Who’s behind Envision Edmonton?

Last week, the City Centre Airport was once again in the news thanks to a “new” group calling itself Envision Edmonton. Though City Council voted to close the City Centre Airport nearly a year ago, the issue has never really gone away. First there was the delay to accommodate the Edmonton Indy, then there was the lawsuit from Airco (they lost their bid for an injunction to stop the closure last week). The Edmonton Flying Club has also filed suit trying to keep the airport open.

With the AEG turning its attention toward the oil sands, it’s almost like the local media were salivating for someone to reopen the issue. Here’s what the Envision Edmonton press release said:

In response to Mayor, Stephen Mandel’s challenge issued during his State of the City speech – to convince City Council that the City Centre Airport should stay open – a group of local business people stepped forward to propose alternatives.

A group of concerned Edmontonians created “Envision Edmonton” – an independent community organization formed specifically to develop a suitable and economically viable plan to revitalize the City Centre Airport.

I’m really disappointed with how this has been covered in the local media so far. Here is how they reported the “news”:

I’m sure there was a 60 second piece on the evening news that day too. If you read through those stories, you’ll find that they don’t provide much information beyond what was contained within the press release (as is so often the case, unfortunately). Here are some of the questions that sprung to mind immediately that were not answered:

  1. Who’s behind the group, and is it really new? Have they been involved in the issue in the past?
  2. Where have I heard that name before?
  3. Where can I learn more about the group and its proposed alternatives?

Simple stuff really. Maybe those questions didn’t come to mind for the writers and editors working that day, or maybe they found that answering them was too daunting a task (that might be a valid excuse actually, given that Envision Edmonton still doesn’t have a website…yes, seriously). To be fair to Gordon Kent, his piece did at least treat the group with some skepticism.

It gets much better though. All of those stories use quotes from or paraphrase the press release, which is pretty standard. I’m wondering how they chose what to include, however. Here’s the last paragraph of the press release:

Envision Edmonton is primarily funded by individuals and businesses, many of which have no direct investment in or association with the City Centre Airport, but who are instead dedicated exclusively to helping to make Edmonton a great city.

That’s a pretty cut-and-dry statement, and it ties in nicely with my first question. So I set out to find the answer. Turns out it is completely false (not the last part of course, I’m sure they all want to help make Edmonton a great city).

Here are the Envision Edmonton board members:

  1. Charles Allard (Chairman)
  2. Ian Barrigan
  3. Dr. Joseph Fernando
  4. Phil Milroy
  5. Barry Breckenridge
  6. Bob Bentley
  7. Dr. Kerry Pawluski
  8. Ralph Henderson
  9. Ed Schlemko
  10. Eugene Strilchuk
  11. Bruce Ritchie
  12. Dean Braithwaite

No direct investment or association with the City Centre Airport huh? Right.

I also have answers for the other two questions I mentioned above. The name “Envision Edmonton” has been used a few times, but was probably best known as the former name for the City of Edmonton’s Strategic Plan. That certainly raised my eyebrows. Of all the names they could have picked, they went with the name of an important City document.

Where can you learn more about Envision Edmonton? That’s a good question. For now you can follow them on Twitter, or you can check them out on Facebook. I suspect you’ll hear more about the group later today after they hold another press conference, this time to actually unveil next steps (the last press conference was a meet-and-greet I guess). Here’s what I think you’ll hear:

  • Envision Edmonton will announce that they are launching a campaign to gather 78,000+ signatures to force a plebiscite.
  • One alternative, not many as the press release stated. They will announce loose, high level plans to expand business activities at the City Centre Airport, while retaining (and perhaps improving) medevac facilities.
  • A website. Maybe. It is 2010 after all.

What you probably won’t hear but might want to know:

  • The group has been raising a lot of money to support the campaign. I have heard numbers as high as $700,000. Their total budget, confirmed by Charles Allard, is $500,000. They’re also actively recruiting volunteers.
  • They have been making the rounds, and not just locally. Some members of the group visited Yellowknife back in May to try to get the GNWT on board.
  • Over the last few months they have been making an effort to leave comments on blogs and post updates on forums (example 1, example 2).

If you know something else that I’ve missed, let me know.

I invite you to read my posts on the City Centre Airport. In particular, you should read this post that outlines some responses to the most common questions (medevac, economic activity, etc) and contains links to additional documents. You might also want to read Scott McKeen’s column from last week. There are also lots of links to resources at NotMyAirport.ca.

UPDATE: As expected, Envision Edmonton announced plans today to get 80,000 signatures to keep the City Centre Airport open. Their campaign website includes the proposed plebiscite and other information. Part of their proposal is a new LRT route, running alongside NAIT to the east of the airport. The group has already raised half of their budget, and will start an ad campaign on TV and radio later this week. I asked Charles if they get the signatures and it goes to a vote and citizens want to close the airport, what’s next for Envision Edmonton? He told me “we’d have to respect the decision of the electorate”. Gordon Kent from The Journal asked a ton of questions, including lots about the funding. He is suggesting (and is correct in doing so, I think) that this could be the most heavily funded campaign in the fall election, more than any other race. He also asked if many of the members or funders of Envision Edmonton are involved with the City Centre Airport. Charles told him no, but as you can see above, that’s just simply not true.