Innovation, partnerships key to 2021 recovery, Edmonton councillors say

·4 min read

Keeping local businesses afloat, maintaining property tax increases near zero and finding innovative ways to run the city are priorities Edmonton city councillors envision for 2021.

Several councillors say thinking outside the box and doing things differently may be the key to helping the economy recover and saving small and medium businesses.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the city cut red tape for businesses, for example, making the permit process simple for patio extensions. It also offered micro grants to businesses.

In a year-end interview with CBC News, Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack, said saving local businesses is crucial to the city's overall economic health.

"I think 2021 is going to be all about — when we take the economy as the example, starting at that point, it is doing everything possible to remove barriers from small businesses to ensure they can make it through," Knack said.

He said the city started streamlining things like permits for patio extensions, a process he said used to be long and painful where businesses had to submit long applications.

This year, the city changed that permit application to a simple one-page form with no fee.

"But I think we showed — COVID did show — that maybe we don't need to overthink all of these things."

Ward 2 Coun. Bev Esslinger said council will continue to have challenging decisions but should focus on reducing red tape for businesses.

"I think the zero per cent tax increase was really a demonstration that we understand the challenges that we're facing as a community," Esslinger said.

Ward 3 Coun. Jon Dziadyk stressed the need to keep that trend going in 2021 and beyond.

"I think some people are bracing for a tax hike in future years to make up for how we got to this zero per cent," Dziadyk said.

He said council should work on continuing to provide very low or no tax increases for the foreseeable future.

Dziadyk pointed to the city strategy it calls "reimagining" life after COVID-19, including an effort to streamline city staff but maintain service levels.

"There's an opportunity to right-size the city, support frontline workers, to provide all the types of services that citizens would expect from a city, but do it in a smarter way."

The city has made progress on this front already, Dziadyk suggested, with city auditor David Wiun's showing the city had too many middle management and supervisory positions.

Some of those were cut in the 2021 budget.

A new city manager, Andre Corbould, starts work on Jan. 18. He will usher in a change in perspective, Dziadyk said.

Ward 5 Coun. Sarah Hamilton said it will be important for the city to innovate.

"We're going to need to let some of our conventional ways of thinking about things go, because as we know we don't have a lot of money to do things so when you don't have money, it requires collaboration and collaboration requires trust," Hamilton said.

Knack said the city should consider new ways to create infrastructure, including recreation and shared spaces.

"We're going to have to look for partnership opportunities with community leagues. We're going to have to look to the nonprofit sector to help come together," he said.

Stop the shame game

Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen said he's hoping the recurring debate and argument between cyclists and drivers will get a reset.

"We've created a culture where we're holding up our fists and trying to shame each other," McKeen said. "It's not shameful to want to ride a bike. It's not shameful to want to ride a bike to work in a safe way."

He said he hopes drivers and cyclists will stop shaming and blaming each other, and instead embrace all transportation options.

"I think that's a really important part of our future because of the demand we're hearing — those sort of values that are coming out of the pandemic — one of them might be, 'You know what, I'm going to ride a bike because I love being outside. I missed being outside.'"

The next municipal election is scheduled for Oct. 18, 2021.

Esslinger, Hamilton, Dziadyk and Knack said they intend to run again. McKeen hasn't decided.

Mayor Don Iveson has said he will not run again for the mayor's chair.

@natashariebe