Edmonton mayor asks for social services funding during first meeting with Premier Danielle Smith

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi discussed social services with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith during a meeting on March 7. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi discussed social services with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith during a meeting on March 7. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC - image credit)

In his first meeting with Danielle Smith since she became Alberta's premier nearly five months ago, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi asked for more funding for social services.

The mayor, who met Tuesday with Smith and three cabinet ministers, is asking for more shelter beds, supportive housing units and drug treatment spaces, plus $100 million for business revitalization areas in central Edmonton.

Sohi is also urging the province to improve homeless shelter standards and develop a plan on releasing people without housing from correctional facilities and hospitals.

In a letter shared with the premier on Tuesday, the mayor's office says under-investment in tackling these issues has a human cost and negative effects on business.

"There is still much work to be done and we are asking for the government of Alberta to step up to fulfil its jurisdictional responsibilities," the letter says.

At a news conference, Sohi said his meeting with the premier, Municipal Affairs Minister Rebecca Schulz, Mental Health and Addiction Minister Nicholas Milliken and Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jeremy Nixon was scheduled for 30 minutes but lasted an hour.

"I felt that we were heard and I'm optimistic that they will work with us to deliver on those," he said.

Sohi said some of the province's recent budget commitments could go toward the priorities he has identified, including funds for affordable housing and mental health initiatives.

He said these priorities were shared with the province before the budget was released last week.

Sohi said more than a dozen organizations, including nearby municipalities, non-profits and businesses, sent advocacy letters to the premier before the meeting, echoing his concerns. He said the premier mentioned having received some of the letters.

In a letter sent to the premier on Monday, the Coalition of Edmonton Civic Unions called for more harm reduction services, affordable housing initiatives, shelter spaces and drug treatment programs.

The coalition represents members at the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Public Library, Epcor, Capital Power and other employers.

According to the province's substance use surveillance website, Edmonton saw 18 per cent more drug poisoning deaths than Calgary from January to November 2022. As well, Edmonton paramedics responded to about twice as many opioid-related calls than their counterparts in Calgary last year.

"Our members are seeing the effects of this, with increased security concerns in LRT stations and libraries, rec centres and public parks," CECU's letter said.

Sohi said the premier made no promises on timelines, but committed to working with the city on its priorities.

The premier's office has not yet responded to a request from CBC News for comment.