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.

Recap: 2013 State of the City Address

Thousands of Edmontonians filled the Shaw Conference Centre during lunch today for the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event. Featuring Mayor Mandel, the event was an opportunity for our city’s business, community, and government leaders to reflect on the past year and to talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Or at least, that’s what we were supposed to be talking about. Instead, the only thing on the minds of those in attendance was Mandel’s decision – would he be running again in October or not?

State of the City Address 2013

Many members of Mandel’s family joined him at the head table, including his adorable grandson, and that only fueled speculation that he would be announcing his retirement. As Mandel took the stage, he received a thunderous standing ovation. It was the kind of standing-O that said, “thanks for nine great years.” But it turned out to be premature.

“I know that there is expectation in this moment – one that I set myself – that I would answer a key question today about whether I would seek re-election this fall.

And as much as I pride myself on giving clear answers – I do not have an answer today.”

There was an audible gasp as he spoke the words. Most people were expecting a yes or no – the possibility of a maybe hadn’t even registered! I’ll admit that I was fairly certain he was going to announce that the current term would be his last, but it seems Mandel had more difficulty making a decision than anticipated. “Key issues affecting the state of our City are genuinely unsettled in my mind,” he said.

While Mandel touched on Make Something Edmonton and some of our city’s successes in his slightly-longer-than-normal speech, most of his comments were directed at the Province. And they weren’t positive. Specifically, Mandel focused on spending cuts to the post-secondary sector, and the imbalance of regional costs and funding.

State of the City Address 2013

First, he addressed the post-secondary sector and it’s very large impact on Edmonton, both to our economy now and to our future competitiveness.

“We should expect nothing less than passionate, relentless defense of this sector from our provincial representatives who should know better than to just stand by. We should expect that our Minister would actually engage this sector and challenge them to find solutions.”

Mandel stated that our post-secondary institutions have the potential to be “amongst the best in the world.” He went on to discuss his concerns with short-term thinking, and called for real leadership. “It means setting a course that people can believe in, and being clear about long-term intent.”

Next, Mandel addressed regional issues. While the Capital Region Board has at least started to address the issue of collaboration and planning together, the imbalance in provincial grant allocations “has not been touched,” he told us.

“The taxpayers of a city of 850,000 cannot continue to pay an unfair share of the costs of urban services for a region of 1.2 million. Making all municipalities responsible on both sides of the ledger is the only way to make growth fair – it is also the only way Edmonton can sustain itself.”

Here again, Mandel questioned decisions made by the provincial government in its most recent budget.

“If you really want to make a difference, not just for Edmonton – but for Alberta’s bottom line – this is a great opportunity for change. Because it will cost billions less to pay for a single coordinated regional plan – than for the wish lists of 25 municipalities.”

Mandel clearly had the element of surprise on his side today, and that helped to make the speech even more impactful. Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk reacted strongly to Mandel’s criticisms. “I don’t know who pissed into his corn flakes, and you can quote me on that,” he told the Journal.

State of the City Address 2013

Mandel very much positioned himself as the defender of Edmonton today, and his call-to-action was to speak up for the city. “You know, Edmonton is a funny city,” he said. “We are so fiercely proud of what we have, but too often scared to tell others that we have it.”

Though he acknowledged that his eventual decision about whether or not to run again will impact this year’s election, Mandel urged candidates who may want to run to make their intentions known on their own schedules, not his. That’s easier said than done, of course. No one on City Council seems willing to run against Mandel. If he were to run for an unprecedented fourth term, it’s widely expected that he would win.

Mandel’s non-announcement today has the speculation engines revving. Is there funding news about the downtown arena forthcoming? Is he considering a jump into provincial politics? Who knows, maybe he simply hasn’t made up his mind yet. My own sense is that Mandel must feel as though he can resolve a couple of those “key unsettled issues” over the next few months, otherwise, why not just announce that he’s running again?

Edmonton is a better place because Mandel has been our mayor for the last nine years. He’s given so much to this city and it must be taking a toll, but clearly Mandel feels he has more to give. “My focus remains on the job at hand, on what I owe to Edmonton, and what Edmonton needs.”

Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for inviting me today. You can read my recap of previous State of the City events here: 2011, 2012. You can read the full transcript of Mayor Mandel’s speech here (PDF), and the rest of his speeches here.

Recap: 2012 State of the City Address

Mayor Stephen Mandel took the stage yesterday during lunch to address the hundreds of local business, community, and government leaders in attendance at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event. As expected, most conversations were about Monday’s provincial election and Mayor Mandel did touch on that subject in his remarks. I would characterize the mayor’s speech as upbeat, and as Councillor Iveson remarked, perhaps that was because of Monday’s result!

You can read Mayor Mandel’s speech in its entirety here (PDF). He started strong, recalling a particularly memorable comment he made seven years ago:

“I remember the first time I stood here, and I uttered the words ‘no more crap’. On that day, I not only got away with cursing in public, but touched on a sentiment we had all been feeling for many years.”

Whether you like Mandel or not, I think he’s right to point out that during his tenure as mayor, the city has changed significantly and for the better:

“Seven years ago, we were a city organization with no big plans, that avoided dealing with significant challenges and left our true potential unexplored.

Seven years later, we are Canada’s fastest growing city at the core of the country’s second fastest growing region. And we have shaken off a ‘good enough’ pattern by taking care to invest in ourselves and our future.”

Mandel praised the work of City Council and Administration, especially under City Manager Simon Farbrother, for making that happen.

Mayor's State of the City Address 2012

Throughout this remarks, Mandel mentioned a number of projects and initiatives underway in the city. There was big applause for the new downtown arena, the new Royal Alberta Museum, and the City Centre Redevelopment. But he also touched on some of the challenges we face, including the expansion of the LRT, our ongoing struggle with homelessness, and the strong need to better work with and celebrate our growing Aboriginal community. But he saved his most critical remarks for our city’s identity:

“First, we must have an economic development organization that better demonstrates its understanding of the competitive environment our city faces. It must be hungry enough to undertake a relentless effort to sell our city.

Second, we must finally look past all of our reluctant half-efforts to actually work at promoting Edmonton’s story. Without a commitment to this, the former will be very different.

We must be willing to put proper, long-term resources behind a true effort to sell this city to the world.”

Mandel saved his comments on the province for the end. After congratulating Premier Redford and all of the candidates who ran in the election, he made it clear that Edmonton expects change too.

“From our perspective, this election demonstrated how clearly Alberta’s growing urban reality is a major change that has fully dawned on the provincial stage. This election presented near unanimous agreement that it is time for a new deal for Alberta’s big cities. I look forward to working with Premier Redford and Mayor Nenshi to move this agenda forward. I hope this is a discussion we can begin to have very soon.”

Mayor's State of the City Address 2012

The mayor finished his remarks by talking about the people of Edmonton:

“Our place in this great province, our unique economic advantages, our strong cultural identity, our skills at cultivating knowledge and innovation – and most of all, the passion and drive of our people – are the things that are going to ensure our future success.”

All throughout the speech, tweets were displayed on screen and there was a high level of participation from people in the audience. It was really interesting to see how everyone reacted as Mandel spoke. After he finished, Mayor Mandel received a standing ovation.

Reading the speech is one thing, but actually hearing the mayor deliver it is quite another. Thanks to Robin Bobocel and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to the luncheon!

2011-2012 State of the City Report

state of the cityIn conjunction with yesterday’s address, the City launched its annual report to citizens. The 35 page document covers a wide range of achievements and ongoing initiatives. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Edmonton’s percentage rate of increase in immigration from 2006 to 2010 was 71%, the highest of seven major cities across Canada.
  • The 2011 Graffiti Audit results show a 43% decrease in graffiti vandalism in 20 high-incident neighbourhoods compared to a 2010 baseline audit.
  • As of December 31, 2011, the Cornerstones initiative increased Edmonton’s supply of affordable housing by funding 3038 safe, affordable housing units for citizens.
  • Edmonton roadcrews repaired 549,000 potholes in 2011, up from 435,000 in 2010.
  • Corporations donated 82,470 transit tickets to the Donate A Ride program in 2011.
  • Weekly cumulative bus and LRT boardings increased from 389,224 in 2010 to 397,402 in 2011.
  • Edmonton has protected 4000 hectares of natural areas, working towards a goal of 5500 ha. Most Edmontonians (75%) are now within a 20-minute walk of a natural area.
  • The City’s total debt in 2011 was $1.974 billion, or 53.7% of the debt limit defined by the Municipal Government Act.
  • 34,800 new jobs were created in Edmonton from December 2010 to December 2011, the fastest rate of job growth in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

You can download the report in PDF here.

Recap: Mayor Mandel’s 2011 State of the City Address

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).

2011 State of the City
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.

2011 State of the City

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).

2011 State of the City

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.

2011 State of the City2011 State of the City

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.”

All in all it was a great lunch and an uplifting address. My thanks to Robin Bobocel and the Edmonton Chamber for allowing me to join them for lunch today! You can see my photos from today here.