The Pulse: Nov. 21, 2022

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  • 6°C: Clearing in the morning. Wind becoming west 20 km/h in the morning. High 6. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • Yellow: The High Level Bridge will be lit yellow for CKUA Radio Network's 95th Birthday. (details)
  • 4-3: The Edmonton Oilers beat the Vegas Golden Knights in overtime on Nov. 19. (details)
  • 5pm: The Edmonton Oilers (10-8-0) play the New Jersey Devils (15-3-0) at Prudential Center. (details)

A large spruce tree festooned with colourful lights, topped by a star, in downtown Edmonton

Communication errors blamed for uproar over Churchill Square tree

By Karen Unland

The Edmonton Downtown Business Association anticipated in May that some Edmontonians would "probably not be super-happy" with its decision to forego putting up a giant Christmas tree in Churchill Square this year, says executive director Puneeta McBryan.

But that foresight did not help either the EDBA or the city prepare for the ensuing uproar when it became clear on Nov. 15 that there would be no such tree for the first time since 1999, she indicated on Episode 199 of Speaking Municipally.

"The communication around it has really not been ideal. And that's our fault. And yes, it's the city's fault, too. We just really didn't coordinate this very well," she said. "The reality of it is, though, regardless of how we had coordinated the communication and however much clarity we provided right off the bat, I think people were going to be really, really mad no matter what."

In a joint statement released on Nov. 20, city manager Andre Corbould and EDBA board chair Martin Kennedy acknowledged the communications could have been better.

"We are charting a new path," they wrote. "In retrospect, we should have communicated these activities better, and we apologize that some people were led to believe that Churchill Square would not be a festive place."

Corbould and Kennedy added that any communications oversight does not justify the racist attacks that a few people have directed towards EDBA staff and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi in response. "We do not tolerate online hate and bullying, and we will not be swayed by such behaviour," they said.

The EDBA decided in the spring that it would shift its Holiday Light Up festivities on Dec. 3 from Churchill Square to Rice Howard Way, spending the resources it would have put into lighting the tree and programming the square into a festival with a closer connection to downtown businesses.

"For our mandate to support the downtown local economy and draw people in to do things and spend time downtown and yes, spend money downtown, it just doesn't make sense to draw people to Churchill Square," she said, noting that visitors to downtown tend not to linger when the focal point is an event in front of City Hall. "People park underground, they come up for the event, and then they get in their cars, and they leave."

Churchill Square will have a "festive forest" and art installation throughout the holidays, as well as free skate rentals and music at the soon-to-reopen rink on weekends.

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Headlines: Nov. 21, 2022

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • Two-thirds of the support pillars on the Valley Line Southeast LRT line have deficiencies and need repair. TransEd, the consortium in charge of construction for the long-delayed project, said in a Nov. 18 update that 30 of the 45 piers now need reinforcement, up from the 18 originally identified in August. TransEd CEO Ronald Joncas offered no timeline for completion of the repairs, but emphasized in his update that it is safe to walk and drive below the elevated tracks. "We are doing everything we can to repair the piers safely and as quickly as possible," he said. Added repairs and delays won't cost the public more because the project has a fixed-price contract, but Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said that was little comfort to people waiting for the line's opening. "Like all Edmontonians, I am equally frustrated that the project that would have been in service two years ago is still delayed," Sohi said.
  • Advocacy groups are concerned about the risk of fire to unhoused Edmontonians who are trying to stay warm in the cold winter months. More than 800 Edmontonians experienced homelessness in November according to Public Interest Alberta executive director Bradley Lafortune. One person died in a tent fire on Nov. 3 and Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responded to seven encampment fires in the first two weeks of the month. "People who are trying to stay warm are starting fires and then dying," said Lafortune. He said warming spaces, such as LRT stations, should be opened during the coldest winter nights. Laurence Braun-Woodbury, advocacy director at the Bissell Centre, said the organization is developing a fire prevention campaign for people who are unhoused.
  • Edmonton City Centre Mall has partnered with Boyle Street Community Services to develop a more empathetic approach to ongoing security issues and social disorder on mall property. The partnership, which began about three months ago, includes a patrol team that responds to overdoses and provides food, water, and clothing to vulnerable people in and around the mall. The team also works with mall security to connect people in need with social services and support. "We've been able to get people housing in a couple of weeks, which is kind of unheard of," said Brenna Gavel with Boyle Street.
  • Alberta's Substance Use Surveillance System reported 976 opioid-related deaths as of August, a slight increase from the same time period in 2021, when 969 deaths were recorded. In Edmonton, opioid-related deaths decreased, with 32 deaths reported in August, compared to 62 in August 2021. The National Overdose Response Hotline provides support and services for people who use drugs and encourages anyone who is using alone to contact them first at 1-888-688-NORS (6677).
  • The United Way of the Alberta Capital Region has launched its annual winter fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $25 million to provide necessities like food hampers, winter coats for families and hygiene kits for people experiencing homelessness. United Way president and CEO Rob Yager said demand is expected to be higher this year because of a combination of pressures. "The pandemic, financial strain, inflation, food insecurity, mental illness and social issues are compounding things for more and more Albertans," said Yager. "And quite frankly, it's created a financial affordability crisis for people in Alberta."
  • Two Old Strathcona residents told the Edmonton Police Commission that the disturbance caused by the Edmonton Police Service's use of the Air 1 helicopter should be reviewed. Theresa Shea told the commissioners that the noise is impacting her quality of life and ability to sleep at night and that despite repeated complaints, the problem is getting worse. "The sonic stress of nighttime aerial surveillance is an avoidable health issue," she said. Mark Anielski said he is concerned about the value the helicopter brings to the city. "If they can't demonstrate that the operating costs are having a verifiable, positive impact in terms of their mission, why are we not holding them to account?" he asked. According to EPS, Air 1 responds to about 3,000 calls each year.
  • The 2022 FIFA World Cup is underway in Qatar and local bars are buzzing in anticipation of Canada's first game at the tournament in 26 years. Many are hosting watch parties for Team Canada's match against Belgium, scheduled for 12pm local time on Nov. 23. "I think Alphonso Davies has really created that buzz in the city," said Scott Krebes of Kelly's Pub. "If Alphonso Davies scores on Wednesday this place is going to be unbelievable."
  • Business owners along 124th Street hope attention from the All Is Bright Festival will help bring in additional foot traffic to the area. The event, which was held Nov. 19 and celebrated its 10-year anniversary, "brings an uptick in traffic (and) it builds awareness of the business community," said Michael Kreuzer, an optometrist at Glasses Half Full. The annual festival is "a way to welcome winter and end the darkness by lighting it up," said Luwam Kiflemariam of the 124 Street Business Association. Bling Gifts and Decor's Kloy Parker is among the business owners looking forward to the holiday season and events. "It's crucial for us — foot traffic is about 80% of our business," Parker said.
  • Transit users can now tap on and off busses and the LRT with the new Arc transit card. Starting Nov. 21 and until supplies last, outreach teams will be handing out free Arc cards at various transit centres and LRT stations. Transit users can also purchase Arc cards at vending machines and through participating retailers.
A black and white dog running in a snowy field

Coming up at council: Nov. 21-25, 2022

By Mack Male

This is the final week of committee meetings for 2022, after which council will focus solely on the 2023-2026 budget, beginning with the public hearing scheduled for Nov. 28 and 29. Community and public services committee meets on Monday, urban planning committee meets on Tuesday, executive committee meets on Wednesday, and utility committee meets on Friday.

Key agenda items include the following:

  • The Edmonton Edge Fund would initially provide $5 million in grants to support local companies — especially early-stage companies in need of capital — that will make investments that drive economic growth and create jobs in Edmonton. Administration proposes that it start and manage the fund while working with partners like Edmonton Unlimited and Edmonton Global to refine and evolve it. An unfunded service package will be brought forward to the 2023-2026 budget discussions.
  • Unmitigated climate change impacts in Edmonton could cause direct costs of about $1 billion per year by the 2050s, according to a research study. While funding requests for climate adaptation will be brought forward for consideration during the upcoming budget deliberations, administration cautions that "nearly all" unconstrained funding will be needed to meet renewal needs, leaving limited funds for new initiatives. Administration estimates investment equivalent to a 3.5% tax increase per year would be required for 2023-2026, not including funding required by EPCOR for flood mitigation.
  • Enhancing the enforcement of excessive vehicle noise would require more than $1.5 million per year for peace officers, dispatchers, vehicles, and other expenses, beginning in the third quarter of 2023. Current fines are $162, but council could increase that to $500.
  • Beginning next year, about 30 new pop-up dog parks on parkland will launch in response to requests for community-led processes and streamlined approaches for establishing off-leash areas. With the pop-up locations open, 85% of neighbourhoods would be within a 15-minute walk of an off-leash area.
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Biologist Catherine Shier in front of a concrete arch over a creekbed with a sign on it reading "Wildlife crossing now open!"

Coming up this week: Nov. 21-25, 2022

By Debbi Serafinchon

This week offers an appreciation of the river valley, as well as opportunities to learn about affordable housing, the geopolitical consequences of the pandemic, and the Christmas Bureau's efforts to share joy. You can also experience some nerdy takes on sex or raise money for neurological rehabilitation.

Find even more listings in Taproot's weekly roundups.

Photo: Biologist Catherine Shier is among the speakers at the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition's online event. (Night Out on the North Saskatchewan)