Election 2013 questionnaire response: Mike Nickel, Ward 11

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

Mike Nickel, candidate for Ward 11

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


When we talk about supporting the development of existing neighbourhoods, we are really talking about greater densification of these communities. This densification process, although necessary, can also cause a number of strains on existing residents – from incompatible styles of housing units, to higher taxes due to greater market value assessments. You don’t have to look any farther than Ritchie to see how some of these issues have come to bear.

I believe in standing up for mature neighbourhoods. Any densification that needs to occur should be consistent in form and character with the existing neighbourhood. I have seen several infill houses in Hazeldean and Ritchie that are so tall they cut the sunlight off from their neighbours. Clearly, this is unfair and a re-examination of the planning practices for several neighbourhoods like Ritchie, Hazeldean, and King Edward Park is required.

To help reduce urban sprawl, we need to help councillors better understand how development works and how a number of incentives can be put in place to encourage developers to add density to existing lands within the city. However, these incentives cannot be in the form of generous cash subsidies that put a burden on taxpayers. All it takes is some creative thinking and looking beyond our borders for some worldwide best practices to see what other cities are doing that is successful. If you visit www.mikenickel.ca and read my blog on Urban Sprawl I explain some of my ideas more fully. 

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


My family has been in business in Edmonton for over 50 years. As every business person will tell you, the best way to support their enterprises is to keep taxes and regulation at reasonable levels. There have been a number of complaints in Ward 11 about compliance and red tape becoming a severe burden on the small business owner. These complaints range from straight forward permitting issues (it can take up to 90 days to get a simple building permit) to more serious issues surrounding an unfriendly attitude down at City Hall. There are many policies and barriers that have grown over the years that actively discourage people to do business in the city. The City clearly needs to do more not just to promote local business abroad but also remove those policies that prevent local suppliers from bidding on City work.

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


I grew up on a farm – it was where the Grey Nuns Hospital sits today. I am a strong supporter of urban agriculture and a move towards greater self-reliance, and I would very much like to see our local food growth capacity, infrastructure and distribution increase. As people become more aware of and concerned over the availability, safety, and environmental footprint of their food supply, it makes sense to see just what the City can do to support increased local production. (On a personal note, my business partner and I are just going through an outline plan with the County of Leduc for a new green business park, part of which calls for the design and building of several rooftop greenhouses on our commercial buildings so as to provide an environment for locally produced food.)  

The problem with much of public policy is in its implementation – how do we set up meaningful metrics at the administration level so that we know if we are winning or losing on each policy front. Thus, we need to continue to build on “Fresh” (the City’s plan to support more locally grown food) through community consultations and better define each of the outcomes we want to see. Otherwise, it is just another report with good intentions. For example, how much land do we want to set aside for community gardens? What is a reasonable target in terms of square footage? Where should they go? How much land needs to be set aside for urban farming through the agricultural land reserve? How are we going to pay for it? What kind of rents should be expected from this enterprise, if any? These are just some of the important questions that must be asked.

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


In my previous term on City Council, I supported former Councillor Hayter’s initiative in forming the Urban Aboriginal Accord Initiative Project in 2005. I would continue to support this as well as the existing Edmonton’s Aboriginal Urban Affairs committee and the newly created Aboriginal Relations Unit in the Edmonton Police Service. It is projected that the City of Edmonton will have the largest urban population of Aboriginal people in Canada in the next four to five years*(Edmonton Sun, September 02, 2013). Clearly, given the emerging size of this group and complexity of Aboriginal issues in the City, we need to be proactive in our approach. In developing our policies, we need to conduct an external and ongoing examination of what the cities of Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina are doing for best practices, and continue to consult with the various stakeholders as we move forward.

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


Any councillor elected in the upcoming election has to have a flexible understanding of transportation in Edmonton. This means clearly supporting our existing roads and public transit infrastructure while taking a common sense approach to the location and installation of bike lane routes. 

In Ward 11 public transit has always been critical. The frustration being expressed at the doors is that our public transit is not working for the average customer. For example people who live in Mill Woods yet go to school and work in different parts of the city are saying it is just taking too long for them on the bus to get where they need to go. Second, without LRT to Mill Woods we are just putting band-aids on our existing transit problems. We need to find the cash to move the South LRT extension forward, and then rationalize our existing transit routes around it.  

Lastly, we need to continue to innovate with our existing transit system to bring better efficiencies and greater customer satisfaction. Edmonton’s Smart Bus Pilot Program is a good step in this direction.

An overall concern has been expressed by many transit users in Ward 11 over the rising cost of bus passes and transit security. These issues in the minds of many transit users in Ward 11 are creating negativity towards public transit as a viable means of moving around the city. These issues need to be addressed through our next few budget cycles if we want public support for better transit and its usage.

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


I have several ideas regarding this that I will be rolling out during my campaign. I will be releasing these ideas after Nomination Day (September 23) and appreciate your understanding and patience until I feel the time is right to put them out for discussion.

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


The greatest challenge at present for Ward 11 is infrastructure — the South LRT extension, and fixing the roads, sidewalks and drainage in many of the mature neighbourhoods. For too long it seems that the mature neighbourhoods in our city have been forgotten while we focus on improving downtown on the one hand, and dealing with new urban growth on the other. It is time now that the mature neighbourhoods get the attention and resources they deserve. Our mature neighbourhoods have been carrying the bulk of the tax burden for decades. Now is the time we need to make significant re-investments in those neighbourhoods so as to ensure that we do not have urban decay issues to address in addition to urban sprawl.

To make these sorts of re-investments, City Council will have to re-examine its priorities. We are $2 billion in debt, not including the $500 million for the new rink – so fast on our way to a $3 billion debt load for a city of roughly 800,000 people. Some projects are going to have to wait while others move forward. If elected, a major focus of mine will be to find new and innovative ways to drive value into the corporation, as now more than ever we need value for the taxes that we have to pay. Again, over the next several weeks of the campaign I will be rolling out several ideas I have as to just how to do this, so please keep checking back to my website at www.mikenickel.ca for more details.

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

You can view our website at www.mikenickel.ca or email us directly at info@mikenickel.ca . You can also reach us by phone at 587-938-0005 or come by our campaign office at 5418-97 Street (just north of the old Southside police station). If you prefer to connect via social media, you can find us on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/MikeNickelYeg, on Twitter as @MikeNickelYEG, and on YouTube as MikeNickelYeg. We are always looking for input, questions or concerns. If you want to volunteer or take a lawn sign, please call as directly at our campaign office at 587-938-0005 or sign up on our website.