Don Iveson bristles at any suggestion that the campaign to win his second term as Edmonton's mayor is an easy one.
Mr. Iveson won his first mayoral election in 2013, when he faced two older, well-known city councillors but still took 62 per cent of the vote. As a 34-year-old mayor-elect, he promised a "more confident swagger" for the sometimes picked-upon city, and has done enough to deliver on that pledge that he faces no serious competition in Monday's vote. That means the municipal race in Edmonton is likely to be a boring, predetermined affair – with lower voter turnout – when compared with the tense showdown in Calgary's mayoral race, or the four-way contest to replace retiring mayor Melissa Blake in Wood Buffalo, which encompasses Fort McMurray.
Still, Mr. Iveson said he's campaigning hard. "I am programmed for one speed in these things, which is flat out, seven days a week," Mr. Iveson said in an interview.
His city counts large numbers of university and provincial public-sector jobs, and blue-collar trades that have seen employment continue by the construction of a number of megaprojects in the area. Edmonton's economy is sluggish but hasn't been as hard hit as Calgary and other Alberta communities by the oil-price drop that began in 2014. Its population will reach 1 million in the next few years.
Mr. Iveson appears as an archetype of a modern, "progressive" Canadian mayor: He proudly wears an urbanist tag that makes him a proponent of inner-city densification and bike lanes; he's more than proficient on social media; and he has placed particular emphasis on reconciliation and other Indigenous issues. He was also on hand one year ago to celebrate the opening of Rogers Place, the gleaming, $500-million downtown home of the Edmonton Oilers. And Mr. Iveson was viewed as a voice of calm in the wake of the Sept. 30 attacks, labelled as terrorism, against an Edmonton police officer and four pedestrians.
But that doesn't mean there haven't been challenges. His first term was dogged by a series of delays to major light-rail transit and bridge projects, and the city auditor presented a scathing report in August on Edmonton's competitive procurement processes. The mayor is still facing anger from inner-city residents who say his push for more affordable, dense housing has them living next to massive, new, skinny – and sometimes ugly and light-blocking – infills.
University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody argues that Mr. Iveson is stronger in style than in substance, saying the city's administration "is really out of control."
"He has just bought into the mantra of dense growth and public transit and bike lanes."
But Prof. Lightbody does not dispute that Mr. Iveson is the strongest mayoral candidate: The colourful list of the 12 people competing against him is a narrative of its own. Candidate Neil Stephens offers a technical explanation on his campaign website of the nuclear reactor he is proposing for the city. Who is Henry Mak? became the subject of an Edmonton Journal mini-investigation after the mayoral candidate refused all media interviews, photos and forums. Don Koziak, who told a reporter he's a "terrible campaigner" who hasn't learned much from nine past electoral losses spanning 22 years, wants to bring back indoor smoking to restaurants and sports venues – saying he's tired of seeing people freeze outside while they enjoy their cigarettes.
"It's quite a show," said David Cournoyer of the political blog daveberta.ca. "None of them are serious candidates. I don't even think they would even consider themselves serious candidates."
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Edmonton election is that Mr. Iveson's path back to the mayor's chair should be a cakewalk next to the difficult re-election his long-time friend Naheed Nenshi faces (the two men moved in similar circles even before they both became Alberta city mayors).
But Mr. Iveson has little to say about Mr. Nenshi's tight race against small-c conservative lawyer Bill Smith. "Calgarians will do what Calgarians think is right."