'It's about damn time': Edmonton mayor 'looking forward' to welcoming back 1K laid-off city workers

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said on Tuesday that he's "looking forward" to welcoming back roughly 1,000 city employees after they were temporarily laid off due to the pandemic. (File Photo)

Roughly 1,000 City of Edmonton employees who were temporarily laid off due to restrictions caused by COVID-19 will be returning to work during Stage 2 of the provincial relaunch.

That's what Edmonton council members heard from city administration on Tuesday morning, during an emergency advisory committee meeting.

"The bulk of these folks are associated with our recreational facilities," Edmonton's city manager Andre Corbould said after the meeting. 

The city announced on Monday that rec centres and other Edmonton facilities would likely begin reopening this week.

"We're going to be reaching out to (the workers) individually to make sure they're ready and to do some retraining and preperations," Corbould added.

Back in March of 2020, the city temporarily laid off just over 2,000 non-essential employees. The following month, another 900 city staff members were also temporarily let go.    

"Those were heartbreaking decisions," Mayor Don Iveson said about the layoffs after the committee meeting. 

"It will be challenging and will have cultural implications for us," he added, "and so we'll have to work very hard to bring people back and ensure that they understand how valued they are." 

The mayor said the rehiring of city staff is good for local business, and good for financial sustainability.

"Sustainability for those households," he said, adding: "So, it's about damn time, is how I feel about it, and we're looking forward to having them back."  

'CONTINUED, CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM'

During the Tuesday morning briefing, the emergency advisory committee also heard from Corbould that the Edmonton Health Zone's active case rate of COVID-19 per 100,000 had dropped to 92.1 as of June 6. That number is down from 416.5 from just one month earlier.

The Edmonton Health Zone reported 1,273 active cases of COVID-19 as of June 6. That's compared to 6,098 active cases on May 4. 

Corbould also told Edmonton city councillors that 66 per cent of Edmontonians over the age of 12 have now received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Today's update at the emergency advisory committee gave us reason for continued, cautious optimism," Iveson said during the post-meeting media availability. "Compared to a year ago, we heard about an uptick in transit usage, construction permits, and employment."

"We are by no means near the end of the pandemic," he added, "but it is within sight."

As Alberta seems poised to move forward to Stage 2 of its summer relaunch plan, the City of Edmonton will tie many of its reopenings to the province's decisions.

"We're working with the province's expected June 10 date for Stage 2," Corbould said after he had briefed city councillors.

CANADA DAY FIREWORKS

Edmonton's city manager said this year's Canada Day fireworks display will go forward if possible.

"We will base our decisions about summer fireworks on the Alberta government's restrictions and health advice," said Corbould. "If we are not in Stage 3 of the provincial open for summer plan by July 1, then we will find another day this summer to celebrate with fireworks."

According to Corbould, the city has increased the number of fireworks shells that will be at the top half of the show by "30 per cent."

"This is done by having more shots higher up," he said. "It'll allow for viewing from more places, and from further away."

Live stream viewing of the fireworks display will be available.

The city manager also said on Tuesday that he expects both The Works art festival and Taste of Edmonton will take place at Edmonton's Churchill Square in July.