As I blogged yesterday, Edmonton’s City Clerk Alayne Sinclair has found the petition opposing the redevelopment of the City Centre Airport lands to be invalid. According to the City Clerk, the petition spearheaded by the Envision Edmonton lobby group did not have the required number of valid signatures required to trigger a plebiscite. Under the Municipal Government Act, the petition would have also needed to have been submitted within 60 days of the original decision to be considered valid. City Councillors voted in June 2009 for the phased closure of the City Centre Airport. Councillors re-affirmed their decision yesterday when they voted 10-3 not to include a ballot question in the October 18, 2010 elections.
Not enough valid signatures
According to the City Clerk’s office, the petition would need to have 78,244 valid signatures in order to force a plebiscite on the issue. After Envision Edmonton submitted their petition on August 27, the City Clerk ruled that only 73,657 of the signatures on the petition were valid.
Envision Edmonton’s reaction
Following the City Clerk’s announcement, Envision Edmonton Chairman Charles Allard accused the city of trying to “weasel” out of holding a plebiscite. Mr. Allard’s accusation is disappointing and reeks of the kind of entitlement that many of the City Centre Airport’s supporters do not deserve to be associated with.
Envision Edmonton should be commended for having collected the number of signatures that they did, as it is no easy task to collect that many. At the same time, they owed it to their supporters to have fully understood and accepted the laws that outline the process when they began collecting signatures.
A large unanswered question is what Envision Edmonton will do with the money that they raised and advertising space they have purchased in the expectation that their petition would trigger a plebiscite? Will the lobby group accept that their petition was not valid under provincial law or will it shift its deep pockets and resources to support challengers to the Mayor and Councillors who support redeveloping the City Centre Airport lands? With nomination day approaching soon (Monday, September 20), the Mayor and many incumbent Councillors are facing minimal opposition and some less than credible candidates.
“You have to meet certain standards and those standards were not met” Mayor Stephen Mandel.
Following a long debate yesterday afternoon, Councillors voted 10-3 to not allow an exception to the rules and leave the City Centre Airport question off the ballot. This was the same number of Councillors who voted for and against the phased closure of the City Centre Airport in June 2009. Councillors like Don Iveson did not shy away from their decision to both support the phased closure in 2009 and oppose the ballot question in 2010.
I’ll stand for re-election on a record of decisions I’ve made, including and especially #ecca closure. #yegcc #yegvote – Councillor Don Iveson on Twitter
While I am continually confused why Councillors Tony Caterina and Ron Hayter are opposing the closure, I can respect the position that Councillor Linda Sloan has taken in support of continued medevac flights into the City’s core. While it may be a bit of a red herring, it is a legitimate concern. Councillor Kim Krushell told the Edmonton Journal that Alberta Health Services will not move their medevac services until a suitable establishment has been constructed at the Edmonton International Airport.
The lack of a City Centre Airport related plebiscite question on the ballot could spell a short end for some Mayoral challengers. Candidate David Dorward, who is suspected to have Envision Edmonton’s support, announced his campaign earlier this week. If Envision Edmonton is to pour their funds into a candidate’s war-chest, it will likely be Mr. Dorward’s.
Second-time Mayoral candidate Don Koziak based a large part of his campaign on opposing the redevelopment of the airport. Mr. Koziak is scheduled to hold a press conference today at 11:00am. It is obvious that he will discuss today’s news about the invalid petition and there are also rumours that he may drop out of the Mayoral race to seek a seat on City Council. Update: Mr. Koziak has dropped out the Mayoral race to challenge Councillor Krushell in Ward 2. This will be Mr. Koziak’s fifth attempt at running for City Council (he ran unsuccessfully for Council in 1995, 1998, and 2004, and for Mayor in 2007).
After meeting with Mr. Allard on September 7, Premier Ed Stelmach said that he supported the lobby group’s recommendation that the Health Quality Council should review the possible impact on medevac services before the Airport was closed. The Provincial Government may not have any official ability to prevent the closure and Premier Stelmach has been careful not to interfere too overtly in municipal affairs since entering the Office in 2006.
Only one PC MLA, Doug Elniski, whose Edmonton-Calder constituency includes the airport lands, has been vocal in support of Envision Edmonton’s petition. Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason have expressed support for the petition, as has the Wildrose Alliance caucus.
The drive to force a plebiscite opposing the City Centre Airport redevelopment was essentially the Envision Edmonton lobby group last ditch effort at using a democratic mechanism to stop the closure. While there will be not ballot question on October 18, the lobby group could very likely throw their support and endorsement behind some of the aforementioned candidates for Mayor and Council. Strategy wise, it really appears that the lobby group was unprepared for their petition to be ruled invalid. These time constraints will limit their choices of legitimate candidates if they decide to support and endorse candidates of their choosing.
On August 27, I wrote that I was looking forward to sharing why I support the redevelopment of the City Centre Airport lands and why I believe our City will benefit from this redevelopment. While yesterday’s decision will allow me to focus less on the specifics of the City Centre Airport lands, I am still looking forward to writing about the challenges and opportunities for redevelopment and new ideas in our City’s urban core. There are a broad range of issues that are going to play a defining role in shaping our City and communities in the next decades. Without a single ballot issue dominating the headlines, there will be a lot of room for Edmontonians to have a serious debate about how our City will grow – schools, public transit, infrastructure, crime, economy, and urban sprawl – let us have an election that focuses on these real quality of life issues.