Cheryll Watson has worked for more than 20 years with mostly technology and innovation organisations, including four years as vice president of Innovate Edmonton, a division of Edmonton Development Corporation.
She co-founded the Alberta Innovation Corridor and was a member of the Business Council of Alberta’s advisory board for tech, innovation and telecom.
Watson believes that ‘an Edmonton that is safe for women and girls is safe for all – no matter gender identity, culture, race or what part of the city you live in‘. Please read in detail her policy for making Edmonton safer for girls and women here. LCCMedia is grateful to the Ms Watson and her team for taking the time to provide us with answers to our questions.
Please tell us a little about you.
I was born to a single mother who left her parents’ central Alberta tree farm to come to Edmonton to create a good life for the two of us. A few years later, my Mom met and married my first stepdad, my younger brother was born and we grew up together in the Edmonton community of Beverly. I took three busses every morning to attend M.E. Lazerte High School. And, I waited tables at Smitty’s so that I could afford Jordache Jeans (I realize this dates me). Needless to say, I’m a proud northside girl at heart.
Both of my stepdads had an impact on my life and their communities through their military service. My first stepdad was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his record number of hours flying dangerous routes over the Himalayas during WWII. My second Stepdad also served our country as a submariner in the Canadian Navy.
My family includes my husband Geoff and our four adult children. Together we actively contribute to causes and issues that have directly impacted our family lives or will in the future including: mental health, education and environmental causes.
I built my career around innovation. I bring 20 years of experience in strategic business transformation, tech innovation, and small business enablement in both private and public sectors.
Why are you running to be the Mayor of Edmonton?
A global pandemic has shown us that the way we have been doing things for years, the status quo, is no longer acceptable. And even before the pandemic, it was becoming increasingly clear that we have to adjust how we think about managing our city. The decisions we make and the actions that we take within the next few years will define us for generations. It’s time for a positive viewpoint and forward thinking. We need to do things differently to make our future even better.
I believe that my experiences and my outlook make me the right person to lead us into a positive future. Over the last twenty years, I’ve been building and honing my skills in strategic business transformation, technology, and innovation in both
the private and public sectors.
I spent 15 incredible years with Silicon Valley based Intuit, a consistent presence on the Forbes Fortune 500 list. It was an amazing place to work, learn and to create a fulsome career. Intuit develops world class leaders by teaching them best practices for leading at scale: (1) Lead with a clear vision, (2) Build accountable high-performance cultures, and (3) Deliver sustainable results for your stakeholders.
Most recently, I’ve been leading growth in the economic and innovation ecosystems of Edmonton and Alberta. I founded and led Innovate Edmonton with a focus on collaborating to cultivate the talent, innovation and investment needed to build a resilient and job creating economy that is ready for our future. And I continue to serve this community through active leadership and mentorship within some local and global organizations.
I’m not running on a brand-new vision or one specific project. I can also tell you that I’m not running because I want a career in politics. Doing this job for the city that I love will be my singular focus for as long as I’m privileged to serve as Mayor. Nothing else will capture my attention or aspirations. I’m committed to doing it to the best of my ability to ensure our city takes advantage of the opportunities of the future. I’ve had a lot of help along the way and now it’s my turn to give back.
Can you describe your top priorities for Edmonton? Homelessness is a big problem in Edmonton. What are your plans to tackle it?
- Place – Creating collective pride in our city
Continuing to create a city we can all be proud of will be at the center of everything I do as your mayor. Our city leadership and administration will create great neighbourhoods with equitable services. We will build and maintain high quality infrastructure. We will repair and maintain clean sidewalks, streets and parks.
Beautification will be underpinned by accessibility and usability. The services that we deliver will be designed by those that use, experience and rely on them.
I will work with you — and for you. And I will bring the entire City organization with me. We will focus on the core services that directly impact your life today, through a value-for-money lens. We are, and will continue to be, a place of pride for all Edmontonians.
- Partnerships – We do more when we focus our expertise
As a municipal government, we have a clear mandate. Over the years, we’ve ventured outside of our role and expanded our work into areas that are better delivered by other orders of government, nonprofits and private industry. We are currently in 74 lines of business. When I speak to Edmontonians they agree all of this work is important but don’t believe it’s the job of city government to be the lead delivery agent.
It’s time to rethink the way our city works. As mayor, I will collaborate with Council, Administration, and all orders of government to do things differently. We can deliver more when we empower and support others to take the lead in their areas of expertise. In some cases, we need to work to repair and rebuild existing relationships with a true spirit of trust and collaboration. We can’t be afraid to acknowledge and change when something isn’t working.
- Potential – The startup city that creates our future economy
Edmonton has huge potential. More than 90 percent of our businesses are small and medium enterprises. They have the ingenuity and agility to solve problems in new ways and they are the job creators of our region.
We are an academic powerhouse and create the world’s best talent. We have a wealth of globally-leading post-secondary institutions that nearly 10 percent of our population is taking advantage of to ready themselves to fill the jobs of the future.
Unlocking our potential for today and future generations will take smart, deliberate decisions. As mayor, I will catalyze and help our city leverage data and innovative technology to do things better— to create an Edmonton that works and moves forward faster. We are a city of starters and learners and together, we can ignite our future economy.
Homelessness is a major issue in our city and I was proud to be one of the first candidates to release a Basic Needs policy. There are too many Edmontonians whose basic needs are not being met, including regular access to water, food, shelter, and clothing. Without consistent access to these essentials, people are unable to survive, let alone thrive in our city.
The policy committed to the following things:
- Provide the essentials: access to public washrooms, water and power in city parks.
- Remove the additional burdens: Review and eliminate bylaws that criminalize poverty-related activities and stop excessive ticketing for those without the means to pay.
- Land and advocacy to support housing: Provide a discount to purchase City land/building assets to community hub service providers and nonprofit organizations applying to build affordable homes.
- Enable and support collective impact: Support and enable the creation of a community-nominated network of Edmonton leaders that will represent a “collective” partnership with the 60+ community service providers.
You can read this in-depth policy here: https://www.cheryllwatson.ca/basic-needs
What are the strengths you bring to the office?
My experience and assorted patchwork of opportunities that I’ve picked up along the way has given me a refreshingly unique leadership style. I learned to look out for the little guy (literally) while protecting my brother from bullies.
I learned the importance of structure and discipline through my time as an Air Cadet leadership staffer and drill instructor. I learned many things the hard way at first and that taught me perseverance. I experienced that raising your hand when opportunities arise is the best way to learn.
I learned the importance of leading with a clear vision, building accountable high-performance cultures, and delivering sustainable results for your stakeholders. I learned that having deep customer intimacy and knowledge is critical in serving them well.
Brad Smith was a key mentor for taking my leadership to the next level, building a personal leadership style focused on curiosity, humility, grit and compassion. These are the same principles that will guide me as a city leader in building partnerships, learning from the best, lifting people up and giving you a strong voice.
How do you intend to ensure that you are inclusive?
I grew up on the northside of the city, in a bi-racial family and inclusivity has been a fundamental part of how I’ve built my life. It’s one of the main aspects I hope to bring to this role. It’s time we have our second woman Mayor, one who knows what it’s like to be looked over and will ensure there’s a seat at the table for everyone – no matter who you are or where you come from. That’s also why we chose the slogan – A City That Works, for every Edmontonian.
How important is climate change and what will you do to make sure climate justice is at the forefront of your agenda?
We’re facing the effects of our changing climate often but climate change at the municipal level looks and feels a lot different than it does at the federal or provincial levels of government. As a city, we need to ensure we invest in infrastructure that supports flood mitigation (like dry ponds and properly built underpasses). We need to build LEED certified buildings and support retrofitting older buildings up to LEED standards. We need to maintain our river valley and trail systems to prevent further erosion and we need to invest in more touch-the-water projects so our trail systems are interrupted by those trying to get to access the river. The City of Edmonton has a strong climate sustainability plan that I would endeavour to follow while ensuring we don’t also create climate poverty. We can’t expect every citizen will be able to afford green transportation options, so as a city we need to invest in our electrical grid, transition from diesel buses to electric or hydrogen ones and pursue affordable options to ensure no Edmontonian is left behind.
What books inform your knowledge?
Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof – a beautiful and eye opening read about the various cultures and customs that suppress women while giving voice to those that need it most.
From The Ashes by Jesse Thistle – an inspiring memoir about abondoments, addiction, incarceration and redemption. I particularly loved the poetry weaved throughout it!
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
Share a quote or a poem that means something to you.
“At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life I want to be able to say that I contributed more than I criticized” – Brene Brown
Where can we learn more about you and your campaign?
Check out: www.cheryllwatson.ca
Book a virtual meet & greet: firstname.lastname@example.org