The Pulse: Nov. 27, 2023

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  • 6°C: Mainly sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High 6. Wind chill minus 8 in the morning. (forecast)
  • Purple: The High Level Bridge will be lit purple for IBD Awareness Month. (details)
  • 5-0: The Edmonton Oilers (7-12-1) defeated the Washington Capitals (10-5-2) on Nov. 24. (details)
  • 8-2: The Oilers (7-12-1) defeated the Anaheim Ducks (9-12-0) on Nov. 26. (details)

A beige phone with a sign over its number pad that reads "311 — Please lift the receiver and your call will be directly connected with 311."

Audit raises questions about handling of 311 calls

By Tim Querengesser

New details revealed in a city audit of its response to 311 requests suggest users have identified a huge volume of services needed, but the city lacks clarity on whether it actually addresses these requests when it marks them as resolved.

The report that city council's audit committee will discuss on Nov. 30 indicates that the City of Edmonton's 311 agents created 6.5 million tickets from 2018 to 2022.

But while the audit has determined 311 is working "effectively," it also prompts the committee to consider what happens to those tickets. The city's audit suggests there are "multiple definitions" on what it means to close a 311 ticket. "Some business areas are closing tickets before actually completing them," reads the audit report.

The 311 service is often suggested when Edmontonians voice complaints about service problems, and it is leaned upon to help bolster city services that have faced cuts, such as the decision to cut back on community sandboxes and rely on 311 calls to identify when to replenish them. Council has also heard that calls to 311 about encampments have risen by 1,075% since 2016, growing to 9,300 in 2022.

The audit report suggests the closure practice may be related to city staff working to hit performance indicators. "Business areas we spoke to believe it is the percentage of service requests closed on time," reads the report. "However, the business areas have not documented their key performance indicator(s) or have targets to assess their performance. Also, they do not have a clear method to calculate the percentage of service requests closed on time."

The report also suggests that the city's business areas do not regularly provide details about open and closed tickets on the 311 website.

The city's service innovation and performance branch is responsible for 311, though both it and the different business areas of the city can create and close tickets. The city's response to the 311 audit is, in part, to recommend that its own departments become clear on when a ticket is actually closed, suggesting the threshold should be "when the business area has resolved the service request and communicate(d) this to all business areas that close 311 tickets."

Photo: The 311 phone at Edmonton's city hall in 2012. (Mack Male/Flickr)


Headlines: Nov. 27, 2023

By Mariam Ibrahim

  • Renowned artificial intelligence researcher and University of Alberta professor Richard Sutton launched the Openmind Research Institute in Edmonton with a $4.8-million grant from Huawei Canada, despite the federal government's restrictions preventing the company from working with publicly funded universities. The institution, which is independent of the university, will focus on open-source AI research without pursuing intellectual property rights, and will adhere to the Alberta Plan. Openmind began its activities this month with a retreat in Banff, and while there are concerns about Huawei's involvement due to potential national security risks, Sutton said the institute's agenda will be set independently of its funding sources.
  • The SouthWest Edmonton Seniors Association hosted a holiday social event for about 100 seniors last week at Blue Quill community hall to address senior isolation. Association executive director Alriss Schmid said it was important to support seniors and create opportunities for them to be socially active, highlighting the need for sustained support services. The event was supported by a grant from the Canadian Red Cross.
  • Edmonton has had no snow this November for the first time since the Edmonton International Airport weather station began operating in 1960. Meteorologists attributed the anomaly to an El Niño weather pattern that typically results in warmer and drier conditions. The current El Niño is expected to peak in December and lead to a warmer than normal winter, said Alyssa Pederson, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Karla Bergstrom, executive director with Alberta Canola, said she isn't concerned about the impact on farming yet. However, she noted that next year's crops could be at risk if dry conditions continue and that snowfall is needed to "rebuild those healthy snowpacks and replenish the surface water going into the spring."
  • The family of an Edmonton man who died in Ukraine says they can't legally declare him dead because of challenges recovering his body. Joshua Mayers, a 34-year-old paramedic, died while serving as a medic with the Ukrainian military near Bakhmut on Nov. 10. His family said they learned of his death through a Telegram chat. A fundraiser has been set up to help his widow with legal, funeral, and mortgage expenses. A celebration of life is scheduled on Nov. 29 in Edmonton.
  • Climate Justice Edmonton organized a protest outside City Hall to call for urgent action on renewable energy as Premier Danielle Smith prepares to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai. The rally, which was part of a global day of action, highlighted concerns with decisions from the provincial government, such as the moratorium on new renewable energy projects. A statement from the premier's office defended Alberta's energy sector, calling the province a "long-time global leader in energy production" that "continues to be at the forefront of the global energy transition towards new technology and innovations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
  • The Alberta Sheriffs Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) unit is expanding, with four new positions in Edmonton and two in Calgary, following a $27.3-million provincial funding boost first announced in the 2023 budget. The SCAN unit collaborates with law enforcement to shut down properties involved in illegal activities like drug trafficking. In the past five years, the Edmonton SCAN team investigated 2,088 properties, resulting in 18 community safety orders. The SCAN unit was created in 2008, and has investigated more than 8,000 complaints across Alberta.
  • Local businesses are hoping to draw in customers for the holiday season by creating advent calendars showcasing their products. Melissa Simon, owner of Chocolate Escapade, crafted a calendar featuring 24 unique chocolate flavours, which retails for $70. Analog Brewing offers a 12 Beers of Christmas box featuring collaborations with local brewers. The box is $75, with $5 from each sale supporting Edmonton's Food Bank. The owners of Vintage Fork Loose Leaf Tea have created an advent calendar that comes in three varieties: black tea, green tea, or a mixture. The box, which features a special surprise for the 24th day, retails for $59.99.
  • Pokémon leagues are growing in popularity in Edmonton, with dozens of players from across Alberta descending upon Top Deck Games this weekend to compete in the Edmonton Pokémon League Cup. The trading card game attracts enthusiasts young and old, including those who have been collecting the cards for decades. League leader Tony Wong said the diversity among players is inspiring. "It's staggering at first," he told CBC. Edmonton has five Pokémon leagues and hundreds of players.
  • The provincial government will use the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act this week to introduce a resolution against federal clean energy regulations. During her weekly radio call-in show on Nov. 25, Premier Danielle Smith expressed her frustration with federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and noted that courts have recently ruled against the federal government for both its ban on single-use plastics and its proposed energy regulations. The sovereignty act, passed last year, allows Alberta to reject federal laws deemed harmful to the province, but has yet to be tested in court.
Edmonton city councillors and city administration staff interact in this file photo.

Edmonton's budget adjustment so far

By Tim Querengesser

Week 1 of city council's discussion of adjustments to the 2022-2026 budget saw some re-litigation of previous decisions, in light of a proposed property tax increase of more than 7% rather than the original 5% increase proposed in 2022.

During the Nov. 22 budget debate, Coun. Karen Principe proposed an amendment (seconded by Coun. Jennifer Rice) to halve the $100 million in capital investment in bike lane infrastructure that city council passed in 2022. "My intent is to try to minimize the tax-supported debt because that's our third-largest expense," Principe said.

Coun. Keren Tang asked administration what this would ultimately mean. An administration official said the cut would shave $123,000 from tax-supported debt in 2024, $776,000 in 2025, and $1.9M in 2026. Tang followed up by asking what this would mean for the overall tax increase.

"As a percentage it would be tiny …" another administration official said. "The tax-levy impact for that is a 0.01% (reduction) for 2024, 0.04% for 2025 and 0.09% for 2026."

A majority of council voted against Principe's amendment. Supporters were Principe, Coun. Tim Cartmell, and Coun. Sarah Hamilton. Coun. Michael Janz was absent.

Here's a look at what else has happened budget-wise and what to expect this week:

Photo: Councillors interact with administration at a city council meeting in August 2023. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Correction: This file has been updated with the correct name of the councillor who seconded Sohi's amendment on diesel buses.