The University of Lethbridge Department of Women and Gender Studies hosted their final SAMWAK session of the season recently as they welcomed two young women to present their findings while researching abroad.
Since the fall of 2018, the Department of Women and Gender Studies has held six SAMWAK sessions for the community Saturday morning’s in the Penny Building downtown. Every session brings a new student, faculty member or community practitioner to share with people their findings and knowledge on global and community issues.
“SAMWAK is a Filipino term that means to announce, so this is a community speaker series in which we provide a platform for our new scholars, our grad students, other students that have done some research or work, to share their knowledge and insights with the community and it is also for the faculty and the community practitioners to share with the wider community about their work,” says Glenda Bonifacio, chair of the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Lethbridge.
“We started in the fall of 2018 and it has been great, it is a good way for the Department of Women and Gender Studies to engage with the community and transfer knowledge, how ideas are actually impacting other lives.”
The first presenter of the day was Sara Al-Mahbshi, a masters student in the Department of Women and Gender Studies who shared the history of the Houthis in Yemen.
“I am speaking today on the history of the Houthis in Yemen and their relations with Iran,” says Al-Mahbshi. “I am from Yemen and I wrote this as my undergrad thesis when I was at the American University in Cairo and so it has been a passion since then to look into their history and how that changed the politics in the region.
In probably the most wide-reaching budget initiative in many years, city council unanimously voted to pass all recommendations put forth by the city manager’s “Phase One” operational review presented at last week’s Community Issues Committee during Monday’s regular public meeting.
Measures recommended by KPMG and City Manager Bramwell Strain to find efficiencies and savings included, among other things: looking into the possibility of selling public facilities including the Enmax Centre; instituting on-demand transit in off-peak hours; ending the City’s contract to provide school bus services to local school boards; and re-evaluating ridership eligibility for Access-A-Ride.
The City will also review fee-for-service agreements with four organizations which receive Recreation and Culture grant funding to operate: Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens; Southern Alberta Art Gallery; the Allied Arts Council; and Lethbridge Sport Council.
The city manager was also given broad authority to pursue the cost efficiencies to the civil service outlined in the KPMG report. The City estimates if all these things are implemented it will result in $8.5 million to $10 million in savings.
Mayor Chris Spearman said it has been 40 years since the last time City staff did such a sweeping review of service delivery and City departments.
“This is the first eight departments,” said Spearman. “There will be a second phase of nine more departments, and what we need to do as council is authorize the city manager to act on the recommendations from the (KPMG) report.”
Spearman said when undertaking such a deep-dive review in an era of province-wide austerity nothing can be taken off the table, including the sale of the Enmax Centre and other City-owned facilities. “Taxpayers are funding the Enmax by about 15 per cent a year,” stated Spearman. “So one option is it becomes self-funding with a more business-like model or the second one would be a different ownership model, which would mean someone else would own the Enmax. We have given the city manager the flexibility to look at both options.”
Ward system rejected
Lethbridge City Council voted 5-4 to reject a motion brought forth by its own Open and Effective Government Committee to examine the possibility of bringing in a ward system into municipal politics.
Coun. Mark Campbell brought forth a motion on behalf of the OEGC members to council on Monday to examine the issue at the City’s Citizens Assembly for a proposed price tag of $80,000.
Coun. Joe Mauro balked at both the proposed price tag of such a study and the notion the current at-large system was not representative enough as is.
“Anybody in the community can pick up the phone and talk to any one of us,” he said. “I think we are very open and approachable. We’ve been like that as long as I have been here. I know some of the taxpayers might not feel that, but we are very open and very approachable. Right now, I don’t see an advantage of going to a ward system, and surely at the price of $80,000 I am not prepared to support that today.”
Other councillors echoed Mauro’s cost concerns with undertaking such a study; especially when council was informed the cost to undertake a referendum on the issue during the next general election would only run about $10,000.
Mayor Chris Spearman favoured taking such a question to the community in that format rather than having Citizens Assembly undertake the work at substantially higher cost.
“I favour a referendum at election time,” he confirmed.
Phases in motion
City manager Bramwell Strain said council’s vote to accept all recommendations of Phase One of the KPMG operational review will likely mean they will be able to complete Phase 2 deliberations by next June, then in Phase 3 make decisions on the potential sale of public facilities and the consolidation of City departments.
“We want the second phase to be complete before we look at departmental amalgamation or the organizational structure,” he confirmed. “We want to make sure we have that whole picture.”
The KPMG report outlined the City has a bloated civil service with over 1,600 full-time employees compared to other jurisdictions of comparable size in Alberta, and that residents here pay far more for services than any other jurisdiction in the province.
“It said we had very high service costs, but we also have very high client satisfaction,” stressed Strain. “I think you need to report on both those things simultaneously.
“We pay more, but we tend to be happier with the services we have.”
Thus, he said, the operational review is not intended to be a complete burn down of City-owned facilities or trigger massive cuts across the board. Instead, it allows the City to sift what it has and strategically cut where it makes sense to do so, while at the same time allowing citizens to have the fullest view of what those cuts would entail and solicit their feedback through city council.
Life lost at intersection
Another life has been lost at the dangerous Coalhurst intersection on Highway 3.
And Coalhurst Mayor Dennis Cassie says he’ll be asking the provincial government once again to make the intersection safer for town residents and all travellers.
Monday evening, a 66-year-old woman from Coalhurst was pronounced dead after a westbound vehicle struck hers as she was stopped, waiting to enter the highway.
If the speed limit is reduced and traffic lights installed — just as at Broxburn — the mayor says there should be fewer collisions, injuries and deaths.
“If we need to meet with the government again, it is something we will do in the very near future,” Cassie said Tuesday.
RCMP say speed and alcohol are regarded as factors in the crash, reported about 7:15 p.m. The Coalhurst driver was waiting at the stop sign, police say, when a westbound Volkswagen Jetta collided with her Ford Escape. She was carrying no passengers. The driver of the westbound vehicle was taken to hospital with undetermined but not life-threatening injuries.
Boards sound alarm
Lethbridge’s two largest school divisions are warning parents they could be paying additional school bus transportation fees after the divisions’ service agreement ends next August.
Lethbridge School Division and Holy Spirit Catholic School Division both say the City’s unilateral decision to end their service agreement to provide school bus transportation without consultation puts their divisions in a bind.
“We were somewhat surprised with the recommendation to sever an over 50-year partnership within one week between the (KPMG) report and the decision being made by council,” LSD superintendent of schools Cheryl Gilmore told media representatives on Tuesday. “We were hoping the City would be willing to explore further conversations about that. In terms of ending a business relationship, that typically doesn’t happen without some conversation and consultation.
The provincial government’s budget cuts meant a $6.5-million hit for the Lethbridge School Board this fall.
For the current year, school trustees have decided to dip into accumulated reserves to avoid layoffs.
“We were surprised by both the amount of the funding shortfall and the mid-year timing of the reduction in funds,” says board chair Clark Bosch, in a news release..
But trustees and administrators “have closed the funding gap for the current school year with minimal reductions in our services to our students and no job losses,” he says
The board has taken $800,000 out of its budget as a result of salary and staffing contingency savings, he says. It’s also taking $2.1 million out of several operating reserves.
Budget adjustments became essential after the United Conservatives’ first provincial budget was tabled on Oct. 24.
While the budget included base funding for the number of students enrolled in the city’s public schools, officials say, it eliminated other grants including the Classroom Improvement Fund, class size funding for kindergarten to Grade 3 classes, Career Technology studies in Grade 10 to 12 and previous school and transportation fee reduction grants.
That amounted to a $6.54-million reduction in the board’s funding, officials explain, although they had anticipated the loss of the $1.3 million Classroom Improvement Fund grant.
Like other boards across Alberta, however, Lethbridge did not expect the removal of the class size funding or the fee reduction grants — totalling $5.2 million.
Vehicle thefts declining
Vehicle thefts in Lethbridge are decreasing, and have been decreasing over the past three years.
That detail was included in a report Insp. Jason Walper of the Lethbridge Police Service made on the stolen-vehicle issue during Wednesday’s police commission meeting.
And further, reported Walper, about 92 per cent of vehicles stolen within the city were recovered in 2018 and 2019. That’s up from an 89 per cent recovery rate recorded in 2017.
“The frequency of stolen vehicles over the past three years has actually decreased, which is good news,” confirmed Walper. “The majority of vehicles, over 50 per cent of the vehicles stolen in Lethbridge, are typically stolen because the keys are left in the ignition or vehicles are left running, and they are used for joy-riding purposes and later recovered within the city.
U of L promotes arts
The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery invited visitors recently to join them for an afternoon of crafting and art for their monthly Culture Vulture.
“Today we have a Culture Vulture, which is a family friendly drop-in event where people can come and make arts and crafts, we have free snacks, all the supplies are free and we have the art exhibit open for people to look through,” says Kirsten Meiszinger, public program with University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.
“We just want to promote art and expressing yourself in a way that is free and accessible to people. It is part of the art gallery’s mission statement, we are a not-for-profit within the university, so we just like to create spaces for people to come and create art.”
Every month, the university art gallery brings families together to open their minds to some free thinking arts and crafts, along with the opportunity to walk through their large art gallery. This month, the art gallery held lessons on how to do photo transfers onto wood, for families to take home for some home decor.
“We have Culture Vulture about once a month, along with some other activities in there and today we are making photo transfers,” says Meiszinger. “People are able to transfer a family photo or a famous artwork to a nice wood board to decorate their place with. It’s super easy, you are just sticking the photo to the wood with some goo and creating a bond.”
Joining Culture Vulture is local cartoonist Eric Dyck, who has been spending some time at the university as the gallery’s cartoonist in residence, as he interacts with people at the university and draws pictures about their conversations about an upcoming gallery for the new year.
“I am here as the cartoonist in residence on behalf of the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery,” says Dyck. “I am hanging out in the hallways and corridors of the university to talk to students, faculty and the general public and I am asking them questions about food and family.
SAAG hosts auction
The Southern Alberta Art Gallery welcomed the community to their building for their annual Art Auction for an evening of entertainment, art and community support.
Rebranding into the Art Frenzy, SAAG welcomed people for the 27th year to auction off art from the local and global community. This year, in addition to the rebranding, SAAG brought DJ’s to the event, a new auctioneer and a whole new environment for people to enjoy.
“It is the 27th annual Art Auction, it has been rebranded with Art Frenzy,” says Marie Takahashi, development co-ordinator with SAAG.
“It is a new energy, we have DJ’s this year, we have an auctioneer for the first time and we are trying to appeal to a younger crowd and bring in people who wouldn’t traditionally look at contemporary art or how much art is available in the community and just open the event up to be more inclusive.”
The funds raised through the annual art auction will be going towards supporting the SAAG, and their programs including many youth programs, adult programs, supporting emerging artists in the community, as well as bringing in global artists to share their work.
“We are so impressed and thankful for the incredible generosity from our community of artists, donors, local businesses and sponsors,” says Kirsty Trinier, Executive Director of SAAG.
“There are so many amazing artworks that will live in our community after tonight’s exciting live and silent auction. Art Frenzy is truly the auction that supports art, and thanks for everyone who came out for the party of the season.”
Walk supports awareness
McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association brought together the fighting organizations for addictions, along with supportive community members to raise awareness for the National Addiction Awareness Week Walk.
The third annual initiative teamed up all addiction service providers to walk and demonstrate the wrap-around supports Lethbridge and area has to offer to disempower the stigma associated with addiction.
“The National Addictions Awareness Week Walk is an opportunity for people to come together and raise awareness around addictions, on the four pillars of addiction,” says Ashlynne Ball, supervisor of McMan Youth Services.
“Today we have representation from harm reduction, prevention, treatment, detox, enforcement from all throughout our city, just to raise awareness towards all of the programs that we do have to offer, for people with addictions in our community, as well as an opportunity to raise awareness about the complexity of addiction and that it is not just a one-step approach for everyone who has addictions. But, it is really about looking at each person individually and finding something that works for them to help them get to recovery and improve their health.”
Over the last year, the conversation and concerns surrounding addictions in the community has grown, and through the walk, Ball says they are able to show and educate the public about the different services they offer to make personally designed paths towards individuals’ recovery. She also says while there are services for people battling addiction, some services are still lacking to help in a full circle way.
Transit ridership growing
For Lethbridge, it’s unusual.
Passengers are filling Lethbridge Transit buses, downtown and across westside neighbourhoods.
Service frequencies have been stepped up to meet the demand, with more University of Lethbridge students avoiding parking fees by taking the bus.
During peak hours, overflow “Extra” buses are being provided to carry more students across the river.
And a number of fresh Nova buses have arrived to replace some of the City’s older, high-mileage transit vehicles.
“There has been very significant growth,” says transit manager Kevin Ponech.
Service has been stepped up, and “the student body seems to really appreciate it.”
Expansion of the “UPass” program for University of Lethbridge students is clearly the biggest reason more Lethbridge residents are catching the bus.
In 2017, when just the university’s graduate students were using the pass, September ridership figures showed 677 trips using the UPass on the City’s busiest bus route, across the river.
A year later, with all university students eligible, that number jumped to 10,303 trips in September. Earlier in 2018, U of L students voted to build the cost of the UPass into their students’ fees.
This fall, with the program’s growing popularity, there were 16,842 trips across the Oldman River using the bus pass this September.
And with many U of L students living west of the river, passenger counts on Lethbridge Transit’s five westside routes were still higher. The transit system’s data tracking system shows the number of trips using the UPass in September jumped from 51,106 a year ago to 63,584 this year.
Transit unions support boards
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 987 is lending its support to local school boards which are affected by city council’s decision to discontinue delivery of school bus services after the 2019-20 school year.
“We disagree with the decision council has made,” said Travis Oberg, president of the local ATU which also represents the City-employed school bus drivers impacted by the decision. “It’s going to have a huge impact on our community. The City of Lethbridge and the school boards have been in partnership for over the last 50 years, providing an integrated cost-recovery system. So we are pretty shocked council would make this decision without any public consultation. Ultimately, if those goes out to a private (busing) provider, we’re going to lose taxpayer money, which is directed for the service, that is going to be filtered off into private for-profit.”
Oberg said he has 60 drivers whose jobs are now on the line and the ATU is considering its next steps.
Future looks positive
Lethbridge business leaders aren’t crippled by the doom and gloom voiced in Calgary.
That was one of the first things learned by organizers of a new Alberta business network. Instead, Adam Legge said, southern Albertans are looking to a positive future.
“It was a very positive and upbeat conversation,” said Legge, president of the recently launched Business Council of Alberta.
“We didn’t talk about energy much at all.”
With assistance from the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, Legge met a number of southern Alberta business leaders during a round-table session Wednesday.
“We were very excited and positively encouraged by the conversation.”
Legge and his colleagues are touring the province, recruiting business leaders to the non-partisan group. The mood here is quite different from in Calgary, he observed.
The group isn’t intended to be another voice for the energy industry, Legge pointed out. It wants to see businesses in all parts of Alberta support initiatives which build on each region’s strengths.
Representatives of SouthGrow and Economic Development Lethbridge were on hand to outline southern Alberta’s economic opportunities.
YWCA names new CEO
After an extensive search, a new CEO has been named to lead the YWCA Lethbridge and District.
The organization’s board of directors has announced Shannon Hansen has joined the YWCA team effective Nov. 25. Co-chairing the board this year are Jessie Westers and Dominika Wojcik.
Hansen comes to the YWCA with an extensive background as a leader in the public sector.