Don Iveson says his top priority if re-elected will be a new economic development plan for Edmonton.
In his first major policy announcement on the campaign trail, Iveson laid out an economic vision that focuses on five key areas, including support for emerging sectors such as green building technologies, logistics and artificial intelligence.
"My top priority as mayor will be to write a new economic development plan for Edmonton so that we can stay competitive not only now, but well into the future," Iveson said Tuesday at downtown software company Jobber.
He also took the opportunity to highlight several economic achievements during his first term as mayor.
"It means more announcements like Deep Mind, the world's leading artificial intelligence organization, which chose Edmonton to be their only site outside of the United Kingdom," said Iveson.
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Iveson emphasized the importance of embracing innovation to create opportunities in an economy where oil prices are no longer soaring, compared to when he was first elected mayor in 2013.
He said his plan would promote small business by eliminating or reducing licence fees, describing the idea as an early investment that would provide returns "long into the future" by encouraging companies to set up in Edmonton, providing jobs and other economic opportunities.
But mayor candidate Fahad Mughal, a former city employee who worked in the business licensing branch, said Iveson's plan for small business doesn't go far enough.
Mughal said eliminating licence fees only reduces costs by $100 to $250. Instead, Mughal said, the city should reduce property taxes, so business owners are not driven out of the city in search of lower rates.
"Businesses are moving from Edmonton," said Mughal. "And if we really need jobs in Edmonton and businesses, we have to give them a break in property taxes."
Mughal said an economic plan should also do more to attract filmmakers from abroad "to make Edmonton's image brighter in the world," noting cities such as Toronto and Vancouver have film friendly policies in place.
"All the audience in their countries, they see those movies and they say, 'OK, where is Calgary, where is Vancouver, where is Toronto? We want to go there,' " said Mughal, adding multinational corporations such as Amazon would be sure to follow.
Several local business people at Tuesday's announcement vouched for Iveson's vision and track record. Leslie Gruhn, who opened Anvil Coffee House in March, said a program known as Open Window provided support to help her navigate requirements that deal with permits, inspections and licensing fees.
Mario Nascimento, board member of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute at the University of Alberta, praised Iveson for his awareness of Edmonton's "tech advantage" and willingness to capitalize on it.
"Recently it has been said that data is the new oil, indeed we are ready to drill," said Nascimento. "Edmonton has the unique and timely opportunity to lead in Canada and worldwide ... but the technological sector in general and AI in particular will not grow without support of leaders, Don being one of them."
Iveson's plan also calls for the creation of an "innovation corridor" running from NAIT to the University of Alberta, to promote innovation, the arts and urban street life; as well as building on previous work uniting regional municipalities to attract investment, share growth costs and create jobs.
Iveson said he'll make one policy announcement a week until the election on Oct. 16.