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Alberta Energy Regulator spent more than $14,000 flying boss to weekly meetings

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The chief executive of Alberta’s oil and gas regulator no longer lives in the province and the organization is spending thousands of dollars to cover frequent flights from his home in B.C. to meetings in Calgary and Edmonton.

Expense reports posted on the Alberta Energy Regulator website show that from last November until the end of October, the organization regularly paid for CEO Jim Ellis to fly from his home in Penticton, B.C. to Alberta.

CBC News counted nearly 50 trips, mostly return airfares between Calgary and Penticton, to transport Ellis for the express purpose of attending AER meetings. 

A tally of those flights shows costs topping $14,600, not including airfare change fees.

The AER board approved the arrangement earlier this year after Ellis moved to Penticton for “personal, family reasons.” 

But a spokeswoman for the NDP government said it was disappointing to learn such expenses had been approved, adding the government has worked to rein in salaries and perks at provincial agencies, boards and commissions.

“We’ll  continue to make sure dollars are well spent at government agencies and will be directing the AER not to allow this arrangement in the future,” Kate Toogood said in an email.

“This arrangement was also independently vetted by the AER’s Finance department.” – Alberta Energy Regulator statement

Ellis, who Albertans learned last week is leaving the position at the end of January after five years with the organization, did not file accommodation expenses while attending the Alberta meetings. 

The provincial government sets the budget for the AER but the industry itself funds the regulator through administrative fees.

In a statement to CBC News, the AER said that Ellis initially paid for weekly travel to Calgary himself, using the cheapest fares available.

“However, frequent changes to his itinerary caused by AER business resulted in increasing change fees,” it said. 

“The AER considered reimbursing Mr. Ellis for these ongoing costs, but concluded that it would be more cost effective to simply coordinate and pay for his travel.

“The AER Board therefore reached an agreement, which came into effect at the beginning of this year, to pay for weekly travel. This arrangement was also independently vetted by the AER’s Finance department.” 

The AER said it does not pay for any other travel or accommodation expenses related to this arrangement.

All of these travel expenses are available on the public record and are clearly documented on the AER website.

The AER has paid for its CEO to travel from his home in Penticton, B.C. to Calgary for meetings, but it says it does not pay for any other travel or accommodation expenses related to the arrangement. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

According to the regulator’s financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2018, Ellis is paid a base salary of $525,000. Total compensation is stated as $728,000, including cash and non-cash benefits.

The next person to hold the job will be paid a maximum base salary of $396,720 due to changes in provincial regulation.

Peter Bowal, an expert on board governance at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, said paying for people to regularly commute from one province to work in another creates both practical and symbolic issues.

“It’s a personal decision where you live and the province you choose is a personal decision,” Bowal said.

“I think if you’ve chosen to take one of the top jobs in the province you have to make a commitment to that province.”

At the federal level, Bowal said people appointed by cabinet to a top, full-time job at an agency are required as a term of that appointment to live within the national capital region or a reasonable commuting distance.

“I think it’s basically understood in the province — if it’s not explicitly stated, it would be probably implied — that one has to live fairly close to where they work, especially top management,” Bowal said.

It was announced last week that Ellis would be leaving his post atop the AER at the end of January.

Prior to his appointment in 2013, he’d held deputy minister positions in the Alberta government, serving in the departments of energy and environment.



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A Look at TACT-Designed Interiors in Graywood’s Scout Condos

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Just west of the construction site for Scoop Condos on St. Clair Avenue West at Old Weston Road, Graywood Developments will soon be bringing a new 12-storey, SMV Architects-designed condominium to Toronto’s West End. Last month, we took a look at Scout Condos‘ amenity spaces—appointed by TACT Architecture‘s interior design wing—and today we’re back for a preview of the TACT-appointed suite interiors.

Scout Condos, Toronto, Graywood, SMV, TACT, St. ClairScout Condos, image courtesy of Graywood Developments

The project is offering 261 suites in a wide variety of unit types and sizes. Standard suite features are set to include 9’ ceiling heights in principal rooms, laminate wood floors, smooth painted ceilings, and neutral colour-painted interior walls. Other features include stacked washer and dryer units as well as individually controlled heating and air conditioning systems.

According to TACT’s Michael Krus, kitchens at Scout will be “more appointed, larger, with some custom elements unique to the project. We’re introducing integrated pantries into these kitchens, part of the kitchen millwork but flows into the living room so the kitchen becomes an extension of the living room. The kitchen isn’t just the kitchen, It will be support.” 

Scout Condos, Toronto, Graywood, SMV, TACT, St. ClairSuite interior, Scout Condos, image courtesy of Graywood Developments

Kitchens at Scout will feature custom-styled kitchen cabinetry in a selection of finishes, quartz countertops, glass tile backsplashes, stainless steel sinks, over-the-range microwaves with built-in exhaust fan, as well as standard appliances and integrated dishwashers.

Bathrooms will include custom-styled bathroom cabinetry in a selection of door finishes, porcelain tile finishes for walls and floors, quartz counters, and a full vanity-width mirror. Other features include white bathroom fixtures, wall-mounted vanity faucet with backsplash, and the choice of a chrome washroom accessories package.

Additional information and images can be found in our database file for the project, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the field provided at the bottom of this page.

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To request more info directly from Scout Condos click here

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Costco-style membership for hay aims to modernize handshake deals

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Cindy Wilinski says 100 years ago if you needed to buy hay for your livestock you tracked down a local farmer, by phone or in person, made a deal and hoped the product was as good as advertised.

She said nothing much has changed today, except now it might be purchased via an email or over text message.

“It’s still the old handshake kind of deal and hope you don’t get ripped off,” said Wilinsky, who owns an equine training and breeding facility near Okotoks.

Wilinsky said she first got the idea of bringing the hay business into the 21st century after a drought in 2015 left a lot of people scrambling to find hay. At that time she started a Facebook hay-sourcing group called the Haylist — a database that amassed more than 7,000 members — where people could list hay for sale, request hay and list trucking services.

The Haylist is still going but Wilinski felt she could do more to help livestock owners find good quality, affordable hay from a credible and trustworthy source. That led to the creation of the Haybank, a Costco-style membership business she launched in the fall.

And, the response has been overwhelming.

“We literally ran out of all the hay we had lined up that was on the yard as well as what was coming.”

Those who sign up pay an annual $500 membership fee, plus the cost of the hay they purchase and transportation if needed. (Contributed)

Rather than the handful of memberships she expected, 83 people signed up within weeks, including Priddis-area rancher, Danny Lansdowne.

“This year hay is all over the map and I can’t afford the $200, or $180 [per bale],” said Lansdowne, who purchased hay for his five horses and cows.

“It’s a blessing.”

Wilinski attributes the higher than expected demand to a prolonged drought pushing up the price of hay, while any lower priced hay is being snatched up, and in some cases, she says, it’s being turned around and sold at a higher price.

“You know it’s just one of those things that turns your stomach.”

Those who sign up pay an annual $500 membership fee, plus the cost of the hay they purchase and transportation if needed.

The fees allow Wilinski to purchase bulk amounts of hay, in some cases entire crops,  and keep the transportation costs down. She’s sourced hay as far east as Ontario, and south to Montana.

“The problem has always been in making the trucking affordable so it’s not landing here being priced higher than what they need locally for it,” she said.

From the feedback Wilinski’s received so far, she says people are appreciative of having a secure way to buy hay.

“And you’re not sending an e-transfer to somebody you’ve never met for hay you’ve never seen.”

Wilinski said she tests the quality of the hay once it arrives, and only after she confirms the amount and quality does she put it up for sale.

In the months since opening the Haybank Wilinski says she’s managed to work out some of the kinks, address some of the growing pains and put a more balanced system in place.

“(We’re) just trying to make sure everybody gets the feed they need for this winter,” she said. “Because by the looks of things so far we’re going to have another year that’s not looking so grand unless we get an awful lot of rain or some late snow.”

Wilinski said she’s already heard from people who want to invest in her business and hopes to get more trucks rolling in order to service her customers even better.

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Excavation Progressing at Waterfront Innovation Centre Site

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It has been four months since September when Menkes Developments marked the start of construction for the Waterfront Innovation Centre in Toronto’s East Bayfront area. Shoring activity that began the first stage is now wrapping up, and excavation has now begun for the new 12-storey, 400,000 ft², Sweeny &Co Architects-designed office development.

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoShoring at the west side of the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

The site is bisected by a short north-south stretch of Dockside Drive. Shoring activity is now proceeding on the smaller footprint of the western portion, where a drilling rig (above) continues to bore holes for the site’s caisson wall shoring system. Meanwhile, excavation is now progressing on the much larger eastern portion east of the road (below).

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoExcavation for the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

Crews are digging to a three-storey depth for the building’s underground garage, to hold 197 spaces. The dig is furthest along just east of Dockside Drive, where the pit has been excavated roughly two levels deep so far, and requiring a horizontal drilling rig to install a first row of tiebacks to anchor the shoring walls to the surrounding earth.

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoExcavation for the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

Tieback drilling has since progressed to the east end of the site, closest to Knapp Lane. The image below shows the horizontal drilling rig used for tiebacks sitting idle, while tubes for the site’s de-watering drape over the fence.

Waterfront Innovation Centre, Menkes, Sweeny &Co Architects, TorontoHorizontal drilling rig at the Waterfront Innovation Centre site, image by Forum contributor Full Metal Junkie

The project—part of a larger regeneration of the area overseen by Waterfront Toronto—is targeting a 2021 completion date, set to house at least 2,000 workers upon opening. WPP will be the building’s lead tenant, with the the Canadian head offices for the multinational e-commerce, advertising, online media, public relations, communications, and branding services giant to occupy 260,000 square feet of the building.

You can get more information about and see more renderings of the Waterfront Innovation Centre in our database file, linked below. You can get in on the discussion in our associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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UrbanToronto has a new way you can track projects through the planning process on a daily basis. Sign up for a free trial of our New Development Insider here.


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