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Edmonton mayor Don Iveson calls Alberta’s capital ‘a humble city’

Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says the city is ‘relentlessly self-critical,’ but is overall a humble city.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

A year after 35-year-old Don Iveson was elected to run Canada's fastest growing city, the Edmonton mayor tells Justin Giovannetti about the challenges facing Alberta's capital.

In your first year in office, nearly half of Canada's new jobs were created in the Edmonton region. With that accomplishment, you wrote on the first anniversary of your election that you are "hearing less apologizing" for the city. What's changing?

There is still some. What I love about this place is that it's relentlessly self-critical, but it's actually a gift. Those places that are full of themselves don't stop to think about how they could be better. You could be self-critical to a paralyzing fault, and Edmonton has been that in the past, but humility is a virtue and this is a humble city.

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Is there a shift in the soul of the city with the fast growth and new confidence?

This isn't the first time that confidence has been there. Edmonton was incredibly confident in the 1960s, after the first big oil boom. That lasted until the bottom fell out in the 1980s. It's taken a generation to get that back.

In my experience, the best and brightest all left. They went to some of the best public schools in the world and went to the University of Alberta, and then they fled. The cool thing is that they're coming back now. A decade ago, they couldn't see themselves building a life here. Now they can.

City population projections show Edmonton catching up with Montreal by 2060. How's the city coping with the 30,000 new residents annually?

It's an urban shift. Land is now expensive and cost pressures are significant. That's forced most first-time buyers into a condo or a row house. Some will move up to detached homes, but that isn't the default any more. You wouldn't see it from the highway, but our new suburbs have changed. They're much denser and most Edmontonians aren't aware of that. If you bought your house more than 10 years ago, you have no sense of the new economic reality that today's young couples are facing. There is a huge generational disconnect.

Are you concerned that with oil prices falling toward $70 a barrel, incomes may start to fall?

The $70 barrel of oil isn't great for Alberta, but it affects Calgary and the provincial government more than it does Edmonton. Calgary relies on the cash flow of high prices and new deals coming online. Edmonton is much more in the building-it and running-it business, which is a steady business. We can now export what we've learned about running things in challenging, northern climates.

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What will be the impact of lower oil prices on running Edmonton?

As long as all the projects don't stop all at once, it provides a little bit of relief for an economy that risked being overheated. Every time you have more money than good sense flying around, costs start to go up. When you're a municipality with scarce grants and property taxes, it's really hard to build infrastructure when you are priced out of the market.

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