The Sweetness & The Stress

Scott McKeen reflects on his time as Ward 6 councillor

I was up on stage under hot lights, giving out awards, for what seemed like two hours. I began to sweat. Feel a bit dizzy. Then I thought: I might pass out, right here.

We rushed to my car after my duties concluded. My able assistant Rebecca took the wheel, while I nauseated in the passenger seat.

A few kilometres down the road is when it happened. Somehow, Rebecca got the car stopped, my seatbelt unbuckled and reached across to my door—at some risk to her ensemble—as I held my hands over my mouth in a futile attempt to … you know.

THERE WAS THE TIME I VOMITED VIOLENTLY AFTER A RUBBER- CHICKEN EVENT ON MY CITY COUNCIL CALENDAR.

We laugh about it now. We laughed about a lot of things in the Ward 6 office. Just as we grieved and raged and panicked and planned.

Constituents come in all shapes and personalities. The vast majority are kind, even under the stress of a waterline break or a late bus. But any group 80,000 or so will have its outliers.

The Ward 6 office staff took the brunt of it. The boss, Roxanne Piper, was with me from the start. Rebecca Visscher does communications and policy work. Sydney Gross worked with us part-time and we enjoyed her expertise in planning. Rachael Putt, now working in housing policy, taught me so much about the tragedies and travesties causing people to end up on the street. Amy McBain, now working in the private sector, was my first policy advisor and my campaign manager in the 2017 election. She ended up romantically partnered with the campaign manager from my 2013 campaign. They have a boy, ahem, they did NOT name Scott. Francis is a delight, nonetheless. Also joining us for a time were Kalie Stieda and Melissa Bui, who both went on to support Edmonton’s social service sector during the pandemic.

The two things I will always remember about being a city councillor are the stress and too-often brief human connections with humble people who imbue Edmonton with its sweetness and passion.

I was privileged to attend hundreds of events large and small. But it was often the small ones by community leagues, multicultural groups or social service organizations that swelled my heart.

So I felt a tremendous burden of responsibility and then struggled afterwards with doubts about my votes.

Yet I leave with pride over several things. The Ward 6 office and council made huge strides on homelessness, though the work is far from complete. We were able to get council’s near-unanimous support for a motion demanding action from Ottawa and the Kenney government on the overdose crisis. We also did a ton of stressful, strategic work in the background to ensure Downtown Edmonton will have a major park opening in about 2024.

I met so many talented artists and musicians. Sadly, we are brainwashed from birth to think culture created elsewhere and backed by corporate America must be better. It is not.

As for the stress of the job, I felt like I was always fighting my personality. I am a large-part shy. I am definitely sensitive. I’m prone to anxiety. Yet City Council is tasked with making huge decisions. An infill development in a mature neighbourhood seems as threatening to the community as running LRT from southeast Edmonton, through downtown, to the far west end.

OH, THERE’S MORE.

But I’m worried about boasting, humble-bragging or taking credit for work mostly done by the amazing civil service. I worry that might make you nauseated.

GET OUT AND VOTE!

What you need to know about the upcoming municipal election

In the upcoming municipal election, we’ll be voting for a new city councillor for Edmonton’s core and a new mayor. Our city is growing not just in population size, but also in respect for the Indigenous communities who have made their homes here for thousands of years. Along with a new councillor, our ward has the new name of O-day’min.

Lorisia MacLeod, a member of the James Smith Cree Nation, librarian at The Alberta Library, and resident of Ward 6, said she believes that giving Indigenous names in place of ward numbers was an important and necessary change to show how Edmonton is growing.

“I also honestly feel like numbers don’t represent Edmonton or Edmontonians well but these names are connected to stories and histories—now that’s Edmonton,” MacLeod said. “We aren’t numbers; we are bold vibrant stories with deep roots and bright futures.”

MacLeod said she will be on the lookout for a candidate who puts their best foot forward when it comes to Indigenous issues and peoples.

“I am going to be looking for councillors who are in support of these names and are going out of their way to use and say them—even if they stumble a little at first,” MacLeod said. “I want to know that they are willing to put the time and effort into things that matter.”

Voting is necessary to the well-being of the city. The decisions city councillors make have a huge impact on our quality of life and on a wide range of locally controlled services and initiatives, such as drinking water, policing, emergency services, and property and business taxes.

Andy Gunn, an instructor of public administration who teaches local government at the University of Alberta, said that the role of city councillors is significant in providing policy direction to municipal administration—approximately 10,000 full-time staff in Edmonton—on these matters or “steering the ship,” while municipal administration is seen to be doing the detailed implementation work of “rowing the ship”.

“Causes that are unique to the city, particularly related to the quality of life, social agendas, wellness and community health, are most effectively addressed at the local level,” Gunn said. “This often works that receives little public recognition.”

There are limits to municipal power. While federal elections are administered by Elections Canada and the provincial elections are administered by Elections Alberta, local elections (which also includes school boards) occur through the provincial Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA).

Gunn said that municipalities are highly influential because approximately 81 percent of Canadians live in urban municipalities like Edmonton. Municipalities generate most of Canada’s GDP and are viewed as the source of many innovations. As city councillors do not align themselves with political parties’ platforms, they represent only the citizens’ interests.

Gunn added that Edmonton is a very ethnically diverse community and a worthwhile city councillor would be “increasingly aware of public support for dealing with community issues, supporting open opportunity to services by removing systemic biases, supporting new Canadians, and honouring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations in addition to the provision of the local services.”

WARD O-DAY’MIN MUNICIPAL ELECTION FORUM

Join the Downtown Edmonton and Oliver Community Leagues for an opportunity to meet and hear from the municipal candidates running for City Council in Ward O-day’min.

Wednesday, September 29th | 5PM-7PM
Matrix Hotel (10640 100 Ave NW)

For more information:
decl.org
@declorg
olivercommunity.com
@oclyeg

New Election, New Ward

Ward 6 is getting a new name and a new councillor

Come the October civic election, Edmonton will see new ward names and new boundaries. Both Downtown and Oliver fall into newly-formed Ward O-day’min, which is the Anishinaabe word for Strawberry or Heart-berry.

The new boundaries are part of a city-wide boundary revision done in May 2020. Stephen Raitz, a member of the ward boundary commission, said that the main factor in determining the new boundaries was population— keeping neighbourhood and community leagues together while devising a map that better represented changes in the city’s demographics. Additionally, the commission had to account for future growth by balancing older and newer neighbourhoods in each ward.

“The purpose of the ward boundary commission was to depoliticize the process,” Raitz said. “You want to produce something that is as far beyond the politics of ward drawing as possible.”

While some wards look drastically different, Ward O-day’min looks fairly similar to the previous Ward 6. Both have a majority of neighbourhoods in common including Downtown and Oliver, as well as McCauley and Boyle Street.

One difference is that the neighbourhoods west of Groat Road are now part of Ward Nakota Isga. Instead, Ward O-day’min includes four additional neighbourhoods north of Downtown: Prince Rupert, Spruce Avenue, Westwood, and the new carbon-neutral community of Blatchford. Based on the engagement with the public Raitz said, “It was pretty clear that on the other side of Groat Road, the communities of interests are more so aligned with Stony Plain Road than they are with the downtown core, so that’s why those neighbourhoods got shifted into Ward [Nakota Isga].

“And then it was seen that the neighbourhoods that are north of downtown shared a stronger connection with the core.”

NEW FACE ON COUNCIL

Downtown and Oliver residents will be voting for a new councillor to represent their ward in Edmonton City Council as two-term Councillor Scott McKeen isn’t seeking a third term. But what exactly does a councillor do, and how do they fit within the larger picture of local government? McKeen said a councillor’s duties include things like dealing with local complaints, funding events, construction projects, as well as larger problems like poverty and homelessness. However, the job at its most fundamental is to advocate for constituents at City Hall. “If you took a neighbourhood and there is a project going into that neighbourhood, some people in the neighbourhood might be completely in support of that and a similar number might be completely opposed to it,” McKeen said. “So, if you’re representing your constituents, you still have to vote yes or no when that project reaches council.”

There are also the additional complexities of being the councillor representing Edmonton’s core, as it is home to four business improvement areas and the Ice District, as well as other cultural flagships like the Winspear Centre and the new Royal Alberta Museum. Conversely, the area is also where some of the city’s biggest issues like homelessness are noticeable.

“In some ways, it exemplifies the best of Edmonton and the greatest challenges of Edmonton, and the most of Edmonton,” McKeen said. “There’s so much stuff to advocate for and keep track of.”

While many of the issues that councillors deal with on a municipal level can be rather technical, McKeen said that a lot of that can have a direct impact on day-to-day life, as well as requiring good planning to avoid unintended consequences. One example he cites is how street trees planted near Jasper Avenue and 124 Street would often die because they were planted without the proper soil and adequate room to grow, leading to money being wasted as the trees needed to be replaced.

“How do we build cities that are not just efficient and beautiful and lively and vibrant but are actually communal in a way that invites social interaction and invites people to leave their homes,” he said. “That is the challenge of future city councils and cities like ours.”

These are good questions to keep in mind as we vote in a new city councillor in October.

Pits of Shame

Examining the holes in the ground that dot the core

NOTHING SPEAKS TO A CITY’S CAN-DON’T ATTITUDE AND THE ACTIVE BRUTALITY OF IDLE GREED QUITE LIKE A FENCED-OFF HOLE IN THE GROUND.

Oliver and Downtown boast an impressive slate of pits, chasms, and gullies. When all it would take is a little TLC to turn some blank, dusty nothingness into a pocket park, a community garden, or a Thunderdome, how did pits edge their way to the top of the pecking order in the public landscape?

Believe it or not, not that long ago pits were seen as a nuisance. In 2017, amendments to the provincial tax law were being considered to allow cities to levy additional taxes on commercial lots that were sitting unused. Nothing came of it, and pits have since come to be adored as essential aspects of the municipal biome. With that in mind, here are some of the notable pits of downtown and Oliver.


A Pit for the Modern Yuppie

This fun and flirty micropit is cozily nestled across from Earl’s Tin Palace between a church and an apartment building. Today’s young professional is turning away from the gaudy half-block sized pits of decades previous in favour of something more sleeker and Instagram friendly. This pit is proof positive that even in a future of infill and urban density, every neighbourhood will always be able to accommodate a fenced off hole in the ground.

Pit Infinitum

This rule bending bad boy at 116 Street and Jasper Avenue is an existential reckoning. For years it sat empty, until finally Westrich built a claustrophobic sales centre on a square of astroturf showcasing a model of The View: Grandin City. It is a pit with a shack, with a model of what a different pit will become. Like a snake eating its own tail, gaze into the abyss and confront the unending cycles of the universe.

The Ravages of Capitalism

Regency Developments are the proud owners of this pit, which belongs in the upper echelons of pitdom based on sheer poetry. It is where the BMO once stood, vibrating in the harmony of commerce! Fiscal exchange! Amortization! All reduced to rubble. This is a pit for the intellectual, the post- Capitalist academic. Smoke cigarettes, gesture at a pastel crimson obstacle course of rebar under the neon gaze of City Centre’s billboards and quote Marx (Engels too, if you really want to impress people).

The Two Solitudes

Just north of the Oliver Exchange is a pair of sibling pits diametrically opposed in character, aroma, and mouthfeel. If new to pits, this is a great place to start. Whatever you do, don’t look at Paul Kane park. It is not a pit.

The southern of the two pits is cleaner, bleaker, and adorned with a fresh placard with a picture of a building, just in case you forget what’s supposed to actually be there. The developer is keen to start construction, and until that day we are huddled in anticipation like teens waiting for their prom date to descend the staircase.

The northern pit is more mature, refined. It is confident, and self-assured in its pit-ness. There is no aspirational development placard, no false promises, just a washed-out company logo and an aroma I can only describe as “nutty”. This is the only pit on this list to boast a lone scraggly tree next to a tattered garbage bag.

MAYBE THE REAL PITS ARE THE FRIENDS WE MADE ALONG THE WAY

Remember that this guide, at best, only scratches the surface on the pits of Oliver and Downtown. Every time a landowner says “Screw it, not my problem,” wherever a patch of land is caged up because it won’t yield enough profit to buy a new yacht, a pit gets its wings. It was announced in April that the 75-year-old buildings at Oliver Crossing, home to Louisiana Purchase and Urban Timber Reclaimed Co. will be getting demolished. A few blocks away El Mirador, architectural gem and home to me, will meet the same fate. I guess what I’m trying to say is that time makes pits of us all.

How to get involved in the civic election.

The municipal election is fast approaching, and you want to make your voice heard. Here’s a breakdown of how to run for office, some notes on eligibility, financing, and a few tips and tricks.

IMPORTANT DATES

  • Nomination Deadline: September 20, 2021 – 12:00pm
  • Withdrawal Deadline: September 21, 2021 – 12:00pm
  • Election Day – October 18, 2021

Campaign Disclosure Statement Deadline: March 1, 2022

HOW TO RUN

General notes

  • Electors must be eligible to vote to have a valid signature
  • All fees can be paid via certified cheque, cash, debit, credit, or money order at City Hall
  • All forms are found at edmonton.ca/elections. Form 4 is for signatures, Forms 5 and 26 for finances
  • You can only run in one race
  • All signatures must be handwritten

Mayor

Fee $500 | You need at least 100 signatures from city residents

Councillors and School Trustees

Fee $100 | You need at least 25 signatures from within your target ward

Filing

There are two ways to submit completed forms:

  • Book an appointment at edmonton.ca/elections to drop them off in person at City Hall with government ID.
  • Mail them or courier them to City Hall. If you choose this option, forms must already be commissioned, and the deposit must be a money order or certified cheque.

Once you have completed all these steps and received your official confirmation from the City of Edmonton’s returning officer, congratulations, you’re in the race!

This is not a comprehensive list. For further questions, contact Edmonton Elections at elections@edmonton.ca.

ELIGIBILITY for electors and for candidates

  • You must be a Canadian citizen
  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must have resided in Edmonton for at least six months prior to the nomination deadline (since March 20 at the latest)

YOU’RE INELIGIBLE IF

  • You work for the City of Edmonton, or any public, Catholic, charter, or private school division (you must take a leave of absence)
    • Every official candidate is entitled to a leave of absence without pay
  • You owe money to the City of Edmonton
  • You’re an election auditor

TIPS AND TRICKS

Your signatures don’t need to be on the same copy of Form 4. If it’s easier to get one signature on 100 different copies of Form 4, the City will still accept it. Get creative!

Signs on public property aren’t allowed until after Sept. 20, 2021

FINANCES

$5,000 The maximum single-contribution amount

$10,000 The self-financing limit

  • You’re not obliged to accept any donations or spend money
  • You must record all donations and expenses
  • Even if you withdraw from the race, you must still report your campaign finances

New year, new carts

Edmonton is rolling out a new waste collection system. Here’s what you need to know.

New Year’s is long gone but some Edmontonians may soon be making a new resolution—to spend a little more time with their trash.

The City is rolling out a new waste cart system as part of its 25 Year Waste Strategy, which aims to divert 90 percent of residential waste from landfill. The new cart rollout will involve separating trash into three streams: organic waste, garbage, and recycling.

As of 2018, Edmontonians diverted only 36 percent of their waste from landfill. The new system will help change that, Jodi Goebel said, Director of Waste Strategy at the City of Edmonton. “It’s the first big step in our journey to our zero-waste future. Sorting waste at home and using carts helps us better divide the materials that Edmontonians are sorting; it’s easier and more efficient to process. It also allows for safer waste collection, and all of that together helps us keep utility rates stable.”

WHAT’S CHANGING?

The biggest change on the road to zero-waste is that residents with new carts will be required to sort out food scraps from their garbage. Edmontonians could choose between a small (120 litre) or large (240 litre) cart but had to submit requests by mid-February. The default size is large. You can put in a request online to swap cart sizes after you’ve received your first one. Switching sizes one time is free but if you change your mind again, it will cost you.

Garbage will be collected every two weeks year-round, while food scraps will be picked up weekly from spring to fall, and every two weeks in winter. The recycling schedule will stay the same.

WHO GETS THE NEW CARTS?

Anyone who lives in a single unit or certain multi-unit homes can expect to receive a new garbage cart, a food scraps cart, and a food scraps pail between March and August 2021. Twenty-two thousand multi-home units will be included in the new cart rollout, Goebel said. Residents in Oliver and Downtown who live in a building that qualifies will receive their new carts throughout July and the new collection system will begin the week of August 3.

Other multi-unit residences, such as highrises and apartment buildings, will be part of a different program, which is still in the works. “The intent is that we will do a similar staged implementation that would begin in 2023 and may take a couple of years,” Goebel said. “The variety with multi-unit sites is enormous and it’s quite a bit more complex than the single-unit sector that we serve, so we know that we’re going to be learning as we go.”

TRASH YOUR COMPLAINTS

The Edmonton Cart Rollout isn’t optional—it’s part of life in the city now. Gradually, Edmonton’s 400,000 households will shift to this new model.

If you’re unsure if you will receive new carts, visit Edmonton.ca and put in your address. It will tell you if and when you can expect your new carts. Residents are encouraged to check out Edmonton.ca/waste or call 311 if they have questions.

3 ways to take care of your mental wellness this winter

Edmonton may be a Winter City but there’s no getting around the fact that winter can be tough on our mental health. Factor in COVID-19 and all of the safety precautions (including staying inside more, seeing less of family and friends, and working from home) and this winter could see major mental challenges for many Edmontonians. Here are some ways you may boost your mental health, even on the darkest, chilliest days this winter.

Get In Tune with Nature

Is there anything as restorative as getting outside for fresh air, especially when the sun is out? If possible, try to get outside on your lunch break or carve out some time in the afternoon for a quick walk outside.

  • Take advantage of the gorgeous River Valley trails and walk, cross-country ski, or snowshoe your way into a better mood.
  • Take your furry friend for frequent walks during the day.
  • No pet? No problem. Volunteer at the Edmonton Humane Society or any animal rescue—there are always plenty of dogs who need exercise.
  • Speaking of exercise, it helps boost your mood. Take up a winter sport or adapt your usual routine to include some time outdoors. 
  • Hate the cold? Find a gym with floor-to-ceiling windows and spend your time on the treadmill soaking in all of the sunlight with none of the frozen breath.

Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Long winter days with early sunsets and bitter cold can result in a real struggle for many people. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that’s related to changes in the season,” as per the Mayo Clinic. If you suspect you might have SAD, make an appointment with your physician so they can recommend a treatment plan or put you in touch with someone who can help. 

Main Symptoms of SAD:

  • Low energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight gain

Treatment Options:

  • Light therapy: light therapy lamps can be found at many major retailers and usually cost around $60-$90
  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy

Mental Health Assistance on a Budget

Private therapy or counselling can be very expensive. If you find yourself struggling, there are budget-friendly options for counselling.

  • Contact the Primary Care Network in your area. The Edmonton Oliver Primary Care Network offers virtual mental health courses and workshops for free.
  • The Boyle-McCauley Health Centre has two registered provisional Psychologists on staff to provide therapeutic support for individuals or families.
  • Edmonton’s Momentum Walk-In Clinic provides solution-focused counselling on a sliding-fee scale. It’s also ideal if you find yourself in need of immediate assistance. Call their 24-hr distress line at 780-482-HELP (4357).
  • Some psychologists will offer a reduced rate or a discount for post-secondary students (you may be matched with a Master’s level practicum student supervised by a senior level psychologist). Insight Psychological (www.insightpsychological.ca) offers sessions for a flat rate of $80, as well as a $25 rate for full-time post-secondary students. 

Your Core Staycation Bucket List

Although travel may be off the table right now, you still deserve a holiday this winter. Why not make a new winter tradition? Be a tourist in your own city with these staycation suggestions for the ultimate weekend getaway—all without having to step foot on a plane.

Shopping in a Winter Wonderland

Yes, you might feel a bit silly making a special effort to go shopping in your own city but no staycation is complete with at least one souvenir to remember it by. Whether you go for something locally-made at the indoor Downtown Farmers’ Market (10305 97 Street) or treat yourself to a new outfit or piece of art, whatever you purchase will act as a reminder of the incredibly fun weekend “getaway” you treated yourself to, and you will support local businesses in a time when they need it.

And To All a Good Night!

While it’s totally acceptable to staycation from your own home, there’s nothing like the luxury of knowing someone else is responsible for making your bed and cleaning the bathroom. Book into one of these posh downtown hotels for a decadent weekend. These picks range from reasonable to regal (you know you’ve always wanted to stay in a legit castle).

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

A staycation is your chance to try that restaurant you always wanted to, or to revisit an old favourite now that dining in is allowed again. If you’re not comfortable with eating indoors, make it a to-go picnic with charcuterie and wine from Cavern (10169 104 Street, Suite 2) or order take-out from any of these top-notch restaurants. For a fun staycation twist, consider trying a place with a cuisine you normally don’t eat, whether it be vegan food from Die Pie (10255 97 Street) or French cuisine from The Marc (9940 106 Street). Don’t forget a round of holiday cocktails while you’re at it.

Winter’s Play

One perk of a staycation is the chance to try new things and explore parts of your neighbourhood that you haven’t had time to visit before. Bundle up for a historical walking or biking tour in Oliver, take advantage of Edmonton’s fantastic museums or visit the brand-new Edmonton Public Library (7 Sir Winston Churchill Square). If relaxing is more your staycation style, there are several downtown spas that offer amazing day packages for premium pampering. Or, check off the cultural aspect of your trip by doing the Art Gallery Walk on 124th Street or blow off some steam in an escape room.