Category Archives: Edmonton Politics

Don Iveson asks: Do you support LRT expansion?

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson took the the streets, and then to YouTube, to ask Edmontonians if they support expansion of Edmonton’s Light Rail Transit system. The campaign is part of Mr. Iveson’s bid to convince provincial and federal politicians to support the expansion of Edmonton’s light rail transit system, a key part of the city’s transportation infrastructure and a top priority for city council.

Facing enormous population and economic growth, and afforded limited resources as a municipal government, the City is struggling to fund LRT expansion to Mill Woods and west Edmonton (also known as the Valley Line). According to the City of Edmonton, daily ridership of Edmonton’s current north-south LRT Capital Line has grown from an estimated 42,160 in 2004 to 100,760 in 2013.

Edmonton LRT Ridership 2004-2013

Estimated Edmonton LRT ridership from 2004 to 2013 (graph from City of Edmonton 2013 LRT Passenger Count Report)

Hoping that the upcoming provincial budget could include funding for the capital city’s LRT, the mayor and city council are asking Edmontonians to put pressure on their MLA and MP by voicing support for LRT expansion. A second phase of this campaign is expected to be launched next week.

Don Iveson LRT Edmonton Expansion

A popular ad used on the LRT during last year’s mayoral election in Edmonton.

Although Mr. Iveson earned 63% of the vote in the October 2013 election, many provincial Conservatives, including Edmonton PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Naresh Bhardwaj and David Xiao, publicly endorsed his opponent, Karen Leibovici. Some political watchers suspect the results of the election did not sweeten the already sour relationship between the city and province. And while Premier Alison Redford has been cold towards the idea of granting cities more financial power, saying she’s “satisfied with the way things are,” her party should not forget that city voters are who they owe for their narrow re-election to government in 2012.

Earlier this month, while speaking to the all-party MLA Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future, Mr. Iveson explained  that expansion of Edmonton’s light rail transit system is critical for future growth of the capital city. While the committee was looking for feedback on the creation of high speed rail system through the Red Deer corridor from Edmonton to Calgary, Mr. Iveson argued that the inter-city project would only succeed if effective urban transit systems are already in place.

Mr. Iveson explained to the MLA committee that future expansion of Edmonton’s LRT network depends almost entirely on the availability of funding from the provincial and federal governments.

A short history of LRT expansion in Edmonton
Edmonton’s LRT line began regular service in 1978 and was extended to downtown and the University of Alberta in the 1980s and early 1990s. Expansion was then halted until the mid-2000s, when a new line to south Edmonton was constructed. New stations in north central Edmonton are expected to open in June 2014. The City of Edmonton’s population has grown from 461,361 in 1976 to 817,498 in 2012.

Alberta politics 2013: Big City Mayors

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election

Don Iveson

A generational shift in Edmonton

Framed as a lacklustre and uneventful campaign, local media and many mainstream pundits missed one of the most important stories of this year’s mayoral election in Edmonton.

The city’s crusty local establishment has lamented for years about the constant stream of locally-raised young talent choosing to build their careers and start their families in other cities like Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto.

But Alberta’s booming economy and a growing sense of optimism in Edmonton has led to an increasing number of young folks choosing to stay in our city, build their careers and plan to raise their families here. This important shift is a key part of what Don Iveson represented on the campaign trail this fall.

Supported by a diverse army of young Edmontonians who want to claim this city for the next generation, Mr. Iveson proved that substance and a positive campaign – or “politics in full-sentences” – can win elections.

And despite nearly all the local media and opinion page pundits predicting a horserace until the moment the polls closed, Mr. Iveson earned a stunning 63% of the votes counted on October 21. His closest challengers, councillors Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte, earned 19% and 15% of the vote.

Nenshi versus Manning

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

In Calgary, a weird proxy-war between popular mayor Naheed Nenshi and conservative godfather Preston Manning dominated this year’s election campaign.

The conflict was sparked by a leaked video recording of high-powered wealthy developers – the Sprawl Cabal – explaining their plans to take over city council by funding Mr. Manning’s conservative political training centre.

Mr. Manning’s group wants to bring a libertarian brand of conservative politics to municipal government in Canada. The “Municipal Governance Project” plans to grant private-sector developers increased powers while limiting the ability of city governments to implement long-term growth plans. This directly contradicts Mr. Nenshi’s plans to address the challenges caused by Calgary’s suburban sprawl problems.

Mr. Nenshi quickly shot back at the sprawl cabal, describing their actions as “shadowy, weird and unpleasant.” The developers attack quickly turned into an election issue, with Mr. Nenshi taking aim at the subsidies granted to suburban developers. Mr. Nenshi says his long-term goal remains to eliminate the subsidy completely.

The developers howled in protest.

Preston Manning (photo from AlbertaDiary.ca)

Preston Manning (photo from AlbertaDiary.ca)

Mr. Nenshi was re-elected with the support of 73% of Calgary voters on October 21, 2013.

Soon after the election, Cal Wenzel, the star of the leaked video, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nenshi, claiming he defamed the businessman for political gain.

Big City challenges in 2014

Funding for infrastructure like light rail transit remains a priority for Alberta’s big city mayors, as does the promise by the provincial government to create big city charters.

The charters could give Alberta’s two largest cities new fiscal powers and responsibilities to address the growth challenges created by the province’s booming economy.

In June 2012, then-Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths signed a memorandum of understanding with Mayor Stephen Mandel of Edmonton and Mayor Nenshi to formalize their commitment to develop a big city charter.

“This charter will position our two largest cities for the future,” Premier Alison Redford said on June 18, 2012. A year and a half later, the city charters have yet to be released.

New Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes said on December 12, 2013 that the city charters are one of his priorities, which is promising indicator.

While the Redford government enjoys its focus on promoting the oilsands and pipeline projects on the international stage, the two mayors may have to remind the provincial government that it cannot ignore the growth challenges facing our two largest cities.

edmonton expo 2017 bid denied.

The federal government announced yesterday that it will not to provide an estimated $700 million to support Edmonton’s bid for the 2017 Expo. Many people saw this bid as an opportunity to invest more federal and provincial funding for transportation and public infrastructure in Edmonton.

In response, Mayor Stephen Mandel was livid when delivering a speech lambasting the federal government for taking Edmonton for granted. Mayor Mandel also singled out Edmonton-Spruce Grove MP and Public Works Minister Rona Ambroseaccusing her of not supporting the bid.

But as much as Alberta could see the potential, our Federal partner is not there. Our own Minister Ambrose completely failed to stand up for this City and Province. And in the end, her lack of support cost us this opportunity.
I stand somewhat incredulous at this result.
This is a Government that has far too easily ignored the needs and aspirations of this Province, indicating instead that we are not the political priority.
And I get it – taking electoral success for granted here has become a habit.

I have a lot of respect for many of the people involved in the bid to host the 2017 Expo and I understand why they would be angry about the denial of federal funding, but I have to admit that I have remained very indifferent towards the project. While it would have been great to have the extra infusion of infrastructure funding, I have been skeptical why it needed to be camouflaged under the guise of a mega-event.

Also, as furious as Mayor Mandel may be, I have a difficult time believing that the death of Edmonton’s 2017 Expo bid will be a catalyst for a major change in Edmonton’s representation in the House of Commons.

edmonton election 2010: election night races to watch!

After a month of driving by signs on the boulevards, volunteered knocking on your door, and receiving literature in the mail, Municipal Election Day in Alberta has arrived! As you sit down to enjoy a night of watching the results, tune into the live coverage at theEdmontonian.com, which is sure to be entertaining and educational (edutainment for all your political needs) and watch the results roll in online at ShareEdmonton. As a last send-off before the voting stations close at 8pm and the results roll in shortly afterward, here are some of the contests to watch:

Mayor
How much of the protest over the phased closure of the City Centre Airport will translate into the vote results. Most political watchers expect Mayor Stephen Mandel to be re-elected with a healthy margin with David Dorward to place a respectable second place and Daryl Bonar in third.

Ward 2
Hard-working incumbent Councillor Kim Krushell is facing a well-funded opponent in perennial candidate Don Koziak. The closure of the City Centre Airport is Mr. Koziak’s main issue, so it will be interesting to see if it has resonated with voters at the polls. This could be a close race.

Ward 3
WIth the retirement of long-time Councillor Ron Hayter, there is no incumbent standing in this Ward. Dave Loken is trying for his third time and is facing off against Councillor Hayter’s Executive Assistant Terry Demers and former Liberal candidate Kim Cassady. I expect Mr. Loken to take it, but this could also be a close race.

Ward 4
Councillor Ed Gibbons is being challenged by former MLA Dan Backs. Mr. Back’s campaign has campaigned hard on the City Centre Airport closure, so this will be another interesting race to watch. I give the edge to Councillor Gibbons, but it could be close.

Ward 7
First-term Councillor Tony Caterina is facing a challenge from on-leave Edmonton Journal columnist Scott McKeen and local activist Brendan Van Alstine. Councillor Caterina is a solid campaigner, but does not have a great reputation for working together with fellow Councillors. The incumbent probably has the edge in this race, but with three strong candidates it could be interesting.

Ward 11
The retirement of long-time Councillor Dave Thiele has left this seat as an open contest. My gut tells me that former Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte may skweek out a win in the end, but he faces three strong opponents in Chinwe Okelu, Shane Bergdahl, and Vishal Luthra.

For Public School Board, watch the races in Ward F between Michael Janz and Bev Sawyer and in Ward G between Sarah Hoffman and George Rice.

edmonton election 2010: a day in photos.

In honour of Election Day in Edmonton, fellow blogger/tweeter Mack Male and I took a #yegvote tour across the City visiting campaign offices and candidates to get a feel on how their get out the vote efforts were going.

Our first stop was at the 10:30am media conference held by City Clerk Alayne Sinclair at City Hall. She gave an update on the voter turning since the polls had opened across the City at 9:00am. Turnout at that point was around 16,200.

Edmonton City Clerk

The second stop of the #yegvote tour was Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s campaign office which was bustling with volunteers.

Stephen Mandel Campaign Office

Stephen Mandel Campaign Office

David Doward‘s campaign office was a little more sedate as most of their volunteers were out on the streets waving signs and getting their vote out.

David Dorward Campaign Office

Our next stop was at the campaign office of Ward 7 candidate Scott McKeen, whose personalized scooter was sitting outside the office.

Scott McKeen

Ward 7 Councillor Tony Caterina, who was on his way out of the campaign office when we stopped by to see his campaign.

Tony Caterina in his Mazeratti

Mayoral candidate Daryl Bonar‘s campaign office was empty because all his volunteers were scattered around the City getting their vote out. These volunteers were spotted on Kingsway Avenue.

Daryl Bonar campaigners

Our last campaign stop was at the downtown campaign office of Ward 6 candidate James Johnson.

James Johnson Ward 6

Care of Mack’s photo collection of the day, here is a photo with myself, Michael Walters, and Mayor Mandel.

Stephen Mandel's Campaign Office

You can view more photos on my Flickr page.

edmonton election 2010: why mayor stephen mandel gets my vote.

Mayor Stephen Mandel standing in front of his downtown campaign office.

Last Saturday morning, I woke up extra early (for me) and trekked over to Stephen Mandel‘s campaign office on 111th Street and 102nd Avenue for a sit down with the Mayor. Joined by Jeff and Mack in a sort of ‘bloggers editorial board’ we engaged Mayor Mandel is a good question and answer session about his six years as Mayor, the campaign, and his plans for the next three years if he is re-elected on Monday, October 18.

Over the course of an hour, we peppered the Mayor with a series of questions ranging from Open Data to cooperation in the capital region to homelessness to plans for making the urban core neighbourhoods more friendly for young families.

Sitting down and talking with Mayor Mandel reminded me what a different place Edmonton has become over the past six years. Looking outwards, our City is no longer fighting with our neighbours. Edmonton is now sitting down at the table and cooperating with the other over twenty municipalities in the region through the Capital Region Board. While the municipalities were somewhat strong-armed by the Provincial Government to make the process work, it has had positive results for regional cooperation.

Looking inside our City limits, we have seen serious investment in our crumbling infrastructure and public spaces for the first time in decades. Although some people will raise a red flag about increasing debt levels, Edmonton only has about half the debt level of Calgary and a repayment plan was in place before any funds were borrowed (a requirement under provincial law. See: Section 251(1) of the Municipal Government Act).

The creation of the Universal Bus Pass for students at the University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan University and the expansion of the LRT to Century Park has proven to be excellent investments that are paying off. While these advancements have been somewhat besmirched by the construction of the expensive and questionable 23rd Avenue interchange, they are important steps for our City.

Our downtown core neighbourhoods are about to blossom. When I first moved to Edmonton in the early 2000s, my apartment was located in a decrepit area of Oliver. I soon moved south across the North Saskatchewan River into the University enclave of Garneau. When I moved back into the Grandin area of Oliver two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how different the area had become. New condo and apartment buildings that had been constructed over the past five years had lead to new businesses and restaurants in the area. I was shocked to see people actually walking down Jasper Avenue at night!

While this new life has been breathed into the area between 109th Street and 124th Street and 104th Avenue, spill-over can be seen deeper into the downtown core. What was a decrepit and sketchy area down 104th Street even five years ago has transformed into a vibrant area of the downtown core. The City Market regularly draws over 10,000 people to 104th Street each Saturday and the construction of new condo towers on that street is starting the essential element to neighbourhood vitalization: people living there.

There are still challenges to bringing young people to the core. When I posed this question to Mayor Mandel, he replied that “the City needs to be far more creative” in facilitating the development of housing in the core neighbourhoods that will be friendly for young families. “We need to create a policy between the school board and the city to build attainable housing for young people in the core,” said Mayor Mandel. The City is already working in cooperation with the School Boards to set up first-time home buyers housing on surplus school sites around Edmonton, but with little surplus school land in the core, they need to look at other options.

As I wrote in my blog post about the first Mayoral candidates forum in September, I generally believe that Mayor Mandel has done a good job over the past six years, but it is not without reservation that I will give him my vote on October 18, 2010. I am skeptical about the Mayor’s support for the Expo 2017 bid and am weary of his close relationship with the Katz Group in light of their bid to build downtown area complex, but there has been too much positive movement forward over the past six years to stop now.

Under Mandel’s Mayorship, Edmonton has moved forward on a number of levels. After years of hum-drum leadership under his predecessor, Mayor Bill Smith, our City is now starting to feel like it is coming out of the doldrums of a decades-long inferiority complex. While I have respect for a number of his challengers, especially Dan Dromarsky and Daryl Bonar, I do not yet have confidence in their ability to keep Edmonton moving in the positive direction we are now on track towards.

The City of Edmonton will never be a “world-class” city like New York or even Toronto or Vancouver, but why should we aspire for that? As a medium-sized North American city, we have the opportunity to look at and learn from similar cities like Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon, who decided that their size compared to the bigger cities was a strength and not a weakness. Edmontonians should be proud of what our City could be, not in relation to Calgary or Toronto, but in terms of the quality of life and creative and smart ways that we can shape our City’s future growth.

At least for the next three years, I trust Mayor Stephen Mandel to help us get closer to that reality.

edmonton election 2010: battle over the public school board reveals a nervous old guard.

A heated battle has been brewing over Edmonton’s Public School Board.  Although it was re-ignited by communities angry that their Public School Board Trustees were not responsive to their concerns about the closure of neighborhood schools earlier this year, this battle is not new. In many ways, it is a conflict between the “old guard” and a newly involved group of community members who believe that the school board should be more than a bureaucracy of education administrators. Experience is good, but for too long the board has been dominated by retired administrators and civil servants who refuse to see themselves act as leaders in our City.

Two elections ago, this battle raged between the old guard made up of long-time incumbent Trustees and members of the now-defunct provincial parent advocacy group APPEAL (Albertans Promoting Public Education and Learning). In that election, APPEAL did not run a slate of candidates, but many of their members decided to step up from years as education advocates to stand as Trustee candidates in their communities.

The day before election day in 2004, the Edmonton Journal published an op-ed from Leif Stolee, longtime educator and administrator of Edmonton public schools, who effectively claimed that unless you are an educator, former administrator or have served on the public school board for at least three or four terms, you are not competent to serve as a trustee. It is likely that this op-ed side-swiped many of the new challengers and helped boost many of the old guard incumbents over the top in closely contested races for Edmonton Public School Board.

Fast forward to 2010 and the same dynamic is in play as the old guard and their supporters are still trying to hang on to their positions. Are they running scared this time?

In Ward G, incumbent Trustee George Rice has refused to debate challenger Sarah Hoffman, who has been running an aggressive campaign against him. In Ward B, I am told that Trustee Ken Shipka has also refused to debate his opponents. Mr. Shipka has been an invisible Trustee after he was forced to apologize after calling aboriginal people “nocturnal” in 2008.

One of the more heated battles is in Ward F, which has drawn three candidates to replace five-term Trustee Don Fleming. This week, candidate Bev Sawyer chastized the media for focusing on the rift between the School Board and the larger community. In addition. Mrs. Sawyer (a retired Principal and administrator) used her best online Principal voice to scold fellow candidate Michael Janz for… being too young?

Mrs. Sawyer appears to have taken an issue with comments that Mr. Janz made during interviews with CBC last week:

“The reason we’re seeing more younger candidates, fewer of the retired administrators, and more community advocates is because there is this growing realization that decisions made at the school board level will effect all Edmontonians” – Michael Janz.

Mrs. Sawyer apologized after being caught having not done her homework when she posted the bizarre attack on her website accusing Mr. Janz of having attended a private school. In reality, Mr. Janz attended public schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

As the old guard and their supporters desperately try to keep their hold on Edmonton’s Public School Board, they are missing a larger point. Legislation expected to be introduced by Education Minister Dave Hancock in the Spring Session of the Alberta Legislature may further curtail the administrative powers of School Boards, potentially even replacing them with partially-appointed Boards.

When the time comes when School Boards are challenged to stand up and prove their relevance, who will be best fit to do this – an old guard who have allowed the role of Trustees to wither into glorified administrators or a new group of people who understand why School Trustees need to be relevant and responsible to the whole community?

edmonton election 2010: surveys say.

Having been involved in a few election campaigns, I am fully aware of the influx of surveys and questionnaires that end up landing in a candidate’s email inbox over the course of the campaign. They can sometimes be annoyingly time consuming to respond to, but they are sometime an easy way to distill where candidate’s stand on specific issues. Sometimes they also reveal some gems. A question asked in the Edmonton Public Library’s questionnaire posed one of these gem questions to candidates standing in Edmonton’s municipal election:

What character from fiction do you most relate to/is most like you?

Jamie Post – Ward 1: Hard to say, at the moment I’d have to go with Dr. Watson.
Scott Robb – Ward 4: I generally don’t read fiction, but I usually relate to the conflicted hero type.
Thomas Roberts – Ward 6: Can not think of any that is close to me– would love being a combination of Captain Jack Sparrow and Sherlock Holmes, and avoid Dorian Grey(what little I know of the charactor)/Falstaff.
Scott McKeen – Ward 7: OK, that’s tough. I’ll pick Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. A reluctant hero who faces his constant fear to reach journey’s end.
Grant Pullishy – Ward 7: Stephen King- I love thrillers.
Lori Jeffery-Heaney – Ward 8: Hmm, hard to answer – I am more of a non-fiction reader.
Hana Razga – Ward 8: Margaret Laurence Stone Angel’s Hagar Shipley – in about 30 years.
Councillor Don Iveson – Ward 10: James T. Kirk
Al Slemko – Ward 10: Marko Ramius – Red October movie
Shane Bergdahl – Ward 11: That is difficult to say. Frodo from the Hobit and Lord of the Rings comes to mind. A normal person (of sorts) tasked with doing great things.
Roberto Maglalang – Ward 11: Tom Sawyer.
Chinwe Okelu – Ward 11: None.
Brent Schaffrick – Ward 11: Some days, Dilbert, most days I seem to walk a different path then characters in books.
Daryl Bonar – Mayor: I think Rocky Balboa. He perservered with brute force and ignorance as well as a never say quit attitude. He didn’t have all the natural talent and had to overcome many obstacles but his work ethic carried him. I try my best to emulate these traits.
Dan Dromarsky – Mayor: My favorite fictional character is James Bond but how we relate or are alike is also fiction.
Dave Dowling – Mayor: Frodo.
Stephen Mandel – Mayor: I don’t know that he’s like me but the Gene Hackman character as the coach in Hoosiers.

You can also read questionnaire responses from the Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton, the Canadian Cancer Society, Cycle Edmonton, and the Realtors Association of Edmonton. If you have links to any other surveys and questionnaires, feel free to post a link in the comment section below.

edmonton election 2010: deciding my vote in ward 6 & ward f.

There are now two weeks until Edmontonians have the opportunity to elect their Mayor, City Councillors, and School Board Trustees (either Public or Catholic). The polls will be open from 9:00am to 8:00pm on Monday, October 18. If you will not be able to vote on Election Day, you can take advantage of advanced voting until October 16 (open 11:30am to 5:00pm from Monday to Friday and from 9:00am to 4:00pm on Saturday).

If you have yet to decide who will get your vote, there are many online resources available to help you make an informed decision. You can also watch video recordings of the City of Edmonton all-candidates forums that have already been held and those that will be held this week.

Being a responsible citizen, I have been thinking a lot about the ballot choices I will make on election day.

Edmonton Public School Board Ward F

My vote for Public School Board Trustee was the easiest to decide. I will be voting for Ward F candidate Michael Janz. I have known Michael for a few years and know that if elected he will be a strong advocate for community involvement in the future of our public schools.

For too long, our Public School Board has acted as a pasture for retired school principals and school board administrators and because of this it has withered into insignificance among the general public. I know that Michael understands this and believe that if elected as a Trustee, he will work to increase the relevance of our Public School Board beyond teachers, parents, and children.

Marking an X beside Michael Janz was an easy decision for me, but do not let me stop you from reading more about Joanna Rozmus and Bev Sawyer.

City Council Ward 6

I am having a difficult time deciding what to do with my City Council ballot. I am feeling extremely underwhelmed about the candidates in the downtown Ward 6. I thought that tuning-in online to last week’s all-candidates forum might help me with my decision, instead it just increased my indecision.

Incumbent Councillor Jane Batty is a nice person and as a Councillor she appears invisible on the issues. I pay attention to municipal politics and still have little idea what Councillor Batty has achieved during her three terms on City Council. I have also seen little existence of her campaign in this ward and have only spotted her election signs in front of her campaign office on Jasper Avenue and 122nd Street.

Ward 6 challenger Bryan Kapitza’s ideas speak to me on paper, but that is not enough. After meeting the man in-person, I have serious questions about whether he has the personality to forge meaningful working relationships with other Councillors (which is essential if you want to achieve anything on City Council).

Cris Basualdo appears to be running a campaign focused on the neighbourhoods of McCauley and Central McDougall (these two neighbourhoods are the only ones mentioned on her website).

The other candidates all blend together. Wildrose Alliance caucus staffer James Johnson entered the contest late and has been running a fairly cookie-cutter conservative campaign. I honestly have very little to write about the other challengers, Carla Frost, Lee Permann, Adil Pirbhai, and Thomas Roberts.

Considering the challenges and opportunities facing our downtown core neighbourhoods, it is pretty disappointing that this Ward was not able to attract a more dynamic group of candidates. With the election only nine days away, the candidates in Ward 6 will need to do something pretty spectacular in order to convince me not to spoil the Councillor section of my ballot.

dan backs’ burning desire for a political comeback.

A shed fire in Mill Woods has destroyed hundreds of lawn signs being stored for Ward 4 City Council candidate and former MLA Dan Backs. Edmonton Fire and Rescue (EFR) estimated that the shed went up in flames around 10:00 pm on Thursday, September 23.

From the Edmonton Sun (published at 4:28pm on Friday, September 24):

The fire is not considered suspicious — investigators think a discarded cigarette may be to blame.

There is no evidence found to conclude this was arson,” said EFR spokesman Corwin Odland. “Smoking materials were found around the shed so it’s possible it was accidently set by a cigarette.”

Without much information available to him at the time, Mr. Backs posted a news release on his website at 1:00am on Friday, September 24 titled “Probable Arson Destroys Campaign Signs.” The news release pre-empted and contradicted the EFR spokesperson by claiming that the fire was probably intentionally set and that the case had been referred to Police arson investigators:

In consultation with the Edmonton Fire Department, Dan Backs was informed that this matter has been referred to Edmonton Police Department arson investigators.

There was no source of ignition, electrical or otherwise, and according to discussions with fire department representatives, it had to have been set.

Mr. Backs’ news release then eludes to a previous media report to suggest (without evidence) that his opponent, Councillor Ed Gibbons or his supporters, may have been connected to the fire:

This comes after Dan’s main opponent, incumbent Councillor Ed Gibbons lamented in the Edmonton Journal on September 22, that Dan Backs’ sign campaign was an indication that his campaign was in trouble. ‘I’m not sure that we will ever prove who actually did this’, said Backs. ‘That shed has stood for seventeen years – and my friend has lived in that house for thirty-four years, and there has never been any trouble. This destruction of my signs suddenly places my campaign at a great disadvantage, especially as we were planning to transfer many of them to my new campaign headquarters on Friday.

Since the EFR spokesperson announced that the fire is not considered suspicious, no update has been posted on Mr. Backs’ website correcting his claims of arson or apologizing for his suggestion that Councillor Gibbons’ could be connected to the fire.

edmonton election 2010: first mayoral debate.

Anytime I walk into an election candidates forum I almost immediately think of this great scene from Season 3 of the West Wing. Maybe I am a dreamer, but I hope that one day I will witness a debater who reaches the level of President Josiah Bartlett.

I was not sure what to expect when I ventured into the packed auditorium at Harry Ainlay High School on Edmonton’s south side. Walking the halls of the giant high school, I remembered the last time I had been in that building was for a Ward 5 (now Ward 9 and 10) all-candidates forum in 2007. I remember that auditorium three years ago being packed with skeptics of then-Councillor Mike Nickel and supporters of first-time challenger Don Iveson.

Last night, I entered the auditorium two minutes before the candidates took to the podium and I wedged myself into a seat in the back row next (which ended up being right next to City Clerk Alayne Sinclair and elections staff, who were overseeing the event and updating the @EdmontonClerk twitter account).

While last night was nothing comparable to the Bartlett-Ritchie debate in the video about, it was a raucous evening. Over the course of the evening, the boisterous crowd jeered, cheered, and heckled the candidates when different issues various pet issues mentioned (the City Centre Airport, the Art Gallery of Alberta, and… David Suzuki and climate change).

First time candidate Dan Dromarsky was the most likable among the candidates. While answering each question, Mr. Dromarsky beamed with genuine concern for Edmonton and demonstrated that he had also done his homework when it came to a lot of the issues. His performance last night made me wish that he would have decided to run for City Council, instead of a Mayoral position that he has no chance of being elected.

Although he did not have a huge impact on the debate, Daryl Bonar has positioned himself as the most aggressive alternative to Mayor Stephen Mandel. His “fight back” campaign and actual platform positions presented a contrast to the other challengers who appeared unprepared for their candidacies.

The most entertaining candidate of the evening turned out to be Bob Ligertwood, who used every opportunity to decry the Internet and Facebook (even stating at one point that the Oil City Roadhouse should be shut down so that the Police could monitor computers at the public libraries). Candidate Andrew Lineker touched on some fair points about the transition of EPCOR to Capital Power, and Dave Dowling was remarkably subdued in light of his previous runs for Mayor.

David Dorward seemed like a nice man who would probably be a great financial adviser, but his focus on repeating platitudes and grasping for political points left me wondering if had the leadership skills or vision to lead an entire City. His campaign has the backing of Envision Edmonton lobby group and the support of their wealthy financial backers, which puts him in a financial advantage over the other challengers. Mr. Dorward has only made one policy announcement (on seniors taxes yesterday) and his campaign has yet to show that he has the policy depth to be a successful Mayor.

It is unfortunate that his campaign feels like it was thrown together at the last hour. Had Mr. Dorward began preparing his bid earlier in the summer, rather than a week before the election period started, the Edmontonians in the room last night probably would have seen a more vigorous debate centered around ideas and vision, rather than platitudes and talking points.

Two-term Mayor Stephen Mandel was the most confident and answered questions with a confidence that none of the other candidates had. He fumbled a few questions, but gave the impression that of the three serious candidates (himself, Mr. Bonar, and Mr. Dorward), he was the only one who actually understood how governance works.

I voted for Mayor Mandel in 2004 and 2007, and I generally believe that he has done a good job over the past six years. I also support City Council’s decision to close the City Centre Airport over a phased period of time and redevelop the lands.

On some other issues, I have been less impressed with the Mayor. I am not comfortable with his cozy relationship with the Katz Group in light of their request for City funding of a downtown arena and I am skeptical about the City’s bid to host the 2017 World Expo. As a young Edmontonian, I also feel that the City should be more aggressive in promoting the construction of family-orinented densification and infill in the urban core, something that none of the candidates spoke about last night.

Most of Mayor Mandel’s challengers demonstrated a fairly evident lack of understanding of how our democratic process and representative democracy functions. Mr. Dorward’s supporters in the crowd jeered at the Mayor and the challengers charged that it was undemocratic for City Council to have rejected a plebiscite on the City Centre Airport redevelopment. None of the challengers thought to mention that the petition was ruled invalid under provincial law. If a candidate cannot demonstrate that they understand how a clearly laid out petition process works, then it is difficult for me to imagine them tackling the macro-level important issues facing the City.

Edmontonians deserved a better debate last night and Mayor Mandel deserved a more serious challenge in this election. Unless the challengers undergo a miraculous change between now and October 18, we may have to wait to see what October 2013 has to offer us.

edmonton election 2010: the people in your neighbourhood.


Depending on what part of Edmonton you live in, you have probably noticed the lawn signs beginning to line up on private front lawns and sprawled across City-owned boulevards. While I hear that the sign war is red hot in the closely contested Wards 3, 7, and 11, in my downtown Ward 6 I have only noticed signs from a handful of candidates (Michael Janz, Bev Sawyer, Brian Kaptiza, and Rudy Arcilla).

Thus far there is virtually no signage belonging to incumbent Councillor Jane Batty in my neighborhood. This is a stark contrast from the last time I lived in this neighborhood during a municipal election. Back in 2004, I remember the area being covered with signs belonging to Councillors Michael Phair, Mrs. Batty, and then-challenger Ben Henderson (who is now standing for election in the new Ward 8 on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River).

I spoke with Adam Rozenhart from The Unknown Studio earlier this week about my Nomination Day experience and shared some thoughts on the election candidates. You can listen to my conversation with Adam on The Unknown Studio website or download the podcast on iTunes. The conversation starts at the 11:36 mark and also includes a conversation about how my dog needed to be rushed to the Emergency Veterinary Clinic after getting his jaw stuck in his kennel door (he is fine now).

There have been three City of Edmonton sponsored all-candidates forums held since Nomination Day in Wards 3, 7, and 11. They were all live-streamed online and should be posted shortly afterwards on the City of Edmonton election website.

Jeff Samsonow wrote a thought-provoking article yesterday that raised some serious questions about how the media cover their colleagues who are jumping into politics. More specifically, Mr. Samsanow is referring to on-leave Edmonton Journal columnist Scott McKeen, who is standing for election in Ward 7. Journal columnist Todd Babiak shared some of his thoughts on the Edmonton Commons blog, but did not really address the issue that Mr. Samsonow was getting at.

Scanning some of the candidates websites over the past few days has revealed some interested gems. Who would have thought that the people in your neighbourhood were such a colourful bunch? For example, did you know that the guy living down the street believes that the relationship between North Edmonton and South Edmonton is similar to North Korea and South Korea? Ward 3 candidate John Oplanich says so on his website.

The Northside has been ignored for far too long at the expense of the Southside/Westend/Millwoods and City Council (Ron Hayter, Kim Krushell, Ed Gibbons, Tony Caterina) has allowed this to happen. The southside/westend /Millwoods continues to flourish, prosper and live in luxury as the northside is drowning in controversy – City Center Airport/CN Railway in Calder. For 80 years we have called this corridor a Wasteland-Dead Zone. Can we afford to wait another 40 years? We need a strong and clear voice on City Council. VOTE for CHANGE. I‘m starting to feel like I live in North Korea and on the opposite side of the river is beautiful South Korea.

Ward 4 candidate Scott Robb is the first open Satanist to stand for election in Edmonton. I do not wade into the topic of organized religion very often on this blog (for good reason) and I am not going to start now, so you can make your own judgments. Whether you agree with Mr. Robb’s religious beliefs or not, he deserves some credit for being so open with it (at least he’s not running for the Catholic School District). I asked Mr. Robb about an online campaign that has emerged against him:

“All I have to say about it is it is one man’s narrow-minded ignorant opinion of me in which he fabricated stories, took posts of mine out of context (and some were photoshopped, although he publicly denies it)…

I’m curious, is that where everyone is finding out my religious beliefs? Because Satanism is not a cult, it’s been recognized as a legit religion since the british repealed their witchcraft laws in 1951! Cults brainwash people and don’t let members leave, we urge people to learn on their own and allow them to leave our church simply with a notification that they wish to…”

Country music singer KD Lang has some kind words to say about Councillor Bryan Anderson, who is running for re-election in Ward 9.

Meanwhile, retiring Trustee Gerry Gibeault is sharing some advice from his fifteen years on the Edmonton Public School Board: School Board Secrets. One political watcher close to the public school board has told to me that the online presence of this normally low-profile Trustee in this campaign could signal Mr. Gibeault’s desire for more than just a quiet retirement. The source suggested that Mr. Gibeault could be interested in a return to provincial politics in the near future. He was the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods from 1986 to 1993.

Mayoral candidates targeted the vote rich communities of Senior citizens in the City today. Mayor Stephen Mandel announced plans today about Seniors Housing and Recreation. The Seniors Housing plan proposes more cooperation between the City, the Province, Builders, and Seniors Groups to expand the number of seniors housing units available in Edmonton.

Mayoral candidate David Dorward made his first non-City Centre Airport related policy announcement today focusing on seniors and taxes. It has not yet been posted online or emailed out to their media list, so I do not have link to refer to. Thanks to @OrganizerMike for providing a less than 140 character summary of Mr. Dorward’s announcement:

@davecournoyer i stopped by his Presser- tax caps, tax rebates to seniors, review LRT spending -basically #yegvote

The first Mayoral all-candidates forum will be held tonight at Harry Ainley School from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. I will be there live-tweeting (follow @davecournoyer and #yegvote) and will provide some reflections on the debate later tonight.

edmonton election 2010: know your candidates and issues better.

Municipal elections only come once every three years (on the third Monday of October) and if I had my choice, they would come every year. I love election season, especially on the municipal level. While provincial and federal elections are defined by partisan politics and leaders with micro-managed images, local politics offers a more gritty and real politics.

Instead of hearing about billion dollar gun-registries or carbon taxes, we all get to spend four weeks talking about potholes and roads, garbage pickup, traffic congestion, and other issues that affect people literally where they live. Generally there are a number of larger issues that will shape the larger debate, like (hopefully an end to the never ending debate about) the closure of the City Centre Airport or the financing of Daryl Katz‘s downtown arena – but so much about municipal politics falls under the old adage “all politics is local.”

It may be easy to believe that because the Prime Minister gets more airtime on the 6pm news that your municipal elected officials are just not important. Although Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s single-vote on City Council probably will not have national repercussions, it could affect the way your City operates and your quality of life. This is why it is important to take some time over the next few weeks to learn more about your candidates and see what ideas they are running on and platforms they are presenting (or not presenting, as is the case thus far with the platform-absent Mayoral candidate David Dorward). Take the time to learn about your candidates and then vote.

If you think you will not have any time over the next four weeks to learn more about the candidates who will be on your ballot on October 18, 2010, you should think again. The miracle of the Internet has led to the birth of extensive resources and information available about the issues and candidates. Instead of spending your lunch hour watching YouTube or your evening chatting on Facebook, take a look at some of the online resources available.

The City of Edmonton has a comprehensive website with any kind of elections information you will need as a voter or candidate. The fourteen all-candidate forums sponsored by the City of Edmonton will also be live-streamed online so that anyone can tune in from their homes and even submit questions online. For political watchers, this will make it much easier to catch what is being said at the forums (and who is excelling or crashing and burning). Remember that the Ward boundaries have changed and that you will only be able to vote for one Councillor this year.

Share Edmonton is an excellent resource for finding out which Ward you will be voting in, dates and times of all-candidate forums in your Ward, and links to candidates’ websites and contact information. Share Edmonton is also a great resource for finding out the election buzz on Twitter. Avnish Nanda has also compiled a great social media catalogue for City Council, Public School Board, and Catholic School District candidates.

The Edmontonian and The Unknown Studio will most certainly be providing informed, entertaining, and unique coverage of the election. EdmontonPolitics.com will have some commentary and Mastermaq is the man about town and the king of data. Edmonton’s alternative news Vue Weekly also has their very own special elections webpage.

The mainstream media has also set up special websites dedicated to election information. Check out CTV Edmonton, the Edmonton Journal, and the Edmonton Sun. Also make sure to check out the new Edmonton Commons blog hosted by Edmonton Journal columnists Paula Simons and David Staples.

As I delve through the links, websites, platforms, and news I will publish profiles of some of the contests and issues over the next few weeks. If you are following any of the contests or candidates on the ground, or just have some information you want to share, please comment or send me an email at daveberta.ca@gmail.com.

edmonton election 2010: nomination day at city hall.

It was Christmas morning for political watchers this morning as candidates poured into City Hall to file their nomination papers. I have been to a lot of different political events in my time, but nothing has so far matched the euphoria of Nomination Day at City Hall.

Starting at 9am, bright eyed and well-intentioned candidates began to line up to submit their papers. As they moved down the line, candidates were peppered with questions and camera flashes by the media. For most candidates running in this election, this will be the closest they get to walking the red carpet.

After filing their nomination papers, candidates were scrummed and pressed by the media about who they were, where they were running, and what their positions were on pressing issues. Most of the media questions had to do with the decision to redevelop the City Centre Airport lands, but candidates also brought up their pet issues. Some candidates, like Councillor Jane Batty, came and left quickly. Others, like Ward 11 candidate Kerry Diotte, lingered to get as much media coverage as possible. Different styles for different candidates I suppose.

I was able to live-tweet this morning and you can see those tweets at @davecournoyer and others at #yegvote.

You might think that 30 days is a short time to reasonably campaign for election, and you would be right, but there were many candidates who came out of the woodwork to launch their campaign today. Most candidates came prepared and some, like Ward 11 candidate Vishal Luthra, came with campaign t-shirt toting entourages.

Almost Mayoral candidate Cheryl Ullah

One unfortunate Mayoral aspirant, Cheryl Ullah, came with her nomination papers signed, but forgot to bring her $500 deposit with her. In a bizarre scene, she started collecting donations from reporters and other candidates only 10 minutes before the nomination deadline. Although she was able to raise $90 in about 8 minutes (with a generous $60 donation from Ward A Public School Board Trustee Cheryl Johner), she was unable to make up the extra $410 and dropped out of the race. Don Koziak has now lost the record for shortest Mayoral candidacy.

Luckily for Edmontonians, Mayor Stephen Mandel and challengers Daryl Bonar, David Dorward, Dave Dowling, Dan Dromarsky, Bob Ligertwood, and Andrew Lineker remembered their $500 deposits.

Councillors Don Iveson and Bryan Anderson

Out of 114 candidates who submitted their nomination papers today, only two were acclaimed. Incumbent Public School Board Trustees Dave Colburn (Ward D) and Catherine Ripley (Ward H) will not face any challengers on October 18. There had been rumours that some City Councillors may also be acclaimed, but in the end a few last-minute candidates filed papers to run against Councillor Don Iveson (Ward 10) and Councillor Karen Leibovici (Ward 5).

There are new candidates and competitive races across the City, but there are three City Council Wards that at this point stick out in my mind as the hot races to watch. Curiously, they are in Wards with prime numbers.

Councillor Karen Leibovici is seeking re-election in Ward 5.

In the incumbentless Ward 3, Former Liberal candidate Kim Cassady filed his papers to run for City Council in Ward 3, taking on challengers Dave Loken and Terry Demers. This is Mr. Loken’s third time running for City Council and Ms. Demers second. As retiring Councillor Ron Hayter‘s Executive Assistant, Ms. Demers will have a special insight into the issues in this Ward. New entries into the Ward 3 contest are Shawn Philip Fairbridge, Hatem Naboulsi, John Oplanich, Greg Siver, Louis Sobolewski, and Michael Suess.

In Ward 7, former Edmonton Journal columnist Scott McKeen put his name forward last week to run against Councillor Tony Caterina. Challenger Brendan Van Alstine has been pounding the pavement for over a year to unseat Councillor Caterina, so Mr. McKeen’s entry had added some extreme unpredictability to the race in this north east central Ward. Other candidates entering the contest in Ward 7 today are Terry Rolls and Grant David Pullishy.

Candidate Chinwe Okelu is standing for election in Ward 11.

In south east central Edmonton, the vacant Ward 11 has drawn four main challengers in Community League organizer Shane Bergdahl, many-time candidate Chinwe Okelu, former Edmonton Sun columnist Mr. Diotte, and the well-organized Mr. Luthra. There has been an intense sign and door-knocking war happening in this Ward since earlier this year, which leads me to believe that it could be any one’s race. New candidates entering the race this morning are Roberto Maglalang and Brent Schaffrick

It also appears that some of the most competitive contests in this year’s election might be at the School Board level. In south central Ward F, long-time Public School Board Trustee Don Fleming is not seeking re-election, leaving a three-way race between Michael Janz, Bev Sawyer, and Joanna Rozmus. In Ward G, incumbent Trustee George Rice is facing some serious competition from Sarah Hoffman.

Attending Nomination Day at City Hall was an interesting and worthwhile experience. At no other time during the next 30 days are all of the candidates going to be in the same room at the same time. This morning have me the opportunity to put the names (and websites, Facebook groups, and twitter accounts) to the faces and actually talk with some of the candidates. I hope that all the readers of this blog take the time to read up and try to meet with the candidates standing for election in your area. As the campaign begins in full (and the full list of candidates are released this afternoon), I will be taking a closer look at each Ward contest, the Mayoral election, and the races at the School Board level.

UPDATE: The full list of candidates has been released (h/t to TheEdmontonian.com)