Harvey Panesar is a 37-year old, articulate, and business-minded candidate for Edmonton Ward 11 in the upcoming city election. Though “green” (he’s new to politics) he definitely has a vision that is likely to influence his evolving policy stances.
Does his relatively young age give him an advantage? He seems to think so: “There’s no set foundation for me to think in a particular way. The way I think is the way I’ve built my businesses” and “I don’t think I’ve been hindered by any political agenda because I’ve never had a political career” before.
Panesar insists that what he’s trying to do is “bring a creative approach to city council”. He’s a “big believer in open dialogue and communication”.
When asked about political role models and great examples of leadership, he commends Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary. “He’s gotta be a role model to everybody right now. How he handled that whole disaster of the flooding!”
He explains that he wanted to get involved in politics years ago because he has “a skill set that could be unique in city politics . . . I think I’ve got ideas that would just help open the dialogue between constituents and government in general”.
Panesar acknowledges that though there are some ward-specific issues, a councilor “can’t territorialize and say I’m only concerned about Ward X; at that point you’re concerned about the entire city”. In terms of major issues, such as urban sprawl versus density, or implementing bike lanes versus repairing potholes, Panesar thinks “we have to find a delicate balance”. For example, adding bike lanes is symbolic of planning for a sutainable future, but maintaining roads is about fixing our existing problems:
“We have people that are avid naturalists, that ride their bikes, are very green-space loving, and they pay their taxes as well. But we have to find that delicate balance between the majority as well. And if the majority says that we have to fix roads in particular, then that’s what we do. If there’s a surplus, we’ll put it towards that [bike lanes] later”.
“I’m a big believer in core services . . . if we didn’t have infrastructure issues, I would say make all the bike lanes you want!”
In terms of urban sprawl versus density, “when you look at the bigger cities like Vancouver and Toronto . . . for cities like that, that have the density, it doesn’t make sense to jump in your car and go park somewhere. If we continue in the way of urban sprawl, we’re never going to create that density”.
It seems that Panesar does not necessarily think that urban sprawl is in and of itself a bad thing: “I think with controlled urban sprawl [responsible growth], that may or may not be a necessity for this city to grow, I think if we’re going to go in that direction, we have to make sure that there’s a strong architectural guideline to that. Making sure that there’s enough green space, enough commercial space – if we go in that direction”.
“We’re not going to get the best of both worlds, because at the end of the day that costs money. If you don’t have the money to build it, and sustain it, then you’re digging yourself a bigger hole”. Fair enough Mr. Panesar; there is a trade-off between a vision for the future and addressing meat-and-bones issues like core services.
When discussing his vision and what Edmonton should look like 10 to 15 years from now, Panesar has some strong opinions:
“Unfortunately, I don’t want to say this, but it would be very similar to Calgary. Calgary has a very young core. It’s got a set of young professionals; it draws young professionals. And it retains [them].” “We have three world class institutions; we have the University of Alberta, NAIT, and Grant MacEwan. Once these [students] graduate, it’s unfortunate, but a lot of them don’t want to stay in Edmonton”.
That’s definitely a growing concern for a lot of people in Edmonton, and Panesar understands that. He firmly believes that “we have to have that vibrancy that Calgary has”.
Edmonton has a “different class of workers here, but we need to be able to maintain a degree of urban finesse, which I think we may not have at this particular point. And I know we’re building towards it”.
But that needs to come fast, because “if we keep losing our young professionals, what are we going to be left with?” Excellent question, and one that is on the minds of many young Edmontonians.
We’re in the midst of election season, and Navneet is loving it. You can follow her @navneetkhinda to stay posted on local politics and the various Edmonton events she’s attempting to attend.