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Edmonton city council goes on summer break with accomplishments being questioned

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WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton city council is now on break for a month but there are questions about how much the relatively new council was able to get done over the past eight months. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports. – Jul 6, 2022

More than eight months after being sworn in, Edmonton’s city council is now on summer break.

While councillors will still attend community events and respond to citizen inquiries, council will not meet again until mid-August.

Eight new councillors joined new mayor Amarjeet Sohi in October and there have been hiccups even recently as members adjusted to their new roles.

During the final meeting, councillors spent more than an hour discussing a motion from ward Sspomitapi councillor Jo-Anne Wright.

Read more: Multi-million dollar homes in Edmonton could face a ‘mansion tax’ in 2023

She wanted administration to provide a report both reviewing and rationalizing the number of temporary staff positions with the city.

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Staff argued they would have to pull tens of thousands of documents and that they would have to work overtime to complete the work by the next council meeting.

Second-term councillor Sarah Hamilton pointed out that the number and kind of temporary positions within the city is always looked at anyway during budget discussions.

On Monday, Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi councillor Jennifer Rice asked to add the snow-and-ice-control program to the city’s crowded list of items to discuss.

“Is that for voting purposes or is it for questions?” Sohi asked.

“Questions,” Rice responded.

“Even though we had a very healthy debate at committee, you have more questions?” the mayor pointed out about the item, which received unanimous approval at committee the week before.

“Yes,” Rice said.

At that committee meeting, Ward pihêsiwin councillor Tim Cartmell had to ask councillors to limit the number of reports they ordered from administration as they dealt with a lengthy look at homeless shelters and supportive housing in the city.

“That’s one of the critiques I would have of where we’ve come as a council,” Hamilton told reporters Wednesday about the number of reports requested.

“Since election day in October, we have generated a lot of work and someone has to pay for that.”

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John Brennan, a political analyst, said he believes council has been too focused on the wrong issues since the beginning.

“There’s a lot of social crusaders on this new city council and a lot of people who have agendas that really aren’t municipal responsibilities,” he said.

“Things like climate change, it’s certainly a serious issue, but there’s very little the City of Edmonton on its own can do about that issue.”

Read more: Online tool asks citizens to help create 4-year Edmonton budget

Brennan did give this council credit for passing an operating budget in the fall.

The previous council outlined much of the budget but changes were made.

The analyst also said progress made on the Station Lands project was something to be celebrated.

But he pointed out councillors cancelled the mosquito aerial-spraying program without something to replace it.

They also cancelled a promised funding increase to police. The province later stepped in to force the city to develop a public safety plan.

“The idea of not increasing the police budget at a time when social disorder and crime is such an issue in the city — in the downtown, at LRT stations, Chinatown…  just the general disorder in the inner city is a big issue,” Brennan said.

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Sohi argues that progress has been made.

He said he is proud of steps council has taken towards reconciliation. He is also happy that the city’s snow-clearing this coming winter should be better than the previous winter.

Sohi highlighted the 1.9 per cent tax increase for 2022.

“We kept our taxes lowest in the region, I would say lowest amongst all major urban centres in Canada,” he said.

“People enjoy their quality of life and they think things are going well. So they continue to enjoy that without even noticing that all these great services that are being offered to them and provided to them.”

Council breaking with several issues unfinished

The city continues to lobby the province for financial help with supportive and affordable housing as well as shelter operations. Those talks are ongoing, with Sohi saying he will meet with some provincial officials during the Calgary Stampede.

Watch: Edmonton council to ask province to support new Healthy Streets Operations Centre to fight downtown crime

An idea to create city-sanctioned encampments for houseless people in the summer will not see significant progress made before the snow returns.

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Councillors were caught off guard by a decision from the previous council to cut public pool hours to save money. A move to once again expand those hours will not be voted on until at least mid-August.

When councillors do return, the biggest item on their to-do list will be approving the next four-year budget.

“Focus on your job, and your job is municipal issues,” Brennan advised councillors ahead of the discussions.

“Your job is to make sure that city services are being provided in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

But finding that focus could be tricky. Hamilton pointed out there have been more split votes in the past eight months than her entire time on council.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more disagreement and dissent,” Hamilton predicted. “And I am willing to say probably less politeness going forward.”

The next council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 15.

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