Recap: Mayor Iveson’s 2014 State of the City Address

Mayor Don Iveson delivered his first State of the City address today in front of an absolutely packed crowd at the Shaw Conference Centre. Hosted by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the State of the City luncheon attracted more than 2200 people including Councillors, MLAs, MPs, as well as business and community leaders, all eager to hear what our new mayor would say. Would he make a statement like Mayor Mandel did (by declaring “no more crap”) in his first address? Would he dump on the Province like Mayor Mandel did (lamenting the treatment of post secondary education in Edmonton) in his last address? Or would he set a completely different tone?

State of the City 2014

Though Mayor Iveson’s speech today may have lacked a lightning rod comment like the infamous “no more crap”, it had its moments. Looking right at Premier Redford, our mayor called for the Province to come to the table on funding for LRT expansion:

“Madam Premier, never has the opportunity and timing to fully build out Edmonton’s LRT network been more worthy of your government’s leadership, commitment and support. Show that you understand the needs of this city in the same way that my Council does. Show Alberta’s capital city that we are worth investing in.”

It was a powerful moment, and the audience erupted into applause after he delivered the words. Without question that part of the speech is what we’ll be talking about years from now.

Mayor Iveson opened and closed his speech recognizing the important role that indigenous peoples have played in Edmonton’s history, and the important role they’ll play in our future.

“Ladies and gentleman, a new, more confident Edmonton has emerged – building upon our rich heritage, leveraging our advantages, and – most importantly – unafraid to challenge ourselves to do even better.”

He noted that Edmonton will host the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s national event later this month. “Without recognizing our shared history and learning from it, we have no hope of making change,” he said.

Though he touched on topics like public engagement, roadway maintenance, and the City Centre Airport, Mayor Iveson focused the bulk of his time on ending poverty, the global competitiveness of the region, LRT expansion, and the big city charter.

State of the City 2014

On poverty, Mayor Iveson looks set to keep an election promise, announcing that next week Council will consider his proposal to elevate the existing Poverty Elimination Committee (of which I have been a proud member) to a task force. “Simply managing poverty is not working,” he told the crowd. He called upon everyone in attendance to think about what they could do to “unleash the next generation of entrepreneurs from unlikely circumstances.” Mayor Iveson also recognized the importance of aligning with the Province’s commitment to eliminating child poverty in Alberta.

“Poverty is complex. Its causes are multi-facted, interlinked and anything but straightforward. Many are afraid to tackle it. But I am not.”

Using language that should by now seem familiar, Mayor Iveson next turned his attention to the Edmonton region. “If we want to continue to outperform other city regions in Canada, then we must work together much more effectively – and there can be no delay,” he said. Amalgamation isn’t on the horizon but he recognized that business leaders are frustrated. “For the region to achieve results, we must work together much more effectively on economic development,” he said. Again, the mayor issued a challenge, calling on his fellow mayors to consider the role they play:

“What will you do differently…how will you think differently…are you ready to look ahead and ensure that our region’s ability to compete globally for our mutual long-term benefit is always at the forefront of our deliberations?”

He briefly discussed annexation, saying that “boundary changes are a natural part of these discussions.” Mayor Iveson said that “Edmonton’s future growth must be balanced with a healthy mix of residential and employment areas.”

State of the City 2014

Though his pointed comments to Premier Reford were the most memorable part of Mayor Iveson’s remarks on LRT, he had much more to say. “To remove all doubt,” he told the audience firmly, “this Council unanimously declared LRT expansion as its priority for new infrastructure investment, beginning with the long-awaited Valley Line from Mill Woods to downtown.”

Most of City Council has been saying optimistic things about the Province providing funding for LRT, and Monday’s throne speech certainly sounded like a step in the right direction. We won’t know for sure until tomorrow if anything has changed however, when the budget is released.

The final major topic that Mayor Iveson addressed was the Big City Charter. “Big cities fuel a large part of the province’s economic dynamism,” he said. Citing work underway with the City of Calgary that has led to a closely aligned vision for such a charter, the mayor expressed his hope that discussions with the Province will be productive.

“We have reached the point where Alberta’s big cities have outgrown the one-size-fits-all Municipal Government Act and our collective efforts are better spent focused on a big city charter. What is needed is a real partnership between Alberta’s big cities and the provincial government.”

Unfortunately, I think Mayor Iveson again missed an opportunity to talk about what a big city charter might look like. I certainly applaud the ongoing effort to negotiate a better deal for big cities, but it would be much easier to ask the hundreds of Edmontonians in the room for support if they could understand and talk about it. The big city charter still seems nebulous.

State of the City 2014

Mayor Iveson spoke today with the same confidence and measured delivery that attracted Edmontonians to him during last fall’s election. Will it go down as his most memorable speech? Likely not. But I think he said the right things, in public, to the right people. Most of the folks in the room were already Iveson supporters, so winning them over wasn’t the goal. Instead, he delivered a clear message about what’s important to Edmonton and offered insight into how we should tackle key issues.

“My responsibility, and my Council colleague’s responsibility, is to steer us, focused on an ascendant Edmonton. Great cities emerge when conditions are ripe for unprecedented cooperation, creativity and disruptive change. The cities that embrace this will thrive while cities that are content with today will lag and whither. I will not stand for that in Edmonton. And, given what we hear from Edmontonians every day, neither will you.”

You can read the full text of Mayor Iveson’s remarks here in PDF. You can read my recap of last year’s State of the City here.