Municipal governments have jurisdiction over a set of issues that may not be flashy, but are quietly critical to our success. My focus is strictly municipal, and as a councillor I will be laser-focused on what I can do within municipal jurisdiction to make our city more livable, more healthy, and more prosperous.
Governing effectively starts with a clear understanding of what municipalities can and can’t do, and the tools available to councils to achieve their goals and improve the lives of residents. So I’ll start this blog by mentioning the legal and technical foundation of all municipalities in Alberta - a single piece of provincial legislation called the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
The MGA is important because it provides municipal structures and powers, and is therefore the closest thing Alberta’s municipalities have to a constitution.
Photos: City of Edmonton
Focusing on the fundamentals
From the MGA and from the collection of services traditionally left to municipalities by other orders of government, we get a set of fundamental municipal services that are critical to everyday life and the long-term vibrancy and sustainability of the municipality.
Roadways, transit, planning and development, parks and public spaces, recreation facilities, fire services, water, drainage, waste services, community standards…
...these services may not seem flashy, and if they are working properly, we don’t always even notice them.
The value and importance of these services becomes incredibly apparent when a sewer backs up, a road fails, or garbage goes uncollected. Our municipal services are fundamental components of a high quality of life and to our economic growth.
A few weeks ago on a rainy day, I took a quick video of a neighbourhood street and how it handled the downpour, elegantly and efficiently shedding each drop of water to the gutters and towards the storm sewers. Because of proper construction and maintenance of the road and of the drainage infrastructure, the rain was charming at best and annoying at worst. Because of the infrastructure, life continued on – just a little wetter.
That is just one example of municipal services we barely notice. Sometimes we don’t notice at all until something goes wrong, but we can’t forget that fundamental municipal services are vital to life in Edmonton. It’s also important to understand exactly how valuable these assets are: we’re talking about more than $30 billion dollars to replace.
Focusing on the fundamentals is a core part of a councillor’s job. By connecting directly with residents and bringing their perspectives to City Hall, I will help support continuous improvement of service delivery in ways that meet the diverse needs of today’s Edmontonians, while planning for a more prosperous and sustainable future.
Punching Above Our Weight
There are broader, societal level issues that all orders of government must work on together to achieve the results and performance that Edmontonians expect. Large issues like housing and homelessness, climate action, anti-racism, reconciliation, inequality, gender equity, or the opioid crisis call for inter-governmental action. I know Edmontonians are worried about these issues, and so am I. They are critical to the success of the community that we all want to build.
As the level of government that is closest to the people, our communities feel the effects of homelessness, systemic racism, and climate change. We see the consequences of removing safe consumption sites and failing to fund permanent supportive housing projects.
Two new permanent supportive housing projects being built in Ward Métis.
Over the last few decades, numerous issues have been downloaded to municipalities that have traditionally been outside of our jurisdiction. Municipalities have an important role to play in taking action on these issues, and where action is not within our jurisdiction, advocating to higher orders of government to facilitate provincial and federal action is necessary.
With this in mind, it’s important that we stand against downloading onto municipal governments. Federal and provincial governments washing their hands of issues within their jurisdiction and passing the buck to municipalities without the means to pay for them is not a sustainable way to improve our communities.
Instead, this approach hampers the capacity of municipalities to look after their own responsibilities while obstructing real progress on provincial and federal issues. One of the most damaging decisions of recent decades was the federal retreat from affordable housing, which led to a nationwide shortage of affordable housing and gave many folks the impression that municipalities (along with provinces) were supposed to provide these services. Nobody wins.
That said, I believe municipalities bring an important perspective to the table and have a key role to play in tackling larger, systemic issues alongside higher orders of government.
Our Actions Are Interconnected
First, municipal services are really important in ways that you may not always realize. I’ve already said that fundamental municipal services are quietly important for everyday life. They are also important for economic prosperity, climate resilience, social inclusion, and even mental and physical health.
Let’s look at transit, as the largest City-operated service. Transit helps drive economic success by improving labour mobility and contributing to high-density urban “nodes” that spur innovation. On a more human level, transit connects people with the services they need, as we can see in the success of Edmonton’s Ride Transit low-income pass. Environmentally, transit is key to decarbonizing transportation and meeting climate change goals. Similarly, transit and equity are deeply interrelated; not everyone will be able to afford an electric car, or use active modes to navigate our city, but we all need to move around.
We can also look at city planning. The rules written into our zoning bylaw can have significant impacts on social inclusion in Edmonton’s neighbourhoods. Planning decisions like those contained in the upcoming Zoning Bylaw Renewal (Q3 2022) are key to achieving my priority of 15-minute neighbourhoods, which can free community members from car (and carbon) dependency, reduce the cost of living, and improve physical and mental health.
Municipal Government is the Closest to the People
Second, municipalities can be really good at driving local solutions to get better results for their residents. I believe that municipalities also have tremendous ability to convene citizens and stakeholders and drive pragmatic solutions for some of our most significant challenges.
Part of the reason for this pragmatism is that municipalities can’t afford to get bogged down in ideology. Municipal leaders are directly accountable to citizens and communities. We can’t ignore a main street losing its spark. We can’t ignore the moral and policy failure that is homelessness. We can’t ignore climate change, and we can’t ignore ongoing social injustices. Neither can we treat these issues as game pieces in a larger ideological project – they demand action on their own terms.
Municipalities have incentive to take on these issues in partnership with community and other levels of government, and municipalities can help drive positive change.
One example is the EndPovertyEdmonton project, which brings together various community and government stakeholders to advance a poverty elimination strategy. As work on the EPE action plan continues and produces success stories, we can look to that model of municipal convening as a success in its own right.
So if you are concerned about climate change, Edmonton’s economic future, or reducing social divides, I believe that municipalities have a lot to offer, even if other governments have more jurisdiction over those issues.
With an approximately $3.3 billion annual budget that stretches from planning and development to recreation facilities, fire services, policing, roadways, transit, parks and public spaces, water, drainage, waste services, community standards and more, Ward Métis needs a councillor who understands how these pieces must work together to achieve our shared goals and priorities.
As a candidate, it's important to understand which levers you can push on to affect positive change in our city, and to see the relationship between larger systemic challenges and day-to-day decision making at City Hall.
Having a clear grasp on the complexities of jurisdiction is a critical component of successfully advocating to higher orders of government and delivering the results Edmontonians expect. In my next post, I will discuss my approach for advocating to those higher orders of government.
Written by: Ashley Salvador