7.21.2013

Civic Election Buzz Heating Up

Civic elections are coming up this fall and the buzz is heating up.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet – both in person and virtually – some of the named candidates in several towns and cities in the Edmonton area.  While my attention is becoming more focused locally, I am paying special attention to the upcoming vote in Capital City.

After living in and around the Edmonton area for the past 17 years, I’ve become familiar with many of the priority issues, in part because some of them are still lingering from 1996.

Locally, some topics that have grabbed my interest are perhaps inevitably linked to the provincial government.  The state of the courthouse comes to mind, but first and foremost is the hospital.  One of the victims of the Redford government’s plan to deal with their own financial mismanagement, the long-promised new facility in Sherwood Park was changed into more of a care centre mid-build.

Announced shortly after the Progressive Conservative’s electoral victory, it was left to area P.C. MLA’s Cathy Olesen and Dave Quest to fill the local paper with excuses.  Neither Olesen nor Quest are members of the ‘inner sanctum’ of Ministers, and therefore probably considered somewhat expendable when the decisions were being made.  One wonders if the hospital plans would have been altered had Olesen been Redford’s right-hand a la Lukaszuk.

In Edmonton, we have the outgoing Mayor Stephen Mandel.  A likeable enough fellow, you knew he loved the city and his job.  He also had moments of sheer oddity as well, such as lecturing a cigarette buyer in a store line-up and taking a low shot at a councilman on the way out the door.

Mandel’s priorities will continue to be questioned long after he is gone.  His stubbornness on the municipal airport issue continues to divide Edmontonians who have long tired of the debate.  Mandel ultimately got his way, and the airport is planned to be transformed into some sort of ‘green space’. 

No one will forget the controversy surrounding the drawn-out debate regarding the new arena in the near future.  In what became Mandel’s baby, he oversaw a heated and sometimes bitter negotiation process with Oiler’s owner Daryl Katz.  With a deal done that still doesn’t account for millions in funding, Mandel leaves office with a project finished only on paper.

Personally, I didn’t agree with either outcome.  Even putting aside the historical significance of the municipal airport, it served as a vital link to Alberta’s north and beyond.  All the arguments against the closure still remain and are still just as valid.  The arena was sold as the cornerstone of a plan to ‘revitalize the downtown core’, but there is certainly no guarantee.  Look at the area around Commonwealth Stadium.  Revitalized?

If both of these projects were going to happen, why not put the new arena where the old airport used to be?  Surrounded on all sides by roadways, easy access…right – common sense.  Never mind.

Hampering progress is a city council that sings its own praises for ‘being in unison’ on so many issues that they sometimes bordered on becoming Yes Men for the mayor.  The result has been a $2 billion-plus debt at the end of the Mandel era with taxpayer money spent on arenas and ‘works of artistic significance’ such as this:



Although only one vote in the Chamber, Edmonton desperately needs a mayor who is going to come in with a smart fiscal agenda.  Frivolous spending has led to outrageous yearly property tax increases and the odd call to tax those who live outside city limits yet use city resources.

(We spend lots of our money in Edmonton, folks. We contribute to your economy.  Get your own house in order.)

While it’s early in the game, my gut is telling me someone like Kerry Diotte would be a welcome addition to the list of Edmonton mayors.  Media savvy with a good mind for money, his penchant for tightening the purse strings would do a lot of good for the city right now.  So would the shakeup that would result to the cushy council with his presence in the Mayor’s chair.

If Edmonton elects a mayor and council that continue on the same path, that $2 billion hole will get a lot bigger.

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His Name Was Steven