City of Edmonton spent $616M on consultants, and councillors want answers

Edmonton city council asked for an in-depth analysis on how administration spent $616 million over five years on outside professional consulting services. 

Council approves e-bikes and e-scooters on Edmonton streets

Council is asking administration for a breakdown of consulting contracts spanning five years, including why the city spent $165 million in cost overruns. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

Edmonton city council is asking for an in-depth analysis on how administration spent $616 million over five years for advice from professional consulting services.

An audit last November revealed nearly $250 million hadn't been recorded properly — the contracts were either "miscoded" by the type of job or listed as something other than consulting.

Coun. Aaron Paquette called for a detailed breakdown of the costs and services in the contracts, which spanned from 2013 to 2017.

"I'd like us to get an A+ on a report card the next time we've got a report, so let's get to work now and make sure that we've got a handle on all of this," Paquette said Tuesday at city hall.   

Council supported his motion.

It asked for a report on all major areas such as engineering, management consulting and general professional services.

Paquette wants to know what percentage of each year's operating and capital budget was spent on consulting services over that past six years.

The motion also asked for an explanation on why the city spent $165 million more than it originally budgeted when it adjusted the scope of the consulting contracts. 

Paquette said the report, due back in the second quarter of 2020, will help the city choose contracts more carefully in the future. 
"One of the things that consulting does is, it allows us to download some of the liability," he said. "However, at what cost? So we have to determine, is it better to do things in house for some projects, consult for others? And where is that good balance?"

It's a familiar topic for Mayor Don Iveson.

"In more than a decade at city hall, we've been talking about what's the appropriate use of consultants," he said.

Iveson said certain kinds of expertise require the city to seek outside professionals but it depends largely on what infrastructure projects are on the go. 

"The biggest driver is, 'what are we building and what kind of specialized expertise do you need for it?' "

The mayor said the city may consider having its own internal experts, such as on LRT design.

"It's something that we're going to keep doing, so can we rely less on consultants and more on internal resources as priorities shift." 

Shisha ban pending

Also on Tuesday, the majority of council appeared ready to approve changes to the city's smoking bylaw that would ban shisha and waterpipe smoking in public places like lounges and restaurants.

Coun. Jon Dziadyk said he thinks the city shouldn't go that far with shisha — as there are only about 40 shisha lounges  in Edmonton and the activity is done specifically at those locations and not in any restaurant or bar.

There's this myth out there that these pipes are relatively harmless - they're not- Coun. Scott McKeen

He voted against sending the bylaw to third reading, meaning council will have to wait until the end of August before the bylaw can pass.

Coun. Scott McKeen said shisha and waterpipes will inevitably be banned in public places, as were cigarettes and cannabis. 

"There's this myth out there that these pipes are relatively harmless — they're not," McKeen said during the meeting. "When there's combustion involved, toxic compounds are released into the air."

McKeen described the bylaw amendments as "tidying up" the last part of the smoking bylaw to make sure people working in such establishments aren't exposed to harmful conditions and that patrons "enjoy dining or a glass or wine or something without having to inhale smoke." 

He pointed out that years ago governments in Canada restricted smoking cigarettes and cigars.

"The last time that council went through all this on a smoking bylaw, there was tremendous worry in the business community," McKeen said. "Checking back in with some of them years later, they said it actually, in a lot of cases, was good for business." 

Council approved several items without debate at Tuesday's meeting — the last one until Aug. 27 as council goes on a five-week summer recess. 

It passed a report outlining smoking fines handed out since the bylaw was amended last October to coincide with cannabis legalization. 

Last week, councillors asked the city to replace some of the hundreds of ashtrays that were either removed or relocated. 

Council also passed a policy aimed at helping the homeless during extreme weather. 

And residents and visitors to Edmonton may soon be able to rent a bike or electric scooter as a means to get around the city.

Council approved bylaw amendments to allow power-assisted bikes and scooters on Edmonton streets and trails.

Allowing the e-bikes and e-scooters also required the province to grant exceptions under its Traffic Safety Act. 



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