded making a clear decision in the context of Indigenous rights. Indeed, judges in past decisions have expressed a preference that matters be resolved by negotiation, and thus would effectively leave some details of aboriginal law issues undecided to permit this. "

Chris Turner on climate policy and Alberta: "The Trudeau-Notley consensus is – was – an ugly deal. It ran roughshod over the land rights of a number of First Nations, amplified the risk of ecological disaster in the Salish Sea, and provided a sort of buffer to fossil fuel industries still reluctant to face twilight head on. But it was the best shot we’ve ever had at turning the corner decisively on a crisis that counts in decades and centuries. "

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