City not hosting public forums for 2021 Edmonton municipal election

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The City of Edmonton will not be holding a public forum ahead of the October municipal election, despite it historically being used to exercise debate, speech and questions. As Lisa MacGregor reports, it's raising concerns for those running in the mayoral race, who worry their voices won't be heard – Aug 17, 2021

Public election forums put on by the City of Edmonton are a longstanding tradition in the municipal race — until now.

Aileen Giesbrecht, the city clerk and returning officer for Edmonton Elections, said it’s not worth the cost for the city in tax dollars.

“Mayoral and candidate forums have brought out less than one per cent of the voting population, they cost historically just about a quarter of million dollars to organize all of those forums,” Giesbrecht said.

“The City of Edmonton and Edmonton Elections is not holding mayoral forums, forums for the school board trustees or for the council candidates.”

Read more: New wards, new names: What you need to know about Edmonton’s upcoming election

Public forums are known for giving equal opportunity to candidates running for mayor or council to engage with voters.

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Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson will not seek re-election in 2021 – Nov 23, 2020

The last time Edmonton had a mayoral race without an incumbent was back in 2013 and at that time, the city hosted a public forum at the Edmonton Events Centre (then called the Shaw Conference Centre).

Mayoral candidate Kim Krushell calls it undemocratic for the city not to carry on the tradition of having a public forum.

“All the council candidates and all the mayoral candidates are required to be there and if they’re not, then it tells the public that they’re not interested in the job they’re running for,” Krushell said.

“If we believe in democracy and we believe in actually giving opportunities so that people can listen to candidates — I’m not just talking mayor; I’m talking all the council candidates — you have to have a forum.”

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Krushell believes it prevents change and for new voices to be heard.

“It makes it almost impossible for new ideas and new candidates out there to get their name out.

“It maintains the status quo. I think this is a pivotal election for the city of Edmonton,” Krushell said. “There’s no excuse for not doing it because even if we’re talking about the pandemic, well, they can use technology.”

READ MORE: Overlapping elections make for an overload of political homework for Albertans

The priority for Edmonton Elections this time around is expanding ways to vote and providing more time to vote.

“The primary focus of Edmonton Elections is to create as many voting opportunities as possible.

“So we’ve doubled our advance voting opportunities,” Giesbrecht said. “From Oct. 4 to 14, people can come out and vote.

“I don’t know that the way we’re currently running the election, that we’re impeding anybody’s ability to connect with voters.”

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Michael Oshry, who’s also running for mayor, said voters want to hear from different candidates instead of trying to compare their platforms online.

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“I’ve been out door knocking most nights and I get asked every single night: ‘Why is there no forum?’ or, ‘When is the next public forum?'” Oshry said.

“Having a free, open, democratic forum that’s put on by the city electoral office is the way to go because the conversation is going to be about what’s best for the city without anybody’s perspective on that.”

Edmonton Elections encourages forums in the community and for citizens to host one if they want to.

“We do understand that there’s a lot of community groups out there and other organizations that are holding the forums. If you’re interested in finding out more about what forums those are, that information is available on our website.

“We’ve got some best practice guides that are available,” Giesbrecht said.

Global News also reached out to mayoral candidate Amarjeet Sohi’s office for comment on the city not holding a public forum and did not hear back by publish time.

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