Headlines: Dec. 14, 2022

  • Mayor Amarjeet Sohi kicked off discussions on the city's 2023-26 operating budget during the Dec. 13 council meeting with amendments proposing additional funding for snow clearing, on-demand transit, affordable housing and transit safety, along with $60 million in cuts to city administration costs. The mayor told reporters his proposals would fund items Edmontonians want. "We heard from Edmontonians that they are not satisfied with the level of service for snow and ice clearing," Sohi said. He also noted the on-demand transit program can't continue without funding, "so we need to sustain that. It is a very high priority for Edmontonians."
  • The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, NAIOP Edmonton, BOMA Edmonton, and the Urban Development Institute – Edmonton Metro issued a joint statement to raise "deep concerns" over city council's ongoing budget deliberations. The four organizations, which claim to represent "thousands of city-builders" including entrepreneurs, startups, businesses, and developers, say the current budget lacks clear direction. "The motions passed thus far scatter priorities and are not related to the core mandate of municipalities," said Chamber CEO Jeffrey Sundquist. The statement also accuses council of maxing out the municipal borrowing debt limit and relying on "pay-as-you-go funding," which will require tax increases. Budget items singled out include $100 million for new bike lanes, over $34 million for an expanded district energy system, and $53 million for climate-resilient city facility upgrades.
  • A comment by Mayor Amarjeet Sohi that included the phrase "spending like a drunken sailor" was captured by a hot microphone on Dec. 12 as council considered a motion from Coun. Erin Rutherford to spend $10 million over four years on natural land acquisition, a $3.5-million increase over the amount allotted in the draft capital budget. The motion passed by a 9-4 vote with Sohi and councillors Tim Cartmell, Karen Principe, and Jennifer Rice in opposition. Speaking to reporters later, the mayor said the comment "wasn't a reference to anyone or anything. I was just thinking aloud." He wouldn't say whether he is concerned with council's spending decisions so far. "What matters is the final number ... and my hope is that number will be reasonable for Edmontonians," Sohi said.
  • The province announced the formation of a new 12-person Edmonton Public Safety and Community Response Task Force to implement initiatives that will "help provide more life-saving services to Edmontonians struggling with addiction and homelessness while enhancing public safety within the city." Mike Ellis, minister of public safety and emergency services and chair of the new task force, said the group will be "discussing the immediate concerns that are going on in the Edmonton area right now." Mayor Amarjeet Sohi expressed his displeasure with the announcement, noting that city council was "not, in any way, included in the creation of the task force," which also lacks representation from the urban Indigenous community and racialized Edmontonians. He also said that councillors Tim Cartmell and Sarah Hamilton were "handpicked by the UCP government" for the task force and are "not there to represent city council." Coun. Andrew Knack said in a tweet that while there are "good people on the task force, it was formed using a terrible process."
  • The mother of a 23-year-old man who died by suicide at the Edmonton Remand Centre has launched a lawsuit against the province and Alberta Health Services. A statement of claim filed in Court of King's Bench alleges "cruel conditions" amounting to a breach of the man's charter rights after he was subject to crowding, violence from other inmates, harassment from guards, unhygienic conditions during the pandemic, and unreasonable limitations to his access to medical care, including addictions treatment and medication. The man "would not have died but for the negligence of Alberta and AHS," the statement reads. None of the allegations have been proven in court. Alberta Justice and Alberta Health Services have both declined to comment on the lawsuit.
  • Edmonton's Food Bank received a $10,000 donation from Ukrainian Canadian Social Services (UCSS) to help provide food to Ukrainian newcomers and other Edmontonians in need. "A lot of Ukrainians are coming with just backpacks and suitcases," said UCSS president John Shalewa, "which basically is nothing as far as starting a new life in a new country." The food bank has also been supporting Ukrainian newcomers with English lessons and employment preparation through its Beyond Food program.
  • Porter Airlines, a regional airline based in Toronto, announced it will soon offer daily flights between Edmonton International Airport (YEG) and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). Starting Feb. 14, the airline will offer one daily flight, which will increase to three per day on April 19. According to a press release, introductory round-trip fares will start at $250.
  • In a piece for Toronto Life, Mississauga resident Jackie Thomas said she "hated everything" about Alberta after moving to the province and decided to return to the Toronto area three months later. The 33-year-old corporate director bemoaned life in Edmonton, including a lack of "buzzy city energy," a dormant dating scene, a slow rental market, and a lack of opportunities for corporate workers. "Toronto has jobs and entertainment galore," she said. "You won't find such a vibrant place anywhere else in Canada — and definitely not anywhere in Alberta." The article drew the ire of some Edmonton Reddit users, although others agreed with the assessment.