Today I had the opportunity to attend the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre. Hall D was absolutely packed with government, business, and community leaders – it was a really great turnout! The keynote speaker was of course Mayor Stephen Mandel, who delivered his latest State of the City Address, which you can read in PDF here (the archive of speeches is here).
Bella Rouge performed right before Mayor Mandel delivered his address.
Mayor Mandel started off talking about the “amazing arts community in Edmonton”. He talked about the importance of cultivating and investing in our arts industry, and made it clear: “Yes arts are an industry.” He talked about a new arts visioning committee that has been struck, co-chaired by Brian Webb and Diane Kipnes, to focus on raising the profile of arts in Edmonton.
He moved on to discuss working with citizens, something I have been thinking about a lot lately. He said:
And as much as I know we have more to learn in the area of citizen input, we have undertaken more citizen discussion in the last six years than at any other point in our city’s history.
I think Mayor Mandel understands that the way we’ve been doing things isn’t working. The expectations are greater, from both citizens and from the City of Edmonton employees that work so hard on their behalf. We can definitely improve when it comes to public involvement, and I think Mayor Mandel would absolutely be supportive of any such improvements.
The big news came about halfway through the address as Mayor Mandel was thanking Premier Stelmach for his support of the city. The Province has committed $497 million in new capital funding (through Green Trip) that will enable us to finish the LRT extension to NAIT.
And today, I am very privileged to say we have received assurances from the Province that money for our NAIT line – almost $500 million in new capital funding – has been secured through Green Trip. This new capital pay-on-progress money has already started to flow with $70 million advanced in 2010 through Green Trip. The balance of the province’s commitment is now confirmed which means LRT to NAIT is right on schedule.
The official Government of Alberta news release is here.
With the approval of the City’s submission for this LRT project, the province has provided $70 million from budget 2010-11 to the City of Edmonton to cover project costs already incurred. The remaining payments will be allocated to the City as progress on construction is made.
This is a big deal in my opinion, and while it did receive a pause and applause during the address, I wish a little more time had been spent on the issue. We cannot understate the impact transit will have on transforming Edmonton into the kind of city we want and need. Mayor Mandel did acknowledge the lack of support Edmonton has received from the federal government, saying that “what’s missing is full engagement of Ottawa on the big city file.” He called for citizens to speak out on the need for an urban agenda, something I can definitely get behind.
Mayor Mandel next spent a few minutes talking about the proposed downtown arena, expressing his “sincere hope that Council will take some constructive steps forward” when the issue is discussed at tomorrow’s Council meeting. “This is a project that has the potential to accelerate our efforts to bring more people, more energy and more activity to our core,” he said.
He lost me a little as he continued talking about the other opportunities we have in the downtown core, such as the Jasper Avenue revitalization and the Walterdale Bridge replacement, saying:
Within this context a broad-based CRL becomes a tool to support our efforts across our entire downtown plan – from Jasper Ave to the Quarters, to our warehouse district. So if we move forward tomorrow on the next steps towards a new arena and entertainment district we are moving forward with this entire vision.
I do want to frame what moving forward means. It means that we establish a baseline for a lead investment in a downtown arena project by the City of Edmonton, through a portion of any combination of CRL and a user-fee, both of which can be applied to building capital.
Tying the future of downtown to the arena project’s CRL sounds risky to me. I’m not sure if that was the intent of his remarks, but that’s what it sounded like. It’ll be interesting to see what Council decides tomorrow (if anything).
Mayor Mandel next turned his attention to the economy, noting that efforts are underway to “reconsider the role of agrifood and urban agriculture in our region.” He also suggested that our local food economy may “become the seed of a broader economic effort.” He declared Edmonton’s economic future as “bright” but noted that we need to work hard to ensure we realize those opportunities.
He concluded by focusing on his key message, “that there is so much incredible opportunity here.” In particular, I really like his statement:
The best plans in the world, are really only this, until they are realized.
We actually have to do something about them (hence the second pillar of The Edmonton Champions Project: Connect, Do, Win). I think under Mayor Mandel’s leadership we have gotten better at this, but there’s still room for improvement.
Throughout his speech, Mayor Mandel talked about the need for “a higher level of integration and collaboration.” He mentioned it a few times, almost more than “creativity” which seems to be his usual favorite word. I thought he did a good job of highlighting how working together can really make a difference, citing examples such as the Homeless Commission, REACH Edmonton, and the progress the Capital Region Board has made.
Given that there’s a federal election going on, I was particularly interested in Mayor Mandel’s comments on the relationship with the federal government, which we know has been strained at times. To start, he talked about the partnership with the Province and the success it has achieved:
It is based on understanding that municipal government, which is closest to the people is best to lead on key projects and that choosing an aligned path is better for our common citizen.
Then he made it clear – “it is also the message that our City must send to Ottawa through all parties and all MPs.”