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November 20, 2018
June 17, 2018

City councillors need to check ego and privilege

It's not about you

Written by Jeff Samsonow

It can’t be easy to be an Edmonton city councillor. Nor hold any elected office. One of the most difficult parts has to be that thing can’t always be about you.

We had two examples of this in Edmonton in the last couple of weeks. The most recent, and glaring, is when Ward 3 councillor Jon Dziadyk threatened the Edmonton Pride Festival’s funding because some in the LGBTQ2S+ communities would like police and military officials to earn more trust before being allowed to march in the parade. 

Dziadyk walked his comments back fairly quickly, though I don’t believe I ever saw an apology for reducing the protest and importance of Pride to little more than a picnic permit.

This is a reminder of how you have to put aside your own ego, privilege and sometimes lived experience when you’re a city councillor. You are representing the views of 60,000+ people (not to mention the city at large), many of whom don’t look like you and don’t experience living in Edmonton in the same way.

In this case, there’s even a really big and obvious reason communities of colour want to see changes from our local police force before being allowed to march. That’s without even getting into the multitude of criminalization and discrimination minority and vulnerable communities face.

A good city councillor will be able to leave most people feeling like they were heard in important discussions. An average city councillor should be able to do it more often than not. A poor city councillor will make it obvious they don’t care how decisions may affect others. It’s not an easy job. And it’s made even more difficult when you let people know their voices will be hard to hear, or ignored.

I hope that all Edmontonians let the councillor, and his colleagues at city hall, know that there are good reasons many people don’t feel safe with police involvement in an event like Pride. And this should come from as many of us as possible, we can’t just leave the work to members of the LGBTQ2S+ communities to educate city council (again).

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On the other side of the council table, you’ve got Ward 11’s Mike Nickel.

As first reported by Dave Cournoyer, this Edmonton city councillor is looking to run for the United Conservative Party in next year’s provincial election. Interesting to note, he’s quoted in the story from TheStarMetro Edmonton as not running again municipally if he loses out provincially.

I’ve done as much as I can do from a council seat,” he said.

He’s done as much as he can. Eight months after the municipal election. Which he ran in. For a four-year term.

So, residents of Ward 11, your representation might be lacking in focus for a year, possibly three. The downside of politicians eyeing up other or bigger opportunities, I suppose.

Look, if Nickel isn’t interested in another term, that’s fine, I get it. I can even be persuaded to consider term limits. But to basically say you’re done months after being elected?

What if he doesn’t get the nomination, or he doesn’t win a seat in next year’s provincial election? Does he jump right into going after the same for the federal election, coming in later 2019? Does he just go looking for a private sector job or running his own business at some point in the next three years? Does he just play Candy Crush on his phone all day? He’s told us he’s done what he can at city hall, after all.

I get that he says he’ll do his Conservative campaigning on the side, which is appreciated, but anyone who has ever tried to work multiple jobs, or has indicated they’re leaving a job knows how your focus will wander. And so soon after the municipal election?! It’s hard to believe this idea wasn’t kicking around even the very back of Nickel’s mind late last year.

The Ward 11 election forum. Just eight months ago.

This is a shame, since there were some good candidates running against him in October. Good candidates who garnered plenty of votes and support in the neighbourhoods that make up Ward 11. This throws the representation of the ward into disarray less than a quarter into the term. It’s too bad for candidates who ran against Nickel and it’s really too bad for the 60,000 residents who have to wonder where the focus of their councillor is on issues that are important to them. 

Residents of a ward should be the main focus of a city councillor. Not a politician’s ambitions.

As little as I want Edmonton to elect any UCP MLAs, I’ve got to think winning a UCP nomination and then a seat in the Alberta Legislature is the best bet for Ward 11. At least they’d be able to hold a byelection next year and send someone to city hall who’s focused solely on their issues for half of the remaining term (next municipal elections are in 2021).

When people talk about limiting election donations and finding ways to make it easier for more people to run and challenge incumbents, this is the kind of thing it can help guard against. Incumbents can carry over money from previous municipal votes, have lots of name recognition and likely grab most of the corporate donations to prop up a campaign. Making candidates fight for every dollar and vote is a much better system.

It’s unfortunately quite status quo to find politicians who run in one election and then stick around in that position while they run for another level of government. And it’s shameful their elected colleagues don’t change the rules to force them to resign when they are after another job.

I know other Edmonton city councillors have done this without having to give up their day job, including Tony Caterina, who is still on council, and Amarjeet Sohi, who is currently a Liberal MP, but I want our city council to change their approach from here on out and deny Mike Nickel a leave of absence if he’s a UCP candidate in the 2019 Alberta election. It would probably only affect his time during the actual election campaign, but I think it sends a message.

Make councilors choose who they want to represent if they want another political position, and give both groups of Edmontonians someone who can be a dedicated representative. Make it clear that our city hall deserves councillors who are focused on the people who live in their wards and their neighbourhoods.

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