By GRAHAM HICKS
Of course we need laws, bylaws rules and regulations.
Their impartial administration and enforcement have made our country safe, secure and prosperous.
But lately, Canada has been plagued by over-zealous regulation, regulation piled upon regulation.
Regulation and rules that have little to do with encouraging entrepreneurship and wealth creation, everything to do with government as Big Brother, regulation for the sake of regulation.
We have become a society more concerned with regulation than prosperity! When it comes to pipelines, an ultimate regulator — the Federal Court of Appeal — sided with a small group of protestors versus the economic well-being of the entire province of Alberta. How does that work?
Locally, over-zealous regulation has had severe, unforeseen consequences.
In late August, Alberta Health Services, as is its job, sent an environmental public health officer for a routine inspection of the Hyatt Place Hotel on Jasper Avenue, one block east of the Shaw Conference Centre.
Violations were noted – specifically the presence of pigeon feces in a semi-enclosed area where air-input units were situated.
Health inspectors have leeway when it comes to hotel and restaurant inspections. Violations are usually directly reported to the establishment, timelines are set, return visits are made to ensure violations have been corrected without public accusation.
In the Hyatt Place Edmonton’s case, this informal protocol was not followed.
The AHS Public Health branch, without notifying Hyatt Place owner Prem Singhmar or his staff, published a public “order of an executive officer”. It made the beautiful Hyatt Place sound like a fleabag hotel.
Unintended consequences: Because the AHS had gone public with the order, the pigeon poop issue came up as a news item on the CNN news network.
Safeguarding its own reputation, Hyatt Hotels immediately withdrew its brand from the hotel – along with its all-important reservations system and brand quality assurance for travelers.
There are always two sides to a story.
Singhmar, as is his right, has appealed this AHS order to the Alberta Health Services Appeal Board.
He may have grounds – the pigeon poop accusation may prove far less of a health issue than was originally portrayed. Several of the other complaints, he says, came from a misunderstanding of automated equipment. Others were so minor as to be near laughable.
Here’s the rub.
For years, the City of Edmonton had been trying to revitalize the downtown’s east end with a vision known as The Quarters. But no property developer wanted to take that first step, to build in a still run-down neighbourhood.
Hotelier Singhmar was the first to step up to the plate, and he did so spectacularly, having architect Gene Dub design the multi-angled, all-glass $55 million hotel with 223 rooms and 32 suites.
After three years of construction, Hyatt Place opened in the fall of 2016.
So far, due to both Alberta’s cool economy and the slow-developing neighbourhood, Hyatt Place is losing money. Singhmar says his other businesses are supporting it to the tune of some $400,000 a month. With the yanking of the Hyatt name, that figure will jump to $700,000. (The hotel, despite low occupancy rates, still pays $1.2 million a year in city property tax.)
It’s the overkill of the health order – the use of sledgehammer to kill a mosquito – that irks Singhmar.
Other downtown hoteliers I talked to agree. Most health inspections find infractions that are quickly and quietly corrected. Why was Hyatt Place treated so differently?
Singhmar, with four other Edmonton area hotels in his AUM Hotel Group, is considered a quality hotelier. None of his other hotels have ever been cited for public health violations.
I have written about Singhmar’s accomplishments before in this column — his coming to Canada in 1985 with nothing, building a business empire from scratch, his great interest in community building. As a philanthropist, he and his family have donated $6 to $7 million in cash, not promises, to such institutions as NorQuest College, Alberta Art Gallery, University of Alberta and the Citadel Theatre.
This is not a businessperson who would flout health and safety requirements for the sake of a few bucks.
I hope the appeal board rescinds the original public order. I hope Hyatt then reinstates its Hyatt Place branding on the hotel. But that horse may well have left the barn.
That (alleged) over-zealous regulation has caused such financial and reputational damage to an individual who has done so much for the city, that’s the real crime here.