Another small step forward for Edmonton’s Southeast LRT extension

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today introduced the new Building Canada Plan, “the largest long-term infrastructure plan in Canadian history, providing stable funding for a 10-year period.” The highlight of the new plan is the $14 billion New Building Canada Fund, a potential source of funding for projects like Edmonton’s planned Southeast LRT extension.

valley line lrt

Known as the Valley Line, the Southeast to West LRT extension would run 27 km from Mill Woods to Lewis Farms. The City hopes to construct the expansion in phases, starting with a $1.8 billion leg from Mill Woods Town Centre to 102 Street downtown. The City has already committed $800 million to the project, and now needs the federal and provincial governments to contribute their share.

Despite some opposition, City Council approved the use of a public-private partnership to build the extension, enabling the City to access funding through P3 Canada. In March last year, P3 Canada awarded $250 million toward the project.

Mayor Don Iveson

Though many details about the new Building Canada Fund are still to come, Mayor Don Iveson held a press conference this afternoon to discuss how it might help the City with the LRT expansion. In the ideal case, the City would receive another $150 million for the project, taking the total federal contribution to $400 million. Mayor Iveson said:

“That shows the federal government is seriously committed to investing in transit, maybe to not the level that mayors across the country would like, but it’s an opening to further discussion about the importance of national investment in transit infrastructure.”

Though he praised the efforts of the federal government, he also shared his thoughts on what he’d like to see in the future:

“Long-term, I would like to see a dedicated federal investment in rapid transit, over and above these baseline Building Canada commitments.”

Here’s the audio from Mayor Iveson’s press conference today:

If the City were to receive the funding it hopes to from Building Canada, that would bring the funding gap down to $365 million (the City has $235 million left over from Stelmach’s fund for green transit that mostly went to the North LRT to NAIT). The Government of Alberta needs to come to the table, and Mayor Iveson sounded optimistic that could happen:

“We’ll keep on talking to ministers and MLAs and we’ve been having a lot of those conversations lately and they’re very receptive. They’re working within their own constraints, and their own competing priorities, but I believe they’re trying to find a way.”

I’m much less optimistic. Both Calgary and Edmonton have made it clear that rapid transit is their top priority, but Premier Alison Redford’s government has consistently avoided making any commitments. Sooner or later, the province is going to have to either come to the table on LRT funding, or as David Staples wrote last month, “we need to elect a government that can make it happen.”

If the funding were secured by the spring, construction on the Southeast LRT could begin as early as 2016 with the extension opening by 2020.

Building a globally competitive & innovative Edmonton Region

With our new mayor now officially in office, it’s time to learn some new vocabulary. Forget “world class”, “creative”, and “Capital Region”; start getting used to “globally competitive”, “innovative”, and “Edmonton Region”. All three featured prominently in Mayor Iveson’s swearing in address on Tuesday afternoon. The new words may not seem important on the surface, but I think they signal a shift in the way Iveson will lead Edmonton over the next four years.

City Council Swearing In 2013

When I interviewed EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson just over a year ago he was still settling into his new role but had already started using some consistent language in meetings and interviews. “We need to change to a culture of competitiveness,” Brad told me. “We need to have a hunger to compete.” He sees that culture of competitiveness as the best way to combat our biggest threat: complacency.

If his speech is any indication, Mayor Iveson is going to get along just fine with Brad. Iveson used the phrase “globally competitive” six times. You could probably have substituted the phase “world class” into each of those sentences, but that phrase carries baggage. Even Mayor Mandel generally stayed away from it (until he got upset about the arena, that is). But for all the distaste that many of us have with “world class” there hasn’t been a strong alternative. It would seem that “globally competitive” could be just that.

I like the approach that “globally competitive” suggests. Instead of just attaining a certain status and then potentially becoming complacent, you need to keep working hard to remain competitive. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think it also opens the door to greater collaboration with Calgary. We absolutely can be globally competitive together, but can we both be world class? Here’s what Iveson said about the relationship with Calgary:

We have a lot of work ahead of us with the provincial government on a big city charter that must recognize our special challenges, and that ensures we have the tools and resources we need to realize our full potential as globally competitive Alberta cities.

So “world class” is out, “globally competitive” is in.

One of Mayor Mandel’s favorite words was “creative”. He used it a lot in speeches and in response to questions. He was always talking about finding “creative solutions” to problems. There’s nothing wrong with the word creative, but Mayor Iveson seems to prefer the word “innovative”. He used it a lot during the election, and in his speech on Tuesday he used it at least half a dozen times.

Iveson likes to mention Startup Edmonton and TEC Edmonton when he talks about innovation, and he frequently highlights the role that post-secondary institutions play as well. Maybe a creative solution could save us some money, but Iveson seems to suggest that an innovative one could make us money. Here’s what he said in the innovation section of his speech:

As problem solvers, we can do our business cleaner, greener, cheaper, faster and safer – and sell those solutions to the world. This is how we will ensure that Edmonton will compete globally, and endure long into the future, no matter the price of oil.

So “creative” is out, “innovative” is in.

Mayoral Forum #3

Paula Simons wrote about the shift from “Capital Region” to “Edmonton Region” yesterday:

“I do not live in the capital region. You don’t either. There is no such place. It’s a bureaucratic invention, a mythical, mealy mouthed way of describing the cities, towns, villages and counties that surround Edmonton.”

She goes on to make some excellent points about the “weasel-word label” and includes some great quotes from both Mayor Iveson and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse (“Atta boy!” he said in response to Iveson marketing Edmonton). I particularly like that Iveson understands the importance of using Edmonton when we talk about our city. That was one of the key points I tried to make at PKN7. “Capital Region” could be anywhere, but “Edmonton Region” is specific (yes I know there are two other much smaller towns named Edmonton). That’s another reason that Make Something Edmonton is compelling as a brand for our city.

The other interesting news this week related to the Capital Region Board (CRB) is new legislation introduced by the Province. The Modernizing Regional Governance Act would give the Province the ability to create “regional growth boards” much like the CRB itself. If the new legislation is adopted, it’ll make the CRB an official body under the Municipal Government Act. It would be great if we could rename the organization alongside those changes, something Mayor Iveson has indicated he’d like to pursue.

So “Capital Region” is out, “Edmonton Region” is in.

Wordsmithing, you say? I can see how one might reach that conclusion. But Mayor Iveson doesn’t choose his words lightly; he’s purposeful about what he says. I think he’s saying the right things, and that’s an important first step toward making change happen.

You can listen to this post here: