No plebiscite on airport future, council decides

Edmonton city council has voted against holding a plebiscite on the future of City Centre Airport during this fall's municipal election
Envision Edmonton volunteers walk to Edmonton city hall on Aug. 26 carrying boxes containing 92,000 signatures. ((CBC))
Edmonton city council voted 10-3 Wednesday  against holding a plebiscite on the future of City Centre Airport during this fall's municipal election, hours after a petition asking for a vote was declared invalid.

"This was a hard, hard decision," Mayor Stephen Mandel said afterwards.

"Every member of council is facing incredible political pressure to acquiesce, but this decision is in the right interest of the city of Edmonton and the citizens. This means the council decision of July 2009 stands."

Councillors Ron Hayter, Tony Caterina and Linda Sloan were all in favour of holding a plebiscite.

The airport will continue to operate with one runway until the province completes a report on the impact of a total closure on medevac service in the region, Mandel said.

The decision to reject the petition infuriated the chairman of Envision Edmonton, Charles Allard.

Envision Edmonton chairman Charles Allard speaks to reporters at city hall Wednesday. ((CBC))
"It is obvious that the mayor does not want to put our question to the public. He's afraid he will lose his pet project so he has the people at city hall trying to weasel their way out of putting it on the plebiscite," he said.

"Envision Edmonton has played by the rules. We respected the law with regards to petitions."

Mandel rejected Allard's accusations and denied there was any political interference in the process to validate the signatures.

"I think Mr. Allard owes our employees an apology," he said.

"Our employees have worked endlessly for the last 21 or 22 days in order to get this petition done that was given at a very late date. They have worked 20 hours a day, all day long and way into the night."

Petition 1 year too late, clerk rules

City Clerk Alayne Sinclair told council Wednesday morning that Envision Edmonton's petition failed on two counts.

Mayor Stephen Mandel rejected Allard's accusations he put pressure on city staff to reject the petition. ((CBC))
First there were not enough valid signatures on the petition. Of the more than 92,000 signatures on the list, only 73,567 were valid. That's 4,500 fewer than the required amount.

The petition also missed the deadline. Under Alberta's Municipal Government Act, a petition on a city resolution has to be filed within 60 days of the vote. The city last voted on the airport over a year ago in July 2009.

Sinclair said staff spent thousands of hours going through the signatures and verifying addresses.

"We hired about 60 external individuals to do the checking. As well, about 20 or more of our staff were involved in the checking," she said.

"We had legal counsel with us as we went through the process, and we applied the provincial legislation in, I believe, the most fair and reasonable manner that we could."

Even though the petition was insufficient, councillors still had the option of putting a non-binding question on the ballot, to see how people in Edmonton felt about the issue. But that proposal was rejected in council's vote Wednesday afternoon.

Mandel said the fact the petition was launched a year after council made its decision on the airport closure was enough to reject a plebiscite under the law.

"The city has to be able to implement decisions. It can't wait indefinitely on the chance that someone might object." he said.

But Allard said there should be no time limits placed on the "public's right to be heard."

"It is apparent from the results of our petition that a very large number of people want to vote on this issue. Let them. What are you afraid of?" he asked.