In my previous blog ahead of the Public Spaces Bylaw debate, I said that public spaces must be safe for the public. That’s not as simple as it sounds but it’s not that complicated either.

After hours of conversation on February 14, City Council decided to make it complicated. 

Council referred the Public Spaces Bylaw back to Administration to complete a comprehensive Gender Based Plus analysis, a climate review of environmental stewardship of open spaces and specifically the river valley, a rationale for fine changes, a jurisdictional scan of municipal fine amounts and a detailed review of the 50 person gathering permit requirement and amplification systems.

Administration spent over a calendar year examining and analyzing these very things. It's not like they missed all this stuff. 

The process leading to the formulation of this bylaw was detailed and inclusive, incorporating a jurisdictional scan, public engagement and alignment with the overarching objectives of promoting safety, reducing administrative complexities and fostering equitable access to public spaces. Our City Manager and Administration are to be commended for their work.

I don’t know what repeating this analysis will give us. It smacks of “keep repeating your work until your conclusions match my opinion.”

Council simply didn’t want to make a hard decision in the face of a vocal group of activists.

What we saw on February 14 was a clear disconnect between this Council and the vast majority of Edmonton residents. 6,425 Edmontonians were surveyed last May and the resounding sentiment was in favour of this bylaw. 6,000 folks is a far higher sample size than that generally used to guide major policy decisions, election polls being one example.

To have this kind of data and simply ignore it tells me this Council is not listening to their constituents.

Many of the items in this bylaw are already law. What was in front of us was simply a consolidation to reduce red tape and confusion - to create consistency in a single, clear, concise bylaw. 

As one example, there are three different bylaws that apply to parts of Churchill Square. Enforcement officers don’t know which set of rules to apply to which area - so they impose none. This bylaw would have fixed that. There are other examples.  

I am extremely disappointed in this result and I have no doubt our city will reap the repercussions of this decision over the coming months. 

What's at risk? 

We risk businesses pulling out of the core areas (like Whyte Ave and downtown) due to open air illicit drug use. The timeline for this is fast and the recovery period when we lose flagship companies is 3-5 years. A walk through City Centre mall reinforces this point.

We risk future foreign direct investment and tourism and the entire visitor economy. Our city is known as a place where open drug use, and the disorder it results in, is not just ignored but welcomed. Ask any downtown hotel what they deal with on a daily basis, and how excited their guests are to return to downtown Edmonton.

We risk future residential interest in high-density areas. The single biggest contributor to a sense of safety and security is a lot of people in our public spaces. Post-pandemic changes to how we work mean that we need a lot more people to live, work and play in our downtown. Rejecting safety concerns is no way to invite more people to move in.

Ultimately, this summer festival season and future investment risks fall at the feet of those who voted to refer this bylaw back for more work and time at the expense of the everyday taxpayer. 

What we needed, what we need now, is action.

Council needs to end this endless cycle of busy work and start making clear decisions. And then get out of the way and let Administration actually do the work they were hired to do.

It is my intent to continue to try to make sure public spaces are treated like public spaces and that they’re safe for public use. Of course, Council will keep working to address underlying social issues and I absolutely support that work. 

But that’s a longer game. People want to feel sake right now. I intend to keep fighting for a safe city.

Timothy Cartmell


Honoured to be the City Councillor in Edmonton's Ward pihêsiwin. #yegcc #Wardpihêsiwin