Economist warns Edmonton city council to think carefully before voting on big projects

Think before you leap: that's the lesson the city's chief economist wants council to keep in mind going into budget deliberations in mid-November.

'We can afford to sit back a little bit more and take our time'

City council is being advised to take a prudent approach when debating big capital projects. (CBC)

Think before you leap: that's the lesson the city's chief economist wants council to keep in mind going into budget deliberations in mid-November. 

John Rose's advice Wednesday comes less than two weeks before council will start deliberating the city's operating and capital budgets for 2018. 

Edmonton's economy is rebounding after two years of sluggish growth. But Rose told council it's wise to think carefully before approving major infrastructure projects.

"Try to really be careful in how we prioritize them so that we don't find ourselves in a situation where we're building facilities or roads ... years in advance of actually having to use them."

Edmonton's population will likely grow two per cent next year while the economy is projected to expand 2.5 per cent.

That's far more modest than the 3.5 to four per cent growth during the 2010-2014 boom years, Rose told council.

He thinks this is a good thing.

"We can afford to sit back a little bit more and take our time in terms of decision-making," Rose said. 
John Rose, the city's chief economist, said the modest growth means Edmonton doesn't need to be in a rush to accommodate a spike in population. (CBC)

"Not just saying, 'Well we've gotta throw this up as soon as we can,' simply to address the immediate demands coming from new people arriving in the community." 

Rookie Coun. Aaron Paquette represents Ward 4, which stretches between 33rd and 66th streets and 153rd Avenue and Yellowhead Trail. He campaigned on getting a fair share of city investment for projects like sidewalk and road upgrades in his ward.

"I'm going to be a voice to ensure that up in the northeast that we get that taken care of," Paquette said. 
Coun. Aaron Paquette campaigned on getting sidewalks and roads fixed in Ward 4. (CBC)

He said improving sidewalks and roads is paramount to making his ward more liveable. 

"It doesn't do anyone any good, certainly not the City of Edmonton, certainly not Ward 4, to have those things neglected over a long period of time."

Room to breathe

Rose said modest economic and population growth gives Edmonton some breathing room and time to catch up. 

"For a while there when the economy was booming, we were way behind the eight-ball in terms of being able to ramp up the level of investment necessary on all kinds of infrastructure to really comfortably accommodate growth."

Edmonton is one of the fastest growing economies in Canada, with a more diversified economy than other parts of the province, Rose said. 

There's a growing demand for natural gas in the oilsands sector, he said, and the petrochemical and manufacturing industries north and east of Edmonton are also percolating.

Council and the public will get a first glimpse of the proposed 2018 operating budget when it's posted on the city's website Nov. 9.


Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.