Headlines: Jan. 26, 2024

· The Pulse
  • Edmonton Transit Service announced that mid-winter service changes will take effect Feb. 4. The changes include service improvements on routes 56, 500X, 509, and 902, which were funded as part of the fall budget adjustment. ETS is also introducing a new route, 926, which will connect Lewis Farms Transit Centre to Stillwater and replace On Demand Transit service in some neighbourhoods. ETS service adjustments happen five times a year.
  • Bezhani Sarvar, the security guard arrested in connection with an attack at Edmonton City Hall on Jan. 23, is being held at a maximum security unit in the Edmonton Remand Centre. He briefly appeared in court by video on Jan. 25, but his defence lawyer requested more time to prepare for his bail hearing. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 2. City hall remained closed to the public as workers repaired damages, and no reopening date has been announced. The mayor and several councillors said there will a conversation going forward about balancing safety and accessibility at city hall.
  • Postmedia opinion columnist Keith Gerein suggested the attack at Edmonton City Hall reflects a broader trend of violence in political spaces, which is becoming more "inevitable" given the "degeneracy of our discourse." He notes that the current council, which includes more women and people who are visible minorities than any previous council, "has been targeted with far more threats and horrific insults" than any past group. "No matter the agenda of one attacker," Gerein wrote, "this has to be a wake-up call that our democracy is becoming as fragile as the North Saskatchewan River ice in March."
  • The City of Edmonton appears to be complying with a request from Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver to send the province details about all of its contracts with the federal government. McIver sent the same the request to all cities and towns in Alberta in December, telling them the goal is to document the "scope and scale" of the agreements in order to make better deals with the Canadian government. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi's office told Postmedia the mayor has asked administration to compile the information, and the city intends to respond to McIver by the Jan. 31 deadline. Alberta Municipalities and Rural Municipalities of Alberta, advocacy bodies representing municipalities across the province, have both questioned the province's unusual request. Analyst Jason Markusoff wrote that the province could be gearing up to introduce legislation similar to Quebec's An Act Respecting the Ministère du conseil executif, which prohibits municipalities from entering into agreements with the federal government without authorization from the province.
  • Only 24.1% of Albertans have gotten their annual flu shot this season, down from 37% in 2021-2022, which puts the province on track to have its lowest flu vaccination rate since 2012-13. The flu vaccination rate is 61% among seniors aged 65-70, far lower than the national average of 74% over the last four years. Meanwhile, only 16.4% of Albertans have gotten the latest COVID-19 shot. Experts say the trend puts strain on hospitals, and some say it may be the result of vaccine messaging being less effective than in recent years. In December, The Globe and Mail obtained documents showing the province directed Alberta Health Services to remove messaging about COVID-19 and the flu from public health advertisements this season.
  • Shoppers Drug Mart has announced plans to open 44 additional "pharmacy care clinics" across Alberta in 2024, including in Edmonton, Sherwood Park, and Spruce Grove. The expansion will bring the number of pharmacy care clinics in Alberta Shoppers Drug Mart locations to 103. The Alberta government celebrated the $77-million investment, while some critics questioned the promotion of pharmacies as alternatives to primary care. NDP leader Rachel Notley said that while Shoppers Drug Mart's expansion may be helpful, it is "not in any way, shape, or form" a replacement for increased access to public health care from doctors and nurses.
  • An Edmonton-based research team led by Jen Beverly is among the 12 recipients of a combined $6-million federal investment through the Research and Knowledge Initiative, which is supporting research projects that address housing and infrastructure challenges. Beverly, a professor in the University of Alberta Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, is looking to help communities manage infrastructure needs, emergency responses, and wildfire evacuations.