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.