I’m disappointed that I have to write this blog post. There was a statement made on Facebook by one of my colleagues on Council that has been shared significantly since it was published. I won’t share it here because unfortunately, most of it is false and It’s not responsible to share something that I know is inaccurate. But, I felt I needed to respond as I’ve seen this post shared on some west end community pages and received emails about it as well.
I have a lot of respect for the person who made the statement. As you can imagine, we don’t always agree but I don’t always agree with every member of council. The wonderful thing about municipal politics in Alberta is that we don’t have political parties and therefore I believe councillors regularly approach each issue with an open mind. I have learned a great deal and even changed my mind because each member of council brings their own life experiences to a discussion. What I find is that even when we disagree on the proposed solution, we are able to communicate our dissatisfaction with the outcome without getting personal or sharing misinformation. That’s been my experience over the last six and a half years and it’s why I feel strongly about responding to this.
I’ll start by addressing some of the bullet points in the original post.
The first suggestion was that there is no leadership on how we rebuild. This is an odd suggestion because at the last few meetings of City Council and the Emergency Advisory Committee, we have regularly been discussing how we relaunch. Our city administration provided us with their expected steps which are to Respond, Relaunch, Recover, and Reimagine. As this approach has been presented to us, any member of council has the ability to offer alternative solutions if they feel a different approach is needed to rebuild.
All members of Council and the Mayor have been meeting with different individuals, community groups, business associations, elected representatives, etc. to discuss what is going to be needed to help rebuild. I know I don’t have all the answers – no individual person does. That’s why it’s critical to engage with as many people as possible. Any elected representative who believes something is not being done well has the ability to bring ideas forward at any time. In fact, I’d argue that not bringing ideas forward when we believe something is not being done well is an abdication of our duty to serve all Edmontonians.
The second and third suggestions are that there is no consideration about those who will slip into poverty or for those businesses who won’t be able to rehire staff and/or pay property taxes. Since our meetings are public, people are welcome to listen or watch them at any time and they would see and hear for themselves that these concerns have been and will continue to be discussed extensively. If you haven’t had a chance to watch my virtual Community Conversation from Thursday night, please take some time to watch or listen to it as we have spent a lot of time focusing on our budget shortfall due to COVID-19 and the need to address that without passing those costs on to our property taxes. Almost every household and business is struggling and while the provincial and federal governments have the ability to provide the most support during this time, we absolutely play a role within our local government to support people and businesses.
Our budget will have to change. Thankfully, unlike the reference to other cities that are worried about bankruptcy, the City of Edmonton has a strict Debt Management Fiscal Policy that ensures our financial position is relatively strong. Unlike the provincial and federal governments, we cannot run a deficit. I’m glad we can’t do that and combined with our Debt Management Fiscal Policy, I’m comfortable with how the City of Edmonton will deal with this. It won’t be easy as I discuss in the link above, but we will be able to get through this.
Along with those very serious issues, we have also been talking about what steps we need to take as a city so that people can comply with the Public Health Orders and maintain appropriate physical distancing. When physical distancing was first introduced in Alberta, you may remember a photo of many people using the stairs beside the Royal Glenora. People weren’t following the rules but as we all know, our sidewalks and trails are not typically large enough for two people to pass each other without breaking the rules.
As exercise outdoors is still permitted by our Chief Medical Officer of Health, some people who would like to spend some time outdoors expressed concerns that many high traffic areas don’t have enough space for them to maintain the appropriate distance. Therefore, some of us were asked by residents if there can be some under-used space that could be turned into a shared-use path to provide more space. As vehicle volume has dropped substantially, that felt like a reasonable request since it wouldn’t require much more than a few pylons and signs.
So I was one of the people who spent a total of approximately 2-3 minutes over the last few weeks asking about the possibility of this change. Most of the other 70-80 hours per week has been spent on issues like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this post. I’ve spent more time writing this post than I spent on the issue raised by the member of council who first made the statement. I’ll continue to focus on the relaunch, recovery, and reimagine portions and look forward to working together with all of you on those additional steps while we continue to respond to the current public health emergency before us.
Thursday, April 23rd at 6:30pm will be my next virtual Community Conversation on Facebook. I’ll be talking about what I’ve learned from everyone I’ve spoken with, get your feedback/ideas on how we move forward, and discuss what actions we will need to take as part of the relaunch, recovery, and reimage phases.
My colleagues and I are asked, almost daily, to consider the lives of the people we serve, and to make decisions based on the best available scientific evidence. We need to embrace this now, more than ever. The more we gather and share information in an open, honest, and transparent way, the easier it is to make more informed decisions which will lead to an even better city. Thanks everyone and I hope you and your family stay safe and healthy.