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.
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.
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).
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…”
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.