Edmonton·YOUR CITY

Rookie city councillors reflect on first year since election

One year ago, Edmonton welcomed six new faces to council. We spoke to them about the triumphs and pitfalls of sitting around the council table, and the challenges that still lay ahead.

Councillors elected on promise of a new direction for the city look back on how far they’ve come

In newly-elected mayor Don Iveson’s speech on Oct 21, 2013, he promised a fresh new approach to city politics.

"Our promises to you are based on your imagination, your ambition, your new feeling of hope and optimism in Edmonton," Iveson said. "A more confident swagger for Edmonton."

Along with Iveson, Edmonton also welcomed six fresh, new faces to council. We spoke to each of them about the triumphs and pitfalls of sitting around the council table, and the challenges that still lay ahead.

What was the biggest headline of the year? 

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According to the majority of new councillors, the defining moments of the year revolved around the LRT expansion.

In March, Iveson gave a press conference in reaction to the provincial budget, saying he was frustrated with the lack of funding for the southeast LRT Line. His comments sparked the #saddondiveson meme.

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Only four days later, the province came back with $250 million for the project, and a $200-million interest-free loan.

“I would say that that’s our biggest win of the year,” Coun. Michael Walters said.

What are the big issues that council faced this year? 

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Councillors told us they knew they had some big problems to tackle, but many didn’t realize how complex and encompassing those problems were.

“We saw huge infrastructure challenges. My ward is all older communities that have declining populations, aging infrastructure, and services that are kind of fading,” Coun. Michael Walters said. 

“It was kind of the city feeling good about itself, and neighbourhoods struggling to keep up.”

While they were keen to move toward a grand vision for Edmonton, councillors agreed to return to basics: traffic problems, speeding, snow removal and infrastructure dominated discussions at city hall.

What challenges does council still have to deal with?

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According to Coun. Scott McKeen, the biggest challenge for this council is yet to come, as councillors brace for budget deliberations.

“A lot of it’s spent, and we don’t have much,” he said.

“There’s no money, that’s the bottom line,” Coun. Mike Nickel agreed. “The previous council has sort of spent us into a corner.”

Beginning in early November, councillors will have to balance the priorities of the city with hundreds of demands for capital dollars. 

What is your proudest accomplishment?

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There were few blockbuster projects approved this year, but newbie councillors say they still accomplished a lot.

Coun. Bev Esslinger said lowering speed limits in school zones made the top of her list while Coun. Michael Walters said he’s proud of changes to the way the city consults with the public on big decisions, helping residents to feel more connected.

“That was something that had to be corrected,” said Walters.

Meanwhile Coun. Michael Oshry is still working toward a city-owned land development company – something he said he pushed for on his first day in office. He hopes giving the city the option to develop land will make a profit for taxpayers.

“If I can get that done after a year, year and a half, on council I’ll be pretty happy about that,” Oshry said.

 What challenges did you not see coming? 

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Coun. Scott McKeen, who previously worked as a city columnist for more than a decade, said he was surprised by how much pressure came with the job.

“Every time you make a decision, someone is upset,” he said.

Councillors said that pressure is compounded by the slow pace of decision making at city hall, but most agreed the time is a necessary part of good governance.

Coun. Mike Nickel, who previously served as an Edmonton councillor from 2004 to 2007, said council is getting bogged down in process, and he wants to focus on measurable targets.

"We really need to get our heads wrapped around some of these fundamental core management and administrative issues," Nickel said. 

However, all the new councillors agreed they are up to the challenge.

As Iveson promised city councillors one year ago today, “the next four years are not going to be easy. Nothing great is easy.”

What do you think of the direction council is taking our city? Tweet @LauraOsmanCBC or leave a comment below.

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