December 7, 2020

I represented constituents at city hall

Recently I appeared before Edmonton city council as they deliberated their 2021 budget. I felt it was important to share some of the feedback I’ve heard this year from my Edmonton Griesbach constituents. Let me know if you have other thoughts you’d like to share with me about civic issues. Here’s my speech to city council:

Good evening everyone. I’m Kerry Diotte the Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach.

As many of you know, I’m a former city councillor and ex-journalist. 

In fact, Councillor McKeen and I wrote popular city hall columns for competing newspapers. 

He was my competition. He was pretty good some days.

It’s safe to say I’ve long had a keen interest in city hall issues.

But I’m not here just because of my interest in civic politics. The main reason is I’m here to represent my federal constituents.

In my opinion, it’s vital that politicians reach out to people they serve and ask what’s important to them. 

After all they pay our salaries. They’re our bosses.  And they can fire us in the next election. And we politicians never wanna see that happen.

I reach out a lot to constituents. I mail material to all households in my riding just about every month. And every one of those mailouts contains a survey asking for feedback.

I also get feedback from people who read my weekly newsletter. And from people I engage on social media.

Before I mention the feedback on civic issues I’ve heard, I just wanted to say I think we all realize these are special times. They’re trying times.

Because of COVID, our lives are very different. I appreciate how hard it is for you city council members to make budget decisions this year. 

You’ve got hard jobs. I know that.  And I appreciate the work you all do in serving our city.

The over-arching feedback I’m hearing from folks isn’t surprising. They say with COVID and a bad economy, spending needs to be reined in.

People are telling me a few key things. These stand out: The city needs to stick to core services. Hold the line on taxes. No more vanity projects. Hold off on the huge vision projects.

A lot of this is common sense. We know the city is strapped for cash, as is the province, as are the feds. 

We haven’t even had a federal budget in 20 months. So you know the city can’t count on much of anything when it comes to other governments. 

Most of my constituents tell me they want to see cuts in several areas. So I’m glad to see council will be considering action on that front.

I believe it’s necessary to really ask these types of questions: Is this item a want? Or is this a need? Is this an absolute necessity or is it something that would be nice to have?

Given the financial dire straits we’re in, those nice-to-haves have to go by the wayside.

People in my Edmonton Griesbach riding and elsewhere are hurting in this COVID world. 

We’ve got the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada. Twelve per cent. It doesn’t help that our oil and gas sector is suffering — and having to constantly battle against people who’d prefer to shut it down permanently.

People have lost their jobs. Many are living on government programs like employment insurance. And those programs are running out. Folks are in tough times.

Some can no longer afford their mortgage or their rent.

So for their sake, I really hope you’ll dissect this budget. And look at every way to rein in spending while still maintaining the core services people deserve. 

Core services like well-maintained streets summer and winter. Good transit. Clean streets and well-kept parks.

I also hope also people will resist pushes by administration to do anything drastic in these COVID times by cutting access to recreation or closing pools such as the Eastglen leisure centre. People need recreation now more than ever, especially in their communities.

As well, the one core service I’ve had a lot of feedback on is policing.

Community safety is vitally important to my constituents. Almost every survey I’ve done tells me folks don’t agree with reducing police budgets. 

They want more police on our streets not fewer. 

Folks tell me they want city council to reverse the decision that will move millions of dollars out of the police budget only to spend it elsewhere. For the sake of community safety I hope council will reverse that.

I believe we politicians have a lot of work to do when it comes to stretching dollars in these tough times.

So now, more than ever, might be time to look at new ways to operate cities. 

It could be time to explore alternate ways to deliver services. To question what services the city should be providing in the first place. To partner with other entities to provide services or facilities.

It’s a different world. So we need different solutions.

I recognize you’ve all got a big job ahead of you with this budget. 

I hope you’ll take these views into consideration.

Thank you all.

(Send feedback to kerry.diotte@parl.gc.ca)