Simons: Iveson offers Edmonton a fresh new vision — but can he make that image a reality?
EDMONTON - lf the polls are to be believed — and given the recent track record of Canadian pollsters, there’s room for healthy skepticism — we’re all about to become residents of Don Iveson’s Edmonton.
Whether or not you think Iveson is the best choice to lead city council, the fact that he and his campaign have done such an effective job of capturing the public imagination says a lot about the city we’ve become in the last nine years. And the kind of city we want to be four or eight years from now.
This campaign presented voters with three clear choices. Karen Leibovici, experienced, competent, dogged, and no-nonsense, promised good fiscal governance, and a commitment to manage and complete the major projects on the city’s books. She’s spent much of her reactive campaign earnestly attacking the fine details of Iveson’s platform. She’s been less successful in convincing voters she has original ideas for their city — or that she’d stand up to the province for their interests.
Kerry Diotte presented a populist, back-to-basics platform. Yet Diotte, analytical, low-key and soft-spoken, isn’t suited by temperament to play the populist firebrand. He hasn’t been passionate enough to ignite a broad protest vote, the kind that propelled Rob Ford into office. Or perhaps, Edmontonians just aren’t angry enough about potholes and the arena to create the momentum Diotte needed to dominate.
Instead, all indications suggest that Edmontonians have embraced Iveson’s message.
No candidate has done a better job of crafting and selling an appealing image.
Sure, Iveson has experience as a two-term city councillor, and a track record as a negotiator and strategic political thinker. Well-researched and articulate, he has presented a palette of thoughtful policies on everything from LRT expansion to property tax reform to sewer system renewal.
But Iveson’s relentlessly positive campaign has also sold Edmontonians a new image of themselves.
Iveson’s Edmonton isn’t a cautious, play-it-safe city.
It isn’t a grumpy, aggrieved city with a chip on its shoulder.
Iveson, instead, has offered Edmontonians a new picture of themselves: hip, bold, cosmopolitan, progressive in both the economic and social sense.
He’s cast his bet that Edmontonians, buoyed by boom, are ready to embrace a new sense of optimism.
Iveson has successfully marketed himself as a civic ambassador who could take that new Edmonton brand to the rest of Canada, as someone we could believe who might actually be able to get the national media to turn its attention from fawning profiles of Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, long enough to notice that Edmonton, too, is in the midst of transformational change.
Iveson has leveraged his geek glam to shrewd effect. Tall, dark, and almost absurdly handsome, with a photogenic young multicultural family, he seems the Hollywood beau ideal of the rising politician. His campaign cleverly plays to all our preconceived notions, formed by hours in the dark with Jimmy Stewart or Robert Redford. No wonder Edmontonians — at least those who answer poll questions — seem to be crushing on their new would-be leading man.
But if he is elected on Monday, can Iveson live up to those starry expectations? The ambitions he’s laid out — for LRT growth, for the infill development of the airport lands, for infrastructure renewal — are huge. Many of his best ideas, including municipal tax reform, rely on the support of a fickle provincial government, a government whose deputy premier has already publicly endorsed Leibovici.
Iveson himself is still finding his feet as a leader. After six years of almost entirely favourable public attention, on social media and in the commercial press, he’s sometimes seemed thin-skinned and prickly, almost petulant, on the campaign trail, especially when his pet ideas are challenged, or when he’s come under what he perceives as personal criticism.
There’s no question, though, that Iveson and his team have run the best campaign of this election. Built block by block, like one of Iveson’s beloved Lego projects, it’s been a model of strategic efficiency.
Yet despite — or perhaps because — of those poll numbers, Iveson still faces a demographic challenge. Young urbanites have dismally low voter turnout rates. If his stellar poll results make his supporters feel their votes aren’t needed, they could just stay home. Or in the coffee shop. Twitter follows and Facebook fans just won’t count on Monday. If Edmontonians really want to live in Don Iveson’s kind of Edmonton, they’ll have to “like” him where it counts — at the ballot box.
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