Edmonton mayor says city 'deserves a fair deal' from Alberta government

·3 min read
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi gave his inaugural state of the city speech before a crowd of community and business leaders at the Edmonton Convention Centre. (Stephen Cook/CBC - image credit)
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi gave his inaugural state of the city speech before a crowd of community and business leaders at the Edmonton Convention Centre. (Stephen Cook/CBC - image credit)

In words echoing Premier Jason Kenney's own rallying cry against the federal government, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called on the province to help Edmonton unlock its full potential.

"Edmonton deserves a fair deal. Please work with us. We are your capital city — we make outsized contributions," the mayor said Tuesday at his inaugural state of the city address at the Edmonton Convention Centre.

"Please stop holding Edmonton's economy back."

In 2019, Kenney's "fair deal" panel was struck to look at getting a better piece of the Canadian pie for Alberta.

Sohi has previously demanded the province provide more funding for housing and mental health supports. But Tuesday's speech included a litany of grievances, including a lack of financial support for the city as a regional hub for social services and disproportionate cuts to the University of Alberta compared to other post-secondary institutions.

He said Edmonton received $1.1 billion less than Calgary from 2007 through 2021 for the municipal sustainability initiative (MSI) and basic municipal transportation funding.

The last budget also saw Edmonton receive one-third the infrastructure investment of Calgary, he said.

Sohi also said the municipality is losing out on millions annually from provincial properties, which are disproportionately located in the capital.

The province is exempt from paying property taxes to municipalities in Alberta. It instead gives a grant in lieu, which was reduced by a quarter in 2019-20 and by the same amount again the following year. Edmonton had received $15.7 million for 2021-22, according to a spokesperson for the minister of municipal affairs. Calgary received $4.2 million.

"These are just a few examples," he told the host of community and business leaders at the event.

"Too often we are made to feel that Edmonton does not matter to the province. If you feel that way, I am there with you."

Sohi said he would convene a symposium of community leaders to address these challenges and explore how provincial economic development and tourism organizations can increase their presence in the city.

McIver responds

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, who attended the event, told reporters that "maybe [Sohi] needs a memory lesson."

He listed other projects that the province has helped fund, including $371 million for the new Edmonton Hospital and $142 million toward the Gene Zwozdesky Centre.

The Alberta government also promised to match federal funding last month for transit systems hurt by lost revenue during the pandemic with Edmonton slated for $66.9 million total.

"The mayor's job, one of his jobs, is to complain to get more money from the province," McIver said.

"So on that front, I guess he did his job. But he didn't really put any of these things in context."

McIver's office said MSI funding varies based on population, education property tax requisitions, and kilometres of local road. Edmonton has received around $2.8 billion in MSI capital funding since 2007.

City faces challenges

Sohi's speech also touched on challenges the city faces, among them pandemic recovery, racism, reconciliation, the drug poisoning crisis and homelessness.

He also painted a picture of a city with a bright economic future as Edmonton works to attract investment and create opportunities for all residents.

The more immediate future might include making difficult financial decisions.

During a presentation to council Monday, administration estimated an 8.5 per cent tax increase for 2023 if nothing is adjusted due to revenue shortfalls, approved growth and maintenance for current service levels.

Sohi told reporters after his speech that challenges like inflation and supply chain issues were one reason for the outlook, along with ambitious plans to tackle climate change and social issues.

"But we will look at it. Our goal is to continue to build a strong city, at the same time, keep our taxes affordable."

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