Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi meets with Alberta premier: ‘I felt we were heard’

Click to play video: 'Mayor Sohi meets with premier to discuss Edmonton’s needs'
Mayor Sohi meets with premier to discuss Edmonton’s needs
Amarjeet Sohi met with Danielle Smith Tuesday for the first time since she became Alberta's premier. Edmonton's mayor presented a list of seven immediate needs for the city and the discrepancies between Edmonton and Calgary – Mar 7, 2023

On Tuesday morning, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi met with Danielle Smith for the first time since she became Alberta’s premier five months ago.

Ahead of the meeting, Sohi provided Smith with a letter outlining Edmonton’s most immediate needs. He said these priorities were also raised prior to the provincial budget.

The urgent requests of the province he highlighted were:

  • Create more permanent 24/7 shelter beds (to meet targeted 1,250 spaces, reach parity with Calgary)
  • $18 million per year for 70-100 bridge housing units (to transition people from shelters to supportive housing)
  • More capital and operating funds to develop 550 units of supporting housing to expand recovery-oriented care
  • More funding for shelters to implement minimum emergency shelter standards
  • Establish harm reduction, treatment and recovery facilities in Edmonton
  • $100 million for business revitalization in Chinatown, downtown, Whyte Ave. area, 107 Ave., 118 Ave
  • Develop comprehensive integrated release plan before discharging patients from correctional facilities, hospitals and persons in care (and advocate to the federal government that it do the same)

Premier’s Meeting Advocacy Letter

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton police, Alberta Sheriffs downtown safety pilot project update'
Edmonton police, Alberta Sheriffs downtown safety pilot project update

Minister of municipal affairs Rebecca Schultz, minister of mental health and addictions Nicholas Milliken, minister of seniors, community and social services Jeremy Nixon and the premier’s senior staff also attended, Sohi said.

He described the meeting as “very positive.”

Sohi said the premier showed a strong desire to work with the city on these priorities.

“I felt that we were heard and I’m optimistic that they’ll work with us to deliver on those,” Sohi said, despite the provincial budget just being released Feb. 28.

“I understand there’s additional money for housing in this budget that could be utilized to meet some of these needs and also there’s some more money for mental health support in this budget. We’re waiting for the details of those.

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“Some of them may require additional support from the province. I leave that to the province to figure that out,” Sohi said.

“We had a very open discussion on these issues. And the sense I got from the premier and her staff, as well as the ministers, is that they want to work with us on these issues, they want to take them seriously. But again, I await the actions to implement them.”

Minister of mental health and addictions Nicholas Milliken, Premier Danielle Smith, Amarjeet Sohi, and minister of municipal affairs Rebecca Schultz, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Supplied: Government of Alberta

In a statement, the province said Smith committed to working with the city on the issues raised, “but identified the need for detailed plans to address their specific asks.”

A provincial spokesperson said Smith and Sohi discussed “downtown revitalization, homeless shelter capacity, creating safer communities, as well as ensuring community supports are offered with a focus on and partnership with Indigenous communities and recovery-oriented systems of care (ROSC).”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton mayor optimistic about relationship with Alberta government after meeting'
Edmonton mayor optimistic about relationship with Alberta government after meeting

The government said the premier brought up “the need to collaborate on large capital projects and raised concerns about high property taxes and their negative effects on small businesses and jobs, particularly downtown.

“Mayor Sohi asked for a commitment to collaborate with the province in addressing the social issues of downtown and the premier agreed that the province will continue to be an active and willing partner to solving these issues, including through the work of the Edmonton Task Force.”

The letter also included a breakdown of investments the city has made in areas of homelessness, mental health and drug poisoning, despite those being “primarily provincial responsibilities):

  • $7 million for Edmonton police in 2023
  • $22 million in property tax levy for EPS (after province reduced city’s share of automated enforcement revenues from 74 per cent to 60 per cent, reducing EPS budget by about $7 million annually)
  • $15 million for Healthy Streets Operation Centre
  • $13 million over four years for transit enforcement, social services support, transit peace officers
  • $18.7 million annually in operating funds for Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention
  • $11 million in crisis diversion

Sohi said he included a comparison of Edmonton and Calgary to highlight the discrepancies, which “are quite stark,” pointing to the lack of shelter spaces in Edmonton.

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“Our shelter capacity is only one third of what Calgary has,” the mayor said. “More people are sleeping outside because of that lack of capacity.

“The number of drug poisoning deaths in Edmonton are much, much larger than Calgary. More EMS calls are attending to overdoses in Edmonton than in Calgary. These are shocking numbers.

“These discrepancies were acknowledged by the province and their desire to work with us.”

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton, Homeward Trust granted $12M to operate supportive housing'
City of Edmonton, Homeward Trust granted $12M to operate supportive housing

Sohi said the city would be reaching out to the appropriate ministries to plan follow-up discussions. He attributed his positivity to work the province has already done to support Edmonton.

“Some of the needs that we have identified were met in October. For example, the $12 million that we needed to provide wrap-around services for supportive housing … Also the support — even though we were looking for permanent shelters — temporary shelters were provided for this winter. Not enough. I think more needs to be done.

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“We need help. The challenges that we’re facing related to houselessness, mental health, addictions crisis, drug poisoning crisis, cannot be tacked by the city alone,” Sohi stressed. “It’s the province’s responsibility to provide support because those are provincial responsibilities.”

While Sohi admitted he would have liked this meeting with Smith sooner, he’s looking forward.

“She seriously, very attentively, listened to those needs.

“These are shared responsibilities. People are dying on Edmonton streets. Businesses are closing because of the disorder in Chinatown, downtown,” he said.

“Without the province’s help, we will not be able to tackle the challenges.”

The mayor said there was no commitment from the province on a timeline for this work.

He also thanked the roughly 18 Edmonton businesses and organizations that sent letters of support (of Edmonton’s priorities) to the premier ahead of this meeting.

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On Monday, the premier said she hadn’t yet received a priority list from Calgary’s mayor, but said, through community consultations, she understood a top priority for Calgary is public safety.

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“The priorities for Edmonton are around the same issue: mental health, addiction, social supports, affordable housing.”

Smith said she’s looking forward to meeting with Calgary’s mayor too.

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