Election 2017 questionnaire response: Scott McKeen, Ward 6

[We sent five questions concerning green living, local economy and inclusiveness to all of the Election 2017 council candidates. We are posting their unedited responses in the order that they’re received. – Ed.]

Scott McKeen, candidate for Ward 6
Scott McKeen, candidate for Ward 6

What is the biggest challenge your Ward faces? What policy solutions would you seek if re-elected?

The most pressing and daunting challenge for Ward 6 is homelessness, which is a symptom of poverty, mental illness, generational trauma, life trauma and, often, chronic (self medicating) addictions. I’ve made this my highest priority this term and will do the same if re-elected. Ambrose Place in McCauley is a disruptive technology in regards to homelessness. Instead of offering traditional outreach services and overnight shelter beds, Ambrose Place offers permanent housing with myriad supports. It is also done under the healing umbrella of indigenous culture, spirituality and medicine. Yet Alberta Health Services supports the facility with nurses, counsellors and therapists. Key to Ambrose Place is the harm-reduction managed-alcohol program, which allows residents to drink in a controlled way on site. Managed alcohol programs prudently recognize that people with long-term addictions are ill, not immoral. They need time to deal with their addictions. And in some cases, some will continue using substances for the rest of their lives. However, that does not mean they should not live with dignity. My goal is to see Ambrose Place replicated on sites around Edmonton, to spread the solutions throughout the city and to allow inner city neighbourhoods to draw new residents with the means to support local business, volunteer with community leagues, etc. Mayor Iveson and I moved a motion to develop a Wellness Plan to uplift the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, along with the neighbourhoods that have traditionally hosted homelessness. The pitch to the broad community is two-fold: 1) Permanent supportive housing facilities are absolutely safe, like nursing homes; 2) By housing homeless, mentally ill people — many with addictions — we will save tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars each year in policing, paramedic, hospital and other related costs. To my mind, we now need Ambrose Place-like facilities with managed opioid programs, so I.V. drug users need not steal or sell their body to get money for drugs, nor enrich gangs by buying their oft-lethal products. Imagine a community where even chromic dug users were treated as human beings. But again, the pitch is a pragmatic one. Addiction is a crime catalyst. Dealing with it humanely will reduce crime significantly and save the community millions upon millions in tax dollars we spend chasing our tails today.

How will you help Edmonton become a greener / more environmentally friendly city?

I was a writer at The Edmonton Journal and old enough to remember writing about the blue box recycling pilot program. Edmonton was way ahead of other cities, thanks to Mayor Jan Reimer. But we can’t rest. We’ve seen fits and starts on energy transition, but the City needs to lead with its own facilities. Ben Henderson and I led on further reductions of pesticide use this term. I’m happy to see that the city auditor will be digging further into the program, to judge its integrity. Transportation is huge. We’ve just begun with a downtown bike grid, with segregated lanes. Once proven out, we can begin to expand the grid further and further out from the core. LRT is a high priority for this council and must be for the next. Council always gets strong pushback and must stay consistent on its commitment to LRT, as well as to an efficient and effective transit system. The world is changing. The emerging generation is less car-obsessed. We need to get them around in other ways. If done well, we’ll see huge reductions in the city ‘s carbon output. This past term, I worked to get the policy changed on street trees, so far as including soil cells when a street is being redone. Seems minor, but trees along Jasper Avenue, 124th Street and other locations were being replaced every five years because the trees were dying — there was no room for the roots to grow. Trees are critical to the environment, but also to mental health of citizens. Seems a small thing, but a mature and healthy tree canopy city wide offers energy savings and human health benefits that are challenging to quantify. I also want to push for more parks and pocket parks in Ward 6. I led the initiative to expropriate land for a large park downtown, between 106th and 107th street, north of Jasper. Acquiring land for that park stymied city administration until I encouraged expropriation to get things rolling. Parks are critical public facilities, after all. Parks offer myriad benefits, including building an appreciation for nature in children.

How will you strengthen Edmonton’s local economy and support our city’s independent, locally-owned businesses?

This has long been a passion. When I wrote my column in The Edmonton Journal I routinely spoke about the economic and social benefits of local, independent business. And I highlighted them, including in a series of my favourite spots in town. Michael Oshry led a program to highlight local business this term. I’d love to take that over next term and see if we can really ramp up the communications around it. I understand that politicians should not insult corporate enterprises, but I think it can be done in a nuanced way to highlight the locals, rather than telling anyone to skip Wal-Mart. Over the course of my term on Council I have worked closely with Business Investment Areas in the Ward to bring festivals and events that attract shoppers and visitors. I recently leaned on Administration to fund the expansion of the Business Ambassadors program, which employs street teams to liaise with tourists, residents, and businesses alike that promote hospitality zones. I advocated for the development of the Chinatown Economic Strategy, which will be up for funding in 2018; I will push for the full funding of this strategy in the next round of budget discussions. I’d also like to point out that my office helped Pogo car-share launch; we also helped launch the new Edmonton Screen Industries Commission, which will tap into post secondary and companies like Bioware to create a burgeoning new industry here. I also championed the Live Music Initiative and will continue. Arts is business. We can uplift local musicians and artists to business status. I believe that investment in the creative economy and making growth as barrier free as possible in a local context is how we can attract and retain young, bright professionals. I fully support the ongoing service review of City Administration to ensure the City is run as efficiently as possible. We need always be aware that taxes are a burden on businesses and residents.

How will you make this a more inclusive city and support Edmonton’s marginalized communities?

I sit on Edmonton Poverty Edmonton. There are numerous things coming, including the low-income transit pass. See my answer to your first question for dealing with the most vulnerable folks. I’m also keen to see the launch of the Community Development Corporation, an offshoot of End Poverty Edmonton, to see how it can help with housing, social enterprise and micro-loans. I work with multicultural and faith communities to end racism. I’m on the police commission, which is doing an independent review of the police service’s street check program. Simply put, we’ve tons of work yet to do. We need a council committed to continuing the work to create a welcoming, compassionate, egalitarian city. I also hope to continue working on an initiative I brought to council: Mental Health and Social Isolation. That initiative, to date, has held numerous events to increase awareness of social isolation across space and demographics. It also has established Edmonton’s Suicide Prevention Framework, facilitated the training of thousands of professionals in mental health first aid, and evaluated the impact of Managed Alcohol Programs in health settings. Mental illness impacts the poor, the disabled and the wealthy. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create communities of support, connection and friendship across the City.

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

Please go to ScottMcKeen.ca or email my campaign team at info@scottmckeen.ca. Over the course of the campaign I will be writing blogs on various issues, as well as offering detail on my values, work to date and platform. Thanks so much. Sorry if I was too wordy.