GUNTER: Changing Edmonton city council starts with political hard work

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Published Mar 28, 2024  •  Last updated 50 minutes ago  •  3 minute read

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Edmonton city council sits in council chambersEdmonton City Council. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia file

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“How do we get rid of these guys?”

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Readers ask me that question (or a variation of it) all the time.

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I’ve probably received a dozen emails, texts and phone calls asking me how to get rid of Edmonton’s city council since city manager Andre Corbould announced late last week he would resign after Easter. His departure exposed senior administration’s frustration with council’s sophomoric, lefty majority.

The best answer is not an especially satisfying one for voters and taxpayers fed up with this council’s habit of being distracted by environmental and social-justice priorities versus the more mundane work of managing a functioning city. This council, and the previous two, has shown no reservation about raising taxes and no appetite for spending cuts — as though they have better claims on Edmontonians’ money than Edmontonians themselves.

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Picking up garbage, clearing snow, encouraging business creation, making Downtown and transit clean and safe seem secondary to this council, next to saving the planet, combating racism and transforming our city into a densely populated, transit- and bike-dependent, car-free urban planner’s paradise.

The only legitimate way to get rid of this council is hard, political work.

When rumours started circulating that the province might step in to “stabilize” Edmonton’s municipal government, many readers seemed to welcome the idea.

They shouldn’t. The province could send in the best public administrators on Earth, it still wouldn’t be worth the damage to Edmonton’s democracy and autonomy.

As much as your pocketbook and mine would welcome relief from endless annual tax increases of between five and seven per cent, pushed by a council that never met a trendy idea or a big-spending project it couldn’t support, severing the democratic connection between Edmonton voters and their representatives would make matters worse.

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Edmontonians who want to see the hindside of this council should start now recruiting a mayoral candidate, then work on finding and backing enough council candidates to form a workable majority.

After that, raise the necessary funds, devise a platform and organize a campaign.

It’s tempting to cheer for an administrative bailout by Premier Danielle Smith’s government. That’s a faster, cheaper and easier method, but it’s illegitimate.

And remember, any non-democratic method used to get rid of this council could be used against a more conservative one in the future. Imagine a pro-business, low-tax, anti-infill council while an NDP government ruled at the legislature. The NDP provincial government might easily use the excuse of the alleged climate crisis or a homelessness emergency to oust some sensible future municipal government.

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Democracy is slow, frustrating and imperfect, but remember what Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

One of the reasons the UCP has proposed political parties in local elections is not a desire to see UCP and NDP candidates and caucuses. Rather, even if the municipal parties didn’t have traditional party names, the presence of parties would make it easier for voters to identify which mayoral and council candidates stand for similar policies.

Left-wing candidates start with a big advantage in city politics. For one, the NDP has a far superior organization compared to the UCP within Edmonton. And its supporters don’t need a party label to identify which candidates will work together on lefty goals if elected.

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For decades, the left has used the community leagues and school boards like a minor-league farm system in which to develop future councillors. And ward politics is seen as a good place for leftist strategists to cut their teeth.

Having failed to do all that groundwork and just assumed candidates would pop up out of thin air sensible, Edmontonians are starting in a hole.

However, this week’s events have shown how important it is to start now to win the next civic election.

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