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Backers of Calgary-Banff train say they need Parks Canada to get on board


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CALGARY — Updated ridership projections show a proposed $1.5-billion Calgary-to-Banff passenger train could be a success without annual payments from the government of Alberta, the project’s backers said Monday.

But Liricon Capital Inc., the lead private sector proponent of the project, said that will only happen if Parks Canada enacts policies aimed at encouraging the adoption of mass transit by visitors to Banff National Park.

“Specifically, the help we asked for and need from them (Parks Canada), is to provide some carrots and sticks,” Liricon Capital managing partner Jan Waterous said, adding that could be anything from raising the entry fee to Banff National Park for private passenger vehicles to expanding bus and shuttle service between park attractions.

In an interview, Waterous said the company is still waiting for a yes or no from the provincial government for its proposed rail line.

Liricon submitted its unsolicited proposal to the province earlier this year. While the company did not request any government funding for the project’s capital costs it did ask the province to commit to providing up to $30 million annually for the life of the train to help cover the mortgage on the project.

However, Waterous, who, together with husband Adam owns the Mount Norquay ski resort located in Banff National Park as well as the long-term lease on the Banff train station, said Monday a new ridership study commissioned by Liricon and Plenary shows those payments may not even be necessary.

The study, conducted by international transportation consultancy Steer, concluded that the train could carry up to 11 million passengers per year by 2035, five times more than originally projected in Liricon’s first proposal.

The new ridership projections are based on recent developments, Waterous said, such as Liricon’s securing the support of local municipalities including Calgary, Canmore and Cochrane, all of which have committed to tying in the passenger rail line to their existing mass transit networks.

The higher ridership forecasts also reflect Liricon’s discussions with local tourism operators who have expressed interest in offering package deals for rail travellers, as well as ongoing talks with Air Canada and WestJet that could see the rail line integrated with the airlines’ schedules to offer travellers a seamless transfer from the Calgary International Airport to Banff.

However, Waterous said the higher ridership figures are also based on the assumption that Parks Canada will incentivize ridership of the train through policy changes, something the federal agency has not committed to.

“We have done as much as we can do. The success of the train at this point really comes down to stakeholder support, and specifically the support of Parks Canada to put these policies in place to support this shift to mass transit,” Waterous said.

Liricon’s plan involves a European-style tourist train that would also serve local commuters, with service through seven communities as well as a stop in downtown Calgary.

The proposed hydrogen-powered passenger train would be built within the existing Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. freight corridor, which means it would require the twinning of the existing track but would not involve any foray into currently undisturbed land within Banff National Park.

Supporters of the project say the train could reduce the number of passenger vehicles within Canada’s oldest national park by at least 20 per cent, and up to 40 per cent with the use of policy incentives to promote train usage.

While proponents say that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the park, as well as traffic congestion, some environmentalists have warned that a passenger train would make Banff an even more popular destination for tourists, increasing the overall human impact on wildlife and the region’s natural landscape.

Waterous said Liricon’s next step is to work with Steer to develop an investment grade ridership and revenue study that will fully flesh out the financial impact of potential policy incentives.

Liricon has suggested that net ticket costs for Albertans using the train would be priced at about $20, with out-of-province users paying more.

Liricon has asked the province to commit up to $10 million to complete the next phase of design and development work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre