Rally at the Alberta Legislature
Edmonton, AB - Sunday, August 25, 2013

I am proud and privileged to say that I was married to Elizabeth Sovis for almost 34 years.

Elizabeth was a strong advocate of the Trans Canada Trail and, as an Albertan, she was very disappointed that Alberta – and Saskatchewan – had the worst records of any Canadian province for building this trail. Neither province is likely to keep its promise to complete the Trail by 2017 in time for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.

Consequently, cyclists and hikers who would like to travel in safety on this greenway – free from contact with motorised vehicles – are continually thwarted. They must detour onto dangerous roads and highways.

Those who rode with me today from Devon to Edmonton have directly experienced this frustrating problem. The Trans Canada Trail ends at each municipality’s boundaries. When we left Devon this morning, we were immediately forced to travel on Hwy 60 and then on Hwy 19, where the motorised traffic was speeding along at 100 km/hr. There was no other route that would link us to Edmonton’s Trans Canada Trail.

Elizabeth felt very strongly that bicycles should not share the road with automobiles. It was too dangerous. Cyclists needed their own dedicated pathways. Accordingly, she resolved that on July 1, 2013, when she took retirement from her practice as a Speech-Language Pathologist, she would work for the completion of the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta – so that we could all have a safe place to walk and to cycle.

Last summer, we chose to take our annual holiday in Prince Edward Island because it was advertised as being the safest place in Canada to ride a bicycle. On July 14, 2012, after an afternoon riding on the Trans Canada Trail, we headed for our Bed and Breakfast accommodation. We had travelled only 2.5 km from the Trail when Elizabeth was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

I have taken up her cause. Her dream is now my dream. I am working to promote the completion of the Trans Canada Trail by 2017.

Initiated in 1992, the Trans Canada Trail is a 25-year project supported by all ten provinces and three territories, and slated for completion by July 1, 2017 – a fitting centrepiece to Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. When completed the Trail will be 23,000 km long – an 18,000 km greenway and a 5,000 km waterway – and will link Canadians from West to East and from North to South.

It is often called our “New National Dream,” in direct reference to our original “National Dream,” the construction of a railroad, the physical backbone of a new nation, stretching from Sea to Sea. Fittingly, many provinces are now converting their rails to trails, thereby preserving our proud legacy. British Columbia, for example, has acquired more than 2,000 km of rail corridors and developed many as recreational trails, including the spectacular 500 km Kettle Valley Railway between Hope and Midway, an international tourist attraction.

The Trail aims to ensure safe travel, connect diverse communities, foster healthy lifestyles, preserve green space and encourage active transportation. (Active transportation is defined as modes of travel, such as walking and cycling, which require physical activity.)

Every summer for more than a decade, Elizabeth and I took a three-week cycling holiday, most frequently in British Columbia, but also in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. We would have liked to vacation in Alberta, but it wasn’t practical.

Although Albertans, as individuals, are the biggest Trans Canada Trail supporters in the country, our government has simply off-loaded trail-building responsibility to voluntary groups, community associations and municipal districts. It has no plan; it has provided no leadership. Alberta has currently completed only 44% of its proposed 2,100 km land-based Trail.

And large parts of the completed Trail are not user-friendly. The Bow Corridor Trail, entry point for the link between Canmore and Calgary, and Alberta’s first designated Trans Canada Trail segment, is rated “double black diamond” or “extremely difficult” – for mountain bikes. It is not a route that most Albertans would want to travel; certainly not Elizabeth and me on our heavily-laden touring bicycles.


Bow Corridor Trail, August 9, 2013

After Elizabeth was killed, I wrote to our MLA, David Dorward, explaining my desire to promote the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta and asking him to raise this question in the Legislative Assembly. He subsequently arranged a meeting for me with the Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, Christine Cusanelli. I am grateful to Mr Dorward for his help and I thank him for attending our rally today.

Much to my puzzlement, Minister Cusanelli asserted that the highways in Alberta were safe for cyclists and declared that the province’s new Recreation Trails Act would give priority during the next few years to “motorized recreation by off-highway vehicles as this is the greatest pressure on our trail system use.” But, without missing a beat, she also reiterated the government’s promise to complete the Alberta section of the Trans Canada Trail by 2017.

I advised Minister Cusanelli that the Alberta government has a long-standing commitment to building trails for active transportation – not for ATVs. In fact, its cornerstone Active Alberta Policy establishes the development of walking and cycling trails as a strategic priority for the decade 2011-2021. Further, her own department has conducted studies showing that Albertan’s are 5 to 2 against building any more trails for ATVs – but 9 to 2 in favour of developing the Trans Canada Trail.

On October 24, 2012, in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, both Mr. Dorward and Minister Cusanelli paid moving tributes to Elizabeth and her dream, and expressed their heart-felt condolences. Minister Cusanelli repeated the government’s commitment to the Trans Canada Trail and advised assembly members that she was working "to find collaborative ways in which we can raise money to complete the Alberta portion by 2017."

On February 4, 2013, Richard Starke was appointed Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, and I immediately wrote him, expressing my hope “that you will establish an Action Plan to enable Alberta to meet its commitments by 2017.” He never replied.

On August 8, 2013, I launched a petition, addressed to Premier Redford, Minister Starke and Minister McIver, calling on the Government of Alberta to publish an Action Plan that would ensure the completion of the Trans Canada Trail by July 1, 2017, and that would give special priority to getting the Trail off dangerous roads and highways between Canmore and Calgary and Edmonton.

You will find a link to this petition on the website www.ridethetrail.ca  Please sign it and tell our government that you want the Trail built by 2017 as promised. And we need a plan. Without a plan it won’t get done.

I invited Minister Starke to share the podium with me this afternoon and explain the government’s plan. Last Friday afternoon, I received the following reply:
“Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation has met with representatives of the (Trans Canada Trail) Foundation in the past and is aware of the Trans Canada Trail 2017 Connection Plan for Alberta the Foundation has produced.  We will continue to work with these organizations and do our part to see the completion of the TCT in Alberta.”

I immediately responded: you are NOT doing your part to see the completion of the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta. I don’t think he’s coming today.

Unless we speak out, our Alberta government will not keep its promise. It will not build the Trans Canada Trail. And in 2017 it will find many excuses and many scapegoats for its failure.