By GRAHAM HICKS
Mayor Don Iveson gave his sixth annual “State of the City” speech on Wednesday to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.
As he moved into well-covered territory – high-tech, innovation, blah, blah, blah – my mind wandered.
The next municipal election is October, 2021 – 2½ years away.
If Iveson runs for a third time will anybody challenge him?
I doubt it.
Mike Nickel, city council’s lone fiscal hawk, knows he can’t beat Iveson – heck, he couldn’t even win a UCP nomination in his provincial riding. Councillors Michael Walters and Sarah Hamilton have flirted with the idea. But neither would run against pal Don.
As Iveson moved on in a rather boring speech, I thought about his political persona.
How did Iveson become the Teflon Mayor? How has he managed, through six years as a councilor and almost six years as mayor, to stay so popular?
In 2013, he got 62% of the vote, in 2017, 73%. Those are stunning numbers against which no credible challenger would run.
What makes this guy tick?
There’s the Camelot factor. Salt is joining the pepper in his trendy beard, but coming up to his 40th birthday, he’s still young for a politician, tall and handsome. He has a charming spouse, adorable kids and a deep voice. Optics count.
He’s familiar to the Edmonton voter – he was 28 when first elected to council, 34 when first elected mayor – yet somehow the face is still fresh.
Appearance counts. Edmontonians like being represented by an intelligent hipster. Makes us feel modern.
Politically, Iveson fits in a niche defined by two other Edmonton mayors. Steve Mandel and Laurence Decore were solidly aligned with business interests, at the same time socially compassionate.
Iveson is slightly more to the left – more Rachel Notley NDP than Jason Kenney UCP. But he’s the ultimate pragmatist. Business may not embrace Iveson, but he is respected. Developers have always found Iveson reasonable. Politically, in this oddly left-leaning city, it’s a comfortable space.
Under his watch, despite the great oil crash, Edmonton has done well.
Much of it was good luck. Mandel did the heavy lifting for the new arena and the ICE District, and had started the regional re-set. The now-gone ND government kept hiring and spending in Edmonton through the downturn.
But Iveson’s accomplishments can’t be denied.
The city’s physical infrastructure – bridge renewal, public buildings, arenas, freeways and major arterials, neighbourhood renewal, recreation, policing, fire, everything but potholes – is in good shape.
Other than those &^%* bike lanes, lack of easy parking, and ongoing construction, the downtown has never looked better.
Iveson has been a good leader in regional initiatives, witness the painless expansion of city boundaries. His city councils have seen minimal conflict – he’s a good consensus builder.
Iveson has his Achilles heels.
He loves the sugar plums and visions of grandeur. He proudly believes Edmonton has climbed up the list of Canada’s livable cities thanks to young progressive leaders like him.
But he has no appreciation of the financial burden being caused by ever-increasing property taxes.
He’s never met a provincial/federal grant he didn’t like. He’ll support a frivolous project because, hey, another government is paying half the costs!
He has ignored the business exodus from Edmonton to the region, all because of far cheaper municipal taxes.
Iveson is wedded to downtown density, public transit and bike-riders. He has little interest in the simple needs of the middle class – an affordable house in the suburbs, a road system designed for cars as well as bikes and buses. His ideal Edmonton family lives in a downtown condo with two bicycles and maybe one kid.
Iveson is mildly paradoxical. He panders to urban millennials, but is still quite liked – despite his disinterest in their issues – by those living outside the all-hallowed inner city.
The image sure helps – we do take pride in a young, vigorous leader.
I’d probably, somewhat reluctantly, vote for him again … but I’d like to see more fiscal prudence and far more respect for the taxpayer’s wallet.