Get to Know Who's Running: Gabrielle Battiste (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 (100% as written) here as they come in. With that said, let's get to know...
" I'm asking for your vote and your support as I meet with each of you to listen to your concerns, wants and needs. I will work hard to meet with as many individuals and local business owners in my ward as I can, and, if elected I will work harder to keep your trust, respect and faith as I represent your issues. Our Ward is at the Heart of the City of Edmonton. We work hard, we play hard and we support one another. I am your neighbour, a homeowner and a small and local businessperson. I am first of all a mother. I am also a wife and a friend. I have a dog and a cat who are almost as much trouble as they are a joy. I've experienced the ups and downs of executive credit union leadership, complex business management and oversight, losing jobs, looking for jobs, not being able to afford milk for the table - and everything in between. Every person is unique in their struggles and their accomplishments. As I meet each of you, I look forward to listening to you and learning from you - ."
I♥E/ Why do you want to run for City Council?
Gabrielle Battiste/ My home, my family and my businesses are in the Ward. Decisions made at the Council level have affected me on all levels and I’ve witnessed the impact they have had on my neighbours. We need to move away from conflicting and ad hoc decision-making directed at replicating an ideology; to a focused and more purposeful approach that creates a safe & effective community for everyone. I want to create a community that respects & uplifts small and local business, is safe for families, the elderly and children to walk around in, and encourages healthy & active living.
Diversity & Inclusion are important to me. Our society needs more women in positions of mentorship and influence with equal voices. I want to set an example for young women - that they can do and become anything they want, no matter what life has thrown their way. And, I have a 27-year-old son and I know the challenges that families experience trying to keep their kids safe, find them affordable accommodations and keep our best and brightest here through innovation.I want to focus on creating an Edmonton for Edmontonians. I have the life experience, education and training to hit the ground running without the same learning curve as others – and I have fresh ideas. I know how to build consensus through hard work and I want Edmontonians to hold me accountable for achieving success. As a city, we are at a critical juncture and need focused and accountable individuals with the right experience to lead us forward. I believe I bring the passion and experience to create an Edmonton that works for all of us.
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?
GB/ I am a 25-year lawyer and business entrepreneur with experience being personally accountable and responsible for multi-million-dollar budgets and saving millions by making effective & efficient decisions. I currently advise municipalities (both councillors and their leadership teams) on how to collaborate to achieve measurable success in the best interests of their citizens. I have written municipal policies and bylaws and engaged communities for input into major developments. I also currently conduct ethics investigations into code of conduct breaches by councillors and board members, so understand my role, responsibilities and accountabilities very well. I am relentlessly honest. I have worked with both the Federal and Provincial governments and can effectively continue to work with them to benefit Edmonton. I am a relentless community and Not-for-Profit volunteer, doing free legal work for non-profit organizations, currently chairing Autism Edmonton, sitting on the board of Capital Region Housing to provide subsidized housing; incorporating and sitting on the board of the Coalition for Canadian Police Reform to lobby across Canada for creating a national policing college to provide the training and resources officers need on an ongoing basis; and creating organizations run by those with lived experience to help the most vulnerable get the right resources at the right time. I encourage everyone to check out my LinkedIn and Twitter.
I♥E/ What do you think are the 4 or 5 biggest issues facing Edmonton right now that you want to focus on most?
GB/ 1. Creating a Community of Care. We need systemic change through progressive action. We need to empower communities and individuals to leverage participatory government. We need engaged and engaging community leagues to provide a voice for unique neighbourhoods. I’ve helped lead a community league and have ideas on better integrating leagues with the city moving forward. We need community-based policing and social resources that deliver the right people to the right place at the right time with the right solutions. We need safe, effective and rapid transit where our kids don’t need to worry about being attacked as a result of race, religion, gender or otherwise. We also need a world class River Valley with well-maintained trails and amenities to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle. Finally, we need to respectfully preserve our history and recognize the contributions of Indigenous, Asian, Muslim and other cultures.
2. 2. Supporting Local & Small Business. Small and Local Businesses are the heart and soul of Edmonton, and Ward O-day'min. We need to make it easy to start new businesses and prosperous to stay in business. I will fight to systemically change the culture at the city to one of “Getting to Yes”. Instead of investigators, we need facilitators. Instead of administrators, we need activators and motivators. Right now, we are rule-makers and regulators - and people can’t seem to look beyond the old playbook. We need a City that is outcome based - not rule-based- where we find creative solutions to any problem. We need to reform our bylaws and policies (ex. LUB) to allow for flexible innovation, development, zoning and permitting. We need a comprehensive Destination Zone from 124th Street to Chinatown that showcases our trendy pubs, world class attractions, chic retail and cultural cuisines.
3. 3. Taxes Paid = Services Received. Right now, we are not receiving good value for our taxes. We need to own our rights and stand up for our basic individual and business needs. We need Cost Containment, Transparent Budgets, Performance Management, Better Oversight and Easily Understood Service Levels. We need to show you the exact services you are getting for the taxes you are paying; and stop pet projects that don’t reflect resident wants and needs. Citizens should not have to double pay for essential services like park access, maintenance, accessibility to services and roads. I will push to publish our CAO and leadership team performance plans and get you clear communication that you can locate easily to let you know how your money is being spent.4. Engaging You in Your Future. Affordable housing is at an all-time low. Rental rates are rising. We cannot sacrifice the ability of all individuals to have a home by spending recklessly. Climate and health changes are rapid and we need better emergency preparedness as a proactive measure. We can do better. Diversifying our energy and technological economy is key to our prosperity. Supporting mental and physical health is instrumental to our recovery. In all cases, I support pro-active engagement with those impacted by policies and practices. Engagement includes active feedback to and from the city and from me, as your Councillor. I will be there in person to tell you how your feedback has been used and to check in with you to see how we can do better.
I♥E/ What do you think are some of the issues/struggles affecting your particular ward that you would like to focus on most?
GB/ In Ward O’day-min, we have an extremely diverse population with different needs. One of the biggest issues for all residents is the reality and perception of community safety. I support moving away from warehousing the houseless into smaller, 24-7, wrap-around, culturally appropriate centres throughout the city where we can get community buy-in to support neighbourhood mentorship; and where those using the facilities feel safe & valued. We cannot keep creating entire districts of poverty and despair and we cannot keep putting monetary bandaids on issues that require prevention & intervention to stop the cycle. I support using lifecycle tools and organizations, like Junior Achievement, to build skills, confidence, resilience and opportunity for everyone. I also support a thorough review of our safety resources (fire, police, internal city operational funding, social agency funding, community league funding) to ensure the right resources are directed to the right places at the right time by the right people.
In focusing on mental and physical health, I support having paid advisory councils of those with hidden disabilities and lived experience to provide active input into drafting policies and providing solutions. Accessibility of local amenities is critical to maintenance of health and requires effective, safe and efficient rapid transit that the elderly, children and others can count on to be there when and where they need. Hop on, hop off transit around our core businesses, attractions and necessities will allow individuals greater accessibility options and connect our core communities.Finally, our residents feel disenfranchised. The city needs to do a better job of communicating the right information to the right people in a timely and clear manner. I want to tell each community how their input is being used to make a difference on projects, policies and processes that impact them. I want to be accountable and answer questions.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you loved and would like to expand upon?
GB/ I loved having 104th shut down for vehicle traffic at certain times and would like to see that option expanded to other areas because it allows for better mobility of neighbourhood residents and visitors along with better traffic to local and small business – better overall community building opportunities. I want to encourage downtown establishments to be open for business after working hours. I would also like to see the revitalization of downtown broadened to include a cohesive destination zone from 124th to Chinatown to embrace our diversity and encourage cooperation. I would like to see the Rossdale Power Plant redevelopment moved up to the top of the list to create further accessibility to Edmonton’s River valley. I would like to see transit further modified so that it works for everyone in O-day’min – in particular the elderly, students and children. I would like to see the Ward construction projects finished in a timely manner. We have been re-imagining Jasper for over a decade. If we need to pay a premium to finish higher risk projects, then do it and move on.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you are/were against, and what would you do differently?
GB/ I don’t have any specific community initiatives that I’m against. Communities contributing to the success of their cities are critical to a healthy, vibrant and economically successful region. I would like to see communities treated as unique, though, and not have the city use a one size fits all approach to revitalization and development. I want to see the city stop trying to compete with developers and stay in its own lane through better empowerment of community organizations and private industry to build and create in the best interests of each neighbourhood individually and the city as a whole. I want to see the City make better decisions that reflect the input of Edmontonians – instead of trying to re-create Vancouver or Toronto. I would like to see big projects have better oversight and less interference. I would like to see projects like bike lane where they make sense on a true community by community consultation basis (consultation does not just mean putting up a sign and hoping someone shows up – it means actively reaching out to all residents affected and getting true feedback). I want to see Edmonton cater to the majority of voices – not just the loudest ones – while ensuring it specifically considers voices of marginalized communities. In other words, I have issues with the original rationale for many projects, and the processes throughout the lifecycle of the projects. I would better engage, better inform and build based on what the Ward communities actually want – not on what I personally want.
I♥E/ Do you think elected officials, such as City Councillors, should be able to block people on social media sites like Twitter?
GB/ In general, no. As a public official, a City Councillor should have open and transparent communication that doesn’t stifle free speech and perspective. Being able to speak with and represent a broad range of individuals is an important skill and I am running to represent a diverse ward. It’s important for me to engage with all perspectives to arrive at solutions.
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)?
GB/ I think that, for the most part, the City did a good job under a lot of pressure, abiding by often confusing and last minute guidelines. I do believe that small businesses were unfairly impacted and concessions could have been made to reduce the impact. Additionally, clear and timely communication is something that constantly requires work and could have been improved by all parties to reduce confusion and risk.
I♥E/ What is your favourite thing about living in Edmonton?
GB/ I LOVE the River Valley and my community. The connections and relationships I’ve made here are genuine, caring and open. I think we have the best city in Canada and the most opportunity to create a city-wide community of care for all Edmontonians through active engagement and deliberate consideration of diverse points of view.
I♥E/ Can you describe yourself in 5 words or less?
GB/ Experienced, Resilient, Collaborative, Honest & Genuine.