QUESTIONS & ANSWERS FOR A VOTER #2
1) How do you plan to encourage your constituents to become actively engaged in civic politics and city-sponsored events?
Communication is my career choice. I was a journalist for nearly 30 years and when I left The Edmonton Journal in 2010 I launched a small business, a communications company.
My plan is to hold monthly and informal coffee meetings at some cafe or restaurant in the ward. I realize these might start small, but I’m hoping that we can build them over time. My other hope is that we can talk about community aspirations, rather than JUST community or individual concerns.
These meetings, I hope, will include into walks or tours of various neighbourhoods in Ward 6, with a stop for coffee or lunch at the conclusion. We might talk about great urban design during these talks. I could bring along an architect, developer or a member of the city administration to offer their expertise.
I also plan to door-knock during warm months after the election to continue to meet and get to know people in the ward. From that, I will build a list of email addresses so I can reach out regularly with news from City Hall — looming issues, events, whatever.
I will also speak where invited about the importance of citizen engagement. I feel strongly that people who are involved and engaged with their neighbours and neighbourhoods — as well as with their councillor and City Hall — are much more likely to feel connected to a supportive community.
Urban isolation is a growing concern for me. When I was with The Journal, I held walking tours of Chinatown and Alberta Avenue and invited people to attend. In each case, we got about 60 people out to walk around an area and then share lunch. We called them Urban Mingles. But the idea was to get people out of their homes, introduce them to areas of town and get them acquainted with each other. They were a huge success and I think would be again.
Politics is largely about the decision making that leads to the creation of our communities. Walks and informal meetings are a way to build interest and talk about 1) The decisions made by past city councils, right or wrong; and 2) How community aspirations and input can change a city council’s vision and decisions.
2) What is your stance on the downtown arena project?
At one point, I was furious and completely opposed. In fact, I told Mayor Mandel that I didn’t want a penny of my taxes going to Daryl Katz. Then … as a member of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force I sat through a couple of presentations on the arena and began doing my own research.
Unfortunately, the City has not done a thorough job of explaining the deal to Edmontonians. I came to support it because of the $3 billion in investment represented by the arena deal as a whole. The financing model will fund a number of related catalyst projects, including refurbishments to the look and feel of Jasper Avenue.
The Oilers will be legally bound to Edmonton for 35 years. And Mr. Katz will be responsible for all operating expenses, property taxes and capital upgrades to the building, which we own. All together, with his $6.6 million annual lease payment, Mr. Katz will be responsible for about $15 million each year to keep the arena operating and maintained at a brand-new level.
But here’s one more thing. The Downtown Vibrancy Task Force’s slogan is: As goes your downtown, so goes your city.
The philosophy is that a vibrant and dynamic downtown is a showcase for a city’s culture, economy and values. Ours has been moribund for years, outside of 104th Street.
We live in a city that is largely suburban. Most Edmontonians never come downtown. Anecdotally, we know that many Edmontonians consider downtown to dirty and unsafe to visit. Some of this is perception, so the onus is on the City to do its part to keep downtown clean and invest in infrastructure so all Edmontonians are proud of our core.
The arena will bring 19,000 people to the downtown for upwards of 150 days and evenings a year. Many of those people will be of the type I just mentioned — people who never come downtown. We on the task force came to believe the arena will represent the greatest marketing strategy ever for our downtown. These people will come down for an Oilers game or a concert and have their eyes opened to the urban experience that exist in the core. They’ll see restaurants, shops and clubs … and we believe they’ll come back another time just to visit, dine and play downtown.
All professional sports leagues hold cities to ransom. The owners threaten to move teams unless they get a new arena or stadium. It has happened time and again in North America. Los Angeles, for example, doesn’t have an NFL franchise because another city lured the team away.
I don’t like the tactics. In fact, I find them distasteful. But if Edmonton wants a team in the National Hockey League, we must deal with the devil, if you will. And I might add that the Oilers, despite all these issues, add to the city’s quality of life. They also offer some big-league glamour that bright young minds want in the city where they choose to establish their careers.
That is a long answer. I apologize. But it is a complex issue. If I could put my support on a scale of 1-100, I’d say it is about 55 per cent yes. But it’s still a yes and so I do support the arena.
Having said all that, if the guaranteed maximum price comes in higher than the $480 million budgeted for the arena, it will be my position as a councillor that Mr. Katz must cover the additional costs, or that it be covered by the ticket tax.
3) As a long time downtown resident, I have yet to see EPS foot patrols in any areas of the downtown core other than in and around City Hall and the Stanley Milner Library. What are your plans (if any) to work with EPS to provide a more visible presence in downtown neighbourhoods and improve the image of EPS in our community?
This is a major plank in my platform. In the 1990s, I did a number of stories on community policing, as it was first described. The initial pitch was to have officers assigned geographic areas and then get them walking those beats, to get to know everyone in the area. The idea was for an officer to get to know the areas of crime and disorder, as well as the law-abiding citizens and social resources.
I did a story once on Constable Aaron Nichols, who dismantled a fledgling crime gang single handedly. He got to know these youth and found them tutors and other resources to turn them away from a life of crime. One cop dismantled a crime gang.
City council is purposely and properly kept at arms length from the police. The Police Commission provides civilian oversight of the police. But two councillors sit on the commission and I’d hope to be one of them. But I’d also try to push and prod the police chief to get officers walking beats downtown. First, it is effective policing. Second, it will help reinforce the idea that the urban core is safe.
True community policing, as I describe above, prevents crime before it happens. Unfortunately, the last police chief put officers back in cars to respond to crimes after they happen. This chief, meanwhile, is closing community stations. As citizens, I think we deserve better and must demand it.
4) Events in Downtown/Ward 6 seem to always focus on the area immediately surrounding City Hall, largely due to the availability of space provided by Churchill Square. Do you have any plans to bring focus/attention to other areas of Downtown/Ward 6 such as Rossdale and Oliver Square? If so, what are they?
To me, this is where a councillor can be more of a facilitator. I talked above about good communications and meetings with neighbourhoods. I’d dearly love to talk to neighbourhoods about their ideas and aspirations. I don’t have all the ideas. But I’m enthusiastic about creative ideas and would help the neighbourhoods in any way I could to bring vibrancy, involvement and community connection to these areas.
Perhaps you have some ideas you’d like to share.
5) Finally, a fun question to learn a little bit more about your personality. The zombie apocalypse is upon us and the undead are swarming the streets. What’s your strategy for survival, which mayoral candidate would you want by your side fighting the hordes of the undead intent on eating your brains, what non-essential non-perishable food item would you horde, and who’s going to clean up the mess once it’s all over?
If I’m at risk of ending up a zombie meal, I want chocolate chip cookies. Bags of them. Don Iveson is well over six-feet tall, so I’d want his wingspan at my side. Obviously, we’d want to lead the zombie horde onto Jasper Avenue right now. Given all the construction work, detours, closed lanes and signs pointing in all directions, we’d be able to slip away from the horde, which would become stalled for weeks in the construction-season maze. November comes, they freeze to undeath and we’re saved.
I’m sure the provincial government, would look after clean up, given the money they committed to a mere flood in southern Alberta.