A hotly-controversial decision on whether or not to freeze base funding for police in Edmonton was delayed Friday as fallout from a dispute between the mayor and the provincial justice minister continued to rattle political circles.
On Thursday, Tyler Shandro used the Police Act to demand that the city provide him with a “public safety plan” to address a rise in violence downtown, on transit and in Chinatown.
The minister sent a public letter to Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and released a video of his demands on social media but declined to take questions from reporters.
Sohi pointed his finger back at the province while claiming the UCP isn’t doing enough to address the root causes of crime.
Shandro also accused councillors of trying to cut police funds, something several people on council, including Sohi, disputed.
“There is an illusion that council has interfered with public safety and that this (demand from Shandro) is a warning that council needs to back off. Am I out to lunch?” Coun. Sarah Hamilton asked during a council meeting Friday.
“No. I believe that is a perspective,” City Manager Andre Corbould responded.
“There is nothing in the letter to that effect,” Sohi interjected.
Shandro has given Sohi until June 9 to present the plan on behalf of council.
Friday’s police funding debate was pushed back until June 7, at the earliest, because councillors ran out of time while discussing other business.
A section of the Police Act gives Shandro the power to appoint and instruct police officers if he doesn’t believe the city is doing enough.
“I don’t want to go into the jurisdictional stuff. There will always be different points of view on that, right? But I look forward to meeting with the minister on Tuesday,” Sohi told council.
PROVINCE ‘NOT FOSTERING A GOOD RELATIONSHIP’
A local criminologist and a political analyst independently agreed that while Shandro has a right to demand a safety plan, his motivations and his timing are suspect.
“I don’t see how this positively contributes to what was already a politically-charged debate. My perspective is that the minister’s approach takes this deeper into political theatrics,” said Temitope Oriola from the University of Alberta.
“It’s not fostering a good relationship and this isn’t good for Albertans, and it’s certainly not good for Edmontonians. You know, citizens expect their governments to work together,” explained John Brennan, a former political staffer to two Edmonton mayors and a federal cabinet minister.
This isn’t the first time Alberta has overridden municipal powers.
In March, Premier Jason Kenney threatened to change the law to remove the rights of municipalities to approve mask bylaws in all public spaces, a move that resulted in Edmonton repealing its masking rules.
“This provincial government does not like to be criticized. It doesn’t like to be criticized by anybody, and certainly not the mayors of the two major cities,” Brennan said.
The NDP has also raised concerns about how the UCP government deals with municipal partners.
“They clearly have an issue with the cities. I am disappointed. I don’t think that’s how you build relationships,” NDP Municipal Affairs Critic Joe Ceci said.
A spokesperson for Shandro said he was not available to take questions on Friday.
Sohi, meanwhile, said he intends to produce a public safety plan by the deadline. His strategy will clearly outline the province’s responsibilities in the areas of housing, addictions and healthcare, the mayor said.
UPDATE ON TRANSIT SAFETY
Councillors received an update Friday on security improvements already underway at transit stations.
Those initiatives include a $4 million plan to pair peace officers and social outreach workers, and increase the number of those teams from two to seven.
“We know Community Outreach Transit Teams are currently working, so we invested more,” Coun. Keren Tang said, adding discussions on transit safety continue. “It’s a top priority cause we literally talk about it every single meeting.”
The remaining seven of 18 transit centre washrooms will reopen May 30 with upgraded cleaning and safety features.
The city is also hiring a director of transit security and private security guards will continue to be posted at most stations.
“They do so much proactive work that prevents the need for bringing police officers or transit peace officers to the site, so this myth that’s out there that they’re not doing anything is absolutely wrong,” said City Manager Andre Corbould.
“I’m just saying, we’re doing a bunch of stuff, and we need to do more stuff so…I can’t afford patience. We’ve gotta move, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Tang is hopeful that those investments – coupled with a soon-to-be-released smart fare system and LRT line to Mill Woods– will boost ridership and confidence in the system.
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski and Jeremy Thompson
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