Monday, April 28, 2008
7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
City Room, Edmonton City Hall
1 Sir Winston Churchill Square
The Alberta Federation of Labour and the Edmonton and District Labour Council are co-sponsoring the official Edmonton ceremony for the 13th annual International Day of Mourning.
The ceremony will honour and remember the 154 Alberta workers killed at or because of work last year. It continues a long tradition of a candlelight ceremony at City Hall to mark Day of Mourning. Highlights include:
Leonard Brennan, the grandfather of a worker killed in 2004 and whose employer was fined $300,000 earlier this year over the incident, will speak about losing a family member
- A City Councillor representing the City of Edmonton will speak and officially proclaim Day of Mourning in Edmonton
- Mrs. Lorna Chandler, widow of a farm worker killed last year, will be in attendance
- Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan will speak
- Candle Lighting and a Minute of Silence will be observed
- Music from local band Linden Green
International Day of Mourning began in Canada in 1984 to remember workers killed or injured at work. It is now recognized in more than 70 countries worldwide.
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For more information, contact:
Jason Foster, AFL Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021 (office) or 780-910-1137 (cell)
The provincial government came under fire in the legislature Wednesday for its lack of workplace safety laws for farm workers, the day after a feedlot owner fell from a silo to his death west of High River.
This is not the first farm death in the area. The 52-year-old man -- identified as Brian Morrison -- died at Roseburn Ranches on Tuesday, just a short distance from where one of his family's employees was killed in a silo two years ago.
Kevan Chandler, 36, died in June 2006 after being buried by an avalanche of grain at the Morrison family's nearby Tongue Creek Feeders.
Ever since his death, Chandler's widow Lorna has made it her self-described mission to push for workplace safety laws for farm workers. She said Tuesday this most recent death just goes to show how badly the Alberta government needs to take action.
"I thought they would have learned something or done something," said Chandler, 32, who works as a high school janitor in Black Diamond.
"I think they should get off their butts and improve the safety standards."
Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces where workplace safety standards don't apply to farms. In Alberta, farm owners don't have to be part of the workers' compensation program, and the government doesn't have to investigate fatalities like it does for other industries. Farm workers are also barred from unionizing.
In Alberta last year, there were 12 farm-related fatalities, according to Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. This year, including the most recent death in High River, the figure sits at four.
The opposition Liberals grilled Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld on the issue during question period Tuesday.
"Will this government finally concede that workers on corporate farms need the same protection through workplace safety legislation as other workers in the province?" Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said.
"How many farmers have to die in Alberta before this government takes action?"
Groeneveld said: "Farms are very unique worksites . . . families live, work, they play in these areas. We're talking about education, I suspect, more than rules."
He added that farms are dangerous places to work, but suggested that more rules aren't the answer. "We make seatbelt rules and look at what happens."
Later in an interview, Groeneveld said his government will have another look at the issue.
"A lot of these farms are big business now and they're corporate farms, and I will sit down with the minister of employment and immigration."
Regarding his comments in the legislature, Groeneveld added: "I'm certainly not against seatbelt legislation."
But those who have pushed for laws for farm workers say the government is unwilling to consider workplace safety laws for the sector, and promises to take another look at developing rules ring hollow.
"I will believe it when they actually do something," said Jason Foster, director of policy analysis at the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Shortly after Kevan Chandler's death in 2006, then-human resources minister Mike Cardinal said he would review whether workplace safety standards should be extended to farm workers. The NDP later obtained documents showing that Cardinal had rejected a recommendation from a government panel to do so, just weeks earlier.
Foster said the provincial government favours the interests of corporate farms rather than workers. Other provinces have been able to make workplace safety laws for workers at larger corporate farms without introducing onerous rules for family farms, he said.
However, Danielle Smith of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said farms are different from other businesses, and tax incentives for purchasing safety equipment would be a better strategy for the government to pursue.
She said it's difficult to draw the line between a family farm and large-scale operations.
"When you've got this hybrid home/farm operation, it gets really tricky," Smith said.
In High River on Wednesday, family and friends were focused on their mourning for Morrison.
"It's very sad news. He was a great neighbour," said Mac Brocklebank, who farms near both Roseburn Ranches and Tongue Creek Feeders.
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Recent Farm Deaths
- April: A 52-year-old man is killed after falling almost 30 metres from a grain silo at Roseburn Ranches Ltd., just west of High River.
- March: A 52-year-old man, a resident of a Hutterite colony near New Dayton, southeast of Lethbridge, dies after becoming entangled in farm machinery.
- December 2007: Michael Collett, 46, dies while loading grain into a truck from a wooden bin on his farm, 12 kilometres south of Taber. He was buried under grain while working alone in the bin.
- June 2006: Kevan Chandler, a 36-year-old father of two from Black Diamond, dies after an avalanche of grain buries him inside a silo at Tongue Creek Feeders, a High River feedlot.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 24 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
Fatal accidents on Alberta job sites increased substantially last year, nudging closer to the alarmingly high occupational death rates recorded during the province's previous boom of the early 1980s.
Safety statistics released by the province yesterday revealed the 2007 overall injury rate as the lowest in Alberta's history. That accomplishment was muted, however, by 154 on-the-job deaths -- up from 124 in 2006.
In the early '80s, when Alberta was in the throes of a similarly super-heated boom, 169 workers died on the job in both 1980 and 1982.
Employers cutting corners on safety is a common theme in both eras, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"Workplace injuries and fatalities have spiked because of the overheated pace of economic development," he said.
"We're seeing young people thrown on construction sites and not being provided with the necessary safety training."
But drawing parallels between the two booms fails to take into account Alberta's population growth over the past three decades, said Employment and Immigration spokesman Barrie Harrison.
"It's safe to say our workforce was not near the size back then as it is now," he said. "But no one in our office is looking through rose-coloured glasses -- we're not happy with it. We know every one of those was preventable."
Harrison said the scarcity of labour could actually behove employers to ensure their workers are safe.
"Does one counter the other? I don't know if we have the answer to that right now ... but one year does not a trend make, so I think it's premature to suggest that," he said.
Nevertheless, McGowan called the province's claim of record-low injuries "disingenuous" in its reliance on lost-time claims, which dropped for a seventh straight year.
He said this fails to take into account the number of workers injured on the job who remain on modified duties.
"While it's true the accident rate declined slightly from 2006 to '07, the fact remains, those two years are the highwater marks in Alberta history for workplace accidents and fatalities," said McGowan.
He said Workers' Compensation Board numbers show total claims dropped from 181,000 to 175,000 from 2006 to '07, but are vastly increased from the 98,000 recorded in 1996.
The worst year was 1914 with 221, the bulk of them victims of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster, said Jason Foster, AFL director of policy analysis.
Calgary Sun Media, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Doug McIntyre
The number of workplace deaths in Alberta soared 24 per cent in 2007 -- to one of the highest numbers on record -- highlighting occupational dangers and inadequate safety training provided to workers flooding into an overheated economy.
Occupational fatalities in the province jumped to 154 in 2007 from 124 in 2006 -- numbers the Stelmach government says are symptomatic of inexperienced workers entering potentially dangerous workplaces.
"There's no denying that 154 workplace fatalities is way too many," Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau told the legislature Thursday. "One fatality is way too many."
The minister noted, however, the provincial injury rate hit an all-time low in 2007, based on the lost-time claim rates.
Nevertheless, as Alberta's population has exploded in recent years with the economic boom, so, too, have the number of workplace deaths. The 154 fatalities in 2007 were the most in at least 10 years and approached the record 169 deaths recorded in both 1980 and 1982.
But the 24 per cent spike in deaths in 2007 far surpassed the 3.3 per cent increase in the size of Alberta's workforce, which reached almost two million people.
For Rich Smith -- who lost his son Sean in December to a workplace accident -- the jump in the fatality rate is "disturbing."
"That's not a good figure," Smith told the Herald.
He noted, though, the family does not make a connection between the statistics and Sean's death, and he would be disturbed by the numbers even if his son had not died.
"Our son is not a statistic. It's an accident, whether it's one of 154 or one in 10 makes no difference," he added. "The impact on us is the same."
Sean Michael Smith, 28, was killed when a drill crew was moving a rig near Waterton Lakes National Park on Dec. 28 and a "clamshell" lid collapsed, hitting Sean on the head. An investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety officials is ongoing.
Smith said he believes Alberta is, overall, a safe place to work, but that the current pace of life and work is probably impacting safety.
Included in the 2007 fatalities were 44 motor vehicle incidents, 47 workplace incidents and 63 occupational disease deaths, such as asbestosis. The true number of deaths is probably higher because the province won't cover many farm workers in provincial workplace legislation.
Many 2007 workplace incidents included employees being crushed to death by equipment, killed by long falls or electrocuted.
One of the most unfortunate fatalities -- also a stark example of how workplace deaths can affect anyone -- involved a 54-year-old restaurant worker who tripped over a case on the floor while carrying several trays. The worker broke a leg and died subsequently in hospital due to complications brought on by a serious post-operative wound infection.
Goudreau suggested the alarming numbers result from several factors, including a fresh wave of new workers being hired who aren't ready for a certain line of work, as well as companies failing to properly train all their employees. He said the government will ratchet up its efforts with employers and workers in hopes of curbing the disturbing trend.
The spike in the fatality rate between 2006 and 2007 should raise alarm bells for both the government and employers, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"It's an indication there's a real and growing problem with safety on worksites across the province," he said. "Workers are paying with their bodies and sometimes their lives."
McGowan said government has an "obligation" to step up enforcement during times of economic boom because employers often cut corners, usually relating to health and safety. Instead, it has been "business as usual," he said.
McGowan acknowledged there had been a slight dip in the number of work-related accidents between 2006 and 2007, but said over the long term, both years saw dramatically higher rates than the province has traditionally experienced.
In 1996, there were 98,000 workplace accidents; in 2006, there were 181,000, McGowan said, adding the workforce has not doubled during that time.
"For them to say we're moving in the right direction is to ignore what has actually been happening in the last decade," he said.
Opposition parties demanded the government immediately increase the number of workplace safety inspectors and random inspections of job sites.
"The government has paid nothing but lip service to this issue," said NDP Leader Brian Mason. "They've never taken effective action to reduce workplace injuries."
Liberal employment critic Hugh MacDonald said all Albertans -- including employers, workers and politicians -- have a responsibility to ensure the alarming fatality rates quickly improve.
"Everyone has an obligation to ensure that trend is not only halted, but reversed," MacDonald said.
Workplace fatalities in Alberta 2007: 154 2006: 124 2005: 143 2004: 124 2003: 127 2002: 101 2001: 118 2000: 118 1999: 114 1998: 105
Record number of fatalities: 169 in both 1980 and 1982
Calgary Herald, page A1, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Jason Fekete and Gwendolyn Richards
EDMONTON - Alberta workplace deaths jumped 24 per cent in 2007, but injuries fell slightly during the same period, new provincial statistics show.
A total of 154 people died on the job or as a result of their work last year, which is up from 124 in 2006, which was a 15-year low. The government says the number of deaths last year is consistent with the rates from the past 10 years.
For Rich Smith, who lost his son Sean in December to a workplace accident, the jump in the fatality rate is "disturbing.
"Our son is not a statistic. It's an accident, whether it's one of 154 or one in 10 makes no difference. The impact on us is the same."
Sean Smith, 28, was killed when a drill crew was moving their rig near Waterton Lakes National Park on Dec. 28. A clamshell lid collapsed, hitting him on the head. An investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety is ongoing.
Rich Smith said he believes Alberta is, overall, a safe place to work, but that the current pace of life and work is probably affecting safety.
Many 2007 workplace incidents included employees being crushed to death by equipment, killed by long falls or electrocuted on job sites.
One death involved a 54-year-old restaurant worker who tripped over a case. The worker broke a leg and later died in hospital due to complications caused by a post-operative infection.
Of the 154 deaths last year, 44 were motor vehicle accidents, 47 were workplace accidents and 63 were from occupational diseases.
The disabling injury rate decreased to 3.88 per 100 person hours in 2007, from 4.14 the previous year.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau said part of the reason for the increase in deaths was the higher number of workers in the province.
But Goudreau had no explanation as to why the injury and death numbers were headed in opposite directions.
"We really don't know. We'll be looking at those numbers a lot closer to try to see where those numbers are coming from."
Alberta Federation Labour President Gil McGowan said the "government is try to reassure us that we're moving in the right direction with workplace health and safety, when nothing could be further from the truth. It demonstrates that they're not taking this problem seriously."
McGowan said employers are running their operations past their capacity and cutting corners on workplace safety.
The government, he said, may have the right rules in place, but doesn't enforce them properly.
In 2006, McGowan said B.C. launched 74 prosecutions for workplace health and safety violations. In the same period, Alberta launched 12.
Goudreau said a decision still hasn't been made on whether to prosecute Canadian Natural Resources Limited for the deaths of two Chinese workers last year at their Horizon project 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
Alberta Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald said the 24-per-cent increase in deaths should raise alarm bells with the government.
"Any time you have three workers per week lose their life, we've got to work harder."
Both he and McGowan suggested the government needs increase the number of random jobsite inspections and the amount of workplace education.
Alberta's fatality numbers do compare closely with other provinces. In 2005, Alberta had eight deaths per 100,000 workers, while B.C. had 8.9 and Ontario had 6.5.
The government data do not include all workplace injuries and deaths, such as agricultural accidents that don't fall under the Workers' Compensation Board jurisdiction.
Edmonton Journal, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Archie McLean
More people died after being injured in Alberta workplaces in 2007 over the previous year, although the total number of accidents was down, statistics released Thursday by the province showed.
There were 154 deaths in 2007, up from 124 in 2006, an increase of 24 per cent. At the same time, injuries were down by six per cent, from 36,701 to 34,227.
"On one hand we're making great gains when it comes to reducing workplace injuries," Hector Goudreau, the minister of employment and immigration, said in a news release.
"On the other hand, there are still far too many workers in Alberta getting killed on the job."
The rising number of deaths is unacceptable, said Goudreau, who promised his department will step up efforts to get the safety message out to workers and industry.
Gil McGowan, head of Alberta's Federation of Labour, said there are far too many people being killed at work.
"Frankly what's happening here is that the pace of development in this province is putting people's lives at risk," he said. "Employers are speeding up trying to get jobs done and corners are being cut and one of the first corners unfortunately that's cut is usually health and safety."
While the number of fatalities is significantly up, Goudreau's department said that compared to the increase in the workforce, the rate is consistent with figures over the past 10 years.
CBC News.ca, Thurs Apr 17 2008
The announcement of $40 billion worth of new energy industry projects in the past two weeks, including Shell Canada's plans to spend $27 billion to construct a massive oilsands processing unit at its Scotford upgrader near Edmonton, has refocused attention on the province's ongoing labour crunch.
All told, oilsands projects worth more than $130 billion are planned for the next 20 years -- and billions more will be spent on energy-related projects across the province over the same time period. That has Albertans asking: where will the workers come from?
Last month, the Alberta government warned the province is facing a shortfall of 100,000 workers by 2015, with at least 40,000 of those positions in the oil and gas sector. Energy contributes about a third, more than $59 billion annually, to Alberta's gross domestic product.
"Our top three priorities are people, people and more people," said Shell Canada spokeswoman Janet Annesley, acknowledging the dilemma. "Ensuring we have access to skilled people is our top concern."
Shell's new upgrader is the cornerstone of a made-in-Canada strategy that will see it process virtually all of its oilsands in Alberta -- about 10 per cent of the country's projected output -- from the mine to the gas tank. The facility is to be built in four stages over the next 15 to 20 years, with each phase requiring 5,000 construction workers over and above the 1,200 personnel needed to run the plant.
Likewise, Petro-Canada is refitting its Edmonton refinery to take a steady diet from the Fort Hills mine, which is currently under construction near booming Fort McMurray. Costs to complete the project have risen steadily.
"The impact of labour shortages is very real. To keep up with the pace of economic growth and capitalize on key projects in the oilsands, industry needs to take the lead and tackle this issue," Andrew Stephens, a Petro-Canada vice-president, said in response to the unveiling of a new government program to recruit and train new workers.
According to a report by Deloitte and Touche, the oil industry is partly a victim of its own success, pulling talent and manpower from other sectors of the economy that support it.
"It's not just in the oilsands areas," said Dick Cooper, Deloitte's energy and resources practice leader, who is based in Calgary.
"It's in the whole economy . . . whether it's the Tim Hortons or new restaurant that can't find people to serve coffee and food because there's not enough people to keep the restaurants or coffee shops open."
In a report on future labour requirements, Cooper sees emerging demographic and educational trends contributing to the problem.
In addition to recruiting a younger generation of skilled workers, a greying bubble of baby boomers will retire, further straining a limited and shrinking talent pool.
"It's really causing a crunch in terms of getting these projects done."
But oil companies remain cautiously optimistic they can find and train new staff.
Recently, Total SA, Europe's third-largest oil producer, said it expects logistic bottlenecks and hiring difficulties as it develops oilsands projects in Alberta.
Like Shell and Petro-Canada, Total is also seeking a homegrown solution to handle the processing of its growing production, including an oilsands upgrading plant to take up bitumen from Joslyn and Surmont.
In its second-quarter report earlier this week, Total said it plans to spend between $10 billion and $15 billion to expand in Canada.
"We will have logistic pressure," Robert Castaigne, the company's chief financial officer told analysts last week. "There will be more costs. I don't think it's anything we won't be able to solve."
But Shell's Annesley said her company has a leg up because of direct recruiting programs in Alberta's colleges and trade schools -- even Internet sites like Facebook -- that lure young people into the fold.
The problem is finding the right skills for the job, another major challenge in an education system also under stress.
A $7.5-million donation to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton is being used to develop a program tailored exclusively for Shell and its operating processes. In addition, the company wants to raise the number of apprentices on job sites to increase training.
"That alone gives an indication of the importance we place on educating the workforce of the future," Annesley said. "In the oilsands, education is the key to having opportunity."
But Alberta's labour movement is deeply suspicious of any incursion into their traditional turf, saying it compromises worker safety and benefits.
In July, five separate construction unions voted to strike, the first such ballot in three decades. The results showed a rising discontent with the breakneck pace of oilsands development among the people charged with building it.
Although the unions haven't yet served strike notices, the threat of a walkout could arise Aug. 8 when the contractors are expected to come back with a counter-offer.
A union proposal put forth in July calls for 14.5 per cent wage increases over two years, barely above Alberta's nation-leading inflation rate of 6.5 per cent.
Another issue for unions are temporary foreign workers.
The skilled labour shortage is a global phenomenon, prompting companies to look overseas for employees.
Alberta Building Trades Council president Ron Harry likens it to a "runaway train." But others just call it union busting.
Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), fired off a letter to provincial authorities after the collapse of a pair of holding tanks at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s Horizon mine site this spring, killing two Chinese workers and injuring four.
It was the second accident in a span of three weeks his organization blamed on inadequate safety standards and the use of unqualified staff.
"From our perspective, these events raise serious questions about construction practices and safety on the site," he said.
"If these temporary workers were on a track to becoming full citizens, it would be less of a concern. But they're not. The vast majority will be treated like Post-it notes -- to be used, discarded and sent back to the countries of origin."
The AFL also questions whether there is actually a labour crisis and what needs to be done to address it.
By the Alberta government's own definition, problems don't start developing in the labour market until the unemployment rate drops below 3.5 per cent.
According to Statistics Canada, Alberta currently has a 6.1 per cent unemployment rate in the construction trades.
McGowan said there are plenty of potential workers to be found in the Aboriginal communities as well as in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Rather than marginalize unions, the government needs to start looking at labour organizations as a potential source of training and for creating new opportunities, he said.
"Organized labour has to be part of the solution."
Calgary Herald, Page A1, Mon Aug 13 2007
Byline: Shaun Polczer
Alberta's booming economy, huge influx of workers and lack of safety training on some job sites are causing more workplace accidents among young employees, and too often costing them their lives, say labour advocates.
The Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada states young workers are the most accident-prone in the country, with more than 50,700 workers under the age of 24 losing time from work after being injured in 2006.
Young people, who make up 17 per cent of Alberta's workforce, accounted for almost one-quarter of disabled injury claims in 2006, and those under 25 are 33 per cent more likely to be injured on the job than older workers.
The most recent stats show 51 workplace deaths among young workers across the country.
Most recently, on June 7, Rona employee Mitchell Tanner, 16, was killed after a forklift he was riding on flipped over and crushed him at a location near Edmonton.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said that incident was unfortunately not isolated, as young people are more accident-prone on the job because of their inexperience and a lack of health and safety training provided to them.
"It's not a surprise, but the statistics underline the need for an aggressive commitment to health and safety training for young workers because they are the ones most likely to be injured," he said, adding the lack of training is significant in Alberta as it experiences an "unprecedented" influx of people under the age of 25.
Holly Heffernan, interim executive secretary for the Calgary and District Labour Council agreed the economic boom is partially to blame.
"They are coming on to the workforce and getting no orientation - they just give them a hammer and let them go," she said.
The Meridian Booster, Page A10, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Katie Schneider
A union leader says the province has quietly lifted a stop work order imposed on an oilsands tank construction site in northern Alberta after two workers died.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says officials in the Immigration Department told him about the development Thursday.
In a letter to Immigration Minister Iris Evans, McGowan says he believed the stop-work order would remain in place until the end of an investigation into what happened at the site near Fort McMurray.
McGowan wants to know whether the review into the deaths and a second non-fatal collapse three weeks later has been completed.
He has also written a letter to Justice Minister Ron Stevens asking for a public fatality inquiry into the deaths.
The Chinese men were working on the multibillion-dollar Horizon oilsands project belonging to Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ).
The Edmonton Sun, Page 33, Sat July 14 2007
On the eve of the 12th International Day of Mourning, which will be commemorated around the world on Saturday April 28, the Alberta Federation of Labour called on government, employers and workers to do more to prevent the scourge of workplace death.
"Alberta has little to boast about in the area of workplace safety," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "Workplace accidents are on the rise, despite - or maybe because of - the boom."
Communities and workplaces around the province will be taking time on Saturday to remember workers killed and injured due to work, through minutes of silence, ceremonies and other gatherings. The official Edmonton ceremony will be at City Hall at noon. Calgary's event will also be at noon at Edward's Place Park.
"Alberta workplaces kill 21/2 workers each week. Is that the price of prosperity?" McGowan asks. "If so, it is too high for me."
In 2006, 124 workers were killed due to work, and an additional 20 farmworker fatalities, who are not included in official figures. "There were over 181,000 reported accidents last year in Alberta," observes McGowan. "An increase of 7.4% in one year."
"Why do so many workers die, year after year, with apparently little progress? The answer I come up with is because none of us make occupational health and safety the priority it needs to be."
"The government is in denial, and employers are too interested in their growing profit margins to take safety seriously," notes McGowan. "To hear government spin doctors talk, you would think we have the safest workplaces in the world. However, their rhetoric is made up of misleading statistics and hollow promises."
McGowan argues accidents are on the rise because workplaces are too busy and corners are being cut on safety. "Employers have the money right now to ensure safety equipment and procedures are in place. By not doing it, they are failing in their legal and moral responsibility."
Workers are not bystanders in the problem, McGowan notes. "Only once in a generation do workers have the economic leverage to insist on safer workplaces. Workers in Alberta need to take advantage of this boom to stand up for our rights - we need to demand more action on safety."
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For More Information
Gil McGowan at 780.483-3021 (Wk) or 780.218-9888 (Cell)
Jason Foster at 780.483-3021 (Wk)