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





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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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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