I still remember the excitement of the ballroom at the Matrix Hotel a year ago today. We were all riding a wave of enthusiasm and hope for what would come next — and when I took the stage it felt like we were all embarking on a new journey together. My campaign was built on some fairly ambitious ideas for our city — a kind of transformation that would see us ‘level up’ in terms of status and reputation not only in Canada, but around the world.
Now that we’re a year in, the question is worth asking – how are we doing?
For starters, my optimism is still there. We are the fastest growing city in Canada, and 40% of all new jobs created in Canada were generated in the Edmonton region. Downtown development has accelerated even faster than we might have hoped, and it’s triggered a wave of excitement about our core that’s infectious.
I’m hearing less apologizing for our city, and instead — more and more often — Edmontonians proudly point to examples of our coming of age.
Council has accomplished a lot over the past year. We’ve started to rethink how we can better zone mature neighbourhoods to encourage infill development and densify the city within our established footprint. We’ve initiated development on Blatchford, a community that will be one of the lowest-impact neighbourhoods in the world. We launched an aggressive initiative — through the Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Poverty — that will generate clear pathways for how our community can significantly impact poverty rates, especially among children, over the next generation. And we listened to Edmontonians by earmarking more resources to improve the quality of our roads.
Three announcements, however, stand out as ones that I’m most proud of:
The first was securing funding from the provincial and federal governments to build the Valley Line LRT. The allocation of funds to this project — $1.8 billion in total — makes it the largest infrastructure project in our city’s history. The Valley Line will change our urban form, from Millwoods to Downtown, by allowing us to pursue transit-oriented development and more efficiently move people and goods in and around our city. It’s a key part of our plan to manage our city’s incredible growth and offer Edmontonians more choice for how they’ll get from A to B.
The second announcement that’s worth highlighting is the framework agreement for City Charters that Mayor Nenshi and I recently signed with the provincial government. While it’s not the Charter itself, the framework does clearly lay the foundation (along with setting key milestones and timelines) for the kinds of ‘grown up’ conversations we need to have around important issues like policing, affordable housing, poverty and major infrastructure investments like overpasses and LRT. The City Charter process can be an abstract concept; talking about roles and responsibilities with another order of government probably isn’t the sexiest thing for many people. But – I would argue – delivering on this is one of the most important factors in Edmonton’s future success. Correcting the imbalance in responsibility and authority with the Province is one of the most critical city building things we can do because it enables the ‘real work’ like building LRT lines and keeping our cities safe to actually happen.
The third announcement was declaring a Year of Reconciliation as part of the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission Alberta National Event held in Edmonton in March. The event invited us all to bear witness to the haunting stories of trauma and cultural genocide inflicted by the Indian Residential Schools Program on our Aboriginal population. Through a unanimous declaration of support, City Council launched three initiatives that are designed to help educate City of Edmonton staff about the deep and lasting impact of Residential Schools, provide places for Aboriginal healing, ceremony and celebration within the city, and connect Aboriginal youth to city-building work. My hope is that we’re turning a corner in our relationship with our Aboriginal people and as we write the next chapter of our city, we’ll do so in the spirit of mutual prosperity called forth by Treaty Six.
I’ve often said that Edmontonians are blessed to have one of the strongest City Councils I’ve ever seen. This past year we worked together to accomplish a lot, and the level of debate overall has been high, and specifically it has been thoughtful and forward-looking. Our ability to work together is the reason we’ve been able to do so much in so little time.
We can see the fruits of stronger relationships in our regional work too, and the renewed sense of urgency to improve the relevancy and efficacy of the Capital Region Board (CRB). Recently the CRB hosted an Economic Development Summit that kickstarted important conversations around coordination of efforts, ensuring a smooth flow of goods and services, and how to build on our strengths. It’s refreshing to see the CRB now working in collaboration rather than opposition and I have high hopes for the year ahead. It’s fair to say the economic health of the entire Edmonton region relies on getting this right.
So what’s ahead for next year? My focus will be on continuing to build Edmonton into a 21st century city – one that’s uplifting, resilient, competitive and open. We have significant challenges on the horizon that require urgent solutions; chief among them is a looming housing crisis that could undo some of the good news that our economy continues to generate. With $1.7 billion in federal grants for affordable housing across Canada set to expire, many of our affordable housing projects are at risk — and with that, our ability to grow as a city and to tackle important (and expensive) issues like poverty.
I continue to be buoyed by the energy I get from the people I meet every day. People who are building this city, lending a hand, and co-creating the future we all imagine for Edmonton.
Thank you for your contributions this past year. We have three more years to keep up the good work.