Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Prosperity Doesn't Increase Happiness in Alberta

This just in on Sunday: No commentary from me on this one... just lots to consider.

Survey suggests Albertans are unhappy with their quality of life

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2007 1:24 PM ET
Dean Bennett, CP

EDMONTON - You know there are anger problems in Canada's land of milk and honey when you find the highway literally covered in, well, milk and honey. Mental health counsellor Robert Peters says that's what happened in the case of one woman who played a high-speed road-rage game of cat and mouse on Calgary's Deerfoot Trail expressway with a man who cut her off.
The pair darted in and out of traffic - he swerving at her, she opening her grocery bag to launch comestible missiles through the driver's window.

"The woman later felt she'd better step forward (for help) because her children were in the back seat at the time and witnessed it," said Peters.

Her story is one of an increasing number of tales emerging in Canada's wealthiest province - a portrait of disquiet reflected in a new Harris-Decima survey of western Canadians conducted for The Canadian Press.

The online survey looked at the attitudes of 1,400 westerners, but found the most angst and unhappiness in Alberta, the province that leads the nation in growth and per capita wealth.
One in four Alberta respondents said they found people in the province generally grumpier and less civil compared with two years ago.

And despite multibillion-dollar budget surpluses and a provincewide construction boom to try to accommodate the teeming inflow of newcomers:
-24 per cent said the post-secondary education has worsened.
-28 per cent said grade-school education has deteriorated.
-51 per cent said their community has not improved or, in some cases, even worsened.
-70 per cent said there has been no improvement in their family's health and well-being.

The survey, conducted Sept. 10-12, is considered accurate within 2.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20. When just the 350 Alberta respondents are counted, the sampling error is plus or minus 5.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The level of dissatisfaction found in the survey is becoming apparent on streets and highways. Peters says more and more stories of road rage are cropping up in his counselling sessions, to the point where he decided separate group therapy dedicated to road rage was in order. His first pilot session began this weekend.

The idea took shape after he heard the grocery story and learned of a Calgary truck driver who was so fed up with being cut off that he tailed one offending vehicle with a family inside, overtook it and ran if off the highway, leaving it perched precariously at a 45-degree angle over a ditch.

The trucker was charged and had to attend anger management classes, although they were tailored to domestic violence.

"We need to address this particular road-rage phenomenon more actively and directly in group therapy," said Peters.

It appears there's also anger in Alberta's hospitals. The province's growing population has led to long waiting lines and bed closures due to lack of staff.

"It's getting worse," said Bev Dick, vice-president of the United Nurses of Alberta. "People are coming to the end of their rope faster and have almost come to the point of thinking that the louder they yell, the faster they're going to get attention."

A recent survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found close to half the province's 24,000 nurses have experienced some form of abuse.

"Verbal abuse is one of the most common, but certainly it is not uncommon that nurses are spit at, hit, kicked, or punched by patients or the patient's family," said Dick.

"There's plenty of downside to any boom, and our members are on the front lines to all of that."
Post-secondary students, meanwhile, are dealing with squeezed housing markets and soaring rents, said Michael Janz, president of the University of Alberta students union.

More than three-quarters of many student loans are used simply to pay the rent, said Janz, leading in some cases to students sleeping in offices or 24-hour common areas or, in one recent high-profile example, to a student sleeping in his buddy's shed.

"It's getting a little ridiculous," said Janz. "We're all thankful to be living in a bustling economy, but the boom's not always beneficial for everyone."

The crazy growth is fuelled by oilsands megaprojects in northern Alberta. The Fort McMurray area has been forced to deal with the social fallout of overcrowding, skyrocketing prices, and increasing crime and homelessness.

A 2006 survey found there were 441 homeless people in Fort McMurray, up 24 per cent from 2004.

"We don't have the shelter space to keep all these people off the streets this winter," said Rod McDonald, chairman of a committee that looked into the problem. He said they're making progress, citing a 200-bed shelter that is soon to open. Disturbingly, he said, the survey found that 65 homeless were children as young as 11 who survived by staying at various friends' places ("couch surfing," said McDonald) or, in the case of one-third of them, swapping favours for a place to sleep.

"We didn't specify in the survey what those favours might amount to, but you could imagine in many cases it could be sexual favours."

McDonald said more than half the young homeless admitted involvement in high-risk ventures like crime, numbers that may have helped spur the concern over lawlessness in the Harris-Decima poll. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they saw drug use getting worse, while close to half said their sense of security and safety was declining and 44 per cent viewed themselves at risk of physical harm. Those numbers, however, don't jibe with Statistics Canada figures released this summer indicating that as of 2006, the national crime rate was at its lowest in 25 years.

The overall crime rate fell five per cent in Alberta, though Edmonton, with 3.7 homicides per 100,000 residents, trailed only Regina (4.5) among major cities. "We have to do more to address the homicide rate here in Edmonton," said Sanjeev Anand, a University of Alberta law professor who studies youth crime. "But having said that, the rate is still low when you compare it to a lot of major American cities."