Category Archives: Peter Elzinga

207 days until mayoral vote 2010.

Following Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s recent announcement that he will be running for a third-term in office, I have a couple of quick thoughts on the October Municipal election:

1) A cake-walk through the park? It is really too early to tell whether Mayor Mandel will face an easy re-election in October. In the non-race for Mayor of 2007, second place challenger Don Koziak earned 25% while only running a semblance of a city-wide campaign. I would not underestimate the electoral potential of an even moderately organized & well-funded outsider/anti-Council candidate, especially if it looks like Mayor Mandel is going to cruise to another victory.

2) Opposition is split. Mayor Mandel enjoys wide-spread support and the opposition he does face appears to be fragmented around varying issues. The people who are furious about the closure of the Edmonton City Centre Airport or annoyed about the funding of the Art Gallery of Alberta are unlikely to vote for the same candidate as the people angry over the Capital Power-Epcor decision. At this point, no champion challenger apparent has emerged with the potential of galvanizing this dissent (watching Season 3 of The Wire has taught me that even two or three reasonable challengers could bleed a Mayor’s support and create some interesting results).

3) What issues? There are no shortage of issues that I hope will be the focus of debate in this election (urban sprawl, inner city schools, regional amalgamation, and others that I plan to write about over the next six months), but the one issue that may have the potential to create a major wave is the Katz Group‘s desire to have the City of Edmonton to fund $400,000,000 for a new downtown arena. The Katz Group has hired long-time PC-insider Peter Elzinga as a lobbyist and launched a political campaign to “Revitalize Downtown” in advance of the election. Mayor Mandel was an early supporter of the downtown arena, but remains publicly coy about his position on the actual Katz Group proposal.

Meanwhile in Calgary, the race to replace retiring Mayor Dave Bronconnier remains eerily quiet. Former PC MLA Jon Lord and food activist Paul Hughes are in the race. Former Ontario NDP MPP George Dadamo entered the race last Summer and has since dropped off the political map. Game show contestant and Alderman Ric McIver is widely expected to join the race and an online campaign to draft Mount Royal University professor Naheed Nenshi is growing.

alberta politics notes 3/15/2010

– New polls from Angus-Reid (Wildrose: 42%, PC: 27%, Liberal: 19%, NDP 9%, Other 3%) and Environics (PC: 34%, Wildrose: 30%, Liberal: 23%, NDP 10%). Calgary Grit has more on these polls.
– According to the PC Party website, Patricia Godkin has replaced Jim Campbell as Executive Director (Mr. Campbell recently joined Cenovus Energy as their Vice-President Government Relations and Corporate Accountability). Ms. Godkin previously served as Director of Finance and was the acting Executive Director in 2007 after the resignation of Peter Elzinga. While holding the interim position in 2007, Ms. Godkin faced a challenge from outgoing PC Youth President David McColl, who published an op-ed in the Calgary Herald predicting that “PC Alberta will continue its slow death march, to the beat of a rural drum and tired, stale policies.”
Vitor Marciano is expected to become the new Executive Director of the Wildrose Alliance. Mr. Marciano recently stepped down from his position on the National Council of the Conservative Party of Canada and served as Campaign Manager for Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn in 2004 and 2006, and for Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq in 2008. In 2006, he supported former Edmonton-McClung PC MLA Mark Norris‘ bid for the PC leadership. This is the second prominent Edmonton conservative to join Danielle Smith‘s staff in recent months. In February, former PC Party VP Outreach and 2004 Edmonton-Strathcona candidate Shannon Stubbs became Executive Assistant to Ms. Smith.
– Former Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas has written a piece in this month’s Alberta Views Magazine that focuses on Danielle Smith’s time on the Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999. Mr. Tougas’ reliance on comments from former Trustee Jennifer Pollock provided a fairly one-sided perspective of the issue. You can read my four part series Smith v. Board of Education part 1part 2part 3, and part 4.
– The Alberta Party has posted an update on The Big Listen.
Tyler Shandro has raised some interesting questions about the interim report of Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission.
– Three years after the a committee of top-tier economic experts recommended increasing the royalty rates collected by the provincial government, Premier Ed Stelmach has cut back the amount of resource royalties that are collected. The Pembina Institute responded by pointing out that “Albertans, the owners of the province’s oil and gas resources, were completely left out of the process of reviewing Alberta’s royalty rates.”

does downtown edmonton need a katz arena district?

The Katz Group launched a new website last week reframing their campaign for a new downtown arena as the centrepiece of a new “Arena District” north of Edmonton’s downtown core. The new website features a video interview with Katz Group President Daryl Katz. In the video, billionaire businessman Mr. Katz spoke emotionally about the potential for downtown Edmonton and the need for a conversation about the future of a revitalized downtown Edmonton. The website provides different types of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to start this conversation.

I expect that this website is the beginning of a larger political campaign that will unfold before the 2010 Edmonton City Council elections. In October 2009, the Katz Group retained the services of Peter Elzinga, former MP, MLA, and Chief of Staff to Premier Ralph Klein from 1998 to 2004, for activities related to a “downtown Edmonton redevelopment project.” Until December 2009, the Katz Group had also acquired the services of lobbyist Joan Forge, who served as Premier Ed Stelmach‘s communications shop during the 2006 PC leadership race.

While I liked the video, Mr. Katz avoided the most important question of the exercise: money. It is no secret that the Katz Group would like the City of Edmonton to loan upwards of $400 million towards a new downtown arena, likely making it the largest non-transportation-related one-time investment that our municipality will have ever made (Councillor Don Iveson recently explained the funding request issue more articulately than I ever could here and here).

Aside from the political spin, I welcome a wider public conversation and am excited about the potential for a real debate about downtown. There are those people who are stuck in the 1980s and 1990s mentality that downtown Edmonton is a barren wasteland of warehouses and closed down rail yards, and then there are those Edmontonians who have moved on and seen the evolving character of our downtown core. The Katz Group campaign could generate competing ideas and a real discussion about what kind of face Edmontonians want our downtown to wear.

Downtown Edmonton (what I describe as the area between 100 Street and 124 Street) is a drastically different place than it was ten years ago. From the time when I first lived downtown in 2003 to when I moved back in 2009, I am excited by the changes that I have witnessed. New condo developments in the Oliver and Grandin have created a new identity in those neighbourhoods. People are moving into the core of the city and enhancing its diversity. Walk down Jasper Avenue west of 109th Street on a summer night and you will bump into many people coming in from the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. The 104th Street Farmers’ Market is a perfect example of the vibrant new identity of Edmonton’s downtown core.

The business district of downtown Edmonton is like many other commercial business districts: employees leave work and it closes down at 6pm. This is the purpose of a commercial district dominated by office towers. An arena is not going to change this. An arena district north of downtown developed on clear urban development concepts could help revitalize a rougher part of the downtown core.

I have heard many arguments about how a downtown arena could revitalize the area, but I have not been convinced that our current arena, Rexall Place, is as bad as its detractors would characterize it. Admittedly, I have only been inside Rexall Place about a dozen times over the past ten years (mostly during the Canadian Finals Rodeo). While this is the case, I don’t fully understand why it needs to be replaced so badly. As a friend pointed out to me yesterday, ‘because it is old’ isn’t a very good argument.

Although the idea of a downtown “arena district” intrigues me, any new development must be based in solid urban development concepts, and not in emotional appeals from politically and financially motivated individuals.

I welcome a real conservation about downtown Edmonton. Let’s start it!