Who is Don Iveson?
The obvious answer is he's the mayor of Edmonton, but that answer isn't satisfactory.
Another answer is he's a regional booster who has the understanding that the sum of the region's municipalities are a lot stronger than the single entity known as Edmonton. That answer, too, is not satisfactory.
Iveson is somewhat of an enigma. One can't fault him for his unapologetic address to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday where he warned Premier Jason Kenney not to forget Edmonton. After all, Iveson is Edmonton's top politician.
Iveson, from his perspective, is worried history will repeat itself. He brought up the 1990s, when the Ralph Klein PC government made cuts to the public service sector, which of course had a marked effect on Edmonton's sizeable provincial public service. At a time when the province was awash in Tory blue bent on cutting costs, Edmonton was an island of Liberal red and its mayor, Jan Reimer, was a progressive like Iveson. Today, the situation is similar, except this time Edmonton wears NDP orange.
Iveson's speech, however, was somewhat perplexing as he fell short on talking about the region's interests and needs. That wasn't lost on St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, who said she was a bit surprised by Iveson's messaging.
Heron and Iveson are two of the 13 mayors on the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, which evolved from the Capital Region Board. The EMRB is committed to ensuring the long-term economic prosperity and quality of life for people living in the Edmonton metro region.
The fundamental flaw of the EMRB is one of politics – the interests of the individual and re-election supersedes the interests of regional co-operation. It shouldn't be a revelation, then, that all the mayors on the EMRB, when push comes to shove, will go rogue in favour of their own interests and the interests of the municipalities they represent.
Iveson's speech to the Edmonton Chamber isn't the first time he's made the region a secondary priority. Back in December, Iveson's frustration with Edmonton’s budgeting process erupted into a region-bashing tirade: "It is time for us to have a conversation with our regional partners about funding these region-wide amenities," he said, adding "the free ride is over."
Iveson said later he reached out to his regional counterparts over the remarks to further explain there's a lot of pressure doing the budget and he got "passionate about it." Regardless, his remarks gave his regional colleagues a reason for pause and a realization that productive collaboration might be much more difficult to achieve than anticipated.
Given the nature of politics and the emotion it evokes, it's difficult to see how the EMRB's Shared Investments for Shared Benefits task force, of which Heron is vice-chair, will be able to accomplish its goal of identifying regional projects and initiatives that need shared investment from municipalities.
Regional goals inextricably intertwine with those of Edmonton. Iveson had the opportunity Wednesday to set the regional stage, but he opted instead for polarizing comments regarding the political makeup of the province. He would do well to remember how many UCP MLAs now represent the region and enlist their help in achieving the region’s collective goals.