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Alberta

Alberta sets sights on cryptocurrency ‘Wild West,’ aims to attract maverick companies

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By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary

Cryptocurrency has been described by some observers as a “Wild West,” so it’s no surprise that of all Canadian provinces, Alberta is the one that has set its sights on becoming a North American hub for the maverick industry.

The oil-and-gas producing province that prides itself on its entrepreneurial history is now touting its ambition to become a North American hub for companies trading in and offering services related to Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin and other digital assets.

In the province’s throne speech last month, Alberta’s UCP government declared its intention to table legislation aimed at “promoting innovation” in the financial services sector by allowing companies to test new products and services.

The throne speech also mentioned future legislation that will solidify Alberta’s reputation as a “modern electricity powerhouse and a magnet for investment in emerging technology like data storage and cryptocurrency.”

While the details of any forthcoming legislation have yet to be revealed, Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer said in a recent interview that companies operating in the crypto space have demonstrated “immense interest” in the province in recent months.

“It’s still very much in its infancy in Alberta,” Schweitzer said. “But I think there’s an opportunity for Alberta to play a leadership role in Canada by creating a home for these venture companies.”

Alberta has already established itself as an attractive destination for cryptocurrency miners, who have set up a number of operations at various locations throughout the province. (The supercomputers used to mine for Bitcoin and other crypto tokens require vast amounts of low-priced power to be economical, so miners are often attracted to Alberta’s deregulated electricity system and abundant supply of natural gas).

Beyond mining, the province is also increasingly home to a wide range of other cryptocurrency-related firms, from those that specialize in the custody and storage of digital assets to manufacturers of crypto mining equipment like immersion cooler containers.

“I would say Alberta is close to unique, from what we’ve seen, in terms of how focused they are on attracting innovative financial technology companies,” said Emile Scheffel, vice-president of Brane Inc., which recently chose Calgary as the headquarters for its new subsidiary, Brane Trust.

Brane Trust will provide secure custody of digital assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum for institutional clients like banks and asset managers that either manage cryptocurrencies, or are seeking to expand their services to cryptocurrency services.

But setting up the business in Brane’s home base of Ontario proved difficult from a regulatory perspective. Getting the necessary regulatory approvals would have taken up to two years, whereas Alberta rolled out the welcome mat, Scheffel said.

“When we first reached out to regulators in Alberta about our ambitions, they were knowledgeable about cryptocurrency already — they had the necessary expertise to be able to do this,” he said.

Brian Mosoff — CEO of Toronto-based Ether Capital, which helped to launch the world’s first Bitcoin ETF last year alongside Purpose Investments — said cryptocurrency companies face many challenges from a regulatory perspective. In Canada, there isn’t even clarity yet about what type of assets digital currencies really are.

“Are they commodities? Are they securities?” Mosoff said. “We don’t even have an exchange that can compete on an international level.”

Globally, cryptocurrency is already a multi-trillion asset class, Mosoff said, so any jurisdiction that can think outside of the box and create a regulatory framework that doesn’t push these types of businesses away stands to benefit. (Schweitzer has indicated Alberta’s desire to develop a “regulatory sandbox” for crypto companies interested in setting up in the province).

“It’s about creating a culture and environment for all of those groups of people who are inspired by (cryptocurrency) to migrate into that jurisdiction,” Mosoff said. “Either because they think it’s favourable in terms of tax or regulation, or because they feel they can experiment with things without having the book thrown at them.”

Modern Mining is an Alberta-headquartered Bitcoin mining company that is currently building its first mining facility near the city of Medicine Hat, in the southeast corner of the province.

Sebastian Elawny, Modern Mining’s chief legal officer, acknowledged that  there has been an uptick in interest in the province by crypto companies in the last year, but said that’s largely because of China’s crackdown on the industry.

“All of a sudden, there were hundreds of thousands of mining rigs that needed to find new homes,” he said.

But Elawny said U.S. destinations like Miami and Texas remain far more attractive to the industry. While he said Alberta’s electricity market is an asset, the province has a long way to go if it truly wants to be a leader in the crypto space.

He names the carbon pricing system in Alberta as one disincentive for the electricity-guzzling crypto industry, as well as the challenges cryptocurrency companies can face securing financing.

“It’s even very difficult to get a bank account if you’re a crypto company in Alberta,” Elawny said. “We currently face a lot of challenges as a business trying to operate in Alberta, and we as a group are actually exploring our options outside of Alberta, because we’re falling behind already.”

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

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Alberta

Beehives and goat farms: Lacombe school shortlisted in global environmental contest

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Taylor Perez says she learned more about her passions while tending beehives, goats and fruit trees at her central Alberta high school than sitting through lessons in a classroom.

“These are all skills we don’t learn in regular classes,” says the 18-year-old student at Lacombe Composite High School.

“You’re not going to learn how to collaborate with community members by sitting in a classroom learning about E = mc2.”

Perez and her classmates are buzzing with excitement after their school’s student-led beekeeping program, goat farm, fruit orchard, tropical greenhouse and other environmental projects were recognized in a global sustainability contest among 10 other schools.

It’s the only North American school to be shortlisted by T4 Education, a global advocacy group, in its World’s Best School Prize for Environmental Action contest.

“The projects are coming from the students’ own hearts and passion for taking care of the environment,” says Steven Schultz, an agriculture and environmental science teacher who has been teaching in Lacombe since 1996.

“They are going to be our community leaders — maybe even our politicians — and for them to know what the heartbeat of their generation is (is) extremely important.”

Schultz says the projects are pitched and designed by students in the school’s Ecovision Club, to which Perez belongs, and he then bases a curriculum around those ideas.

The school of about 900 students began reducing its environmental footprint in 2006 when a former student heard Schultz say during a lesson on renewable energy that “words were meaningless or worthless without action,” the 56-year-old teacher recalls.

“She took that to heart and a year later she came back and told me that she wanted to take the school off the grid.”

Schultz and students watched a fire burn down solar panels on the school’s roof in 2010, an event that further transformed his approach to teaching.

“As their school was burning, my students gathered in tears. That day I realized that students really care about the environment and they really care about the projects that they were involved in.”

Since then, 32 new solar panels have been installed, and they produce up to four per cent of the school’s electricity. After the fire, students also wanted to clean the air in their classrooms so they filled some with spider plants, including one in the teachers’ lounge.

More recently, students replaced an old portable classroom on school property with a greenhouse that operates solely with renewable energy. It’s growing tropical fruits, such as bananas, pineapples, and lemons, and also houses some tilapia fish.

Two acres of the school are also covered by a food forest made up of almost 200 fruit trees and 50 raised beds where organic food is grown.

The school also works with a local farm and raises baby goats inside a solar-powered barn that was built with recycled material.

“They breed and milk them at the farm because there are really tight regulations,” says Schultz.

“We take the excrement from the goats and the hay and use it as mulch and fertilizers for our garden. The goats also chew up the grass and allow us not to have to use lawn mowers and tractors”

Perez said her favourite class is the beekeeping program with 12 hives that produce more than 300 kilograms of honey every year.

“I love that they have different roles in their own little societies,” Perez says of the bees.

She says while working with local businesses and groups as a part of her curriculum, she learned she’s passionate about the environment and wants to become a pharmacist so she can continue giving back to her community.

James Finley, a formerly shy Grade 10 student, says the Ecovision Club and environment classes have helped get him out of his comfort zone.

“I made friends, which was a hard thing for me in the beginning. But now I have, like, hundreds,” says the 16-year-old, who enjoyed the lessons he took on harvesting.

“Taylor and Mr. Schultz were the main people that made me stay.”

Schultz says the winners of the contest are to be announced in the fall.

A prize of about $322,000 will be equally shared among five winners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sunday, July 3, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Missing 13-year-old Edmonton girl found alive in Oregon, 41-year-old man arrested

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EDMONTON — Police say a 13-year-old Edmonton girl missing for more than a week has been found alive in the United States.

She was located following a week-long search that began when she was seen arriving at her junior high school but didn’t show up for class.

Edmonton Police Insp. Brent Dahlseide says the girl, who was reported missing June 24, is currently in an Oregon hospital for a precautionary examination after being found safe in the state early Saturday morning.

Dahlseide says a 41-year-old Oregon man will be charged with child luring and is expected to face additional charges in Canada and the U.S.

He says Edmonton police received assistance from other agencies in Canada, as well as from the FBI and other police services in the U.S.

Dahlseide says it’s believed the suspect came to Edmonton, but it’s not yet clear how he initially made contact with the girl or how she crossed the U.S. border.

“We would be speculating to say they crossed the border together, but I do know that they were located together, again, in the U.S. once they gained entry,” Dahlseide told reporters during an online news conference Saturday, noting he believed the two had been communicating online.

“I don’t know how long they may have been in contact with one another. I do know that the reason we’re going with a child-luring charge at this point is that it’s one we can support because of some of the online history.”

Photos of the girl have appeared on billboards and posters across Alberta this past week asking people to be on the lookout for her and contact police with tips.

Dahlseide said an Amber Alert was not issued because investigators lacked a description of a suspect or a suspect vehicle. He said police got that information on Friday and were drafting the alert that afternoon when they learned from Canada Border Services the suspect had crossed into the U.S.

At that point the suspect was no longer in Canadian jurisdiction, Dahlseide explained, which is another criteria for an Amber Alert. He said they made a deduction about where the suspect was going and alerted authorities on the U.S. side.

Dahlseide said he believed the arrest was made outside Gladstone, Oregon, just south of Portland, away from the suspect’s residence. He said the suspect’s name would not be released until charges are formally laid.

He said the girl’s family were informed early Saturday she’d been found safe and they are making arrangements to bring her home.

“I’m sure we likely woke them up, showing up at their door so early,” Dahlseide said.

Canadian investigators have not had a chance to speak with the girl or the suspect yet, Dahlseide said, and other questions remain.

He said investigators believe the suspect was in Mission, B.C. for three to four days, so they’ll be asking RCMP there to speak to people who may have seen him or the girl during that time. The FBI will also be able to help supply bank or credit card information to piece together the suspect’s movements, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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