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Win a house: Alberta homeowners trying to sell properties with essay contest

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EDMONTON — Albertans struggling to enter the real-estate market have at least two chances to win a home this year.

A house south of Calgary and a historic bed and breakfast near the United States border, both valued at about $1.7 million, are up for grabs.

All one needs to do is pay an entry fee and submit an essay.

Owners of the two properties are among many in the province affected by a slumping real-estate market. Homes are listed for months without a single offer.  

Alla Wagner, who has limited mobility after a fall, put her 5,000-square-foot (464-square-metre) house in Millarville, a hamlet in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, up for sale last year so she could downsize to a smaller bungalow.

Her house was appraised at $3 million three years ago, she says. She first listed it at $1.9 million.

“The market is so low that I wasn’t even getting a single offer,” Wagner says. “It was very painful to watch.”

Instead of giving up, the 58-year-old decided to “think outside of the box.”

Wagner came up with a contest late last year called “Write a Letter, Win a House.” It asks people to explain how owning the home could change their lives. She set an entry fee at $25 and hoped to receive 65,000 entries to cover her investment in the house.

Entries poured in until late January, when Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis began investigating the contest.

“Along with the interest, there were also many people that weren’t fans of the competition and they were trying to find faults with it,” Wagner says.

Heather Holmen with the commission says it determined its gaming rules don’t apply to such a contest. The agency only has oversight on eligible licensed gaming activities.

Wagner says the investigation and managing the contest have affected her work and her health, but she wouldn’t do things differently. 

“I have been reading incredible, incredible messages from people and letters of support.”

Wagner will pick the top 500 essays by July 5 and a panel of independent judges will choose a winner. If she doesn’t reach her monetary goal by then, she plans to return all entry fees.

A couple in Cardston, southwest of Lethbridge, decided to do the same thing when they heard Wagner’s story.

Marsha and Ivan Negrych had tried to sell their bed and breakfast so they can retire and continue raising two grandsons with special needs.

Cobblestone Manor was listed for more than a year without any strong offers.

“Chasing after two little boys and working a large restaurant, a bed and breakfast, and the large grounds is just too much,” Marsha Negrych says.

The 71-year-old says her health is deteriorating and her doctor has told her to stop working.

The contest for the 7,000-square-foot (650-square-metre) property, which is designated as an Alberta Historic Resource, started May 1 and runs until Oct. 31. The couple set the entry fee at $100.

The manor started as a log home built in 1889 by the first Mormon pioneers to settle in southern Alberta. In 1913, a Belgian carpenter built an addition with river rocks, rare hardwood and stained glass from Italy.

Negrych says she hopes whoever ends up with the property will preserve its history.

Ann-Marie Lurie, an economist with the Alberta Real Estate Association, says demand in the province’s housing market has been weak over the last few years, particularly for higher-priced homes.

It’s partly due to lower oil prices, higher unemployment rates and concerns over Alberta’s slumping economy, she says.

“We’ve also had interest rate increases and a new stress test that came in 2018,” Lurie says. “The combined impact of all of those things together has been weighing on our housing market.”

The Calgary area has been the hardest hit, she adds, since many high-paying oil sector jobs were based there.

In the Edmonton area, where the market is also saturated, one real-estate agent put a person in an orange T. Rex costume in photos of a home that had been listed for months.

Erin Hettle told media in December that did increase interest for the four-bedroom split level.

Five months later, however, the house is still on the market.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

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‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich expected to have bail hearing today

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OTTAWA — Tamara Lich, an organizer of the “Freedom Convoy,” is set to appear in an Ottawa court today for a bail hearing after being arrested last week for allegedly breaching one of her bail conditions.

She was arrested in Medicine Hat, Alta., where she lives, on a Canada-wide arrest warrant sought by the Ottawa police.

Police transported her to the capital and she briefly appeared before an Ottawa judge on Thursday before remaining in custody over the weekend.

Lich was a key figurehead of the massive protest that overtook the capital’s downtown streets for more than three weeks in February.

She and fellow protest organizer Chris Barber are jointly accused of mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.

She was released with a long list of conditions, including a ban from all social media and an order not to support anything related to the “Freedom Convoy.”

Police have not said which condition she’s accused of breaching.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

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

The Canadian Press

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Economy

Bank of Canada’s rapid rate hikes likely to cause a recession, study finds

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OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada’s strategy of rapidly increasing its key interest rate in an effort to tackle skyrocketing inflation will likely trigger a recession, a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) says.

The research institute says if the central bank aims to bring inflation down from 7.7 per cent to its two per cent target by quickly raising rates, it could cause significant “collateral damage,” including 850,000 job losses.

It adds that the central bank has had a zero per cent success rate with this approach, noting that a 5.7 per cent drop in the inflation rate has happened three times over the last 60 years, each time after big rate hikes and accompanied by a recession.

The CCPA says it’s time for a new policy on inflation.

It says the Bank of Canada could potentially reduce the risk of sending the economy into a recession if it adjusts its target inflation rate to four per cent.

This study comes a day after the Bank of Canada released two quarterly surveys which revealed consumers and businesses expect inflation to stay high for several years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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