Alberta premier says she’s hearing Edmonton is in rocky financial patch, offers help

By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says her government won’t intervene but — if asked — would help the City of Edmonton navigate a reported rocky patch of financial and staffing dysfunction.

“No one has stepped in. No one has intervened. No one is doing an audit,” Smith told reporters in Edmonton Wednesday at an unrelated news conference.

“No one is taking any extraordinary measures, but if they need our help, we’re ready and on standby to help.”

Smith added that while “It’s Edmonton’s story to tell about where they find themselves, we have had a number of reports that do have us concerned.”

She said there are reported money problems on top of a raft of senior city executives — including the city manager — leaving.

“That is a sign that has us concerned about stability,” said Smith.

“As I understand it, there was a pretty involved meeting at the council a number of days ago that talked about the financial challenges the city is facing.

“There are a number of people who were at that meeting and a number of them started calling us, and so that’s how we heard about it.”

Alberta municipalities are not allowed by provincial law to run deficits.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi’s office said in a statement, “The City of Edmonton is in compliance with our guiding legislation in all aspects of our operation, including with our financial policies, which are well within the legislated limits. 

Sohi added, “We have a collaborative working relationship with Premier Smith and cabinet and we will continue to advocate on behalf of Edmontonians for the stable and equitable funding we need.”

It’s rare, but not unheard of, for the province to intervene in municipal affairs.

Last year, the province fired the mayor and half the councillors in the city of Chestermere, just east of Calgary, saying they failed to act on demands to fix their dysfunctional government. 

Smith said the government won’t be intervening in Medicine Hat, where the council voted unanimously last week to severely curtail the duties and pay of Mayor Linnsie Clark.

Clark was sanctioned for breaking the city’s code of conduct by failing to treat the city manager with courtesy and respect. 

Asked why Edmonton is under scrutiny but not Medicine Hat, Smith said they are two different situations, with the main differences being finances.

“What I understand about Medicine Hat is they’re very healthy from a financial point of view,” she said.

“They have their own gas company, they operate their own power company, (and) they’ve got a massive fund for some of their surplus revenues,” she said.

“I think the nature of the challenges in Medicine Hat are quite different than what we’re hearing about the challenges in Edmonton.”

She said disputes among councillors require a more delicate touch.

“We don’t intervene just because there are personality conflicts in a council. Otherwise we’d be intervening on a lot of councils,” she said.

“We have to identify if the level of infighting is causing a major exodus of senior staff.

“We haven’t observed that in Medicine Hat.”

In Medicine Hat, Clark spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since her demotion, announcing she plans to go to court to get a judicial review to overturn council’s decision.

The other sanctions on Clark include a letter of reprimand and request for apology, and the suspension of Clark’s presiding duties under the Municipal Government Act. 

Clark will also no longer be the official spokesperson for council.

In addition, she may no longer attend meetings of the administration committee, is prohibited from entering the administration area of city hall, and outside of council meetings may not have any direct contact with city staff other than the city manager.

The interactions with the city manager are only allowed via email where all members of council are copied, and any in-person meetings must be done with another council member present.

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