Edmonton City Council could have its first by-elections in 20 years

With the potential loss of two Councillors this year, Edmonton could have it’s first by-elections for City Council in more than two decades.

Councillor Amarjeet Sohi, who represents Ward 12, announced in January that he would seek the federal Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods. He was acclaimed on February 12. You can see his campaign page here. Sohi has said he would take leave from Council during the election.

Amarjeet Sohi - Ward 12
Amarjeet Sohi, photo by Dave Cournoyer

Councillor Tony Caterina, who represents Ward 7, was named the Progressive Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on March 28. He was first elected to City Council in 2007. Curiously, Caterina has said he will remain active on Council during the election, but will not draw a pay cheque.

Tony Caterina - Ward 7
Tony Caterina, photo by Dave Cournoyer

On the school board side, Sarah Hoffman is running as the Alberta NDP candidate in Edmonton-Glenora. She was elected to her second term on the Edmonton Public School Board in 2013 and stepped down as chair in January. She still holds her seat on the school board.

Sarah Hoffman - Ward G
Sarah Hoffman, photo by Dave Cournoyer

Now that we know the provincial election is taking place on May 5, a by-election for Tony Caterina and Sarah Hoffman’s seats would take place sometime before August 4 (assuming they win office). The federal election is slated to take place on October 19, so if Amarjeet Sohi were to win, a by-election for his Council seat would need to take place by January 16, 2016.

By-Election Rules

Sections 160-168 of the Municipal Government Act deal with vacancies and by-elections for councils. Here are the key points:

  • Resignations must be made in writing and given to the Chief Administrative Officer (in our case, City Manager Simon Farbrother). The resignations take effect on the date they are received.
  • The Chief Administrative Officer must report the resignation to council at the first meeting after receiving the resignation.
  • A by-election must be held to fill the vacancy unless:
    • It occurs in the 6 months before a general election, or
    • The council consists of 6 or more councillors and the vacancy occurs in the 18 months before a general election (and there’s only one) or in the 12 months before a general election and there’s enough remaining councillors to count one more than the majority
  • A by-election must take place within 90 days of a vacancy, otherwise the Minister of Municipal Affairs may order a date for one or take any other action he or she considers necessary.

The next general municipal election will take place on October 16, 2017, which is still about 30 months away, so none of the “unless” clauses apply. If any of the three mentioned above resign, a by-election would need to be held within 90 days. And since it is very unlikely that Councillor Sohi would resign before winning a seat in October, we’ll almost certainly be looking at two by-elections – one for Caterina and/or Hoffman’s seats, and another for Sohi’s seat.

The nomination and campaign periods would be set by Council following the vacancy becoming official. In practice, the City Manager would bring a report to Council to inform them of the vacancies and would make a recommendation on the nomination and election dates. The same would apply to the Public School Board, except it would be the Chief Returning Officer (Alayne Sinclair) that would bring the report.

By-Election History

Edmonton has had six by-elections in the past, the two most recent of which were for councillors making the jump to either provincial or federal politics:

  • 1907 – Morton MacAuley resigned eight months into his term and left politics.
  • 1911 – James McKinley resigned to protest the firing of two city commissioners.
  • 1912 – Herman McInnes and Charles Gowan both resigned.

julia kiniski
Julia Kiniski at a campaign meeting in 1949, courtesy of the Edmonton Archives

  • 1970 – Julia Kiniski died on October 11, 1969. She had held office since 1963, when she finally won after about a dozen previous attempts. Her son Julian won the by-election, and was the last person to be elected at-large in Edmonton as the ward system took effect in 1971.
  • 1984 – Bettie Hewes resigned after being elected as MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar.
  • 1994 – Judy Bethel resigned after being elected as Liberal MP for Edmonton-East.

What to expect

Although Council has requested that the Minister of Municipal Affairs amend the Local Election Authorities Act to permit alternate forms of voting (which would make online voting possible) that has not yet happened and so online voting would not be an option for these by-elections.

City Clerk and Returning Officer Alayne Sinclair tells me that turnout is often even worse for by-elections than it is for general elections, so the City would try to pick a date that would maximize turnout. There would also be ample opportunity for advance voting.

With provincial and federal elections, and possibly municipal by-elections, all taking place this year, Edmontonians will be busy at the polls.

An afternoon with the bean sprouts at Lauderdale School!

edmonton public schools foundationA few months ago, Sandra Woitas found me at an event we were both attending and asked if I’d be interested in helping with a video the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation was working on. I said sure, and asked what it entailed. Teaching kindergarten for an afternoon, was her response. I started to explain that I’m really not the best person for the job and that there must be someone else, but Sandra was having none of it. I was going to teach kindergarten!

We found a time that worked, and in mid-April I was set to spend an afternoon with the kindergarten class at Lauderdale School. “This is really going to happen,” I thought, and that was both exciting and scary! I called my Mom, a former preschool teacher and now an SLPA, to get her advice. She was encouraging as mothers tend to be, and advised me to have fun with the experience. A few days before I was scheduled to make my teaching debut, Terry Odegard, the Kindergarten Teacher at Lauderdale, sent me the lesson plan. We would be doing attendance, having a movement break, talking about the calendar (what date is it), playing at centres, taking a break for recess, and then reading a story. It would be a full afternoon with the bean sprouts as Sandra likes to call them!

Finally the day arrived. The feeling I had as I drove to Lauderdale School was not unlike that feeling you get when you’re about to write an exam and you know that you haven’t studied enough and you’re probably not going to do very well. What if the kids didn’t like me? What if I did something horribly wrong and ruined a child for life?! These are the irrational questions I considered.

Sandra met me at the school with coffee, which was really thoughtful and helped put me at ease. I met some of the other teachers in the staff room and then got setup in the classroom while the kids were outside. The camera guys had already done this a few times, so it was business-as-usual for them. I took a few minutes to familiarize myself with the classroom, and then the kids started filing back inside and I greeted them at the door. No turning back now!

The rest of the afternoon was a lot of fun. As you might expect, my fears were completely unwarranted. I couldn’t have messed up even if I wanted to – the kids know the schedule and were quick to point out what we should be doing next. I only used the noise rattle a few times – I was instructed to shake it as a quiet signal when I needed everyone to pay attention. During centres I looked after the painting table, and because the kids had been to the Valley Zoo recently and met the seals who painted with a paint brush in their mouths, we did that too. Hands behind your back and hold the paint brush in your teeth! That was fun, and yes paint got everywhere. During recess, I stayed inside to do a quick interview with the camera crew. Lots of people are uneasy about being on camera, but that seemed like the easiest part of the afternoon to me! The kids came back in from recess, I read a story with them, and then I was on my way. The afternoon really flew by.

Here’s the video that was produced (you can see me in action toward the end):

I ended up having a lot of fun that afternoon, and I definitely came away with much greater respect for kindergarten teachers and the important role that they play in a child’s development and growth. I’m certain I don’t have the patience to do what they do every day! I’m also thankful for the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation and the work that it does.

The Foundation was launched February 10, 2010, for two main purposes: to spread the word about the great things happening in the public education system and to support Edmonton Public Schools across Edmonton. We do this by offering opportunities for improved learning through financial, in-kind and human resource contributions.

Full-Day Kindergarten is one of the programs they support. The provincial government funds half-day kindergarten, but research tells us that children who attend full-day kindergarten are better equipped for success in future grades. We had a lot of discussion about that on EPCOR’s Community Essentials Council recently, but ultimately we decided to support the Full-Day Kindergarten program at Mee-Yah-Noh School (as we did in 2011).

Thanks again to Sandra, Terry, and everyone else at Lauderdale and EPSF for the opportunity!

You can learn more about the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation here. If you’d like to make a donation or otherwise get involved, you can do that here.

Recap: Elect Michael Janz Campaign Benefit Brunch

This morning Sharon and I joined a few dozen other fans and supporters of Michael Janz at the City Arts Centre for a benefit brunch for Michael’s campaign. Michael is running for Public School Trustee in Ward F, which means he’s been working extremely hard since at least May to talk with as many people as possible. Voter turnout in the 2007 election was abysmal, and it was even worse for school trustees, so it’s important to get the word out.

There was lots of coffee, thankfully, and a tasty breakfast prepared by some very dedicated volunteers! The event was a good opportunity to chat with others who care about what Michael is doing. Michael did give a short presentation as well, updating us on how is campaign is going, highlighting key campaign points, thanking volunteers, and outlining the work ahead as we inch closer to October 18.

I really like Michael’s position that the school board has a greater impact on our communities than just on the schools within them. I think that was made abundantly clear earlier this year with the school closures that took place. I encourage you to check out Michael’s site for more information on his priorities, but here are the key bullet points to whet your appetite:

  • Work to keep schools open.
  • Transform schools into community spaces.
  • Support students with special needs.
  • Empower and engage citizens.
  • Ensure a well-funded education system.
  • Make the school board more accessible.

I’d also encourage you to check out this article that Michael wrote on the issue of special education.

Elect Michael Janz

You can see a few more photos from the event here. You can follow Michael on Twitter, on Facebook, or you can email him. Election day is October 18.

Mapping where Edmonton’s kids live and learn

On Friday evening, an interactive map I worked on with Edmonton Journal education reporter Sarah O’Donnell went live. Sarah’s first story based on the data was published in the paper today. Here’s our introduction to the project:

With five schools closing in Edmonton’s core and nine new suburban schools opening in September, education reporter Sarah O’Donnell wondered, “Just where do children live?” Local programmer Mack Male worked with The Journal to create an interactive map showing at a glance where children live and where they learn.

Here’s the map we created:

You can also see the map on ShareEdmonton here.

We showed a little of this at MediaCamp a few weeks ago, citing it as an example of traditional media and new media working together to tell a story. Newspapers like the New York Times often publish interactive story elements of course, but this is fairly new for the Journal. And I think it’s just the beginning!

I wanted to share a few notes on how the map was built:

It was an interesting experience for me! We had to double-check the data many times, and had to make decisions about how much/little to show. In that way, it was more like writing words than building a map. Thanks to Sarah for working with me on this!

Here’s what Sarah wrote in her story:

Nine new suburban schools will open next September; like Sister Annata Brockman, some will be close to capacity from the moment they open their doors. One look at a map of where children live shows why.

Most neighbourhoods with the highest number of children are on the city’s fringes. Those are the communities where the new schools are opening.

I was hoping the map would result in some discussion, and it has. Beth Sanders blogged about it this afternoon. She tackles the issue, highlighting as others have that city planning doesn’t “just happen”, rather its the result of many decisions made over time. We need to align our decisions – City Council and EPSB need to be on the same page! Beth finishes with some thoughts on open data:

The City of Edmonton, in creating and providing open source data, is providing a critical feedback loop for Edmontonians to understand how the city we are creating works. There are exciting conversations ahead in Edmonton’s future.

I agree completely. Kudos to the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Public Schools, and Edmonton Catholic Schools for making the data available for this mapping project. I’m positive it is just the first of many tools to come that will help Edmontonians better understand the data and contribute to the future of the city.

If you have any feedback on the map, let me know!

Learning about the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation

Yesterday I attended an information session at Evansdale School on the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation, which launched on February 10. I admit I hadn’t even heard of the foundation until Jeremy mentioned the information sessions to me! I’m glad he did, because it was really interesting to learn about.

Our host for the session was Sandra Woitas, the director of the foundation. She has had a long history with Edmonton Public Schools as a teacher, consultant, and principal. After everyone had introduced themselves, we heard a little about Evansdale School and some of the unique programs it hosts. Next, Sandra welcomed two high school students who spent a few minutes talking about the experiences they have had during their time in the Edmonton Public School system. After that, we got into the information. Sandra gave an excellent overview of the foundation and how it came to be. Here are my notes:

  • The idea for the foundation came in 1996 from then Superintendent Dr. Emery Dosdall. He wanted to include a broad selection of stakeholders to help raise the profile of Edmonton Public Schools.
  • For the next decade or so, the idea floated between administration and the trustees. It wasn’t until trustee Bev Esslinger revived the idea that the ball got rolling again.
  • The foundation is meant to serve the 70% of Edmontonians who pay school taxes but don’t have a connection to the schools (either no kids, or their kids have graduated, etc).
  • In addition to raising the profile of Edmonton Public Schools, the foundation will advocate for improving public education here in Edmonton.
  • One of the areas of focus for the foundation is early childhood education. As Sandra said a few times, “either you pay now or you pay later.” To that end, they hope to raise money for early learning.
  • Full-day kindergarten programs would be one beneficiary. The first was setup at Norwood school thanks to a donation of $78,000 from Denny Andrews. Based on the success of that program, 24 other full-day kindergarten programs were setup throughout the city. There are apparently 15 more on a waiting list.

To finish off the session we were treated to a quick tour of Evansdale School. The school is multicultural, with students from over 40 countries! It also features a number of unique community outreach programs. We visited the full-day kindergarten classroom, and a music class as well. The SMART board in the kindergarten classroom surprised me – I learned that every classroom in the school has one! It was really great to see.

Edmonton Public Schools Foundation

Everyone who attended the session left with gifts! You can see the Evansdale mug, and the beautiful placemat created by a grade six student at the school. The bag of seeds came with a little explanation from Sandra: “what we’re doing with the foundation right now is planting seeds.”

If you’d like to support the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation, tell a friend about it! Or consider attending the fundraising breakfast on May 20 (on ShareEdmonton).

Edmonton Public Schools & Open Data

Today I’m very excited to announce that Edmonton Public Schools has taken a big step into the world of open data by releasing a data set containing information on all of their schools, including the six opening later this year. I understand the data will be made available in the City of Edmonton’s Open Data Catalogue early next week, but you can download the CSV file today if you like.

Download the Edmonton Public Schools Data in CSV

Back in early February I met Jeremy and Paul for lunch to chat about open data and the community here in Edmonton. One of the things we talked about was how Edmonton Public Schools could get involved. In addition to attending events like the Open City Workshop, Jeremy and his team also started working behind-the-scenes to pull together data that might be useful to share. I helped define the fields that should be included and did the geocoding work, but they did all the rest. The result is a great data set of public schools in Edmonton, containing the name, address, lat/long, grade levels, programming information, and contact details for each.

Edmonton Public Schools follows in the footsteps of the Edmonton Public Library in embracing open data. Both organizations should be applauded for being “early adopters” and for their enthusiastic participation in the open data movement here in Edmonton. They have set an example that others can follow. Specifically:

  • Start small! EPL released branch locations, EPSB released school locations.
  • Work with the community! In both cases, I was able to help with some of the work. There are many others in the community who are eager to help as well.
  • Engage the City! In addition to getting the data in the catalogue, which is really important to have a central repository, the City has also offered some suggestions for improvements.

Thank you to Jeremy and the rest of the team at Edmonton Public Schools for making this happen!

No post about a new data set would be complete without mentioning that the data is now available at ShareEdmonton! You can now see a list of all public schools and on the details page for each one, you can see the relevant school ward, grade level, and programming information on the right side (for example, McNally, the high school I attended). More improvements coming soon!

Back to high school to congratulate Mr. Rice

Yesterday I took a trip down memory lane and revisited my old high school, McNally. I’ve been back a few times since graduating in 2001, but yesterday’s trip had a very specific purpose – I went to congratulate my old principal, George Rice, on his retirement. I found out this was his last year a few months ago via Megan who has been teaching at McNally this year. Helps to have people on the inside 😉

I passed the news along to a few friends including Sharon who suggested we get former students to sign a card for George. As those of you with Facebook know, that project started a month ago or so. Megan arranged to have a small item added to yesterday’s staff meeting, and Sharon and I took the card to present to George along with Megan and Anna (another graduate from my year who is teaching at McNally). We managed to get at least one graduate from each year since 1997 sign the card, which I thought was pretty amazing. This was his 14th year as principal at McNally, and I know there are students from each year that are grateful he was their principal.

Walking into the staff meeting was kind of neat – there are a lot of teachers there that I remember, and they clearly remembered us. Nice to see people smile when you enter the room! Megan and I said a few words, and a few of the ladies shed some tears. George smiled and thanked us, shaking my hand and giving Sharon a hug. A few stories were shared, and then we let them finish the staff meeting. We walked around the school a bit too – it looks mostly the same except for the courtyard which is beautiful! You can see pictures here.

You might think it’s odd that I would be so interested in going back to see my high school principal, but I don’t. I spent a lot of time in the office during my three years at McNally, for both good and bad reasons! I was heavily involved in Students Union (finishing as Co-President with Sharon), I was the student rep on School Council, and I was McNally’s student rep for the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee. Bad reasons include conflicts with teachers, and things I’d rather not mention 😉 Needless to say, I saw a lot of Mr. Rice and developed a good relationship with him.

Generally speaking, I don’t think we realize or appreciate the effect someone has had upon us until it’s too late to thank them for it. I know George had a positive impact on me, always providing encouragement and leadership. I am glad I had the opportunity to thank him for it.

In case you’re wondering, George isn’t taking much time off! He’s planning to take a short vacation and then he’ll be making a bid to become a school board trustee. I wish him all the best!