On Monday night, Edmontonians chose Don Iveson to be our city’s leader for the next four years. It was a precedent-setting night – with over 132,000 votes, Iveson received more votes than any other mayoral candidate in Edmonton history, capturing about 62% of the vote. At 34 years old, Iveson is Edmonton’s second youngest mayor, and the youngest mayor in over 100 years (only William Griesbach was younger, being 28 when he took office in 1906).
Iveson’s landslide victory shows that his forward-looking, positive platform of building a better city appealed to a wide demographic, not just the millennial crowd that Iveson seemed to have mostly locked up from the start. From young families just starting out in the suburban communities of Windermere or Hollick Kenyon, to senior citizens who’ve called Edmonton home for decades, liberals to conservatives, Iveson’s vision of a city that we’re all proud to call home, a city that our children and grandchildren will thrive in, resonated with voters.
Iveson’s election has already brought Edmonton significant media attention from across the country, and for a change, it’s been positive. Edmonton’s image has never really been positive on the national scene – marred by unfortunate monikers like ‘Deadmonton’, and overshadowed by our flashy southern neighbour – we’ve been widely viewed as a desolate, blue-collar backwater in the eyes of central Canada. Seemingly overnight, Edmonton’s reputation is on the upswing. Our mayor is young, hip, progressive and a little nerdy (detailed here by the Huffington Post), shattering old stereotypes about our city.
Meanwhile, Toronto has Rob Ford. Enough said.
Combined with Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s re-election in Calgary, Monday night proved that Alberta’s cities are ready to challenge previously held assumptions about our province. Edmonton and Calgary are brimming with potential, and with the progressive leadership of Iveson and Nenshi, combined with a bold, entrepreneurial spirit engrained in our population, we could be destined to become some of the greatest cities in North America.
There is certainly a long way to go, and Edmonton faces a number of serious challenges in the coming years. We have big projects in the downtown arena and the Blatchford redevelopment that have great potential to go awry. Our transit system is woefully lacking for a city of our size. Our infrastructure continues to leave something to be desired. Crime and poverty continue to hurt many of our most vulnerable citizens and blight central neighbourhoods. The tax burden on residents with a fixed income is a concern. This issues will take a lot of time and money to deal with, and will require strong leadership. As great as Iveson might sound right now, he will have to step up and prove that he can deliver. Redefining the place of Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta by pushing for a city charter will be a good place to start and showcase his abilities.
This is a very important issue, and one that will likely define the future of urban affairs in Alberta for decades to come. Under the current Municipal Government Act, cities are essentially administrative entities that exist only by the will of the provincial government, while they are simultaneously assuming more and more responsibilities. As Edmonton and Calgary bloom into cosmopolitan centres with metropolitan populations well-exceeding one million, this framework seems increasingly outdated. With a city charter, Edmonton would have greater independence to develop its own policies, particularly in the realm of revenue generation. Iveson has been an ardent proponent of developing a city charter and the benefits it would provide, a position which he shares with Mayor Nenshi. If played well, the two mayors present a powerful front that cannot be ignored to the government of Premier Redford and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, who have paid little attention to urban issues thus far. By the looks of these tweets, they’ll make a great team:
— Don Iveson (@doniveson) October 23, 2013
The election of Iveson and re-election of Nenshi highlights a growing divide in Alberta’s political landscape, between the urban and the rural. Rural Alberta remains true blue territory, staunchly traditional and conservative, with no shattering of stereotypes on the agenda anytime soon. At the same time, more and more Albertans are calling urban areas home, making up the vast majority of the province’s population. This has resulted in some animosity, and deepening the urban/rural divide. As Doug Griffiths once described the rural Albertan perspective, “you could be asked by rural Albertans why 17 per cent of the population that lives in rural Alberta that has all the oil and gas revenue, does all the work, all the farms, all the agriculture and everything associated with it goes to support urban Albertans, who sit in high-rise condos and don’t necessarily contribute to the grassroots of this economy”. With the progressive choices in Edmonton and Calgary, it will be interesting to see how things develop in the Legislature as the urban and rural agendas clash. Many of Edmonton’s top priorities will require greater provincial (and federal) support, so Iveson’s leadership on such issues will be critical.
There is a lot of work to be done – but Edmonton’s future is bright. For too long, Edmonton has been underestimated as a dreary, industrial town where it’s always too cold. Mayor Mandel began the charge to change that, and Don Iveson seems to be the man to continue the vision of a better city. Edmontonians chose progress on Monday night, and now it’s time for our city of do-ers and builders to follow through. As Mayor-Elect Iveson has said, let’s build it!
What do you think of Iveson’s election, and Edmonton’s future? Let us know in the comments below!
Graeme Archibald is a recent graduate of the University of Alberta’s Honors Political Science program and a life-long Edmontonian.
Creative Commons image courtesy of Mastermaq on Flickr.