Are we a cruise ship when we should be a battleship?

Are we a cruise ship when we should be a battleship? That is the question all public sectors administrations should be asking themselves. Regulatory sluggishness, or red tape as it is often called, is not just a problem for the business community. It is a problem for business, community groups, affordable housing providers, and anyone interested in progress.

The Cruise Ship

We need to look at our culture and our strategy differently. Over the last little while, I have been frustrated by barriers placed on progress in Edmonton, and it’s evident to me that our approach to challenges has to be more aggressive and anticipatory.

There are four intersections in South Ward 10 that have been on my mind every day: 41 Avenue and Allard Road; 41 Avenue and James Mowatt Trail; 28 Avenue and James Mowatt Trail; and Desrochers Gate and Allard Boulevard.

These are unsafe for residents and are in dire need of traffic lights - and have needed it for a while now. We’ve been fighting to get lights installed for two years, and even more so since January as we’ve been hearing more and more about them nearly every day. Although we have been told the signals will be installed by the end of the year, they should go in much sooner.

Ultimately, it should not be this difficult to get something done - especially when it comes to the safety of Edmontonians.

Another issue that’s arisen revolves around Discovery Industrial Park, a major industrial development in the new annexed area that is ready to be constructed by Remington Corporation. Phase one of this project is the largest industrial development in the history of Edmonton, and yet they’d been delayed.

Before the annexation, Remington intended to turn a newly-constructed water reservoir over to Leduc County, but now that they’re in Edmonton, regulatory and transition complexities have delayed the site. They’ve been shovel ready, but Edmonton was not, and there is a cost to this for everyone involved.

What I glean from this experience is that the City needs to rethink its approach to solving problems that come our way. We can’t sit back and wait for things to happen, and then tackle the issues - we need a culture of anticipation, a collective commitment to identify problems in advance and strategize before the problem gets too large. Doing this would create real investment-readiness.

Community League Projects is another example. Over the years community leagues in my Ward have bemoaned the long and painful process to build spray parks, community gardens or beach volleyball courts. They often just gave up. Community volunteers were understandably frustrated.

We directed the City Auditor to seek ways to address this, and a community working group was created to fix the process to aid future volunteers. Sadly, this working group has been treated much the same way as they were while working on their own projects. We have not learned to be agile and respectful of people’s time.

Building a Battleship

Ultimately, what I’ve been feeling over the last little while, is that we need to shift our focus and rethink the way Administration collaborates with our key city building stakeholders.

We have been acting like a cruise ship - taking the days cautiously and without hurry, making our way through the waves as they come at us, floating one day to the next, each day sort of like the one before it.

What we need is a battleship. We need to prepare for the waves before they hit, being battle ready for whatever comes our way, and tackling problems head-on with agility and a clear strategy. Our strength is in the proactive and the follow-through, and currently we’re just not there.

There are victories to celebrate

I don’t want this entire blog to be too critical as there have also been some really solid actions taken in recent months where I’ve been thoroughly impressed by Administration’s yearning to be agile.

Our administration has done an amazing job on creating a response team to tackle some of the issues facing Edmontonians who are homeless and in need of permanent supportive housing. It was something brought up at Committee on May 8th, and a week later they came back with a fulsome report and a strategic approach. It showed that we can be nimble if we need to be.

Permit processes are also constantly being looked at, and last year Council passed a motion to explore reducing permit wait times to a maximum of 45 days. After this was implemented, a new industrial development project in NW Edmonton received their permit within that timeline and, because of the expedited permitting, was able to attract a partnership from Toronto for this $140 million project. Hearing stories like this convinces me even more that agility needs to be a priority for Edmonton.

Regulation is necessary. We need to ensure that buildings are up to code, roads are safe, and community goals are met. However, when regulation stunts development and growth, it becomes a massive and systemic issue that must be addressed. Regulation cannot be an excuse for lack of agility and efficiency, and if it does cause that, then we need to go back to the drawing board - quickly.

Reducing wait times and making the process simpler for industry not only makes building easier and more efficient, but it also brings investment and innovation into our city. Agility is attractive across Canada, and we need to make this the norm - not the happy surprise.

Moving Forward

We are working on this, and there’s a lot that’s been going really well lately, but ultimately this is all to say that we still have work to do in turning this cruise ship into one prepped for battle. Tightening up the way we do things is a crucial step for progress in Edmonton, and it’s one that we need to make soon.