Giselle General hosts Civic Education with LCCMedia’s Big Conversations monthly. Here is the transcript from her first show with us. It starts at 81 minutes into the program.
Welcome to this segment called Civic Education!
I’m your host Giselle General and I’m here to share some insights and valuable information to help you feel more engaged and informed about our municipal government. Knowing what changes are happening, the ways that the municipal government tries to serve and connect with everyday people like you and me, can help you with making the changes you want to see!
First off is our Rapid Fire Segment. Here’s just a short summary of what’s been going in the city that I highly recommend you keep an eye on.
Currently, the city is collecting feedback from the community about building a pedestrian bridge on top of McDougall Hill, the steep road that goes uphill towards the Hotel MacDonald on 100 Street.
There are three options of the style of the bridge, and the goal is for people who are accessing the furnicular, to have way to get across 100 Street without walking all the way to Jasper Ave. The is to also have this bridge as a tourist destination lookout point in downtown.
A few weeks ago, a program called Clean Energy Improvement Program is launched by the city, so that people who want to have eco-friendly home improvements can apply for low-cost financing. Residents can request between 3 – 50 thousand dollars for projects such as solar panel, insulation and energy saving lighting completed within six months.
Two city councillors launched an initiative called “Participatory Budgeting”. Councillor Knack of ward Nakota Isga on the west side, and Councillor Tang of Ward Karhiio on the east side are working on this project together. They are setting aside $25,000 of their office budgets for residents of their ward to apply for small projects that benefit their community, where residents get to vote which projects will receive these funds. The first meeting took place last week and the project will go on for the next few months until a final decision on which projects will be funded.
Edmonton city council is dedicating $880,000 to women’s shelters across Edmonton. The funding comes after council voted not to increase the police budget by $11 million. This funding from the city is unprecedented, as shelters usually get funds from donations and provincial funding. The funding will be used to set up mental health supports, cultural support, and for people feeling domestic violence who have precarious immigration status.
City council has confirmed a 1.9% tax increase for 2022 as part of spring updates to the city’s operating budget. Council approved the increase during the budget discussions that took place in December 2021. Tax notices will be mailed to all property owners on May 24, with property taxes due on June 30. For those who might struggle with paying their tax bill all at once, There is an option called a Monthly Payment plan that allows people to pay in instalments.
Next, I want to talk about how to Share Your Insight! Anyone of us living in our city, are likely to want to give feedback so that our policymakers, which is city council, would consider our perspective when making decisions. There are several ways to share your insight and make your voice heard!
For this episode, I’d like to talk about how to get the contact information for our elected representatives for the city, the city councillors for each of our wards, and also the office of the mayor. The handy thing is that all of this is in the city of Edmonton website. So when you go to Edmonton.ca, click the button on the top called City Government, then click the section called Councillors and Mayor.
The first thing you’ll see is a tool called Find Councillor and Ward. The names of our city wards have changed in 2021. For myself as an example, my neighbourhood used to be part of Ward 1, but when the boundaries were re-made, my neighbourhood got absorbed into the former Ward 5, which is renamed to ward sipiwiyiniwak. So if you need to know the name of your ward and the councillor representing you, there is a section there called Find Councillor and Ward, when you type your address, the name of the ward and the councillor contact info will pop up.
In that same webpage, you’ll see a section called Office of the Councillors and Office of the Mayor. If you decide to click on the link that says “Send a Message to The Mayor”, it will direct you to an online form where you can type directly type your contact information and everything you want to say. You can even attach files. Same goes with the link “Send a Message to Your Councillor” but before you can fill out the form, you’ll be asked which councillor you want to contact.
City of Edmonton’s ABCs
What are the ABC’s? It’s stands for Agencies, Boards and Commissions.
These agencies, boards and commissions consist of a group of people who apply and are appointed to make decisions, or give advice to the city on certain topics. I myself have applied and currently volunteer for one, for the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, as I am passionate about improving our bus and LRT service in the city, which is a responsibility of the municipal government.
For today I want to share about the first ABC on the list, which is the Accessibility Advisory Committee! What are they and what do they do? Their goal is to help the city in making sure that policies, programs, services and infrastructure that the city government is responsible for, is inclusive and usable for disabled people.
Some examples can be, pointing out that a city building needs to improve how a wheelchair ramp is located and designed, or advocating for the city to help build more homes that are affordable and accessible for people who use mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers and scooters, as there is a shortage of those types of homes. They hold meetings once a month and do additional work in between such as research, giving feedback to city staff, or raising awareness on perspectives that might not always be considered.
In 2020, right when the pandemic started and everyone had to isolate, I remember one of their board members, who is deaf, who fiercely advocated to make sure all online video press conferences and meetings, have a sign language interpreter as well as accurate, professional live captions, so that people with hearing problems and language barriers can understand what is being discussed.
For the Accessibility Advisory Committee, just like many of the ABCs, recruitment happens in the beginning of the year where people from all walks of life can apply. Usually there are announcements by the city when applications are open. Many people, both politicians, civil servants, and everyday people, try to share the word when applications are open. It is similar to a job application, where you have to send a resume, reference letters and log in to the city’s online application portal. So if you are interested, mark your calendars so you can join and apply early next year and participate in this committee.
311 At Your Fingertips
You might be wondering, what is 311? Here in Canada, in Edmonton, you might have heard of several 3 digit contact numbers for various needs, like 211, 911 or 811. 311 is for our municipal government, a method for anyone to file complains and concerns that you see, that is under the responsibility of the city government. Potholes, broken streetlights, sidewalk damage, snow and ice, and so many more.
Is 311 a phone number, yes! You can dial 3 – 1 – 1- simple as that! And you will hear an automated voice prompt asking you what you need help with, then you will be directed to the appropriate staff person at the call centre to speak to you. The call centre is open 7 AM – 7 PM Monday to Sunday, but closed on holidays.
Thankfully you can also download an app right on your phone! If you have an Iphone or and Android phone, downloading the app is easy. New Request, Recent, My Requests, My Favourites, and Reporter (which saves your name and phone number) and a direct link to the City of Edmonton’s Twitter account. In future episodes, I will take about the different types of complaints and issues you can file using the 311 app and how to use them effectively so that the city can resolve the issue you saw.
Giselle General, your everyday Engaged Edmontonian is back next month May 21st for another instalment of Civic Education.