Yesterday, Amarjeet Sohi announced his plan to engage with Ottawa and make Edmonton’s river valley a national park if elected Mayor. This plan would be a disaster for our residents and our city.
Edmontonians have been enjoying the river valley for generations without federal designation. Many local groups and municipalities have worked hard in the last few years to improve accessibility to the river valley in a way that preserves its rich biodiversity. It’s also important to note that we’ve received federal money for the river valley in the past without needing a national parks designation.
Making our beautiful river valley a national park, even under the new National Urban Parks Program raises serious concerns about local control over planning. Needing permission from Ottawa to develop a new walking path or build a new bridge is unnecessary and undemocratic. Funding always follows regulation. We need more local input and decision-making, not less.
Preserving our river valley is of the utmost importance, but it’s wrong to suggest we need to choose between preservation and accessibility. My plan to develop West Rossdale will significantly expand river valley access on land that has been previously developed but is currently dormant. It will also provide a meeting place right in the river valley where we can sit and have a cup of coffee or stroll around a market in the power plant building perhaps.
Developing West Rossdale will be done hand in hand with our Indigenous communities, and I’m proud to have the endorsement of Enoch Cree Nation Chief William (Billy) Morin for this plan: “Michael’s development vision for Rossdale is characterized in reconcili-Action”. We can revive West Rossdale and make it into a signature Edmonton district with focused leadership and buy-in from key stakeholders.
We don’t need Ottawa telling us how to enjoy and protect our river valley. If I’m elected Mayor, I will maintain local control and expand access to our river valley. Edmontonians have long been good stewards of our river valley and we will continue to be.
I’m very mindful of the pressures on businesses, people with fixed and declining incomes, and on small businesses that are struggling valiantly through the pandemic to keep doors open and people paid.
I know we can reduce their tax burden by bringing more focus to the work we do. For four years at City Hall, I saw so much opportunity to better control excessive spending. I initiated the Program and Service Review which was supposed to find efficiencies and also figure out what the city should stop doing. It was to be completed in 2017 but has stalled. There has been no political will to get that completed. Since I left in 2017, the City’s budget has grown from $2.7 billion to $3.01 billion, a rate of increase that is not sustainable.
Better program assessment, more focus on clear priorities and fiscal discipline means we can hold the line on taxes, control our spending, and provide much-needed tax relief for our citizens while making important investments in priority areas.
As Mayor, I would commit to freezing property taxes for my first year in office, which is possible within the City’s current budget. Then in year 2 I commit to LOWERING property taxes by at least 1.2%, after refocusing the service review mentioned above. In years 3&4 I would work with the provincial government to keep property taxes frozen, by ensuring they step up to cover their obligations.
It’s vital that we have a vibrant and safe downtown. To do that we need to make being downtown the easy choice. That means cleaning up the constant construction that makes downtown inaccessible and unappealing. As Mayor, I would be laser-focused on finishing up existing construction projects and keeping transportation links clear, whether for cars, bikes, buses, LRT, or pedestrians.
In order to help rebuild downtown’s vibrancy, I would institute automatic development permits for the downtown area and make the repurposing of existing buildings easier. We shouldn’t need to tear down buildings to adapt a space.
Downtown must feel safe for everyone. As Mayor, I would commit to expanding services like HELP, which link police, social workers, and social agencies to provide support for vulnerable people while also minimizing crime rates.
We need to get our downtown back, to create a safe place that people want to visit and a place to live and work in. There is no one challenge but a myriad of challenges that we need to get right. I am committed to getting this done. I am ready. Look for our full downtown plan which will be released in the coming weeks.
A few weeks ago I visited the Edmonton Police Service’s HELP Unit. HELP stands for Human-centred Engagement Liaison Partnership and the program is run in equal partnership with Boyle Street Community Services and with the support of other social agencies.
The Unit was created to halt the ineffective cycle of arrest, remand, and release and its impacts on our vulnerable populations. Instead, HELP works to link people with the right social agencies and services. The work they do is fantastic and is much better for everyone involved than a cycle of arrests and releases.
As Mayor, I will work to expand the HELP Unit and similar programs like the Neighbourhood Empowerment Team (NET) as more effective and efficient ways to support our vulnerable populations and keep people safe.
My team and I have been out door-knocking over the past few weeks. We've had the opportunity to chat with many different people in a variety of neighbourhoods. While every neighbourhood is unique, there are some common themes.
Some of the main issues brought to my attention have been tax rates, homelessness, the new garbage program, and a few comments on skunks taking up residence in backyards. Door knocking offers me and my team a great opportunity to connect directly with Edmontonians and hear what's on their minds.
If you would like to join us door-knocking, we go out most weeknights from 6:30-8:30 pm and Saturdays 10:00 am- 3:00 pm.
Send us an email at [email protected] and we would be happy to welcome you aboard! The exercise is great and the company is even better.