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ACAC happens upon a workable provincial remedy to a world-wide conundrum

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Hints, rumours and pure nonsense are being shuffled like an endless deck of cards as sports officials keep looking for a wild card that would help to clarify the road back to what once was considered a normal – or at least near-normal – state of affairs.

The same is true in the real world, of course, but this space sees more reason every day to puzzle over the wisdom of trying to save all these schedules. At this moment, painful or not, it seems that the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference has happened upon a workable provincial remedy to a world-wide conundrum.

Earlier this week, the University of Alberta decision to wipe out at least six major sports resulted in emotional responses that reached wall to wall for sports. Now, the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference takes another logical step by announcing a plan to conduct events almost solely in April, May and June.

Unaffected, for example, are soccer and the other events normally scheduled in the opening semester: “Their schedules (in a normal year) would be totally finished by then,” said executive director Mark Kosak.

It is considered possible that “between 12 and 16 games” of volleyball, basketball, perhaps even men’s and women’s hockey, could be played during that period. “Other tournament-style sports like curling and golf could be accommodated at the same time.” One essential commitment is to avoid conflicts between athletics and the important job of focusing on exams and other year-end functions.

Kosak confirmed that high-level school and conference officials have spoken in favour of a decision like this one.

“They respected that it would be our (athletic) decision, but it was clear that nobody wants an outbreak of any type on campus. This did not make the decision any easier. “The last thing we want to do is make it harder for our student-athletes,” he repeated. “Their disappointment and frustration has been heard.”

Certainly, some ACAC athletes will be unable to compete during the latest stage of their school year. Many must be committed to jobs away from school at that time. “We understand. Our athletes don’t want disruptions like this; neither do we.”

One other major provision, recognizing cost factors and other elements, has been introduced so institutions are free to opt out of the existing plans for a year. “The option was provided to all of our members and one school – the Camrose campus of the University of Alberta – has already accepted that option,” Kosak said.

This sort of delay might be a separate long-term benefit for the Augustana Vikings. Alumni members confirmed last month that several had been working extremely hard for enough financial and community support to delay a probable decision to wipe out men’s hockey despite the storied history of the Vikings and the once-renowned Viking Cup international tournament.

Kosak, ever the optimist, spent a few moments on an overview of these difficult times in post-secondary sports administration. He found a tiny benefit: “It is not easy to seek and find decisions like this, but it’s certainly a challenge . . .  all these variables and unknowns to deal with.”

And what is sport, after all, but a challenge?

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Alberta

Alberta inquiry finds no wrongdoing in anti-oilsands campaign despite foreign funds

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EDMONTON — Canadian environmental groups did nothing wrong when they accepted foreign funding for campaigns opposing oilsands development, a public inquiry has reported.

In his much-delayed report released Thursday, Steve Allan, commissioner of the Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, says the groups were exercising their rights to free speech.

“I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization,” Allan writes. 

“No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech.”

Allan also says the campaigns have not spread misinformation.

While he finds that at least $1.28 billion has flowed into Canadian environmental charities from the U.S. between 2003 and 2019, only a small portion of that has been directed against the oilsands. Auditors Deloitte Forensic Inc. estimate that money at between $37.5 million and $58.9 million over that period. That averages to $3.5 million a year at most.

Alberta’s United Conservative government funds its so-called “war room,” an arm’s-length agency instituted to counter environmental groups, at up to $30 million a year.

The report also finds that what it calls conservative/market-oriented charities that worked in support of the oilsands received at least $26.7 million from foreign sources. 

Allan recommends a series of reforms to improve transparency in the charitable sector. He says charities should be subject to the same standards of disclosure as private corporations. 

He also calls for an industry-led campaign to rebrand Canadian energy.

“Industry associations, governments, and the industry itself have failed to counter (environmental groups’) efforts, such that the public has not had ready access to complete, reliable and balanced information,” Allan writes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

PropTech is making it easier to buy or sell a house online

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CALGARY — Kim and Dave Bailey knew they wanted to build their new home on a lot that would accommodate a three-car garage.

But finding the right location meant repeatedly taking time out of their day to visit sales offices, only to find out what they wanted wasn’t even a possibility.

“We must have visited seven or eight homebuilders in the community,” said Dave. “We’d have a conversation and then ask, ‘can you accommodate a three-car garage?’ They’d say ‘nope,” and so it was like, ‘OK, I guess we wasted our time.’ “

After one too many unsatisfying experiences, the Baileys stumbled upon Ownly, an online shopping tool for the new home market launched last year by a pair of Calgary entrepreneurs and now available on several Calgary homebuilder websites. Using Ownly, the couple were able to browse prospective communities and floor plans and figure out which home designs fit on which lots.

While the advent of e-commerce and mobile technology long ago changed the way Canadians shop for everything from clothing to vacations to food, the real estate industry has been slower to embrace digital innovation. For most people, buying a house remains a cumbersome, time-consuming process that involves multiple in-person visits with agents, lawyers and bankers.

But that’s beginning to change, with a growing number of homebuilders, real estate brokerages and financial institutions offering digital solutions aimed at modernizing the buying and selling process.

The Baileys also used Ownly to play around with different upgrade packages and get a ballpark price quote. By the time they actually set foot in the sales office of the builder from whom they ultimately bought their Calgary dream home, they knew exactly what they wanted and had a good sense of what it was going to cost.

“Building a new home is a huge financial decision,” said Kim. “So being able to look at everything before you go out, and being able to tell if this is even feasible for you, it reduces some of that disappointment.”

Abdullah Snobar, executive director of The DMZ business incubator at Ryerson University, says the economy is undergoing a major transformation as people become increasingly digitally savvy.

“Startups are definitely thriving in this space and we’re beginning to see the industry really find its footing around it,” he said.

Most homebuyers are familiar with commonplace digital real estate tools like web-based listings, virtual tours and online mortgage calculators. But tech innovators are now partnering with real estate companies to offer everything from digital sales offices to artificial-intelligence enabled search tools to virtual-reality-led property tours.

Advocates say taking advantage of PropTech — a term that refers to the use of technology in the real estate space — can offer a host of benefits to buyers and sellers. Whether it’s the minimizing of face-to-face contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, or the convenience of being able to shop on your own schedule, the use of digital solutions can remove some of the headaches from a real estate search.

The use of PropTech can also be a money-saver. Because the Baileys weren’t walking blindly into the sales office, they felt more confident about their ability to choose the model and upgrades that worked within their budget.

“Our salesperson didn’t have to upsell us at all. Anything that we upgraded came directly from us, not from them,” Kim said.

While PropTech has made some significant strides when it comes to disrupting the traditional real estate market, experts say it’s not yet possible in Canada to complete all the steps in the home-buying process — from offer to financing to closure of the deal — online.

But Fred Cassano, partner and national real estate tax leader with PwC Canada, said a number of PropTech companies will likely offer such tools in the near future.

“I think we’re much closer than people realize to being able to complete the entire process online,” Cassano said. “I don’t think we’re too far away from seeing that, which is transacting digitally from start to finish.”

In fact, Ownly says that within the next year, it hopes to expand its own platform to provide a complete end-to-end new home-buying service online.

Melanie Gowans, general manager of sales and marketing at Calgary’s Shane Homes — one of the builders that has been using the Ownly tool — said her company is ready for it.

“We would never replace the service we’re offering now. There are going to people who aren’t comfortable doing the whole sale online. But I want to make it available to those who are comfortable,” Gowans said.

“We (the home building industry) are one of the last industries to have everything online,” she added. “But if you think about back when you first started being able to buy clothes online, that seemed really weird too . . . So I think we are getting there, and we’re only going to get better at it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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