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Alberta

Update 19: Northwest Alberta wildfires (June 12 at 5 p.m.)

Published

June 12, 2019

Evacuation orders have been lifted for Bigstone Cree Nation and the Hamlets of Wabasca-Desmarais, Sandy Lake and Chipewyan Lake. More than 3,700 people are now able to return home.

To date, more than 9,800 evacuees from the following communities have been approved to return home:

  • High Level
  • Mackenzie County
  • Dene Tha’ First Nation
  • County of Northern Lights, south of Twin Lakes Campground including Notikewin
  • Marten Beach (MD of Lesser Slave Lake)
  • Keg River/Carcajou
  • Peerless and Trout Lake communities
  • Bigstone Cree Nation 166 A, B, C and D
  • Municipal District of Opportunity 17
    • Hamlet of Wabasca-Desmarais
    • Hamlet of Sandy Lake
    • Hamlet of Chipewyan Lake

Evacuees returning received re-entry packages with advice on what to do when they arrived home.

Evacuees can find tips on re-entry by visiting https://www.alberta.ca/emergency.aspx. Information includes making sure all your utilities are working, cleaning up and how to deal with door-to-door salespeople offering services and insurance.

Approximately 700 evacuees are displaced due to a mandatory evacuation order for Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement.

The following communities remain on evacuation alert:

  • Bigstone Cree Nation 166 A, B, C and D
  • Hamlet of Wabasca-Desmarais
  • Hamlet of Sandy Lake
  • Hamlet of Chipewyan Lake
  • County of Northern Lights
    • North of Township Road 910 to the north county border, including the Twin Lakes Campground, Keg River, Carcajou and the Town of Manning

Current situation:

  • Chuckegg Creek wildfire, southwest of High Level, is about 269,648 hectares.
  • Jackpot Creek wildfire, approximately 11 kilometres north of Lutose, is about 28,167 hectares.
  • McMillan Wildfire Complex, southwest of Bigstone Cree Nation, is more than 263,969 hectares.
  • Battle Wildfire Complex in Peace River is about 55,179 hectares.
  • There are more than 2,000 wildland and structural firefighters and staff, approximately 159 helicopters and 22 air tankers and 233 pieces of heavy equipment on these fires.
  • Check Alberta Emergency Alerts for more detailed and frequently updated information.
  • People driving in fire-affected areas should carry enough fuel, as it may not be readily available.
  • Be cautious of organizations not registered to solicit donations. For information on how you can help, visit https://www.alberta.ca/emergency.aspx.

Visit alberta.ca/emergency for detailed and frequently updated information.

Air quality

Financial supports

  • Evacuees should check alberta.ca/emergency for updates on evacuation payment eligibility.
  • Evacuees in need of financial assistance for immediate needs can apply for an Income Support program emergency needs allowance. This benefit may cover your accommodation, clothing and other urgent needs. Please call 1-877-644-9992 for more information.
  • You may qualify for the evacuation payment if you:
    • were living, working or vacationing in the affected area
    • were forced to leave due to an evacuation order
    • paid for most of your costs to evacuate
    • were forced to leave your residence (primary, working or vacationing) due to a mandatory evacuation order – current communities include:
      • High Level
      • Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement
      • Bushe River
      • Chateh
      • Meander River
      • Wabasca-Desmarais
      • Bigstone Cree Nation 166 A, B, C and D
      • Sandy Lake
      • Chipewyan Lake Village
      • Keg River
      • Carcajou
      • Northern border of the County of Northern Lights to Township Road 922 (Notikewin Road)
      • Steen River
      • Trout Lake
  • Albertans who qualify will receive $1,250 and $500 for each dependent child under 18 living in the same home when the evacuation order was given.
  • Application methods:
  • Apply online through the MyAlberta Evacuation Payment application using a smartphone, device or desktop. Interac e-transfers may take 24 hours to process.
  • All payment distribution centres are now closed.
  • If you need help applying, contact Alberta Supports to find the nearest centre: Toll free: 1-877-644-9992 (Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.) In-person: Find an Alberta Supports Centre.
  • More than 11,400 individuals have received evacuee support totaling close to $11.6 million.

Reception and call centres

  • All evacuees should register with an evacuation reception centre, even if you’ve found alternate accommodations.
  • Reception centres are assisting evacuees either in person and/or by phone:
    • Grande Prairie – 780-567-5587
    • Peace River Town Hall (9911 100 Street) – 780-624-2574
    • Wabasca-Desmarais Lakeview Sports Centre (102 Opportunity Drive) – 780-891-2659
    • Dene Wellness Centre – 1-867-874-2652
  • Evacuation reception centre hours can be found at alberta.ca/emergency.
  • The Government of Alberta contact centre is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. Call 310-4455.

Highway updates

  • To stay informed on all road closures due to the wildfires, visit 511.Alberta.ca or download the mobile app.

Insurance information

  • Most home and tenant insurance policies provide coverage for living expenses during an evacuation.
  • Evacuees should retain all of their receipts for food, accommodation and other related expenses to provide to their insurer.
  • Albertans can contact the Insurance Bureau of Canada at 1-844-227-5422 or by email at askibcwest@ibc.ca. Information about insurance coverage is available online at ibc.ca/ab/disaster/alberta-wildfire.

Justice and legal matters

  • Community Corrections and Release operations have resumed in High Level.
  • High Level Court is open.
  • Chateh Court matters will be heard in High Level Court until further notice. Call 780-926-3715 for inquiries.
  • Fort Vermilion Court matters have resumed. Call 780-926-3715 for inquiries.
  • Wabasca-Desmarais matters will continue to be held in High Prairie until further notice. Call the High Prairie Court at 780-523-6600 regarding any matters scheduled.

Education

  • The schools of Fort Vermilion School Division will remain closed for the remainder of the school year. Students wishing to write a diploma exam, Grade 6 or Grade 9 provincial achievement tests should make arrangements with the Fort Vermilion School Division. For further information visit: fvsd.ab.ca.
  • School officials in fire-impacted areas will address the impacts of disruption on the academic program and school year. Students or their guardians should watch for online or direct communications from local school authorities about specific changes.

Provincial park closures

  • All provincial parks that were temporarily closed due to the threat of fire have reopened.
  • Calling Lake Provincial Park campground is currently supporting evacuees. The boat launch in Calling Lake remains open.
  • Current information about fire bans, restrictions and closures in provincial parks and campgrounds is available at http://www.albertaparks.ca/

Boil water advisory

  • A boil water advisory is in place for Meander River (Dene Tha’ First Nation).

Health

  • Wabasca-Desmarais Healthcare Centre is now open.
  • Mental health support is available by calling Alberta’s 24-hour help line at 1-877-303-2642, the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322, or Health Link at 811.
  • The Northwest Health Centre in High Level is open.
  • Alberta Health Services is providing enhanced addiction and mental health services to help residents in High Level following the evacuation.
  • New, temporary walk-in services for individuals experiencing addiction and mental health concerns are available seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Mental Health Clinic at Northwest Health Centre in High Level. For more information, please call the clinic directly at 780-841-3229.
  • Alberta Health Services has relocated acute patients and continuing care residents from La Crete and Fort Vermilion to health facilities in Edmonton and surrounding communities.
  • The emergency department at St. Theresa General Hospital in Fort Vermilion remains open. 

Pets and livestock

  • High Level animal control has collected household pets that have been left behind. For questions regarding your pets, please call 780-926-2201.
  • For evacuees in the Wabasca area, please fill out an online form on the Alberta Animal Disaster Response Facebook group, or text 403-869-4964 and provide your name, contact number, number of animals missing, where they were last seen, and a brief description of your pet.
  • The County of Northern Lights will allow residents to enter property to look after livestock between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Residents must first go to the county office to register for the temporary access pass.

Electricity and natural gas billing

  • High Level and area residential, farm, irrigation and small commercial electricity and natural gas customers will not be billed for the period covered by the evacuation order.

Donations and volunteers

  • High Level is not accepting donations or volunteers at this time.
  • The Town of Slave Lake has set up an online form for offers.
  • Check the Mackenzie County Facebook page for an up-to-date list of donations needed and drop-off locations.
  • There have been reports that local residents in High Level are being solicited by email or phone for donations in support of firefighters or affected residents. Do not share your personal information with them or donate money.
  • When asked for donations (either over the phone, through an e-mail, or in person), ask the canvasser for identification or printed information about the charity.
  • If you have concerns about the activities of a charitable organization including its fundraising practices, call Service Alberta: 1-877-427-4088.

Canada Post

  • Mail and parcel delivery in certain communities has been affected by the wildfires.
  • Canada Post has contingency measures in place to serve residents of these communities.
  • Check the Canada Post website for updates.

Other income and social supports

  • Evacuees who receive Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or Income Support benefits by cheque should contact their worker to make arrangements to receive it.
  • Call Alberta Supports at 1-877-644-9992 between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday to Friday if you:
    • need information on other social supports
    • are a contracted service provider, family member or individual needing assistance through the Persons with Developmental Disabilities program
  • For information on child intervention and child care, call 1-800-638-0715
  • Employment insurance: evacuees can visit Service Canada online to apply at www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei.html. Use code 4812014812201900.

Health card, driver’s licences, ID cards, birth certificate

  • To get a replacement Health Care Insurance Card call 780-427-1432 or toll free at 310-0000 and then 780-427-1432 when prompted. Your Alberta Personal Health Card can be mailed to a temporary address.  
  • If driver’s licences, identification cards, and/or birth certificates were left behind during the evacuation, replacement cards and certificates can be ordered free of charge at a registry agent.

Public information

  • You can call 310-4455 for more information – Monday to Friday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Related information

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Alberta

“India? Are you nuts?” Join Gerry for Part 1 of his series on India.

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Feature Image India part 1

This is the first in a four-part series on India

“India. Are you nuts?” an incredulous friend remarked. “Why would you want to go there? It’s dirty, crowded, smelly and full of stray cows.”
So, I was anxious as I stared out the window of the Dreamliner 787 on descent into New Delhi after a 14-hour flight from Vancouver. But Delhi was nowhere to be seen. The worst smog in the country’s history had enveloped India’s capital. Visibility was near zero.

Man carrying basket on head

Smog in India

The late-night ride to the hotel was a dystopian dream. With the twelve-hour time change we were in a trance-like state. The streets were eerily quiet. An acrid smell hung in the air. As we drove through dense smog, the moon made a futile effort to silhouette India Gate, Parliament House and the Prime Minister’s residence.

“What’s happening?” we asked the clerk at check-in.

“Diwali,“ he smiled.

Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival that pays tribute to the victory of light over dark, good over evil – and a highlight of the annual celebration is the setting off of fireworks. When Delhi’s 22,000,000 inhabitants simultaneously ignite firecrackers and other pyrotechnics, the sub-tropical air becomes thick with the stagnant refuse of gunpowder. Add to this the exhaust of 9 million vehicles, smoke from burnt stubble fields in nearby Punjab, plus a temperature inversion – and you have unimaginable, eye-searing air pollution.

“…At the top of the heap are India’s cows. Bovines stand nonchalant, impervious – and sacred – amongst the vehicular pandemonium…”
Schools were closed. Construction was halted. Roads were sprayed to keep dust down. Farmers were threatened with fines for illegally burning rice stubble; all to no avail. The particulate index climbed, from just over 600 when we arrived, to 964 three days later. This level is 15 times the “safe” limit in India – and 60 times what would be considered hazardous in Canada.

Women selling wares

Street Vendors during Diwali

Then the currency crisis hit. In an effort to weed out “black money” – cash hoarded through corruption and counterfeiting – Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetization of all 500 and 1000 rupee bills. That’s like cancelling all our $10 and $20 bills.

India’s 1.3 billion people were given a fortnight to exchange old rupees, after which the old bills would become worthless. The bank lineups were horrifying.

India’s is a cash economy and many people don’t even use banks. The country was in chaos. But surprisingly, most people we met – guides, drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant employees – were sick of the endemic corruption and in favour of this Draconian strategy.

Our tour group consisted of my wife Florence and me, together with our fun-loving travel-mates Kim and Simone from Victoria and Joe and Carla from Saskatoon. We struggled through these pollution and currency crises from the comfort of an air-filtered, credit card-accepting hotel. Meanwhile out on the streets the locals coughed, lined up and resolutely carried on life in 21st century India.

school kids some wearing masks

Air quality is an issue

But for me more astonishing and unfathomable than the choking smog and worthless bills was India’s overwhelming, perpetual traffic congestion.

The “sub-continent” has 54 cities with more than a million people. Four of these urban agglomerations have over 20 million souls. And even the smallest Indian village is a clogged spoke of trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles and foot traffic. Pecking order is determined by size. Bicycles give way to motorcycles, which give way to rickshaws… ascending up to the big Tata transport trucks.

 

full bus carrying men

Traffic is insane

Buses overflow with humanity – arms, legs and heads spilling from every door and window. A moped transports an entire family – and their belongings. The lowly pedestrian occupies the bottom of the traffic heap, flirting death with each wary footstep.

At the top of the heap are India’s cows. Bovines stand nonchalant, impervious – and sacred – amongst the vehicular pandemonium.

people watching cow in street

Cows rule.

This may come as a somewhat of a surprise but Indians are fantastic drivers. In what can only be termed functional chaos, traffic actually moves. Roads designed for two lanes harbour four – in each direction. The tiniest opening in traffic is immediately filled by the largest object that fits that space. India abhors a vacuum.

Horns blast non-stop in a cacophonous chorus, used not in anger but to convey a message. A little beep means, “Hey, I’m here.” A resolute honk indicates, “I’m filling that gap.” And an extended blast from a bus states unequivocally, “Coming through, out of my way.”

The first two weeks of our month-long stay in India were spent in the company – and under the watchful eye – of guide Anoop Singhal and driver Devinder Singh. Each morning Singh Ji, a soft-spoken Sikh, greeted us with a colourful turban and a contagious smile. (“Ji” is an honorific, used to show respect – and we happily started referring to one another as Kim Ji, Anoop Ji, etc.)

kids with balloons

Despite the culinary curry shock to my digestive system – and the occasional experiment with street food – I managed to avoid “Delhi belly.” I credit my intestinal well-being to a daily dose of local yoghurt. But even with the use of air masks, we all eventually succumbed to the dreaded Delhi cough.

White palace on water

The Lake Palace of Udaipur

After “seeing” the capital, we travelled a few hundred kilometers southwest to Udaipur to begin an exploration of the fabulous architecture of Rajasthan. Vast palaces built by fabulously wealthy Maharajas in the 17th century still dominate the landscape. The Lake Palace of Udaipur, the White City, is a stunning snow-white jewel set in a liquid surface.

In Jodhpur, the Blue City, we looked down on a jumble of turquoise buildings from the heights of Mehrangarh Fort. The last in the colourful triumvirate of Rajasthan’s famous towns is Jaipur, the Pink City, where in 1857 Maharaja Ram Singh ordered his palace painted pink to impress the British overlords.

India is a photographer’s paradise. No need to search out photo ops; simply plunk down on any curb and start snapping: a vendor hawking fruit, women in crimson saris haggling over spices, a cow imperially chewing its cud, children laughing, beggars begging. All day, every day the flavour, colour, texture, sound, energy and urgency of India unfolds spontaneously, unrehearsed.

On the last day of our stay in Rajasthan, we stopped in at the famed camel festival of Pushkar where local dromedaries are auctioned annually. I nearly closed on a fine one-humped specimen but was outbid by a clever camel herder from the Punjab. Just as well; probably would have been tough to squeeze a grumpy dromedary into my suitcase.

Next time: Taj Mahal and the Sacred Ganges.

Thank you to these great local sponsors who make these stories possible!

If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C., www.exploreindia.ca, capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.

Click below to read about some of Gerry’s other great travel adventures.

 

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Alberta

The electricity price cap in Alberta is gone. What now?

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How the electricity price cap removal will affect Alberta utility bills (Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash)

Many Albertans have been reading the news about higher regulated electricity rates in December, after the price cap on energy rates was scrapped by the province. Even though this was announced by the Government of Alberta in late October, as part of the new budget, people only started to hear more about it on November 30. That was when the regulated energy providers announced their new power rates; this time, without a cap on prices. 

The program was created by the NDP government in 2017 to cap energy rates for residential and small business consumers. Regulated rate (RRO) consumers wouldn’t pay more than 6.8 cents per kWh, meaning that any costs above that threshold were paid by the province. The main goal behind the cap was to protect consumers from rate spikes and, consequently, financial uncertainty. 

In order to predict how your energy bills (and your wallet) could be impacted by this change, we need to take a look at historical prices, future market trends and what prices would’ve been this past year without the cap. 

How the 6.8 cents/kWh price cap worked

Regulated electricity rates in Alberta change every month. Although the prices need to be approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), they can be affected by multiple factors, including politics, natural disasters, economic reasons and more. 

In the past 10 years, electricity rates in Alberta went as high as 15.06 cents/kWh and as low as 2.88 cents/kWh. The cap provided protection for Albertans as the government subsidized any prices above 6.8 cents/kWh. 

The effects of the electricity price cap in Calgary in 2019

According to the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA), regulated electricity rates in the Calgary area (ENMAX) went above the 6.8 cents/kWh during most months of 2019, except for March, April, May and June. 

  • January: 7.727 cents/kWh
  • February: 7.009 cents/kWh
  • March: 5.914 cents/kWh
  • April: 6.067 cents/kWh
  • May: 6.390 cents/kWh
  • June: 6.391 cents/kWh 
  • July: 8.434 cents/kWh
  • August: 8.805 cents/kWh
  • September: 7.590 cents/kWh
  • October: 6.736 cents/kWh* 
  • November: 7.399 cents/kWh
  • December: 7.320 cents/kWh 
*According to the UCA, prices still reached the price cap in October, although they were officially 6.736 cents/kWh. 

This means the average price would’ve been approximately 7.15 cents/kWh, which makes quite a difference in energy bill terms, considering that the average household in Canada consumes around 1,000 kWh per month. After an entire year of high electricity rates, this difference looks even larger. 

The effects of the electricity price cap in Edmonton in 2019

In the Edmonton region (EPCOR), the difference between what consumers paid and what they would’ve paid without the cap is even more noticeable. According to the UCA, regulated prices went above the 6.8 cents threshold in all months except for March. 

Without the cap, the average price per kWh in the Edmonton area in 2019 would’ve been 7.84 cents/kWh. 

  • January: 7.733 cents/kWh
  • February: 7.189 cents/kWh
  • March: 5.991 cents/kWh
  • April: 6.981 cents/kWh
  • May: 6.990 cents/kWh
  • June: 7.231 cents/kWh
  • July: 9.578 cents/kWh
  • August: 10.191 cents/kWh
  • September: 8.2 cents/kWh
  • October: 7.342 cents/kWh
  • November: 8.63 cents/kWh
  • December: 8.069 cents/kWh 

Are my electricity bills going to increase in the months ahead?

Now that the price cap is gone, many households and small businesses are concerned about facing higher utility costs in the months ahead. 

Power prices reached historically low averages in 2017, but the average rate in Alberta was 7.3 cents/kWh for the 2002-2018 period, which is considerably above the price cap, especially in cents/kWh terms.

The future of electricity prices is still unclear. Consumers will have to wait and see whether rates will go up or down. We can expect to see RRO prices fluctuate slightly more now that they are free to go above the 6.8 cents/kWh threshold, as it happened in December and for most of the time in 2019.

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