:Western news
 

December 3, 2021

 
Western Canada: Alberta’s pandemic-battered finances are looking up
 

Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

Western Canada: Alberta’s pandemic-battered finances are looking up
 

Wendy Cox and James Keller

Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
 
Alberta’s economy was already struggling when COVID-19 hit, and the pandemic only made things worse, as much of the economy ground to a halt and oil prices fell to unthinkable depths.
 
The impact on the province’s finances was catastrophic. A projected $7-billion deficit for last year ballooned to $17-billion, and the budget released in February for 2021-22 was even more dire, projecting a deficit of $18.2-billion.
 
But a lot has changed since February, and the province’s finances are suddenly looking a lot better as an economic recovery has pushed up demand – and prices – for oil.
 
Now, Alberta is expecting to have its best year in terms of oil and gas revenue in a decade, with revenue from bitumen royalties in particular hitting their highest historic level.
 
The provincial government’s latest quarterly fiscal update, released on Tuesday, is now projecting a deficit of $5.8-billion, with the situation improving in the near term. The February budget, for example, projected a deficit of $8-billion in 2023-24; that has now been revised to $2.3-billion.
 
The United Conservative Party government is striking a cautious tone, welcoming the dramatically improved financial picture while promising to keep a “steady hand on the wheel” at a time when there is still much uncertainty.
 
Aside from the top-line numbers, the fiscal update is part of two larger narratives.
 
The first is that Alberta’s budget is still very much controlled by the “royalty roller coaster,” with its economic fortunes largely tied to global forces beyond its control.
 
This is nothing new, but it’s a reminder that promises from successive governments to diversify the province’s revenue to make it less dependent on oil and gas income have accomplished little.
 
The second is the political realities facing Premier Jason Kenney. The Premier has been fending off internal discord throughout most of the pandemic and he now faces a leadership review next year (officially in April, but potentially earlier if UCP constituency associations get their way).
 
The relatively rosy economic news is widely seen as a potential lifeline for Mr. Kenney, who no doubt is hoping that some angry party members will be able to look past their grievances if the economy is firing on all cylinders by early next year.
 
Mr. Kenney may even be able to return to a promise to balance the budget by 2023 – addressing an issue that is of particular importance to many in his party.
 
But significant risks remain for both the provincial budget and Mr. Kenney. Oil prices could remain extremely unpredictable given the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic – a reality that was made painfully clear last week as a new variant named Omicron emerged.
 
The variant news prompted countries around the world to impose travel restrictions, mainly targetting countries in Africa where the variant was first identified, and that sent financial markets and oil prices diving. Oil prices fell 10 per cent on Friday alone.
 
“The events of the last few days around this new COVID variant reminds us that we’re still in a period of great uncertainty and volatility,” said Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews. “It reminds us that we need to focus on what we can manage – a focus on economic growth and holding the line on spending.”
 
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. 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.
 
 
British Columbia
 
B.C. government criticized for slow flood aid response
 

JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Reuters

B.C. government criticized for slow flood aid response
 

Andrea Woo and Nathan VanderKlippe

The chair of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley Regional District is criticizing the province’s response to pleas for assistance during the floods, saying an urgent request for funding to shore up a road near Hope, B.C., was ignored until it was too late.
 
Jason Lum sounded the alarm on Tuesday, as British Columbia braced for the third in a series of storms battering the province’s Central and South Coast. Highways remain paralyzed and pockets of the province are still underwater from the heavy rainfall of two weeks ago; meteorologists said the incoming weather system could exacerbate conditions.
 
At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Lum said the district’s Emergency Operations Centre issued an urgent request to Emergency Management BC (EMBC) on Nov. 24 for $1.5-million to shore up Othello Road, which was put at risk by the rising Coquihalla River. Staff followed up for several days but received no response until Monday evening, Mr. Lum said – after the river had consumed the road, taking with it a number of homes.
 
 
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Stuck in limbo, the wildfire-ravaged town of Lytton, B.C., is still in ruins
 

JESSE WINTER/Reuters

Stuck in limbo, the wildfire-ravaged town of Lytton, B.C., is still in ruins
 

Justine Hunter

The B.C. government has approved a $1-million grant to the village of Lytton, in part to meet the municipal payroll. The unusual bailout was needed because there is almost no tax base left following the June 30 wildfire that destroyed most of the town.
 
As British Columbia now faces the mammoth task of repairing the damage from November’s flooding and mudslides that have devastated dozens of communities and destroyed key transportation corridors, the emergency response in Lytton offers an example of the slow pace of recovery that can be expected.
 
 
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B.C. begins giving COVID-19 vaccine shots to children aged 5-11
 

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

B.C. begins giving COVID-19 vaccine shots to children aged 5-11
 

Xiao Xu

The vaccination rollout for children five to 11 years of age has started in British Columbia, but many parents have already spent frustrating and confusing hours trying to book an appointment for their little ones.
 
In B.C., parents are required to register online and then wait for an invitation to book an appointment. The invitations were expected to start going out early Monday morning, but many who had registered their children weeks ago didn’t get one and had to call in to book their kids.
 
Lauren Paul registered her daughters, who are seven and nine, in late September, before the province announced on Oct. 9 that registration would begin for younger kids. She said she tried very early because she was concerned about one of her daughters, who has asthma. She kept the notifications on overnight, hoping to wake up to a text invitation, but that didn’t happen.
 
 
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Alberta
 
Alberta’s deficit likely less than expected due to surging oil and gas prices
 

TODD KOROL/Reuters

Alberta’s deficit likely less than expected due to surging oil and gas prices
 

Kelly Cryderman and Emma Graney

Alberta’s oil-dependent budget has gone from bleak to relatively bountiful, in a matter of months.
 
In February, the United Conservative Party (UCP) government predicted it would take until 2023 for non-renewable resource revenues to fully recover. But with global oil and natural gas demand surging for a good portion of 2021, those resource revenues will likely hit $10.9-billion this fiscal year – edging in on records set in the heady boom period around 15 years ago. Royalties paid on bitumen from the province’s oil sands are set to comprise 70 per cent of Alberta’s non-renewable resource revenues, the highest percentage on record.
 
According to a second-quarter fiscal update released on Tuesday, revenues from higher crude prices and increased economic activity mean the deficit is now likely to be less than one-third the $18.2-billion estimated in the budget nine months ago. The deficit for 2021-22 is now forecast at $5.8-billion. In the next two years, the government is forecasting more manageable deficits of $3.3-billion and $2.3-billion.
 
 
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Edmonton business group appeals for help for struggling Whyte Avenue retailers, restaurants
 

Timon Johnson

Inside The Wish List Gifts store in Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona neighbourhood, Gayle Martin is surrounded by novelty mugs, kitschy art and other odd trinkets. But there is one thing missing: customers.
 
Ms. Martin’s business has always heavily relied on foot traffic, but the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many customers to stay home for much of the past 20 months and deterred them from visiting the area.
 
“We lost our Christmas because they closed the restaurants and we rely a lot on restaurant traffic here in the evening,” Ms. Martin said.
 
 
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Porch is a surprisingly pleasant new addition to Calgary’s competitive 17th Avenue
 

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

  Porch is a surprisingly pleasant new addition to Calgary’s competitive 17th Avenue
 

Dan Clapson

 
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Saskatchewan
 
’This will always be a fight’: Women push for changes to Sask. labour law around sexual harassment
 

Michael Bell /The Canadian Press

’This will always be a fight’: Women push for changes to Sask. labour law around sexual harassment
 

Mickey Djuric

After years of dealing with sexual harassment at work, Ariana Donovan created an online whisper network for others with similar experiences.
 
Ms. Donovan, a model based in Regina, says she wanted to help others know who they should avoid in the industry.
 
“Over the years, there’s been times I’ve been underaged, and there’s 50-year-old men telling me how sexy I am. It’s disgusting,” Ms. Donovan says.
 
 
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Manitoba
 
Proposed law would change some of the rules overseeing Manitoba police
 

David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press

Proposed law would change some of the rules overseeing Manitoba police
 

Steve Lambert

The Manitoba government plans to bolster the civilian-led agency that investigates potential police wrongdoing, but is stopping short of requiring all officers to co-operate with probes.
 
A bill introduced in the legislature Monday would introduce fines and jail time for most officers who do not comply with “reasonable” requests from the Independent Investigation Unit. It would expand the range of people who can be investigated to include civilian employees of a police service.
 
The bill would also forbid the unit from hiring active police officers as investigators and create a director of Indigenous and community relations to build bridges with First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other communities.
 
 
Full Story
 
 
Business
 
Ski resorts face critical shortage of young workers as season begins
 

Lucas Oleniuk/The Globe and Mail

  Ski resorts face critical shortage of young workers as season begins
 

Irene Galea

As ski season launches in Canada, resorts are facing a critical labour shortage and the industry is asking the federal government to speed up visa approvals for workers from abroad.
 
Executives say the shortage is a result of immigration delays. Thousands of jobs are open, but Canadians aren’t biting; locals say the wages are just not adequate in expensive ski towns. The COVID-19 variant concerns and, for those in British Columbia, the devastation of recent flooding are compounding the challenges.
 
Ski resorts typically rely on seasonal employees on working holiday visas, often through the International Experience Canada program, an agreement with 35 countries – including Australia, New Zealand and Britain – that facilitates the hiring of young seasonal workers. Many are between 18 and 25 and taking a break after high school or university. They fill the bulk of the roles on the ski hills, as well as the retail, service or hospitality jobs in the surrounding villages.
 
 
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WestJet’s new boss takes control as demand for travel ramps up after long pandemic slowdown
 

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

  WestJet’s new boss takes control as demand for travel ramps up after long pandemic slowdown
 

Eric Atkins

 
Transportation Reporter
WestJet’s new top executive takes charge as the Calgary-based airline is ramping up after a lengthy slowdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Harry Taylor, WestJet’s chief financial officer, becomes interim chief executive officer Monday at a crucial time for the country’s second-biggest airline – optimism, expectations and tensions have rarely been higher.
 
“What keeps me up at night is I worry about our people,” Mr. Taylor said in a phone interview from Calgary. “We have, this organization has been through as the whole world has been through a cataclysmic, catastrophic event. We were at the pointy edge, we laid off people – some permanently, some temporarily. Now we’re trying to rebuild.”
 
 
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Arts
 
How Stephen Sondheim saved my life
 

Fred Prouser/Reuters

How Stephen Sondheim saved my life
 

Michael Schellenberg

Writer and editor Michael Schellenberg is a former publisher at Knopf Canada.
 
I heard the news that Stephen Sondheim, one of my greatest teachers and the man who showed me what might be possible in life, had died midday on Friday.
 
It was a balm to have the news delivered by an old friend who knew the importance of the man in my life. I looked out the basement window of my Windsor Park abode in Winnipeg after one of my pilgrimages to the Centennial Library to get an armload of LPs; among them was A Little Night Music. I put it on the hi-fi and I was transfixed by the melodies, the sophistications, the double entendres, the wordplay.
 
 
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Long Read
 
As a Chief, I have visited more than 300 reservations. I don’t want to see any more broken windows
 

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

As a Chief, I have visited more than 300 reservations. I don’t want to see any more broken windows
 

Clarence Louie

Clarence Louie has been Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, for more than 35 years. He is the author of the new book Rez Rules: My Indictment of Canada’s and America’s Systemic Racism Against Indigenous Peoples, from which this essay has been adapted.
 
I love being on a Rez – any Rez. I have set foot on more than 300 of them in Canada and the United States. I seek out Indian reserves and reservations, rich or poor, on my travels. It’s an ancestral feeling, a heritage and cultural feeling that I seem to need. Seeing Rez people young and old living and playing on their own Rez is very special to me.
 
But one thing that catches my eye right away, and makes my heart heavy, is broken windows on Native houses. It is really sad to see some houses with multiple broken or boarded-up windows. On one reserve in Northern Alberta I saw so many houses with boarded-up windows that I mistakenly thought the houses were vacant and abandoned. I thought, Why doesn’t the leadership get rid of those eyesores and tear down those condemned houses? The school teacher who was driving me around the Rez that day told me, “Those houses aren’t empty – families live there. The way you tell if a house is empty is if the front door is boarded up.”
 
How can anyone live in a house where they can’t even look out the living room or bedroom window? I took pictures of houses with every window boarded up and with graffiti painted on the walls and the plywood window coverings. Families were still living in those houses! It felt like I was driving through the worst part of a rundown major city. Not all of the Rez was in bad condition, but I felt so sorry for the children who were being raised in homes like that. It is not right, anywhere in the world, for children to grow up in a house with broken or boarded-up windows.
 
 
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Opinion
 
Dismantling the Royal B.C. Museum’s Old Town is the wrong choice
 

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Dismantling the Royal B.C. Museum’s Old Town is the wrong choice
 

Lucas Aykroyd

Victoria’s Royal B.C. Museum announced abruptly earlier this month that it would close its third-floor core galleries on Jan. 2 as part of the “process of decolonization.”
 
The widespread public outcry – specifically about the disassembling of the museum’s immersive, educational and much-loved Old Town exhibition – is justified.
 
RBCM has had a rough ride in recent years. A high-profile reckoning with internal racism saw the resignation last year of Lucy Bell, a Haida woman who headed the Indigenous collections and repatriation department, followed by that of long-time museum chief executive Jack Lohman in February. RBCM apologized publicly for discriminatory behaviour in June, and on Nov. 3 announced it would get rid of the Old Town and other displays of European-settler history to create “new narratives.”
 
With that said, no compelling reason exists to remove a unique, multisensory recreation of turn-of-the-century Victoria – complete with a passing train and dim-lit cobblestone streets – that continues to engage visitors.
 
 
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Canadians need accessible mental-health services, not a fight over who can claim responsibility for those programs
 

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Canadians need accessible mental-health services, not a fight over who can claim responsibility for those programs
 

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Pat Armstrong and Laurell Ritchie

Marjorie Griffin Cohen is an economist and Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University. Pat Armstrong is Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology Emeritus at York University, and Laurell Ritchie works with the Good Jobs for All Coalition. They are writing for the Care Economy Group, an organization that analyzes the significance of the care sector to the health of the economy and the well-being of people.
 
“Just give us the money,” is what the provinces demand when the federal government initiates new programs in the care sector, which encompasses a range of health and social services, from child and senior care to pharmacare.
 
The most recent expression of this comes from the NDP government in B.C. and the UCP government in Alberta, in response to the federal government’s attempts to develop a national approach to mental health. Ottawa has proposed creating a dedicated stream of transfers to the provinces to be spent directly on mental-health issues. The provinces want the money rolled into general health care transfers, so they can spend it however they want.
 
 
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