The gondola has generated significant conversation in our city and I appreciate all of the emails, messages and calls I received leading up to this afternoon's debate.
Having carefully weighed all aspects of this proposal, I did not feel that the bar for public good was being met in exchange for what would be given up, so I voted against proceeding with the land-lease agreements.
I wanted to briefly share some thoughts and rationale behind my vote. For me, this decision came down to a few things.
Indigenous Consultation & Engagement
First and foremost, we heard significant concern from community members about the extent and quality of Indigenous consultation and the significance of this site as an ancestral burial ground and ceremonial ground.
I have been hearing from constituents throughout my ward, both Indigenous and settlers, concerned about the meaning of this project for reconciliation. I am not comfortable with conditionally approving this project without adequate and genuine consultation having already taken place.
We are all treaty people and when these concerns are raised it is incumbent on us to take them very seriously and be conscientious not only about what decisions we make, but how those decisions are made.
Second, I have been carefully weighing the discussion around transportation. What I have arrived at is that this is ultimately a privately-led tourism venture, with a side benefit of publicly accessible, but private transportation.
Based on the evidence I have been presented with, I am not confident that the fee structure will be fair, equitable, and affordable. The reason I am not confident in this is rooted in the current governance model and the fact that PSG would have full autonomy over the fee structure. While council has been provided verbal answers concerning the rates frequent riders would pay versus tourists, the reality is, those fares could change at any time over the course of the next 90 years in order to generate additional revenue.
We have heard about the possibility of bankruptcy, and the need for a decommissioning bond, but another possibility is that an acquisition could take place, and new ownership would only be held to the contractual agreements we put in place today. This is to say, business models evolve, and they are not all unilaterally aligned with public interest. As representatives of the public, we have to be very careful when we’re making that assessment.
I want to be clear that I absolutely support expanding transportation options and improving accessibility to and through Rossdale, and I think conversations like accelerating planned BRT lines and our mass transit strategy will help get us there.
Decision Creep & Lack of Information
Third, I want to bring up the risk of decision creep and the discomfort I have with the order in which we are being asked to make a decision without key pieces of information.
When I think back to conversations I had with residents on the doors, whenever the gondola would come up, I would say that in order to make an informed decision, I need more information related to the environmental assessment, integration with transit, and archeological assessment and Indigenous consultation given the significance of the site. I would have expected to see more information on these points even before considering the conditional agreements.
An Opportunity to Do Better
The City has been talking about re-working the West Rossdale area close to the old power plant for decades. I am interested in seeing this area transition into a special gathering place where people can live, learn, and connect that recognizes and respects the unique history and sacred nature of the area. At this point, I can’t say that the gondola would move us towards this vision, at least not in the right way.
As we heard from some of our speakers at committee, I think there is real opportunity here for reconciliation in action if we are intentional about how we approach Rossdale and I would welcome opportunities for Indigenous governance and oversight.
Having carefully weighed all aspects of this proposal, I do not feel that the bar for public good is being met in exchange for what is being given up, so I did not vote to proceed with the land-lease agreements.
Finally, the discussion regarding Rossdale will continue. I was pleased to support the following subsequent motion from Councillor Paquette:
That administration prepare a report to committee:
Outlining a potential governance structure that empowers Indigenous MOU partners and communities with historical and cultural connections to Rossdale to provide direct input on the implementation of the River Crossing Business plan, Touch the Water and future developments on the Rossdale flats location.
Summarizing the City of Edmonton’s current approach to facilitate private development and land use on locations of special cultural, spiritual or historical significance.
These are sacred lands, and I look forward to that discussion as we move forward together.