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ANIMALS

Movin’ and Howard

Edmonton—After nearly a year of being subject to campaigns and
petitions by animal rights groups all over North America, it looks like West
Edmonton Mall may finally be freeing Howard the Dolphin from the mall’s
indoor aquarium.

Howard is the last remaining of a group of four dolphins—Howard,
Gary, Mavis and Maria—that were captured and brought to the mall from
Florida in 1985. After years of frolicking and cavorting for the mild
amusement of mall spectators, Maria died in 2000, followed by Gary in 2001.
Once Howard’s mate Mavis died last July, Canadian activist groups such
as Zoocheck Canada began a comprehensive campaign which included the
distribution of all those Free Howard signs you see everywhere (and no,
despite what you find when you type “free Howard” into Google,
they have nothing to do with that idiot Howard Stern finally being dropped
like a sack of dead raccoons by Clear Channel) to ensure that Howard would
not meet the same fate.

Apparently, the campaign has worked as, according to reports from the CBC,
Howard may be headed for the bluer pastures of Florida. WEM has confirmed
that Florida Keys marine park Theater of the Sea has applied for a permit to
move the decidedly-not-a-shock-radio-host Howard. The mall has promised to
move the dolphin as soon as he is healthy enough to do so. “Is he
better there than in Canada, in a shopping mall? Yes, probably,” Ric
O’Barry, who used to train dolphins and works to keep them out of
captivity, said in an interview with CBC. “It’s the best of a bad
idea. He’s in natural sea water, sunshine, and he’s with other
dolphins. In a perfect world, he would go back to the Pine Island, Florida
area where he was captured and be reunited with his family and swim off into
the sunset, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”

Don’t we all dream of a world in which dolphins swim around in the
same place for 19 years? I know I do, except my perfect world is also one in
which Howard Stern is covered in fire ants, tied to the nose of a rocket and
launched into the sun. —Chris Boutet

PROVINCIAL AFFAIRS

Rural Albertans want healthcare, not big government: poll

Edmonton—The federal government has just released a study on the
priorities of rural Albertans—and surprise, surprise, it found that
access to quality healthcare is important to Wild Rose province residents
living outside of Edmonton and Calgary, but that big government is not a
large priority.

In a study released last week by the Canadian Rural Partnership, a
government agency created to investigate and define the priorities of the
agricultural sector, more than 400 rural Albertans were asked to rank 13
previously determined priorities, from quality healthcare to access to
technology to government programs. It found that 82 per cent ranked
“accessible quality healthcare” as a five out of five on the
priority scale, while another 13 per cent ranked it four out of five. Strong
community leadership was the second-highest priority, with a five-star
ranking from 74 per cent of the people polled and a four-star rating from
another 21 per cent of the study group.

Finishing well down the list was access to technology and high-tech
training—access to high-speed Internet only garnered high importance
from 42 per cent of respondents. In fact, only 52 per cent of those polled
even had Internet-capable computers in their homes. “Most of the 48 per
cent respondents without Internet access at home indicated that their main
reason for not having this service was not having a computer (27 per
cent),” stated the study. “About 20 per cent of respondents
reported that the service was not affordable, that they chose not to have
access or that they did not know how to use this technology.”

On the other end of the spectrum, “access to government
programs” was rated as the second-least important issue to respondents.
Only half of the people surveyed believed that government help was important,
further confirming rural Alberta as the big-C conservative capital of the
country. The study also found that respondents felt that it was more
important for government to promote rural Alberta and its products rather
than spend money on bringing high-tech training or try to promote new
business ideas in the area. Basically, the mood of the study is that the
rural way of life doesn’t need to be updated—what it needs is a
better marketing strategy.

Why such disdain for opening new markets? The study suggests that funding
is not easy to come by in rural Alberta. Of the rural residents surveyed who
had actually begun new businesses, the study found that 85 per cent got their
funding through personal investment. Less than two-thirds used bank funds,
while only one in five claimed to use government grants or funding plans. So,
government is in a Catch-22 situation. Rural Alberta does not want to
diversify, mainly because of a lack of government funding. But the poll shows
that these people really aren’t that comfortable with the idea of
government funding in the first place. Rural Alberta is a place that
can’t diversify because the population refuses to divorce itself from
the aid-less, subsidy-less free market.

Why is this study so important? Because rural Alberta has such a
disproportionately large percentage of the seats in the provincial
legislature, the study illustrates the core values that will be the focus of
debate in the next election campaign. But to be fair, it needs to be
mentioned that while the study was released just last week, the actual poll
was conducted in 2002. That means many of the farmers surveyed were answering
questions about government aid before the zenith of the drought crisis or the
discovery of Mad Cow Disease in Alberta. The feds and the province have
launched several aid programs in the wake of those disasters, so the numbers
from a 2002 study need to be taken with a very large grain of salt.
—Steven Sandor

MILITARY

Sea King havoc

Ottawa—Ah, the proud, proud Sea King, the ancient Canadian military
helicopter that is so outdated and dangerous that pilots have to be trained
how to fly on one engine and how to not die when the copter inevitably loses
power and crashes into the sea. There once was a time when we all feared we
would be losing these nostalgic throwbacks to 1963 within the next four
years. But fear not: according to documents recently obtained by CBC, it
looks like the Sea Kings may be forced to remain in service until 2012.

Despite Defence Minister David Pratt’s recent assurances to New
Democratic MP Alexa McDonough that the sorely strained helicopters will be
relieved of duty by 2008, CBC is reporting that papers gathered under the
Access to Information Act indicate the that the military is considering
keeping the Sea Kings flying (and crashing) until one year short of the
choppers’ 50th birthday.

“You have to look at the number of years it takes to get full
delivery of all aircraft,” said Col. François Pion, who oversees
the Sea King life extension project, in an interview with CBC. “And
then on top of that, you have to look at how long it’s going to take to
train your personnel, be it maintenance personnel or aircrew, and how long
it’s going to take them to actually come up to speed and become
operational on the new aircraft.”

All these factors mean a few more years of extra service for the Sea King,
which will further require millions of dollars in upgrades just to maintain
their current
slightly-less-deadly-than-trying-to-fly-a-car-by-driving-it-really-fast-off-a-building
status.

According to the CBC, the Liberals cancelled an earlier order to replace
the aircraft in 1993, back when the Sea King was but a spry young pup of 30,
but a contract for a new machine is expected to be announced later this
month.

After its retirement, reports allege, the Sea King plans to buy a house in
Crowsnest Pass and spend the day yelling at kids to stay off his lawn.
—Chris Boutet

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