Reaction to Mayor Mandel’s speech continues

EDMONTON – The fallout from Mayor Stephen Mandel’s State of the City address is still being felt, particularly in post-secondary institutions, and the government of Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

“I don’t take it back,” said Minister of Advanced Education Thomas Lukaszuk Wednesday. He was asked if he regretted a comment he made following Mandel’s speech which he described as surprising and shocking.

“I don’t know who pissed into his Corn Flakes,” he said Tuesday.

When asked about the comment, Lukaszuk said he doesn’t regret it.

“I think everybody knows me by now. I say what I think. I think it was a very human, natural reaction to the kind of a speech that the mayor had delivered.”

“Stephen is a friend, a personal friend, so I know he can dish them out just as well and take them just as well,” he added.

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“I’m not going to comment on Minister Lukaszuk,” said Mandel Wednesday. “All I’m saying is as the mayor of the city of Edmonton, I believe that I have every right to comment on issues that impact our city in a way that I feel is respectful.”

During his speech Tuesday, Mandel revealed “key challenges… some of which emerged recently as a result of the provincial budget” made it impossible for him to decide whether or not he’d see re-election this October.

Mandel described some of the issued he felt were still unresolved, including annexation, big city charter, and the downtown arena, but much of his speech focused on how detrimental he feels provincial cuts to post-secondary education will be.

“These institutions are too important to the city of Edmonton, and we need to defend them and I’m disappointed that the government doesn’t see the importance of those institutions to the city of Edmonton as well.”

Wednesday, he elaborated on the benefits to Edmonton and Alberta produced by post-secondary schools including the ground-breaking research and medical advancements that are developed at institutions like the University of Alberta.

“Look at the things that are generated within our city by that institution. It’s unbelievable,” said Mandel.

“I think not to understand that and how important it is to the city… all citizens need to know. It’s one of the most valuable assets, so we need to protect that asset.”

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“We also would expect a minister of the crown, and/or MLAs that represent this city would also stand up for the city’s interest.”

Mandel reiterated the economic benefits post-secondary institutions offer the city.

“It’s not just the University, it’s the University of Alberta, it’s MacEwan University, it’s NAIT, it’s Norquest, it’s Concordia. Just start looking at the impact those have,” he stressed.

“University of Alberta has just completed an economic study that’s $12.3 billion annual impact … the province puts in $750 million. That’s 15 times.” (see study below)

“It’s no different – I’ve said time and time again – than Calgary protecting the oil industry, which they did when there was an attempt to look at royalty review,” he explained.

Mandel said he hopes to meet with the appropriate provincial government representatives to discuss these issues over the next few weeks.

Wednesday afternoon, Lukaszuk sent out a tweet saying, “Education is too important for politicking and debates through the media. I called Mayor Mandel inviting him to meet and discuss facts. I’m certain that we’ll agree…”

On campus, students at the University of Alberta were glad to have the support of Edmonton’s mayor.

Students’ Union President Elect Petros Kusmu calls Mayor Mandel “an incredible ally to have.”

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“Post-secondary education institutions are the greatest assets to this city and to the province as a whole. Without it, any desire of economic diversification, any desires of having an economy that’s less resource-reliant, is just not going to happen if we don’t have adequately supported post-secondary education institutions. So, what this province did with these budget cuts was almost a step backwards from what they want.”

He says the rallies at the Legislature that include hundreds of students protesting the provincial cuts, and non-academic staff voicing their concerns with the budget decisions is incredibly important. He adds that Mandel’s support was a big encouragement.

“I think it’s extremely important to make sure that we can make the case to Albertans and to the provincial government that adequately investing in our own very future which lies in these institutions is the right thing to do,” says Kusmu.

“We’re hoping that the rest of city council and a whole bunch of other representatives can speak out in support of post-secondary education.”

University of Alberta’s economic impact

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With files from Vinesh Pratap