Get to Know Who's Running: Gino Akbari (Ward O-day'min)
There happens to be a Municipal Election coming up in Edmonton on October 18, 2021, and I think it's important for locals to get to know the City Council candidates running for their particular ward (as well as their Mayoral candidates, of course). I chose to get more involved in the election this year and so wanted to give each candidate a chance to tell us a little about themselves, their vision, and why you should vote for them. I have sent a 10-question questionnaire to each of the 2021 Edmonton Municipal Election candidates and will post their responses here as they come in. With that said, let's get to know...
"I am passionate about our city that provides a home to my family. I want to see it thrive in the future, that means a vibrant and affordable city core. As your representative, I will dedicate myself to being accessible and working hard with you to make our city a place we can all call home."
I♥E/ Why do you want to run for City Council?
GA/ I love this city. It has given me a home and so much more. My family made Edmonton our home 15 years back after my wife and I graduated from university and we are enthusiastic Edmonton promoters. It is a city with a small community spirit, where we pull together and support one another. It is a community that supports the arts and local small businesses. And Edmonton has so many beautiful parks and trails for walking, biking and hiking.
I want to give back to my home - to work with our community to help revitalize our downtown, to support local small businesses and the arts, to ensure we have good paying jobs for our community members, and to make it affordable for average people and their families to live, work and play in our downtown core.
I♥E/ Can you tell us about your past or current experiences that you think could possibly benefit/ translate to your position as a member of City Council?
GA/ I know what it is like to have a precarious living situation. My Mother and I once lived in one room and I had to go out each day to find food we could afford with our meager funds. Those experiences helped me appreciate the challenges that many people face and I want to help build a community where everyone has an opportunity to move beyond hunger and homelessness. I also know what it is like to run a small business; to hire, train, mentor and pay employees fairly.
I lived in several countries when I was growing up before I immigrated to Canada. I have seen what it takes to build community and to welcome newcomers to our beautiful city.
In my professional career I have spent years training and coaching people on communication skills, cultural sensitivity and successful relationship building. I can bring those skills to city hall and benefit the people of our city.
I know we can continue to build our beautiful city together. We are a community that pulls together, cares for one another and is driven to grow and improve.
I♥E/ What do you think are the 4 or 5 biggest issues facing Edmonton right now that you want to focus on most?
GA/ As stated in the new City Plan, Edmonton is growing and many actions need to be taken now to maintain and expand the vibrancy of this City. Edmonton has suffered during Covid-19 and work needs to be done now to plan for the restoration of city services and to support city businesses. Beyond, a recovery plan from Covid-19 restrictions, the biggest issues facing Edmonton now are:
1. Affordable Housing: If as the City Plan says, Edmonton’s population is expected to double by 2065, then Council needs to ensure that there is sufficient housing for all and particularly affordable housing.
2. Diversification of the Economy: Edmonton, like all of Alberta, based its economy almost solely on the oil and gas industry. With changes to that industry, the City needs to look to alternate economic drivers in order to maintain and grow a vibrant city.
3. Ensuring good paying jobs for people in Edmonton. Our city could be a leader in community benefits agreements that see us ensuring living wages for people.
4. Climate Change: Dealing with the impacts of climate change should be front and centre of all we do. It is not when or if we feel the impacts of climate change, it is now that we do.
5. Inclusive City: Edmonton is not immune to racism and it is a huge concern to many Edmontonians. Council needs to work with the greater community to ensure that the city is a safe, welcoming community for all who live or will choose to live here. This includes reviewing the services of the City and collaboration with the Province regarding social services and policing models.
6. Transportation: Continued planning for now and the future regarding transportation methods that are not focused on the gasoline vehicle is important. Ensuring that all transportation methods are accessible to all and are safe methods of movement in our city.
I♥E/ What do you think are some of the issues/struggles affecting your particular ward that you would like to focus on most?
GA/ Ward O-day’min includes our downtown core. I think we can make our downtown so much more vibrant and inviting. We can do that by taking initiatives to support and promote our local small businesses and by creating more affordable housing for average people and their families to live, work and play downtown. Strong local businesses can provide jobs with living wages. If average people can afford to live downtown they will support the local businesses and the arts in our core. That adds up to an exciting city.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you loved and would like to expand upon?
GA/ 1. The protection and use of the river valley.
2. The development of the Quarters: This part of the east side of downtown has an important role to plan future growth of the city. With the completion of the Valley Line LRT, this area will need support and effort to ensure that vulnerable populations are not ignored and new and exciting new businesses can develop. This area is a great opportunity for increased housing in the core, with a focus on affordable housing.
3. Support for some key commercial areas to ensure their continued operations, such as 124 Street, Downtown, Brewery District, North Edge (107 Avenue), Kingsway, ChinaTown and Little Italy, to name a few.
4. Development of the Blatchford lands to ensure the construction continues.
5. Supports for post secondary education institutions in the core - MacEwan University, NAIT and Norquest.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you are/were against, and what would you do differently?
GA/ Any initiative needs to:
1. I believe that all city initiatives must ensure good public engagement and transparent decision making.
2. I would want to see greater coordination and collaboration between community leagues, business zones and affected individuals.
3. I would propose that we consider citywide discussions and solutions for such things as development of social housing and services for vulnerable individuals and communities.
4. I would like to see the city engaged in more work on diversity and inclusion in our community. Edmonton is wonderfully multicultural and I think we need to do more to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and included in our city.
5. Finally I want to see a city in which people have jobs that pay a living wage. I want to see our city engaged in creating community benefits agreements that allow us to award contracts to employers that pay and treat their employees well.
I♥E/ Do you think elected officials, such as City Councillors, should be able to block people on social media sites like Twitter?
GA/ As a general rule I don’t believe that elected officials, such as City Councillors, should block people. Elected officials need to be accessible to constituents and to their thoughts, views and concerns. Elected officials need to hear from those who support them and those who oppose what they are doing. A wide range of views will help an elected official make better decisions.
I would only agree with blocking people who are threatening to an elected official and their family.
I♥E/ When it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, what do you think we got wrong (if anything) as a city or province, and is there anything you would want to do differently (municipally OR provincially)?
GA/ The pandemic has been difficult for a lot of people in our city. Too many people have lost their jobs. Too many people have had to work in challenging environments as front line workers. And too many families have had to struggle to earn a living while helping their children to learn when schools were closed.
I applauded our city when they implemented the mask bylaw for indoor spaces and public transportation.
The thing I have heard most from people is frustration with the inconsistencies and lack of clarity on restrictions from our provincial government. I have been very disappointed. I believe Jason Kenney failed to lead, instead bowing to pressure from his supporters for too long. Instead of providing support to people and small business owners he went to war with doctors and nurses. The pandemic was a time to pull together, not one to sow greater divisions.
I♥E/ What is your favourite thing about living in Edmonton?
GA/ I love our small community spirit in a big city, our downtown core, the diverse arts community and our countless coffee shops and local restaurants. I am an avid runner and along with my family who love their biking we have made these beautiful parks and river valley trails our playing ground. I love that Edmontonians pull together and support one another. And I love that we welcome newcomers to our city with open arms.
I♥E/ Can you describe yourself in 5 words or less?
GA/ Energetic, engaging, open, community, family.