Don Iveson sitdown: Outgoing mayor speaks about successes, UCP relationship, future plans

After 14 years at City Hall, Don Iveson says it’s “odd” to see election signs and door-knockers and to not be a part of that.

His passion for politics is clearly not gone, although he insists his desire to hold his current seat is.

“It’s time, and I feel good about the decision to move on in my career and my life,” he said in a sit-down interview two weeks before his last day leading the city.

“It’s been quite a ride. The economy was firing on all cylinders and then some when I came in, and we’ve been through a couple of really rough recessions and the pandemic as well.”

Iveson was born in St. Albert in 1979. He grew up in south Edmonton, the only child of an education professor and a sculptor.

He studied political science at the University of Alberta and then the University of Toronto, before winning a seat on Edmonton City Council in 2007.

That's when he unseated council incumbent Mike Nickel. Nickel became an outspoken critic of his younger rival, and is now trying to succeed Iveson in a hotly-contested mayoral race.

On Oct. 29, 2013, Iveson was sworn in as Mayor of Edmonton.

IVESON ON SUCCESSES

Expanding the city’s LRT network with the Metro and Valley lines, taking steps to reduce Edmonton’s pollution and increasing housing and services for the city’s homeless population are things Iveson is proud of.

Those initiatives are not done, but the city is in a better place now than eight years ago, he believes, and there’s a clear path forward in the city plan passed last year.

“In order to make sure that, as we grow up, that the city is still affordable and inclusive for people. All of that is captured in the city plan and I'm particularly proud of the work that our community did (on that document).”

Iveson is also happy that he’s been able to get Edmonton’s neighbours on board with more regional initiatives, like transit and economic development.

“(Metro-area leaders) used to spit when you said the word Edmonton, right? Now everyone has bought in, we’re shareholders in Edmonton Global, which is pitching Edmonton’s regional brand to the world now…we’re strong together under the Edmonton banner,” he said.

IVESON ON REGRETS

On what went wrong and what he’s learned, the outgoing mayor takes a humble approach.

“I’m so much more convinced that I don't have all of the answers. When you win the election and become mayor you think, ‘I have a mandate, I have all of the answers.’ It’s a very humbling position to be mayor. Especially in this system where you need to bring people along to accomplish things,” Iveson said.

He’s also disappointed in his relationship with the UCP provincial government.

Iveson said the premier’s “broken promise” in the 2019 budget that reduced transfer payments by $150 million over four years hurt Edmonton and forced council to scramble to fund planned projects.

“I thought we had an understanding. I talked about it with the premier several times. I thought we had a deal…It was a huge loss, and a huge loss for the municipal sector. All across the country mayors were like, ‘You guys had the best deal going and it just went away.’”

WHAT’S NEXT?

The now-bearded mayor - who laughingly admits his hair went grey fast on the job - is now reflecting, and still considering what to do next.

Iveson has picked four council candidates to endorse, but he has not yet said who he'd prefer as the next mayor. He did offer some advice to whomever takes over though.

“The most important thing in wielding the informal power of this office is about building and maintaining alliances, and also knowing when to walk away from them,” he warned.

So where exactly is Iveson walking away to? He still won’t say, but he’s not moving quickly.

“I have no specific plans at this point, other than I know I need a couple of months off before I do anything else.”

Rumours about a run at another level of government have swirled around Iveson - but he insists he hasn’t decided what he wants. He’s also not ruling out more “Iveson” election signs.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson