Election 2013 questionnaire response: Candas Jane Dorsey, Ward 6

[We sent your questions to all the Election 2013 candidates. We are posting their unedited responses in the order that they’re received. – Ed.]

Candas Jane Forsey, candidate for Ward 6
Candas Jane Dorsey, candidate for Ward 6

1. In the context of our City’s growth, how will you support the development of existing communities as opposed to new neighbourhoods?


This is a complex question and hits right to the centre of what a sustainable city is or can be.

In general, I support revitalisation and “densification” in Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods. When cities spread out too much, the centre cannot hold. The heart dies. Edmonton has already suffered too much from urban clear-cutting in the original heart of historic Edmonton. I support careful, 50-year planning when new neighbourhoods are considered, planning that is not developer-driven but is a conversation between all concerned, planning which discovers and upholds the principles of sustainability, even against commercial pressure. Given where cities make their money, it’s a concern. Property taxes can’t rise forever, and provincial and federal governments at the moment are trying to sell their low-taxes platforms and making them work with sometimes catastrophic cuts which include cuts to transfer payments to cities.

We’ve all heard that meme “Fast, cheap or good: you can only have two out of three”. In city terms: ever-growing suburbs, low taxes, no potholes (maintained infrastructure, in other words!): you can have two out of three. 

How do we do this balancing act? We have to start by looking at the future that really is. As a writer, I’m part of a community of futurists. I know how a realistic picture of the future is built. The knowledge all exists: the dangers have been foreseen. We know how to work out a sustainable future. We just have to do it.

With only 2000 characters to devote to this answer, I couldn’t do justice to the topic, so I’ve created a post on my website (http://elect.candasjanedorsey.ca) to examine the many facets of the question in more detail. The post is called “Balancing core and suburban neighbourhoods: a.k.a. big, cheap or good: you can only have two out of three…” and the link is: http://elect.candasjanedorsey.ca/elect/?p=109

2. How will you support and promote independent locally-owned businesses in Edmonton?


Better service infrastructure, less red tape, and a clear and constant support for YEG-based business. Businesses that operate on a community scalemake for better, more sustainable communities. Businesses who have a stake in the city will contribute to the city. We all have to pay or taxes, and that includes business, but we also all give back to our community in other ways. Good planning integrates local business with local community, so zoning issues and community conversations will be important. Good local business takes into account the needs of neighbours, the city and the environment.

When we think of local independent businesses we often think of little bistros or shops. We have to remember that we also have locally-owned steel foundries, cement plants, gravel pits, oilfield support businesses, factories and other medium and heavy industry. Traditionally, these were kept separate from residential community centres because environmental pollution, noise and other impacts were not controlled. The city is growing up around and beyond industrial land. In order to make that mix liveable, the businesses must maintain a high level of environmental protection and be good neighbours, and the residents nearby, recognising that they chose to live near a mixed-use area, must work with their business neighbours to ensure balance and amity.

In general, small independent local businesses provide “eyes on the street” and local amenities, improve community flavour, and give essentials that residents need. The keys to a good relationship between any businesses and the communities they serve are good communication and working together to make the communities better. The City administration must be flexible and responsive, but also must be very clear about community standards and requirements, so that the city’s relationship with business is optimal. Also, the City should provide planning and communications help as an aid to new and established local businesses.

3. How will you support local food and urban agriculture in Edmonton?


I’d like to see more understanding of what urban agriculture offers and what its best and worst practices are. For instance, my understanding is that urban agriculture shines when it comes to gardens and produce and doesn’t do so well with backyard chickens. But a superficial understanding based on media and online skimming of data is not enough. Our future Edmonton may have to survive a great deal more on its own food than we do now: how can that happen? Oddly enough, we sometimes look as much to the past as to the future for answers: how did people 100 or 50 years ago stay as good neighbours while growing their own food? Urban greenery also cleans the air and sinks our CO2 in a healthy way.

The City should be expanding its concept of civic environment to transcend urban forestry and parks, through planning for green roofs, community gardens, backyard agriculture. That will take both study and action. Study means listening to the experts who are actually doing this work, not listening to theorists. For example, a consultant talked to a group I was involved with and said shortly, “Green roofs don’t work well in Edmonton.” Yet Manulife Place has had a green roof on its “podium” structure for decades. It’s thriving. The evidence of our own eyes says that a green roof can work here and now. The evidence worldwide says that green roofs (and green walls) can lessen utility costs while contributing to clean air and allowing spaces for urban agriculture. Why aren’t we listening?

There’s a lot I don’t know about urban agriculture and local food systems, but I know this: there are people who do know, and we, individually and as a city, need to seek them out, listen to them–and learn from them. We all need to listen, and adapt, for a green future.

4. How will you address Indigenous Edmontonians’ history and needs?


For Indigenous, I read First Nations people, aboriginal, Metis. As a person born in Edmonton, I am indigenous, but I am not aboriginal. I am the descendant mostly of dirt-poor Scots who believed that these lands were free and open. They escaped oppression at home to replicate it in their new home. I have to accept and forgive them their naivete and hunger, but also apologise for their intolerance and inability to see that they were tools of colonialism. 

We are all treaty people. Treaties were two-way agreements. Now, recognising those ancient agreements and covenants, we have to examine our responsibilities and keep our promises. If that means we do things differently as a city, then we have to change. Specifically, we need to listen to our First Nations citizens, look at how best to serve their needs, and do the work to make it so. We must apologise for past wrongs and not repeat them. Our diversely-peopled city of nearly a million strong has to work together. According to 2006 census data, aboriginal Edmontonians make up about 5% of the city, but our responsibilities to the First Peoples are not dependent on numbers but on honouring longstanding agreements–the key word is “honour”. In practical terms, that means an ongoing relationship of mutual respect established through community elders and with respect to traditional protocols, to provide information to the city as a whole and to work for changed, more effective systems in all city administration and operations. Planners need to be aware of the issues and attuned to First Peoples’ needs.

I worked on the Edmonton Police Service Chief’s Advisory Council for many years, and the aboriginal elders and representatives made a strong force for awareness and change in the EPS. This work must keep happening, and this model should be extended as needed. Ways of discussing and addressing issues need to incorporate aboriginal cultural practices to make the interactions fair and relevant.

5. How do you envision the public transit system evolution?


Open lid, view can of worms. LRT/transit is a complicated and often divisive issue. It doesn’t help that the Transportation Department has a history of poor responsiveness to community needs. Many people feel they haven’t been heard in transit-oriented development issues. Community consultation has sometimes been a catch-up after the fact, with hard feelings all round. We need to refresh the whole atmosphere. The appointment of Dorian Wandzura as General Manager, Transportation, may be an opportunity. We don’t know much yet about the community consultation record of Wandzura, who comes to us from Regina after a career that included some controversies. I hope he can transform the troubled relationship between the Transportation Dept.and Edmontonians. On Council I would press for a more sustainable process and plan.

Edmonton was a transit leader 100 years ago with “modern” trolley lines. Today, Council has been determined to make LRT the lead transit solution. LRT is attractive. Drivers are more likely to switch to train commuting than to riding the bus. But trains are also inflexible. The infrastructure costs a lot to build and maintain, and has a big carbon footprint. Its routes have to reflect human travel patterns. Edmonton’s design dooms LRT to look like spokes in a wheel. What happens for people who live in the pie slices between the LRT lines? Park-and-ride is not always an option, so people stay in their cars.

My dad worked for the ETS doing some cool experimental projects between 1953 and the 1970s. He taught me to love buses, especially trolleys. It’s ironic that the city eliminated trolley buses only to invest heavily in what are really big, fancy trolley-trains. Was it a good trade? Some LRT lines are super-busy (the University line opened at 85% capacity) which makes them more sustainable than cars. Some experts and communities don’t think the new West/Southeast line is as well placed for use. 

Maybe we need to teach people to love buses again.

6. What will you do to better engage post-secondary research / students / faculty with the rest of the community?


“How?”is such a big question that I would like to answer it later on my blog at elect.candasjanedorsey.ca. Before I do, I want to research some of the ins and outs of the relationship with the province on post-secondary education.

Let me say thanks to the writer of a letter to the Edmonton Journal who pointed out that university graduates teach our kids, build our roads and bridges, staff our businesses and civic administration, and a myriad other essential services. Quality post-secondary education is essential for more than just job preparation, though. The thinkers who shape our society learn their history, methods and philosophies in part by studying, reflection and discussion at a university level. Our arts and cultural infrastructure is also formed there.

Edmonton has two (and a half, if we include the part of Athabasca University that is headquartered here) universities, outposts of two more, and numerous colleges, as well as NAIT. We have an intimate relationship with these institutions and can’t separate their fate from ours.

7. Councillor candidates: What is the biggest challenge your Ward faces? What solutions would you seek?


Ward 6 is a diverse ward with a dramatic range of people, neighbourhoods, cultures and attitudes. Its biggest challenge is to remain sustainable. The city core is aging. Some of our sewers are the original sewers installed around 1911-1912. Infrastructure cost needs are high. Yet the city core is also expected to be the cultural showplace of the city. Arts, recreation, sports and business are supposed to find a centre of pride and accomplishment here. Balancing the needs of the city with the needs of centre-core neighbourhoods and residents is a lot harder in such a diverse environment with so many contrasting and sometimes conflicting needs. But as my slogan “Strong heart, strong city” says, we need a strong central vision, and as the heart goes, so goes the rest of the city.

Community consultation and communication is the key. Where I have seen effective civic development processes, they have been effective because the residents have been deeply involved, committed and given a real ability to affect the outcomes. Where I have seen the most conflict is where residents feel sidelined, bypassed or unfairly overruled.

Obviously we can’t fill all the needs of all the people all the time. We all need to understand that especially in a city centre, compromise and co-operation have to be part of our problem-solving tools. To paraphrase the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get (exactly) what you want, but if you try…you get what you need.

Working together, we can agree on a way to go forward together. The City is us and we are the city. Making it work is everyone’s job. This is not just rhetoric. The more people are consulted and speak our minds, the better a city we will have. I consider the job of a member of Council to be to start and continue conversations: to listen, learn and then lead.

8. How can our readers learn more about your platform, contact you with questions or concerns, or get involved in your campaign?


Website is elect.candasjanedorsey.ca.

Campaign@elect.candasjanedorsey.ca will reach me and my campaign team.

Campaign phone number for texts and calls is 780 667 7739.

The answers to these questions are also adapted into posts on my blog at elect.candasjanedorsey.ca. I welcome comments, new information, questions — and of course I welcome anyone who would like to get involved in the campaign!

thanks for the chance to answer these challenging and thought-provoking questions.