Headlines: Feb. 14, 2024

· The Pulse
  • City of Edmonton workers represented by Civic Service Union 52 have voted 91% in favour of a strike after contract negotiations with the city stalled. The vote comes on the heels of a strike vote taken by Edmonton Public Library workers, who voted 94% in favour of striking. Union president Lanny Chudyk, noting that the workers have not received wage increases since 2018, said they are pushing for more substantial raises than the city's proposed 7.25% over five years. While union members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action, the "goal is still to reach a fair and equitable settlement at the negotiation table that supports our members and taxpayers," Chudyk said.
  • Encampment fires in Edmonton killed three people and the camps have cost the city about $1.3 million, council heard during an update on the city's encampment response. City branch manager David Jones said the city's new approach to high-risk encampments has had "early positive results," as resources are consolidated to allow for response and assessment times to drop from nine days to six. As of last week, 33 encampments had yet to be assessed, compared to 221 at the beginning of 2023. Between Jan. 17 and Feb. 8 this year, the city cleared 121 camps and recovered more than 569 propane tanks, said Dave Lazenby with Edmonton Fire Rescue Services. The city currently has plans to dismantle eight occupied encampments, with another 133 that are vacant and scheduled for cleaning.
  • The Alberta government says a new navigation and support centre it opened in January inside a Hope Mission facility in central Edmonton has been a success, with nearly 300 people using its services. More than 70 people have been connected to housing programs, 55 were provided with mental health and addictions services, and another 130 people have accessed shelter space, transitional housing, or supportive housing, the province said. The centre removes barriers to support by offering a variety of services in one place, said Tim Pasma with Hope Mission. The province said the model has worked so well it plans to replicate it in other cities.
  • Critics say some proposed restrictions in a new public spaces bylaw being considered by Edmonton city council are undemocratic, could restrict freedoms, and would disproportionately affect marginalized groups. The bylaw, which council will discuss on Feb. 14, would introduce several new restrictions, including protests without permits of more than 50 people, using voice amplifiers, spitting, and cycling on grass in city parks. Shannon Lohner, with the advocacy group Paths for People, argued that increasing the fine for cycling on the sidewalk from $100 to $250 doesn't make sense since Edmonton doesn't have a complete active transportation network. "We're really just worried about how the impacts of this will be inequitable," Lohner said.
  • The Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton will temporarily close up to three operating rooms on weekdays in February because of staff shortages, Postmedia reported. Alberta Health Services said "planned staff and physician vacations" are behind the closures, adding that no scheduled surgeries have been cancelled or postponed. "The plans were in place prior to the surgical schedule being set," the health authority told Postmedia in a statement. A total of 42 operating rooms will be closed through February, with eight closures planned in March.
  • The University of Alberta has launched its new three-year student experience action plan, called Igniting Purpose, with an aim to enhance campus life by improving accessibility, safety, and academic support. The plan, informed by more than 8,000 student responses, focuses on initiatives such as renovating classrooms for better accessibility, increasing cleaning standards, expanding counselling services, and introducing a new online scheduling tool for course registration. The university says the plan will also support its strategy to increase student enrolment by 16,000 in the next 10 years.
  • Sportsnet analyst Jason Bukala shared his perspectives on how the Edmonton Oilers can improve their roster as the NHL trade deadline approaches. Among the players identified as potential options are Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Adam Henrique of the Anaheim Ducks, or Sean Walker and Scott Laughton, both of the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • The Edmonton Elks have signed return specialist Javon Leake to a one-year contract. Leake, who was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Special Teams Player in 2023, brings a record of 1,216 punt return yards and four punt return touchdowns from his previous season with the Toronto Argonauts.
  • The Alberta government's six-month moratorium on new renewable energy projects has left a chill even as the ban is set to end, some members of the sector say. There are more than 100 projects worth $33 billion on hold, and some companies are worried about whether they will be approved when the ban ends on Feb. 29. "I can't see approvals rapidly moving forward without new regulations in place," said Jorden Dye of the Business Renewables Centre Canada.