Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro used a provision of the Police Act on May 26 to order Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to come up with a new public safety plan for Alberta’s capital city that would boost the presence of police in the city’s crumbling downtown and on public transit.
“I am writing to you about the extremely concerning and unacceptable levels of crime in Edmonton’s downtown core and the city’s transit systems,” said Shandro’s letter to the mayor, which went on to list some real problems followed by a huffy defence of United Conservative Party government mismanagement that has contributed to them.
There’s no question that parts of Edmonton’s downtown are a sketchy wasteland, long in decline and now battered further by the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Its hard to imagine what the mayor and council are supposed to do in two weeks to fix deep structural problems that will require big bucks to repair and of which more police patrols are only part of the solution.
“The people of Edmonton deserve better than what this city council is delivering,” Shandro’s letter tendentiously huffed. Never mind that this city council was elected just seven months ago.
“At this time, I am requesting that you take direct action to address this alarming situation,” Shandro concluded. “Within the next two weeks, I will require a public safety plan from you that will increase police response to this disorder and ensure members of the public can use Edmonton’s public transit safely.”
So saddle up, city council! Looks like you’ll be patrolling the streets yourselves.
After all, it’s ludicrous to demand that what couldn’t be fixed in two decades under a succession of governments must be fixed in two weeks. For what it’s worth, the UCP government has had more than three years to work on it, which they started in 2019 by cutting millions out of the police budget by redirecting revenue from traffic tickets to provincial coffers.
Anyone who frequents Edmonton’s downtown – as I do almost every weekday – understands that the declining area’s problems are real and that police are almost never seen there on foot. The situation seems particularly dire after two men in their 60s were stabbed to death last week in a rough area adjacent to the city’s small Chinatown.
The problems have been growing worse for decades, under a succession of governments. And for what it’s worth, the UCP Government has had more than three years to work on it.
There’s also not much City Council can do about it in the short term because the Edmonton Police Service answers to the Police Commission. The only way this council has to influence how police do their job for the time being is through the department’s budget. Section 30 (1) of the Police Act, cited by Shandro in his letter, seems to have been drafted without this administrative reality in mind.
For his part, Sohi responded calmly.
“The disorder and crime that we’re seeing in our downtown is directly linked to the lack of provincial investments in ending houselessness, the mental health crisis, drug poisoning and addictions crisis,” he told reporters yesterday in response to the minister’s letter.
“Ever since I got elected, I have been raising these issues with the provincial government and asking them to step up to help to deal with them,” he added. “So far, they have neglected these asks, but we have been taking actions on our own.”
It’s likely Shandro chose this moment to try to pick a fight with Edmonton City Council, instead of working with it to find solutions, because the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) – despite being the second-highest funded police force in Canada per capita, with only Windsor, Ontario, police getting more cash per citizen – has been lobbying heavily for weeks to prevent any limits to its current budget wish list.
Lines of communication between the police and the province seem to run more efficiently nowadays than those between the city and the province. Indeed, a cabinet minister with a beef about a traffic ticket should have no difficulty getting a meeting with the chief of police.
With a provincial government openly more simpatico with the police than a progressive-leaning City Council, headed by a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, it was probably inevitable the UCP Government would be tempted to put its oar with council about to consider the EPS budget today.
In other words, this is really just a backhanded way for Shandro to order a democratically elected council to implement a policy the provincial government wants – a gold-plated police budget at the expense of other effective crime-mitigation measures ideologically opposed by the UCP.
In addition, Shandro, now in his third cabinet post, may have had additional reasons to pick yesterday to distract Alberta voters.
The Law Society of Alberta picked the day to announce the date for a hearing to decide whether he broke its code of conduct in 2020 when, as minister of health, he stormed into a neighbour’s driveway in 2020 to assail the man, a physician, for sharing a social media meme criticizing his conduct, used personal phone numbers obtained from Alberta Health Services to call doctors at home after hours, and sent an angry email to a woman who had made a critical call to his wife’s business.
The hearing is set to commence on Oct. 17.
Shandro was also the subject of considerable mockery on social media May 26 for a rambling and inept performance in the Legislature in which he appeared to have been poorly briefed on the downtown stabbings, as well as his similarly incoherent answers to reporters during a press conference about funding for the Crime Stoppers line on Wednesday.
Their boss having stirred things up, Shandro’s staff told reporters he wouldn’t be available for the last sitting of the Legislature yesterday to answer Opposition questions.
MLAs are not expected to return to the Legislature until October, by which time Jason Kenney may no longer be premier, and Shandro, whose record in three portfolios has hardly been exemplary, may not be a member of cabinet.
No one had the opportunity to ask the question in the House former NDP cabinet minister Marg McQuaig-Boyd posed on Twitter yesterday: “Where was Shandro and his Police Act during the convoy at Coutts?”
No wonder the minister blocks so many Albertans on Twitter!