Standing Up for Edmonton

This past week Mayor Iveson delivered his State of the City address to 2200 Edmontonians. This event is always amazingly well-attended, and there is no question why. People are eager to hear the Mayor’s thoughts on the direction of our City’s collective energy.

Congratulations to the Mayor and his team for an excellent address. In it, Mayor Iveson touched on many of the important issues that dominate our days here at City Hall. This event is a nice touchstone for city councillors, as the Mayor assesses the changes that have taken place in the City in the past year and contemplates the year to come. He also spoke of the provincial election this coming Tuesday and what it might mean for Edmonton.

So I want to begin with the Mayor’s closing line.

“You, along with our city council, will not stand for any provincial government forgetting about Edmonton again.”

This is a true call to action for all Edmontonians engaged in imagining and building this modern and great city. This call means we need to build relationships with our MLAs and tell them how we feel about Edmonton. We need to tell Edmonton’s story. I don’t mean to imply that MLAs who may be elected on Tuesday don’t know this story, but often we see a “party before place” attitude that can leave us under represented.

Edmonton needs MLAs who are going to fight passionately for our interests and our vision. They need to work to ensure that Edmonton's interests align with their party's interests.

I think that among many issues, there are three areas of particular importance for our local MLAs to appreciate:

  • Edmonton MLAs should have a deep literacy about the importance of equity for Edmonton within the metro region and the growth pressures behind our annexation application.
  • They should appreciate the grassroots entrepreneurial nature of our economy.
  • They should appreciate the importance of building LRT as rapidly as possible by being willing to work with Councillors and local MPs to secure necessary funding.

What’s going to happen in the upcoming provincial election is anybody’s guess. Where we are also left guessing is as to what the different parties platforms might actually mean for our communities or for Edmonton in general. This is why it is so important for Councillors to build connections to MLAs, so they appreciate our vision of what our City is and could be. It is not the parties or the polls or the debates that really matter when we talk about that connection. It’s the individuals.

I think we can all agree that there has been a change in the way we think about ourselves in Edmonton in the last few years. I would like to see MLAs from all parties come into office ready to engage with us where we are, rather than trying to bring in a top-down idea of what the City should be. After all, who is better positioned to direct the vision for the future of Edmonton than the city itself? We are closest to the issues on the ground, and we can see the effects of action and inaction on issues like transit, housing, climate change adaptation, poverty reduction and education funding up close.

Edmonton, as Mayor Iveson stated in his speech, is now part of an Edmonton Metro community, where our relationships with our municipal neighbours are strengthening by the day. We have a shared sense of purpose.

While we still struggle mightily over very difficult questions like the best way to minimize our development footprint and build smartly planned communities, or how to create regional transit and provide affordable housing, we struggle in collaboration.  Edmonton’s dream of regional equity and more progressive regional planning can never be reduced down to talking points. It takes time to appreciate, and the provincial government and all Edmonton MLA’s must be willing and open minded partners.

Edmonton isn’t just a government town or an oil sands service hub - it's a thriving entrepreneurial city. 48% of new job creation in Edmonton comes from local start-ups, start-ups that are made possible by a willingness to take risks and diversify our business interests. New MLAs, whoever they are, need to see the passion and the energy that is driving Edmonton these days, and hop on board (if they aren’t already)! Risk-taking entrepreneurs are a huge part of Edmonton’s sense of self.

Part of sustaining that entrepreneurial culture also means providing sustained and consistent funding for our universities (see my recent blog) and supporting dynamic organizations like TEC Edmonton. It means prioritizing Edmonton’s needs as a driver for growth and innovation in the region. It means meeting us where we are and working with us to see this City and this region grow and flourish, and doing so in good faith, with transparency and cooperation in mind.

Of critical importance to all of this is the need to tie these smartly planned together with a fully built regional and rapid transit system. Rapid Transit underpins a modern economy, inspires higher density and more vibrant communities and can contribute immensely to better air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This is how we actually attract and retain well educated citizens and creative risk taking entrepreneurs.

Partnerships with the elected members of the other orders of government are crucial to success for Edmonton on each of these fronts. I look forward to discussing these issues with all new and returning MLA’s starting next week. As the Mayor said, “this Council will not let any government forget about Edmonton again.” I certainly will do my part to make sure Edmonton remains a force in Alberta’s future.