Born here, raised here and tirelessly passionate about the place, Don has spent most of his adult life working to build Edmonton’s future. His experiences in the private, non-profit and public sectors have given him a well-rounded view of the diverse perspectives of this city, and the opportunities we have to make it better.
While earning his degree at the University of Alberta, Don worked through school washing dishes, cutting lawns and even spent a summer working in the oilpatch (blue coveralls included). Given his knack for tackling issues and engaging people, Don’s background in media comes as no surprise. Throughout his education, Don volunteered and worked at the Gateway, the U of A’s campus newspaper. With his Bachelor of Arts degree (with Distinction) in hand in 2001, Don landed an opportunity to be President of Canadian University Press in Toronto and chairman of Canadian University Press Media Services Ltd, a multi-million dollar national media and advertising services company. After two years out east, he was happy to return to Edmonton, where he served as business manager of the Gateway. Over the next three years, he developed the organization’s commercial operations, making it the most financially successful campus newspaper in the country.
Don later served in government relations, supervising a staff of four, pursuing issues important to University of Alberta undergraduate students. In this role, Don led negotiations with the City of Edmonton, the City of St. Albert, and Strathcona County to implement a universal transit pass for students across the city. The universal pass helped boost the popularity and use of public transit in Edmonton, further fueling demands for LRT expansion.
During the same years, Don remained active in the community. In addition to serving as an alumni volunteer with the University of Alberta, he has volunteered for Canada25, the Alberta Debate and Speech Association, and the Alberta Sailing Association. As a director of the Fifth Street Lofts Condominium Association, Don pushed for improved urban design in Edmonton’s warehouse district, which has since seen renewed investment and activity. As vice-president of the Malmo Plains Community League, Don helped overhaul their 40-year-old bylaws and advocated for better consultation and consideration for neighbourhoods affected by the South LRT.
Don’s Time on City Council
Don’s strong interest in civic issues, community life and urban development, as well as a concern that talent was leaving Edmonton, led him to run successfully for City Council in 2007. He represented southwest Edmonton as a councillor for Ward 5 alongside Bryan Anderson; since his commanding 2010 re-election in Ward 10, he has represented the area around Century Park, Southgate, and the University of Alberta South Campus.
Over the past six years, Don has leveraged his pragmatism, creativity, and collaborative attitude in working to build the City of Edmonton. His command of issues and his passion for people have helped to address the increasingly challenging issues faced by Edmonton during a period of rapid growth and evolution. Don has approached his work with the goal of making Edmonton a place where our children and grandchildren will have economic opportunity and a high quality of life, a place they will want to call their home.
Don has been a champion of investment that will bring long-term value for citizens. He has been a leading voice for the Neighbourhood Reconstruction Program, working to reverse cuts in this area and bring about much-needed investment in rebuilding neighbourhood streets and sidewalks.
He has also pushed for strategic planning of transportation planning and transit that is better integrated with neighbourhoods and development as our city grows. Don has worked to secure investment in neighbourhood area redevelopment and transit-oriented planning. As chair of the Capital Region Board Regional Transit Committee, he has also led the development of a 30-year vision for expanding public transit throughout the Edmonton region, and the creation of a regional Smart Transit pass that is close to implementation. As a key to the success of these initiatives, Don has fostered strong and positive relationships with mayors, councillors, and other municipal leaders throughout the region. As part of these efforts, Don served as chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2009-10 and 2011-12. He is also the current chair of the Regional Transit Committee of the Capital Region Board.
Through his leadership as chair of the Utility Committee, Don successfully brought in utility fiscal reform that places the focus on Edmontonians’ utility needs rather than profit. This shift in perspective will have utilities work on a strictly cost-recovery basis, helping to control the rising costs of utilities for families and businesses while ensuring utility services remain financially sustainable.
Don knows that to attract and keep our best and brightest, Edmonton needs to offer a vibrant and energetic culture. As council’s liaison to the City of Edmonton Youth Council and through his involvement with the Next Gen initiative, Don has engaged young people to help bring fresh ideas and programs to our city. Supported by this energy, Edmonton has seen an upswing in networking and creativity, including events such as Pecha Kucha nights and TEDxEdmonton and initiatives such as Startup Edmonton, which are generating a wave of new organizations and innovative ventures.
Influenced by his work and relationships at the University of Alberta, Don has worked to strengthen our city’s reputation as a centre of learning, championing the establishment of a school of Planning at the University of Alberta. He also serves as council’s representative on the Edmonton Public Library Board, and as the driving force behind Edmonton’s ‘City of Learners’ initiative.
Edmontonians value our natural areas and environment, anchored by the gem that is our river valley. With a longstanding interest in environmental protection and sustainability issues, Don was honoured when Mayor Mandel asked to take a lead role on environmental initiatives. In this role, Don has pursued a number of initiatives to reduce the city’s environmental footprint, bringing down costs for taxpayers along the way.
Among other achievements in this role, Don started an initiative to “green” the city’s many festivals, and shepherded an award-winning Environmental Strategic Plan through council, followed by a Practical Green Building Plan for the city. These will guide Edmonton’s future development in ways that encourage the preservation of green space and help keep the city’s environment clean and healthy. Don also led the push to accelerate the conversion of street lights to LED lighting technology. This will substantially reduce energy use and maintenance, which will also lower the city’s streetlight costs by up to $50 million over the next 20 years.
As our city has evolved, so too has Don’s life. While working to build our growing city, Don has juggled a growing family. Don and his wife Sarah Chan, a music teacher, have a 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. Don’s family is an enduring source of strength and inspiration as he pursues ways to make Edmonton more attractive and affordable for families. Don’s greatest aspiration for Edmonton’s future is to make it a place that his children and grandchildren will continue to choose to call home, with a strong economy and high quality of life.