2009 The Credit Crunch

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In late 2008, there were reports in the American media that a number of low-interest mortgages were coming due and would have to be renewed at higher rates. Many American homeowners couldn't afford the higher rates and defaulted on their mortgage.

At first, it sounded like the problem was confined to American homeowners and mortgages. However, it soon became apparent that the issue was more widespread and eventually led to the collapse of a number of American financial institutions and the government bailout of other companies that were thought, at one time, to be on a solid footing. Reports came out that these financial institutions packaged and re-packaged good assets with so-called 'toxic assets' making it difficult, if not impossible, for financial institutions to accurately establish their value. With such uncertainty in the market, stock markets plunged worldwide. Many in the media were calling this the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The price of oil fell. The price of natural gas fell. And this affected the Alberta economy. For the last number of years, the Alberta economy had been the strongest in the country with record budget surpluses and a massive net increase in population because of the plentiful jobs.

That changed in late 2008 and early 2009. Almost overnight, oil & gas companies dramatically reduced their drilling and exploration programs. The massive new home subdivisions which were common the last several years slowed to a crawl as potential buyers were uncertain whether they would have a job.

Alberta Land Surveyors were affected too. Alberta Land Surveyors and technical personnel had grown accustomed to always being able to find employment – often receiving numerous job offers. Now, there were layoffs as new and experienced people in the land survey business were suddenly let go with few immediate prospects for employment.

The Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association had been looking forward to a big celebration for the 100th annual general meeting in Banff but now things were uncertain. As it turned out, it was still a big celebration with the biggest turnout ever. Still, there were storm clouds in the air. A motion under new business asked Council to prepare a financial contingency plan if iron post and marker post sales were to be 25% below what had been budgeted. The initial 2009-2010 budget had already forecast post sales to drop from 237,140 in 2008-2009 to 160,000 and now a plan was to be prepared if post sales fell to 120,000.

It became apparent that the number of new activities and initiatives that the Association had seen in 2008-2009 would not be able to continue for the foreseeable future.

In anticipation of the Association’s 100th annual general meeting, the Historical & Biographical Committee put together a travelling museum exhibit that included an old-style surveyor’s tent, artifacts, posts and display panels. The exhibit was unveiled at the 100th annual general meeting then went on display at the legislature over the summer and then on to smaller regional museums throughout the province. The Association also put together a special magazine called Alberta Boundaries in conjunction with Alberta Venture publishing to showcase the past, present and future of the land surveying profession. Alberta Boundaries was widely circulated throughout the province.

The Association’s Systematic Practice Review program continued to be in a state of flux. After more than a year without a full-time Director of Practice Review, Chris Everett joined the staff in February 2009. Still, the Association continued to try to find ways to streamline the existing system and develop a new program for the future as it dealt with a larger membership than when Systematic Practice Review started in 1994 but a forecast for a smaller budget.

In November 2008, the Association concluded an agreement with the provincial government to increase the mark-up on iron posts and marker posts. It was the first time in twenty years that the mark-up had changed. In exchange for the increased mark-up, the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association took on responsibilities that were previously those of the government – delayed posting monitoring and field note and dormant plan repositories. Through this agreement, the Association also had funding to investigate boundary uncertainties and alleged survey errors.

On January 1, 2009, the land surveyors’ labour mobility agreement between Alberta and British Columbia took effect. It was obvious that the change in the economic climate had an effect on the agreement as far more Alberta Land Surveyors went west than British Columbia Land Surveyors came to Alberta.

There was still a spirit of cooperation in the air as the councils of the ALSA and ABCLS held their first ever joint meeting in Victoria in November 2008. As a result of this meeting, there were agreements that would see the respective public relations and professional development committees work together.

Finally, the ever-changing Manual of Standard Practice was completely overhauled thanks to Irwin Maltais and the Standards Committee. The intent of the overhaul was to make the Manual of Standard Practice easier to read by putting it into plain language, using a larger font, and adding hyperlinks.

There was no doubt that 2008-2009 was a year of tremendous upheaval.

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