Despite the inevitable hint that an increase in the Bank of Canada’s rate is in the country’s future, this past Wednesday the bank’s Governor, Mark Carney, announced that the one percent rate will stand. The bank also hinted at an economic forecast that was not as optimistic as before.
That economic prediction is one of the reasons for Bank of Canada keeping its low interest rate. Carney labeled the inflation numbers as muted. As well, other considerations included household imbalances being more constructive and the needed monetary stimulus. The latter will most likely be slowly withdrawn over time.
Carney maintained that three factors are an upside to the current interest rate risk. One is for the United States and the world economy at large to show a better than predicted growth. Another is for Canadian imports to see a sharp rebound and lastly, Canadians may pick up the pace as far as investment in residential properties.
Looking at downside risks, one is the European economy, it could become more unstable. Another is on home turf, where businesses in Canada see a less than stellar performance in the export and investment markets. Also, slower growth in household spending could have a negative effect.
Currently the prediction is for Canada to see a growth of roughly 2.5 percent during the latter half of 2013. But, growth in the last six months of 2012 was weaker than expected, putting projections for a yearly growth figure at 1.5 percent. In 2014 the prediction is for 2.8 percent with the following year showing 2.7 percent. The Canadian economy is expected to be back to normal gains by mid-2015., slightly later than predicted in the policy report released this past January.
For now, the Bank of Canada’s decision to keep the benchmark rate at its current 1 percent means that mortgage rates, and other borrowing rates, will be low. There is still some concern over household debt loads.
Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister, recently made the unprecedented move of contacting the Bank of Montreal as well as Manulife Financial to dissuade them from proceeding with offers of low interest rates. On May 29th the Bank of Canada will provide an update on the economic and inflation factors, as well as plans for interest rates.
Statistics Canada just released their latest New Home Price Index report. It showed that for January of this year, prices were up by 2.2 percent compared to the same month in 2012.
The increase is largely attributed to gains in metro Toronto and Oshawa, which collectively saw an increase in sales prices of 4.2 percent. Other areas of the country that did well included Winnipeg, with a 5.9 percent increase, St. Catharine-Niagara, coming in with at 3.4 percent increase, Calgary climbing 3.3 percent and Regina gaining 3.2 percent.
Twenty-one metro areas were included in the survey. Of those, four showed price declines. Victoria, on Vancouver Island, saw the highest decrease, at 2.2 percent. Vancouver came in next at 0.9 percent. The Vancouver area has seen declines for the last 12 months when compared on an annual basis. Charlottetown was third on that list with a 0.6 percent decrease. Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, all in New Brunswick, collectively showed a 0.5 percent decline.
Looking at a month to month comparison, the index showed a one percent increase in January, while December of 2012 logged a 0.2 percent increase. Calgary and Toronto/Oshawa did the best in this comparison. Statscan contributed the numbers in Calgary to higher prices for labour and materials. The Toronto/Oshawa region’s numbers were influenced by the market conditions.
The City of Edmonton reported last Thursday that ridership on the city’s transport system in 2012 continued to show an increase over the prior year. That trend has been going on for the last ten years. Ridership on the LRT and Edmonton Transit System coaches went up by 3.1 percent compared to 2011. The number of trips made on the system increased from 80.3 million in 2011 to 82.8 million last year. Boardings of LRT trains increased by roughly1.8 percent last year and overall the LRT boarding numbers have increased two-fold during the last decade.
Edmonton is singling out the increase in population as the main factor in those increases, along with improving services and more effective marketing. Bob Boutilier, Transportation Manager, noted the transit system is efficient, reliable and offers an environmentally favorable transport alternative. As residents become more aware of these facts they are trying the system out and liking it.
During 2012, the Edmonton Transportation Service made marked improvements in transit service. They increased the number of after hour’s runs on the busier routes and added new routes. One of the more popular routes includes one from West Edmonton Mall to Mill Woods. Marketing programs have also seen positive changes, including the ETS@Work program. This allows employers to offer employees discounted bus pass rates. Another program, the U-Pass allows post secondary students easier access to the LRT and bus systems.
After experiencing unusually warm weather during this past week, Strathcona County officials have decided to put out a thin ice warning. Snow on city streets has been steadily melting, with the runoff going into the storm drains and into nearby ponds. The extra water volume has eroded the ice, making some of it decidedly unsafe.
Strathcona County residents are used to making an impromptu hockey rink on these storm ponds, but it is just too dangerous. The ice thickness itself is not monitored, but the warning signs have gone up. Parents should be teaching their children about ice safety and keeping them off the tempting but too thin ice sheets.
Those who like to toboggan down the hills at Clarkdale, Woodbridge and Broadmoor parks might rethink their plans. It’s possible that their momentum might have them skidding out onto the frozen ponds. The ponds at Woodbridge and Broadmoor have already been closed.
Recent tests show that at Broadmoor there was roughly two inches of water sitting between the ice and new snow. That new snow, which is heavy, has insulated the ice and is causing a slow freeze, adding even more weight to the situation. The original ice sheet is cracking and moving, with water covering the ice sheet. Conditions are unsafe and unstable. Woodbridge pond, under maintenance, was closed prior to Broadmoor.
Outdoor ice skating rinks are still available for use, thanks to Strathcona County. To find out where to go or for other information call the county number at 1 780 467 2211 or go online to www.strathcona.ca/recreation.
Sherwood Park needs employees, specifically in the retail and industrial sectors. That is true of many areas in Alberta and neighboring Saskatchewan, currently provinces with the largest numbers of available jobs within Canada. In Alberta alone, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business notes that there are, province-wide, roughly 54,000 vacant jobs.
Called the Help Wanted report, it takes account of all unfilled jobs per province, while at the same time looking at things like population, city size and the number and size of business. It also looks at the types of businesses in the area. Part of their research includes canvassing city streets to see how many Help Wanted signs are posted.
Sherwood Park is on the high end as far as job vacancies go, according the Gerry Gabinet, who is the director of Economic Development and Tourism. The number of available jobs has increased by between 20 and 30 percent over the same time in 2011. New developments such as the Emerald Hills mall have helped increase the need for retail help. All of this new development is part of the booming economy created by the energy and industrial sectors, sort of an offshoot of those industries. Some companies are recruiting employees from Edmonton.
The agency takes into account vacancies that have been open for a minimum of four months. Stats show that job vacancies have been steadily increasing in Strathcona County, and Alberta in general, since the recession in 2009. One indicator of the situation is when the iconic Tim Horton’s closes down from 12 am until 6 am. The usually open 24/7 chain hasn’t done so in that area since 2007.
Retail and hospitality positions are open in Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo as well, with skilled laborers also being seriously needed in oil country.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC for short, is predicting a moderation in the housing market for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013, at least as far as new homes are concerned. Existing homes are expected to see sales hold steady which will help to increase prices to align with or a bit below the inflation rate.
The global economic climate is expected to weaken and the number of pre-sales that led to increased housing starts this past year is decreasing. This will mean fewer housing starts in 2013. That decrease will be moderate though, buoyed up by a strong employment growth and a net migration of those needing housing.
In 2012, there is expected to be between 210,800 and 216,000 housing starts by the end of the year. CMHC places the target forecast at 213,700 starts. Looking at 2013, the range is between 177,300 and 209,900 units with the target forecast at 193,600 starts.
CMHC is expecting between 449,000 and 465,000 homes to be sold by the end of 2012, with the forecast at 457,400 homes sold. As far as 2013, the range is expected to be between 433,300 and 489,700 homes, with the target sales forecast at 461,500.
Pricing by the end of 2012 is expected to see a 0.2 percent increase, coming in at $365,100 per unit. By the end of 2013, housing prices are expecting a 1.5 percent increase, coming in at $370,000 per unit. Both forecasts are midpoint targets for the respective years.
Strathcona County can add another feather to its town cap. At the 2012 Communities in Bloom program, the county placed first in the Class of Champions category. The achievement was recognized at the nationwide ceremonies held from October 10-13. Strathcona got the five bloom rating, the highest offered, with Beaver Hills and its initiative getting special recognition by judges Berta Briggs and Maurice Baren.
Beaver Hills was praised for its natural beauty, life style and environmentally friendly initiative. The area has focused on keeping the quality of its water, air and natural resources healthy by “going green” wherever possible. Beaver Hills has already been recognized on many fronts and has been nominated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Also getting that prized five bloom rating was the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in the special attraction category. The art display at Kurelek also got a special mention in the Community Artwork, Private Collections category.
The Mayor’s Reception, held on October 10th, and hosted by Linda Osinchuk, Strathcona County’s mayor, saw the Flag Exchange and the start of the Communities in Bloom Symposium. The 125 volunteers were commended for their efforts and congratulated on their wins. The community was also praised for its civic pride, communal involvement and for its environmental efforts.
Competition for Strathcona County came from Medicine Hate, Lethbridge, Fort St. John in British Columbia, Charlottetown in PEI and Barrie, Ontario.
The Canadian real estate market is becoming increasingly appealing to both domestic and international interests. The stock market is still volatile, which leads more people to turn to real estate as an investment choice. Even those who do have stocks that are performing on the plus side may be pulling out at least some of that money to put into real estate. Then there are those who want to beef up their portfolios generated by REITs. All of this means more competition for those investment opportunities you have your eye on. There are ways for you to do a bit of real estate sleuthing and make sure you aren’t left out of the investment market.
Sometimes properties are listed on Realtor.ca, for residential, and ICX.ca for commercial items. These listing services are sometimes the only place you can find a particular lead on a listing and smart investors are regularly checking out these venues. The downfall is that most of your competition is clued into this scenario. The properties often get offers within days, if not hours, of being listed and are often quickly sold. It requires a lot of diligent searching to be successful.
It’s best to not rely solely on these sources to find property. Networking with mortgage brokers, realtors, lawyers and accountants can help you get a leg up on deals. You usually have to be in the business for a while before you build up a healthy network, but it is something to works towards. If you are new to property investing, consider going to commercial realty websites for information. Keeping abreast of investment property publications will also help keep you in the loop.
Some owners putting their commercial properties on the market do so with commercial realtors. These exclusive listings mean that the listing agent takes the full commission on the sale. Other realtors have no interest in trying to market these properties, so that cuts way down on the competition. As an investor, your job is to seek out these commercial listings, which in the modern age usually means checking out that agent’s website. These websites tend to be quite informative about all of their offerings and usually offer registration so you can get updates on listings as they go online. Sign up with as many of these agents as possible to enhance your investment property search.
Two of the best investment property publications to get your hands on are The Commercial Investor and The Business Exchange. These magazines are filled with listings, separated by geographic region and a number of informative articles. The Business Exchange also has its own website, but many people prefer getting the magazine. Both magazines are free and available in many newsstands and other public places throughout the country. Issues are published monthly.
All of these suggestions will help you increase your property investment opportunities. By using sources other than the public listing services, you will cut down the competition and give yourself a leg up on your investment real estate career.
The debt level among consumers in Canada is the highest seen within the last ten years. Trans Union’s VP of analytics, Thomas Higgins, noted that this situation is unique. It is rather unsettling to see such a high amount of consumer debt on the books. At the same time these same consumers seem to be handling this debt load more efficiently. Looking at the major credit venues nationwide, the delinquency levels have decreased.
Higgins believes this will be the case as long as the low interest rates continue, and those consumers take advantage of the situation. TransUnion noted that in the second quarter of 2012, the average debt load, excluding mortgages, was at $26,221. That is a 0.74 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 2.41 increase from the same quarter in 2011. Average debt on credit cards decreased. The increase was largely attributed to auto loans.
TransUnion also noted that the results for the second quarter of 2012 were the highest seen since they started tracking debt loads in 2004. At the same time default and delinquency levels remain low.
For those investing in property that is good news. It means that more consumers are able to handle modest increases in rents. At the same time, those consumers will be more likely to keep renting rather than purchase a home, at least until those debt loads decrease.
Investors wanting to get into the real estate game might want to consider the commercial market. Interest rates are still low and an increased demand for business rental property is causing rent rates to trend upward.
Senior economist Earl Sweet with BMO Capital Markets noted that the current market is nothing like the dismal 1990s when the commercial market saw a downturn that was long lasting and all out disturbing. Sweet notes that higher employment numbers, increased business ventures in a number of industries is increasing office, retail and industrial space demands. Established businesses are also looking to expand or upgrade their existing space as well.
The results of this demand are drawing those with deep and not so deep pockets into the commercial real estate game. One factor is that vacancy rates in many metropolitan centres are lower than they’ve ever been. The balance sheets of developers and their construction partners have been exceedingly healthy. Combine this with low interest rates and smart lending practices and it is no wonder people are getting interested.
Owner occupied commercial real estate is also going strong. Demand for this type of space just keeps on increasing. Often these owners help defray costs by leasing out a part of their properties. Senior vice-president Steve Murphy from BMO Bank of Montreal noted that this is a good time for businesses wanting to invest in their own properties to step up while that “sweet spot” is still in sight.
The Canadian real estate market is still going strong, even though in the second quarter of this year IPOs, or initial public offerings, did stall somewhat. At the same time REITs were still enjoying a continued popularity.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange there were only two IPOs initiated during that quarter, both trusts for the real estate sector. On all the Canadian exchanges for the first six months there were a total of 32 new ones. Equity generated totaled $220 million, which is quite a bit lower than the first half of 2011. In that year there were 34 IPOs generating $1.4 billion.
Dean Braunsteiner, who is a leader with the IPO services, noted that REITs were the lone star performers in the investment pool during that second quarter. Yields gained from real estate investments are continuing to be popular.
Braunsteiner noted that the decrease from last year can be attributed to the European economic situation, commodity prices softening around the globe and market volatility. This has kept some investors, and those issuing the offerings, cautious. Another disappointment was the Facebook IPO in the United States. That did not ignite those involved in the technology sector during that time period.
The price of oil and some commodities have dropped in price, so companies in those sectors, normally quite active, are slow to create new issues. Braunsteiner noted that for the most part the market will be cautious for the next few months. There are still some IPOs revolving around the Keystone pipeline to the United States, but when they are issued depends on when that pipeline is approved and finally underway.
Not so long ago it was the sky-high prices and hot real estate market in Vancouver, British Columbia that was influencing national real estate pricing averages. According to Statistics Canada, that honour now falls to the healthy real estate markets in both Toronto/Oshawa and Edmonton.
Nationally, new home prices increased 0.2 percent this past April, following a 0.3 percent increase in March. True enough; the rise in April was a bit below the predicted 0.3 percent, but still in positive territory. That is also 2.5 percent above that seen in March of 2011.
The Toronto/Oshawa contribution to those numbers stems from a condominium boom currently underway in that region. Prices went up 0.3 percent in April over the prior March, and 5.9 percent when compared to the same time period in 2011.
On the downside, some are concerned about the number of condos, many of them of the luxury variety, that remain empty, perhaps hinting at a potential crash. The low interest rates are still helping Canada’s real estate market, but outside of the Toronto area, it does appear that prices are gradually cooling down.
The Bank of Canada has decided to leave interest rates alone, at least for now. It will remain at the current one percent. The bank noted that the global economy is in a weakened state, and though Canada’s national economy is healthy it remains relatively unchanged.
The bank also stopped issuing warnings about debt levels and how it was urgent to get a handle on that problem. Insiders believe that change in plans indicates that things are uncertain enough to keep the interest rate low until sometime in 2013.
While on the surface that appears to be good news, some mortgage firms were a bit concerned that the lack of increase may prompt the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to make substantial changes to current mortgage underwriting guidelines. The changes would make banks and lenders even more accountable for their decisions on lending, and perhaps cause problems for current borrowers. The OSFI will release their report by the end of June.
Across much of Canada, real estate markets are considered healthy and in stable territory. Even better, homeowners throughout the country are at ease with the mortgages they are carrying. Some are working to reduce those mortgages by making lump-sum and/or additional payments, refinancing to take advantage of lower mortgage interest rates or cutting down their amortization times, thus cutting down on interest costs.
Homeowners are well aware of the debt load they are carrying. The media has no doubt affected their opinions, but that is stimulating positive action. Roughly 50 percent of Canadian mortgage holders are paying $100 or more over their stipulated mortgage payments. If they do refinance, then many continue making the higher payments, which go towards the principal rather than interest.
Of the 5.85 million Canadians with a mortgage, 1.35 million have increased their payments, voluntarily, within the past year. Another 19 percent have put lump-sum amounts towards the mortgage and another ten percent have used both of these tactics to get their mortgages down. The average over monthly payment amount was roughly $400 to $425 per month. Lump-sum payments averaged out to $12,500 for the year.
Nearly 75 percent of those who renewed mortgages last year (2011) saw lower interest rates. The average percentage is now roughly 3.88 percent on fixed rate mortgages, which is considerably lower than the usual five-year term of 5.37 percent. Homeowner’s amortization rates, those from 2008 onwards, average 22.8 years, while before that period amortizations averaged 31.9 years.
All of the above measures are making a difference as far as the level of personal debt is concerned. And Canadians are taking the debt load issue seriously. A survey by CAAMP noted that across Canada, homeowners surveyed averaged a score of 7.3 percent on the concern meter when considering debt nationwide. On a personal basis, that average dropped to 5.2 percent. The meter shows a rating of between 0 and 10.
Find out if you have the perfect property manager by following a few simple steps. First, tag along on one of your manager’s inspections of a rented unit. If it is in poor shape, chances are those inspections are lacking. Make sure the number of people listed as renters matches the number of actual occupants. Check renting rates on similar properties in your area to make sure the price point used by your property manager is in the ballpark. Periodically look at management statements to see if rents are paid, that expenses and rental rates are reasonable. Then talk to the tenants for some feedback on your property manager’s performance.
Shell Canada contributed $350,000 towards the building of an emergency response training center at Heartland Hall. The money went to Strathcona County Emergency Services (SCES). Fire Chief Darrell Reid accepted the first check of $15,000, presented by Barry Klein with Scotford Manufacturing. That money will go toward the design and engineering of the outdoor training facility.
The project is estimated to cost $1.59 million and will go up in two phases, beginning in 2013. Council must still approve the plan with the 2013 budget. Reid noted that at present people must travel to places such as Vermilion and South Carolina to get the proper training. Having a facility right south of Heartland Hall would make training easier, less expensive and more convenient.
Training at the center would include search and rescue skills in industrial settings, industrial fire-fighting, firefighter self-rescue programs and technical rescue training. Some training, such as live burn scenarios, would have to be taught elsewhere to not affect the surrounding communities.
The idea is to create a cul-de-sac, with training buildings surrounding it. These buildings and props will provide various training challenges. By the time it is complete, Strathcona County will have a world class facility. Mayor Linda Osinchuk and various council members attended the ceremony and thanked Shell Canada for their support.
As Canada’s real estate market heats up, most Canadians thinking of getting into the housing market are hesitant to participate in the inevitable bidding wars. Almost 75 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by BMO (Bank of Montreal) noted they had no interest in pursuing such a battle.
Of that remaining 25 percent, most preferred to keep the sparing to the absolute minimum. About half of that 25 percent weren’t willing to go more than10 percent over the asking price, while the rest thought that 20 percent was their top figure. But, depending on the market you are looking in, those percentages could well bite the dust in an area that is competitive.
This past March, real estate sales across Canada were at their highest peak since April of 2010. Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto were on top of the pack, and the most competitive markets. Toronto prices have gone up 11 percent, to an average sale price of $504,000. The average sales price nationally is $369,000.
Vancouver, which despite a cooling trend, is still a hot ticket, with the average home price at almost $762,000. One recent property had 32 bids, not unusual in this area of high prices and scenic views. But some other prime parts of Canada are becoming sellers markets, and it is expected that bidding wars will become a fact of real estate life, at least for now.
Sometimes it is hard to decide whether you would be better off buying or renting your home. Some people think buying has more advantages and would only consider a rental if that monthly rent was exceedingly low. But most time the monthly rent is on par with a mortgage payment. Then it’s time to look at other factors.
At one time buying a home was considered the best way to build up wealth and that renting was virtually throwing money out the window. This is not always the case. Yes, buying a house does buildup equity, but there is a certain element of risk. The value of that home may go down and it is possible you may sell at a loss. In Canada some parts of the country are seeing a house price bubble and home prices are stagnant and in some cases decreasing.
Things appear to have leveled out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Canadians are jumping back into the housing market. Many households are carrying a tremendous amount of debt. Interest rates won’t remain low forever. They may not be ready for a long-term commitment.
Renting may look better, also because of the financial crisis. Millions of people learned that loosing a home is a very real possibility and that prices can tank, leaving you owing more than the property is worth. Renters also don’t have to deal with property insurance costs and maintenance problems. Then again, in places like Vancouver or Toronto, renting may not be less expensive than buying. Many rents take up nearly half a tenant’s wages. It all comes down to affordability and personal choice.
Despite some bankers preferring tighter mortgage rules, the government and its Finance Minister are in no hurry to make a change. In fact Jim Flaherty was somewhat taken aback by the call for tougher rules by those that are in the business of lending money.
Flaherty went as far as to call out the bankers for acting as if the government should be the ones advising them on how to conduct business. The banks, after all, decide their own interest rates. All of these comments were given to reporters in Ottawa this past Thursday.
While some are still wondering what to make of the Finance Minister’s statements, the conclusion is that the government, at least for now, will leave the mortgage rules alone. The chief economist from TD was one of many that were trying to get Flaherty to include one of the three possible changes in the mortgage rules when he made his budget address.
Those three items include borrower stress tests, larger down payments and shorter terms of amortization. Flaherty noted that the government has already adjusted the rules three times, and if needed will do so again. He is being cautious because the economy is recovering and the new housing market helps to keep a lot of people employed across the country. Flaherty would also like to give the market time to self-correct, if possible.
After a strong showing this past December, building permits across Canada saw a bit of slow down in January. Residential permits saw a 6.6 percent decrease between the two months with January figures coming in at $4.2 billion. The decline came after three months in a row of gains.
On the non-residential front, there was also a decline with January’s $6 billion in permits some 12.3 percent less than those seen in December of 2011. In fact the latter month saw a 10.5 percent increase over November 2011. The figures were released by the Statistics Board of Canada this past Thursday.
Some parts of the country saw increases, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The largest decline was in Alberta which saw lower numbers of permits in commercial, institutional and residential structures. Ontario attributed its decline to a lack of multi-family starts.
Multi-family dwellings did see the largest percentage shift. In December of 2011, there was a 31 percent increase over November. But, in January the tide shifted, with a 12.4 percent decrease, coming in at $1.7 billion for the month.
Statistics Canada did note that February 2012 was more positive, with single-family home starts numbering 201,000 units, up from the 198,000 seen in February of 2011.
The 2011emergency response report for Strathcona County Emergency Services was released this past week. Some 5,801 calls were serviced, which is 49 less than in 2010. Ambulance calls continue to increase. Calls into the 911 service were higher in 2011, but the actual calls that needed dispatched was less.
The report was tendered to the Strathcona County council meeting by Iain Bushnell, the Deputy Fire Chief. He noted that there were more building fires in 2011, but fewer outside blazes. There were also more vehicle collision calls, but three less calls attended by EMS. Alberta Health Services and medical response calls were up.
This past year saw 890 fire calls, down from the 995 seen in 2010, making 2011 the second straight year to see such a decrease. Breaking the 2011 figures down even further, 93 were to building fires, 44 to car/vehicle fires, 176 for outdoor fires and 385 alarm responses. In 2010 there were 77 building fires, 55 car/vehicle fires, 244 outdoor fires and 441 alarm calls.
The Chief credited better education of the public and a more intense vetting process for those wanting a burning permit for the lower number of outdoor fire responses. Those looking for permits must now go through an education program. But both Bushnell and Darrell Reid, the fire chief, credit the rain as the dominant factor in the slightly quieter fire season.
The latest edition of the BMO Blue Book is out. This little gem lets investors know the best places to invest in real estate, nation wide. Now that the energy sector has not only increased the number of jobs and the number of people migrating into certain parts of Alberta, that is proving to be one of the hottest investor locales around.
The guide takes into account certain factors, such as commercial and industrial activity, manufacturing prospects and available employment. All of this is used to create a virtual snapshot of the economy. In addition to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador receive good marks in that Blue Book. The latter actually led Canada in GDP last year, with a 3.8 percent increase.
Even though oil production and other investment levels are expecting to decrease in 2012, it is expected that Alberta and Newfoundland & Labrador will still be at the head of the GDP pack, pulling increases of three percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.
The BMO Blue Book also helps those looking to invest in housing or commercial properties, particularly in these two provinces. At present the inventory is low, but if you can find something to invest in, the chances of a good return are favorable.
This past Tuesday, the 2011 property assessments were presented to the council of Strathcona County. The estimation is that the municipal property tax will amount to $173 million for 2012. The estimated outlay, including education, library, municipal operating costs and the Pioneer Housing Foundation, is roughly $232 million.
New assessments that were recorded in the latter part of 2011, such as from new construction and developments, account for another $13 million coming into city coffers. The official assessment is always completed by July 1st each year, with that assessment based on regulated and market rates.
The assessments for the 2012 tax year show that the market values for residential properties decreased by roughly two percent from the prior year. Ultimately your tax bill is calculated using the assessment, with the addition of a 4.8 percent increase on property tax revenue, a 2.02 percent increase for library tax revenues, a 2.5 percent increase for education, and a decrease of 2.70 percent for the Pioneer Housing Foundation for 2012.
Those with a tax increase of more than 10 percent will receive a preliminary tax notice, as will all industrial and commercial properties. Inserts will be sent along with the notices to explain the process.
The big prize for the Big Brothers Big Sisters 32nd Dream Home Lottery is just that, a $1.4 million home built by the elite Avanti Homes developers. With a French-country design, the property offers 3,807 square feet of space in Sherwood Park. The address is 11 Balmoral Cove and those wanting a sneak peak are welcome to come by.
The home is two floors, with furnishings by Cottswood Interiors. Al Black, owner of Above the Bank Interiors along with Bonnie Walters, from Walters and Walters shared decorating honors. Landscaping was done by Salisbury Landscaping. Even though the home has an upscale price tag it is family-friendly.
The main floor has vaulted ceilings, creating height and depth. Hardwood floors, an open and airy living/dining room and a home office are included. The fireplace is double sided and the kitchen is gourmet quality with Viking appliances, maple cabinets, quartz countertops and marble backsplash. The master bedroom is on the main floor, while two more are in the basement, along with a living area, wet bar and entertainment area. Floor heating is also a plus.
The folks running the lottery hope that they can raise $1 million from the contest to go towards Big Brother and Big Sister programs. Further information is available at www.bbbsedmonton.org or by calling 780-424-8181.
Alberta is projected to be the only province that will experience an increase in the number of housing starts for 2012, according to a recently released forecast. According to the Altus Group, starts in Alberta will see an 11.7-percent rise, as opposed to a decline of 8.1 percent in 2011 versus a year ago.
Factors that contribute to Alberta’s expected growth include a robust economy, a bountiful job market and a subsequent rise in population. Although Alberta is reveling in good news, Canada’s other provinces may witness declines in housing starts, most in double digits. The only province that is predicted to exhibit a single-digit drop is Manitoba. New construction is expected to decline by about 5.3 percent in 2012.
In Alberta, housing starts should grow from 24,881 units in 2011 to 27,800 dwellings next year. On a national basis, however, starts will decrease by 5.4 percent, to 181,600 residences in 2012 versus 192,000 dwellings this year. In 2010, starts were recorded for 189,930 homes.
Per the Altus Group, stable mortgage rates are responsible for a moderate increase in people’s intent to purchase homes. However, it contends, demand for homes may be dampened by worldwide economic instability as well as a downgrade in projected growth of the GDP.
Altus’ chief economist, Peter Norman, said that the expected declines are not particularly worrisome. He noted that construction would decrease at a very modest level, from around 190,000 homes to the neighbourhood of the middle 180,000s. He ventured that starts might exhibit minor decreases in the next few years.
It is time for budget talks again and during the council meeting this past Wednesday, the various councilors put in their requests for the 2012 budget. Council’s budget requests totaled $369,923, well under the $1 million allocated to council requests.
Bonnie Riddell put in her bid for a rural liaison officer to help with people who live outside the Urban Services Area. Estimated cost for this plan is expected to be $90,873 annually, plus a budget for cost of living increase. Also needed would be enough funding to properly market this new service, bringing this entire plan to a total of $95,223. This would benefit all of the rural parts of Strathcona County. Council approved a one year trial program.
Coun. Fenske wanted to implement measures to reduce mill rates from 4.0382 to 3.0382 for rural areas of the county, bringing things more into line with the rest of Alberta. No amount was specified, but Fenske asked that the plan be part of the Rural Strategy plans. Council approved the motion. Fenske also wanted $1.4 million to revamp the water system and the capacity of the reservoir in Josephburg, but that was defeated. This is already being considered by council as part of a five year improvement plan.
Coun. Roxanne Carr revisited the issue of purchasing countdown signals for some of the area’s busiest intersections. This was first looked at last March. Though the original request was for $90,000, it was scaled down to $40,000. Even so it drew a split vote. Another project being considered is a new waste dump site in the rural service area. That motion was approved for further study.
In the midst of a struggling world economy, the Canadian housing market remains surprisingly strong. Migration is coming in to play in areas like Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto, all sporting strong economic growth. Many of those investing in property are from Asian locales, including India, the Philippines, South Korea and China. A great number of these investors are snapping up multiple family properties instead of single family homes.
The publication “Emerging Trends in Real Estate for 2012” noted that Canada was the most stable real estate market within North America. Eric Bonner, a senior vice-president with Brookfield Asset Management referred to that publication, which also listed Vancouver and Toronto as having the most sought after real estate in the country. Both areas are gateways for both tourist and business travelers, making them 24-hour destination points. Calgary came in at number three on the list, and Edmonton pulled fourth place.
Canada is proving attractive for a number of reasons, one of which is the low interest rates on mortgages. Also of note is the government’s continued improvements to infrastructure and social services programs. Another issue, of special interest to those investing in multiple-family properties, is the pro-tenancy laws, giving landlords and tenants the ability to negotiate rents.
The Capital Region Board held its ReEnvision Housing Symposium this past October 13th. A group of representatives from municipal governments, academia and industry got together to brainstorm about ways to create new housing options for the capital region.
In order for the region to grow and prosper, care must be taken to provide an assortment of housing types for new residents. Having the foresight to get this done will help attract quality workers and businesses to the area, a well as enhance the Capital Region’s global image. It is a competitive world, and this will help Edmonton and the surrounding areas do well in a global market situation.
Jim Edwards, who is the interim chairman of the region, noted that the most eye-opening parts of the symposium were tours of some of the area’s newest developments. These included Terwillegar in Edmonton, Tamarack and Ellerslie. The newly built Landmark Building Solutions venue was also on that tour list. The firm partially builds homes on site. The floors, walls and staircases are then taken to the development site and installed, cutting home building times considerably.
Affordable housing was also looked at, and it was noted that quality was not sacrificed, nor was curb appeal, just because these homes are less expensive. The area needs homes in the $200,000 to $400,000 range that are affordable to families looking for that entry level home. Currently, there is a need for workers in lower paying jobs but not enough affordable housing for those workers to consider moving to the area.
Strathcona County council recently made changes to the municipal tax payment laws, specifically relating to late tax payment penalties. The council gave three readings on the issue this last September 27th, and all members were in complete agreement. The new change in penalties will become effective on January 1st of 2012.
Even though late payment fees already existed, intended to encourage prompt payment, when council was shown the statistics, they found that some $1.2 billion were owed for 2011 late fees. That is in spite of the fact that 95 percent of taxes in Strathcona were paid by the June 30th deadline.
Taxes are considered in arrears if they are not paid in full by December 31st in any tax year. The portion that is not paid starts accruing penalties beginning January 1st. That was the old law. The new laws start accessing penalties beginning on July 1st and accrue incrementally each month.
As an example, if taxes aren’t paid by July 1st, the late payment penalty on the unpaid amount is three percent. If the money is still owed on August 1st, the penalty goes to six percent, and so on. At the same time, tax arrears penalties will also be changed. Beginning on January 1st, the arrears penalty starts at three percent and increase each month by an additional three percent through March. The current tax year will not be affected.
Thanks to Habitat for Humanity and scores of volunteers three families have new townhomes in Sherwood Park. They got the keys to their new properties this past Wednesday, September 28th. Other companies involved in the project included Christenson Developments, Landmark Group of Companies and the County of Strathcona.
Conny Meekison, one of the lucky new homeowners, and her three children were excited about the move. Conny was thankful that the house payment was going to be $200 less than the rental on her old apartment, but even more so that her children will have their own bedroom.
These homes are the result of a promise made back in April at Habitat Day. Both Christenson Developments and the Landmark Group of Companies pledged to build more homes with Habitat, resulting in these three being finished within the same year.
Families that buy homes through Habitat for Humanity must put in a certain amount of sweat equity on the organizations building sites, currently set at 500 hours. This is done instead of a down payment. Then the homes are sold at market value, with the payments adjusted to be 25 percent of the family’s income. The mortgages are also interest free. The money made from the sale goes back into the organization to be used to build more homes.
The continuing instability in the global economy has resulted in questions about the real estate market in Edmonton and Strathcona County. On a large scale, the United States continues to experience stagnant economic conditions. The outlook remains bleak for newly created jobs. Europe is dealing with its own debt problems.
A key consideration for Canada, as well as the Edmonton area, is the status of interest rates. Recently, the Bank of Canada advised that it would maintain a one-percent benchmark overnight interest rate. According to predictions by TD Economics, the Bank is not expected to announce a rate increase until the second six months of next year. This situation is rare, and points toward the ongoing uncertainty of sustained recovery.
There was a slight contraction in Canada’s economy during this year’s second quarter, but continued decreases are not expected for the third quarter.
In the local housing market, there was a $28,000 increase in the average price of a Sherwood Park home in August, versus a year ago. The average price for a Sherwood Park residence in August was $417,023. For the same time period, August 2011 versus August 2010, 26 more homes sold.
Chris Mooney, president of the Realtors Association of Edmonton, said that consumers might be somewhat more conservative regarding taking on excessive debt. He also noted that properties in the area tend to hold their value well, and that the local economy is poised for growth during the next several years. Mooney said that Edmonton has not been subjected to the peaks and valleys of the real estate market that other large Canadian cities have experienced from the pre-recessionary years and beyond.
NDP leader Jack Layton passed away early Monday at the age of 61. He had been battling cancer and after the second go round, lost that fight. His casket will now lie in state at the House of Commons at Parliament Hill in Ontario until Thursday. Eight members of the RCMP brought his casket into the foyer, accompanied by his family.
Crowds lined the barricades as the procession walked the red carpet into the building. Over 50 of his fellow MPs were waiting inside to watch his arrival. The Peace Tower bells tolled 15 times during the procession.
Governor General David Johnson will be among many of the dignitaries and other Canadians that will file past the casket to say goodbye. The foyer will be open on Wednesday until 8pm and again on Thursday from 9am to 1:30pm. After that Layton will be taken to Toronto City Hall to lie in state on Friday from 9am to 8pm and again on Saturday between 9am and 11am.
The state funeral will be on Saturday in Toronto at Roy Thompson, scheduled for 2pm. Stephen Lewis, the UN ambassador and a former NDP leader from Ontario will give the eulogy. “Rise Up’,” the NDP campaign song will be performed by Lorraine Segato.
This year the World Police and Fire Games will be in New York City. They run from August 26th to September 5th and are helping to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attack on 9/11. Second only to the Summer Olympics, this sporting event hosts some 15,000 participants in 65 different sporting venues. And this year, Strathcona County will be sending firefighters to participate.
The Strathcona teams will be focusing on hockey. Roughly 28 participants, all firefighter save for one RCMP officer hailing from Sherwood Park. The teams had to show New York how they had performed in previous meets and then were put into a draw for the chance to participate. They won that draw and have been practicing non-top at the Sherwood Park Arena. Their first game will be against Finland.
The sporting events are only part of the journey. Since it is the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the team will be raising money for firefighters and their families that were affected by the attack. Many of the first responders have developed cancer and others chronic diseases and several have perished. Others died on the scene while trying to rescue people.
The firefighters will be accepting donations at Sherwood Park Fire Hall and collecting items for a silent auction to be held on August 19th at Sherwood Park’s Average Joe’s. The money raised will be taken to the USA and delivered to the New York Fire Department.
There are two seasons in Alberta, winter and construction. Not really, but sometimes it seems like it. Baseline Road, in Strathcona County is getting its new paving update along with improvements to its intersection at Clover Bar Road. The project was approved by council and will involve widening the intersection to accommodate extra turn lanes.
Some trees will have to be removed but in their place new ones will be planted. The city will do its best to keep construction noise to a minimum and will be monitoring for decibel levels. It is expected the project will continue into summer of 2012. The improvements means months of reduced traffic lanes and detours. A traffic management plan is being created to minimize the inconvenience of residents. Ultimately the improvements will improve traffic flow by giving morel lanes for left and right turns, making the roads safer as well as more driver-friendly.
Funds were allocated in the 2011 budget for the roadwork, with intent to start this past May. But, June was unseasonably wet and that start had to be delayed. Cost for this project along with a second project on Baseline Road and another venture on Wye Road, is calculated at just under $5 million.
All concerned parties have submitted their final arguments regarding the Heartland Transmission Project to the Alberta Utilities Commission, or AUC. The project concerns the building of a 500-kV transmission line that goes right through Strathcona County. At issue is the route that line will take, as well as safety concerns about having that sort of line too close to the population.
Epcor and AltaLink prefer what they call the East Route that runs through the transportation utility corridor that links Highway 16 with Sherwood Park. It is the shortest, and most cost effective to build, but comes closer to town than the slightly better West route. Two other possible routes that did not go through Strathcona County were scrapped early on, back in 2009.
Strathcona County is against the East route because of health concerns. The only acceptable option if that ends up being the chosen route would be to bury the line. AltaLink notes this is too expensive. RETA, or Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans, agrees with the county’s point of view, again citing health issues and a lower quality of life for nearby residents. RETA also voiced displeasure as to how the line selection process was made, citing that the applicants only filed the two non-viable routes to appease the AUC.
Strathcona County also pointed out that the use of the transmission utility corridor does not meet with guidelines concerning the use of that land. Usage of the land must not affect the areas environment so that it is unable to be used for agricultural purposes and/or able to support native plants and animal. Now it’s up to the AUC.
On June 28th, the council for Strathcona County added an amendment to the 2011 budget to allow for some needed upgrades throughout the county. On the list are two playgrounds, replacing the sound and lighting systems at Festival Place, putting in air conditioning in the Gymnasium of the Recreation Administration Building and doing some renovations to the Partridge Hill Community Hall. Roughly $800,000 has been set aside for these projects.
One of the playgrounds is in the Hamlet of Josephburg, funded by the Josephburg Agricultural Society. The other is at the Pine Street Elementary School in Sherwood Park, funded by the Pine Street School Parents. These were selected because of accessibility issues at these two playgrounds, as noted by Roxanne Carr, Councilor from Ward 2.
The existing sound and lighting equipment at Festival Place was installed in 1994. The theatre will be closed for one month during the summer to make the renovations. Both systems work together and therefore must be replaced as a pair. The lights and sound systems are used for theatrical and other productions. Partridge Hill Community Hall, which will have half of the costs taken from the Partridge Hill Community Club, will have its gymnasium revamped. Salto Gymnastics leases the venue and will be putting up most of the funding. As far as the Partridge Community Hall itself, accessibility issues will be addressed. This means installing ramps and approaches that are code compliant for the physically challenged.
Strathcona Park RCMP is warning residents of the dangers of hiring contractors that are not legitimate. In 2010 there were between 15 and 20 calls to their detachment from people who were taken by fake contractors. Most of these cases have to do with driveway resurfacing and paving. Some of these contractors are foreigners that come to Canada to work for the summer, and then leave before winter sets in.
The usual story is the contractors come to a person’s home, advising they have leftover material from another job and offer to fix the cracks they see in that person’s driveway. Sometimes they do solicitation calls over the phone. In either case they are persuasive and offer their services for a much lower fee. The thing is, they are not licensed, and there is no guarantee on the work, nor any way to recover the money spent.
The contractors sometimes work entire neighborhoods before moving on to the next. It can be hard to distinguish a phony contractor from the legit, since the fraudulent individuals often have business cards that make them look aboveboard. Getting cards made is not a problem. Go online or to your nearest office supply store to find out just how easy it is.
Residents are being asked to report anything suspicious to the Strathcona County RCMP at 780 467 7741. They are also being advised to check if the contractor they are considering using has a license and/or is listed with the Better Business Bureau, even if the resident was the one that sought out the contractor. The BBB’s phone number is 780 482 2341.
Elk Island Public Schools, or EIPS for short, finally passed its 2011-2012 budget this past Monday. It was approved by a vote of eight to one. The budget calls for using $3.5 million in reserve funding to balance the deficit caused by provincial cuts to all schools in Alberta. That makes the total operating budget for the EIPS roughly $179 million, plus the reserve funds. More than 70 percent of that is targeted for the schools.
Trustee Harvey Stadnick is the only person to vote against the budget. He notes that while he was in theory not opposed to the budget, Stadnick felt that there should have been more of an effort to put more money into the classrooms.
The EIPS has been dipping into the reserves for the past several years to keep going while dealing with the severe provincial cuts. But this year the reserve funds are only 2.8 percent of the budget, rather than the 6.9 percent needed for the 2009-2010 school year. Things are at least moving in the right direction.
There will be layoffs, including all the September probationary teachers. All told 25 full time teachers will be let go.
The Gale family moved into the fifth new home built by Habitat for Humanity this Friday. This past Wednesday was the dedication ceremony for the home, where Jonathon, his wife Trang and their son Ethan got the keys and unlocked the door for the first time. It was an overwhelming, emotional, exciting experience. Gale was surprised at the quality of the home, noting it was much more than he expected.
The way Habitat for Humanity works is that families must agree to work 500 hours on the organization’s building sites as their down payment. Potential homeowners must still show that they can pay an interest free mortgage and they must show they are in need of the help. The monthly mortgage payment is no more than 25 percent of their income. The money paid into Habitat helps the organization build more homes down the line.
Kyle Keller for the Edmonton office of Habitat for Humanity advised that there will be more homes built in Sherwood Park, but he didn’t have an exact date for the projects. Mayor Lind Osinchuk attended the dedication ceremony and noted that the county would continue to support affordable housing and she is pleased that Habitat for Humanity has future plans for the area.
The Strathcona County council will soon have some new rules to follow. Last fall it was determined that council members should have guidelines concerning accountability, respect, confidentiality, gifts, impartiality, stewardship, public interest issues and overall integrity. The idea is to insure fair, impartial governing and decision making.
George Cuff outlined the needed items in his initial report in 2010. A group was formed to create the policy and it is ready to be passed this coming Tuesday. Participating in the committee were Kevin Glebe who is the manager of the Corporate Planning Department as well as Intergovernmental Affairs, Glenna Kemp who manages the Legislative and Legal Services, and two council members, Bonnie Riddell and Peter Wlodarczak.
What this group has come up with is something that addresses those outlined needs, as well as provides guidelines for the roles of both elected officials and the administration. Some of the items include making sure everyone has a healthy work environment, that there is respect between the members as well as effective, cordial communication. Working together, city government can provide quality service. The plan also sets the goal of having a definitive strategic direction for council and staff to follow.
Two last minute additions to the policy included councils having to report gifts of at least $500 and to sign a pledge stating they would follow county, provincial and Canadian federal laws. The committee used similar ideas found across Canada and the United States to form the policy.
Alberta’s building codes are now under construction. Hector Goudreau, Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister, said the government is focusing on building standards and recourse and consumer protection as areas to improve.
Potentially, the government will also become more involved in building inspection regulations.
In 2008, a report from Municipal Affairs called for an address of building envelope failure that affected an unknown amount of moulding condos and houses in Alberta. Building envelope indicates a home’s exterior walls and ceilings.
The report also recommended increasing penalties for safety code violations and creating mandatory new-home warranties. Currently, these warranties are voluntary.
In 2011, over 300 residents in Fort McMurray were forced to leave their Penhorwood condos due to deteriorating structures.
Additionally, the Safety Code Council is creating a building envelope course for safety code officers.
Goudreau was quick to say that he isn’t painting Alberta homebuilders with the same brush; rather, the changes will improve standards and positively impact Alberta’s building standards.
Municipalities govern the Safety Codes Act, but Goudreau said it is up to homeowners to be aware of warranties and standards their government has that ensure quality inspections and construction.
Greg Christenson, Canadian Home Builders Association’s Alberta president, said the CHBA supports mandatory warranties over regulation changes. Christenson said he believes building envelopes should increase to two years for single-family homes and five years for multi-family buildings.
Home buyers in Edmonton are becoming more satisfied with their home purchases. The Alberta New Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Survey for 2011 gave an overall score of 711 out of 1,000 possible points. That translates to 71 percent of homebuyers being pleased and content. The last, and also the first, of these surveys was done in 2009 and showed a score of 648. Things are going in the right direction.
The 63 point improvement shows that home builders in Alberta are improving the quality of the finished product and their customer service skills. The survey covered eight different areas involved in a home purchase. One was the service/warranty staff, covering how and if problems were handled. The sales process staff was similarly critiqued. Other items included workmanship and materials, the construction or site teams, the design process, the actual physical design, price vs. value and home readiness. The latter two areas showed the most improvement.
In the Edmonton region, the scoring for price went up to 698 from the 577 showing on the 2009 survey. Much of this is because of buying incentives offered to move inventory. Home readiness scored 718, way up from the 2009 figure of 633. More builders were contacting the homebuyers to see if they were pleased with their new purchase. The number of problems experienced decreased, from an average of 20.5 faults per property in 2009 to 14.6 in the 2011 report. Top home builders recognized were Dolce Vita Homes, Avi and Landmark Homes, in ranking order.
Council has passed a budget to allow the replacement of seating at Festival Place. Half of the $250,000 will come from an MSI grant, the remainder from the Community of Family Enhancement Program. This required the 2011 budget to be amended.
Other motions in the works include the Strathcona County council considering a funding program for monies taken from the Intersection Safety Devices event. One option is to use the money to install count down signals at high-traffic intersections by the year 2012.
Council also gave a nod to the winner of the Edmonton Journal’s seventh annual spelling bee, Strathcona County resident Jackson Hunter.
Council also decided to hold public hearings regarding the change of land use in Salisbury Village that would allow the building of a hotel, business park, and high density residential homes south of Wye Road. Also in the works are setting aside a parcel for conservation use and three for rural residences.
The Summerwood Stage 10 also got its third read on the proposed master development and structure plan. Good News Church will be receiving $3,000 to create a community garden, coming out of Coun Peter Wlokarczak’s priority fund. A number of council members approved contribution funding for the Muscular Dystrophy Canada fundraiser’s rooftop campout, held by local firefighters.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC for short, is of the opinion that housing starts will remain slow for the first six months of 2011. Developers will remain cautious, waiting for the number of presales to increase before putting more homes on the market. After that, single and detached home starts should improve enough to bring the numbers for 2011 in line with those at the end of 2010. In Strathcona County there were 511 of those starts last year.
CMCH recognizes that currently the new home market favors the buyer. But the agency also predicts that with the expected higher wages and a stronger economy that market will balance out. By the end of the year CMCH predicts an eight percent increase in starts for 2011. Lai Sing Louis, economist for the prairie region for CMCH predicts that in 2012 there will be 40,400 new starts in Alberta due to the expected population and economic growth spurred by the energy industry.
Strathcona County saw a combined 57.3 percent rise in single and detached housing starts in 2010 compared to 2009. Putting that into actual numbers shows 518 starts and 373 starts respectively. Fort Saskatchewan saw 437 starts in 2010 and 289 in 2009, translating into a 51.2 percent increase. Edmonton saw 9,262 starts in 2010 and 6,318 in 2009. CMCH predicts roughly 8,800 starts for 2011 in Edmonton and 9,900 for 2012.
In the modern age we tend to communicate with each other by cell phone, email, texting or any other means of mechanical, computer based methods. In Strathcona County, the Family and Community Services (FCS) bureau wants to make February 21st Family Day, one that is spent with face to face communication. The intent is to balance technology with good old fashioned human interaction. The FCS wants to make the day a “no tech” holiday.
FCS has even come up with suggested outings that are cyber-free. These include visiting the Strathcona Wilderness Center, going for a swim at Millennium Place, going out for a meal, skating at McGhan Park, making cookies, sledding, playing board games, having a musical jam night, anything basically that you do with the family, in the same room.
A study showed that 73 percent of kids would rather spend time with their parents than channel surf or play around on the computer. Another study showed that teenagers that enjoyed a family meal at least times a week did better in school. Kids that don’t get enough parental attention can start feeling neglected, stressed out and may start acting out with questionable behaviour.
Family Day is a time to turn back the clock to before the advent of bit and byte technology, before cell phones were in every pocket and purse and when wireless meant you just didn’t have any long thin pieces of metal. After you’ve enjoyed your day living in the 1950s, the next day go on line to www.fcssaa.ab.ca to describe your experience. Technology, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
Strathcona’s Councillor Roxanne Carr wants to revamp some of the county’s somewhat counterproductive bylaws. She discovered in her study of the land use bylaws that they were at best antiquated, at worst leaning towards the ridiculous. The province’s Agriculture Operations Practice Act lists fish farming and beekeeping as agricultural operations, but Strathcona views things a bit differently.
As for fish, there are no rules on the books. Keeping bees is another story. There is a nuisance control bylaw for beekeeping. If you want to set up a hive or two you must get a permit from the county chief commissioner. No other municipality deals with beekeeping, an agribusiness, in that fashion. That makes no sense in a largely rural and urban community.
Bees are dying off by the thousands and are facing possible extinction. Across North America even urban and semi-urban areas are embracing beekeeping as both a source of honey and/or income or just to help preserve the honeybees. Carr can’t understand why an area such as Strathcona that has a large agricultural footprint should have such a law. Jason Gariepy, the Deputy Mayor agrees with her and acknowledges that bees are important for pollination, thus benefiting the very crops that are grown in the area. More study is planned on the matter.
The Bank of Canada has decided not to raise interest rates for now. The economy has definitely improved since last October, but the combination of the loonie being stronger and a still weak productivity does slow down Canada’s growth. The central bank decided not to rock the boat. Economists were not surprised. Pascal Gauthier, from the TD Bank Financial Group, expects that interest rates won’t be upped until July at the earliest.
Globally, the economy is recovering faster than anticipated. The United States is seeing an increase in domestic demand and since they are Canada’s largest trading partner, what happens in the USA affects us. The Bank of Canada adjusted its 2011 growth forecasts from the expected 2.3 percent calculated in October to 2.4 percent. Expectations for 2012 growth are currently at 2.8 percent.
The Bank of Canada predicts that exports and business investments will start to play a major role in economic growth, taking over from the domestic consumption that fuelled growth in the past. The household debt load, currently at 148 percent of disposable income, is likely to decrease consumer spending and investment.
New mortgage lending laws were introduced on Monday, reducing the amortization period on home loans from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation from the current 35 years to 30 years. Insurance must be added on loans that do not have a 20 percent down payment. The intent is to gradually get the household debt problem under control.
First envisioned in the 1970s, the Centre in the Park finally opened December 5 with a gala grand opening and fireworks display. Strathcona County’s new community centre had been a goal for the area for many years. Construction began in 2007, and costs are estimated to have been $106 million.
The building is now a confirmed entity in the county’s community. Todd Banks, who is the Sherwood Park and District Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, said that although the structure might not directly influence the area’s economy, it would nonetheless provide a positive influence.
Banks said that the community centre adds to Sherwood Park’s overall identity in the region, providing people with more to do, as well as more shopping options. Banks said that although the centre’s interiors are not complete, he believed that part of the structure might eventually contain boutique-style stores.
A number of events complimented the grand opening. The yearly Festival of Trees enabled visitors to bid on fully decorated trees that they could take home. People were able to vote on the best wreaths and trees submitted by community organizations. A tree submitted by Elk Island Public Schools was the winner of the first prize.
Musical accompaniment was provided by Dueling Pianos. Local dignitaries included Linda Osinchuk, Strathcona County’s Mayor, Tim Uppal, MP for Edmonton-Sherwood Park, as well as Naresh Bhardwaj, the MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie.
In addition to the festivities at Centre in the Park, attendees were able to take advantage of family-friendly activities at nearby Festival Place.
Edmonton homebuyers capitalized on somewhat lower housing costs in November, thereby putting an end to five months of declining real estate sales. The data, which was released December 2 by the Realtors Association of Edmonton, indicate that two of three home categories exhibited price decreases versus October.
The category most prone to decreasing prices was that of condominiums. The average condo price experienced a two-percent drop since October, and a 2.99 percent shortfall versus November 2009. The average condo sales price in November was $229,603.
Single-family homes sold for one half of one percent less than they did in October, with an average sales price of $362,657. However, that price represented a decline of 2.5 percent from November of last year.
The only category to experience price vitality was that of duplex or row house dwellings. The average selling price of $318,605 jumped 10.6 percent over November 2009, and six percent versus the previous month.
Larry Westergard, president of the REA, said that the sales increases are attributable to a combination of factors that include lower interest rates, a national trend in rising sales, as well as above-average inventory in the Edmonton area. Westergard also commented that Edmonton real estate sales are somewhat below that of other major Canadian markets. He said that economic indicators point to an imminent bump in sales.
The sales activity in November quelled five end-to-end months of decreasing sales from April, which saw a peak of 1,740 home transactions. Although MLS recorded 1,220 home sales in Edmonton for November, posting an increase versus the 1,177 sold in October, the sales were 1.45 percent below those of November 2009.
Tony Sykoa is working to bring the Elk Island Catholic Schools into the new age. Rather than buy computer equipment that becomes outdated very quickly, the EICS board of directors has decided to lease the equipment from a contractor. The equipment comes with a warranty, good for three to four years. Then the hardware is replaced with new, up to date equipment.
This is only one idea. Another is to provide a kindergarten class that sort of fast tracks itself into the first grade. The concept which was part of a pilot program in the 2009-2010 school year, is an optional program which provides a higher learning opportunity than the regular kindergarten classes and makes the transition into first grade easier for students.
The program has been expanded for the 2010-2011 school year and offers more hands on technology learning. Parents can opt out of the program if they wish. EICS maintains the philosophy that parents should have a say in the education of their children.
Another program meant to increase communication between teachers, parents and students is Power School. It also was piloted in the 2009-2010 school term and received such positive feedback it will be expanding to 15 schools this year. The program is an online scheduling, registration and student information program.
Wait times at Alberta’s emergency rooms continue to increase. In view of the urgency to get something done a group of health administrators, ER doctors and clinic managers are meeting this week to see if they can come up with a solution to this life threatening issue.
The Alberta Health Services does already have an agenda of sorts to help with the meeting, the details of which were leaked to Wildrose Alliance, a group that has been very vocal about the problem.
Some of the outlined items include having more staff, particularly doctors and specialists scheduled in the evenings when patient loads are the highest. Another is having a better relationship with hospital wards so there is no cap put on patient loads on those wards, resulting in patients staying in ER longer. Being able to find a doctor to discharge patients on the weekend would also help to free up needed beds. Stable patients waiting for test results could also wait in the ER waiting room, rather than take up a bed.
Dr. Felix Soibelman, the recently elected president of the emergency medicine section of the Alberta Medical Association stresses that some of these procedures are already being followed. The “agenda” is more or less a road map to spur ideas. He also realizes that some hospitals are better than others in spreading the patient load throughout their wards.
Dr. Soibelman also noted three items that would help decrease wait times. Diagnostic imaging services should be available round the clock so that patients would not have to wait until opening hours for tests and results. Open the empty hospital wards in hospitals around the city for senior care while they wait for placement in a long-term facility. Staffing could be provided by family doctors, licensed practical nurses and aides. Use the day surgery beds on the weekends for emergency patients that have already been admitted. These wards, set up for elective surgery, are currently empty Saturdays and Sundays.
Strathcona County’s dream of a community centre being a part of the Centre in the Park is becoming a reality. On November 1st, the new two storey library will open its doors. After the 10am ribbon cutting ceremony, tours will be offered until 9pm that night. The Family and Community Service Centre will also be open on the second floor.
Events are already planned for the centre. The annual Festival of Trees is moving to the new locale and will be held on December 3rd, 4th and 5th. December 4th will also have the Words in the Park book sale on-site, presented by the Writer’s Foundation of Strathcona County.
The centre is made up of the library, an agora, and a 4,000 square foot art gallery scheduled to open next March. The council chambers and offices will be located at the centre and there will be a hallway that links various outdoor plazas. Citizens will be able to reserve room space starting in January of next year.
Surface street parking will be free, but the underground parkade will require a fee. Monday through Friday from 7 am to 5pm, the rate is currently $2.00 per hour. Outside of those weekday hours and on weekends and holidays, the rate is a flat $2.00 per day.
Envision Edmonton’s Campaign To Keep City Centre Airport Open Has $500,000 Price Tag - August 21st, 2010
The fight to keep Edmonton’s City Centre Airport open continues, at a cost of at least $500,000. The money has come from several sources, from $50 donations given by the average working man to several thousands donated by corporations. An entire northern Alberta town contributed to the cause. But all of the donors want their names kept secret.
Envision Edmonton, the company heading the fight, has agreed to the anonymity. Some donors regularly do business with the City of Edmonton and did not want to risk being “punished” for their opinion on what is becoming a hot political issue. Donors that remain anonymous do not receive tax receipts for their contributions.
Envision Edmonton was created on June 18th just a week after Airco Aircraft Charter lost their bid for a legal injunction to keep the airport open. Ed Schlemko, president of Airco founded the society along with four others. These include Barry Breckenridge from Manulife Financial, Dea Braithwaite manager and flight instructor for the Edmonton Flying Club and Eugene Strilchuk who manages InfinitiAir. The Edmonton Flying Club is also trying for an injunction to keep the airport open.
The goal of Envision is to get the airport closure on the ballot in this fall’s city elections. At last count the organization only needed 8,000 more signatures to reach the magic number of 78,000. This is what is required to force a plebiscite on the airport closure. One argument is that the airport is a vital link to Alberta’s north. Air ambulances also use City Centre because it is closer to downtown hospitals. Angel Flight Alberta, a non profit organization that offers free flights to rural patients needing medical care, also operates out of City Centre Airport.
After a seven year stint at the reins of the Edmonton Opera, Mary Phillips-Rickey will take her final curtain call in October of this year. She has been instrumental in keeping the organization viable at a time when similar publically funded venues have struggled to keep afloat. Phillips-Rickey is responsible for erasing the deficit that has plagued the Edmonton Opera for years.
The company is reorganizing its management tiers and is going in a somewhat different direction. Though Phillips-Rickey helped with the restructuring process, and is in agreement with the changes, she does not want to take on the role of chief executive officer. A search of international proportions is now on for someone to fill some very big shoes that surely will be missed.
Phillips-Rickey is no stranger to being a part of the production. She was part of the cast of La Boheme at the Winnipeg Opera when she took over the management job in Edmonton. It is a bit of a coincidence that the same opera will be on stage in Edmonton during the time she ends her service.
The production schedule for the 2010-2011 season includes not only La Boheme, running October 23 to 28th, but The Abduction From the Seraglio, on stage February 5th to the 11th and Tosca, running April 9th to the 14th.
Somehow the numbers are just not matching in Edmonton. At the end of June there were 9,406 homes listed for sale on the MLS service. June sales were 37 percent lower than they were in June of 2009. But the average cost of a single family home is six percent higher than last year, and in all markets combined, two percent higher.
Larry Westergard, the president of Realtors Association of Edmonton believes that the market has not quite caught up with reality and prices will indeed start to decrease during the upcoming months. He believes that the prices are still strong because the consumer still has faith in the real estate market.
In June of this year, the average price of a single family home was $391,497. That is 5.72 percent higher than June of 2009 when the average price was $359,000. Condos had a slight dip in prices, coming in at $242,644 just under three percent lower than in 2009.
The prediction is for prices to slow for the latter half of 2010. This is normal, since Edmonton usually experiences a summer slowdown. Sales in the first half of the year were impressively strong as people tried to get into the market before interest rates swelled and tighter restrictions on mortgages went into effect. Things will ultimately balance out.
The way the NHL draft works is that the better you do, the farther down on the draft pick list your team falls. In rather a reverse twist of fate, the teams that finish at the bottom get first pick at the cream of the current year’s draftee crop. Perhaps this is to keep the sport fair. It wouldn’t do to have the same few teams winning the Stanley Cup every year. You wouldn’t want to see a series of miss-matched games where one team is a proven power house and the other extremely understaffed. Not very exciting hockey, usually.
In 1990 the Edmonton Oilers had a dream season. They had just captured their fifth Stanley Cup in only seven years. But that success, and perhaps a bit of bad luck, ended up rewarding them with the worst NHL draft picks ever. All the draftees, 11 of them, that were chosen that day never once hit the ice for an NHL game.
Not that the players weren’t NHL material, it was just series of circumstances. Some players, drafted from other countries, never made it to Canada. Three examples are Roman Mejzlik, Richard Zemlicka and Petr Korienek who never managed to leave Czechoslovakia. Another player, a goalie named Power was the 143rd pick. After being sent to Seattle to play in the WHL, he had to head home because his father was diagnosed with cancer. Power ended up starting his executive career. 1990 was just not the Oiler’s year.
Chances are that if you are planning on being a lawyer, you won’t choose to practice family law. There is a negative perception of the family law field, that the cases dealt with are unpleasant custody battles, divorce cases and property issues. This particular field seems to repel most lawyers, sending them in search of law practices that are easier to navigate and are more lucrative. As a result, there is a shortage of family lawyers throughout Edmonton.
A short decade ago, family law practitioners were scrambling for work. Today clients often have a two week wait to see someone for an initial consultation. Many family law practices have to turn away clients because they are already overwhelmed with their case loads. Some of these clients end up going to court on their own, providing their own council, usually not a good scenario.
Alberta’s economy has appeared to draw those in the legal profession to careers in real estate, commercial or corporate law. That is after all, where the bucks are. Considering the cost of education required to become a lawyer that is understandable. But there is also the impression that those in family law constantly have to deal with emotional, unrealistic, greedy clients.
While yes, that does happen occasionally; most people do not want to go to court to deal with their personal issues. Most clients just want legal advice so they can get past a difficult time in their lives with as little scaring as possible. Those who practice family law do so because they find it rewarding, and because it is needed and they know it.
The former owner of the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Pocklington pleaded guilty to perjury during bankruptcy procedures in a United States courtroom on Thursday, May 27, 2010.
Pocklington’s plea is part of probation and home detention for six months, but is dependent on other duties including paying money owed, surrendering property and filing tax returns between 2006-2008 with United States tax authorities.
A court judge could sentence Pocklington to five years in prison, the maximum sentence.
In 2008, Pocklington claimed his assets totalled less than $3,000 and his liabilities were close to $20 million US. On May 27, 2010, he confessed to declaring bankruptcy without divulging his ownership of two storage units filled with his wife Eva’s property and assets, as well as his control of two bank accounts.
These charges were dropped when Pocklington made the deal to plead guilty to perjury. Still, he claimed the charges are a mistake due to his bankruptcy lawyer writing up documents incorrectly that lead to the perjury. He called himself a victim and said he plead guilty as the United States’ grand jury system is against accused parties.
FBI raided Pocklington’s Palm Desert home on March 11, 2009. Investigators had been looking into Pocklington’s finances after his bankruptcy claim because he gave $80,000 worth of furniture and artwork to settle with creditors.
The new deal does not require Pocklington to repay creditors who say they are owed money.