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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Opinion: A plea for more attention on municipal politics

Federal and provincial politics have the fireworks, but Metro's Dani Paradis makes the case we should really be checking up on city council.

Nevermind Jason Kenney, what's Mayor Don Iveson and city council been up to?

Metro file

Nevermind Jason Kenney, what's Mayor Don Iveson and city council been up to?

Justin Trudeau has very little effect on the day-to-day lives of most Albertans—save for raising our collective blood pressure whenever he brings up the oil sands.

Likewise, the NDP and Wildrose Party’s latest meme war and bout of name calling (hey—who you calling a sewer rat?) is entertaining, but just doesn’t have the same impact on our lives as say, photo radar, school board elections and infill.

You know who debates those issues? Your friendly local city council.

This is why it is so important to pay attention to municipal elections. Yet many of us do not.

A report released from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy suggests that city councils tend to have long stretches with the same leadership, and councilors deal with few challengers for their seats.  Unlike at the federal or provincial levels of government, with the exception of Quebec, our municipal politics are free of party politics.

While this model offers a welcome break from partisanship, the downside for voters is that there isn’t a clear indicator of what a candidate stands for in public policy. To parse whether or not someone is pro-business or against taxes, you have to actually go through voting records.  

For many people, it is also unclear what municipal governments do.

Cities can have big effect on people’s health through things like health inspections and urban development, but healthcare itself is a provincial mandate. At the same time, there may be a minister of education for the province, but schoolboard trustees, child-care programs and even city-run lifelong learning programs all contribute to education, but are decided locally.

Has this lack of clarity made us tune out? It looks like the answer is “yes”.

In Edmonton, there is an 80 to 90 per cent chance that an incumbent will be re-elected if they run, and the average career-span of a councillor is in the ten years plus range.  For the last two elections, Ben Henderson has run unopposed, or as in 2013, against a ragtag band of misfits that included a libertarian and a green party activist.

Edmonton has 12 councillors plus a mayor, and with the exception of two, Ed Gibbons and Brian Anderson, all current representatives have indicated they plan to run for re-election. The race officially starts on Nomination Day, on September 18.

The report doesn’t speak to whether or not these levels of stability best serve the public.

However, recent delays in approval of development projects, and a debate on the privatization of the drainage system that keeps getting pushed back are all going to have a big impact on the city.

They aren’t sexy topics, and while local papers continue to provide updates, it’s the more embarrassing transit and infrastructure flubs that make national headlines and get the most attention.

In most respects, local government is the closest to the people.

It is also much easier to get ahold of a city councillor than say, the premier or prime minister.

This is why, in an age of distractions and the latest dumb thing said by Donald Trump going viral, it is important to keep an eye on the people we elect to make the buses run on time.

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