Published Articles

British forces participate in ‘Operation Prairie Storm’ at CFB Suffield

Originally published in the Bow Island Commentator

British military forces stationed in CFB Suffield, the largest military training range in the Commonwealth, conducted a live fire exercise, dubbed “Operation Prairie Storm,” on May 16.
“A lot of the training we do in the U.K. comes together here and this is where we hope to bring together all the different parts of this battle group,” explained Lt.-Col. Angus Tilney, commander of the King’s Royal Hussars.
“Canada gives us this space in the Prairies that we don’t have in the U.K.”
Tanks, infantry, artillery and engineers were all part of the massive 32-day exercise, which Major Alex Mills says is meant to prepare participants for future deployments overseas.
“We take them away from their creature comforts,” Mills said. “They won’t have mobile phones on the prairie. They’re limited in what they can do (with) regards to their personal life.”
Col. Marcus Evans, British Army Training Unit Suffield commander, says almost 2,000 troops are participating in the training exercise, which is meant to prepare them for battle in a variety of terrains.
“They’re exercising to prepare them to go onto NATO’s frontline, so they’re preparing for war,” said Evans.
“The bottom line is that we have a lead armour battle group here, which is being prepared for future operations.
“Those operations could be high-intensity combat. They’re most likely to deploy to Estonia.
“Estonia is wooded and flat, but the manoeuvre they do here and practicing combined arms, and bringing that concert of arms together is really the same.
“They need to have the same aggressive soldiering styles and techniques that they use anywhere.”
He said northern Estonia has quite a different terrain from the badlands in Suffield, but Ukraine and northern Syria — two other NATO hotspots — are surprisingly similar to the Prairie terrain.
“The British army isn’t so much training for the fight, but for any fight,” said Evans.
Lt.-Col. Simon Smith, who originally hails from the Isle of Wight, agrees that the prairie climate is ideal to help forces train for numerous terrains, which they’re unable to do to the same extent back home.
“The extremes you experience on this training area — extreme heat, extreme dust, just a couple days ago it was extremely cold, and I’m sure we’ll be in for some rain here… That is very similar to what I’ve experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo,” said Smith.
Prairie Storm is the first major exercise of 2018. There will be three more before the winter.

Fire and relations with locals

Fire is a major concern for BATUS. Just last year, CFB Suffield accepted responsibility for a grass fire that killed some cattle at a nearby ranch.
“Prairie grass can catch fire quite easily,” Evans said. “We do use ammunition types that will set fire to the grass. If there’s too many fires, we will reduce the number of ammunition types that will set fire to it.
“But all of us are trained to put out fires … We’ll put out a fire as soon as we see it.”
“By the nature of what we do here, inevitably there will be, especially during the summer exercise season, risk of fire,” Mills said, adding that the troops take a two-day fire training course.
That afternoon, firefighting forces put out a minor grass fire that was started from tank fire.
Evans said that despite last year’s fire, BATUS has a good relationship with nearby ranchers and the Village of Ralston located next door.
“We are guests in the prairie here,” said Mills. “The (BATUS) has been here since 1972 and we want to continue that relationship with the local community.
“We take every single measure to prevent those fires from spreading.”

The future of BATUS

BATUS will be in existence until at least 2022.
Evans said some American brigades are looking to train in Suffield as soon as 2021.
However, the long-term future of BATUS is up in the air.
“The British army is reviewing what it needs to do in terms of training its troops,” he said.
“We’re looking to achieve defence engagement around the world and to train in different environments, so we’re always looking at training in Europe, training in the Middle East and we’re looking at training in North America, in both Canada and the U.S.”
Poland, Estonia and Germany, as well as Amman, Jordan, and California are distinct possibilities for future training.
It’s also possible that they stay in Suffield.
“By the end of the year, we’ll probably have an announcement about what takes us beyond 2022,” said Evans.

Community News, Entertainment, Published Articles

Blues at the Bow celebrates 25 years

Originally published in the Bow Island Commentator

San Francisco-Bay area bluesman Roy Rogers made the trek up to Blues at the Bow to celebrate its 25th anniversary on May 12 in front of a sold out audience.
“It’s great to be back here. It’s one of my favourite places to play,” said Rogers. “I’m honoured … An anniversary gig like this, it’s an accomplishment to be recognized.”
This was his fourth time playing the Bow, which he said he loves playing due to its intimacy compared with clubs in bigger cities, like Calgary or Los Angeles.
“These are the kind of gigs where everybody’s just up close and personal, and as much as I play big cities, it’s fun to play for people who have their own community and there’s a different vibe about it,” he said.
“That vibe translates to the musicians on stage and you feel like you’re all part of it. Sometimes if you’re playing larger venues elsewhere, you can be kind of removed from the audience and you have to work a little harder to make it happen.”
Rogers says he got into the blues as a teenager, listening to B.B. King, and then he heard Robert Johnson’s slide guitar, which sealed the deal for him.
“That was it. When I heard slide guitar, that said it all for me,” he said.
“It’s a very expressive way to play and it’s become my signature way of playing.”
Rogers was attracted to the blues for its emotive potential.
“I want music to move me,” he said. “It’s not about how complex it is, necessarily, it’s if it moves you or it doesn’t.
“The blues moves me most of all, because you’re hearing the passion of someone … When you’re listening to a John Lee Hooker or a Howlin’ Wolf or somebody like that, if you’re not moved, there’s something wrong with you.”
Rogers has himself collaborated with John Lee Hooker and Sammy Hagar from Van Halen, as well as recording three albums with Ray Manzarek from The Doors.
He also worked on the soundtrack for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976.
Steve Ell, Blues at the Bow’s business manager, has been involved with the venue since the beginning, first as a regular attendee and then as a board member since 2008.
“Who would have thought, right here in Bow Island, an old shut-down theatre? It was a whim of a couple guys who had a dream and believed in it.
“They went through and tried it, and they said, ‘Yeah, okay. This is cool, but it’s probably not going to last forever.’ But it just keeps going.”
Ell attributes this continuing success to Blues at the Bow having found a niche market in southern Alberta, attracting not just locals, but attendees from Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Taber.
“We’re out here in the middle of nowhere with a dedication to the blues and it attracts people,” he said.
“The atmosphere is really good when this place fills up with people, it’s unique. I’m in this area and I come in here and it’s a little bit of escapism.
“I walk in and it’s like being in a downtown Vancouver nightclub, not little old Bow Island.”

Canadian Politics (Provincial), Published Articles

Local MLA apologizes after comparing NDP victory to deadly tsunami

Originally published in the Westwind Weekly

Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter has apologized after coming under fire for comparing the NDP’s 2015 election victory to the 2004 southeast Asian tsunami that killed thousands.
“I in no way meant to trivialize the human suffering of the 2004 tsunami,” Hunter said in a statement.
“If my statement came across that way, I sincerely apologize.”
The comments came during his Feb. 26 announcement that he will seek the nomination for the new Taber-Warner riding, which includes Bow Island, Foremost, Taber, Coaldale, Raymond and Stirling.
Hunter had recently returned from a trip to southeast Asia, which he said reminded him of the devastating tsunami.
“Two-and-a-half ago, there was another type of disaster that happened in Alberta,” he said, referring to the NDP victory.
Government House Leader Brian Mason directly addressed Hunter’s remarks in a March 1 media scrum.
“I’m very concerned about the comments made by MLA Grant Hunter comparing the election of this government to the tsunami that took place a number of years ago in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people,” he said.
“It killed people from dozens of countries, including Canadians. And to trivialize that by comparing it to the election of a government that he doesn’t like, I think is an insult to those people and those communities.”
This isn’t the first time Hunter has gotten into hot water over insensitive remarks, Mason added.
Last year, Hunter signed a letter circulated by then-Wildrose caucus colleague Rick Strankman comparing the NDP’s carbon tax with Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine that is considered by many to be a genocidal act.
Mason called on UCP leader Jason Kenney to distance himself from Hunter.
“Mr. Kenney promised Albertans that he would end ‘bozo eruptions’ in the UCP caucus,” he said.
“He’s clearly failed to do that and I think that he needs to step up and apologize, and take steps to ensure that these types of disgraceful and insulting comments from his MLAs cease.”

Community News, Environment, Municipal Politics, Published Articles

Redcliff council narrowly rejects curbside recycling

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

Redcliff town council voted by a razor-thin margin at its Monday evening meeting to oppose a motion in favour of curbside recycling supported by Mayor Dwight Kilpatrick.

The 4-3 vote was also supported by councillors Cathy Crozier and Eric Solberg.

The contract negotiated with Can Pak to introduce curbside recycling and garbage collection would have saved the town 7.7 per cent in costs during its first year, raising to 22 per cent by 2028, according to figures provided by administration at the previous meeting.

Coun. Larry Leipert, who was the first to speak against the recycling proposal, dismissed these figures as “a lowball price.”

He said the vast majority of his constituents he spoke with wanted to retain the current system.

Coun. Chriz Czember, who told the News he was on the fence until Monday afternoon, said although he opposes this particular proposal, he wants to see recycling come to Redcliff sooner than later.

“A lot of residents tell me that they’re willing to spend a few more dollars for it,” he said. “If that makes more people happy, I’m fine with that too.”

Czember said his major concern with the contract was it didn’t sufficiently address the issue of composting, but also added that many of his constituents feared such a major change to trash collection.

“This is a big, drastic change real quick. (It was) very shocking to people,” he said. “If we can go about it more subtly, even in a few years go to this system, I’d be OK with that.”

Crozier said she used the opportunity at the previous Alberta Urban Municipalities Association meeting to speak with representatives from other municipalities on their experiences with introducing recycling.

All the other municipalities began with a centralized recycling depot, only to replace it with curbside at an increased cost.

“They started out with the depots and abandoned them, because to have recycling, you have to mail it, you have to store it, and then you have to try to sell it,” she said. “A lot of them were selling it, but at a loss.”

Solberg said he can relate to residents who are attached to their current back-alley garbage bins, but that it’s more important in the long term to modernize the system by adopting curbside recycling.

“I’m 100 per cent for recycling,” he said. “If the community, as it stands, wants to pay more to keep their waste bins and to not force people to recycle, it will have an impact.

“Our impact will be on the environment, will be on the community and will be on future residents.”

Book Review, Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Environment, Published Articles

From revolving door to revolution in the patch

Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

Why are ostensibly environmentally friendly governments, like the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP, still so attached to oil sands extraction, with its disproportionate impact on carbon emissions? Former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft has an answer in his recent book, Oil’s Deep State (Lorimer, September 2017), and it’s one that many Canadians and Albertans will find unsettling.

Taft argues that the oil and gas industry has developed a stranglehold over federal and provincial governments, as well as large swaths of academia and the media, corroding Canadians’ ability to meaningfully address the threat of climate change. Ispoke with Taft about his analysis, how we got to this point and what the future holds for oil’s deep state.

Jeremy Appel: When we hear about the deep state it’s usually a reference to the power elite running the show in Washington, D.C., despite Trump’s alleged goal to “drain the swamp” of corporate influence. What do you mean by the term in your book?

Kevin Taft: When I finished the manuscript, the term “deep state” hadn’t hit the popular agenda very much yet. In fact, it was a concern of mine and the publisher’s that the term wouldn’t really resonate with people.

It’s a term that goes back to the 1970s and has been used commonly in Europe, Turkey, the United States and Canada. What’s happened in the U.S. since the Trump election is that the far-right has grabbed and torqued the term “deep state” for their own purposes, and that’s what happens with political language, unfortunately.

I tried to bring some theory to the idea of a deep state by connecting it to the notion of capture. There’s a long history of literature studying how democratic institutions get captured by private interests. The question I had is, what happens when a whole series of democratic institutions are captured and held by the same private interests?

What happens when the governing party, the opposition party, the regulators, the civil service, universities, for example, are all captured and held by the same private interest? I argue at that point you have a state within a state, which I call a deep state.

How did the non-renewable energy industry get so powerful in Canada in general, and in Alberta in particular?

It was a very slow process in Alberta. The oil industry here has been active for 100 years and gradually built strength. A key variable for Alberta is that we have a comparatively small population, so all of Alberta together has less people than metropolitan Phoenix or Seattle, and we own the third largest oil reserves on the planet. This little population of Albertans owns more oil than all of Russia or all of the United States.

It’s an overwhelmingly large resource for such a small population. As that resource is being developed, especially the oil sands, the economic weight of that has bent our democratic society into a warped shape. It gives immense power to the private interests who have managed to gain control of that resource.

It’s very difficult for a government to manage a resource as large as the oil sands without losing control of the resource. I think that the only country who’s done that really effectively is Norway. We had a chance. In his first term or two, Peter Lougheed actually stood up and waged a struggle with the oil industry. He wrestled a lot of control away from the industry and into the hands of the people who actually own the resource, which is the government and people of Alberta.

Those successes of the early Lougheed years began to decline in the later 1980s, and Ralph Klein’s election in 1992 led to a compete abdication of control of our oil resources, turning it over to the private sector. We’re going to pay a price for that.

What happened in the intervening years, from Lougheed’s battle with the industry to Klein’s subservience to it?

There was a broad shift in the social-democratic discourse through the 1980s. You had the rise, generally in the English-speaking world, of the right. You had Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. and Ronald Reagan in the U.S., as well as the Chicago school of economics, who became champions of markets and the private sector.

That was combined with a slowing in Alberta’s economy in the later 1980s and then a very deliberate and successful attempt, starting in the very late ‘80s and through the 1990s, by people in the industry, to take command of the Alberta government.

You had, for example, a whole series of energy and finance and other cabinet ministers coming from the oil industry, spending a couple of terms in cabinet and then going back to the industry. It’s no surprise that those people took the royalty and regulatory systems and turned them to the benefit of the industry.

How did your personal experience in Alberta politics inform your analysis?

My experience had a profound shaping of my view. When I left politics [in 2012], I really left it completely. It was a couple of years after I left that I was invited by a university in Australia to give some serious thought to the relationship between fossil fuels and democracy.

As I began reading, thinking and studying the theory, I realized that everywhere I looked, when I was in office, the oil industry was right there. Whether they were lobbying me, or when I walked over to the legislature they’d be lobbying the government, financing the political parties, funding the universities. Everywhere I turned, there would be the oil industry.

When you’re in the middle of it, that just seems normal. But after a couple years away, and doing more serious thinking, I realized it was the oil industry that was running Alberta, not the people of Alberta.

We have to remember the interests of the oil industry are not the same as the interests of the people of Alberta. That’s something Peter Lougheed said over and over again. The people of Alberta have to think like owners and we stopped doing that in the early 1990s. We’ve given up one of the most valuable resources on the planet.

More recently, Ed Stelmach attempted to raise royalty rates and the industry responded by shifting its financial support from his PC party to the upstart Wildrose. What does this tell us about the machinations of oil’s deep state?

Behind the scenes there’s a very well-orchestrated campaign by the oil industry to control the public agenda. The backstory to the rise of the Wildrose party is part of that.

I spend the first two chapters of the book talking about oil lobbyist and former Stephen Harper adviser Bruce Carson’s court case in Ottawa. All the documents, emails, bank statements and minutes tabled lay bare some of the behind-the-scenes efforts, and millions of dollars spent, by the oil industry to get a grip on the civil service, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the political system, through cabinet ministers and prime ministers, top civil servants, the universities and provincial governments.

Of course, the public would never have a clue that that happened if a court case hadn’t allowed the police to actually seize these documents and computers, and present the evidence in court. When I read through all those filings, it’s just stunning to see how systematically the oil industry works to orchestrate the public agenda, whether it’s pipelines, approval of oilsands expansion, undermining environmental initiatives.

This is not random chance. You can trace this back to a core, which is the command centre of the oil deep state in Canada—the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

What’s the way out of this situation?

Change in Alberta is going to be forced from outside. That change is going to come in a few forms.

One is that a very rapid shift in energy technology is going to unfold in the next decade. It takes away a good part of the market for Alberta oil, which will unfortunately bring Alberta’s economy to its knees, creating a political crisis in this province.

Another way out is the kinds of citizen actions that we’re seeing across the country and around the world—the actions of First Nations, court actions challenging the pipelines and escalating civil disobedience.

Frankly, a form of energy revolution is coming that will put the end to the oil industry, but that’s not going to be clean and tidy. It’s going to be a long and messy process.

Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Opinion, Published Articles

Drug addiction should be a health, not criminal issue

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

Canada is currently in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis.

The two most western provinces and territories — British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories — have been hit especially hard, likely due to their relative proximity to China, where much of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl is produced.

According to Government of Canada statistics from 2016, B.C. and Yukon each had more than 15 opioid overdoses per 100,000 people, while Alberta and N.W.T. each had between 10 and 14.9 overdoses per 100,000 people.

This epidemic had led to a recognition in some quarters that the current approach of criminalizing drug use hasn’t been remotely effective in preventing deaths.

Safe injection sites, which will soon be coming to Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge are a positive development in handling opioid addiction as a health, rather than criminal, matter, but if we want to address the root cause of drug overdoses, we ought to take the bold step of decriminalizing drug use full stop.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh acknowledged this bitter reality when he said that personal drug use should be treated as a “social justice” rather than “criminal justice” matter.

Critics will say that decriminalizing drugs normalizes their use, but this objection misses the mark.

Decriminalizing drugs, as opposed to legalizing them, simply shifts the burden of dealing with them from police officers and lawyers to public health officials.

When people are physically addicted to substances like heroin or fentanyl, illegality is not going to stop them from using.

The question is whether they’re going to share needles, and risk contracting HIV, buy impure drugs off the streets to get their fix, risking a fentanyl overdose, or engage in other criminal activities to get money for their addiction.

Decriminalization allows public health officials — people who actually study drugs and their effects — the latitude to deal with the opioid crisis in the most effective way possible.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, arguably the epicentre of Canada’s opioid crisis, has taken this approach.

Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic not only provides opioid users with a place to do their drugs safely, but also prescribes them free medical doses to avoid overdoses and allow addicts to spend their money on necessities.

Naturally, there are many people uncomfortable with giving addicts their fix, but once one thinks about drug abuse as a health issue, it’s a perfectly sensible approach.

It’s not as if anyone can walk into the Crosstown Clinic and receive free heroin. They must demonstrate a need.

These are people who tried heroin alternatives like suboxone and methadone and still couldn’t get clean.

Not only does this program prevent needless deaths, but it allows the most severe addicts to function as members of society, rather than outcasting them as criminals and junkies.

Drug policy is in the federal government’s jurisdiction, so the provinces are somewhat constrained, but the Crosstown Clinic shows that municipal governments, with the province’s blessing, can do more to address the opioid crisis.

The Alberta Government acknowledges the need for harm reduction in its opioid crisis response, which includes safe consumption sites, peer support and drug substitution therapy.

This is a solid first step in the right direction, but the Alberta NDP should take the bold next step and do what it can as a provincial government to stop treating addicts as criminals.

If enough provinces take B.C.’s approach, then the federal government, which already supports supervised consumption sites, will take note and hopefully take steps towards reducing the bloated Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Canadian Politics (Provincial), Crime, Human Interest, Published Articles

App will tell you all photo radar locations in major Alberta cities

Originally published in the Medicine Hat News

A University of Alberta computing science student has developed an app to track photo radar enforcement in major municipalities across the province, including the Hat.

Benjamin Lavin said his app was originally geared toward Edmonton, but in the past few weeks it has expanded to the city’s suburbs and other major cities — Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray and Medicine Hat.

“It started because I had heard that Edmonton had started releasing its photo radar information online,” he said. “I wanted to set a challenge myself to see if I could take this information and put it into a more usable format for people.”

In the Hat, photo radar locations are also published in the News.

“Once I launched it here in Edmonton I started getting emails from people all over the country asking if I would consider expanding the app into their city.

“I figured that expanding it to the rest of Alberta would be a good first expansion step.”

Developing the app provided Lavin with the opportunity to put his computing science skills into practice.

“It’s all information that the various cities publish online,” he said. “This is really just aggregating all of this information and putting it into a more useful format.”

The app is crowdfunded, meaning it’s free, but users can make voluntary donations.

“I wanted to design it as a public service, so it is a free app for iOS and Android, because I wanted as many people to use it as possible,” said Lavin.

MHPS concerned with distracted driving

Sgt. Clarke White of the MHPS Traffic Unit has no objection to aggregating publicly-available photo radar data, but expressed his concern that an app of this sort could contribute to more distracted driving.

“We’re not trying to hide anything, we’re just trying to use the (photo radar) to slow down motorists, regardless of where it’s sitting. We want the behaviours to change.

“My biggest concern with it would be the added distraction that the device is creating,” said White, adding that reducing distracted driving is one of the traffic unit’s top safety priorities.

“We all know that (when) that device buzzes or dings, it’s going to draw your eyes towards it.”