Uber decision deferred, $41 million for Edmonton City Centre, have your say on the budget

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

Uber Decision Deferred

Today was the big Council meeting to discuss the proposed Vehicle for Hire Bylaw. Last week the City informed the media they’d need to pickup a press badge in order to be present today, and security was increased at City Hall in anticipation of heated protests. But despite a few minor outbursts during the meeting, it all felt a little underwhelming. Many Councillors used the opportunity to get on their respective soapboxes to complain about whatever – some ripped into Uber, some expressed anger at Administration, and one or two questioned why we regulate taxis at all. But that was the only drama, because in the end Council asked for more information and deferred a decision on the bylaw until late January.

Make no mistake, Uber is going to walk away from this whole situation happy. Why? Because there’s a lot more Edmontonians that want to see Uber here as an option than there are Edmontonians willing to speak up for the taxis. Council is hearing loud and clear from constituents that they want Uber in Edmonton, and that’s the most effective way to get Council to budge on something. And even if the rules that do eventually get passed aren’t ideal for Uber, they may be good enough as Councillor Walters points out. They’re threatening to leave now because it helps them secure a better negotiating position. But once there are rules to play by, it’s a simple business decision – can they make money following those rules or not?

$41 million for Edmonton City Centre

Today via Ted Bauer I saw that Oxford Property Group is planning to invest $41.3 million to “revitalize the entire retail experience” of Edmonton City Centre. A big part of the plan is to “relocate and significantly upgrade” the food courts. Currently located on the lowest level of the mall, one on the west and one on the east, the existing food courts will be consolidated centrally on the top level (as is now common in other malls and shopping centres).

Edmonton City Centre
Edmonton City Centre, photo by IQRemix

The news release mentions that “over 23,000 new residents are expected to be living downtown by 2019.” It’s great to see that Edmonton City Centre is looking at this as an opportunity and that they’re willing to invest in order to compete with Ice District. There are already a lot of empty spaces in the mall, including many that have been empty for months or even years. With a new hotel, new theatre, and lots of other retail moving just a block or two away into new buildings in Ice District, it was starting to look like Edmonton City Centre would be even emptier in just a few years.

I would suggest this investment is the minimum necessary in order for Edmonton City Centre to compete. And their relative silence on all the development happening downtown was not inspiring much confidence, so this is a nice surprise. But let’s keep it real, ok? Here’s what the Oxford site currently says:

“There’s a huge buzz coming out of downtown Edmonton—and it’s resonating entirely from Edmonton City Centre.”

That’s a bit of a stretch! Still, good to see them willing to make a play for a piece of the pie.

Have your say on the 2016-2018 Operating Budget

We’re in the middle of budget season, as you are probably aware. On Monday, November 23 a non-statutory public hearing will be held at City Hall from 1:30pm to 9:30pm. It’s an opportunity for you to speak directly to City Council about the proposed budget before a decision is made in early December. If you’d like to register to speak, you can do so here.

The full budget is available at edmonton.ca/budget2016. If you’d like a friendly introduction and overview to the budget, check out yegcitybudget.ca. And finally, if you’re a geek like me and want to dig into the data, budget.edmonton.ca is the best place to start.

The final budget discussions get underway starting November 27.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #178

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

  • Today at City Hall the Christmas Bureau launched its 2015 campaign with the annual Gingerbread House Decorating Challenge for the media. This year I was honored to be a judge for the contest, along with Andrea Chan and a member of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (Bill, representing Chief Ken Block). It was not easy to pick the winners given all the creative houses that we saw! In the end, these were the winners:

    Best in Social – The Tiffin Box
    Best of Radio – 840 CFCW
    Best of TV – Dinner Television
    Shameless Self-Promotion Award – 95.7 CRUZ FM
    Best in Show – CTV Edmonton

Christmas Bureau 2015 Campaign Launch
Gingerbread House Decorating Challenge Awards

Christmas Bureau 2015 Campaign Launch
CTV Edmonton’s Tiki Bar

Christmas Bureau 2015 Campaign Launch
95.7 CRUZ FM was Ninja Turtle themed!

Capital FM Xmas

Fresh FM Xmas

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 11/15/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:


For Paris
For Paris, photo by Jeff Wallace

Upcoming Events

Canadian Finals Rodeo - Edmonton
Canadian Finals Rodeo, photo by IQRemix

TELUS focuses on the connected lifestyle with its new store at Edmonton’s Southgate Centre

In today’s world, the smartphone is at the centre of almost every digital experience. In addition to a smartphone, many of us carry headphones, perhaps a battery pack, a fitness tracker, and maybe even a cable or two. The smartphone itself connects to a whole world of other devices on top of that, like so-called “smart” locks, thermostats, speakers, and video cameras. Can TELUS capitalize on this brave new world with its new store to change the way you buy electronics and perhaps make TELUS your preferred partner for the connected lifestyle?

Back in 2008 I wrote about the brand new Future Shop in South Edmonton Common, described at the time as “the future of Future Shop”. It was a curious time to be launching a fancy new electronics store – just a month or so before it opened, Circuit City down in the US had filed for bankruptcy protection. The Source had recently shut down more than 60 stores across the country and its parent company InterTAN had just filed for bankruptcy protection too. It took a bit longer until Best Buy felt the effects of online shopping, but in the last five years they’ve been hit hard with declining revenue (though recently have become profitable again). Earlier this year, Best Buy discontinued the Future Shop brand and closed 66 locations across the country, including that store in South Edmonton Common. And down in the US, RadioShack filed for bankruptcy protection too. It has been a rough decade for bricks & mortar electronics retailers.

But maybe it’s too easy to blame online shopping and showrooming for the difficulties facing Best Buy. The Apple Store has had incredible success during that same time period and is still expanding today, and others like Microsoft have followed suit with their own stores. Why go to Best Buy when you can go right to the source? Not to mention the experience of shopping at a Best Buy is nothing like shopping at an Apple Store. Maybe there’s hope for electronics retailers after all?

New TELUS Store at Southgate

It’s with all that in mind that I accepted an invitation to check out the new TELUS Store at Southgate Centre here in Edmonton. I joined fellow blogger Nugglemama for a tour of the new space, located directly across from the old TELUS Store near the stairs in the southeast part of the mall. Marc Jamieson, Director of Marketing, Merchandising, and Design at TELUS and Koodo, was in town to show us around and to explain all of the features of the new store.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The existing TELUS Store at Southgate was about 640 square feet, and it’s safe to say it was a traditional phone company store (it will soon become a Koodo store). Most of the space inside was dedicated to counters where you’d spend lots of time waiting for a phone activation. There was very little product on display, and the whole environment was fairly uninviting. A few years ago TELUS launched its “G2” stores to try to change that perception. They were larger, brighter, and featured more phones and a limited amount of other merchandise, like cases and chargers. But they also made heavy use of digital screens and more or less kept the same core interaction – a TELUS employee on one side of a desk and you on the other. I’ve visited the G2 store at Edmonton City Centre a few times, and while it has always been a positive experience, I do find the store somewhat unfriendly thanks to the cold surfaces and dozens of screens.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

Now TELUS is introducing a new generation of store with some much bigger changes. The new Southgate store and the new store at Toronto’s Eaton Centre are “Connected Experience concept stores” that TELUS says “are an evolution of our retail shopping journey.” There are currently no plans for additional new stores, but if these two are successful you can bet that will change.

“There’s no doubt that our smartphones are a central part of our lives and how we’re using them changes almost daily – from listening to tunes, to tracking our fitness to monitoring our home – our devices can really enrich our lives. With our new Connected Experience stores we’ve created a playground where customers can touch, test and play with more than 1,000 specially curated products that help enhance their digitally connected life.”

The new TELUS Store is the largest in Canada at roughly 3,400 square feet. It officially opened on October 21, just eight months after the original concept was created (the Eaton Centre store opened October 14). It features a bold green exterior and a wide entrance, and is immediately more welcoming than previous stores. As you walk in a greeter will say hello, and you’ll find the store roughly split in half. The left side is where you can go to quickly purchase merchandise, and the right side is where you’ll go to sign up for a TELUS service.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

But perhaps the most obvious difference from other TELUS stores is the array of non-TELUS products on display and available for purchase. You can’t miss the Fitbit and Nest displays, for instance. The new TELUS Store features a series of categories, each with an anchor product partner. You’ll find:

  • Health & Fitness, anchored by Fitbit
  • Audio, anchored by Beats
  • Essentials, anchored by Mophie
  • Fashion, anchored by Kate Spade
  • Devices, anchored by Apple and Samsung
  • Lifestyle, anchored by GoPro
  • Home, anchored by Nest and Optik

Each category anchor can change over time, and there are more brands available in each. For instance, there is also Sonos, Bang & Olufsen, Jaybird, and many others available in Audio alongside Beats. The Fashion section (bags and cases) features Kate Spade but also Ted Baker and Rebecca Minkoff. Prices are comparable to other retailers.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The items you’ll find at the TELUS store are all connected to the smartphone in some way. Fitbits, headphones, Mophies, Nest, and even toy drones, are all things you pair with your smartphone. I asked Marc if there were some things that just don’t belong in a TELUS store, noting the lack of laptops. Marc said that “there are things we have decided not to focus on, and laptops are one of those things.” He noted that even the tablet display was pretty basic. The focus is on “connected experience” devices – things you need a smartphone to get the most out of.

The new store is staffed more heavily than other stores, and all the staff have been trained on how to use all of the various products available. There’s a real focus on demoing, so you’re invited to try everything on display, and the staff all carry devices with the necessary software to show you how things work. I asked Marc if he was worried about showrooming, and he said he’s so confident in the training of the reps that he’s not concerned.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

There are some pretty cool displays to help with all that demoing, like the interactive sound bar for wireless speakers. It uses an app built by Stingray Music to allow you to compare different speakers and different styles of music. Above each table are attractive sound-dampening features, something you’ll find throughout the store actually.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The new store has incorporated lots of feedback based on previous stores and also research that TELUS has done at its retail lab in Scarborough. There’s more quantity and variety of seating, because customers often spend a lot of time in the store. While the G2 stores featured Optik and other Future Friendly Home devices, they were hidden away. The new store puts them out in the open so that customers can better envision how the boxes will fit into their homes. There’s also a kid-friendly area and lots of carpet in the store. Instead of a single retail counter, there are eight point-of-sale stations throughout the store.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

Near the front of the store you’ll find a recharge station for your mobile device, and on the tables throughout the store are wireless charging pads (which my Lumia worked with immediately). There’s also free Wi-Fi at the store, though it wasn’t working on the day I visited. All of these things are open to all, even non TELUS subscribers!

To celebrate the grand opening of the new stores in Edmonton and Toronto, TELUS is offering 15% off accessories until November 23. They’re also encouraging you to share your experience on social media using the hashtag #ExploreTELUS. If you do, you’ll be entered to win one of the prizes they’re giving away weekly until December 14.

So, will I shop there?

I really liked the new store. It feels warm and welcoming especially when compared with its predecessors. There’s a lot to see and do in the store, and it definitely will feel approachable to anyone who likes the Apple Store in that it is experiential. When I made the comparison, Marc felt strongly that “aesthetically they are different” however, even if only thanks to the liberal use of the green and purple brand colors.

I can’t see myself buying my next Fitbit at the new TELUS Store, however. When it comes to electronics, I do a lot of research online. I compare and read and watch reviews and look up specs. I dig into forums and sift through social media to see what real people are saying and what issues they’ve run into. Then when I know exactly what I want to buy, I look around and compare prices. Often Amazon wins, especially as I’m a Prime member. The new TELUS Store isn’t competing on price and despite promises that the staff are exceptionally well-trained, I’m skeptical that they’ll have the level of knowledge that I would be looking for.

That said, as a TELUS mobile customer (since the Clearnet days!) I like the idea of a flagship store and would definitely visit the next time I need a SIM card or to talk with someone about my plan. It’s the same reason why I visit the Apple Store or the Microsoft Store – I expect a better experience and the flagship stores offer that.

But I’m probably not the target customer anyway. Marc mentioned that the new store has seen a large increase in foot traffic, and it’s the folks that are either casually looking or not willing to do all of that research that are the real target for TELUS. Have a smartphone and interested in getting an activity tracker? Head to the TELUS Store and they can help you get setup with the one that works best with your device.

It’s unlikely that selling Fitbits or Nests is going to measurably impact the $12 billion in revenue that TELUS generates each year. But if the new store can indeed become a hub for customers looking for the connected lifestyle, then it could positively impact wireless, Internet, and Optik subscriptions which is what TELUS really wants. The new store is about creating that halo effect. Will the new TELUS store be the last of its kind or the start of a successful strategy shift? Time will tell!

Win a Nest or Jaybird X2!

After I visted the store, TELUS was kind enough to send me a gift basket. Included inside were a couple of pretty expensive items which would be inappropriate for me to keep, so I’m giving them away to two lucky readers!

Nest and Jaybird X2

To enter my contest, simply leave a comment below by November 30 telling me how you currently like to purchase electronics and if you plan to shop at the new TELUS store. I’ll draw two valid email addresses at random from the comments and will contact the winners on December 1. Just in time to help with your Christmas shopping!

Your Guide to Winter 2015/2016 Festivals & Events in Edmonton

Here’s my listing of winter festivals & events for 2015/2016, powered by ShareEdmonton. Below you’ll find dozens of events with a website, dates, and links to social media for each. You’ll also find a link to the event at ShareEdmonton and a link to an iCal for the event. I hope you find this listing as useful as I do.

High Level Bridge

Festivals & Events

For winter, I’m generally looking at events that take place from mid-November through March. Those with a winter or holiday theme are more likely to be included. Here’s the listing for 2015/2016:

Event Dates Links
Christmas on the Square Holiday Light Up November 14 SE 
Hazeldean Christmas Craft Sale November 14-15 SE  
Leduc Festival of Trees November 14-15 SE  
Santa’s Little Helpers Shopping Extravaganza November 15 SE  
Indie Handmade November 20-22 SE    
All is Bright on 124 Street November 21 SE    
Santa’s Parade of Lights November 21 SE    
The Vixens of Vintage Holiday Market November 21-22 SE  
Royal Glenora Club Christmas Gift Show November 22 SE   
Festival of Trees November 26-28 SE    
Make It Edmonton November 26-29 SE     
Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair Nov 27-29 & Dec 4-6 SE    
Winterfest at Snow Valley November 27-29 SE    
Hand2Hand Christmas Market November 28 SE  
Silver Bells Winter Market November 28 SE   
A Christmas Carol Nov 28 – Dec 23 SE     
Butterdome Craft Sale December 3-6 SE    
The Legislature Light-up December 3 SE    
So This Is Christmas December 4-6 SE  
Celebrate the Season December 4-23 SE    
Festival of Light December 4-13 SE    
A Festive Mosaic December 5 SE 
A Christmas Karol: The Karol Wojtyla Nativity Play December 5 SE 
Luminaria December 5-6 SE   
Old Strathcona Horse-Drawn Sleigh Shuttle Dec 5, 12, 19 SE     
The Many Moods of Christmas December 7 SE 
Holiday Magic at City Hall December 7-11 SE 
Candy Cane Lane Dec 11 – Jan 3 SE    
Christmas Reflections Dec 11-30 SE     
Southeast Winter Fun Festival December 12 SE   
Leefield Community’s Gift & Craft Sale December 12 SE  
Snowflake Sunday December 13 SE  
The Culture Collective Holiday Arts Market December 17 SE    
A River City Christmas December 17 SE   
Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree December 17-20 SE     
Shumka presents Clara’s Dream! December 29-30 SE   
New Year’s Eve Downtown December 31 SE    
Swing ‘n Skate Sundays Jan 3 – Feb 28 SE 
Deep Freeze: Byzantine Winter Festival January 9-10 SE   
Ice Castles Jan 9 – Mar 14 SE   
Edmonton Whisky Festival January 13 SE 
World Snow Day January 17 SE     
Ice on Whyte Jan 21-24 & Jan 28-31 SE    
Winter Walk Day February 3 SE   
The Flying Canoe Adventure February 5-6 SE   
Hypothermic Half Marathon Feb 7 & Feb 21 SE   
Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival February 12-13 SE   
Silver Skate Festival February 12-21 SE   
winterfête: Family Day at the Alberta Legislature February 15 SE    
SkirtsAFire Festival March 10-13 SE  
Winter Warrior Challenge March 12 SE   
Western Canada Fashion Week March 24-31 SE   

You can check out a calendar view of festivals here or you can download the iCal feed for your own apps.

Winter in Edmonton

Edmonton is a winter city, and we’re working hard to reclaim the joy of winter and embrace the season! You can learn all about the WinterCity strategy and associated events and ideas here. Stay tuned for a new Winter Signature Drink contest and the For the Love of Winter Fashion Design Competition. Also taking place sometime this winter (depending on when the snow comes) is #YEGSNOWFIGHT – stay tuned!

Quite a few events took place last year that aren’t happening this year, like Red Bull Crashed Ice and the Winter Cities Shake-Up. Hopefully some others will return, like illumiNITE, and if they do I’ll add them to the list above.

Happy New Year 2015!
Fireworks welcomed 2015!

For some in our community, this time of year is anything but merry. Lots of organizations do great work on behalf of the less fortunate, but two in particular are celebrating big milestones this year. Santas Anonymous is marking 60 years of delivering toys to less fortunate children in Edmonton and the Christmas Bureau is marking 75 years of providing a festive meal to Edmontonians in need. You can learn more about both and get involved here.

There are of course many more events listed in the ShareEdmonton calendar, so check it out! Have I missed something that should be included? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.

Happy winter!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #177

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Summer Temporary Employment Program 3592a
Premier Rachel Notley in front of the cameras

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 11/8/2015

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:


Premier’s Address to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce 3653
Premier Rachel Notley delivered her State of the Province address on Wednesday. Here’s a recap from AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Upcoming Events

Best of the West Menu Preview
Have a great Rodeo Week!

Coming up at City Council: November 9-13, 2015

This coming week Council is back to Committee meetings. I think because of the budget, a lot of reports have been postponed or rerouted. Below are a few highlights from the week’s agendas with links to the reports and more information.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

First Responders Memoriam

Councillor Anderson made an inquiry back in June about how Edmonton Police, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, Emergency Medical Services, and other first responders who have died on duty are honoured. Some highlights from the response:

  • “There is no one existing record or public location that identifies the names of all first responders who have died in the line of duty.”
  • EPS and EFS both have programs that honour their fallen members.
  • The City has both the Civic Employee Memorial and the Naming Committee does honour people and places in the City.
  • “The Edmonton Police Service recognize members by adding the names of fallen officers to their flag (or colours), which is on permanent public display at City of Edmonton Police Headquarters. The names of ten fallen officers, dating back to 1918, are recorded on the flag.”
  • For Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, “there is a bell tower that contains the ceremonial bell and the honour roll which names all of Edmonton’s fallen firefighters.”

The City holds a memorial event every two to three years, the next of which will take place in September 2017. “The program includes an Honour Guard procession provided by Edmonton Police Service and Fire Rescue Services, and the laying of the wreaths in honour of the deceased.”

The response also says it could be possible to identify a permanent location for a “First Responders Memorial” within City Hall.

Current Status of the Film Commission

There’s some interesting background in this report on Edmonton’s film industry. The role of Edmonton Film Commissioner was created in 2001 and since then two people have filled the position. But it has been vacant since March 2015 as EEDC “has been evaluating a new strategy which encompasses other forms of media and technology.”

There are also two recommendations, based on public engagement and other evaluation:

  • “That the Edmonton Film Commission and the role of the Edmonton Film Commissioner continue to reside with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation.”
  • “That Administration work with the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, Alberta Media Productions Industries Association and representatives of the film, music and digital media industries, to develop an industry collaboration and development framework, and provide a report to Executive Committee with the results of these discussions.”

EEDC’s new strategy is called “Intersect – a collision of artists and geeks”.

“Intersect offers a multi-disciplinary environment for content creators, interactive designers, hardware engineers, and data scientists, working to transform the way we visualize and analyze data, tell and share stories, and interact with technology.”

The strategy notes that although the digital/interactive media industry generates $7.5 billion of revenue in Canada, just 14% of digital media production takes place in Alberta, and 80% of that is in Calgary. That means there’s a big opportunity for Edmonton to take a bigger piece of the pie.

A separate strategy from AMPIA proposes the creation of an Edmonton Screen Industries Office that would support the local industry. But: “Ultimately, there needs to be collaboration with municipal and provincial organizations and government departments to align goals and resources where appropriate to grow Edmonton screen and cultural industries.”

There’s also a report on the Film Funding Agreement between the City and EEDC. “Administration sees a continued economic benefit in supporting the previously established agreement.”

Distributed Energy in Edmonton’s Downtown

The report begins:

“The City of Edmonton has long understood the benefits of a district energy system and has been monitoring district energy opportunities for several decades. Feasibility studies were done in 1980 and 1992 to explore implementation of district energy in the central core. Since that early work, the technology has evolved considerably and the infrastructure needed takes less space and is more cost-effective than traditional boiler installations.”

The business case for a district energy system in downtown Edmonton is now ready for Council’s review. The City would need to provide a few things in order for it to work: commit City-owned building connections, provide a central located building site for the energy hub, and encourage other organizations to use it. It would also need to contribute $9 million over three years to “help to offset ENMAX’s financial investment and risk” in developing the system.

The benefits of the district energy system for downtown include:

  • “A reduction of 18,100 tonnes (3,800 cars) of greenhouse gas emissions per year in the initial build out of the district energy system.”
  • “Reduced environmental footprint for municipally owned and operated buildings.”
  • “Increased power grid resiliency for the urban core.”

Administration will likely bring forward an unfunded service package for the system for Council to review during the 2016-2018 budget process.

Low Income Transit Pass

This report is a follow-up to Council’s request from April on options for implementation and distribution of the Low Income Transit Pass for 2016. The pass is to have an initial discount of 60%, funded by property taxes. Administration is recommending a $35 pass for eligible customers.

“The most significant challenge for implementing a low income pass program is ensuring that there are enough distribution points so that qualified individuals and families can purchase the pass with relative ease, while still ensuring that only those intended to benefit from the tax levy funded subsidy do so.”

There are more than 100,000 individuals in Edmonton with incomes below the Low Income Cut Off (LICO). ETS expects that an average of 20,000 Low Income Transit Passes will be sold each month (which includes the roughly 5,000 people who already qualify for the AISH Pass). The report recommends four sales locations: Clareview Recreation Centre, Mill Woods Recreation Centre, St. Francis Xavier Sports Centre, and City Hall.

In terms of budget implications:

“The net impact for the recommended $35 Low Income Transit Pass, for all transit services, is $3.1 million in 2016, $6.3 million in 2017 and $8.4 million in 2018.”

Administration is also providing a couple of enhancement options and alternatives:

  • One enhancement would mean that qualifying families only pay for adults and all children under 18 would get a transit pass at no cost. This would further reduce ETS revenue by $2.3 million.
  • A separate enhancement could be to provide the pass at no cost to all eligible Edmontonians. A further reduction in ETS revenue of approximately $8 million would anticipated.
  • An alternative would be a $1 pay-as-you-go cash fare. The cost to ETS of such a program would be “significantly reduced compared to the monthly pass” but the cost to Edmontonians could be more or less, depending on how many rides they take each month.

The City is also recommending that 500 transit passes be distributed monthly to homeless citizens.

Another interesting item from the report is that the “new Low Income Transit Pass operational program should be considered as an interim process” because the regional Smart Fare system will incorporate all fare products, including low income. The report says the new Smart Fare system is expected to be operational in 2018.

Neighbourhood Renewal Program Status Update

There’s lots of really interesting information in this report! From 2009 to 2014, Neighbourhood Renewal Program investment has totaled $660 million. That includes:

  • 22 Neighbourhood Reconstruction Projects
  • 44 Neighbourhood Overlay Projects
  • Total of 1651 lane kilometres of Local/Collector Roads renewed

The Capital Budget for 2015-2018 would total $615 million in Neighbourhood Renewal. That’s 1.5% annually and will fund:

  • 20 Neighbourhood Reconstruction Projects
  • 24 Neighbourhood Overlay Projects
  • Total of 1122 lane kilometres of Local/Collector Roads renewed

The report includes a possible reduction to just 1.4% for 2016, 2017, and 2018, which would reduce the funding by $41.6 million.

Other interesting items


You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Dominoes are falling at the City of Edmonton

There’s a lot change taking place at the City of Edmonton right now and you should expect it to continue until well into next year. You might say the dominoes have started falling and no one knows when the final one will land. There are both internal and external causes for this change. Before we get into the changes, let’s consider some context.

Where It All Began
Photo by mckinney75402

Certainly the new Provincial and Federal governments have had an impact, both directly and indirectly. By directly I mean that the City has lost some key individuals. For instance, former City Clerk Alayne Sinclair left earlier this year to work in Premier Notley’s office, and of course former Councillor Amarjeet Sohi was just named to Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet. And by indirectly, there’s the uncertainty about funding and working relationships that always comes with new faces. At the Provincial level, the review of the Municipal Government Act and the ongoing discussions about the Big City Charter will also have an impact depending on the outcome.

As a result of the last municipal election, both Council and Administration identified public engagement as a key challenge area of focus. Council launched the Public Engagement Initiative while Administration launched the Open City Initiative. Now with the release of the Phase 1 report back in September, work is underway to establish an Advisory Committee and working groups organized around the five strategic areas of focus. That work is expected to last through the remainder of the current Council term.

I think another big factor to consider is The Way Ahead, the City’s strategic plan. That document, which was approved in 2009, was just reviewed and updated last year, but planning will soon be underway for a more thorough overhaul leading up to 2018 (though we need to ensure we do and not just plan). How public engagement and the municipal election in 2017 factor into that work is still an open question. And at some point, the new City of Edmonton office tower will be completed allowing staff to consolidate at a single location, which could have big cultural impacts.

Top of mind at the moment is the Operating Budget. Instead of an annual budget as in years past, the City has switched to a multi-year budget, and that’s having all kinds of knock-on effects. It should mean less effort is required each year to prepare the budget, but it also means that Council can be more strategic about spending.

And of course the City’s missteps have been well-documented this year. Major projects like the 102 Avenue Bridge over Groat Road and the new Walterdale Bridge have been significantly delayed, and the Metro Line LRT was perhaps the key catalyst for much of the change that has taken place.

Simon Farbrother
Simon Farbrother, photo by City of Edmonton

The most obvious change was Council’s decision to fire City Manager Simon Farbrother back in September. I must admit I was caught off-guard by the news, mainly because although Councillor Nickel called for Farbrother’s head during the Metro Line LRT discussions, he was the only one really doing so. Mayor Iveson and other Councillors suggested Nickel was grandstanding and said Farbrother had their full confidence. So the about face just a couple of weeks later was a surprise.

Linda Cochrane has been the Acting City Manager since late September. I think she’s a fantastic choice, certainly to maintain some stability throughout this uncertain time. But I don’t think it’s likely she’ll get the job. Here’s what Councillor Anderson said after she was made the Acting City Manager:

“She’s certainly been a part of everything that’s happened here for a long, long time and has a way with people,” he said. “I think an excellent choice.”

Being “a part of everything that’s happened here for a long, long time” is certainly a good thing for stability, institutional knowledge, and efficiency. But it’s not necessarily what you look for when you want to change things up. And that’s what Council seems to be interested in.

As Paula Simons noted, Al Maurer was widely considered a micro-manager and perhaps had too much control over the operations of the City. In contrast, Simon Farbrother brought more hands-off approach and focused on communication and culture. The assumption now is that the right person for the job can straddle the fence, able to get into the details and also able to articulate and connect the work to the big picture.

It’s clear that Council, led by Mayor Iveson, wants to go in a different direction:

“The scale and complexity of the challenges ahead demand a fresh perspective,” Iveson said. “This is about setting our administration on a new path to manage the next chapter in the city’s growth.”

Whoever the successful candidate is, it’s very likely they’ll want to make some big changes. That could mean even more turnover in senior staff than we have already begun to see.

Scott Mackie, who was in charge of Current Planning under Sustainable Development, tendered his resignation a couple weeks ago and will leave the City on November 13. I understand that Peter Ohm has been tapped to take his place. That’s a big branch, responsible for some of the most contentious issues that the City has dealt with this year.

Changes in transportation continue, with Eddie Robar joining the City from Halifax to lead ETS, filling the role that has been vacant since Charles Stolte was let go earlier this year. Robar will start on January 4. He’s very likely to shake things up upon arrival, bringing his experience overhauling Halifax’s transit system to the ongoing debate about our own.

And the biggest change could still be coming. Yesterday, Council voted to have Administration outline steps for a full program review. Mayor Iveson repeated a phrase he has used many times before, saying that setting targets for cuts is “the old ‘pin the tail on the budget'” and that the review should be focused on efficiency instead.

“Of the give or take 87 different things that we do at the city of Edmonton, there may be some that we should either stop doing or do less of versus other priorities,” said Iveson in support of the review. “Budget is not the best way to make those decisions and yet it is the default by which we make those decisions.”

The full program review is likely welcome news for some, like the Canadian Federation for Independent Business, which called current spending “unreasonable” and said property taxes have “ballooned”.

The last major review took place in 1997. Bruce Thom, who joined the City of Edmonton as City Manager in 1996, wasted no time in making changes. One of the first things he did was spend $500,000 to have Ernst & Young evaluate the City’s operations. That resulted in City ’97 (subtitled “Preparing for the Future”), a plan to save $52 million per year by the year 2000, principally by eliminating roughly 750 of the City’s 8,700 jobs. In the end about 400 positions were eliminated and the City reorganized from thirteen departments to just eight, resulting in a savings of roughly $22.5 million annually between 1997 and 2000.

It was a stressful time for City bureaucrats, and Council raised that as a concern with conducting another review now. They cited the importance of a clear communications plan and downplayed the idea that the review is being undertaken solely to find opportunities for job cuts.

full time positions

Though Simon Farbrother led a relatively minor reorganization in 2011, the City’s workforce has generally been growing in recent years. Prior to City ’97, the last major round of layoffs took place in 1983. At the time the City had about 11,000 employees, a number the City surpassed once again in 2012.

I think a review of the City’s operations makes sense, and perhaps the timing is right. With a new City Manager coming in, the possibility of a new relationship with the Provincial and Federal governments (especially with the City Charter), and a new round of strategic planning coming up, it’s entirely appropriate for Council and Administration to get aligned on priorities.

Expect much more change to come!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #176

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Move for Movember Mondays
Photo courtesy of Global Edmonton

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.