Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Budget or Lack of One

In my post of January 16th I reported that council came to an understanding on the 2008 budget. The motion to recommend council approve this years budget was passed by a vote of 6 to 1. Quite truthfully it felt good at that to have the budget process all but finished at that time. From there though things went south very quickly. When the exact same motion was made at the next regular council meeting a motion to table for more information from Crowsnest Centre was passed instead.

Subsequently the president of the board and the manager of the Centre presented their business plan to council and showed us how they would manage the Centre for the next few years. There were a couple of minor addition mistakes in the plan (which of course at best is an educated guess). When the motion to approve the budget was again made it failed by a vote of 4 to 3 presumably because of the mistakes in the business plan. We are now close to jeopardizing planned projects in this years budget.

At the next regular meeting of council I again made the motion to approve this year's spending. One councilor was absent due to holidays. A councilor that previously voted to defeat the budget now voted in favour of it. On the other hand a councilor that previously voted to pass the budget now voted to defeat it. The motion fails due to a tie vote 3 to 3. Looks like this year could be a repeat of last. While it is still possible to have a budget in place by the middle of March it may already be too late for some projects.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Equalized Assessment / Thank you Calgary

Council received a copy of a letter sent to the Alberta Municipal Government Board by Mr.
Gordon Sharek, Q.C. of Sharek Logan Collingwood vanLeenen, advising of the Withdrawal
and Discontinuance of the costs application brought by the Minister of Municipal Affairs
against the City of Calgary’s appeal of its 2005 Equalized Assessment. The letter also
advised of the Withdrawal and Discontinuing the Equalized Assessment appeals filed by theCity of Calgary for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The province a number of years ago required all municipalities to start taxing home owners on the current market value of their properties. Assessors have very tight parameters regarding market value that they must adhere to. Per housing class they have a 10% range they must fit into. They have to fit between 95% and 105% of market value with their assessment and that must be proven to the province.

The city of Calgary, being the new centre of the universe and all, felt they should not have to apply those principles in their taxation process and for a time they didn't. This of course put a strain on all the municipalities that did because the money the province budgets for schooling is collected by municipalities for the province with property taxes. What this meant, is that all the municipalities that followed the property tax rules were subsidizing the lower residential tax rates in Calgary. Much of the property tax paid in smaller municipalities went to pay for schooling in Calgary. The first paragraph in this post means the City of Calgary has finally agreed to play by the rules (I believe they started last year) and a couple of weeks ago the Calgary Herald reported on a tax revolt in the city because many residents received a 10% or more increase in their property taxes. Glad I am not an alderman in Calgary right now but the city did do the right thing. I hope Calgary's Aldermen continue exercising the taxation powers granted to them by the Municipal Government Act before looking at generating revenue from the rest of us.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Rum Runners and Pizza in Crowsnest Pass

The history of Crowsnest Pass is exciting and unique from natural disasters and coal mining tragedies to all the intrigue and drama of the days of prohibition with characters like Emperor Pic and Filumena fueling the drama. This post though is not about those Rum Runners its about a good day and good things in Crowsnest Pass.

For the first time in over 6 weeks I had a chance to get out on the river with a good friend (Susan of Crowsnest Cafe and Flyshop) and our dogs for a few hours of fishing. It was a beautiful sunny early spring day. I am sure the dogs enjoyed running through the still deep snow much more than Susan and I did on the way to the river but the effort to get there was definitely worth it. We had the river to ourselves. Many holes and runs were still under the cover of ice but we did find some fishable stretches and even got a couple of rainbows.

It was nice catching but the afternoon would of been great even without hooking any fish. It was beautiful. The blue skies and bright sun made the bright white snow sparkle. The dogs made the afternoon interesting and the company of a good friend in these gorgeous settings can not be topped by much. I don't believe there is anywhere else in Western Canada that can provide this quality setting at this time of the year for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy.

To wrap up the afternoon we stopped in at the saloon in Frank for a cold one and talked fishing and how we would like to see down town Coleman rejuvenated. It was a great way to cap an incredible afternoon on the Crowsnest River, sharing a passion for the outdoors and building Crowsnest Pass in the western surroundings of one of Crowsnest Pass's friendly watering holes and restaurants Pure Country Saloon.

After arriving home shortly after my wife, Paddy, got in from work we decided to go out for dinner. Choosing a place to go out is always difficult as we have some very good restaurants here. Tonight we went out to Rum Runners on highway 3 in Coleman. The restaurant was built in what was the social hall for the old Catholic church in Coleman and has a unique decor that capitalizes on our mining and rum running heritage. The place does have a super menu and the food is always good. I decided on a three topping pizza, pepperoni, pepperoni, and pepperoni.It was superb.

Crowsnest Pass does not just have stunning mountain vistas. Crowsnest Pass does not just have excellent fishing in beautiful surroundings. Crowsnest Pass has the best pizza! It's served at Rum Runners. There may be better...but not in this hemisphere.

Friday, 22 February 2008


Hinman just does not get it does he? He would do well to take a look outside his home and see what families with out his resources have to deal with daily. I don't think I have ever heard such narrow thinking from any political leader from any party. How is giving a tax break alone going to keep one of two parents in the home to look after the kids? How huge does that tax break have to be to insure young parents with children can still afford their mortgage payment or rent with one salary? Who will pay for such a huge tax break? He is talking about a small taxbreak replacing an income. Is he stupid? How is a small tax break going to make a $400,000 home in Calgary affordable for anyone making less than $250,000 a year? Not that the family making that amount even won't have trouble paying for it. How are his tax breaks going to insure quality health care for those same families? Hinman just does not get it!

Friday, 15 February 2008

Island Lake, A Lake In Distress

Island Lake is located near the western most boundary of Crowsnest Pass, west of Crowsnest Lake and close to the British Columbia border. It was a nice typical mountain lake, clean, clear, and cold. The lake, named after the island with the group of trees in the centre of the picture, was never a great fishery but it did provide a home for trout and whitefish that locals persued on occasion. It didn't take long, mind you, for Island Lake to begin deteriorating to the point of near death.

Highway 3 used to lead into BC along the north shore of the lake. In the 60's the Department of Highways decided to dissect the lake with a new wider road. The road was built right through the centre of the lake, touching the south side of the island. Even though they put a culvert through the highway to ensure a water supply to the southern part of the now divided lake the water does not circulate enough to keep the southern lake healthy. The south of the lake slowly started to lose its pristine mountain appearance and began turning into a large, shallow, ugly slough. The north side though did keep its appearance of health. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development did stock the lake with trout and even began to dump many of the brook trout brood stock from the Allison hatchery into the lake. Which made the icefisherman happy of course. Unfortunately the sad tale of the demise of, the once beautiful, lake is not over yet.

Crowsnest Creek flows from the mountains south of the lake and ran prettty much straight to a point just east of Island Lake. There it emptied into a huge hole with Island Lake just to the west and unfortunately CPR's tracks to the north and running at right angles to the creek. What would happen to this water was very interesting. When the lake was below a certain level the water from the creek flowed into the lake filling it. When the lake was full the creek flowed on to its final destination to the east, Crowsnest Lake.

The CPR did not like Crowsnest Creek and its path that was crucial to the health of a beautiful mountain lake. The creek when running high began to erode the rail bed. CPR had to do something to protect its track and that large, arrogant, uncompromising corporation did. They could have used ballast or formed some other sort of bulkhead to protect their rail at the point it was being eroded. That option must of been too simple for the godlike heads of CPR. They, befittingly, came up with a god like solution. Move the creek! After all the creek was the problem. The best way, in their superior way of thought, to deal with the problem would be to remove it.

CPR knew that in order to move a creek they would need the permission of that other all powerful Canadian entity, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Candian government department that is responsible for the protection of fish and fish habitat. Even the almighty CPR would not dare act with out their approval. DFO is the only government body that can impact the CPR. Well DFO did look at what CPR wanted to do. Somehow though their investigation failed to see the importance of Crowsnest Creek's route to the health of Island Lake. So the government department responsible for safeguarding fish and fish habitat allowed CPR to move Crowsnest Creek at least 500 yards to the east.

Water does not run uphill. Crowsnest Creek can no longer supply Island Lake with fresh water. One can see each year lower average water levels. Inspite of many efforts (mainly our local Fish and Game Association) to get action on the restoration of Island Lake no one seems willing to act.

The province of Alberta played a role. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans allowed this to happen. The CPR is responsible for this disaster and have realized a benefit to themselves because of it. These three bodies should be held accountable. These three bodies are responsible. These three bodies had better make up for their collective mistake and find a way to bring life back to Island Lake.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Another Train Derailment In Crowsnest Pass

It should come as no surprise to anyone that late yesterday afternoon or early evening another CPR train derailed in Crowsnest Pass. This is the CPR's first derailment in Crowsnest Pass this year. Two engines left the track near Crowsnest Lake. Apparently the only damage done was to the tracks and no other cars derailed or were damaged.
It is getting to be a common occurrence here in the Pass. We are seeing a derailment every year. This one seems to be a minor event. If you could call any derailment minor. Two years ago in June 22 coal cars derailed next to highway 3 in Frank just outside Blairmore. Last spring a derailment (pictured) occurred just near our eastern boundary close to Leitch Colleries and not far from the Crowsnest River. A number of cars were severely damaged as well as a long piece of track. The cars were empty but one car that had been carrying propane did have to be lit allowing the residue to burn off.

A significant portion of our population here in the Pass live close to CPR tracks and the train route parallels the Crowsnest River and the north shoreline of Crowsnest Lake. The CPR themselves say "Not if a disastrous derailment occurs but when it occurs". With that acknowledgement and recognizing the hazard to our residents and the head waters of a major tributary in the South Saskatchewan River basin it is far past the time Transport Canada stepped in and forced tougher safety protocols and rules on the CPR.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Senior's Tax Rebate Policy

Last term I brought a tax rebate policy for senior's on fixed incomes to council. The policy was passed by council inspite of objections raised by Councillor Ward, who cast the only dissenting vote. The policy was brought into being because a number of residents (not just seniors) were concerned that Crowsnest Pass was becoming unaffordable for senior residents on fixed incomes because of rising property values and taxes. You can view the Senior's Tax Rebate Policy here.

One of the conditions of the policy is that it be reviewed each year. Council reviewed the policy at the January committee meeting where council was reminded of the good reasons why the policy is needed and of the importance in maintaining the 2006 taxation year as the base for eligible resident's rebate. Basically the rebate states that seniors on fixed incomes taxes be frozen at 2006 rates and that they would be rebated any increases over and above that rate. At our last council meeting the motion to maintain 2006 as the base year for the policy was approved unanimously.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Back To Local Politics

Council has had some meaningful talks with Alberta Infrastructure andTransportation regarding a number of important issues. First and foremost was Highway 3. Council and Transportation established a good working relationship and have come to an understanding on resolving traffic problems from Frank through Coleman for the short to mid term (5-20 years). They include, a 4 lane undivided highway to Coleman from the east. Three lanes through Coleman. The third lane being a 2 way turning lane. Lights at the Mac's intersection. Other areas needing consideration would be the intersection of highways 3 and 40 and the high school area. Some other options are being explored for those areas. Transportation will be continuing to explore a long term solution (30 years) which will necessitate a bypass of Coleman.

The municipality will be continuing to work with Transportation toward a viable solution regarding the use of their right of way for a waterline to connect Coleman to Blairmore. This is a critical project to insure an uninterrupted water supply to our hospital and its dialysis unit.

A short time ago Transportation graded and prepared a parking area for trucks on the old Turtle Mountain Hotel site. The site was used for only a very short period of time before the department was sued successfully for a trailer that was stolen from a similar parking area elsewhere in the province and suspended using this area for that purpose. We applied to lease the area from the province in order that local truckers had an area to leave their trailers. We received a letter last month notifying us that our application was denied. I had this item put on the agenda for our meeting and Transportation agreed to take another look at our application.

It's Battle Ground Calgary

One fact has come out strong and clear in the opening days of this provincial election campaign. The big parties are fighting over our cities, in particular, Calgary. Course they are fighting with all of Abertans' tax dollars. I just hope they remember there are some small towns and rural areas outside of Calgary and Edmonton that need as much consideration from the province as the cities do. Hell, matter of fact many small towns need more. We do not have the large and diverse tax base of the cities and are faced with the same high costs of infrastructure upgrades and maintenance as they are.

The provincial government did pledge 11 billion dollars over the next 10 years to infrastructure demands and Edmonton's mayor is upset, arguing his city is being short changed. He may want to talk to the Mayors of Hinton, Edson, Banff, Canmore, and of course Crowsnest Pass if he wants to hear about unequitable funding formulas for provincial grant money. Message here, is of course, Crowsnest Pass wants its fair share!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Election Call?

Well all the speculation says we will have a provincial election call in the next day or two. The campaigning has started in earnest already and is shaping up to be one of the most interesting elections we have seen in Alberta for quite some time. The question is: Are Albertans ready for a change of government? I have included a poll to the blog just for interest's sake. Take part.

The governing Conservatives have held power for over three and a half decades. Albertans under 37 years old have never seen any other party in power. Without a doubt one would have to say the Progressive Conservatives have definitely learned how to govern and how to keep governing. In talking with people around the province, though, I feel many Albertans are tired of a stagnant party and government and are looking for a party to bring new ideas and put a fresh spin on how our province is governed. They are looking for a party to bring some excitement to the provincial political scene the way Peter Lougheed did in 1971.

Lougheed and his party of red tories put a fresh face on conservatism in the province and started the dynasty that governed for 37 years. Is there any one in position to achieve what Lougheed did? Brian Mason, with help from Ray Martin one of the best street fighters the ledge has ever seen, has done his best to showcase the short comings of the Conservatives and elevate the status of the New Democratic Party. Unfortunately, though, very few Albertans outside of Edmonton know who Brian Mason is and what the NDP stand for. They are definitely in no position to knock out the champs and govern.

Kevin Taft, leading the Liberal party and its 16 MLAs, should be well positioned to deliver that knockout punch. The demographic of Alberta has changed drastically in the past few years. Alberta's population has shifted to the towns and cities. 81% of our population is urban, with many of those new people moving into Alberta from the east where, we have seen, they are not afraid to vote for Liberals. The Liberals will, without a doubt, increase their numbers in the legislature. The increase in seats coming from urban ridings. Kevin Taft, as bright as he is, (the most uninspiring political leader I have ever heard speak) has completely failed to ignite the imagination of Albertans. You can't capture people's minds without capturing their hearts. Should the conservatives form another government, and they should, they can thank the Liberals for their leadership selection.

I don't think for a minute that Alberta is ready to return to the days of the Social Credit government that Lougheed tossed out. We have grown as a province and have seen socially progressive change. Albertans will not willingly go back to the days when bars were segregated between men and women with escorts. The Wildrose Alliance is simply a fresh name for a socially regressive movement. The best they can hope for is to steal some of the conservative's traditional support in a rural riding or two. Albertans wouldn't buy the Byfield's rag why would they buy their party?

Many people are tired of the old political parties that have minor differences in policy direction but when in government tend to govern much the same. They feel disenfranchised with no place to mark their ballot. By all accounts the environment and environmental issues are the top concerns not only of Albertans but all Canadians. The Green Party then is the alternative many of those disenfranchised people could vote for. We should see this movement grow from the fringe to a responsible political party with a future. They will receive votes from a respectable number of Albertans.

So, while there is desire for change in Alberta I don't think we are going to see it in this election.

With the choices Albertans have I would hope there is no sense of apathy in this election. All Albertans should be willing to let their voices be heard. Remember in Alberta if you feel there is no one that deserves your vote you can go to the poll, register, then tell the election officer you want to have you ballot marked as being refused. Refuse your ballot. It is a legitimate way to protest the quality of the candidates or the parties and its counted unlike a spoiled ballot.