Get to Know Who's Running: Giselle General (Ward sipiwiyiniwak)
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 (100% as written) here as they come in. With that said, let's get to know...
“Giselle General completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta School of Business and works in a non-profit that gives free legal help to people in poverty. She immigrated to Canada as an orphan from the Philippines and lived in west Edmonton since 2008. She is hands-on in helping the community be a better place through multiple causes. Giselle served on the boards of the Rio Terrace Community League, Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, and Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. She volunteers as a columnist for the Alberta Filipino Journal and a seamstress for Boomerang Bags YEG and Edmonton Scrub Bags for Healthcare Workers. She contributes to medical causes by regularly donating blood at Canadian Blood Services and her hair for Hair Massacure, an annual Edmonton fundraiser supporting children with cancer."
I♥E/ Why do you want to run for City Council?
GG/ A life principle I live by is "be the change you want to see" and I'm passionate about contributing to the community to make our world a better place. I strongly believe that I many people's experiences and values need to be better represented in elected office, so I'm throwing my name in the race.
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?
GG/ First, my extensive community service track record. I have years of community service on a wide variety of organizations and causes, from my neighbourhood community league, ethnic newspaper, government advisory boards, nonprofit boards and I'm just about to turn 30 years old! I also contribute hands-on such as sewing fabric bags from recycled fabric, donating at the blood bank regularly, teaching business concepts to elementary kids, clubs back in university, the list goes on. Helping people from all walks of life and understanding the issues people face is something I bring to City Council.
Second, my education and career. I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree and a decade of experience working in the nonprofit sector. In my day job I organize lawyers who help give free legal help to people in poverty.
Finally, my lived experiences. As someone who cannot drive, takes transit and walks around in +40 to -40 weather, I have a literally on-the-ground view of how it feels like navigating around the city. As a woman and an immigrant from the Philippines, those lived experiences also help me identify gaps that are not always addressed. As a child who had to handle our small family business after being an orphan, I understand the universal struggle of ensuring your family livelihood survives.
I♥E/ What do you think are the 4 or 5 biggest issues facing Edmonton right now that you want to focus on most?
GG/ Transparency, engagement and integrity: As a constituent, I appreciate it when elected representatives are proactive with communicating with their constituents. I am very disappointed when I hear more from councilors from other wards as far as updates about what is going on with the city. If elected, this is something I want to change. I will have a robust set of regular engagement activities such as a combination of in-person and virtual town halls, being open and approachable on social media, and being prompt and responsive to messages. With all the changes in the election rules, there's also uncertainty and distrust when it comes to dirty money, political parties interfering and PACs. So, to demonstrate that my campaign is of the people, by the people, I am being transparent about my campaign activities including a complete donors list. Edmontonians deserve elected representatives that are accessible and transparent.
Recovering from the impacts of COVID: This is both from an economic and social standpoint. Being very diligent about spending, partnerships with all orders of government and industries are key as we emerge from the impacts of COVID19.
Community Safety and Policing: Economic stability, mental health supports and feeling connected to one's community results into lower crime. Police reform is the terminology I prefer and it is definitely overdue. It's very important for every Edmontonian, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and nature of the incident, that they feel 100% confident seeking help from the police.
Homelessness: Did you know I was shocked when I learned a country like Canada has an issue with homelessness? The key word in addressing this issue is having permanent, sustainable solutions so that people are able to have shelter on an ongoing basis while they heal and rebuild their lives.
I♥E/ What do you think are some of the issues/struggles affecting your particular ward that you would like to focus on most?
GG/ Transportation and mobility would be the catch-all term I'm going to use here, but it is essentially everything that move people and goods from Point A to Point B. Snow clearing, potholes, sidewalks, back alley renewal and roads.
Support for hyper-local amenities. The neighbourhood strip malls that are small businesses, our parks and playgrounds, and community league halls play an integral role in the quality of life we enjoy here so whether it is through funding or programming, these need to be supported on an ongoing basis because it supports our local economy and builds a strong community.
The two big infrastructure topics here are the West LRT and the Lewis Farms Rec Centre. I'll do extensive consultation and research to make sure these projects are successful, even if the funding model or timelines needs to be adjusted.
When I start doorknocking in May, I hope that this section gets more developed. Ward sipiwiyiniwak is quite diverse, from the six former Ward 1 neighbourhoods, mature neighbourhoods like mine, some still being developed like Cameron Heights and Edgemont, and some starting development like the Riverview area. I'll be spending my free time starting the election launch to do a combination of door-knocking, online events, surveys and my volunteer policy team researching to develop this so it is truly a platform of the people.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you loved and would like to expand upon?
GG/ Public Transit. I know that long-time Edmontonians feel differently, but when I came here in 2008, the expansion was impressive to me as an immigrant teen trying to survive, living in a far-west neighbourhood where street numbers are 200 and up. The expansion of the LRT line from the University to Century Park, opening of the Lewis Farms Transit Centre, expansion of west end routes 119, 136, 133, 139 was noticeable and helped my life tremendously. Where we fell short is that the momentum stalled and was not able to keep up with the city's growth. I'm optimistic about the Valley line opening soon and I'm looking forward to the long-overdue LRT West.
Environmental initiatives- this is very recent but I'm glad that we are finally getting an organics bin. And as a newcomer I was impressed when I first learned about Eco-Stations, the REUSE Centre and Big Bin Events to manage other types of waste. There seems to be an overall inclination to protect the river valley.
The New City Plan. I'm excited about this because as someone who cannot drive, there's great value in the 15-minute Neighbourhood concept. I live in a mature neighbourhood with close proximity to parks, local business areas, a community league with a hall, and two entrances to a river valley trail. Every resident, regardless of the neighbourhood, deserve the same convenience and accessibility. Our seniors population is increasing so close proximity to amenities is crucial especially when they become unable to drive. In the City Plan, our ward, ward sipiwiyiniwak is covered under two districts, West Edmonton and West Henday which makes a lot of sense to me.
Accessibility and Inclusion - The Corporate Accessibility Plan is almost done. It is just submitted to the City Manager for Approval. I am fortunate to be able-bodied and I'm horrified the more I learn how government programs, services and communication processes are not accessible for those with disabilities. I will keep a close eye on this to make sure it actually reflects on what is needed by the community and for it to be implemented properly.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you are/were against, and what would you do differently?
GG/ Public Transit. I argue I can put this as an answer in many questions. I was distraught during the public consultations for the Bus Network Re-Design because the tradeoff presented to us was "given the same budget, what do you prefer, more coverage but less frequency, or more frequent routes but you have to walk a bit extra?" What I'm hopeful about is that the recently implemented Bus Network can quickly to the gaps in the system and find solutions. .
The Solar Panel decision. Those solar panels can seriously be built somewhere else in a way that doesn't disturb the river valley. I admit, this is also why I am conflicted now about the gondola. While it seems like a nice thing to make downtown more vibrant, I wonder about the environment cost of construction.
I♥E/ Do you think elected officials, such as City Councillors, should be able to block people on social media sites like Twitter?
GG/ Only when people are saying things that are violent, discriminatory and threatening towards me, my love ones and the people I work with and serve. I'm a woman, an immigrant, a person of color and a sexual assault survivor and there's lots of harmful commentary people post under these categories and more. One city councilor gives people one chance to edit people's comments and if they don't comply, then they get blocked. Because sometimes, people just get really passionate and are not always thoughtful about their choice of words. I'd like to do the same and encourage people to use family-friendly language. As far as trolling is concerned, I'm actually expanding my understanding of it. If a social account ended up being an actual person and they just keep on talking about one topic very passionately that they make comments on it every single time, I don't think that's worth a block. And unfortunately some politicians have done this. There are ways now to determine if an account is a bot just spewing awful content, and yes those can be blocked. Attack the problem, not the issue is my philosophy.
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)?
GG/ I think we failed factoring behavioural psychology and the human tendency to sometimes be irrational when faced with a difficult situation. The flip-flop approach to restrictions caused issues because understandably, people are getting tired of being restricted for so long. Perhaps hindsight is 20-20, but a swift, strict and slightly longer first lockdown until summer of 2020, while providing appropriate more comprehensive financial support to those whose livelihoods are affected, could have prevented the third wave we have right now.
I♥E/ What is your favourite thing about living in Edmonton?
GG/ My husband, haha! Is that too personal? In all seriousness, because he is born and raised in Edmonton, he has helped me learn about how incredible this city is for someone who came here as a teen, how we can build a beautiful life together and how I can also contribute and make a positive impact.
I♥E/ Can you describe yourself in 5 words or less?
GG/ Experienced, energetic, compassionate change-maker.
Thank you, Giselle!