Remember Orange Crush? Edmonton is still that pop can, now picked up by the blue flood and sent spinning alone down the North Saskatchewan.
That’s what the new electoral map looks like. Edmonton and possibly Banff are NDP orange specks in a sea of UCP blue. Take out the magnifying glass to see the few NDP seats in Calgary. That’s what the polls predicted and it happened.
In Edmonton, the UCP led only in the deep south west, where lawyer Kaycee Madu was ahead with 37 of 64 polls reporting. In the Edmonton region, the UCP was leading in eight of nine seats by mid evening. New MLAs will likely include Spruce Grove councillor Searle Turton, former police officer Brad Rutherford in Leduc-Beaumont and others.
It sounds eerily similar to the early days of the Ralph Klein government, after the Progressive Conservatives won a landslide victory in 1993 with no MLAs from Edmonton. It meant the city had no voices at the table as huge cuts came in; even then-mayor Jan Reimer took to the streets, joining 25,000 others to protest when Klein turned Mill Woods’ Grey Nuns Hospital for a time into a minor health centre.
Edmonton was literally shouting from the outside.
Today’s mayor argues Edmonton is now a different city, a larger economic hub within the province. “Messing with Edmonton messes with the Alberta economy,” Mayor Don Iveson said Monday, ahead of the vote.
While it’s true that Edmonton’s economy saw huge growth in the last 20 years, so did Calgary and other urban centres. That means, relative to the rest of the province, its economic clout is similar. The Edmonton region accounted for 25 per cent of the provincial GDP in the early 1990s; it accounts for 28 per cent now, according to figures from the Conference Board of Canada.
The difference is the city has grown more confident. In the ’90s, head offices were fleeing town for Calgary and B.C.; Edmonton’s downtown was a dive. Today, there’s a much greater sense of optimism.
It also has a stronger partnership with the region. That’s been a key focus for Iveson. If Edmonton can build a coalition of voices, with key business and education leaders at the table presenting facts, not ideology, the city can still be heard.
It was going to be a hard year for Edmonton no matter who was elected. City of Edmonton economist John Rose is finalizing his spring forecast. He’s not predicting a recession, but close, he said when I reached him.
In the construction industry, work on an $8-billion upgrader just wrapped up, projects downtown are near completion, and a weakening in the residential housing sector will mean less work there. Those are good, well-paying jobs that feed the larger economy.
Rose doesn’t see construction picking up until at least 2020, when two smaller petrochemical projects north of the city are expected to break ground and the residential sector may strengthen. But, he says, “we’re not going back to any boom conditions.”
That leaves Edmonton highly susceptible to cut-backs in post-secondary, health and education, sectors that employ 27 per cent of Edmonton residents. “We’re vulnerable there. People have every reason to be concerned,” said Rose.
The UCP say they are not planning major cuts, but both the NDP and UCP platforms planned to balance the budget after oil revenues return. That’s unlikely, especially for the long-term, even with a pipeline. As Rose said, “they’re both dreaming in technicolor.”
The UCP can likely get away with a deficit this year and next, but if it continues into 2021 without a solid plan, the debt will likely affect provincial interest rates, he said. To avoid that, the UCP will either have to cut its large bills (health and education) far deeper than promised, or they need to look at tax increases, such as a sales tax.
I warned you his outlook was grim.
Besides the obvious — money for transit, affordable housing, strong universities — Edmonton really needs a government that will quit pretending. The city needs a government that will be honest and forthright with citizens about the challenges this province faces. We need a government that can learn to be big tent and non-ideological.
I hope this mix of MLAs just elected can do that. I hope they can build bridges and host tough conversations, not just in cabinet, but out in the open with every Albertan.
If not, I guess Alberta will vote again in four years.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.