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Alberta

More Important Now Than Ever: Remembrance and a few thoughts on this World Suicide Prevention Day

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More Important Now Than Ever: Remembrance and a few thoughts on this World Suicide Prevention Day

Tracey Lubkey

On August 31, 2019 my sister Kelly and I lost our bright, kind, and beautiful mother Tracey to suicide. In the weeks preceding her death, a major depression Mum had dealt with and overcome several times before in her life came back with a suddenness and intensity that staggered us. It was terrifying to see this episode’s impact and how debilitating it was; the helplessness you feel when a loved one is being tormented by their own mind is it’s own kind of torture. Still, even through her long and grinding bouts of depression in years past, suicide somehow never felt like a possibility. The very notion was abstract, dark, and seemed impossible- so it was the most shocking and devastating thing we could have imagined that it happened. It’s now just over a year later and there are many days we still can’t believe she’s gone.

Our Mom was our best friend, our biggest cheerleader and just exuded light and kindness. She always wanted to help, whether it was my sister and I, her friends and family or complete strangers- if there was a need for volunteers, she’d be one of the first to sign up. She had so much love for us, for her dogs, for travelling, for golfing, for gardening, for relaxing with drinks on the patio and talking for hours. She was so compassionate and could truly see the good in everyone. When we were growing up, she worked as a registered nurse and often brought home little gifts from patients and their families that she had cared for. She left such an impression on the people she met and this was especially obvious at her memorial, where we were just blown away by the amount of people who attended that had worked with her years, even decades ago. The stories people were generous enough to share with us about our mom were so beautiful- they were such a gift and helped to propel us through that surreal day.

Last year at this time, as we moved through the chaos and fog immediately following Mum’s death, I began to see bright yellow billboards all over town stating that ‘11 Edmontonians attempt or die by suicide per day’. As it turns out, each year, over 50 countries recognize September 10th as World Suicide Prevention Day. So soon after losing my mother this way, the subject of suicide was the only thing on my mind apart from the endless ‘Why?’s. This campaign’s timing was bananas.

I quickly learned the ads were promoting 11 of Us, a resource portal developed as part of Living Hope: A Community Plan to Prevent Suicide in Edmonton. The Living Hope initiative was developed by a committee of individuals and organizations dedicated to preventing suicides in Edmonton. The plan’s objectives include raising awareness and making education on mental health and suicide prevention available to Edmontonians, in most cases free of charge.

Over the past year, I’ve taken advantage of this initiative and attended excellent courses provided by Living Hope stakeholders including Mental Health First Aid (Basic Course), Safe Talk, Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR), Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), and Trauma Informed Care. Through these courses I have been lucky enough to meet and share my story with so many kind, compassionate and interesting people, whether they were the ones delivering the course or learning alongside me.

Of course COVID-19 has changed everything. Most of these courses are now offered online, including one I have yet to take called LivingWorks Start which teaches trainees to recognize when someone is thinking about suicide and to connect them with help and support. While many of us are dealing with screen-fatigue, please don’t let the idea of one more online session deter you. Most courses don’t require more than an hour, but the information you’ll learn really could help keep someone with us.

This past year has been the hardest of my life, yet I’ve been encouraged and inspired by the work and efforts of so many as I try to gain peace and a better understanding of my family’s experience. It goes without saying that suicide is a difficult topic- I’ve come to learn that nothing sucks the air out a room quite like the mention of it. It’s much easier to look away, but for World Suicide Prevention Day this year, if your own mental health allows for it, take a moment to read about the experiences of suicide attempt survivors, caregivers, suicide loss survivors, and those at risk of suicide.

We live in a new world now and we’re going to need each other more than ever. Like another one of those big yellow 11 of Us billboards I saw recently said, ‘There’s rarely been a more important time to check in with one another.’

WHERE TO GET HELP

Call 911 if someone is in immediate danger of becoming injured or dying.

In Edmonton: Call The Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Edmonton Distress Line 24/7 at (780)-482-4357 (HELP)

In Red Deer & across Alberta: Call the Mental Health Help Line at 1-(877)-303-2642

In Calgary: Call the Distress Centre Calgary’s Crisis Line 24/7 at (403)-266-4357 (HELP)

Alberta

Curling Alberta decision will have ripple effect on potential wild-card teams

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Never has so little curling action created so many headlines ahead of the national championships.

With many teams, clubs and provincial playdowns on ice due to the pandemic, several curling associations have had to get creative in this most unusual season.

Curling Canada is no exception. The national federation added two more wild-card teams to the field at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier to create 18-team competitions.

“Unique circumstances call for unique solutions,” read the top of last week’s release announcing the news. 

The one-time switch will allow a few more highly ranked teams into the mix. Now the big question is who will get in and when can they pack their bags for the so-called bubble in Calgary.

Many associations recently cancelled their championships and declared representatives. Other provinces and territories are planning to hold playdowns over the next few weeks.

The big decision that will have a ripple-down effect on wild-card spots is expected soon. Curling Alberta cancelled its championships Jan. 8 but didn’t declare representatives for nationals, pending a “decision by the organization’s board of directors.”

Board members were scheduled to meet over the weekend to decide. An announcement will be made no earlier than Monday, executive director Jill Richard said in an email.

Many member associations used last year’s championship results to determine their representatives. Others considered recent results, rankings and standings for their picks. 

Normally at the Scotties and Brier, the top two teams in the Canadian rankings not already entered in the draw square off in a play-in game to become Team Wild Card.

Curling Canada scrapped that setup for this season only and will instead give wild-card spots to the teams that would have played in the game, based on the 2019-20 final standings. The third wild-card spot – based on criteria to be determined – will get the final entry and create two even pools of nine teams each.

Here’s where it gets interesting and Alberta has a unique hammer.

Brendan Bottcher is the reigning men’s provincial champion. Kevin Koe was not in the playdowns last year since he had an automatic Brier berth as Team Canada. Jeremy Harty, meanwhile, has a slight lead on the second-place Koe in the provincial points race. 

Bottcher is ranked fourth in Canada, Koe is sixth and Harty is 15th. If Curling Alberta goes with an under-the-radar Harty pick, it would give the province a worthy representative and allow all three teams to enter rather than just two. 

Manitoba’s Mike McEwen can rest easy in the No. 5 spot knowing he’s in. 

If Bottcher is Team Alberta, McEwen and Koe are in as wild-card entries and No. 9 Glenn Howard is a potential pick for the third spot.

If Koe wears provincial colours, Bottcher and McEwen would be wild-card entries. Howard would be a good bet for the third but the selection is not necessarily a slam dunk.

If Harty gets the Alberta nod, Bottcher and McEwen would secure wild-card spots and Koe would be a virtual lock for the final berth. Boosting Harty’s case was Nova Scotia’s recent decision to give Jill Brothers the Scotties spot based on this season’s standings.

On the women’s side, Laura Walker is the favourite to be named Team Alberta. The reigning provincial champion is ranked seventh in Canada and is second in the provincial standings.

Alberta leader Kelsey Rocque, the Canadian No. 6, only has two returning members from last season, one short of the required minimum. 

The 3-of-4 rule also affects No. 10 Robyn Silvernagle of Saskatchewan, since she has two new players as well. Fifth-ranked Chelsea Carey, also of Alberta, is a free agent.

Manitoba’s Tracy Fleury is the only Scotties wild-card lock at No. 2. World junior champion Mackenzie Zacharias is in the mix at No. 11 along with fellow Manitoban Beth Peterson at No. 12. 

Suzanne Birt is a heavy favourite to win the two-team Prince Edward Island championship at the end of the month, but a loss would move her into a wild-card spot at No. 9. 

Like the men’s pick, the third spot is a real guessing game, thanks in part to the uncertain criteria. 

A Curling Canada spokesman said the 3-of-4 rule will apply to the first two wild-card teams in each gender, but noted qualifying criteria for the third wild-card team won’t be finalized until after all member associations have declared teams.

That would appear to give teams in a 2-of-4 situation at least a little bit of hope. 

The veteran Howard, a four-time Brier champion, could very well get the men’s spot. But it’s also possible a youngster like No. 14 Tyler Tardi, a world junior champ from B.C., could get the selection.

The third women’s spot is also a crapshoot. Several worthy teams could be in the mix from Zacharias and Peterson to No. 19 Casey Scheidegger of Alberta, a perennial contender who has played a limited schedule over the last couple seasons. 

The Scotties is set for Feb. 19-28 at Markin MacPhail Centre. The Brier is scheduled for March 5-14 at the same venue on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Oilpatch woes boost Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rates to record levels

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CALGARY — Vacancies in Calgary’s downtown office towers have risen to record levels and there’s no landlord relief in sight with almost one in three offices sitting empty and sublets accounting for a quarter of available spaces on the market.

The city’s glut of empty office space has previously been linked to overbuilding but two commercial real estate reports released this past week show that downtown vacancy rates in Canada’s oil and gas capital are the highest in the country and growing — despite no major new towers opening in the past two years. 

Vacancies are likely to go even higher, both reports note, driven by short-term factors including layoffs resulting from the takeover of Husky Energy Inc. by Cenovus Energy Inc. and longer-term job losses from cost-cutting and mergers in the oil and gas sector.

In its report released Thursday, real estate firm CBRE says the equivalent of four CFL football fields in downtown office space was emptied in the last quarter of 2020. 

The net reduction of 355,000 square feet (32,000 square metres) took the vacancy rate to a record high of 29.5 per cent compared with 27.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019.

“The negative absorption is due to the oilpatch, not COVID-19,” said Greg Kwong, Calgary-based regional managing director for CBRE. 

“People may not be going back to work because of the lockdowns but these companies still have leases in place and have to pay the rent. It’s not considered vacated space.”

CBRE found that 23.7 per cent of the available downtown office space in Calgary is being sublet by the lease holder.

In a separate report using different calculation methods, Avison Young pegged the downtown office vacancy rate at a record 26.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, up from 24.2 per cent in the year-earlier period.

Under an optimistic scenario, Avison Young predicts the vacancy rate will rise to 28.6 per cent by the end of 2023; in its pessimistic forecast, it foresees a rate of 32.9 per cent.

The merger of Cenovus and Husky offices in 2021 is projected to result in between 36,000 and 54,000 square metres of downtown space being vacated later this year, said Todd Throndson, managing director for Avison Young’s Calgary office. That’s around one per cent of the total inventory of 4.16 million square metres.

“We have a very difficult marketplace and there’s no quick solutions to solving that problem,” he said. “The next 12 to 24 months are going to be a challenging time for there to be any growth in our marketplace.”

Cenovus and Husky have said their merger will result in a reduction of between 20 and 25 per cent of the 8,600 combined employees and contractors — potentially more than 2,000 workers.

The two companies have about 300,000 square metres of lease commitments in Calgary, with some of it already being sublet to other tenants, said Cenovus spokesman Reg Curren. More space is expected to be sublet going forward, he said, declining to give specifics.

“Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and we determine our plan to return to the workplace, Brookfield Place will be the head office of the combined company,” he said, referring to the 56-storey glass and steel tower opened in 2017 that Cenovus calls home.

Husky’s head office is a few blocks west in the much older Western Canadian Place. 

It’s not hard to find other Calgary companies reducing staff and their need for office space.

Suncor Energy Inc. announced in October it would reduce total staff by 10 to 15 per cent over 18 months, cutting as many as 1,930 jobs. Those cuts will be offset by the relocation of its Petro-Canada head office and most of its 700 jobs from Ontario to Calgary.

Imperial Oil Ltd. announced in November it would lay off 200 staff.

Meanwhile, office space held by Equinor Canada at Jamieson Place in downtown Calgary is on the sublet market after the Norwegian oil company decided to consolidate its Canadian operations in St. John’s, N.L.

Lower staff counts are also expected with the close of a handful of smaller oil and gas producer corporate mergers announced late last year.

Calgary’s office buildings have lost an overall 13 per cent of value, about $2.3 billion, over the past year due to higher vacancy rates and lower rents, the city said Thursday as it issued its 2021 property assessment notices. 

Declines in recent years have pushed more of the municipal tax burden to residential and other business ratepayers.

Economic Development Calgary is using the city’s abundance of discounted office space as a “huge selling feature” in attracting Calgary employers in new sectors like technology and renewable energy, said CEO Mary Moran, but she concedes those new tenants haven’t replaced the oil and gas losses.

“I think, long-term, we know that the energy industry is not going to be the job creator,” she said. “It’s a jobless recovery in oil and gas.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE, TSX:SU)

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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