By Emil Tiedemann
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 had been in the radio and media business for four decades — almost 30 years covering City Hall. Over that time I've had the chance to see what works and what doesn't. And now, I have the opportunity to share my thoughts and experience with Edmontonians. I’ve worked hard to gain a deep understanding of Edmonton, City Council, and what goes into a successful (or failed) policy. Municipal government has a direct impact on the everyday lives of Edmontonians and I want to share my thoughts and opinions to hopefully help to shape where our city goes. I'm proud to say that I've gained the respect of current and past city councillors and other community builders for my pragmatic and reasoned approach. I’ve volunteered with the Terwillegar Riverbend Area Council (TRAC) as well as my local community league and keep that experience and the hard work of volunteers who serve their communities in mind with what I write. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch."
I♥E/ Why do you want to run for City Council?
Scott Johnston/ I want to run because I am hoping to put my decades of experience as a journalist covering city hall to productive use. I want to help restore confidence in Edmonton’s small business community and ensure our neighbourhoods are safe and vibrant.
Edmonton is facing a number of once-in a generation challenges all at once. While the pandemic has caused massive job losses, our city has also faced political challenges from other levels of government through funding cuts.
In Ipiikhookhanipiaohtsi, there is palpable frustration among small business owners. All too often, their priorities have been ignored by city hall.
That being said, there are many bright spots in Edmonton. Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi is a great part of the city to live in. Housing is robust, 15-minute communities are being created, and a new high school with an attached recreation centre is being built. So despite the challenges we are facing, I am encouraged, and I think I am the right person to represent the ward at this pivotal time.
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?
SJ/ After covering city hall as a reporter for 30 years, I am extremely familiar with the issues facing Edmontonians. I’ve gained the trust of mayors, city councillors and senior management at city hall over the decades. I’ve worked with 45 city councillors of all political stripes, 5 mayors, 6 city managers as well as a host of GM’s from several departments.
On top of that, I’m known to decision makers throughout the city who have dealings with the City of Edmonton. I have seen mistakes made in the past and can help council avoid making the same mistakes again.
Due in part to my career as a journalist, I’m an objective listener. I welcome different points of view. In a political atmosphere I think that is a valuable skill. In city politics, consensus building is essential.
I♥E/ What do you think are the 4 or 5 biggest issues facing Edmonton right now that you want to focus on most?
SJ/ 1. Fiscal Challenges
With tens of millions of dollars taken from the city budget because of lost revenue due to the pandemic, increased expenses on top of that and spending cuts by the province, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate spending priorities. There are many instances where we could demonstrate prudence without impacting important services to the public.
I have heard time and time again from Ward residents and small business owners that fiscal restraint is desperately needed, and I want to be a voice for those Edmontonians on Council.
More partnerships need to be investigated for public services to help reduce costs; for example, sharing roles with neighbouring municipalities, similar to the work done between Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan. We could give local festivals more of a say in how things are run with less bureaucratic oversight, or have the YMCA partner with our rec facilities to enhance programs and lower costs. Development of Blatchford is underway, yet with the city serving as the developer, only 52 lots a year are being prepared for homeowners to purchase. Private developers could accelerate the rate of construction, while still tapping into the deep core central energy system to build a net-zero community, while increasing revenue to the taxbase and meeting demand of home buyers.
2. Responsiveness to maintaining our communities
I have heard from many residents that the hyperlocal items that matter to them seem to be declining in quality, like ensuring our green spaces are well maintained, snow is cleared in a timely manner, potholes are repaired efficiently and our new garbage collection system works out the kinks.
I would advocate on Ward resident’s behalf and advocate for these topics with common sense solutions like converting ground cover to natural plants that don’t require maintenance.
3. Transit expansion that listens to residents
Running in a Ward that is one of the fastest growing parts of our city, I believe we need to take the time to listen to residents and take a pragmatic approach to get any transit expansion done correctly. That would include first utilizing bus rapid transit to gauge where ridership demand will happen. That will inform developers where to build, based on the demand, as well as establishing where the tax base will grow to pay for it..
Once established demand is in place, only then should we convert to LRT (or whatever the new technology of the day is.) We need to be intentional, pragmatic and listen to the residents in an area on how they will use transit and be impacted by it when it comes to considering transit options for communities.
4. Moving at the speed of business
We need to listen to small and medium business owners when they say that the speed it takes to get approvals from the city is hurting their bottom line. As Councillor, I would champion reducing red tape and encouraging our administration to move at the speed of business.
We also need to listen to those in the industry who have seen the challenges and roadblocks built into the system, and listen when they say there are changes that need to be made to streamline approvals.
I♥E/ What do you think are some of the issues/struggles affecting your particular ward that you would like to focus on most?
SJ/ Traffic congestion has been an ongoing issue in our ward, especially in some areas like Ellerslie Road. The choke point leading to 141 street and the western edge of ward needs to be solved by a widening of Ellerslie Road. I’m also sympathetic to the residents of Graydon Hill who feel trapped by having a single entrance to the community, without the benefit of traffic lights to give them a fighting chance to make a left hand turn during the morning and evening rush hours.
We know that effective public transit can be part of the solution and reduce some of the traffic.
The LRT extension could help to alleviate traffic congestion, but we must ensure that it doesn’t cause the kind of bottlenecks we’ve seen in the past. This is especially true in Twin Brooks where I’ve heard concerns at the intersections at 9th and 12th avenues. Design of the new line will be critical to keep car traffic flowing as well, since south Edmonton is still very car dependent.
I’m a big proponent of bus rapid transit as a first step towards LRT. By creating the type of BRT that is seen in other cities like Ottawa, it would give us a first look at where ridership demand is, so developers can use that information to tell them where to build, so the taxbase can grow, increasing revenue for the city. Once that demand is realized, then we can convert in the coming years to LRT, or by then whatever new emerging technology has been developed.
One transit component that is vital to our ward is Bus Route 747, running almost the length of our ward from Century Park in the North to EIA in the south. The 747 could be a vital link to the airport for many people in our ward, especially those who work near the airport. It is also important for people visiting or returning to our city.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you loved and would like to expand upon?
SJ/ Parks, ravines and green spaces are very important. Better care of our parks and green spaces is something I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about for several years. One small example is Ermineskin Park. The walkways were barely navigable. There was a bit of a standoff with the city over whose responsibility it was.
We can and we should take care of our green spaces and ensure that weed maintenance is a top priority. We can’t expect residents to take pride in their yards, then not do the same as a city. Common sense ground cover with lower maintenance would help to get us back on track.
I♥E/ What are some of the city/community initiatives that you are/were against, and what would you do differently?
SJ/ Seemingly every time I ask a business owner an open-ended question about what they don’t like, they bring up the placement of some bike lanes. The solution to that is the neighbourhood rehab program. It is now heading in the right direction.
We’ve already paid for sidewalk, road and sewer repairs with a dedicated tax increase as a line item over the previous decade, so that’s no longer an issue. The pot of money to fund neighbourhood re-construction is in place.
The program will allow installation of bike lanes on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis when other work is being done, as opposed to cramming the bike lanes in like we’ve seen in other attempts. Remember the painted lines that were eventually removed after no one liked them? That was several million dollars in spending that was unnecessary.
I♥E/ Do you think elected officials, such as City Councillors, should be able to block people on social media sites like Twitter?
SJ/ Yes. Hateful discourse when the poster can remain anonymous serves no one. Seeing what Bev Esslinger and Sarah Hamilton have been going through is appalling. There seem to be more and more trolls on social media with a “Wild West'' attitude. Twitter is not a constitutional right. That being said, I believe politicians should be held publicly accountable. People should never be blocked over a difference of opinion. It’s a democratic right to respectfully disagree. If you want to raise an issue, email still works, and you are expected to sign your name to what you say. Even then, there’s been some pretty gruesome commentary sent to the likes of Michael Phair both through email, or even voicemail. (I covered that story years ago!)
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)?
SJ/ In terms of the September vote by city council to reinstitute facemasks I would have voted with the other nine, as there was a lack of direction from the province. By leaving it to the city to determine policy, we had set ourselves up for the potential of residents choosing to go to neighbouring communities for day to day activities and local businesses losing out on customers as a result. We also need to consider that for the time being those 12 and under remain vulnerable as they do not have the option of vaccination.
Looking back over the past year I agree with the attempts to follow the science and put limits on how many could be in any particular space at any given time. However, I think small business was unnecessarily punished. They could have just as easily managed how customers visited with limitations, especially when big box stores remained open. I also think some of the things operators of private gyms, dance studios etc. said have merit, and I believe there should have been more dialogue to find creative solutions. There might have been a little too much of a top-down approach taken.
I♥E/ What is your favourite thing about living in Edmonton?
SJ/ I usually lead with my stomach, so the food scene. When it comes to restaurants Edmonton punches above its weight. I like to support local wherever possible and love to try out new restaurants (and have eaten a lot of take out from places I had never tried over the past year!) I have fond memories of going to various shows at the Citadel with my family, and attending some of our city’s great festivals over the years, along with local farmer’s markets and the other events that make our city feel like such a vibrant and close knit community.
I♥E/ Can you describe yourself in 5 words or less?
SJ/ Pragmatic listener, experienced hard worker.
Thank you, Scott!
Follow along with the candidates on Twitter. See Scott's Platform/Priorities HERE. Visit Scott's website HERE.
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