Mayor Sohi says provincial support not adequate

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi speaks with Alberta Primetime Host Michael Higgins about provincial support, addressing homelessness and the Oilers’ playoff run.

Michael Higgins: Quickly on the Oilers, it may have been a season of highs and lows, but what did you make of the response of Edmontonians through the playoff run? What does that reflect to you about your city?

Amarjeet Sohi: It’s been phenomenal to see the Oilers perform over the last number of months as the best team and our fans are the best as well. Yes, we lost in the final in Game 7, but they gave their best, they played their best and made us so, so proud of them. And our fans behaved, they’re a lot of fun. And it’s been it’s such a huge economic boost for the downtown as well, close to $200 million worth of economic activity took place over the playoffs and just phenomenal energy. We could build on that to continue to double our efforts to bring more people downtown revitalize our downtown.

Michael Higgins: To carry that over the next year would be great, wouldn’t it? OK. Homelessness hugely dominant theme. To start the year you declared an emergency, you took heat from the provincial government, which stepped in with a navigation and support centre. How much progress has been made on the issue in the months since? And what do you put that down to?

Amarjeet Sohi: Ever since I got elected into this position, I made housing and homelessness and investing in ending this crisis a priority. So as a city council, we have increased significantly our investments, we are on our way to building more affordable housing, supportive housing … We’re close to 40,000 new housing starts since 2021, but the challenge is that while we have housing, more and more people are falling into homelessness because of the economic hardship, poverty, and other reasons why people fall into difficult times. So while we are trying to close the gap, the social factors and the lack of investment in people’s capacity into housing and other areas are letting more people fall into houselessness. This is an ongoing crisis we’re facing, we’re looking at doing more and appreciate the support of the provincial government, and the setting of the navigation centre that allows people to be connected to services. But the challenge is that once people are connected to services and then put into housing, we don’t have enough affordable, supportive housing available for people to stay off the streets. So the navigation centre has been a good start, a good success, but the challenge is that we are lacking a support system at the back end to actually help people sustain themselves into housing or detox facilities or treatment facilities in the case of mental health and addictions crisis.

Michael Higgins: A lot of overlap there with a provincial government in and through the spring sitting. A lot of unhappy municipal leaders over legislative changes that change that relationship dynamic with the province. You specifically called for bills 18 and 20 to be scrapped, or are those changes actually as bad as they seemed at the time?

Amarjeet Sohi: First of all, Bill 18 and Bill 20 in my mind are unnecessary pieces of legislation. We have so many other issues to deal with. We talked about the houselessness crisis, we are having a mental health crisis, the cities are facing infrastructure deficits that we have never seen before. Because of the lack of investment from the provincial government, we lost close to $400 million of infrastructure support from the provincial government because of the cuts that have been made to municipalities. The province does not pay its fair share of property taxes in Edmonton … They have not been doing that since 2019. So cumulatively we lost close to $80 million in property tax revenue that the province should be paying us … There has been so much other downloading happening on municipalities, so we have very real pressing issues that we need to talk about and Bill 18 and Bill 20 does not allow us to do that. They are just interventions into running of municipalities and taking our ability away from directly working with the federal government to attract more investment into the city, at least set us behind. So these are two pieces of legislation that we felt, that I still continue to feel, that are unnecessary. They actually hinder our economic growth, they create so much red tape, they will get in the way of building more affordable housing, and building more infrastructure and hurt our economy, our ability to continue to respond to the growth pressures that we have. So these are two pieces of legislation that do not focus on the priorities of Edmontonians.

Michael Higgins: How much has that whole dialogue around those contentious bills, especially 18 and 20? How much has that changed your approach to how you deal with the Smith government?

Amarjeet Sohi: I always look for opportunities to collaborate. I have an excellent working relationship with the premier and some of the ministers and their staff. We identified nine areas where the province has downloaded responsibility onto the municipalities that should have been actually fulfilled by the province. For example, close to 60 per cent of fire rescue service calls or medical costs related to overdose crisis that our city is facing. Health care is not a city responsibility, it’s a provincial responsibility. We should not be sending fire trucks to respond to overdoses but we do because we don’t have other support systems in place and the province has not properly invested in responding to the drug poisoning crisis that we’re facing. So we ended up paying $29 million of property taxes responding to a crisis, that is a provincial responsibility. There are other areas that we should be focusing on. So you know, property taxes are going up. One of the reasons is because the province is not paying its fair share of property taxes, $19 million we lose every year. But in addition to that, we are responding to provincial responsibilities there should be filled with income taxes and sort of property taxes. So these are the pressures we’re facing, other conversations are ongoing with the provincial government and we will continue to look for collaboration, we will continue to find ways to work together but they are they have not stepped up the way they needed to step up in order to make sure that Edmonton is getting a fair deal that we get an equitable treatment. I’ll give you another example. Calgary gets $19 million every year to do upgrades to Deerfoot Trail. In Edmonton, we get zero dollars. Why is that? I don’t know. We raised that with the province, we haven’t gotten a satisfactory response, but I will continue to advocate on behalf of Edmontonians because that’s my responsibility. We need fair treatment. We need equal treatment, equitable treatment. We’re not asking for more. What we are asking for is, treat us the same way you did Calgary.

Michael Higgins: All right. Well, we are almost out of time. But I want to squeeze one last quick one in. Former mayor of Calgary, now leader of the NDP, how do you expect the arrival of Naheed Nenshi to influence or change the municipal-provincial dynamic?

Amarjeet Sohi: I wish Naheed all the best. I have worked with former mayor Nenshi in my capacity as a federal minister and also during my time on council. You know, we’re here to work with anyone who’s willing to work with us because my role is to ensure that I’m advancing and advocating on behalf of Edmontonians to getting a fair deal from the provincial government which we have not got so far.

Originally Appeared Here

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