Headlines: Jan. 17, 2024

· The Pulse
  • Edmonton city council voted 9-4 in favour of Mayor Amarjeet Sohi's motion to declare a housing and houselessness emergency after two days of special meetings and passionate debate. Councillors Sarah Hamilton, Aaron Paquette, Karen Principe, and Tim Cartmell voted against the emergency declaration. Three other motions that passed unanimously call for the city to identify immediate actions to alleviate the housing crisis, a meeting with provincial, federal, and Indigenous representatives, and the creation of a task force with $3.5 million in funding. In response to the emergency declaration, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver issued a statement calling it "disappointing" that the city would "issue a performative declaration suggesting an emergency and implying a lack of response from our government."
  • Provincial government officials privately briefed Edmonton city councillors on its housing and homelessness response before council met to continue its debate on Mayor Amarjeet Sohi's emergency declaration motion. Coun. Erin Rutherford said the meeting allowed councillors to have a "candid conversation with the province." Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said in a statement that the province shared an action plan the government is pursuing "in collaboration with Indigenous leaders to address the dangerous situation in encampments." The province is expected to publicly release more details about the plan in the coming days.
  • An Alberta court dismissed a lawsuit by the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights against the City of Edmonton regarding the removal of encampments. Court of King's Bench Justice Jonathan Martin ruled the coalition lacks the legal standing to represent the interest of Edmontonians experiencing homelessness. The coalition's lawyer, Avnish Nanda, said he believes its efforts have already influenced how the city handles its policy on encampment removals. The city said it respects the court's decision, and remains committed to balancing public safety and the well-being of unhoused residents.
  • The NAIT/Blatchford Market LRT Station will open Jan. 20, on budget and more than a year ahead of schedule, the City of Edmonton announced. The new station, which has a longer platform and can accommodate five-car trains, is located about 300 metres west of the temporary NAIT Station. Phase 1 of the Metro Line Northwest Extension was originally scheduled to open in 2025.
  • Edmonton city council is considering a new affordable housing strategy that includes creating a landlord registry, researching tenant protections in Alberta, and developing resources for landlords and tenants. Council is expected to vote on the plan during its Jan. 30 meeting. It aims to add 2,700 new affordable housing units by 2026, with a focus on accessibility and women-led households, to help reach the city's longterm goal of ending homelessness by 2050. Christel Kjenner with the city noted that one in eight households is struggling to afford housing and other essentials.
  • More than 400,000 2024 property assessments are on their way to Edmonton property owners, the city said in a release. The assessments reflect the market value of properties as of July 1, 2023. While council approved a 6.6% municipal property tax increase for 2024, individual taxes may vary based on specific property value changes. Tax notices will be mailed out in May after council completes its final budget review in April.
  • Cleanup is underway at the Muttart Conservatory after a cracked water line caused flooding in the tropical pyramid on Jan. 16. It's not clear when the facility will reopen. Meanwhile, water was shut off to part of West Edmonton Mall after a water main break.
  • Some South Asian business owners in Edmonton are on edge as the community is targeted by an extortion scheme and arsons of new and under-construction homes. The Edmonton Police Service has so far charged six people in connection with the scheme and is collaborating with police in B.C. and Ontario, where similar crimes have occurred. Edmonton Fire Rescue Services have responded to 11 fires between the beginning of November and Jan. 14. Of those, eight were ruled arson, while three remain under investigation.
  • Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley is stepping down as provincial NDP leader. She said she will remain in her role until party members select her successor in what is expected to be a competitive leadership race. During her tenure she led the party to victory in the 2015 provincial election that ended 44 years of Progressive Conservative governments. The party lost to the UCP in the 2019 election, but won 38 seats in 2023 to form the largest Official Opposition in Alberta's history.
  • The Alberta government says it did everything it could to prepare for electricity demand as a record-breaking cold snap strained the power grid, prompting an emergency alert to avoid rolling blackouts on Jan. 13. Critics say the province's decision to maintain an energy-only market, rather than transitioning to a capacity market as previously planned, may have contributed to the crisis. The Alberta Electric System Operator has issued four grid alerts in four days in response to Albertans using nearly all available power in the province. Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf said the province is planning to add about 1800 megawatts of new power within six months.