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Mayor Sohi rides the Valley Line rails to recap the biggest Edmonton stories of 2023

Much like in the streets, neighbourhoods and transit centres governed by its council, it’s been a year of highs and lows at Edmonton city hall.

There was a rise in homeless camps and social disorder downtown and on transit.

Edmontonians dealt with the deaths of two police officers, and played host to thousands of people fleeing record-setting wildfires.

But the biggest news for the city may just be a boost to transit efficiency and morale from a brand train line that is finally running from downtown to Mill Woods.

To discuss all of it, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi boarded a train with CTV News Edmonton to take a journey back through 2023.

“It is exciting that finally the Valley Line has opened,” Sohi said at the start of the trip from Churchill to Davies stations.

It’s called the Valley Line but its opening was a high point for the mayor this year.

And aside from a couple collisions with cars, service has been smooth since opening in early November.

But problems with cracked piers and corroded cables pushed the project back. It opened nearly three years later than originally planned.

Sohi says the city has launched a full review into what went wrong.

“The impact of COVID and all that, I think those questions will come at the right time,” he said.

Transit has been a consistent issue in 2023.

While more people are using the system now than before the pandemic, safety remains a major concern for Edmontonians.

Two recent attacks at Coliseum Station resulted in serious injuries, and spooked transit users.

“No, I don’t feel safe. Like honestly, I just want to get home,” one LRT rider told CTV News Edmonton on Dec. 5.

‘MORE GUN VIOLENCE’

Homelessness and social disorder grew more visible across the city this year, as did violent crime.

“More gang violence taking place, we have seen more gun violence.” Sohi told reporters in August.

It all prompted the province to intervene in February.

That’s when Alberta deployed a dozen provincial sheriffs downtown to bolster an already intensified police presence.

The premier and her ministers also pledged to pay for 50 more police officers in the spring.

“These are dangerous dangerous people that are on the streets and that are on transit. And so, our first option is putting officers on the street,” Premier Danielle Smith said in April.

But Sohi believes the coinciding crises of poverty, addiction, and mental illness cannot be solved by enforcement alone and that council is doing all it can under city jurisdiction.

“Our partners need to step up. They are somewhat, but it’s not enough to the level that we need in order to truly build a safer city for everyone,” he said.

‘A COMPLETE OVERHAUL’

Edmontonians lost a popular public space in 2023.

Skiers and runners used Hawrelak Park right up until it closed in March for a three year renovation.

“A complete overhaul of all of the systems and facilities in the park,” Coun. Anne Stevenson explained in March.

Fire season started early in 2023.

The city’s Expo Centre transformed into emergency accommodations as evacuees from Drayton Valley then the Edson area were forced from their homes.

“They had everything ready. Donuts, muffins, coffee, tea, whatever you needed,” Drayton Valley resident Liz Dack said in May.

“We go through live exercises, training for events just like this,” said Gerry Clarke of the emergency support response team.

Cots and supplies were rolled out again in August, to support evacuees from Yellowknife, as wildfire threatened the north.

“It’s becoming more and more real, and it’s becoming more often as well. I think that speaks to the need to take stronger action on climate change,” Sohi said.

Meanwhile the difficult work of governing carried on at city hall.

In June, dozens of people gave council their thoughts on the first city-wide zoning reset since the 1960s.

While “dense” is an appropriate adjective for both the subject matter and desired outcome, the mayor sees the zoning overhaul as transformational.

“Edmonton’s positioned to continue to attract investment, continue to attract more people and accommodate that growth at the same time keep our housing and our overall living affordable,” Sohi said. 

Edmontonians also began paying for bags, and businesses stocked up on green supplies as the single-use items bylaw kicked in on Canada Day.

“Obviously it’s going to be inconvenient because, like, everyone uses plastic. But in a while it’s not going to be that, like, it’s gonna be fine,” one woman said at the time.

‘CERTAINTY AND PREDICTABILITY’

A rash of violence over the summer was top of mind as council passed a new funding formula for police.

It’s an equation intended to take the politics out of the city’s biggest budget item.

“We needed to give certainty and predictability to EPS and they got that,” Sohi said.

The formula, plus a $20 million salary settlement helped drive up property taxes for 2024.

The mayor stands by the 6.5 per cent increase.

“This council has focused on core services,” he said.

And with that, the mayor arrived at Davies Station.

But before leaving, he addressed a end-of-year city hall scandal.

Allegations by councillor Jennifer Rice’s former staff, that she created a toxic workplace through bullying and verbal abuse.

Nineteen people worked in the councillor’s office in just two years.

Sohi says he’s troubled by the allegations against his colleague.

“I did meet with Coun. Rice, and she has committed to taking workplace training,” Sohi said.

Council could see a report from the Integrity Commissioner on the subject in 2024, the last full year before a municipal election.

The mayor says there is plenty of work ahead, but for now, he sends his season’s greetings.

“Merry Christmas to all of you. All the best for the season, and a happy New Year,” Sohi said with a smile.

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