Is Edmonton a prairie city?

One of my favourite parts of making Let’s Find Out is taking on questions that have never even occurred to me. The latest episode is a great example of that.

Dustin Bajer (a friend of mine from back in the Shareable Neighbourhood days who I love chatting with about nature) was the curious Edmontonian for this episode. He asked how Edmonton came to be known as a prairie city.

Dustin holds up a leaf, with many trees behind him
Dustin at the Coates Conservation Area, not far outside Edmonton city limits. We headed there to get a picture of what an undisturbed or old growth area here might look like.
A guide entitled "Western Canada" produced by Canadian Pacific Railways
We went to the Bruce Peel Special Collections at the University of Alberta to examine old pamphlets and magazines produced by railways and the Canadian government, enticing settlers out West.

When I first read his question, it made my brain spin. In school we were taught that this region is part of the Aspen parkland biome – a mix of grasslands and deciduous forests. But you do see Edmonton businesses and artists taking on the “prairie” label all the time. So how far back does that reputation go?

Figuring out the answer was incredibly complicated. We found seemingly contradictory answers from old newspaper editorials, advertising materials aimed at prospective settlers, a local land conservation organization, and traditional Indigenous knowledge keepers. To parse it all, we ended up paying close attention to how far out we were zooming with our historical lens. What matters most? The last 50 years? 200? 10 000?

I’m proud of the nuance and struggle in this episode. It feels authentic to the process of answering any good historical question. There tend to be a lot of caveats and assumptions we need to examine.

Also any episode where I get to go hiking and learn some new words is a treat.

Celebrate eccentricity and other lessons from Björk

A circle of screens showing constellations hang above the instruments on stage at the Craneway Pavillion
Seeing Björk perform live in San Francisco with this swirl of screens and instruments around her was a treat for the ears and the soul.

Last week, I got to see one of my idols in action in San Francisco, and every splash of electricity, every heart-thumping wail, helped affirm the creative and spiritual path I’ve been drawing up for myself. Many people have asked what it was like seeing Icelandic singer Björk perform live for the first time, so I’ve tried to distill some of the lessons I learned here. First, let me set the scene for you.

Björk has always had murmurs of volcanoes and snow-goddesses in her music, but her latest project, Biophilia, explicitly invites you to think about our place in nature as sort of a midway point between the cosmic and the microscopic. I’ve written before about the iPad/iPhone apps she created for Biophilia. It was something different entirely to see her perform the songs beside a harbour, with the almost-full moon rising behind her.

Man in swan dress stands outside with friends smoking
The obligatory fan wearing a swan dress outside.

It seemed right for my boyfriend and I to dress up a bit whimsically, considering she’s performed in a swan dress and an outfit made of tinkly red fingers of glass. We didn’t realize we’d be so out of place in the city where she was performing, though. Across the Bay from San Francisco itself, she’d set up camp in an old wartime assembly plant in Richmond, refurbished into a glassed-in pavillion overlooking the harbour. I’m glad we wandered around, because it helped us put the evening in context. Richmond is palpably poorer, more latino, and more black, than San Francisco. And while the pavillion was breath-taking to be inside, wandering drew my attention to the more sinister side-effects of the refineries and factories in today’s Richmond.

Meanwhile, we stood in line with digital artists, punk kids from Sacramento, and yuppie parents from Oakland. Once inside, we found a spot standing ten metres away from a small stage surrounded on all sides by fellow eccentrics, creators, and dreamers. The lights dimmed, a ring of screens lit up with videos introduced by nature documentarian David Attenborough, and a cage of tesla coils descended from the ceiling to join the enormous pendulum harps, drums, and pipe organ on stage. That’s when Björk herself came out with ruby platform shoes, a frizzed-out blue and orange wig, and a choir in tow to teach us this:

  • Celebrate eccentricity
    Songs about lunar cycles, and videos of starfish embracing each other, are not for everyone. Björk’s work kind of embraces her fearless, outlandish tendencies, though. As a consequence, she accomplishes things that a less daring artist would never get close to. What could I accomplish if I was less afraid of what people would say, or how they’d react?
  • Don’t give up on the impossible
    Like a giant child’s legs dangling under a desk, the pendulum harp she played was an invention from her own mind. It is literally four enormous wooden pendulums, and when before each one falls she can rotate a circular harp wrapped around its base to pluck a different note. It perfectly suits a song about gravity and Earth’s place in the solar system. She dreamed it up this incredibly complex thing,approached robotics experts and programmers, and gave the world something that never existed before. What else could we make if we looked at our audacious dreams and said, “Yes please, let’s create that”?
  • Comfort is an illusion
    Björk is almost 50* now, but she’s still creatively peaking. Sometimes her experiments don’t work, but she’s not afraid to skip most of the hits and habits that made her famous, to make space to try something new. I think a lot of artists get into a rut of continually reproducing their old stuff to make their fans happy. All the songs about viruses, DNA, and cosmic origins on Biophilia showed me that it’s often safer to let go of what feels comfortable though, because the meaningful and relevant ideas change a lot throughout our lives.
  • Go beyond aesthetics
    Frizzy wigs and tesla coils playing bass synths with lightning are cool, of course, but they’re only worth seeing if they add up to a message. Throughout Björk’s music, there are messages about the need to forgive yourself, to stand up and fight against injustice, to embrace where you fit into a landscape. M.I.A. and K’naan are two other incredible musicians who get that it’s fine to lure people in with sick beats and catchy melodies, but what keeps people coming back are layers of real meaning behind them.
  • Giving matters more than getting
    Generosity comes up a lot in songs like Undo and Generous Palmstroke. This was a theme we felt many times in San Francisco: the only way to create lasting, fruitful bonds in this world, between people, with the rest of our environment, everywhere, is to offer more than you expect to get back.

On top of all of these experiences, it was such a joy to be in that tightly knit little crowd. We serendipitously stood beside a thoughtful quantum physicist from New Mexico and his hilarious wife, an optical engineer who works with lasers, photographs reflections, and sings Björk’s Cosmogony with her daughter as a lullaby.

What was seeing Björk like? It was like being raised up by a sea of people not afraid of their passion.

*Oops! I accidentally aged her and said she was over 50 originally. My apologies for awarding un-earned years.

Follow your nose

A waterfall marks the beginning of Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul
Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon stream is a symbol of rising economic tides as much as urban renewal.

When you’re interviewing someone for a story, preparation can be a double-edged sword. Last month, I travelled to South Korea to visit a bevy of friends and taste as much kimchi and spicy pork wraps as I could. I brought my audio recorder just in case I found time to work on a story for Terra Informa, and in my last few days I found a place that seemed to ripe for narrative.

North of the Han River, I read, downtown Seoul was thinly sliced in two by an ancient stream: Cheonggyecheon. There’s a pretty well-established history that’s told of Cheonggyecheon’s life over the past hundred years: slums grew up around its banks, it became increasingly polluted as a home for laundry and sewage, and eventually the municipal government decided it was easier to cover the whole area over with a freeway than to clean it up. Then around 2000, Seoul’s mayor decided to lead the charge on rehabilitating the stream, and the city transformed it at great expense into a fashionable, healthier tourist attraction. The project bolstered mayor Lee Myung-Bak’s reputation, and helped catapult him into the presidency.

Like any good reporter, I wanted to be more than just a stenographer for this official narrative. I landed on two approaches for getting a fresh angle. First, I’d interview a local historian and ask some hard questions about what happened to the people who lived in those slums. It seemed like an obvious injustice that while they were told to move, billions of dollars were later poured into cleaning up the stream for tourists and nearby financial analysts on their lunch break. Second, I’d ask a scientist who studied water quality in Korea to give me context on how polluted other bodies of water are around Seoul.

I was able to arrange for Seoul’s city government to assign a storyteller/tour guide named Ho Park to walk me down the stream and answer some questions about its history over the past 600 years. I had my questions ready, and as we strolled past symbolic pieces of stone and renovated ancient bridges, I tried to press him on why the poorer residents were moved, rather than being able to benefit from a cleaner waterway themselves. While he gamely told me the name of a neighbourhood they’d been relocated to and tried to answer my questions, I could tell he was getting tired of them.

Finally Park said, “Have you ever been hungry?” I admitted that I hadn’t.

Then he told me a different story about Cheonggyecheon. Look at it from the perspective of the country after the Korean War, he said. Millions of casualties, both countries in ruins, and many of those left were desperately poor. South Korea didn’t have the kind of money to think about environmental health, he said. The whole country, and certainly its iron-fisted dictatorship, were focused on economic growth.

Models show off high-tech camping and climbing gear.
Models show off high-tech camping and climbing gear.

Today, Seoul is a mostly-affluent, sometimes futuristic city. You can swipe your RFID-enabled transit card to get on about a dozen subway lines that snake through the city, have your butt heated the whole way, and be right at home watching soap operas on your smartphone along with all the other passengers enjoying seamless 4G connections through the tunnels. When I first visited Cheonggyecheon, I wandered past a crowd of photographers gathered around a fake backdrop for a North Face photo shoot.

Now, said Park, was the time to think seriously about cleaning up air quality downtown and get carp and marsh snails back in the streams. Ecological health is a luxury for the rich, essentially.

It wasn’t the story I came for, and it wasn’t one I was comfortable with. But it was the honest perspective I found from both Park and the scientist, so it’s going to be the thread of my story. Sometimes, you have to be willing to toss out your well-prepared notes and follow your nose.

The One-Way Door

A man crouches to squeeze through a doorway out of a dark room and into the light.
The Room of No Return, Elmina Castle, Ghana

In the Elmina slave castle in Ghana, where men and women were held in hellish prison cells waiting to be shipped to the New World, there is a room my friends and I were taught to call the Room of No Return. There is a door out of this room where people were herded out to the boats, a one-way door. I have been thinking a lot about death lately, and I have been thinking about the one-way door.

Isaak Kornelsen’s death, and the cycling town hall it inspired, got me thinking about how a death resonates with the people left behind. Does it change the way they see themselves, the world around them, I wondered? Or does it just make them pay attention for a moment?

And after that, I kept coming back. I interviewed a forensic entomologist in Vancouver who explained how insects can tell stories for the dead: the age of flies in a body can date the time of death, the species mix can tell you the location a body was moved from, and the blood in an insect’s crop can tell you who… well, who they were eating. After that, my friend Alison and I organized a Shareable Neighbourhood walk to explore nature’s cycles of life and death (it hasn’t happened yet — that’s this Saturday). How do the trees and animals around us cope with the long, cold, winter in this climate? Which ones die, and which ones hang on, and how?

I’ve been trying to piece together why I’ve been drawn to these ideas lately, and the best I can come back to is the door. As JK Rowling showed so painfully in Harry Potter, death is at least a one-way passage for knowledge. We can never know what lies on the other side: a long drop and a short stop, or an ocean of possibility.

What does it mean to pass through a door with no hope of return? With no knowledge of what comes next? We know, of course, the grim life that lay on the other side of that particular door in the slave castle. But what if we were presented with such a door today, with no knowledge of what lay on the other side, and had the choice to take a one-way journey through it? Would we take it?

I watched the movie Solaris tonight, and it certainly asks this question. I think many great science fiction movies do, actually. Characters are presented with the choice to step onto an unknown, possibly transcendent, and possibly fatal path. There is no turning back.

I always get a tingle when they do.

Many of us live our lives with some certainty about the one-way door. It brings many people comfort to think that heaven lies on the other side, that all of our pain and wrongs will be erased and we can join the people we love again there. Others are just as certain that all that’s ahead of us is a future as a meal for insects. I don’t think it’s possible for us to know, no matter how many ghost stories I hear. But I think the answer we hold in our hearts matters.

If you were certain there a chance of eternal happiness on the other side, what matters more than getting there? Live your life without sin, do some good deeds where you can, and make right with your Creator, and everything will turn out alright. But what if all that’s on the other side is darkness? For some, that might mean there’s no point to living well. For me, I think it realigns life’s purpose.

If this is the only life we have, personal salvation doesn’t matter, but making this world better might. We may not have immortal life after this body expires, but we can certainly have an immortal impact on our community. If we are brave, we might embolden a whole generation after us. If we pay attention to our actions, we might make the water cleaner for our grandchildren. If we make space, new life might flourish in our footsteps.

Our Shareable Neighbourhood

We were looking for a horseshoe.
Some of the folks out at last weekend’s Backyard Gardens walk.

I’ve had some time on my hands this summer to brew a couple new projects, and I think one of them is ready to open up a bit to the world. It’s called Shareable Neighbourhood.

Well, it wasn’t always called Shareable Neighbourhood. Technically this is the first time that’s ever happened. Initially I just called it Neighbourhood Walk, and between the two names you kind of get the idea: monthly tours of our neighbourhood in Old Strathcona/Mill Creek, to let people share what they know about local history and nature.

It was an idea born out of Next Up, the leadership program I finished this year. I’d been trying to dream up ways to get people jazzed about the nitty-gritty of where we live. Partly because I’m intensely curious about how and why things got to be the way they are, and partly because I think when you know more about what’s in your soil and who’s lived on it, you’re more likely to stand up for it. And partly I hoped that if we were all learning and sharing this stuff together more often, we’d feel like we had a more natural community of people to turn to when we need help getting a group solar panel discount, or bringing people out to a city council meeting — you get the idea.

The twist is that while we’ve had three so far and it’s ready to be murmured about online, it’s also young and needs fresh minds. I’m really trying to encourage folks in the neighbourhood to feel confident leading their own walks, even if they don’t have a degree or letters behind their name to qualify them in the idea. That’s why last weekend’s theme was Backyard Gardens: six of us who aren’t professional horticulturalists got to show off what we know about making tomatoes and delphiniums look good. So I want to decentralize the planning behind this as soon as possible, and we also need theme ideas.

So if you’re reading this, and you live in and/or know a lot about Edmonton’s Old Strathcona and Mill Creekish areas, drop me a line. If you have a tour you’d like to lead, great! We’ve done Plants of the River Valley and History of Immigration to Edmonton so far, and I think this month we’re going to investigate the local railways. And if you’d like to get involved in organizing, I’d love to hear from you too. Shareable Neighbourhood also has a Facebook group if you want to join. It might need to become a likeable page at some point.

By the way, this project owes a lot to the Jane’s Walks. They’re these annual walks all around the world that work exactly this way. Locals lead walks around topics like how an industrial heart became an urban park. I didn’t even realize how inspired I was by Tim McCaskell’s tour of Toronto’s gay village until someone pointed it out to me.

Also the name change was inspired by the great podcast 99% Invisible, which has much the same mission to explore the unseen story behind everyday parts of our lives. They tell beauteous stories about everything from how a picture gets on a stamp, to why US currency is so ugly, to how a Walt Whitman poem became wrought in an iron fence in Brooklyn. Just listening to the host, Roman Mars, this week made me more pumped about getting people to show off these unseen stories right beneath the surface of where we live. I highly recommend you check it out.

The Beavers That Lived in the Sky

This weekend I went to a farm in central Alberta for a gathering of Next Uppers from all over the province. I learned that the cattle farm was a bit of an Albertan punk rock institution not too many years ago, but more of the conversations drifted towards humans and our place in nature. Whether we have any place in it at all, in fact.

It inspired a little story I’d like to share with you, called The Beavers That Lived in the Sky.

A tower made out of sticks stands out in front of a bright blue sky
Photo credit: arvster

Once upon a time, deep in the forest there lived a colony of beavers. They loved to chomp down on trembling aspen trees, and build dams with them of course. Their dams created swampy reservoirs that lots of fish loved to swim in. The herons loved the dams too, because of all the delicious fish.

Gradually they spread into many colonies all throughout the forest, each with their own specialization: some built wider dams, some added tiny towers, some liked to decorate them with leaf sculptures, and some liked to carve famous beaver faces into them, like little Mt. Beavermores.

Then one day a beaver in one of these colonies said, Why should we stay in these little dams when we could build grand towers all the way up to the sky, high enough to see over the treetops? The other beavers in her colonies discussed this, and said it sounded like a very promising idea. So the chopped down some trees to build a magnificent tower, and lo and behold she was right, they had amazing views of the forest that no beaver had before.

The colony decided to become tower-makers and map-makers, creating exquisite maps of the forest from their new vantage point. And their maps were so splendid and renowned throughout the forest that they knew they’d struck upon the true destiny that all beavers were meant to fulfill.

With all these new trees they were chopping down, they could feed more beavers, and soon their first tower filled up and they had to build more to house everybody. The other colonies thought they were a bit strange with all their talk about the sky, but they said, “That’s all well and good for them, let them enjoy their big towers and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”

And they would have.

But the tower-makers started running out of trees. They pondered what to do. Then they looked at all the other places in the forest and said, “Look at those silly beavers mucking about on the ground. They’re letting all of their trees go to waste, and not using them to build towers at all.”

So they tried to convince the other colonies of the error of their ways. The other beavers said no thanks, but the tower-makers were adamant they knew best. So they started moving into the other beavers’ areas to launch mandatory tower-building masterclasses, workshops and conferences.

Where they found the others difficult to re-educate, the tower-makers were regrettably compelled to use force. With their huge numbers, the battles were short, and before long most of the other colonies had become tower-makers too. After a few generations, most forgot they’d ever made dams.

Unfortunately, within a few generations the forest also started to look a little bare. Actually it looked like a disaster zone. With so many mouths to feed, they were forced to build more and more towers, and chop down  more and more trees. Eventually most of the forest became barren clearcuts dotted with towers.

Some beavers started getting very concerned about the disappearance of the forest, and tried to tell others they were headed down a self-destructive path. They warned that unless things changed, there’d be no forest left at all.

The rest of the tower-makers looked around, and agreed they needed to harvest trees more sustainably. Some even agreed that a disaster was going on.

“But what can we do?” they said. “Would you rather live without maps and towers?”

“There’s not much we can do, to be honest,” they sighed. “This is just how beavers are.”

Alberta Election 2012 Underdogs: Marlin Schmidt

I think we can all agree this provincial election has gotten pretty overheated. It’s warranted. There are genuine serious issues coming up about climate change and energy policies, human rights, and moral issues. There’s something else I’ve wanted to focus on, though: underdogs.

There are hundreds of candidates running for office in this election, and though change is in the air, only 87 can become Members of the Legislative Assembly. I wanted to know what motivates the people running in tough ridings, the ones that have been impenetrable fortresses for other parties for years.

So I decided to follow some of those candidates to see what makes them tick. Today I’m starting with NDP candidate Marlin Schmidt. Tomorrow’s profile of Alberta Party hopeful Sue Huff will be a collaboration with my friend and Edmonton Journal contributor Lana Cuthbertson. Without further ado…

***

Marlin Schmidt out on the street examining a door-knocking list with a volunteer
Marlin Schmidt (left), NDP candidate for Edmonton-Gold Bar

Sitting in the passenger seat of his door-knocking volunteer’s car, Marlin Schmidt is swapping horror stories about the mosquitoes up north. Way up north. Schmidt’s a hydrogeologist for Alberta Environment in Edmonton now, but says his time working in the field in northern Canada shaped his journey from a young Reformer to an NDP candidate today.

The riding Schmidt’s taken on is Edmonton-Gold Bar, and it’s been won by Liberals since 1986. Hugh MacDonald has been the MLA here since 1997, and only decided not to run this time around after running for the Liberal leadership and losing out to Raj Sherman.

That’s a tough legacy to overcome for any candidate, and the new areas that have been added have mostly voted Tory before. But Schmidt’s been through similar battles before running federal races for the Member of Parliament in this area, Linda Duncan. Before she won, Rahim Jaffer seemed to have just as tight a grip on the riding for the Conservatives.

I talked to Marlin Schmidt to see what he had to say about moving over to the NDP, the minor controversy over a public school trustee’s endorsement, and the conditions under which he loves strategic voting.

Swearing at the TV and starting out Reform

Following Schmidt and his volunteer on the evening’s door-knocking route, I realize he’s tall enough to get swiped by most of the trees, so I try to veer to the edge of the sidewalk. As we walk, Schmidt jokes he’s been interested in politics since he was a kid because he his parents were always swearing at politicians on TV, and he wanted to find out what they were swearing about.

His family moved around a lot when he was young, and Schmidt says he has a strong memory of growing up in Saskatchewan under Premier Grant Devine’s scandal-ridden Conservatives. The corruption of that party and its baker’s dozen of MLAs convicted of fraud “left a bit of a mark,” says Schmidt.

The Reform Party seemed to capture the sense he felt of being alienated by the “Eastern bastards” when he was young, he says, and Reform got his vote in his first election. Eventually though, Schmidt realized he felt like the West was being cheated more by big oil and banking companies than by the government.

It was living in northern Alberta with his young wife and working as an environmental consultant for oil and gas companies that guided his shift towards the NDP, he says. He felt frustrated that so much of his pricy consulting fee was going to shareholders, not the people doing work in the company. And eventually he got frustrated with his taxes, too — with how low they were getting.

“Since I started working, my taxes have basically just been doing down,” Schmidt says. But the cost of saving for his kids’ post-secondary education and non-instructional fees kept going up. The NDP seemed to be a better fit for his belief that it’s easier to pay for the important things collectively.

Questions about taxes and oil sands at the door

It’s easy to understand why he just walks past the houses with Wildrose signs on their lawn. It makes sense too that the longest conversation of his evening is at a house where a man tells him he’s worried about high taxes and wages squeezing out his small business.

Schmidt stands at the door for a while trying to persuade the man that the NDP wants big corporations to pay their fair share, but would lower taxes for small businesses. The man nods, saying somebody’s got to pay for everything government does. I’m surprised to hear him tell Schmidt he thinks green concerns about the oil sands are also overblown, but that he’s rented a helicopter to see industry’s impact on the land, and walked through reclaimed forests to see what they look like for himself.

“It’s not much of a forest,” he says.

Although environmental issues play to Schmidt’s strengths, he gives a delicate answer to this potential voter. He talks about the real concerns he sees in his work at Alberta Environment, but agrees they’re occasionally blown out of proportion by advocacy groups. I ask Schmidt later why the NDP platform is so vague about environmental issues, and he admits it’s a third rail for their party in the same way moral issues are proving to be for Wildrose.

“As soon as the NDP talk about the environment,” Schmidt says, “people think we want to shut down the oil sands.” So this election they’ve consciously decided to back down from the development slow-down they called for in 2008, and focus on issues like upgrading bitumen in Alberta.

That issue has earned them attack ads from the Merit Contractors Assocation, which represents non-union contracting companies benefiting from the current setup of shipping unrefined oil out. Schmidt gets a pretty big smile talking about those ads. “Unless they’re a highly vindictive organization,” he argues, they wouldn’t attack the NDP unless they saw them as a credible threat.

EPSB says endorsement controversy a non-issue

The one minor bump in Schmidt’s campaign so far has been Liberal candidate Josipa Petrunic’s campaign’s allegation that he received an illegal endorsement from Edmonton Public School Board trustee Sarah Hoffman. They say Hoffman’s endorsement breaks an Alberta School Board Association policy an abusing her position.

To be clear, I spoke to Dave Colburn, Board Chair of the EPSB. He said they have no policy on the issue as long as the endorsement is personal. I asked whether it was a problem that Hoffman’s endorsement on Schmidt’s campaign literature names her as a trustee. He said unequivocally that their legal team has advised him she hasn’t violated any rules.

As for Schmidt, he says he thinks it’s appropriate for elected officials to support other candidates as long as no public money is involved. Especially with so few progressives in Alberta, he says, they can’t wall each other off.

“I agree with strategic voting sites when they agree with us.”

A Rahim Jaffer sign leaning gently against a lamp-post in a stone-filled yard
Inexplicably, this house had a sign in their yard for Rahim Jaffer. He was the Conservative MP for this riding... federally... until 2008.

The reason I’m standing awkwardly on the porch as Schmidt knocks on dozens of doors, of course, is I want to find out why he’s running for the NDP in a riding held by another party on the left for so long. It’s a question that comes from many people he talks to who’ve voted Liberal before. Schmidt has an answer ready when people argue the riding’s been held by them for decades.

“It was Hugh’s riding for 14 years.”

Hugh MacDonald, he argues, had strong trade union backing, and supported many issues the NDP champion. On the back of his pamphlets, a tiny bar graph reflects how hard he worked to battle the same argument campaigning for Linda Duncan. It shows Duncan was miles ahead of the Liberal candidate in the area during the 2011 election, and that definitely wasn’t always the case. For years, the Liberals argued they were the only credible threat to the Conservatives.

There’s a website called Change Alberta endorsing “progressive” candidates with the best chance of winning competitive ridings all over the province. Though their methodology is a bit shaky, Schmidt has won them over in Edmonton-Gold Bar. Since the NDP so often end up on the losing end of strategic voting though, I ask him how he feels about that kind of endorsement.

“This election I love them,” he laughs. “To be straightforward, I agree with strategic voting sites when they agree with us.”

He’s not the kind of candidate who suddenly puts on a new mask every time he greets people at the door, and I can tell he’s struggling to give an intellectually honest answer. He says he’s trying to come up with a good argument, but there isn’t one.

The pamphlet and the website help this time though, and he knows he needs to win.

***

Marlin Schmidt’s candidate website

Come back tomorrow, when Lana Cuthbertson and I will profile Edmonton-Glenora candidate and former Alberta Party leader Sue Huff.

Alberta Election 2012: Parties barely competing for votes on the environment

Laurie Blakeman writes on the schedule dominating the wall of her campaign office in Edmonton
Liberal candidate Laurie Blakeman had some strong opinions to share with Terra Informa on carbon emissions and reclaiming land in the oil sands.

With a week to go until the provincial election, every other conversation I have these days is about the latest polls or what to think about the rising fortunes of the Wildrose Party. There’s plenty to scrutinize about their candidates’ “fiery” (ahem) opinions on sexual orientation, abortion rights, and launching a wider inquiry into doctor intimidation.

If you’re like me though, you probably watched that whole televised debate last week wondering when any of the four major parties would mention the environment. Sadly Liberal leader Raj Sherman couldn’t come up with a slogan about shale-bed methane as catchy as “fudge-it budget.”

Fortunately for you, the team at Terra Informa did the hard work and put together a story on the environmental platforms from the PCs, NDP, Liberals and Wildrose. For the sake of time, we couldn’t get to the Alberta Party or EverGreen for this segment. Our questions mainly targeted what to do about our dependence on coal-fired generation for electricity in the province, and the shoddy job oil sands developers have been doing replacing wetlands.

I will admit to taking a small amount of pleasure interrupting Alison Redford for this story to correct her about coal. She was trying to suggest we’re not still building coal plants in this province. Incredible as it is, we absolutely are.

Edit: Almost forgot: if you’re in Edmonton Tuesday night, you might want to check out Candi{date}, a meet-your-candidates event that Next Gen and InterVivos are hosting. It promises to be very shmoozy. I’ll add it to the Community section.

Destroy the environment before it destroys us

Caption: Positive effects of environmental degradation. Man in clear-cut forest smiles, "Hey, my allergies are gone!"This week’s episode of Terra Informa was a labour of love and the most fun I’ve had helping produce the show so far. We decided to use April Fool’s Day as an opportunity to make fun of our usual earnest environmental news reporting. We call it Terra MisInforma.

You can download the podcast on iTunes, stream it online or listen live in Edmonton tomorrow at 5 on CJSR 88.5 FM. Hear how the federal government passed up a huge opportunity for a parking lot with the new Rouge Valley National Park, the Top 5 Environmental Threats to Our Security and Freedom, and the Ezra Levant Award for Excellence in Excellence in Journalism.

I’ve also updated the Community section with a new Lawrence Hill lecture coming up, details about the Pride Centre re-opening, and a link to the bike lane consultations happening around Edmonton right now. The headlines might be all election all the time, but there’s still plenty of other stuff happening around town.