Candidate Profile: Don Iveson
At 34, the two-term councillor is the youngest of the best-known candidates
The lineup is the first sign that something unusual is happening on this otherwise quiet street in Edmonton’s Oliver neighbourhood.
About a dozen fresh-faced men and women clutch coffees and chat in the Sunday morning sunshine outside the former rental car outlet.
Clad in a crisp shirt and dark jeans Don Iveson, candidate for mayor, comes out of the office, bearing a cardboard carafe of Tim Hortons coffee.
Iveson, 34, refills coffee cups as he chats with the volunteers who have shown up for “Green Sunday” – the day when teams fan out across Edmonton in hopes of convincing homeowners to place one of his lime green signs on their lawn.
While Iveson bristles at the suggestion he is the youth candidate of the mayor’s race, most of the people in line appear to be under 30.
“I’m here because Don really talks about a city that I’d like to live in when I grow up, like when I have kids and a family,” said volunteer Amanda Henry, 28.
“I really see what Don’s talking about in terms of what Edmonton can be in a generation and it's really exciting. I want to share that message with everyone else and I hope they see it too.”
A city for builders
Positivity. Innovation. Collaboration.
These are the words Iveson uses in a recent interview with CBC News when discussing what he calls “the most underestimated city in North America.”
“This is a city with extraordinary opportunity,” he said. “And that’s what I hope this election becomes about, the question of how do we seize that opportunity.”
Iveson has associated himself with the “Make Something Edmonton” rebranding campaign, an attempt to redefine the city as a place for “builders” and people with fresh, new ideas.
In a mayoral race that is dominated by three current members of council –Iveson, back-to-basics advocate Kerry Diotte, 57, and municipal and provincial political veteran Karen Leibovici, 61 – a cynic could suggest the message was adopted to appeal to a younger demographic, the under-40 crowd who either moved to or stayed in Edmonton to start their careers.
However, Iveson appears to believe in this vision.
“As mayor, I want to help Edmontonians get over our own underestimation of this place and I want to tell the story of the things that we do so well here out there in our key markets.”
200 volunteers and $22,000
Iveson burst on the scene in 2007 after pulling off a rare feat for a political newbie – unseating an incumbent councillor – in this case, Mike Nickel, an Edmonton businessman who had fashioned himself as council’s fiscal conservative, the guy who voted against every budget.
While the win came as a shock to some, it didn’t surprise Iveson’s supporters, who spent months campaigning in the south Edmonton ward.
“We only had $22,000 in that campaign,” Iveson recalled recently.
“But if you take $22,000 and put 150 and 200 people behind it, you can make it look like fifty or $60,000 with ten people behind it, which is frankly what most city council campaigns are like.”
Six years later, the campaign has shed its scrappy upstart image. Iveson has far more volunteers – about 650 people so far, with more expected to join in.
Even the campaign office gives off a cultivated image. Decorative touches like white-matted black and white photographs adorn freshly painted grey walls.
Campaign colour green pops up everywhere – in the signs, the name tags worn by workers, a bowl of green apples placed on a pine side table.
Green Sunday volunteers are taking snack packs with them on the sign blitz – granola bars and apples inside brown paper bags stickered with the Iveson campaign logo.
No detail has been forgotten – peanut and gluten-free options are also available.
The pothole election?
When Stephen Mandel steps down after three terms as mayor, his successor will be tasked with executing the projects launched under his administration.
Mandel is largely credited for wanting more for Edmonton and seeing the city in grander terms than the mayors who came before him.
The campaign has come down to two competing visions – whether to continue Mandel’s city-building legacy or to return to basics – filling Edmonton’s pothole-ridden streets, upgrading the city’s aging drainage system.
Iveson calls the roads an “embarrassment” and acknowledges that the city simply has to make the repairs.
In Iveson’s view, this means continuing with the city’s renewal program, where about 6 of Edmonton’s 100 neighbourhoods get attention each year.
Iveson believes the worst problems should be fixed within four years and that it’s unrealistic to promise otherwise.
“If we try to do it any faster, the cost will start to escalate because of capacity limitations in the economy,” he said.
“So I would love to promise to fix it in one year but I’d be misleading people and we wouldn’t be getting good value for their money.”
The growth of Edmonton’s debt to $2.2 billion over a decade has become an issue in the campaign.
Iveson argues that the money was spent to play catch-up on repairs and upgrades that were ignored over the past 20 years, when city council refused to borrow.
While Diotte contends the debt shows the city has an overspending problem, Iveson says Edmontonians need to look at the assets they got in return – an LRT extension, two recreation centres, bridge and drainage upgrades and new libraries – and realize none of that could have happened without borrowing.
Edmonton + regions = LRT cash?
Funding for LRT expansion, offering more housing beyond the single family dwelling, and changing how municipalities are funded are other parts of Iveson’s platform.
When asked what he is most proud of during his first six years on council, Iveson points to his work as the chair of the transit committee of the 24-municipality Capital Region Board.
Iveson says an upcoming smart card transit payment system didn’t just get buy-in in St. Albert and Strathcona County – they actually provided cash.
He sees this cooperation as key to securing funding from the federal and provincial governments for expansion of the southeast and western portions of the LRT lines.
Iveson believes the money will come – but only if Edmonton makes it clear that LRT is the chief infrastructure priority, particularly from the provincial government.
“We spent the last three years trying to wring a $100 million out of them for an arena when we should have been talking to them about a billion dollars for LRT,” Iveson said, adding that he believes the money would have come through, if the city hadn’t been sidetracked.
With the election looming, Iveson and his wife, Sarah Chan, are ramping up the campaign.
Married for seven years, the couple have two young children aged 4 and 17 months.
Iveson acknowledges that some people advised him to hold off and run for mayor when his children are older, but the couple decided that the timing is better now.
“We sort of feel like the kids at this age will be more resilient to the oddity of having a father who is in public service than if they were in their teens,” he said.
“There’s kind of no elegant time to do this as a family but we think that certainly with the support of grandparents at this point in our lives that we’ll make it work.”
Iveson contends that as a parent, a homeowner and someone with older parents who are in the process of downsizing, he touches on the experiences of many of the people he represents.
However, there is no question that Iveson appeals to some younger voters, who see him as a representative of their own aspirations.
“I think it’s great to get some younger people as mayor where they’re supporting the young population that’s growing up,” said volunteer Kate Kozakiewicz, 22.
“We keep saying that Edmonton is a young, youthful city and I think Don really has great innovative views.”
The key for Iveson is whether his campaign can motivate these young supporters to overcome their generation’s well-documented aversion to voting at the ballot box on Oct. 21.