Sacramento, Calif., OKs NBA Kings arena deal

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – With the clock clicking down, Sacramento city officials took their last shot at keeping the NBA Kings in California’s capital by approving a public-private deal to build a new 18,500-seat arena and retail centre downtown.

The city council’s approval of the arena Tuesday was the last step in what has been a full court press by Mayor Kevin Johnson to keep Sacramento’s only major league sports team from bolting to Seattle, where a new ownership group and arena deal awaits. He now must convince NBA owners to block the Maloof family from initiating the move, a deal made public in January.

Since then, the mayor, himself a former NBA All-Star, has scrambled to assemble a group to buy the team, convince Commissioner David Stern to consider a counter offer, and get approval for the financial deal that would build a $448 million arena on the site of a shopping mall — a development many say will revitalize a problem area in its bustling city core.

Next week, Johnson will present the arena plan and purchase offer to an NBA committee. The following week, the NBA Board of Governors will vote on whether the team can be sold, and whether it will stay or move.

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“We want the folks of Seattle to get a team, we wish them well, but we want to keep what’s ours,” Johnson said after the 7-2 vote to approve the arena. “We’re going to New York to talk about the viability of this market and the love affair we’ve had with our team.”

The Sacramento investment group includes Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle, co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Johnson announced late Monday that Paul Jacobs, CEO of the international technology company Qualcomm, also agreed to become part of the Sacramento bid.

“We have four billionaires who have said that Sacramento is worthy. It’s been a long time since people have validated us in this way,” said city councilmember Steve Hansen, who voted in favour of the deal.

The NBA has said the aging Sleep Train Arena in the suburbs four miles north of downtown no longer is adequate.

“We’re in competition to keep the Sacramento Kings from being taken away from us,” said City Manager John Shirey as he began outlining the arena plan for council members. “We’ve known all along that we need to present the NBA a first-rate, quality place for them to play.”

The Seattle group, led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, has had a deal to acquire a 65 per cent stake in the team for $341 million.

The Chamber of Commerce, labour groups and fans spoke in favour of the arena deal, saying that keeping the Kings saves 800 jobs and creates 6,500 more during the construction and downtown revitalization process.

The plan was opposed by several groups and speakers, some of whom asked the council to take more time to study whether the deal is good for the city. City officials reached a preliminary arena agreement Saturday with the investment group, but the late negotiations left little time for community members to study the proposal before the vote.

“Mr. Mayor, your attempts to pull off an upset win could adversely affect this community for decades,” said attorney and professed Kings fan Jeffrey Anderson, who asked the council to put the plan before voters or he would file a lawsuit to stop it.

Other speakers said the timing of the deal was ironic given that nearby Stockton is in bankruptcy court after over-extending itself with debt, including a minor-league hockey arena.

Development partners compared their vision of a downtown arena to other projects that have revitalized urban areas such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the new Barclays Center where the Nets began play in Brooklyn this season. Architect AECOM, tapped to build a new Kings arena, recently completed the Barclays venue.

“I have a lot of faith in this site. It’s nothing short of world class,” said AECOM’s Bill Crockett.

The arena will be built on the west end of city centre on the site of the Downtown Plaza, an aging mall that has lost more than half of its sales revenue in the last 10 years as stores have moved to the suburbs. It’s just blocks from Interstate 5, a short walk from Amtrak and sits at a gateway to downtown and the city of 475,000.

The city’s share is $258 million, the bulk of which would come from event parking collections and ticket surcharges. Nearly all of the city’s parking lots are used by government workers who vacate downtown after 5 p.m. The city would own the arena.

The investment group will contribute $189 million to the arena construction and would be responsible for all capital improvements.

The 18,500-seat downtown arena also could host hockey, concerts and family entertainment. The development would include 475,000 in office space, 300,000 in retail space, 250 hotel rooms and 600 housing units.

The arena term sheet includes a 35-year non-relocation agreement with two five-year extensions that would keep the Kings in the city until the last quarter of the century.

Best-kept secret in B.C. is good news for drinkers: Booze prices will remain unchanged when HST ends

Liquor prices in B.C. are not going up on April 1 despite a three-per-cent increase in sales tax.

Those facts may be the best-kept secret of 2013, says Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers Association of Canada.

“We know consumers have been very concerned about this,” Cran said Tuesday. “It’s strange that B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch has a piece of good news, yet it’s not well-publicized.”

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Related

    End of HST on April 1 means some things will be cheaper, and average B.C. family will save $350 a year

According to the provincially owned Distribution Branch, liquor prices will “generally remain unchanged” when sales taxes rise from 12 to 15 per cent on April 1 as the Harmonized Sales Tax is eliminated.

The Branch says its liquor markups at the wholesale level, which were increased in 2010 to compensate for a three-per-cent drop in sales tax under the HST, are being reduced to their former levels.

Liquor taxing and prices will return to their pre-2010 regime on Monday when B.C. goes back to a combination of the Provincial Sales Tax and the Goods and Services Tax.

The branch published its news on Feb. 15 at on bcliquorstores南京夜网, but the information was not widely picked up.

“Liquor markups will be reduced,” the branch said. “To minimize the impact on current shelf prices, the Branch will revert to pre-HST markup rates that were in place on June 30, 2010.

“Total provincial revenue from the sale of liquor products will generally not change.”

Vancouver lawyer Mark Hicken, who operates a website called winelaw.ca, said the bulletins on that site are mostly reviewed by those in the liquor business.

“It’s kind of bizarre. The message does not appear to have been broadcast,” Hicken said.

Cran said the Consumers Association inquired last week but wasn’t given the information.

“We didn’t pick up on it. The distribution branch didn’t seem to have anything in place to inform the public,” he said.

Taxpayer Allan Galajda, who belongs to a wine-tasting club, was under the impression until Tuesday that the branch would keep its price markups and pocket the increased taxes.

“Why didn’t they say something? This is government’s inability to communicate with the taxpayer,” he said.

Now that the word is finally out, he’s pleased.

“It’s a level playing field. What they did on one hand they’re reversing on the other. It’s a good thing,” he said.

©2013Postmedia

Tories claim Liberals gave ETFO a special deal – Toronto

TORONTO – The governing Liberals must have given Ontario’s public elementary teachers a special deal to resume extracurricular activities, the Progressive Conservatives charged Wednesday.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is refusing to tell taxpayers what’s going on behind closed doors with the teachers’ unions, said Tory education critic Lisa MacLeod.

“She talks about clarity, yet she refuses to provide any details,” she said.

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“Is she prepared to water down standardized testing in the province at the behest of teachers’ unions? Was there a promissory note for future negotiations to talk about future increases to teachers’ salaries?”

But Wynne insists there’s no special deal and no new money for public high school and elementary school teachers.

The Liberals are working with the unions on a new process for collective bargaining and how it will be implemented for the next round of negotiations once the current contracts expire in two years, she said.

“As I’ve said, implementation details, no new money and what’s the collective bargaining process going to look like going forward,” Wynne said in explaining the content of the talks.

“So that is really what we have been talking about. And whether you buy it or not, that’s the reality.”

The aim is to have a “clear bargaining process that has a provincial component and a local component,” she said.

Over the last few years, new contracts with teachers have been reached through a so-called provincial roundtable, where representatives for the government, school boards and unions hammer out a framework agreement.

That template is then used in local negotiations to fine-tune a final agreement, as the school boards are technically the teachers’ employers.

But talks with the unions need to remain confidential for now to create trust between all the parties so they can come to a resolution, Wynne said.

No details will be released until an agreement is finalized, said Education Minister Liz Sandals, a former school board trustee.

“What we know is that you don’t negotiate with the media, with the cameras,” she told reporters. “And as persistent as you may be, we’re not changing that rule.”

Students have waited long enough for the Liberals to clean up the mess they created, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

“They’ve thrown the whole school system into chaos,” she said.

“They’ve put kids and families and parents and education workers through the wringer, and now they’re trying to clean up the mess. So God bless, clean up the mess and let’s move on.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said late Tuesday night that it was lifting a ban on voluntary activities, citing progress in talks with the government.

ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement that the talks will continue and the union is confident the government “has demonstrated a commitment to dealing with concrete items of importance” to its members.

Public school teachers withdrew from extracurricular activities in the fall to protest a controversial law that freezes wages, cuts benefits and stops strikes. It was used in January to force new two-year contracts on them.

Former premier Dalton McGuinty maintained the move was necessary to fight Ontario’s $12-billion deficit, but teachers said it violated their constitutional rights.

Talks with the unions started anew after McGuinty stepped down and Wynne – a former education minister – replaced him as Liberal leader at the end of January.

ETFO’s decision to lift the ban comes a month after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation told its members that they could go back to extracurricular activities.

But OSSTF president Ken Coran noted a majority of public high school teachers may not return to extracurricular activities.

©2013The Canadian Press

Fabio Vignaroli promotes old-school football

MARQUEE man Fabio Vignaroli might be the highest-paid player for the Jets but the crafty Italian wants to get back to the grassroots.
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As the ink was drying on his $300,000 one-year contract, the 33-year-old midfielder spoke yesterday of his desire to promote traditional values in football above greed.

Vignaroli has been involved in coaching in Italy and he has designs on forming an academy with other elite players such as Dutch international and Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf.

Newcastle would be a destination in Vignaroli’s global coaching plans.

“I want to get involved in the coaching side of things to help develop or bring back those type of values that existed when I was a boy,” the Italian veteran said.

“My intention, along with other footballers who are still playing in the European competitions, is to form an organisation that effectively teaches football around the world, and certainly Newcastle is part of that project.”

In his short tenure at the Jets, Vignaroli has proved to be a leader.

“The Asian Champions League competition was relatively short, and what many of you didn’t see was what he gave to the club off the field,” Jets chief executive officer John Tsatsimas said.

“Talking to him you can sense the experience he’s got, and it’ll rub off on the other players.

“We have a lot of young boys who probably haven’t been as guided as they are with Fabio.”

Tsatsimas did not rule out forming a partnership with Vignaroli to create a coaching academy.

“The specifics of the contract don’t involve that, but it’s something that Fabio and the club have discussed,” he said.

“Hopefully, if Fabio is a player for a period longer than is currently the case, we’ll have a look at how we can assist in that regard, because it’s a top idea.

“So hopefully it’s something Newcastle will see in the future.”

Former Wellington Phoenix assistant coach Wayne O’Sullivan will turn his attention to women’s football this year after being installed as the Jets W-League coach yesterday.

O’Sullivan replaces Gary Phillips in the role and was the red-hot favourite after he became the Newcastle NSW Institute of Sport coach in May.

The Jets were a success story in the inaugural W-League season, finishing in second spot before being knocked out in the semi-finals.

The Englishman brings 11 years’ experience to the role, including stints at UK clubs Swindon, Cardiff and Plymouth and A-League clubs Central Coast Mariners and Phoenix.

Denis Broad pulls up stumps after marathon dig

ON THE BALL: Denis Broad, left, with Newcastle captain Simon Moore and NDCA chairman Paul Marjoribanks last season.NEWCASTLE district cricket would not be what it is without the dedication of retiring administrator Denis Broad.
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Broad, who was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2006 for services to cricket, has given almost his entire adult life to the game.

The 59-year-old has spent close to 35 years as a voluntary cricket administrator but will declare his innings closed at the Newcastle District Cricket Association annual general meeting on Monday night.

He will continue to work as Newcastle District Bowling Association secretary, a job he has held for more than 20 years.

A life member of Hamilton-Wickham, Newcastle and NSW Country cricket, Broad appears 25 times as secretary on the NDCA executive honour roll, but he was the master of multi-tasking before the term was in vogue.

In any given season Broad would also be chairman of selectors, on the fixtures and permits committee, a NSW Country delegate, a NSW Cricket Association delegate and representative team manager.

He will stand down from all these positions on Monday.

Officially he started as assistant secretary to Merv Baker in 1976-77, but he was a member of the association before that as a club delegate for Hamilton-Wickham.

“I just got involved to give Merv a bit of a hand to start with, and I’ve been there ever since,” Broad said.

“I guess the highlight for me was being the first country representative on the NSW Cricket Association board.

“Being a part of getting Sheffield Shield cricket out of Sydney and into the country areas, particularly Newcastle, was a pretty big thing.”

Former Newcastle, NSW Country and Australia Country captain Mark Curry has played cricket in Newcastle almost as long as Broad has been involved with the game.

The two teamed up many times with Curry as on-field general and Broad the team manager.

“Denis is the sort of bloke who has always had Newcastle cricket at heart,” Curry said. “He is indispensable, really.

“He has a great passion for the game as a long-serving player with Hamwicks, and it will be a challenge for anyone to come on board and do what he has done for cricket in Newcastle.”

Broad said he would still take a keen interest in cricket and his love of the game would remain, even though his playing days are also over.

He started playing for Hamwicks aged 15 in 1966 and was called out of retirement for one game last season which resulted in a torn hamstring and a vow never to return.

“I’ll still follow the cricket, but I’m starting to catch up on a few things that need doing around the house,” he said.

“I’ve been working for the bowling association for 21 years and only play about three times a year, so that will change now I’ve got spare time. I’ve also got golf and tennis, so there’s plenty to keep me going.”

Keysar Trad’s disgrace

I remember the controversies as strangely disturbing, those generated by the Muslim Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilaly and his devout defender, Keysar Trad. What, I’d ask in horror, have we got ourselves in for here! There was Sheik Hilaly’s notorious speech in the Lakemba Mosque in October 2006 in which he likened women to uncovered meat; the sheik’s speech in Lebanon two years earlier suggesting that the September 11 slaughter had been god’s work and promoting martyrdom to children; his statements in Australia in
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2007 that Muslims had more right to Australia than the Anglo Saxons who arrived in shackles, that western people, especially the English, were the biggest liars. Keysar Trad seemed always to be there defending the sheik, and perhaps adding fuel to the fire.

Well, Keysar Trad has just sued Radio 2GB for defamation for statements made by one of its presenters in December 2005 after Mr Trad attacked 2GB at a huge rally after the Cronulla riot. The presenter, Jason Morrison, described Mr Trad as a disgraceful and dangerous person.

Some time ago a jury found that 2GB had indeed defamed Mr Trad by creating the impression that, among other things, he incites people to commit acts of violence and to be racist and that he is a disgraceful and dangerous individual.

A defence against defamation is truth, and 2GB mounted that defence before Judge McClellan. It used Mr Trad’s defence of statements by Sheik Hilaly and Mr Trad’s own statements to argue that what it had had to say about Mr Trad was true.

In a judgement delivered last Friday, Keysar Trad lost the case and took a battering from the judge. A serious battering. And he’s been ordered to pay 2GB’s costs. Mr Trad plans to appeal. I suggest you read the judgement here.

One, it will help with your interpretation of those unpleasant Hilaly-Trad years this decade; two, it will help put another outbreak, if there is one, into context; three, if you think the law is an ass you might think again.

When you’ve read it, tell me if I’m right or wrong. And are you as relieved as I am that we’ve moved on? Have we moved on?

Tolar admits defeat in battle to make 2009 return from injury

LUCKLESS Knights prop Dan Tolar has written off the rest of a nightmare NRL season due to further complications with his troublesome right knee, putting another dent in Newcastle’s faltering finals campaign.
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Coach Brian Smith had hoped the robust redhead would return in about two weeks to bolster the team’s forward ranks for the final rounds of the regular season.

Utility Chris Houston is due back against Melbourne at EnergyAustralia Stadium on August 17 after undergoing minor knee surgery last month, but big men Ben Cross (biceps) and Cameron Ciraldo (ankle) have been ruled out until next year.

Tolar, who fractured his kneecap in the first half of Newcastle’s season-opener against the Titans five months ago, has been told he cannot train until the second week of the finals.

The 26-year-old Central Charlestown junior returned home yesterday after five days in hospital hooked up to intravenous antibiotics to treat a low-grade staph infection around his patella tendon. He will remain on oral antibiotics for six weeks and has been told not to train during his treatment period or he will risk the infection spreading throughout his body.

Knights surgical consultant Neil Halpin said there was a possibility of Tolar playing again this year if the team progressed deep into the finals series, but Tolar did not believe he would be fit enough to make a worthwhile contribution.

“At this stage, it looks like this season’s a write-off. I sort of thought that would be the case when I went in last week, so it was always in the back of my mind,” Tolar said last night.

“The surgeon and the infectious diseases specialist spoke to me and they don’t want me to do anything while I’m on the antibiotics or it might spread, so I’ve just got to take it easy.

“One of the drugs I’m taking means I’m susceptible to tendon tears as well.

“Not being able to train at that elite level for that long would take its toll on me by the time I’d be allowed to start training again, and I wouldn’t want to let the boys down. But as long as I’m ready for pre-season training and can get ready for a big year next year, I’ll be happy.”

Tolar said he had several minor cartilage tears repaired during his hospital stay.

Halpin remained upbeat about Tolar’s prospects of playing again this year, saying: “Never say never.”

Ciraldo, who is unsigned beyond this season, has returned to training, but one of his multiple lower-leg fractures has not completely healed and his only chance of a game this year appears to be for South Newcastle.

NSW winger James McManus hopes to be back before the finals after having the os trigonum, a small bone at the back of his right ankle, surgically removed yesterday.

He faces four to six weeks on the sidelines but will see Halpin today for a full report.

[PI9016] Knights Junior Sau and Zeb Taia have taken a step towards earning their first Kiwi Test jerseys after being included yesterday in New Zealand’s 45-man training squad for the Quad Nations series against Australia, England and France in November.

Complaints dog rangers in Cessnock

DOG attacks in the Cessnock local government area have reached alarming proportions with complaints taking up more than 30 per cent of council rangers’ time.
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Cessnock has received more than four times the number of dog attacks and complaints compared with the Maitland local government area, three times more than Lake Macquarie and more than twice that of Newcastle on a per capita basis.

A report to a council meeting tonight said the disproportionate use of resources on dog matters, particularly dog attacks, put enormous limitations on the city’s ranger services to effectively respond to other duties.

The increasing number of attacks also pose a serious occupational health and safety issue for the council with three of its four rangers bitten in the past six months.

Last month the council received 23 dog attack complaints, which have had a “massive impact” on the council ranger team resources.

Statistics presented to the council tonight will show that dangerous dogs and dog attacks are labour-intensive, costly and time consuming for the city’s ranger service.

The total number of customer service complaints for all ranger functions for 2008-2009 was 2313 and the estimated total time spent on these complaints was about 6363 hours. The time spent on dog complaints represents 57 per cent of all customer complaints, about 3260 hours.

Last year the council received 1010 complaints of dogs straying and reports of 240 dog attacks.

Council general manager Bernie Mortomore said that while the city’s statistics were high, it did have comparatively more dogs per capita.

“Our concern is that some dog owners don’t seem to have regard to what the legislation says,” Mr Mortomore said.

“If a dog gets out and bites someone it becomes an expensive process to get that dog declared dangerous, sometimes between $20,000 and $30,000 in court fees with little prospect of us recovering those costs.”

He said it was the council’s responsibility to pursue these matters, if not the council would be liable if other attacks occurred.

The council is carrying out a responsible dog ownership eduction program in schools.

Senior who died while trying to get help for two others stuck in snow hailed as ‘hero’

CROWSNEST PASS, Alta. – Lorraine Berreth huddled with her friend in the cold SUV, stuck in the snow on a mountain road in southern Alberta, praying she would soon see some headlights, emergency lights – anything in the dark.

She hoped her friend’s 71-year-old husband, Franklin Kuehn, had found help after setting out on foot hours earlier.

“That’s all I could think of – yellow flashing lights,” Berreth said Wednesday, choking back tears.

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“I thought Franklin would be hanging on the road grader or something, you know, all smiles and ‘I’m back. We’re going to be OK.”‘

But by the time the sun came up, Berreth, 66, and Lynn Kuehn, 69, realized he must have died somewhere out in the wilderness and no one was coming to the rescue.

RCMP confirmed they found the man’s body Monday morning on the side of a road accessible only by snowmobile, in the Crowsnest Pass area just east of the boundary with British Columbia.

It appears he had trudged about 15 kilometres through heavy snow, then curled up and fallen asleep. Mounties believe he died of hypothermia.

Berreth, back in her rural home near the tiny community of Granum, Alta., talked about how the afternoon drive out with friends turned deadly, and how she’ll always consider Franklin Kuehn a hero.

She said police told her they picked up a signal on Kuehn’s cellphone that helped them find his body and later locate the two women.

She might not have survived had it not been for the man, she said. “He left to save us.”

Kuehn, a retired farmer and truck driver, also once worked as a foreman for Granum’s public works office, said Berreth. He was active but had some health problems, including bad knees and feet.

He and his wife, married 51 years, often included Berreth, whose husband had been killed in a plane crash, on their outings. Last Sunday they dropped by her house to take her for supper in nearby Coleman. It was a beautiful, sunny day and Kuehn suggested they take some scenic back roads.

They never considered telling anyone where they were going, said Berreth.

Kuehn was driving a four-wheel drive GMC Jimmy, but once it got onto a forestry road that hadn’t been cleared, it got stuck. Kuehn usually carried a shovel, but for some reason it wasn’t in the vehicle.

He tried rocking the vehicle back and forth and kicking snow out from the tires, but nothing worked. They tried using their cellphones, but had no service.

“He was so mad at himself,” said Berreth. “He knew we were stranded and could die.”

Wearing only a leather jacket and slip-on shoes with the backs cut out, he decided to walk for help. Berreth explained he had broken both heels earlier and often customized his shoes to make them more comfortable.

The two women sat in the vehicle overnight, sipping water and nibbling on granola bars, turning the ignition once in awhile for heat. They talked about news stories of other people who had survived after being stranded in stuck vehicles for days. They hoped they would, too.

By 10 a.m., fearing Kuehn was dead, Berreth told her friend they should start walking too, since no one knew where they were.

Lynn Kuehn also had a bad knee and didn’t have her inhaler for asthma. Wearing light jackets and sneakers and high-heeled boots, they set out stepping into the footprints Franklin Kuehn had made the day before.

They had made it about five kilometres when searchers on snowmobiles came across their path.

“I said, ‘Oh, thank God.’ I didn’t think we were going to make it.”

Berreth said they were warmed up with blankets and offered sandwiches and energy drinks. Then an RCMP officer delivered the bad news.

“He said, ‘There’s no easy way to tell you this, Mrs. Kuehn, but we found your husband’s body.”‘

Berreth said the officer explained that the three had been reported missing by friends and family, who had checked their phone and bank records. No one had a clue where they were.

Later, officers were able to track a signal on Franklin Kuehn’s cellphone that directed them to the area, she said. Two off-duty firefighters on snowmobiles found his body and RCMP identified him as one of the missing seniors.

Searchers kept looking and found the women, freezing and exhausted but in relatively good shape.

Berreth said an officer chastised them for not following the golden safety rule: Never leave your vehicle. But he also conceded searchers may never have found them otherwise.

“He told us, ‘If we hadn’t picked up his cellphone ping … chances are we would have found your bodies, too.”

©2013The Canadian Press

New ‘group buy’ flight site makes weekend getaways easy, but will travellers get on board?

CALGARY- Fancy a weekend in Vegas, but don’t have vacation time to spare? A new tour company is hedging its bets, hoping those looking for a quick getaway will fill up its charter flights bound for Sin City.

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Jump On Flyaways offers direct, weekend flights for a set price. Their first getaway is in April, leaving on a Friday afternoon and returning Sunday night. The grand total? $479 return—a sweet deal when you look at comparable flights to Las Vegas being offered for at least $100 more, with a flight time of up to 11 hours each way.

“Like all Canadians, I was frustrated with high airfares,” explains Jump On Flyaways CEO Roger Jewett, who came up with the concept while working as CFO of Enerjet. The company shuttles workers between Calgary, Edmonton and the oilsands on weekdays, but their 737s sit idle on weekends. Enerjet was looking for a way to better utilize their fleet, and that’s when Jewett realized the planes could be used to fly weekend travellers.

How it works

Would-be jet setters sign up for flights, then once the minimum number of seats are sold, their credit cards are charged and the flight is a ‘go’. There is one condition, however. If enough seats aren’t filled one week before the flight, no one leaves the tarmac.

“There are pros and cons to everything. Our price is a heck of a deal,” Jewett maintains. “There is no real financial risk, just more of an emotional risk.”

So far, nearly 50 seats have been booked for the Vegas flight, and 73 more need to be sold by April 12 for the flight to go ahead. Jewett says that so far he has been getting great feedback.

“It’s been awesome. Some people just heard about it through social media or interviews and said, ‘wow, this is a great idea’ and want to support it.”

Airline analysts agree the idea could really take off.

“I think it’s a novel, creative, innovative way of selling airline tickets,” says Rick Erickson, managing director of RP Erickson and Associates. “Given the state of economy in Alberta and the amount of people with disposable income…this will be interesting to watch.“

“I would surmise there is enough demand there that this could become a regular staple in Calgary travel offerings.”

However, he doesn’t see the ‘group buy’ idea working in other areas of the country where there aren’t operations like the oilsands, which require companies to constantly shuttle employees.

“The only way it works is when you have an operator who’s very much involved in work force transportation,” Erickson explains. “[Enerjet] can do so more cheaply because the largest part of their costs are covered by oil companies.”

What’s next?

For now, Jewett is in talks with other charter airlines who’ve expressed interest in the idea, and is already looking at expanding to cities including Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Hamilton. He is also gauging interest in what other cities people would like to fly to, with Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco making the short list.

“This is like a private airplane where we can ask our fans, ‘where do you want to go?’” Jewett explains. “The other thing we have encountered is a number of groups of people like bachelorette parties, wanting to go on a different weekend.”

He adds he’s looking forward to what the future holds for his start-up company.

“As soon as we fill one [flight] up, confidence will really jump from the consumers.”

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Sask. groups want former federal community pastures left out in the open – Saskatoon

REGINA – Almost 20 environmental and conservation groups in Saskatchewan want community pastures that used to be overseen by the federal government to remain under public control.

Ottawa handed responsibility for the pastures to the province last year.

Saskatchewan has announced that it will lease or sell almost 650,000 hectares of pasture to producer groups.

Prairie naturalist Trevor Herriot says the public should have access to and control the pastures.

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    Cattlemen want federal plan to transfer community pastures to Prairies delayed

    Sell-off of federal community pastures in Saskatchewan comes up in legislature

Ian McCreary, president of the Community Pasture Patrons Association, told media at a news conference on Wednesday that the key issue is cost.

The association wants the pastures leased at no cost to producer groups.

“I think the principal has to be that the land costs that are passed on to patrons have to be reduced to reflect the fact that the wider Saskatchewan economy benefits from these pastures as well,”

Herriot pointed out there are many reasons to maintain public access to and control of the grasslands.

“Things like food security, a viable local beef industry, ecological, cultural and historical values, including archaeological sites, carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation and so on,” he said.

©2013The Canadian Press

Reginans follow U.S. Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage – Regina

Leah Kaiser, the Executive Director of the U of R Pride Centre has been watching the debate surrounding a U. S. Supreme Court decision to uphold a ban on same sex marriage unfold on social media. She is excited by what it could mean for social justice, but wary as well.

“I don’t think equal marriage rights are indicative of how a society treats those who are LGBTQ,” she said.

As some of the threads on social media suggest, we still have a long way to go to equality.

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“Every LGBT-identified person that I know has a story about physical violence on the basis of that and that’s a little bit terrifying,” Kaiser added.

Russel Mitchell-Walker is the co-chair of Camp Fyrefly and an advocate for inclusivity in the United Church.

“It’s still not safe to be openly gay or lesbian or bi-gender in our schools,” said the Eastside United Church minister.

In 2004, Saskatchewan was one of the last jurisdictions in Canada to make same sex marriage legal – Mitchell-Walker and his husband were earlier married in BC because of that. However, even after the law changed, they still weren’t always accepted – even by the pastor of his family church.

“But at my father’s funeral in 2008, he apologized for the behaviour and the position that he had had. And that he had gained so much respect for us in seeing us raise our two sons,” said Mitchell-Walker

He says it’s these kinds of personal connections which create a change of heart, as well as policy. His colleague, Reverend Carla Blakley at the Bread of Life Lutheran Church, which shares a space with Eastside, said the Lutheran Church became affirming nationally in August and knows it has the power to promote inclusion.

“Because so much of it is religion-based, the church has a lot to apologize for,” said Blakley.

Blakley says she’s had to deal with a lot of backlash, but will continue to advocate for social justice.

“I have a stack of hate mail, which is regrettable, but when you talk about justice, you have to talk the talk; you have to walk the walk,” she said.

Rulings are expected on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling at the end of June.

Alberta toddler gets a potentially life-saving best friend – Edmonton

EDMONTON – A Wetaskiwin family is hoping a brand new puppy will help 17-month old Maddi Dewald, who began having seizures around her first birthday last October.

“She was just, like, convulsing. Her head was shaking, her arms were pulsing, her legs were kicking,” recalls her mother, Jessica Dewald.

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She adds that those seizures would continue for anywhere between two to 15 minutes. One day, the young girl had three of them in one day. After receiving an epilepsy diagnosis, the toddler has been to the hospital five times in as many months, and has been put on different medications, which not only have negative side effects but also failed to stop the seizures.

Her mom remembered hearing about dogs who can detect when someone is about to have a seizure. And after doing some research, she stumbled upon the organization 1 Boy 4 Change on Facebook.

“They’ve changed everything,” she says.

The Georgia-based organization was founded by Janet Carswell’s 14 year-old son Christopher, who has been living with epilepsy since birth. 1 Boy 4 Change trains dogs for children with all sorts of medical issues. Maddi is the organization’s first Canadian client, and up until a four-month old girl’s family requested a dog for her, Maddi was also the youngest.

Right now, she’s getting acquainted with Zoey, an adorable Great Pyrenees pup whose breed is known for their maternal nature. After a few months, the puppy will be sent down to the U.S. to get trained, with a trainer mimicking the behaviour that Maddi shows before a seizure, and teaching the dog to get help when those symptoms appear.

“Once we have the dog trained and everything,” says Maddi’s mom, “(Zoey’s) going to let me know when Maddi’s going to have a seizure in the middle of the night, so then I can go to sleep (because) I can trust that the dog is going to let me know when Maddi is seizing.”

As for how a dog is able to do that, Janet Carswell says that hasn’t been 100 percent proven.

“There’s been a lot of research done..and nobody can exactly tell us what the dogs are picking up on, but they do detect it. We’re just not sure what exactly that is.”

Regardless of how some dogs can know, Maddie’s mom believes even the few seconds of warning Zoey could give will make a big difference, as well as give her peace of mind – especially as Maddi grows older and isn’t able to be by her mother’s side at all times.

She also thinks that people seeing the service dog with Maddi may help ease some of the social stigma that can often be associated with some of the behaviour caused by epilepsy.

“You never know – kids can be cruel sometimes,” she says. “It’ll be an extra ice breaker having the dog with her.”

Maddi plays with her new puppy

The family will have to spend a few weeks in Florida this September, when Zoey gets trained. To help cover the costs of the trip and training, they have organized a “Paws on Ice” fundraiser with sledge hockey and a silent auction. It will be held on April 27th at 7:30 in the Leduc Recreation centre. Tickets are just $5. For more information, visit the 4 Paws for Miss Maddi Facebook page.

 With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News
Follow @TrishKozicka