David Staples: Edmonton unites around Don Iveson and big city dreams
At long last, city has come together and got it together
EDMONTON - The landslide winner of the 2013 civic election is Edmonton’s new mayor Don Iveson, but the real story is Edmonton’s now entrenched city-building agenda.
As delighted and giddy as the Iveson camp is right now, and as smartly as Iveson campaigned this fall, he will ultimately be judged not on this win, nor on his considerable intelligence, but on just how cagey he is at pushing ahead our ambitious plans.
Edmonton has already had a full decade of LRT expansion, downtown revitalization, inner core rebirth and bringing amenities to the affluent suburbs. Our city-building agenda is so entrenched that no mayoral candidate, not even Kerry Diotte, strongly opposed the main planks of the platform.
The civic election was ultimately uneventful because there is no real debate. Edmonton is unified in a way it has rarely been in the past. We’re strong in a way we’ve always envied in Calgary. At long last, we have come together and got it together.
That is why on Monday, 80 per cent of Edmonton voters supported the city’s two city-building mayoral candidates, with more 61 per cent voting for Iveson and 19 per cent for Karen Leibovici with 145 out of 279 polls reporting. Diotte, who claimed he spoke with the real voice of Edmonton voters but actually spoke from a penny-pinching script written two decades ago, got 16 per cent of the vote.
Edmonton’s real voice came from its happy majority, from the city’s vast middle class, tens of thousands of prosperous households, families that drive nice vehicles, live in good homes and take great vacations. These are people who have seen the world and know the good life. They’re not down, they’re up, and they are no longer content for Edmonton to be a city where cheap and ugly rules, where downtown is dead, and where public transit always means taking the bus.
When old-school Diotte complained of Edmonton wasting taxpayer dollars on “Taj Mahal” rec centres, these folks just shook their heads. They recalled their many visits to the Terwillegar Recreation Centre or the new Commonwealth Recreation Centre, and thought, “Taj Mahals? Hardly. They’re nice enough places to go for a swim, watch my kid’s hockey game, maybe have a coffee. But they aren’t exactly luxury palaces.”
The city-building majority overwhelmed Diotte, but it’s also bigger than the election’s winner, Iveson. It’s bigger than his predecessor Stephen Mandel, bigger than any one politician or candidate or party. It has dominated recent elections and bowled over candidates such as Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who was seen to have opposed it.
Of course, city building has come at the price of increased taxes and borrowing. The city’s debt, while under control, limits how much new borrowing can be done to push LRT expansion. Taxpayers have been pushed hard for a decade. New sources of revenue to build Edmonton are in doubt. Future success in pushing our agenda is uncertain.
Iveson’s inexperience is also worrisome. He’s been a bright city councillor, but he’s never led his own camp to victory in any major, ugly civic battle. He was on the winning side of both the airport redevelopment and the arena wars, but others did far more heavy lifting.
Is Iveson ready to get it done in the coming battles, such as the one rising up over regional resources? He talks a nifty game about building bridges with our regional partners to forge a better deal. In the end, though, the counties will be emphatically opposed to fair sharing with Edmonton and the major towns. A brawl is coming.
Is Iveson up to it? Or will he overthink, try to please too many masters and stumble? At times, Iveson voted against the arena deal and even LRT funding over matters of what he would call strategy or principal. As mayor, he won’t have that luxury of playing it quite so cute.
All that said, Edmonton turned to Iveson for some excellent reasons. He’s energetic, telegenic, intelligent and eloquent. He can make the case for the city’s need to keep building better than anyone else on council.
He’s also got the benefit of a strong council firmly supporting the city-building agenda. Steadfast councillors like Amarjeet Sohi, Bryan Anderson, Ben Henderson and newcomers like Bev Esslinger and Michael Walters understand that victory is not an election win, it’s to advance our ambitious agenda, no matter what, and no excuses.
As for Iveson, he’s got our blessing, our vote, our mandate. Now we’re looking for him to lead.
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