In a sea of platitudes, are there any specifics?

It’s true that this election lacks a big, divisive issue like the arena or the city centre airport. There’s little disagreement among candidates about the path Edmonton is on or even about what Edmonton will look like in four to eight years. Yet despite all of that similarity, candidates aren’t doing much to differentiate themselves. With just ten days until election day, all we seem to hear are platitudes. Where are the specifics?

“Let’s get our city’s taxes and debt under control,” reads mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte’s digital brochure. The text offers some numbers to illustrate how Edmonton’s debt has grown over the last decade, but details on how to get that debt “under control” are nowhere to be found. “Reduce wasteful spending” is another common refrain from the Diotte camp, but how? In our #yegvote Hangout, Kerry said he’d need to review “wants” versus “needs” but wouldn’t offer any specifics, suggesting he’d have to do that in collaboration with the new council.

(BTW, it’s remarkable how similar Ward 2 candidate Don Koziak’s vision for City Council is to that of Kerry Diotte.)

Over in Ward 4, incumbent Ed Gibbons offers policies like: “is working with administrators and developers to ensure the appropriate growth of our community,” and “supports appropriate redevelopment of older communities for both new and existing residents.” What is appropriate growth? How do you quantify that? What does appropriate redevelopment look like?

Ward 1 candidate Rob Pasay has five platform statements, each about three or four sentences long. Here’s his “Power To The People” policy:

Put an end to corporate sponsorship of Councillor and Mayoral candidates. Encourage a city-wide vote on any project whose total initial cost is greater than a certain percentage of the City GDP. Increase voter turnout by investigating the use of malls and seniors homes as voting stations. Actually balance the budget.

Greater than a certain percentage of the GDP? What’s the percentage? 1%? 50%? Does that even make sense as an idea? How would you hold a city-wide vote in the middle of a four-year term? It’s a crazy thing to say without any specifics to back it up.

The policies put forward by Ward 11 candidate Mike Nickel are even more laughable. Here’s his entire policy on municipal taxes:

Our tax dollars must be spent effectively with an eye reviewing the City’s current expenditures and debt load. There is no room for civic waste or financial mismanagement.

Some of his other policy statements are even shorter, and he ends each one with a question: “How do you feel about this issue?”

I can understand why a candidate might hesitate to get too specific – they could then be held accountable if they got into office. For instance, what if they promised a 5% cut, but could only achieve a 3% cut once elected? Would that be seen as the candidate misleading voters? It’s better than making only vague promises with no real plan, in my mind.

I suppose platitudes are better than misinformation. There are clearly a large number of candidates who haven’t done even the most basic research on issues like homelessness or LRT funding. Still, I wish there was more substance to the policy statements being put forth by so many of the candidates. A statement of intent is useful, but why stop there? Even just a little more detail would help to differentiate many of the candidates from their competitors. When the candidates themselves remark that “we’re all saying basically the same thing” at forums, there’s a problem.


To be fair, there are some candidates that offer more than just platitudes (but not many). Ward 2 candidate Ted Grand gets specific in his neighbourhood renewal policy:

The City has recognized it fell behind in maintaining infrastructure in the City’s mature neighbourhoods. In the 2013 budget they set funding support of the renewal program at 1.5%. I will be working to restore the program back to the 2010 level of 2%, so more neighbourhoods can be completed sooner.

In the mayoral race, Don Iveson is consistently highlighted as the only candidate that seems to know the facts and can offer more than just an opinion. Even the Edmonton Sun’s Lorne Gunter picked up on this, writing “on every issue, he understands the problem and has thought through a solution.” Consider Don’s policy on funding the city. He offers a short-term plan with some specifics:

“I will introduce a program called “Council’s 2%” in which Council will work with city administration throughout the year to find an annual 2% increased efficiency in our city’s tax-supported operations, which should yield approximately $80 million over the next four years.”

And he saves any platitudes for the long-term vision:

My vision is that in 20 years, the city’s over-reliance on unfair property taxes is long behind us. Edmonton, and all Canadian cities, need better tools to pay for the services we expect and the city we envision.

The main reason I’m interested in specifics is not differentiation, but confidence. I want to be confident that the successful candidates have what it takes to do the job. Specifics and detail are a large part of what City Council deals with on a daily basis. There’s a reason that a Councillor’s workload “averages at least 60-70 hours per week.” No doubt some of that time can be attributed to attending events, but there’s a significant amount of effort that goes into understanding the issues.

But don’t take my word for it – here’s what current Councillor Kim Krushell told me:

To be an effective City Councillor you have to be prepared to not only attend countless Council and committee meetings but be willing to lead Council Initiatives. The biggest part of the job is reading. Councillors get most of their agendas the Thursday before the week of meetings. This means spending countless hours reading on the weekends. When you sit on other Boards such as the Police Commission or AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) there is a significant amount of additional reading the Councillor has to do.

She added: “The job is not easy but it is rewarding!”

With so little time before election day, we’re not likely to see much change in the information that candidates are providing. And that’s a shame, because deciding between “I support better public involvement” and “I support better public consultation” is not going to be easy.

What happens if there’s a tie on October 21?

A few weeks ago I ran into the amazing Linda Hut, the teacher and coordinator over at City Hall School, and she mentioned that her class was asking questions about the election. One student asked what would happen if there was a tie. The answer, which can be found in the Local Authorities Election Act (Section 99), might surprise you:

If it appears on the calculation of the votes that 2 or more candidates for any office have received the same number of votes, and if it is necessary for determining which candidate is elected, the returning officer shall write the names of those candidates separately on blank sheets of paper of equal size and of the same colour and texture, and after folding the sheets of paper in a uniform manner and so that the names are concealed, shall deposit them in a receptacle and direct some person to withdraw one of the sheets, and the returning officer shall declare the candidate whose name appears on the withdrawn sheet to have one more vote than the other candidate.

That’s right, months of campaigning and the decision could all come down to one piece of paper drawn from a hat. Fortunately, the chance of a tie happening is pretty tiny!

To start, what’s the likelihood that all six mayoral candidates could receive the same number of votes? Well, technically it’s impossible as there are 619,138 eligible voters, but let’s round that up to 619,140 for the sake of argument. That would mean each candidate would need to get 103,190 votes exactly for all six to be tied. According to Wolfram Alpha, there’s a 1 in 735 chance (about 0.14%) of a candidate getting that number. If we reduce that to just the 34% of voters that actually turned up last election, the chances improve slightly to 1 in 429 (about 0.23%). But actually, that has to happen six times in order for all of them to tie, which is just incredibly unlikely.

Now that’s a fairly unrealistic scenario as we know that there are a lot of factors that make it unlikely our full slate of mayoral candidates will all receive the same support. In the 2010 election, the top three candidates (out of seven) received about 95% of the vote. So let’s assume this year’s election will be similar. Continuing on with the 34% turnout, there would be 199,983 votes up for grabs by the top three. The chance that a candidate will get exactly one third of those votes is about 1 in 528 (0.19%). And the odds that all three will tie? Again, it’s not going to happen.

What if one of the three receives a quarter of the vote and the other two split the remaining votes? The likelihood of that is much better than a three-way tie at about 1 in 485 (0.21%), but still, it’s just very unlikely!

With the number of votes we’re talking about, ties are just not very realistic. Even assuming 34% turnout in Ward 9 where there are just two candidates, there’s still a less than 1% chance of a tie (1 in 178, 0.56%).

This is all just simple math for the purposes of illustration, and it ignores the many, many factors that go into why someone will vote for candidate A over candidate B. Still, now you know how unlikely a tie is!

Media Monday Edmonton: 2013 Election Coverage

With the municipal election dominating the headlines lately, I thought it would be interesting to see what local media organizations are doing to cover the news and inform voters.

Civic Election 2013 – Edmonton Journal

The Journal’s election site features the latest headlines, a countdown to election day, an interactive ward map, an events calendar, and recent tweets.

Decision Edmonton 2013 – Global Edmonton

In addition to the latest headlines, Global’s election site features a live blog, an interactive ward map, video features on the mayoral candidates, a list of school board candidates, and links to candidates around the capital region.

Edmonton Election 2013 – Metro Edmonton

Metro’s site is essentially just a listing of stories tagged as election-related, but it is updated very frequently.

Edmonton Election 2013 – ShareEdmonton

I’m certainly behind where I hoped to be by now, but I do have a big update that should be launching later this week. Currently at ShareEdmonton you can see a list of all candidates, a list of upcoming election events as well as a calendar, and election-related tweets. Stay tuned!

Edmonton Votes 2013 – CBC Edmonton

CBC has a pretty comprehensive election site, complete with the latest headlines, an election countdown, a live blog, and an interactive ward map. There are video links embedded throughout, and they’ve also been hosting live chats using CoveritLive – here’s a recent one on sprawl.

Election 2013 – CTV Edmonton

Just as they did last election, CTV has features on each ward and each candidate, complete with video answers for all the questions. It’s clear they have a put a lot of work into it! Definitely worth checking out, I just wish CTV also had an easy-to-access list of election-related headlines.

Election 2013 – Edmonton Sun

The Sun’s election site is just a listing of election-related headlines, though they do have a pinned story that contains an interactive ward map and live blog.

Election 2013 – The Local Good

In addition to listing answers to their own questionnaire, The Local Good has a growing list of additional election resources.

There you have it! You can see the rest of my own election coverage here. I’m also contributing to along with Dave and Ryan.

Get informed and make sure you vote on October 21!

Edmonton Election 2013: Update #8

Tonight our guest on the #yegvote Hangout was mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte! It was a great opportunity to dig into some key issues with him, including the arena, debt, and taxes. You can watch the archive here:

Thanks for joining us tonight Kerry!

These updates are starting to get pretty long as the election heats up! For ongoing news items, be sure to check out my #yegvote Flipboard.

Here’s my latest election news roundup:

From Edmonton Elections, here’s everything you need to know about voting:

You can follow Edmonton Election news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegvote and you can see my coverage here. Also be sure to check out the #yegvote flipboard for curated election-related stories on a daily basis.

What have I missed? Let me know!

Disclosure: I’m actively volunteering for Don Iveson’s mayoral campaign.

Edmonton Election 2013: Campaign Colors

In one of our earlier #yegvote Hangouts, my colleague Ryan Hastman remarked on the similarity of colors between the three primary mayoral candidates. We joked about his color theory and moved on, but recently I found myself looking at campaign colors again. What colors are most common in this election? What do they mean?

That color grid represents the primary color of all 119 campaigns. They were generated by: taking a screenshot of the candidate’s website and/or Twitter page; identifying the primary color of each using Color Thief; and doing some post-processing on the results. The white boxes are for candidates that either do not have a website or Twitter page, or that have a Twitter page with the default settings (a shockingly large number fall into this category).

While it was a fun exercise, this also serves a purpose for me. ShareEdmonton’s list of candidates has now been updated with colors, and where appropriate/possible, I’ll use these colors to represent candidates on the election night results dashboard (you can see the 2010 results dashboard with color-coding here).

There are a lot of blues, greens, and purples. Fewer red, yellow, and orange. Does this mean anything? Let’s look at Paper Leaf Design’s handy color theory quick reference poster:

Check out the full poster for all the detail, but here are some election-related highlights:

  • Red often means intensity, strength, and energy.
  • Blue often means depth, stability, and trust.
  • Purple often means power, ambition, and nobility.
  • Green often means growth, freshness, and safety.
  • Yellow often means intellect, cheerfulness, and energy.
  • Orange often means enthusiasm, creativity, and warmth.

Do candidates and their campaign teams think about these things when choosing colors?

Perhaps more importantly, do campaign colors matter to you as a voter?

Edmonton Election 2013: Update #7

We were very happy to have Deb and Breanna from The Local Good on last night’s #yegvote Hangout! We discussed the latest election news plus candidate questionnaires. You can watch the archive at

Here’s my latest election news roundup:

Michael Walters - Ward 10
Love the Walters campaign shirts!

You can follow Edmonton Election news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegvote and you can see my coverage here. Also be sure to check out the #yegvote flipboard for curated election-related stories on a daily basis.

What have I missed? Let me know!

Disclosure: I’m actively volunteering for Don Iveson’s mayoral campaign.

Edmonton Election 2013: Nomination Day Recap

Yesterday was nomination day at City Hall, the day that all candidates running in the municipal election needed to file their paperwork and pay their fees. As many of them remarked after making it through the line, “now it’s real!” It was exciting to be there to see the dozens of Edmontonians that were willing to put their names forward, not to mention all of their supporters. Of course, there was real business to be done.

Nomination Day
Returning Office Alayne Sinclair speaks to the media on Nomination Day

Dave Cournoyer and I were at City Hall for all the action, and last night along with Ryan Hastman we held a special edition of our hangout to discuss nomination day. Here’s the archive:

Let’s take a look at the nomination day statistics (here are the 2010 stats). There are 119 candidates total, an increase of six from 2010. Here are the numbers broken down by race:

And here’s a closer look at the Council races in particular:

I wanted to include that chart to show just how different some of the races will be. Ward 6 has a crazy number of candidates at 16, whereas both Wards 4 and 9 have just one other candidate aside from the incumbent. The big surprise was Ward 8, which basically went from 1 candidate to 5 in a day.

Here’s a look at the candidate breakdown by gender:

Roughly 32.7% of the field is female, which is actually the same percentage as 2010. While there were no female candidates for mayor in 2010, there are two this year (including one viable candidate). The number of female candidates for Council has decreased slightly from 22.6% in 2010 to 21.7% in this election.

Here’s a look at how many candidates had contact details available on nomination day:

I was a little surprised to see email above phones, actually. And to see Twitter above Facebook. Of course, there could be more candidates with Twitter and Facebook accounts, but they hadn’t been discovered by myself or on Dave’s list by today at noon.

Speaking of email, here’s a look at which email domains candidates are using:

I am pleasantly surprised by the number of candidates that are using vanity domains! The reality is that not everyone is going to spend the $10 or so to get a vanity domain, but at least they outrank Gmail.

Nomination Day

No candidates had withdrawn their candidacy by the deadline today, so those 119 names will all appear on ballots come October 21!

If you’re looking to browse through the candidates, ShareEdmonton has you covered:

You’ll find contact details for each candidate, related tweets, and more. Stay tuned as ShareEdmonton aggregates everything you need to know about the election races.

For more photos from nomination day, check out my photoset and Dave’s photoset.

UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the number of female candidates was slightly higher in 2013 than in 2010, when in fact the percentage is the same.

Edmonton Election 2013: Update #6

We did not host a #yegvote Hangout last night, but we’ll be back next week with a special Nomination Day episode, so stay tuned!

Here’s my latest election news roundup:

Edmonton Going to Bed
Great fall photo of Edmonton by Paul.

You can follow Edmonton Election news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegvote and you can see my coverage here. Also be sure to check out the #yegvote flipboard for curated election-related stories on a daily basis.

What have I missed? Let me know!

Disclosure: I’m actively volunteering for Don Iveson’s mayoral campaign.

Recap: OCL/DECL Ward 6 Candidate Forum

Tonight the Oliver Community League and Downtown Edmonton Community League co-hosted a candidate forum for Ward 6. Held at Oliver School, the forum was moderated by Beth Sanders. Along with a couple of other volunteers, she did a good job of keeping the eleven candidates in attendance on track (there are 13 on Dave’s list, but Bryan Kapitza and Javed Sommers did not take part). The turnout was pretty good for a Tuesday evening in mid-September, with approximately 125 people in attendance.

OCL/DECL Ward 6 Forum

From left to right, here are the candidates who participated tonight: Taz Bouchier, Kyle Brown, Candas Jane Dorsey, Derrick Forsythe, Melinda Hollis, Heather MacKenzie, Scott McKeen, Erin Northey, Adil Pirbhai, Alfie White, and Dexx Williams.

After opening statements in that order, Beth asked five questions from the organizers of the forum, then opened the floor to questions from those in attendance. There was time for five of those before candidates gave their closing remarks (in reverse order).

Here are the five questions asked by the organizers:

  1. If elected to Council, how would you continue the momentum of building Downtown as a centre of commerce and culture and a destination for all citizens of the city?
  2. Do you feel that the decision on the redevelopment of the Molson Crosstown site was the correct one? What would you do as Councillor to improve the City’s engagement process?
  3. As Councillor, how would you work to address the spike in violent crimes in recent months in the Oliver/Downtown neighbourhoods?
  4. Is there an adequate balance of housing options in the Oliver/Downtown core? If not, what deficiencies do you see and how would you work to address them as Councillor?
  5. If elected to Council, what important issue facing Oliver/Downtown would you give the most attention to and what would you do to ensure that it’s adequately addressed?

Each candidate had one minute to answer the question. The order was random – names were drawn from a hat. For the most part, the candidates kept to the time allotted and stayed on track with their answers. The five questions asked by citizens in attendance included one about the need for public washrooms in the core, one about supporting the arts, one about P3s, and one about regional cooperation. The only question that every candidate had the opportunity to answer was the one that received applause from the crowd: How will you make yourself more accessible?

On the question of improving the City’s engagement process, there were far too many non-answers along the lines of “I believe citizens need to have their voices heard.” This is an important issue that I’m confident will be repeatedly asked throughout the election, so I hope all of the candidates give it due consideration. Adil’s answer was that he’d hold numerous Town Halls, which isn’t a bad idea if you went about it the right way (hello technology!).

I was a little surprised at how many candidates were happy with the Molson Crosstown decision. More than a couple mentioned that they were happy to see the development going forward so that something could be done with the parking lots. Scott probably gave the answer the Oliver Community League members were looking for, saying  that “developers too often plan for Edmonton’s past.”

Far too many candidates completely bombed on the housing options question. Some, like Taz, took it to be a question about homelessness. Others offered nothing beyond saying diversity is good. Drawing on her own experience, Heather made a strong case for more diverse housing options in the core.

It was really interesting to hear what candidates felt the most important issue was. Dexx mentioned the issue of parking being unavailable for residents because non-residents use it all. Melinda claimed that the Municipal Development Plan isn’t actually a plan, and said she’d want to do something about that. Candas talked about the need for consultation. Scott mentioned the arena. Some mentioned housing, others mentioned tackling crime.

The vast majority of the answers tonight were “I believe” or “I think” answers, lacking substance or concrete ideas for action. I suppose it’s difficult to go much beyond that with just a minute to answer, but it still would have been nice to hear some specifics. I did not feel a great deal of confidence that the candidates up at the front of the room tonight have a solid understanding of what being a Councillor would entail.

OCL/DECL Ward 6 Forum

Here are my notes on the closing remarks:

  • Dexx highlighted his passion for the ward and reiterated that he’d work hard to ensure residents’ concerns were addressed.
  • Alfie admitted that this was all a new experience for him, but that he hoped to be able to represent the ward.
  • Adil expressed his distaste for projects like the arena, Indy, and EXPO 2017, and then went on to suggest that Council hadn’t said anything about the post secondary cuts. I guess he missed the State of the City Address.
  • Erin also admitted that this was a new experience and suggested that she’d be happy to just learn and make connections.
  • Scott praised the strong field of candidates, and said that Ward 6 could become the ward that slows urban sprawl.
  • Heather said responsiveness to the community and attracting more people to the core are both priorities.
  • Melinda said she’s passionate about the ward, and that city must grow responsibly, taking care to maintain the uniqueness of each neighbourhood.
  • Derrick focused his closing remarks on improving public consultation, and said a commitment to work with communities is needed.
  • Candas said that cities need to have big dreams, but also need to know how to pay for them.
  • Kyle said the ward needs someone who can represent the diversity you’ll find within it.
  • Taz highlighted her experience in community development, and said she’s familiar with legislation, bylaws, and the orders of government.

There were an awful lot of repetitive answers tonight, which is no surprise given the large number of candidates running (already there are five more declared than officially ran in the last election). I have no doubt the field will narrow in the weeks ahead (or at the very least some clear frontrunners will emerge).

Instead of picking “a winner” for tonight, let me simply mention the candidates that I thought did well. The two names most often mentioned as frontrunners are Scott and Heather, and I thought both did well. Scott only mentioned his journalism background a couple times, and had strong answers for all the questions. Heather cited her experience as a school board trustee a few times, and though she generally read from her notes, gave strong answers as well. Candas did well and had some of the more thoughtful answers of the evening. I think Dexx impressed me most tonight – he delivered a good amount of passion and was articulate in his answers.

Monday is nomination day, after which we’ll know exactly who’s running. The official Ward 6 forum will take place on October 9, so mark your calendars.

Thanks to the organizers of tonight’s event and to all the candidates who participated!

Edmonton Election 2013: Update #5

I was unavailable for tonight’s #yegvote Hangout but Dave and Ryan kept the show going along with special guest Steven Dollansky. The guys talked about regional cooperation, Edmonton’s debt levels, expanding the LRT, and other big issues of the election so far. On debt, Steven said the next mayor “isn’t going to have as much room on the credit card” and will have to make some tough decisions. On the LRT, he said the next mayor is going to have to go the province and “be more creative” to bring ideas beyond grants to the table.

You can watch the archive here or at

Here’s my latest election news roundup:

You can follow Edmonton Election news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegvote and you can see my coverage here. Also be sure to check out the #yegvote flipboard for curated election-related stories on a daily basis.

What have I missed? Let me know!

Disclosure: I’m actively volunteering for Don Iveson’s mayoral campaign.