By Karen Unland
The Edmonton Downtown Business Association anticipated in May that some Edmontonians would "probably not be super-happy" with its decision to forego putting up a giant Christmas tree in Churchill Square this year, says executive director Puneeta McBryan.
But that foresight did not help either the EDBA or the city prepare for the ensuing uproar when it became clear on Nov. 15 that there would be no such tree for the first time since 1999, she indicated on Episode 199 of Speaking Municipally.
"The communication around it has really not been ideal. And that's our fault. And yes, it's the city's fault, too. We just really didn't coordinate this very well," she said. "The reality of it is, though, regardless of how we had coordinated the communication and however much clarity we provided right off the bat, I think people were going to be really, really mad no matter what."
In a joint statement released on Nov. 20, city manager Andre Corbould and EDBA board chair Martin Kennedy acknowledged the communications could have been better.
"We are charting a new path," they wrote. "In retrospect, we should have communicated these activities better, and we apologize that some people were led to believe that Churchill Square would not be a festive place."
Corbould and Kennedy added that any communications oversight does not justify the racist attacks that a few people have directed towards EDBA staff and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi in response. "We do not tolerate online hate and bullying, and we will not be swayed by such behaviour," they said.
The EDBA decided in the spring that it would shift its Holiday Light Up festivities on Dec. 3 from Churchill Square to Rice Howard Way, spending the resources it would have put into lighting the tree and programming the square into a festival with a closer connection to downtown businesses.
"For our mandate to support the downtown local economy and draw people in to do things and spend time downtown and yes, spend money downtown, it just doesn't make sense to draw people to Churchill Square," she said, noting that visitors to downtown tend not to linger when the focal point is an event in front of City Hall. "People park underground, they come up for the event, and then they get in their cars, and they leave."