The Pulse: Jan. 31, 2024

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  • 6°C: Mainly sunny. Wind becoming southeast 20 km/h gusting to 40 late in the morning. High 6. Wind chill minus 8 in the morning. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • Orange/Blue/Red: The High Level Bridge will be lit orange, blue, and red for the 2024 Flying Canoë Volant Festival. (details)

A toddler wearing a blue puffy coat presses a button to unsuccessfully make a shelter door open on the Valley Line LRT system.

Valley Line shelters give riders cold shoulder

By Ashley Lavallee-Koenig

Passengers on Edmonton's months-old $1.8 billion Valley Line LRT system have not been able to use many of the heated and accessible shelters at stations, features that have "never worked properly from day one," according to one observer.

That same rider posted that the issue becomes increasingly unacceptable during extreme weather, such as the cold snap in mid-January. "And now, at -30, it's particularly ridiculous," they wrote on Jan. 11 when temperatures hit 50-year lows.

Ryan Birch, Edmonton Transit Service's director of operations, said those responsible for fixing the shelters recognize the challenges. "TransEd is aware of the issues regarding shelter doors and heaters at some Valley Line Southeast stops, and their maintenance staff continue to conduct repairs as quickly as possible," Birch told Taproot. "It is believed that most of the issues are the result of vandalism."

Under the public-private partnership between TransEd and government partners that include the city, TransEd will operate and maintain the southeast portion of the Valley Line until 2050.

Birch said heater and door controls have had "protective covers and other components (that) were removed by members of the public." Additionally, some sliding doors at shelters were pushed or pulled off their tracks.

TransEd began testing the shelter issues in November. During this testing, they found malfunctioning heaters as well. The heaters have been fixed but the door issues persist. "While most operational issues were addressed (in November), TransEd staff continue to respond to vandalism incidents as they occur," Birch said. "Should these issues continue, TransEd and the city will collaborate on a long-term solution."

Riders gain access to the station shelters by pressing a button that displays a wheelchair. The shelters are an important accessibility feature and this aligns with the city's Corporate Accessibility Plan.

That plan, endorsed by council in 2019 and in place since 2021, helps the city measure how well it implements the Accessibility for People with Disabilities policy. The Valley Line design pre-dates the 2019 plan, said Yogi Subramonian, co-chair of the city's corporate accessibility working committee.

Still, Birch said "accessibility was an important component" in the Valley Line's design. "These stops are designed with clear sight lines, open structures, and accessible connections to the street," he said.

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Headlines: Jan. 31, 2024

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • The City of Edmonton is continuing repair work following the City Hall attack last week, though there is still no timeline for the building's reopening. Executive leadership team meetings are happening online, and virtual council and committee meetings will resume during the week of Feb. 5 after they were cancelled this week. Core services have continued uninterrupted, with most front-line staff still at work last week, the city said in a release. Trauma-informed counsellors have been brought in to support staff who were affected by the attack, which saw gunfire and a Molotov cocktail thrown in the building's atrium. No one was injured, and a security review is underway. In response to the attack, the City of Winnipeg said it will review its own security processes to build a comprehensive security program.
  • The mandatory ban on non-essential water use for Edmonton and surrounding areas is expected to last until Feb. 4 as repairs at the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant continue, EPCOR said. Workers are repairing the electrical system to the distribution pumps that feed the reservoir system. The City of Edmonton has reduced its water use by pausing the non-essential washing of buses, trains, and other city vehicles, and has also suspended street cleaning and tree watering, while residents and businesses are urged to continue conserving water. EPCOR said water consumption fell from an average of 370 million litres per day to 340 million litres per day after the ban was announced.
  • Daycare centres in Alberta, including several in Edmonton, began rolling closures on Jan. 30 as part of a protest organized by the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs against the financial burdens caused by the $10/day child-care program. "This program, in its current state, places an unsustainable strain on the child care industry's ability to serve Alberta families effectively," the association said in a statement. It is asking for emergency funding and a reassessment of the program. In a post on X, Premier Danielle Smith said she will request a meeting with the federal government to "consider changes to the framework that would support operators facing inflationary pressures."
  • Former Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has launched newsletter called Civic Good to share what he's been up to since his time in municipal politics. In his first post, Iveson shared some of the projects he has been working on, including climate adaptation finance with Co-operators Insurance. He has also been involved in housing and homelessness initiatives, serving as co-chair of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, and has set up an advisory practice also called Civic Good.
  • Alberta's Top Employers for 2024 were announced by Mediacorp Canada Inc., including Edmonton International Airport, EPCOR, PRIMED Medical Products, and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation. The selection is based on criteria such as workplace, social atmosphere, benefits, and community involvement. The full list of employers is in a special magazine published by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald.
  • Edmonton NDP MP Blake Desjarlais has requested an emergency debate on the housing and homelessness crisis across Canada, citing the recent emergency declaration passed by Edmonton's city council. "Across Canada, people are struggling to afford basic needs," he wrote in a social media post. "Indigenous people are being pushed out of their community, without cultural or community supports and as a result, are eleven times more likely to be unhoused."
  • Enerkem Inc. announced it will decommission its Enerkem Alberta Biofuels plant in Edmonton after completing the commercial scale-up of its waste-to-biofuels technology. The facility has operated for more than 15,000 hours, producing ethanol and methanol. While the Edmonton plant winds down, Enerkem said it will focus on deploying its technology globally.
A newspaper clipping that reads, "Pamphlets cost him 6 months"

A moment in history: Jan. 31, 1940

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1940, an Edmonton man was sentenced to hard labour for passing out communist literature.

Joseph Eisenbraun Sr. was found guilty of breaking the Defence of Canada regulations, which were brought into effect under the War Measures Act in 1939, right before the country entered the Second World War. The act gave the government extraordinary powers to censor newspapers and radio broadcasts, and to detain anyone who acted "in any manner prejudicial to the public safety or the safety of the state."

In Eisenbraun's case, he received the pamphlets from a man on 96 Street, who offered him six copies to sell to others. Eisenbraun claimed he only sold one, which unluckily happened to be to a detective. The newspaper account doesn't detail what was actually written in the pamphlets (Eisenbraun argued that he didn't "read or write" much and didn't know what they said).

What is clear is that whatever was written on the pamphlets was enough for a judge to label the defendant a "Communist sympathizer" and openly wish he could deport Eisenbraun, a naturalized citizen, back to his native Russia.

Eisenbraun's trial is one of the most striking examples of the anti-communist sentiment that spread through Edmonton (and Canada) at the time. The city had a history of labour activism. Eisenbraun's trial was less than a decade after the Hunger March of 1932, where thousands of people protested to demand changes in the face of increasing poverty and starvation during the Great Depression. Many of those present were involved in communist-supported or aligned organizations, and then-Premier John Brownlee would later claim that "communist propaganda" and not true need were behind most of their demands.

Anti-communist sentiments continued as the war progressed. In 1940, Canada banned about a dozen organizations, claiming they were a detriment to the war effort. While some were said to be aligned with fascism, many were left-wing labour organizations. Among them was the Communist Party itself.

Cases like Eisenbraun showed the government's attempt to crack down on communist ideology, but much of the so-called "Red Scare" in Edmonton came from unofficial sources. Anything that leaned too far into supporting union organization, or anti-war sentiment, risked being labelled as communist propaganda. Take the Chocolate Bar Strike of 1947, which saw hundreds of Edmonton children take to the streets, joining other movements nationwide to protest the rising cost of chocolate bars (going up from five cents to eight.) The protests gained momentum, only to fizzle out after newspapers began claiming the children were being secretly manipulated by communist agitators (for who else could convince children to be passionate about chocolate?)

The federal government lifted some restrictions on speech at the end of the war, but Alberta's provincial government continued attacking what it saw as subversive ideologies. Premier Ernest Manning and the ruling Social Credit party were loudly anti-communist. In 1946, they expanded Alberta's powers to censor films primarily to "eliminate communist thought from Alberta-shown movies." Manning was also quick to label union organizations and potential strikes as being the work of communists eager to sabotage Canadian productivity. These sentiments weren't just empty political rhetoric — they were used to reduce union support, allowing Manning's government to weaken worker strike protections.

Accusations of communism might not carry the same heft they did in the 1940s and 1950s, but the tactic hasn't completely disappeared as a way to dismiss a political opponent, regardless of whether the label fits or not.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.

A title card that reads Taproot Edmonton Calendar:

Happenings: Jan. 31, 2024

By Debbi Serafinchon

Here are some events happening today in the Edmonton area.

And here are some upcoming events to keep in mind:

Visit the beta version of the Taproot Edmonton Calendar for many more events in the Edmonton region.