Candidates should be allowed to criticize Iveson on his record
Moderator’s interruption of Shewchuk was wrong — and the audience knew it
At the final Edmonton mayoral forum this week, moderator Dave Robertson tried to shut down candidate Steve Shewchuk after Shewchuk criticized incumbent Don Iveson’s handling of the NAIT LRT traffic fiasco.
It was one of the strangest things I’ve witnessed in covering the news in Alberta for more than 30 years. A candidate not permitted to question and criticize the incumbent on his record at a public forum in a civic election? That makes no sense.
The odd turn of events started with a behind-the-scenes meeting between Robertson and the 13 mayoral candidates before the event. Shewchuk said Robertson told candidates not to use foul language, to be respectful and to stay away from personal attacks. Shewchuk took this to mean he couldn’t call another candidate an idiot or a liar, but that he could criticize their ideas and their record.
As the forum unfolded, a citizen asked the candidates when they would fix the Metro LRT line to NAIT from blocking traffic. Various candidates then piled on with complaints.
“I one day spent 22 minutes waiting at that intersection and watching these primitive trolley cars crawl across,” said candidate Ron Cousineau, a businessman. “Horses could have pulled them faster.”
Justin Thomas, a police officer, said “The new one, the Valley Line LRT (to Millwoods), they say it’s gonna to be done in 2020. But I think it will be done in 2030. We have to figure out the signals and whatnot.”
Bus rapid transit is far cheaper and is the way to go, Thomas said.
“That LRT is an absolute mess,” said Taz Bouchier, a social worker. “I’ve sat on the bus waiting nine minutes for the light to change, then when the light changed, the arm goes down and the train is coming by and you’re waiting again.”
City council should have gone underground or over top on the Metro line, Bouchier said.
“Perhaps it needs to be taken down. It really is causing a mess. It’s not really helping us get to where we need to go faster.”
Iveson said: “So no doubt we’ve had some challenges and learned a lot from our experience with the Metro line,” then reminded the audience the project came in $90 million under budget.
Not enough design work was done on the front end of the project and it was rushed for various reasons, Iveson said.
“They weren’t my call at the time. It was before I was mayor. I’m picking up the pieces, not just by trying to find a fix for all of the intersections and all of the old train signallers/controllers that we have, but for doing more design work on the front end. And the projects we’re doing now will reflect that improvement.” Shewchuk then blasted Iveson. “I love it when the captain of the ship abandons it and blames it on the previous person, saying, ‘This is the problem because ...’”
At once, the moderator interrupted.
“Candidate Shewchuk, please. I’ll ask you to rephrase.”
“Well, I mean, he is the mayor at this time,” Shewchuk said. “And he was on council prior, so he has to take some responsibility. I respectfully disagree with you.”
And that’s when the audience — which had been told to withhold all outbursts and applause — erupted into its longest and most heartfelt ovation of the night.
I felt like giving a standing ovation myself, but to the audience. It was heartening they recognized the wrongness of the moderator’s stance.
Let me get this straight. Iveson is allowed to suggest the previous mayor and city administration rushed ahead on the NAIT line without proper planning, but no other candidate is allowed to challenge him on that, even though Iveson has been on council since 2007?
When did we get so shy about debate?
As for who is to blame for the NAIT line fiasco, neither former mayor Stephen Mandel, nor Iveson, nor anyone on council is responsible for the private contractor’s issues with the signalling system, but they are responsible for pushing forward another LRT line that causes major traffic delays. They could have prioritized, spending the money to go underground or overground at key intersections.
Iveson has done good work as mayor. He’s pushed hard on numerous big issues, such as LRT expansion, First Nations reconciliation, social housing, bike lanes and photo radar. A few of these issues, like LRT, have had major technical and public relations snafus. Iveson will nonetheless win this election handily.
That said, if you’re unhappy with his leadership and looking for a place to park a protest vote, going with the reasonable but defiant Shewchuk is a good spot.
The third and final mayoral forum Wednesday featured an odd moment between the moderator and Steve Shewchuk, eighth from the left.