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Alberta

Battle of Alberta hockey allegiances split in Red Deer

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The old Crown and Anchor bar in Red Deer, Alta., was famous for its line drawn down the middle when hosting hockey fans during the fierce Battle of Alberta playoff games of the late-1980s.

Calgary Flames fans sat on one side. Edmonton Oilers fans were relegated to the other.

NHL allegiances are split in the city of just over 100,000 people that sits within a kilometre of the exact halfway point of the 300-kilometre drive along Hwy. 2 between Calgary and Edmonton.

The Flames host the Oilers in Game 1 to kick off the second round of the NHL playoffs on Wednesday, in a Battle of Alberta of proportions not seen in decades.

“To see both fan bases totally engaged in playoffs is something that has just never happened in a lot of people’s life times who are under the age of 40,” said Merrick Sutter, senior vice-president of the Red Deer Rebels, and nephew of Flames coach Darryl Sutter. “We see it every day in Red Deer, just the sheer nature of being exactly in the middle.”

While it marks the sixth time the two teams have battled in the NHL post-season, it’s the first time in 31 years. The Oilers own a 4-1 series record.

The Rebels tweeted, tongue in cheek, on Monday: “Pray for Red Deer.”

Red Deer actually wins, no matter which team emerges victorious, said Mayor Ken Johnston.

“Really, every city from Fort McMurray in the north to Lethbridge in the south is going to benefit from the series, the bars, the restaurants, the hospitality industry, the ability for people to come together and socialize … and it couldn’t come at a better time from that perspective. People are just so eager to get out and be in person.

“But certainly Red Deer will benefit. Every other town and city (in Alberta) is going to have a piece of this series.”

The Mayor’s allegiances, he wasn’t afraid to admit, are with the Flames. He worked in Calgary during the team’s heyday of the late ’80s, when they made the Stanley Cup final in ’86 and won it all in ’89.

He has a Calgary jersey and a hat signed by Flames legend Lanny McDonald.

“Being a good mayor, I also have a little Oilers fanfare to wear from time to time,” he added with a laugh.

Sutter said allegiances in the Battle of Alberta have generational roots. His, of course, were forged in his family’s long history with the Flames. His dad Brent, now owner, president and GM of the Rebels, coached the Flames for three seasons, and uncle Darryl’s first coaching stint in Calgary was in 2003.

“Not many can understand, but there’s not very many circumstances where you have two franchises with such a longstanding rivalry,” he said. “This goes back to grandparents and parents, back in the ’80s and whatnot. It’s embedded. Now, to be able to reignite it is special, but to me it’s really about the younger people who have never seen that rivalry.”

Troy Gillard, who does play-by-play of Rebels games, said Red Deer has unique connections to both teams — although he noted he wore a Flames polo to the office on Monday. There’s the Rebels’ ties to the Sutter family. But he believes the Oilers saw a surge of new fans when the club drafted Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in 2011. He was the first Rebel to go No. 1 in the draft.

The Oilers also have defenceman Kris Russell, who’s from nearby Caroline, Alta., and had Red Deer native Colton Sceviour before waiving him in late-January.

“Even here at the Rebels, we’re split pretty much 50/50. It’s gonna be a lot of fun around here the next couple weeks,” Gillard said.

These playoffs are the first held in full arenas in Canada since the COVID-19 began. Red Deer was slammed by the Omicron variant this past winter that saw the world junior championships there cancelled four days after it started.

“That Game 7 in overtime was as close to a return to normalcy as you’re going to find,” said Sutter, who was in Calgary on Sunday night for the Flames’ 3-2 OT thriller over Dallas.

“To see the crowd at Rogers Arena (in Edmonton) in Game 7 two nights ago, that game ended with a late goal and a burst of energy, and then to match that and then probably even beat it (Sunday) night in Game 7, overtime (in Calgary) — game sevens with premium endings in their own arenas … you couldn’t script it any better than that.”

Red Deer bars are buzzing with anticipation after a couple of years of hard times amid the pandemic.

“We’re all very very excited, it’s been a long time to have this kind of thing happen,” said Brennen Wowk, owner of 400-seat Bo’s Bar & Stage. “Staff will be in jerseys of their choice, (he’ll be in his No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Oilers jersey), we’ll be pouring lots of beer, and have the volume on as loud as it can go. As much excitement we can put into this room, we’re going to put into this room.”

Dallas Gaume hopes Alberta’s teams in the post-season will see hockey registration numbers in Red Deer return to pre-pandemic numbers.

“A lot of eyes are going to be on the province in the next two weeks, and I really think we’re going to get some growth out of this,” said Gaume, the GM of the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association.

There was no season in 2020-21 due to COVID-19, and then number of returning players dropped by 7.5 per cent this past winter. Gaume believes it’s a combination of issues, such as players needing to be vaccinated to enter arenas and players finding other winter activities during the lockdown.

Like the city of Red Deer, Gaume’s allegiances are split. He coached Nugent-Hopkins with the Rebels, “so I’m a big fan of his. And I’m a big fan of the Sutters, I think Darryl is a terrific coach. So I like both teams.”

There’s no love lost between the two squads, he said, and said Canada vs. the U.S. in women’s hockey would be an adequate comparison.

“I know that’s an extremely strong rivalry, with lots of dislike for one another,” Gaume said. “I think the same could be said with these two teams. I know with a lot of people, if you like the Oilers, you generally hate the Flames and the same the other way. You can’t like both.”

If he had to pick a winner?

“I think the Flames are the better team. Doesn’t necessarily mean they win the series. How’s that for my sitting-on-the-fence prediction?” he said with a laugh.

Game 2 is Friday in Calgary before the series heads north to Edmonton for Games 3 and 4. The series winner meets either St. Louis or Colorado in the Western Conference Final.

“One of the Alberta teams is going to be playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final,” Gillard marvelled. “It’s going to be heartbreaking for whichever team loses in Round 2, but for whichever team moves on, how exciting is that?”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Reducing funding for RCMP on the table for Saskatchewan amid firearm buyback debate

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REGINA — Saskatchewan says it would consider reducing its funding for the RCMP if the force was to help the federal government with its proposed firearms buyback program.

Public Safety Minister Christine Tell says all options are on the table, signalling the province will not help Ottawa collect guns it has banned.

“We as a province fund the RCMP to a tune of 70 per cent, so it could even get more interesting,” Tell said Thursday.

The Saskatchewan Party government said it is pushing back to protect law-abiding firearms owners from what it views as federal intrusion on its provincial autonomy.

Under Ottawa’s proposed firearms buyback program, it would be mandatory for people to have their assault-style firearms rendered inoperable or have them discarded. That could also include centrefire semi-automatic rifles or shotguns designed to accept a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.

In response, Saskatchewan has introduced its own firearms act to forbid municipalities and police services from receiving federal money to help confiscate firearms.

The proposed law says a municipality, police service or board would have to get written approval from the province’s public safety minister before agreeing to support the federal buyback program.

It also states that Saskatchewan’s chief firearms officer would enforce which federal agent can or cannot confiscate firearms in the province.

“These legal firearm owners are not the ones committing the crimes,” Tell said.

The legislation was tabled Thursday, months after Tell wrote a letter to Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the head of Saskatchewan’s RCMP. It stated that the province would not support the Mounties using provincially funded resources to help confiscate firearms.

Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick have sent similar letters to their RCMP forces. They have joined Saskatchewan in asking Ottawa to not use up “scarce RCMP and municipal resources” for its buyback program.

In October, Blackmore said Mounties are service providers, not decision-makers, and any decisions over the buyback program are between the federal and provincial governments.

“As the service provider, we would be the individuals that get our information from them,” Blackmore told The Canadian Press.

That includes if additional resources would be needed by RCMP once the buyback program rolls out.

“It would depend on the level of expectation, and what that looks like, and what the involvement is if there are additional resources,” Blackmore said.

The specific role of the RCMP and the details surrounding the buyback program have not been determined.

On Friday, the Saskatchewan RCMP said it will continue to prioritize front-line services and the safety of communities is its highest priority.

The Saskatchewan Firearms Act also calls for helping firearm owners get fair market value for guns collected through the buyback program and would require all seized firearms to go through forensic and ballistic testing.

The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, which advocates for hunters and the protection of the province’s hunting heritage, praised the proposed act, saying it would mitigate the “draconian” federal legislation.

There are approximately 115,000 licensed firearms owners in Saskatchewan, 75,000 of whom may be penalized under the federal government’s policy. That’s about 10 per cent of Saskatchewan’s adult population, the province said.

Saskatchewan’s NDP Opposition has stood united with the government to denounce the program.

“It does not strike the right balance for Saskatchewan,” justice critic Nicole Sarauer said last week in the legislature.

“These amendments are overbroad and capture rifles that have legitimate uses for both hunters and producers in Saskatchewan.”

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

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Premier Smith goes on the attack against NDP opposition to the Alberta Sovereignty Act

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It appears Premier Danielle Smith has had enough of playing defence. In the days since introducing the Alberta Sovereignty Act in the Alberta Legislature this week, Smith has found herself explaining and re-explaining how the Act will survive scrutiny and serve the province well in ongoing battles over issues of contention with Ottawa.  Peppered by the media and by the Official Opposition NDP inside and outside the legislature, Smith and her team decided to turn the tables.
The media and the official opposition claim the Sovereignty Act allows laws to be crafted by cabinet members “behind closed doors” after the legislature has declared a federal overreach into provincial jurisdiction.
However that appears to be a confusing opposition tactic since the Sovereignty Act does not require the passing of new laws.  Rather, the Province will simply provide reasons for declining to enforce federal laws which (i) intrudes into provincial legislation jurisdiction, (ii) violates the rights and freedoms of Albertans under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or (iii) causes or is anticipated to cause harm to Albertans.
Thursday, Premier Smith took the opportunity during Ministerial Statements to lash out at the opposition leader Rachel Notley for siding with Ottawa instead of Alberta in the struggle to defend provincial rights.

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