Scott McKeen won't seek third term as downtown city councillor

Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen will not run in the fall municipal election, CBC News has learned. McKeen is in his second term and eighth year of representing the downtown area’s Ward 6.

Former journalist has represented Ward 6 since 2013

Scott McKeen has been a strong advocate for helping the homeless and securing permanent supportive housing in Edmonton. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Coun. Scott McKeen will not run in the fall municipal election, CBC News has learned. 

McKeen is in his second term and eighth year of representing Ward 6 in the city's downtown. 

"There's a couple things that I'll be very proud of, but I didn't do them — we did them," McKeen said in an interview Friday. 

"I've learned a lot, I've enjoyed a lot. I've met amazing people but I just feel it's time to hand the brass ring over to somebody else." 

McKeen was first elected in 2013 when Don Iveson was also first elected as mayor. 

In a district with high social disorder and homelessless, McKeen has advocated for mental health and addictions resources and pushed for more permanent supportive housing.

The city is now planning 900 new units for people experiencing homelessness. 

"Imagine taking 900 of the most wounded Edmontonians off the streets and into being warm and dry and fed and cared for, that'll make a huge difference, a huge difference to the way things are downtown and on Whyte Avenue and a lot of the BIAs," McKeen said.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, McKeen was vocal, alongside the mayor, in the need for the city, province and federal government to help create sufficient shelter space for the city's homeless population. 

He also helped form the city's anti-racism advisory committee. 

There were plenty of tough calls over his nearly eight years on council, he noted.

"Every time you make a decision as a city councillor, you make some people happy but you make a lot of other people really unhappy," he said. "I think that wore on me after time." 

One tough decision was agreeing to a supervised injection site in Chinatown, which was met with strong opposition from that community. 

A vibrant downtown

"Having a rocking, colourful downtown will be absolutely critical," McKeen said. 

Downtown has evolved dramatically over the two terms McKeen has been in office.

For 40 or 50 years before Stephen Mandel became mayor in 2004, he said the city invested little in the downtown core and it became known as a ghost town after people finished work at 5 p.m.. 

Now with Rogers Place, the Ice District, a revitalized Churchill Square and the new LRT being built, he said there's plenty to be proud of. 

The city has also made streetscape improvements to Jasper Avenue and remodeled the Stanley A. Milner Library.

"Downtown is symbolic of a city's prosperity and its values and its creativity," McKeen said. 

"So if you have a downtown that is clean, safe, vibrant, with cool arts experiences, with great culinary scene —  that will attract investment, that will attract talent in the coming decades."

McKeen is also looking forward to the downtown central park, around which he's expecting a number of tower projects that will make the Edmonton downtown largely residential in comparison to others. 

"Why is that interesting?" he asks. "Because the sidewalks won't roll up at five o'clock. Because there'll be people returning from work, going out for dinner, going out to the park. There'll be lots of people on the sidewalks and on the street in our downtown."

Not ready to retire

McKeen was a reporter and columnist with the Edmonton Journal for 24 years. But he said he's not ready to retire. 

Going forward, he said he'd like to be an advocate for mental health and addictions, or work in communications or journalism again. 

Other councillors and the mayor responded to the news on Friday that McKeen plans to step away from city hall. 

Coun. Tim Cartmell said McKeen has been a tireless advocate and helpful colleague. 

"From his guidance and mentorship through my first years as a councillor, to his dedication to ending homelessness and being a champion for mental health, Edmonton is better for having had his stewardship, leadership and example," Cartmell said in an email.

McKeen is the third sitting councillor to announce he is not running for re-election.

Michael Walters in Ward 10 and Ben Henderson in Ward 8 will also not seek re-election. 

Iveson is not seeking the mayor's chair in 2021. 

Councillors Bev Esslinger, Sarah Hamilton and Cartmell said they will run again. Other current councillors plan to announce their intentions in the coming weeks. 

Nominations for aspiring city councillors, mayor and school trustees opened Jan. 4 and run until Sept. 1. 

The municipal election is set for Oct. 18.