Edmonton's next mayor will need a similar regional approach for success, experts say

The next mayor of Edmonton may well want to borrow the playbook used with great success by the outgoing Don Iveson, political scientists say.

An exclusive CBC Edmonton poll shows Mayor Don Iveson is heading out of city hall on a high with 73% approval

The exclusive CBC Edmonton poll found Mayor Don Iveson has garnered broad public support, but seniors are more likely to strongly disapprove of his performance. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The next mayor of Edmonton may well want to borrow the playbook used with great success by the outgoing Don Iveson, political scientists say.

An exclusive CBC poll found that 73 per cent of residents approve of Iveson's performance since 2017 when he was re-elected for his second term as mayor.

The poll suggests that 45 per cent of respondents somewhat approve of his work, 28 per cent strongly approve, while 22 per cent disapprove. Five per cent said they weren't sure. 

The favourable numbers aren't a surprise, says Najib Jutt, a political strategist with Statecraft Partners.

"There's no doubt that people credit mayor Iveson for being a city builder — the infrastructure that's happened under his two terms, of LRT and bridges and even development downtown," Jutt said. 

The results may even be influenced by a simple courtesy to a long-serving municipal politician, Jutt said. 

"Albertans are overall very nice people," he said. 

"There's kind of like this unwritten rule that when a politician is leaving after 14 years of service that you don't be too hard on him."

Disapproving senior sector

Among those harbouring less-than-fond feelings toward Iveson is a large contingent of seniors; 29 per cent of poll respondents aged 65 and over strongly disapprove of his performance. 

Iveson, now 41, was first elected to city council in 2007. 

Much of his support comes from being in "the proverbial 'Redmonton'" with its predictably progressive voting public, says Chaldeans Mensah, associate professor of political science at MacEwan University.

"Iveson's agenda of progressive politics, emphasizing homelessness, climate change, poverty reduction. Those issues are really captured by a strong base in the city," he said.

Those who disapprove of Iveson's performance were likely concerned about practical issues like city finances, spending habits and property tax rates for homeowners and businesses, Mensah said.

Relationship with business

Iveson's lack of business experience was a challenge for that community, which struggled to communicate its needs and concerns to city hall, says Janet Riopel, the outgoing president and CEO for the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

"This has been a problem for us — a big problem — to try to help [the] mayor and council understand just exactly what was going on for the last seven years," she said. "This has been a big uphill road." 

Nonetheless, Riopel said, Iveson deserves kudos for other issues that directly affected the business community, including his leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic and his vision in building regional collaborations.

Edmonton Chamber of Commerce CEO Janet Riopel says it's been an uphill battle to communicate the needs of the chamber to a mayor with a lack of business experience. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The city has done its best to help people through the pandemic, including waiving certain permit fees for businesses, she said.

"I think people are really, really grateful for that and feel really thankful that their political government is on their side and trying to help," she said, adding that gratitude may be a factor in Iveson's favourable ratings from poll respondents.

Global legacy

Riopel also applauded Edmonton Global, an Iveson initiative in which 15 surrounding municipalities work together to attract investment. 

"These are invisible boundaries between all of these municipalities in our region and business operates across all boundaries," Riopel said. "We need to recognize that we're working as a region, not fighting within a region."

Mensah agreed the regional collaboration is Iveson's major success story and suggested the new mayor will have to work in a similar approach with neighbouring municipalities. 

"Those are big, big vision items that Edmonton should be looking out for in a new leader," Mensah said. 

The poll, conducted over two weeks in early April, surveyed 900 Edmontonians in all parts of the city.

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah says Mayor Don Iveson was able to capture a strong base in Edmonton with his focus on homelessness, climate change and poverty reduction. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The municipal election in October will be a multi-issue campaign, Mensah said.

Homelessness, public transit, city spending habits and jobs are high on the minds of the voting public. 

Mensah said the next leader will be expected to juggle matters while working collaboratively with the new council.

"It's going to be, in my view, a candidate that can really address a multiplicity of issues at the same time," Mensah said. 

"And be very, very sophisticated in how they advance their vision to the people of Edmonton." 

CBC News' random survey of 900 City of Edmonton residents was conducted between March 29 and April 14, 2021 by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The margin of error is +/-3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger. The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online.


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