Outgoing Edmonton councillor weighs in on experience, future of city
When Ward 5 residents head to the polls on Oct. 16 during Edmonton’s municipal election, one name that won’t be on the ballot is current Councillor Michael Oshry.
After one term on council, Oshry made the decision to not seek re-election, citing several reasons including never intending to make serving on council a long career.
“It’s a really enjoyable job but there’s lots of hours you got to put into it. You’re always on, people stop you at the store, that sort of thing,” Oshry said.
“You got a lot of clout, you can get a lot of stuff done, but in order to get some bigger stuff done, it really takes multiple years.”
His four years on council have provided Oshry an insight into the inner workings of municipal government.
Edmonton’s business community
As an entrepreneur, a major concern for the outgoing councillor is how city council works with the local business community, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
“It’s really easy to pick on small and medium-sized businesses, not directly, kind of indirectly so, with tax rates and zoning challenges,” Oshry said.
“It’s easier to raise tax on business, it’s easier to put a few more headaches in the way of, for example, infill developers or other developers as far as zoning because there’s some public pushback.”
Edmonton’s unemployment rate is at the highest it’s been in decades. It was at 9.1 per cent in August, according to Statistics Canada.
Oshry would like to have a more friendly relationship with the local business community because many businesses, particularly developers, can easily move their operations elsewhere.
“Some other jurisdiction would love to have those construction workers and the tax that those buildings are going to pay for decades to come.”
While Oshry said he knows there’s some frustration from the local business community towards government, overall, the Edmonton economy is trending in a positive direction. He cites the city’s increased diversification and success of some small and medium businesses.
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a councillor was dealing with government bureaucracy, which meant things would move slower than the businessman was accustomed.
“My favourite example is the backyard chickens. By the time you decide whether you’re going to allow people to have two chickens or three chickens or four chickens in their backyard, it takes a year-and-a-half to go through that process,” Oshry said.
Oshry would like to see less bureaucracy but he doesn’t expect that to happen.
One of the initiatives the Ward 5 councillor has been pushing is a program review, which has been approved.
He would like to see some city programs eliminated.
“There’s gotta be programs, I know of a few, but there’s gotta be programs that the city — they’re just doing it because there’s a few people that still like that program — but when you actually look at the return for that investment, that’s not where the city should spend their money.”
By 2018, the City of Edmonton will have more than 14,000 people on payroll.
Oshry admits eliminating programs could lead to layoffs, but he said it’s council’s job to do what’s best for all Edmontonians.
“You’ve got make decisions in the best interest of the taxpayer not necessarily in the best interest of a city worker,” he said.
“You’re not going to keep a swimming pool open, for example, because there’s four people that really like their early-morning swim lanes and there’s three lifeguards that have a job because of that.”
Oshry is concerned the next council won’t make those tough decisions because most councillors “come from the community” not the business sector.
City council’s performance
Oshry gave city council a B- for the work it’s done over the past four years. He cited infill, traffic delays caused by LRT expansion and delays in infrastructure projects as issues.
“We need to make sure that the way they tender is right,” he said.
“But ultimately if some contractor messes up, you cannot blame a politician. It’s ludicrous. But people do because it’s an easy target, and that’s fine, that’s what you sign up for.”
Oshry credits council for fixing some issues for future infrastructure projects, which he hopes will benefit the next council.
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