By Kevin Jones, Director

As part of our annual Regional Planning Speakers Series (RPSS), CRSC co-hosted an election forum with the Mayor’s Office at the City of Edmonton focussed on issues of municipal importance for the city and region. The forum invited local candidates from each of the four main federal parties to address how the federal government can support strong and resilient cities and urban communities. It was an opportunity to hear party platforms and debate their merits on topics including housing, infrastructure, Edmonton’s growing Aboriginal community, and local economic development planning. Pipelines, security, refugees, and immigration still might be dominating headlines, but cities have been a talking point since the green light was given for #ELXN42.

There is a sense of something of an urban “moment,” for lack of a better word, emerging in Alberta. You can see it in the confidence with which municipal leaders speak about our collective urban futures, and in the roles cities are taking in responding to core social, economic and environmental challenges. In some cases this involves taking leadership roles in emerging policy areas (e.g., food security and urban agriculture). In other cases, areas in which Provincial or Federal governments previously led or supported are being increasingly downloaded to municipalities (e.g., affordable housing and housing welfare), or the altogether absence of leadership has left policy areas open to municipal innovation (e.g., climate policy and risk mitigation).

Yet, while the challenges and opportunities of governing sustainable and prosperous cities are growing, there has remained an increasingly conspicuous absence of a coherent federal strategy for cities in Canada. The most obvious implication of which is that cities, with growing costs related to infrastructure development, transit planning and affordable housing provision, approach these areas from a limited financial basis derived primarily through property taxes, and with little flexibility for growth planning. This means that cities must support investment through a reliance on grants from other levels of government, or by putting off investment until a later date. Moreover, dependency on grant funding has meant that cities have often had to support projects piecemeal and without long term security. Where key investments are needed to securing the future sustainability and competitiveness of our cities, the current funding process is one shaped by uncertainty and clouded by accusations of politics. A recent article in the Globe and Mail explores accusations that Conservative-held ridings are being favoured, offering an excellent example of the public’s growing concerns over the fairness of funding allocation.

Our intent in holding a federal forum on municipal issues was thus to encourage a conversation about the ways in which municipalities and the federal government can work together and support the stable and committed development and renewal. The four parties each were given the opportunity to present their vision for the urban future of Edmonton. The forum focussed four main topics. Firstly, candidates were asked for their positions on responding to a growing crises in affordable housing, how to ensure that cities are supported in build and maintain social housing resources (including for a rising number of seniors in the city). Secondly, the topic of how candidates would work to secure stable and predictable infrastructure funding for the City was brought forward, from within a position that recognized that the successful development of Canada’s cities was essential to the future welfare of Canadians as a whole. Thirdly, with Edmonton providing home to a large urban Aboriginal community, candidates were asked how governments could work together to both support their prosperity, and to support the recognition of Edmonton as an indigenous place rooted in indigenous culture and history. Finally, candidates were invited to speak to their plans for supporting diverse and innovative economies within the city, and how development objectives could support environmental sustainability in particular.

As you prepare to vote in Monday’s election, there are several ways to learn about what the candidates had to say about these topics, or to explore the conversations they elicited within the community:

Listen to an audio recording of the entire forum on our SoundCloud account

Explore media coverage of the forum:

Mayor Don Iveson on the Municipal Issues Forum, Elise Stolte’s SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/elise-stolte/don-iveson-on-the-municipal-issues-forum

Municipal issues the focus of federal election forum – Live Blog, Edmonton Journal by Elise Stolte and David Staples: http://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/edmonton-municipal-issues-focus-of-federal-election-forum-tuesday

Conservative candidate fires back at mayor in Brawl in the Hall, Edmonton Journal by David Staples: http://edmontonjournal.com/news/national/david-staples-conservative-candidate-fires-back-at-mayor-in-brawl-at-the-hall

Candidates square off in municipal forum, Edmonton Metro by Braedon Jones:  http://www.pressreader.com/canada/metro-canada-edmonton/20151007/281530814847441/TextView

Or see what people were saying on social media by checking out the the Twitter hashtag #YEGForum

Learn more

Check out our website to learn more about the CRSC and RPSS on our website.

Thank you to our event partners, including The City of Edmonton, Mayor’s Office, Centre for Public Involvement (CPI), and the University of Alberta Planning program.

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