(Update on this column: Two days after its publication, Don Iveson did win the mayoralty election in Edmonton, Alberta ...by a mile.)
What business wants from municipal politicians is so simple.
Create a business environment as good or better than other municipalities – physical, financial and regulatory. Be supportive, then get the heck out of the way.
Talk to any Edmonton business owner with skin in the game, and you’ll hear much the same.
Fix the potholes, roads and sidewalks; ensure top-notch core services; maintain law and order; enforce sensible regulations (i.e. environment, safety); help rather than hinder; keep taxes reasonable; create a city where employees want to live.
Then get out of the way! The less any of us have to do with bureaucrats, the better!
Business is most fearful of a city council or mayor so overly influenced by one interest group or ideology as to lose sight of the overall good.
Mistrust between socialist mayor Jan Reimer (1989 to 1995) and commerce was a huge factor in Edmonton’s economic stagnation while Calgary and other Alberta cities grew. Frustration with a business-indifferent city council was the final straw in Jim Shaw Sr’s decision to move Shaw Cable (now Shaw Communications) to Calgary – a horrible loss.
All three – Don Iveson, Kerry Diotte and Karen Leibovici – are singing off the same song sheet – cutting red tape, encouraging business incubators and accelerators, being cheerleaders and ambassadors for city-based businesses seeking new markets.
Two – Leibovici and Diotte – are selling themselves as fiscal hawks, Diotte in particular saying he’ll stop all non-essential spending at city hall, thus stabilizing or lowering taxes.
Iveson has positioned himself as the moderate, full of well-formulated ideas about “city-building” while keeping a firm eye, he says, on the city’s bottom line.
All three agree: No new mega-projects until the city digests its current debt. Iveson, however, still wants to press ahead with the potentially costly but still-in-the-works municipal airport redevelopment.
What has happened over the course of this campaign is quite fascinating.
Iveson – seen as the most left-leaning of the bunch going into the campaign – has emerged as the business candidate of choice. Young, intelligent and politically savvy, Iveson has convinced the business community that he’s their ally.
From the get-go, at the formal launch of the Iveson campaign, young business supporters were highly visible.
Then came a series of well-timed, well-reasoned, business development policies – a call for a pro-business “ecosystem” without a whole pile of spending or undue government interference. The reasonableness and insight of those policies met with nods of approval from the business community.
When both Iveson and Leibovici disclosed their backers and contributions, the surprise was the duplication of donations from major businesses/developers to both candidates. Business was backing both, and that gave Iveson business credibility.
Leibovici ought to have been the main business standard-bearer, seen as the natural heir of Mayor Steve Mandel’s business coalition. But her platform has not been near as crisp or detailed as Iveson’s, she’s been less than inspiring on the stump, and has resorted to attacking Iveson’s well-received platform rather than pushing her own. All indications are her business support is quietly leaking to Iveson.
Likewise you’d have thought Diotte would catch fire with business types who’d applaud his fiscal conservatism. Diotte’s been bang-on attacking frivolous spending (bike lanes, etc.), and has zeroed in on the city’s worrisome and fast-growing debt, now at $2 billion. But Diotte has been long on talk, short on solutions. He’s not been embraced by the business community.
Sadly, the most pressing business issue of all – stitching together 23 regional municipalities into a lean, mean, globally competitive economic development machine – has barely been debated. Only Iveson has presented a plan.
Iveson’s intelligent campaign and wooing of the business vote will make him mayor by a resounding margin when the ballots are counted Monday, Oct. 21, with Diotte and Leibovici tied at a distant second.
FACTOIDS: Business platforms of major mayoralty candidates (from websites and news reports)
· Fiscal hawk
· Pro-active small business support
· Red tape elimination
· Mayor’s Development Forum
· Assist in access to larger markets for Edmonton businesses
· Limit commercial tax hikes to rate of inflation
· Manage civic debt
· No taxpayer-supported cost overruns for new arena
· Encourage entrepreneurs and innovation
· “One-stop shop” and online access at city hall for small and medium-sized businesses
· Strengthen and expand existing business incubators like StartUp Edmonton and TEC Edmonton
· Business incubators for aboriginals and immigrants
· “Energetic and creative” chief recruiter and sales officer for Edmonton companies
· Seek out and encourage venture-capital investment in Edmonton companies
· Regional economic development plan based on strategic job growth and logical prioritization of infrastructure
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