July 2020: Covid-19, City Budget & Terwillegar Drive

On March 13, 2020, City Council declared a State of Local Emergency in Edmonton in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and that is where a profoundly unprecedented time began in Edmonton.  

In those early days, no one knew exactly where this pandemic would go. How widely and quickly would it spread?  Would it overwhelm our healthcare system as it had in China and Italy? How do we balance the need for social distancing and staying home whenever possible with the significant impacts of shutting down our economy?

Those early decisions paid off, and significant spread of Covid-19 virus was generally avoided.  So far, Edmontonians have done remarkably well to limit the spread of Covid-19.  But the economic impacts are significant and continue to accumulate.

On July  6, City Administration shared some numbers with City Council. I’ll summarize the main paints below but if you’re looking for more details, please see here, here and here

Between the recession caused by the oil price plunge and the Covid-19 related recession, Edmonton’s real GDP will not return to 2014 levels until at least 2023.  Unemployment is expected to spike above 12% in 2020, and won’t recover to pre-Covid-19 levels of 7.5% (still a high number) until 2023.  There are open questions about how many of Edmonton’s small and medium businesses will go bankrupt and permanently close, as a result both of economic pressures but also from an inability to adapt to what has been a swift migration to e-commerce and online shopping.

Any conversation regarding City finances quickly turns to property taxes.  Note that property taxes for 2021 will be based on property values on July 1, 2020.  It will be difficult to determine fair market values for properties in a very volatile real estate market.  Office towers may remain partially empty, restaurants have limited seating capacity, and malls could have a lot of empty spaces.  Given that Alberta has a higher rate of personal debt than other provinces in Canada, City Council must ensure that neither residential nor commercial property taxes go up next year.

How does City Council do that?  By taking this opportunity to think differently and consider partnering with the private sector to deliver services like land development, recreation, transit, perhaps even project management, permitting and inspections.  

By ensuring salary and benefits offered to City employees reflect what is already happening in the private sector.  

By reflecting very carefully on what services the City must provide and what services are nice-to-have.  

By looking ahead to the parts of our economy that might thrive in the coming years and working to retain and attract those businesses to Edmonton.  This means ensuring that we are not only telling Edmonton’s story widely, but coordinating our operating budgets, the projects we build and our various permitting and licencing requirements, with the efforts of the provincial and federal governments to give our private sector every chance to succeed.

Finances and budgets will dominate Council’s conversations in the second half of the year.  It is time, now more than ever, for the City of Edmonton Administration and Council to have a serious conversation about our priorities and to focus on the financial health of our residents and our businesses.


 

On July 8, 2020, I was honoured to join Premier Jason Kenney, Honourable Kaycee Madu (Minister of Municipal Affairs) and Ms. Janet Riopel (Executive Director of The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce) to announce the great news that the Government of Alberta would be funding Phase 2 of the Terwillegar expansion.  This project is now fully funded meaning that the full expansion that we’ve been waiting over 30 years for is finally going to happen!  I want to thank the Premier and Minister Madu for their support and ensuring that this critical project moved forward.

Included in this expansion will be: 

  • renewal / reconstruction of the Rainbow Valley Bridge on Whitemud Drive.  This maintenance project provides a widened bridge to accommodate wider ramps on the Whitemud-Terwillegar Interchange;
  • ramp improvements at the Whitemud-Terwillegar Interchange;
  • addition of two lanes in each direction along Terwillegar Drive from the Whitemud to Windermere Boulevard;
  • one lane dedicated to transit (buses);
  • second overpass over Anthony Henday Drive; 
  • intersection improvements including smart signal technology at 40th Avenue, Rabbit Hill Road, 23rd Avenue & Haddow Road;
  • multi-use trail on the east boulevard; and
  • a pedestrian bridge at the far north end of the multi-use trail to take it over the Whitemud.

This is great news for the residents of Ward 9 and the rest of the city, and I thank you for your support over the years and for your advocacy for this important project.  Work is already being done and we can expect shovels in the ground in Spring 2021!

 


 

Throughout the month of June and into July, City Council engaged in a Public Hearing to discuss systemic racism and discrimination.  I had responsibility not just as a member of Council but as a member of the Police Commission.  My intention during Council’s Public Hearing was to acknowledge the lived experience of those who came to speak before us, to listen with an open mind and then to move forward to data-driven solutions and good outcomes.  What has come out of this experience for me is a heightened interest in ensuring that the entire human serving ecosystem (police, community serving agencies, the emergency health sector, etc.,) is working efficiently and effectively in a coordinated way to support those who need it, when and how they need it.

This is an important time in our society. The lives tragically lost, the lived experience and perspectives of so many in the Black, Indigenous and Persons-of-Colour (BIPOC) communities have shed a light on the long-standing social problems of racism and discrimination. At the same time, police enforcement and community safety are vitally important, and I have heard from a large number of constituents expressing their support for members of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) and the work that they do.  I also know many members of the EPS that were as disappointed and demoralized as I was through the Public Hearing process.

The final motion approved by Council is quite long and complex so I won’t go into detail below but if you are interested in seeing the motion in its entirety, please click here

I believe that our ambition as Edmontonians is that those who need help and support receive what they need, where and when they need it from the best person that can provide it.  It is with that ambition in mind that I will continue to consider all perspectives and suggestions as we continue this important conversation in the fall.


 

I hope you all enjoy a wonderful summer and encourage you to take time with your family, friends and those you hold dear.  We are in unprecedented times so be safe and be kind to each other.

Please note that while my office will remain open this summer, we are operating with less capacity so that both my staff and I can take some time for ourselves after an incredibly busy  year so far.  If you have questions about what the City is doing in response to Covid-19, including things like turf maintenance and recreation, please see here for the City’s continually updated information or call 311 or email 311@edmonton.ca.  

Take good care for now and have a wonderful July and August!

Tim