Edmonton mayor emphasizes need for respect between city, province in 2020

Edmonton's mayor says the city's relationship with the province remains a priority as he looks forward to 2020. 

"Where we disagree we'll disagree respectfully," Don Iveson said in a year-end interview Dec. 14. 

"I think what I really want to emphasize is that there is a robust and functioning local democracy and local government — and that needs to be respected."

CBC News asked the mayor where the relationship stands with the Alberta government since the provincial budget was released Oct. 24.

The budget included clawbacks to infrastructure money for municipalities, amounting to $184 million less in Edmonton's 2019-2022 capital budgets.

On budget day, Iveson was at the Edmonton International Airport on the verge of getting on a plane bound for Europe to attend the 75th-anniversary ceremony commemorating the liberation of Holland. 

When he heard the contents of the budget, Iveson turned around and went directly to the Alberta legislature. 

But it wasn't just about the money. 

The Alberta government announced it was repealing the city charters between the province and Calgary and Edmonton — deals the two cities had worked on for years, giving them more autonomy on how they spent money. 

"We had no sense that the city charter fiscal framework was going to be ripped up today," Iveson told media that day. 

He called it a "profound disappointment and a broken campaign promise." 

More than two months later, the mayor recapped his decision to cancel that trip. 

"Essentially we lost the fiscal component of the city charters and we were not expecting that," Iveson said. "We had no heads up that that was coming."

The mayor called an emergency council meeting for the next day to start preparing an "urgent response" to the provincial budget. 

Edmonton and Calgary city councils were heading into winter budget sessions, where they revise the operating budget for the next year and the capital budget for the next three years. 

Iveson also had a meeting with Municipal Affairs Minister, Kaycee Madu, to discuss the implications of the provincial budget and the city and province's relationship moving forward.

Edmonton Coun. Michael Walters called out the minister on the province's lack of support for permanent supportive housing and social issues. 

Iveson referenced the same issue during his year-end interview by saying the city and province can move forward.

"We're continuing to talk to them about our housing priorities and opportunities to work together to actually save them money in their biggest cost centre, which is health care, with a better housing policy."

By mid-December, Edmonton council had adjusted its operating and capital budgets to meet the new fiscal restraints. The Lewis Farms rec centre was one of the biggest projects council deferred and Iveson pointed directly to the province.

"Our fiscal situation has been fundamentally altered by the government of Alberta," Iveson said on Dec. 12. "Very tangibly this loss of that corresponds to the loss and delay on this rec centre."

LRT delays

Similar to the previous years that Iveson has been the mayor of Edmonton, the city's LRT lines faced controversy in 2019. 

It started in February when the consortium in charge of the Valley Line Southeast LRT announced, after several hurdles, that the line was behind its target of opening in December 2020. 

TransEd never gave a revised timeline but would only say the project was "trending late." 

In early December, CBC News obtained documents through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request showing a revised schedule that estimated the line would open in mid-2021. 

Still, Iveson refused to say the city had been given a specific revised timeline on the project and that the delays have been made public. 

It's a $3 million penalty for each month the project is late, giving the consortium incentive to finish as soon as possible. 

"Rather than saying 'well it's gonna be this day exactly' because maybe they're wrong, maybe they'll make up some time, maybe they'll hit another snag."

Innovation mandate

The highlight of the year for Iveson was council's decision, in mid-December, to separate the Edmonton Economic Development corporation's mandate from innovation groups.

The EEDC will continue to run the Edmonton Convention Centre and the EXPO and be in charge of tourism, while the city will create a new innovation corridor to consolidate endeavours like Health City and Innovation Edmonton under one umbrella. 

"I'm really excited about what that's going to mean for innovation and job creation and some of the opportunity around artificial intelligence and health and technology."