The day after approving a 2.08 per cent property tax increase, Mayor Don Iveson sat down with Global News to speak to a range of issues.
In this year-end conversation, the major focus will be on 2020 and the challenges to come in the new year, but first we asked Iveson about his relationship with the province and the more forceful tone he’s taken since the release of the provincial budget.
City Hall and the UCP
Vinesh Pratap: Are you worried that by being quite forceful publicly with your comments that it could hurt or impact the relationship between the city and the provincial government?
Mayor Don Iveson: I’ve been very deliberate in all of my comments about provincial decisions that primarily relate to the city.
I’ve confined my commentary largely to those issues that affect our local government and affect Edmonton. And I’ve focused on policy rather than personalities. That’s an approach I’ve taken in lots of tense situations where there’s a lot on the line.
VP: We are in such a (politically) divisive time right now. Are you worried that it just adds to the rhetoric?
DI: I don’t accept the premise that you have to go along when something is happening that’s problematic. I think the key is to speak up in a way that is rooted in the facts and rooted in the values of our community and that’s what we have tried to do.
I think… there has been tension, certainly. I think Edmontonians expect their leaders to speak up for them, but also leave room for rapprochement and coming back together on issues.
Permanent supportive housing in 2020
One of the issues the city is having conversations with the province about is housing.
The city has identified a need for about 900 new permanent supportive units with an all-in cost of $245 million, with the province being asked to kick in just over half the amount.
In the October provincial budget, there was no new money for housing.
VP: Is it responsible for the city to move ahead if senior levels of government do not provide the funding?
DI: It’s a great question and it’s one I’m struggling with as a policy maker.
We’re really waiting to see where this government lands. We weren’t necessarily expecting to get answers in their first budget. But it really is critical in the new year that we understand if the provincial government supports our goals to end homelessness.
The jurisdiction and the benefits lie with the province. Now, if the province won’t move into that space our first question will be, ‘Well, what’s your alternative? How will you reduce the social disorder on the streets of Edmonton, not just downtown, but in all of our business districts, that our business community is screaming at us saying, Do something about this!’ because it’s bad for investment.’
They (the province) haven’t said no, yet. And until they do, I don’t want to speculate too much about what Plan B or Plan C might be.
Edmonton and the economy
As Edmontonians look to 2020, many will be focused on the economy.
The most recent information from Statistics Canada put the city’s unemployment rate at 7.7 per cent.
There’s continued pressure on conventional energy related to low commodity prices and pipeline capacity issues; that, coupled with provincial cuts leave questions about how resilient the economy will be in 2020 and beyond.
VP: We are an energy town, but where do you want to see the economy pivot to in the next five, 10, 15 years?
DI: With respect to energy, I think we’re going to continue to be a conventional energy producer for decades, while the world is also already starting to make a significant transition to a future that will burn less hydrocarbons.
But we also, I think, need to work very hard to be relevant in the alternative energy space, as well.
I want us to be leaders in green buildings, leaders in renewable energy, leaders in agriculture tech and food science and food value added. I think there’s tremendous opportunities for us in the health and bio-tech spaces, as well. And health and big data.
I think it falls to us to articulate a hopeful vision for employment for our kids and to make sure our schools and universities are equipping them for the kind of skills that they’re going to need in an evolving economy and that we’re doubling down on embracing innovation rather than fighting change.
The winter break at city hall continues, with regular meetings resuming on Jan. 13, 2020.