Council begins summer break with much unfinished business

· The Pulse

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi says he will engage with the province to secure funding for the new Healthy Streets Operations Centre in Chinatown and report back to council when it returns on Aug. 15. But our City Hall observers at Speaking Municipally doubt he will get the $18 million over four years that the initiative is expected to cost.

Refusing to fund a plan arising from its demand that Edmonton act on crime and disorder may not seem like a good look for the provincial government, "but when have the optics ever looked great for the UCP in Edmonton?" said co-host Troy Pavlek on Episode 186 of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Sohi connected this funding request to the inadequacy of provincial support to address homelessness, saying that Edmonton gets less per-capita funding in this area than seven other Alberta cities. But that argument seemed questionable to co-host Mack Male, given that the bulk of the funding for the operations centre is to pay for 36 police officers.

"I don't think this operations centre has very much to do with ending homelessness, certainly not if we're hiring police officers," Male said. "Their job is not to get people into housing."

Council also decided not to run small encampments for those without a place to live this summer, after considering a proposal for three sites of about 20 tents each that would have cost $2 million for the summer. None of the temporary housing options considered will happen this year, and all of them are costly, though repurposing hotels seems to have the most promise, with the cost of $4.2 million for 200 units.

Male agreed with Christel Kjenner, the director responsible for affordable housing and homelessness, that the best solution is to fund permanent housing.

"It's the most cost-effective," he said. "That's what we should be doing."

Council heads into the summer break with much unfinished business, as procedural wrangling left several motions on the order paper.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi speaks before a cluster of microphones at City Hall

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said on July 4 that he will engage with the province to fund the Healthy Streets Operations Centre, a multidisciplinary response to crime and disorder in Chinatown, and report back to council when it returns from its summer break in August. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Pavlek and Male dissected the series of events surrounding an unusual challenge to the chair from Coun. Erin Rutherford regarding Coun. Jo-Anne Wright's motion about temporary staff, which ate up a big chunk of a meeting that was already in overtime.

"There was this big fight about truly nothing," Pavlek said. "Is it any wonder that city council has so many continuations?"

Added Male: "Not only did this not matter, but there was a better way to go about it, which is to ... put the motion on the floor and then make an amendment to it, which is what happened."

The memo regarding temporary positions will come back to council in October, but the rest of the motions from councillors will have to wait until council returns on Aug. 15. Committee meetings are set to resume the week of Aug. 8.

Speaking Municipally is also taking a break for the summer — a plan that turns out to be well-timed, as it will give Pavlek a chance to recover from COVID-19. Be sure to catch up on everything else he and Male commented on in the July 8 episode, including the $441,000 refurbishment of the Dove of Peace statue, the decision to make Coun. Aaron Paquette deputy mayor for the duration of the Pope's visit, and the ever-popular snow removal budget.