Edmonton Votes 2017: Infill and bike lanes fuel debate in southwest Ward 5

With five weeks to go until election day, Miranda Jimmy estimated she had already knocked on 8,000 doors, attended 330 community meetings and worn through four pairs of shoes.

Candidate wears out 4 pairs of shoes in ward assured of getting new councillor Oct. 16

Ward 5 candidate MIranda Jimmy speaks to Laurier Heights resident Elva Jones during while canvassing her street. (CBC)

With five weeks to go until election day, Miranda Jimmy estimated she had already knocked on 8,000 doors, attended 330 community meetings and worn through four pairs of shoes.

That's what happens when you launch your campaign to become the new Ward 5 councillor exactly 12 months before election day.

"I want to hit every door once before the election," Jimmy said as she walked briskly down a sidewalk in Laurier Heights on a recent Monday afternoon.

Jimmy, 36, is program manager with the Edmonton Heritage Council. A member of Treaty 6, she also co-founded Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, an initiative to promote reconciliation within the city. If elected, she says she will be the first self-identified Indigenous woman to serve on city council.

Jimmy's efforts to talk to people in all 23 neighbourhoods in this southwest Edmonton ward resulted in the creation of her platform, now posted online.

The ward includes mature neighbourhoods like Rio Terrace, Patricia Heights and Elmwood, plus newer communities on the city's western border like Edgemont, The Hamptons and Glastonbury.

Founded in the late 1950s, Laurier Heights has large lots and proximity to transit, Whitemud Drive and parks in the North Saskatchewan River valley.

The neighbourhood has become a desirable location for young families. And the prospect of subdivided lots and new infill construction looms large at the doors.

Infill not 'thought all the way through'

Nearly everyone Jimmy talks to brings it up.

"I don't think people have thought it all the way through," said resident Dan Young, who pointed to a recent news story about Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack and his inability to sell the two skinny infill homes he's built in West Jasper Place.

"In an old neighbourhood like this, we kind of take pride in the space we have. And when you put a couple of split houses in, you double the parking issues on the street."

Not everyone is anti-infill. One of Young's neighbours, Elaine Benjamin, hopes the policy creates more seniors housing. She has lived in Laurier Heights for 40 years and wants to stay in the neighbourhood after she and her husband can no longer live in their home.

"We're quite interested in the new housing that's going up, but it definitely is not suited for seniors, because it's the tall skinny homes," she tells Jimmy. "We'd kind of like a condo-like concept. Side by side would be nice."

Jimmy supports infill but says the city has done a poor job of regulating projects and communicating with neighbourhoods — issues she wants to remedy, if elected.

Giving Benjamin the ability to stay in Laurier Heights is exactly the type of infill project Jimmy has in mind.

"That's what I want for seniors housing," she says. "For people to stay in their neighbourhoods and go to the same grocery stores and visit the same neighbour."

Infill isn't the only issue Jimmy has encountered at the doors. She's heard concerns about recent changes to transit which cut routes to Wedgewood and Cameron Heights.

Mandel a mentor

Jimmy is one of nine candidates running to replace outgoing ward councillor Michael Oshry.

Former PC MLA David Xiao, Stollery fundraiser Nafisa Bowen, Telus senior manager Dawn Newton, Jewish Senior Citizen's Centre executive director Svetlana Pavlenko, cashier Alex McFarlane and communications specialist Sarah Hamilton have also filed notice of intent with Edmonton Elections. Also running are Philip Michael Asher and Brian Kendrick.
Ward 5 candidate Sarah Hamilton talks to Phil Mohamed while campaigning in Wedgewood Heights. (CBC)

Like Jimmy, Hamilton is making her first run for city council.

The 32-year-old launched her campaign in the spring. She has ties to the local Progressive Conservative establishment and worked for former mayor Stephen Mandel when he was Alberta's minister of health under former PC premier Jim Prentice.

The former president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, Katherine O'Neill, is part of Hamilton's door-knocking team.

Hamilton says Mandel and his wife Lynn have been close family friends her entire life. She volunteered on his campaigns going back to his first unsuccessful run for school board in the late 1990s.

The former mayor is supportive of her run for council, Hamilton said.

"He's one of many, many people in my life who are supportive and encouraging," she said. "And having a mentor like that means a lot."

On this evening, Hamilton is making the rounds of the Wedgewood Heights neighbourhood.

The area's higher-than-average income can be seen in the large homes, carefully crafted gardens and expensive vehicles. One home has two SUVs in the garage. One is a Lexus. The other, a BMW.

Lack of planning, foresight

Hamilton tells residents at the doors that she decided to run for council because she was frustrated by what she sees as a lack of planning and foresight by the current city council. She also wants residents to get good value from tax dollars.

"I see a need on this current city council for clear leadership and a clear plan," she tells resident Phil Mohamed.  "And that's something I think I can bring to city council. I'm a consensus builder. I am good at seeing the big picture and I think that's what our city needs right now."

She says she's also alarmed by the delays and problems with major infrastructure projects like the Metro Line LRT, still plagued by problems with its signalling system two years after it opened.

Hamilton says the Ward 5 residents she's talked to are concerned about transportation and bike lanes. She notes the new downtown bike lane network was kickstarted by engineering firm Stantec, which wanted a way for its employees to commute to its new tower in the Ice District.

But city leadership has done a poor job at explaining how the initiative benefits all Edmontonians, she suggests.

"That has got to be worth something when the private sector is saying we need these amenities to attract talent that will help the city grow," she said. "And so when you frame it that way, yeah, it's a vision. It's a plan. But that hasn't been communicated.

"That's a leadership issue. That's a vision issue. That's being able to articulate why you make bold choices and not stepping back from that."

2016 municipal census statistics

Population: 71,679

Eligible voters: 49,544

Owns home: 56.4%

Rents home: 16.8%

Lives there five years or more: 37.8%

Mainly drives to work: 76.9%

Takes transit to work: 11.1%

Main language other than English: Tagalog (4.3%)

Income under $30,000: 4.1%

Income $60,000 to $100,000: 13.1%

Children in preschool: 4.5%

Children from kindergarten to Grade 6: 6.6%

Interesting statistics: Ward 5 has the second-highest percentage of households making over $250,000 a year (2.6%). Only Ward 9 is higher with 4.3% of households.

Neighbourhoods: Thorncliffe, Elmwood, Lynnwood, Laurier Heights, Quesnell Heights, Rio Terrace, Patricia Heights, Westridge, Oleskiw, Callingwood, Gariepy, Lymburn, Ormsby Place, Dechene, Jamieson Place, Granville, Glastonbury, The Hamptons, Wedgewood Heights, Donsdale, Cameron Heights, Edgemont, The Uplands

Nine candidates: Philip Michael (Phil) Asher, Nafisa Bowen, Sarah Hamilton, Miranda Jimmy, Brian Kendrick, Dawn Newton, Svetlana Pavlenko, James Prentice, David Xiao

From left: Sarah Hamilton, Nafisa Bowen, Miranda Jimmy, James Prentice, Brian Kendrick, Svetlana Pavlenko, Dawn Newton (Ward map: City of Edmonton; candidate photos supplied)

CBC Edmonton's candidate survey responses:

Philip Michael (Phil) Asher - no information

Nafisa Bowen, 34, born and raised in Edmonton

Family: married with one child
Credentials: fundraiser with Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation; B.Sc. from U of A
Top issues: advocate for safe, reliable, transit; have West Valley Line LRT built over or under major intersections to ensure traffic is not impeded; consult individual neighbourhoods in developing housing; keep taxes as low as possible
City's biggest challenge: diversifying the economy while investing wisely in capital projects

Sarah Hamilton, 32, lifelong Edmonton resident

Family: not married
Credentials: entrepreneur; MA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; BA, U of A
Top issues: make sure projects are on time and on budget; sort out infill and lot splitting in certain neighbourhoods; address rising property taxes
City's biggest challenge: being accountable to residents on a plan to see a return on their tax dollars

Miranda Jimmy - No response

Brian Kendrick - No response

Dawn Newton, 38, has lived in Edmonton for nearly 10 years

Family: married with two children
Credentials: public affairs professional; BComm. University of Calgary; governance essentials program, Rotman School of Management
Top issues: make transit more accessible; increase park-and-ride lots; advocate for responsible infill in mature neighbourhoods; manage tax dollars better
City's biggest challenge: developing strategy to deal with rapid growth

Svetlana Pavlenko - No response

James Prentice, 40, has lived in Edmonton for nearly 12 years

Family: married, two children
Credentials: contract services co-ordinator Alberta government, BA in anthropology
Top issues: fix aging infrastructure in older neighbourhoods and installing in newer ones; address taxes and municipal spending; improve roads and transit
City's biggest challenge: getting services and infrastructure — schools, transit, roads and recreation centres — into neighbourhoods that need them

David Xiao - No response

Ward 5 Issues


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.

With files from the CBC's Natasha Riebe