Edmonton

What Edmontonians want the new city council to prioritize in the first 100 days

Some Edmontonians want the new council to get start working on huge issues like economic recovery, addressing homelessness and revitalizing downtown. 

Focus group organized by pollster Janet Brown and CBC Edmonton discusses top issues

From left to right: Edmonton voters Amelia Leung, James Raworth, Bonnie Beaumier and Alice Johnston share their thoughts on what they want the new city council to prioritize. (CBC Edmonton)

The new councillors and mayor will be sworn in on Tuesday but Edmontonians are already eager for their new council to get to work. 

Issues like economic recovery, addressing homelessness, revitalizing downtown and reining in on spending are top of mind for some Edmontonians who were part of a focus group organized by pollster Janet Brown and CBC Edmonton after this week's election. 

"If we're looking at the next 100 days, I think job creation would be a huge, important [issue]," said Bonnie Beaumier, a mother, substitute teacher and fitness instructor.

Amarjeet Sohi, the incoming mayor, had economic recovery as part of his election platform, including promises like an innovation fund to entice new businesses to the city and for current businesses to expand but also a Business Advocate Office (BAO) for small and medium-sized businesses "to turn to for resources and guidance" to encourage growth, according to his platform

Edmonton's newly elected mayor and councillors. Top row, left to right: Amarjeet Sohi, Erin Rutherford, Jo-Anne Wright, Keren Tang. Middle row, left to right: Sarah Hamilton, Andrew Knack, Michael Janz. Bottom row, left to right: Jennifer Rice, Tim Cartmell, Karen Principe, Ashley Salvador, Anne Stevenson, Aaron Paquette. (Photo collage by John Zazula/CBC)

But part of the economic recovery plan should also include looking at reinvigorating downtown, said criminal defence lawyer and Ward sipiwiyiniwak resident James Raworth. 

"Investing in downtown gets you money back," he said, adding that businesses downtown are an important part of the tax base. 

"I see investment in downtown and making sure downtown is functioning and thriving as a benefit to the rest of the city. Because if you can do that, then you can afford more money for services or construction in more areas."

The city introduced a downtown vibrancy strategy this summer in hopes of breathing life back into downtown as many workers have not yet returned to the office.

The city set aside an initial investment of $5 million but it could take $7 million to $28 million to implement partnerships and initiatives, administration told a council committee at the time

Addressing the budget

The new council will have to make some decisions when they finalize the city's 2022 operating and capital budgets later this year.

For many of the Edmontonians interviewed by CBC Edmonton this week, rising property taxes were a huge concern, including for professional volunteer Alice Johnston, who lives in Ward tastawiyiniwak.

"First I'd like them to slow down, take a breath and not start buying all the things that they promised because there's been a lot of people that I know who've had wage cutbacks, have lost jobs and it's going to be a slow build," she said.

"You can't bring out everything that you promised right away in the first year, especially now that we're still trying to recover — if at all."

Edmonton city council will consist of eight women and four men, a significant change from the previous council of two women and ten men. (David Bajer/CBC)

After steady tax increases during Don Iveson's two terms as mayor, city council agreed to a zero increase in 2021, as residents and businesses continued to feel the toll of the pandemic. 

The city projects an overall COVID-related shortfall of $75 million in 2022. 

Sohi had said during the election campaign that he wants to keep programs, recreation and transit affordable and will work with the next council and administration to keep the increases to a minimum. 

Amelia Leung, a self-employed accountant, said the new city council is going to have to make some hard decisions. 

"In the first 100 days, I think they really, really need to take a hard look at the budget and where they're cutting," said the Ward Sspomitapi resident. 

"I know that our mayor-elect Amarjeet Sohi has said he does not want to cut services. But the fact is, some services need to be cut because they're not being used right now due to the pandemic."

Homelessness a key issue

Helping people in the city without housing is projected to be a key issue for the incoming council. 

Outgoing mayor Don Iveson said in September the homelessness situation in Edmonton needs a lot of work, as 1,000 more people have become homeless since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Addressing homelessness emerged as a high priority in a CBC Edmonton poll on city issues prior to the election. Of 900 respondents, 80 per cent called the issue highly important. 

And for most of those interviewed after the election, creating affordable housing and addressing homelessness remained a huge priority. 

"I would love for them to really tackle some wild brainstorming on how we're actually going to deal with homelessness and drug abuse," said Beaumier, who lives in Ward pihêsiwin.

The incoming council will have their inaugural council meeting on Tuesday following their swearing-in, marking the start of what some say will be a difficult four years. 

"I don't envy city council. They have a tough job ahead of them. I readily admit that," said Leung. 

"But having said that, I think they need to make some hard decisions because this is only year one of the next four years. The city is going to be crunched in terms of money."

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