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Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi expects safer streets in 2024

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi hopes 2024 will be a turning point for the city when it comes to safety. 

In a year-end interview with CBC News last week, Sohi said he recognizes that safety is the biggest issue for many Edmontonians.

“We have seen more gang activity, we have seen more gun violence, we have seen more disorder in our communities,” he said. 

In November, two separate assaults — one on the Coliseum LRT platform and one near the station — sent two people to hospital. 

In recent weeks, two separate gun-related incidents prompted Kingsway Mall and West Edmonton Mall to lock down.

Sohi said the city has been investing in more supportive housing and hiring more social workers to assist bylaw, peace officers and police officers.

City council approved more money for police under a funding formula for the next three years. An annual base budget is adjusted according to inflation and population growth. 

For 2024, police service gets $437.4 million, the biggest expenditure in the city’s operating budget — It’s a model no other city department uses and one that city council approved only after hours of debate. 

Sohi is insisting on seeing results. 

“We have given what EPS administration, police commission wanted from us. We have done that. Now it’s the responsibility of EPS administration and the police commission to utilize those resources to improve safety.”

“I would expect that we would see safer streets in 2024,” Sohi said. “That we will see, you know, less gang activity in our city on our streets, that we will see less drug activity in our streets.”

Encampments

Police were poised to dismantle between 118 and 135 tents at encampment sites around the city last week. A judge ordered an interim injunction with conditions: police and city staff must give residents 48 hours’ notice, they have to notify social agencies, and must consider weather and harm of exposure.

Police must check whether there’s enough shelter or other indoor spaces available to accept people who get displaced — a condition Sohi doesn’t think is possible. 

“You can remove encampments, but where are people going to go? They’re going to move through the next neighbourhood. They’re going to move to another business district.” 

Encampments are symptoms of the broader social issues of mental health, addictions, poverty, he said. 

In a common refrain, Sohi pointed a finger at the provincial and federal governments on their responsibility to invest in safer, accessible shelters, mental health and addictions programs and services, and various types of housing. 

“We can’t really deal with encampments in an effective way until we have the capacity built in the system, in the shelters and the housing to take people to.”

Alberta Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said there are many social programs and services the province is funding. 

“Edmontonians have a right to walk through their city streets or take public transit without fearing for their safety,” Nixon said in an email last week. 

“That is why Alberta’s government has stepped up to fund 50 additional police officers in the city and is working alongside police services to introduce new mental health and addiction supports for people in police custody.”

Nixon noted the the province provides consistent funding for Homeward Trust, the city’s housing and homelessness agency.

Nixon also said the government has allocated $12 million to both Calgary and Edmonton to expand and extend their low-income transit pass programs next year. 

Taxes and contracts

Staff in technical, administrative and clerical jobs are negotiating a new contract with the city and so far, are stuck on terms. 

President of Civic Service Union local 52, Lanny Chudyk, said employees —  about 5,200, plus 700 Edmonton Public Library staff — haven’t had a salary increase for five years. 

“The city’s offer of zero per cent for 2021, one per cent for 2022, and two per cent for 2023 is unacceptable and embarrassing, especially for our members in the lowest pay grids,” Chudyk said in a news release in mid-December.

Sohi said employees are critical in running the city services but stopped short of saying whether he thinks they should get a raise. 

“I really value the work that City of Edmonton’s employees provide to Edmontonians. I was one of them, being a bus driver,” he said. “We want to make sure that our employees are treated fairly, they are compensated appropriately.”

Sohi encourages the CSU to continue negotiating. Talks are expected to resume in the new year. 

It’s not clear how higher wages may impact the budget adjustment in the spring.

City council approved a 6.6 per cent tax increase in the fall operating budget adjustment — an increase from the 5 per cent it previously agreed to for the 2023-2026 budget.

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