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The Raptors (Ridgefield Raptors that is) are coming to Edmonton next summer

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At first word that the Raptors will be spending a few days in Edmonton next summer, sports fans might be excused for jumping up and down at the thought of a high-profile NBA event.

But the Raptors under discussion play another game — baseball — and they’re based not in Toronto but in Ridgefield, Wash., a small centre near the Washington-Oregon border which claims fewer than 10,000 residents in its Wikipedia profile. Edmonton — officially labeled the Riverhawks — is now a partner in the West Coast League, which develops college players and has seen several top prospects selected in recent Major League Baseball drafts.

Also joining this week are teams based in Kamloops and Nanaimo, bringing the British Columbia contingent to four teams. Victoria and Kelowna were already members of what now is a 15-team organization.

Teams currently occupy Yakima, Wenatchee, Walla Walla and Port Angeles in Washington, as well as Bend, Corvallis and other communities in Oregon.

The city of Edmonton confirmed months ago that the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Canadian Baseball League would not be returning to Re/Max Field. Several years of association with Pat Cassidy and the Prospects had led to difficult feelings on both sides.

The Prospects are developing a new facility in Stony Plain. It will be ready for competition in 2022. Cassidy has said his team will find another place to play in 2021. All comments on next year and beyond are based, of course, on the progress of local, provincial and national fights against COVID.

Randy Gregg, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman who led the new group’s campaign to function in Re/Max Field, unveiled his new organization at a well-attended news conference and said several options concerning the WCBL were considered but “there were continuing roadblocks.”

During months of negotiation, Gregg and his supporters did not communicate with the public. Neither did city council. “When you sign a non-disclosure agreement, you have to abide by it. Your signature has to mean something,” he said.

Gregg insisted the Riverhawks organization has no ill feelings about the WCBL. “It might have worked well,” he said. A few casual remarks were made about the potential value to this entire region if both the WCBL and the WCL are profitable.

The Edmonton approach includes sharing in travel costs for existing West Coast League teams. Similar situations made it difficult for a pair of so-called “independent” teams to operate in the years after the Edmonton Trappers were sold and Edmonton had no significant baseball.

Gregg is convinced the new load of travel costs will not be insurmountable. The Riverhawks are a collection of 28 contributors. He also pointed out that at least a couple of Edmonton’s new partners are owned or controlled by owners with major-league connections.’

“We’ve got a big job ahead of us,” he said. “We know that a lot of baseball fans have never seen a game at Re/Max Field.”

As things were unfolding between the Prospects and city officials, there were regular suggestions that no lease would have been granted for the WCBL in 2021. “Can you imagine what it would feel like to have no baseball for maybe three or four years in this great sports city?”

Last week our nation ran into a spree of high-profile miracles

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Addictions

‘Harm Reduction’ is killing B.C.’s addicts. There’s got to be a better way

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Susan Martinuk 

B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy

Since 2016, more than 40,000 Canadians have died from opioid drug overdoses — almost as many as died during the Second World War.
Governments, health care professionals and addiction experts all acknowledge that widespread use of opioids has created a public health crisis in Canada. Yet they agree on virtually nothing else about this crisis, including its causes, possible remedies and whether addicts should be regarded as passive victims or accountable moral agents.

Fuelled by the deadly manufactured opioid fentanyl, Canada’s national drug overdose rate stood at 19.3 people per 100,000 in 2022, a shockingly high number when compared to the European Union’s rate of just 1.8. But national statistics hide considerable geographic variation. British Columbia and Alberta together account for only a quarter of Canada’s population yet nearly half of all opioid deaths. B.C.’s 2022 death rate of 45.2/100,000 is more than double the national average, with Alberta close behind at 33.3/100,00.

In response to the drug crisis, Canada’s two western-most provinces have taken markedly divergent approaches, and in doing so have created a natural experiment with national implications.

B.C. has emphasized harm reduction, which seeks to eliminate the damaging effects of illicit drugs without actually removing them from the equation. The strategy focuses on creating access to clean drugs and includes such measures as “safe” injection sites, needle exchange programs, crack-pipe giveaways and even drug-dispensing vending machines. The approach goes so far as to distribute drugs like heroin and cocaine free of charge in the hope addicts will no longer be tempted by potentially tainted street drugs and may eventually seek help.

But safe-supply policies create many unexpected consequences. A National Post investigation found, for example, that government-supplied hydromorphone pills handed out to addicts in Vancouver are often re-sold on the street to other addicts. The sellers then use the money to purchase a street drug that provides a better high — namely, fentanyl.

Doubling down on safe supply, B.C. recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The resulting explosion of addicts using drugs in public spaces, including parks and playgrounds, recently led the province’s NDP government to attempt to backtrack on this policy — though for now that effort has been stymied by the courts.

According to Vancouver city councillor Brian Montague, “The stats tell us that harm reduction isn’t working.” In an interview, he calls decriminalization “a disaster” and proposes a policy shift that recognizes the connection between mental illness and addiction. The province, he says, needs “massive numbers of beds in treatment facilities that deal with both addictions and long-term mental health problems (plus) access to free counselling and housing.”

In fact, Montague’s wish is coming true — one province east, in Alberta. Since the United Conservative Party was elected in 2019, Alberta has been transforming its drug addiction policy away from harm reduction and towards publicly-funded treatment and recovery efforts.

Instead of offering safe-injection sites and free drugs, Alberta is building a network of 10 therapeutic communities across the province where patients can stay for up to a year, receiving therapy and medical treatment and developing skills that will enable them to build a life outside the drug culture. All for free. The province’s first two new recovery centres opened last year in Lethbridge and Red Deer. There are currently over 29,000 addiction treatment spaces in the province.

This treatment-based strategy is in large part the work of Marshall Smith, current chief of staff to Alberta’s premier and a former addict himself, whose life story is a testament to the importance of treatment and recovery.

The sharply contrasting policies of B.C. and Alberta allow a comparison of what works and what doesn’t. A first, tentative report card on this natural experiment was produced last year in a study from Stanford University’s network on addiction policy (SNAP). Noting “a lack of policy innovation in B.C.,” where harm reduction has become the dominant policy approach, the report argues that in fact “Alberta is currently experiencing a reduction in key addiction-related harms.” But it concludes that “Canada overall, and B.C. in particular, is not yet showing the progress that the public and those impacted by drug addiction deserve.”

The report is admittedly an early analysis of these two contrasting approaches. Most of Alberta’s recovery homes are still under construction, and B.C.’s decriminalization policy is only a year old. And since the report was published, opioid death rates have inched higher in both provinces.

Still, the early returns do seem to favour Alberta’s approach. That should be regarded as good news. Society certainly has an obligation to try to help drug users. But that duty must involve more than offering addicts free drugs. Addicted people need treatment so they can kick their potentially deadly habit and go on to live healthy, meaningful lives. Dignity comes from a life of purpose and self-control, not a government-funded fix.

Susan Martinuk is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the 2021 book Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health Care Crisis. A longer version of this article recently appeared at C2CJournal.ca.

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