Edmonton’s new mayor Don Iveson is no ‘Nenshi of the North’

He’s not an anti-growth crusader

(Tom Young)

(Tom Young)

Long before he strolled to an easy victory in mayoral elections last month, Don Iveson, Edmonton’s telegenic, lanky new mayor, was being called the Naheed Nenshi of the North. It’s easy enough to understand why. Both men are young: Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, is 41; Iveson is 34. Both are progressive but non-partisan. Both have a love of urban density and a skeptical take on urban sprawl.

But those expecting Iveson to be Nenshi 2.0 may be in for a surprise. While the Calgary mayor fought a near constant battle with home builders and developers in his first term, those in the know expect Iveson to take a much more conciliatory approach. In fact, in his two terms on city council Iveson proved to be much more friend than foe to the building industry, says Rod Tavener, the president of the Canadian Home Builders Association, Edmonton Region. “I challenge you to find someone in the home-building community that’s worried about Don Iveson,” Tavener says. “He can speak to the intricacies of the home-building industry better than anybody on the council. So we’re pretty excited about [his win].”

Iveson himself makes no secret of his desire to make Edmonton a denser city with a more vibrant inner core. “Where Mayor Nenshi and I do agree is that both cities need to urbanize,” he says. But he doesn’t think restricting growth in the suburbs, or anywhere else, is the way to do that. For one thing, Edmonton, much more so than Calgary, is part of a larger municipal region. So if city council were to cut off growth in its own suburbs, families looking for new homes could just turn to surrounding communities like St. Albert or Sherwood Park.

“We can’t constrain supply,” Iveson says. Instead, he wants the city to encourage demand, by making it easier to build in mature neighbourhoods and more attractive for families to buy and live in them. “I do want to see Edmonton change over time,” he says. “But you can’t force it. You have to create opportunity. Because business does the building, not the city.”

Kim Krushell, who served on city council with Iveson for six years, says the new mayor is more pro-business than most would assume. “Don may surprise some people,” she says. “He’s a lot more pragmatic than I think a lot of people think.” He also has a council that isn’t bereft of business experience. Councillor Michael Oshry, elected for the first time in October, founded a currency-exchange company in Edmonton that now operates in five countries. Mike Nickle, a reputed fiscal hawk and enemy of red tape, was re-elected this year after losing his council seat to Iveson in 2007.

Iveson’s greatest challenge, in fact, may be in keeping all parts of his coalition happy. Encompassing more than 60% of the vote, his supporters include progressives eager to see Edmonton embrace urbanism now, and conservatives happier with the way the city has always been. Iveson, though, doesn’t see that as a problem. “What anchors us all in this coalition is an ambitious city building agenda,” he says. “And I think everyone who supported me saw themselves included in that.”