Sunday, April 19, 2015

Meet and Greet with Brian Jean

So a couple of posts ago I mentioned that I wasn't planning on blogging much about the provincial election unless things got strange.  And in some ways they have.....from an NDP candidate getting arrested while campaigning in Medicine Hat to members of a PC riding association resigning after questionable nomination practices.  Even your wife's home-made apple pie wasn't safe.

The coup de grace came a couple of days ago while I was browsing a newspaper at work and saw a photo on the front page.  It was a photo of Wildrose leader Brian Jean and a young lady that looked oddly familiar.  She looked just like one of my tenants who, like me holds a keen interest in politics and has been closely following the campaign.  My initial thought was to wonder how she had managed to score a photo with Jean that ended up on the front page AND how I had apparently missed that he was in town as I tend to devour political news the moment it hits the press.

As it turned out, the young lady in question wasn't my tenant but rather her sister, who is actually a candidate in Grande Prairie-Wapiti.  Turns out my tenant has known the Jean family pretty much their whole lives, she told me.  And by the way, she was going to a "meet and greet" at the local legion.  If I wanted to come along she was more than willing to introduce me to him.

It was a novel experience to meet someone you often only seen on television....and with no huge crowds or media in sight.  I'll save my political thoughts here since for those who know me, they tend be rather evident.  I will say that I found Jean to be very approachable and laid back....and very interested in what people had to say.  Not only is Jean our local candidate but as leader of his party, he could potentially be the province's next Leader of the Opposition or Premier, depending on how election day plays out.  I honestly never thought I'd find myself in a situation where I could vote directly for a party leader.  If I could travel back in time, I know the university version of myself would be insanely jealous.

I appreciated the time he took for a photo as I knew he had had many long days on the campaign trail....14 communities in the past two days and he was back in town before flying off to High Prairie today.  My tenant had me all embarrassed as she introduced me as "the landlord" who was keenly interested in the election and hoping for a quick photo.  I demurred as I knew he must be very tired and I'm sure he gets asked that question a millions times.  But Brian was adamant.  "It's okay, Darcy.  Let's do this."  And so I ended up with my little photo.

On the way home, my tenant mentioned that she had invited Jean to dinner next time he was in town.  "Oh, that's cool,"  I responded. "Where were you planning to go?"
"Well, your house.  If you're okay with it, that is."
Of course, I couldn't say no.

Yes, it's been an interesting campaign.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fire in Abasand

My heart dropped today when I was asked at work if I had heard about the fire in Abasand late last night that destroyed 4 homes along with 3 garages and 3 vehicles.  It brought me back to my early teen years when the old wooden house next door burnt to the ground resulting in one man breaking a few bones and a second man who sadly lost his life.  I remember sitting silently at the kitchen table with my coat along with my two younger sisters ready to leave immediately should the need arise.  While that event took place almost 30 years ago, it's still an event that crops up in family conversation from time to time.  A million thoughts went through my head at the time.  It was all so surreal.  While our century-old house was brick, the fire took place before my parents renovated the attic which at the time was full of old wood and insulation.  Now that I own my own home, I realize just how fortunate we were that night.

It saddens me that last night in our city a few families and individuals were not so fortunate.  While firefighters arrived quickly, last night's strong winds no doubt played a big role in how the fire was able to spread no doubt causing more damage than otherwise may have been caused.  Coming as this does following the price of oil tanking and all the economic anxiety that brings, this is a huge kick in the pants.  It's a miracle that no one was seriously injured or killed.  The few photos I've seen so far look like the homes were hit with a bomb.  I don't mean to sound melodramatic but really, that's the only thing I can really compare it to.

I was heartened to hear that a Go Fund Me site has been set up to raise money for those affected by last nights events.  Despite what some may read in certain media, we are a community here and this city has always struck me with its generous spirit when it comes to supporting those in need.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

And Here We Go.....Again.

In what is easily the biggest non-secret in recent days, Premier Prentice kicked off an anticipated election campaign yesterday.  Anticipated but not necessarily wanted.  I don't see the need for an election when the government already holds a super majority of seats and find it odd that the Premier has been preaching fiscal prudence but will now hand us a bill for what is reportedly the most expensive election campaign in Alberta history.  It doesn't make much sense for Prentice to be seeking a mandate for his budget when the reality is that each Opposition MLA could vote 3 or 4 times over and the government could still get its budget passed in the Legislature.  But it is what it is.  We head to the polls May 5th.

It didn't take long for candidates to hit the bricks here as I noticed quite a number of PC and NDP election signs along the route home from work yesterday evening.  While the PC's winning yet another majority isn't in question, it will be interesting to see how many seats the Wildrose Party and the NDP can pick up. I've made up my mind long ago on how I will be voting so I won't be subjecting myself to long bouts of campaigners at my door with long-winded speeches.

I do hope that our region and the province improves it's dismal voter turnout.  Our riding here is known to be pretty bad.  I suspect there will be a lot of focus on this riding anyway and not just because of economic issues after the price of oil tanked.  The NDP has never really been much of a factor here so the real choice comes to one between a sitting cabinet minister, Don Scott, and a newly minted party leader, Brian Jean, who could potentially be the next Leader of the Opposition or perhaps the province's next Premier depending on how election night unfolds.  I would have thought Jean would have ran in the other Fort McMurray riding against controversial PC MLA Mike Allen as Allen is much more vulnerable but the race here should be a very interesting one and many in the province here will no doubt be focused on it.

Clearly, the PC's have no choice to run on the spring budget rather than their past record.  Running on a record fraught with scandal, corruption allegations and a seemingly incurable desire to spend every single cent they can ring out of the taxpayers clearly isn't politically palatable.  I don't plan on blogging a great deal during the campaign unless something really weird happens (and weird things have happened in Alberta politics in recent months so you never know).  As I said, I know how I'm voting and that won't change.  I do hope that Albertans get out and vote.  For all the sticks and arrows that have been hurled at this budget at least it seems to have gotten people talking about it.  It's my hope that this talk translates in to people actually wanting to vote on election day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Honestly, Who Labels a Label Maker?!

Initially, I hadn't planned on writing on this topic but I decided to go ahead anyway now that a few days have passed and calm has been restored.  I don't often write about being a landlord here, primarily because its just a part of my life that I'm used to and I didn't really think it would make for interesting reading.  I will preface this by saying that overall, it has been a very positive experience.  Aside from the obvious financial benefit I get toward paying the mortgage and expenses, I've met people from many parts of the country.  One fellow proved extremely helpful when I updated my bathroom a couple years ago and no doubt saved me from putting some unnecessary holes in the floor.  He was also a big help when my furnace decided to crap out on me during a very cold morning last month.  Other tenants I've had grew up here and have given me great insights on what life is like growing up in such a unique place and answered my many questions about the region.  One tenant is quite outspoken politically and I love engaging in political debates, though we do tend to agree on a lot of things so there are times we just sound off our frustrations on each other on some of the issues of the day.

Unfortunately, given the nature of work here and the people that are looking for a place to stay, you occasionally end up with someone who is, shall we say, a bit more "difficult".  Such was the situation last Thursday when I had to effectively evict a tenant.  This was only the second time I've had to do this.  The first time was almost 3 years ago and that went quite smoothly.  This time not so much.

I had had the one tenant for at least a couple years and while disagreements and frustrations will arise when living with different people, things took a turn for the worse in recent months when a new tenant arrived.  It seemed the slightest little situation could set off fireworks so I knew things were coming to a head as one tenant would monopolize the kitchen, the bathroom, the television  etc..  At one point, she bought a label maker and I came home from work to find every shelf in my two kitchen closets labelled.  I quipped that I was a bit confused as to why she had designated a shelf to me since in reality I own all the shelves, the closet and the house that contained them.  But it got weirder as she labeled the shelves in my fridge, her toaster, her coffee maker, her laptop....and to top it all off, she labeled the label maker.  I swear I'm am not making this up.  Yes, things were getting weird.

To cut a long story short, I was awoken at 3 am last Thursday after this tenant decided it was okay to come home rather intoxicated and bring along a friend, thus breaking two cardinal house rules.  I don't really care if someone drinks as long as they don't come home at some god forsaken hour and wake me or other tenants up.    I've never understood the urge to drink yourself stupid but I figure, its their body. Just don't make it a problem that becomes my problem.  And I have no issues with guests provided I get a heads up and they aren't here at some odd hour, particularly when I have to work.

Clearly in this case, a line had been crossed.  I'm pleased I remained so calm even though inside, I was positively fuming.  I do have enough experience dealing with intoxicated people to know what and what not to do.  When I calmly informed the tenant that the situation was unacceptable and the guest would have to leave as their delightful conversation had awoken me and another tenant...well, it didn't go over so well as the tenant in question yelled in my face that me waking up in my OWN HOUSE because of HER actions was in actuality MY problem.  I'm still working out the logic behind that.  Rather than inflame the situation,  I simply informed the tenant that if it was indeed my problem I would  deal with calling the RCMP.  I was then dared to do so.  Challenge accepted.

Let's just say that seeing a drunk 43-year old woman being arrested in a housecoat and slippers in my kitchen wasn't exactly something I would have put money on seeing when I woke up that morning.  Anyhow, it's a done deal now and calm has returned to the house.  I did have to take a day off work which I was not happy about in the least but clearly after the stress of the situation and the late hour I decided that it wasn't a good idea to head in to work tired and stressed.  All was not lost though.  The nice thing is that last month I rented out a room to a guy from work whom I've known for 3 years now so rent-wise I wasn't really losing out.  And even if I was, there are times when extra money isn't worth your sanity over one idiot tenant.

Six days later and I know I made a wise decision.  The calm in the house now is almost tangible.  Pure bliss.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Miracle We Were Hoping For !

I generally don't blog to much about family since I'm a pretty private person but in this case, I will gladly make an exception to the rule.  To say that my mom has been the rock of my existence would be an gross understatement.  While we share a family joke that I was the perfect child (hey Amber, had to say it, sis!), this hasn't always been true.  I'm far from perfect and I'd love to take an eraser into the past to rub out some pretty big screw ups.  No matter what though, Mom was always there to support me in so many ways.  Truly, the woman is the most selfless person I of those people who would give you the shirt off her back and then go out and buy you another shirt if you were still in need.

There was a point in time where she was a single mom with three kids working two part-time jobs.  Statistically, kids in these types of situations have the proverbial deck stacked against them.  Yet my sisters and I were all able to pursue our own hobbies and interests that led to many opportunities in life. Mom valued education too.  And at the risk of tooting my own horn I will say proudly that those 3 kids she raised all went on to university and hold FIVE university degrees between them.

Mom was always pretty active, too.  With three kids that's pretty much a given.  So it came as a shock to us all to learn late last year that something just wasn't quite right.  To make a long story short, she started noticing that she was losing her sense of taste which led to a doctors appointment which lead to a round of tests which in turn lead to something no one really wants to hear......cancer.  And not only that but it was in a location in her throat that made it inoperable.

And the news only went from bad to worse after learning that her chemo treatments may not have been as successful as we had hoped.  I spent most of last week trying to come to grips with the idea that Mom might not be around much longer.  It was a dark, confusing and scary to be be perfectly honest.  The idea that my Mom would never really get to know her youngest grandchild tore my heart right out of me.  I woke up this morning dreading how the day would unfold as Mom was to learn the results of the latest tests.  Fifteen biopsy samples and no cancer detected was the news, my sister informed me.  My brain is still trying to process this information as I write this as I only found out myself after getting home from work this evening.   It's honestly taken me the better part of an hour here just to complete these four paragraphs.

I'm not the most religious of people but I do believe everything happens for a reason.  If anything has driven home the idea of never taking life for granted and living every single say to the fullest,,, the events of the past 3 months surely have.  I remember Mom once telling me how often times in life you don't always get dealt a good hand but you play it the best that you can.  It's a huge relief to see that things have played out so well and that Mom will still be around.  I might be 40 now but I'm not ashamed to say I love my Mom and she really is my hero and my inspiration.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Alberta PC's Show Their True Colours

As I expected, the PC riding association in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo selected Mike Allen as the PC candidate for an anticipated spring election. To say that I am unimpressed that our region may very well be represented by a sex pervert would be an understatement.  I'm sure this post will draw fire from some quarters.  Frankly, I just don't care.  It's unconscionable to have someone convicted of a sex crime in public office.  Period.

A few days ago, the Premier drew the ire of some by suggesting Albertans need only look in the mirror to see who is responsible for the financial mess we are in.  I suggest we don't have to look any further than the riding association here to see who is responsible for the morally bankrupt state we are when it comes quite a few politicians in this province.  That is all.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Blame Me?

Apparently,  the province's current financial mess can be attributed to Albertans.   This, according to Premier Jim Prentice, who, in his wisdom, must have a scapegoat for everything.  Forty-plus years of Conservative rule and it turns out, we are all to blame in the end.  Of course for Jimbo to be correct he would have to ignore the fact that his party has formed the government here for longer than I've been alive plus the fact that I've never voted for his party.  But yes, Jim.  Other than those two inconvenient truths, it may just very well be my fault.

So yes, I admit it.  Even though I'm in good health and have little reason to use our tiny hospital over the course of the 5+ years I've lived in the region.  It's my fault.  In the future, I commit to going in to work regardless of how sick I am.

I do apologize for attending that rally a couple years ago to push for Highway 63 to be twinned.  WHAT was I thinking?  I should be happy with white knuckle-drives, I suppose.  It's like a speeding roller coaster that you don't have to queue for after dropping a few coins in a box.

I apologize for being so enthusiastic about the new overpasses that have been built during my time here.    I miss the epic traffic jams and being late for work.   It should always take upwards of two hours to get to work.

I apologize for our new bridges.  Infrastructure?  Who needs it?  I was saddened that the old Grant MacEwan bridge was modified and it's distinctive blue steel girders torn down....but I apologize for that.  It was only a part of our history.  And history is bunk, as Henry Ford once remarked.

I apologize for being upset that our one MLA was convicted for soliciting sex with undercover cops in Minnesota.  Hey, we're all guys after all, right?  We all have our urges.

I also apologize for making too much money.  In future I will commit to not working as much and pass over more of what I make to you, given that seeing to the financial well-being of an PC MLA's son outweighs that of my own son.

I apologize for being such a greedy, selfish and wicked person and for getting you guys in to this big mess.  Blame me.  If you wish to speak to me about my unqualified apology, you can find me shoveling snow over at my MLA's office as an act of contrition.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Requiem aeternam

I came home from work last night to a chilly house and learned that my furnace had been acting up me.

But that doesn't really matter right now.

I woke up this morning still cold and faced with having to miss a day at work to get the furnace looked at.

But that doesn't really matter right now.

I bitched and gripped as the morning wore on, the house got colder and I waited for a technician to come to the house.

But that doesn't really matter right now.

The faulty furnace part, now sits atop my dryer.

That doesn't really matter right now either.

News of a recent inadvertent poisoning in the city has left many in shock and wonder.  I have to admit one of my first reactions was to think "what was the mother thinking."  Without doubt, there are many questions that will be asked in the days and weeks ahead.  All this just doesn't matter right now.  It doesn't matter because at the end of the day, this poor woman will have to live forever with her conscience and the results of her actions.  It's tragic.  Pure and simple.

And now, more unfortunate news as we learn that a second child has died.  This news hits home for me in many ways as I have a son not that much younger than one of the young boys involved.  And while I don't get to see him as often as I like, at least that is still a possibility.  For one poor women here, when it comes to her two youngest children, that option is now forever closed to her.

Sometimes there really are no words, and I have to admit I've been struggling quite a bit with just what to say since first learning about it.

Hug your kids a little tighter today.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Hospital Woes

It's not very often I am forced to agree with much of anything that comes from an Alberta politician, especially an NDP'er.  Thinking back to the time my own son was born here in 2011, though and remembering the gong show it was at times, I do know that our maternity ward here faces many challenges.  Apparently, over the course of the past 4 years, not much has changed.  It's an issue I feel so strongly about that I sent off an email to my local MLA here.  Initially, I have to admit I just want to jump all over the guy, but I've decided to wait and see if and how he responds first.  I've written my MLA a couple times in the past and never received a reply so I'm rather skeptical....and cynical.

I do find it a bit ridiculous that the man's office is less than two blocks from my house and while the big white, shiny sign says the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin is in that building somewhere I haven't seen much evidence of that in terms of the communication I get from him.  Hence my skepticism that my email will actually be acknowledged.  I'm sure I'll get the old "this is my community too" shtick from him.  Of course, politicians pretty much have to say something like that anyway.  Forgive me if I sound as though I feel that our two local MLA's really don't care all that much at times.  Don Scott has his law firm to go back to.  Mike Allen has his business to return to....or possibly his ladies.

I'm sure that our health care professionals here so the best with what they have to work with.   Now, if our MLA tries to convince me that things will actually improve inspite of a 9% budget cut, well, I have a nice shiny $3 bill for him.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Candid Thoughts on Being an Oil Patch Worker and Owning a Home in Fort McMurray Part II

On ground level within the small box of my own daily existence, I've noted a cooling off in the housing market and cheaper prices at the pumps.  Gas prices in my little corner of Fort McMurray are almost down to the level they were when I first came here in 2009.  My work has been affected insofar as my work schedule will be changing once again this coming week.  This is something I used to freak out over a little as I AM a creature of habit.  But this will be the fifth different work schedule I've had now so I adjust and deal with it.  I'm actually not seeing a reduction in hours but they are just distributed a bit differently.  For about a year I had been working 7 on/7 off.  Having worked as many as 18 days with three days off, I found that having an entire week off a bit trying at times.  Not so bad during the summer but a bit painful during winter.  I figure if it's going to be cold and dark I'd rather be working and getting paid for it than at home.  With the shutdown coming this spring I should be able to pick up some overtime easily enough.  Perhaps not quite at the level I was getting a year or two ago but I'll take what I can get.  I'm not one of those people who simply came here to make "hockey sacks of money", to use the phrase of the Edmonton police chief that I alluded to in a recent post.  I came to make a life for myself.  My son was born here and of course, I bought my first house here.  The mortgage on said house is up for renewal in a couple months, just to make life interesting.  But again, I like to keep a level head and think long term.  Whining and griping about the situation or about Fort McMurray as perhaps some are wont to do,  doesn't really solve anything in the long term.

For the curious, I know it costs Suncor $37-and-change to produce a barrel of oil.  I don't have the exact figure but I know its between $37 and $38.  So selling currently at a little under $50/barrel, they don't make loads of cash like they did when the price was over $100, but they stil make something.  If it drops below the $37 threshold, things will get interesting but as I mentioned in my previous post, they have other products on the market like diesel to help smooth out the bumps in the road, at least for the short term.  

One good thing about living in town is that I expect locals will have an easier time of this than those in camp.  I've already heard stories of cuts being made to camp and I know that within my own trade that first year apprentices will no longer have the camp option.  It just makes better business sense to have people from town in times like this.  Suncor saves money on camp costs.  I keep working.  And everyone is happy.  The area I work in is important for the overall maintenance of the upgrading area in which I play my own small part.  I suspect that oil would have to drop quite drastically before the yard I work in shuts down.    Pretty much every other trade on site needs scaffolders to do their job.  Unless the work is right at ground level (and most often it isn't) everyone from insulators to pipe fitters to mechanics to welders to electricians often needs scaffolding erected in order to do their job.  Another fortunate thing is that with tenants I can absorb some of the extra costs of potentially working less hours.  (There have been a couple times where this has been a big help.)  They also serve as further sources of information about the happenings at both Suncor and Syncrude, the two big players in this industry.

Of course, while this is my first experience here with a downturn, this is far from the first time this has happened here.   I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit concerned but I'm not in any sort of freak out mode either.  I don't mean to sound like an expert on this entire issue.  I certainly am not.  Perhaps the best that can be said is that I intend to weather the storm, keep my ear to the ground and be smart about things.....and stay positive too.