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Bredin Centre for Learning (formerly Bredin Institute) has been typically known to be a great resource for international professionals with experiences in fields like accounting, health care, and engineering , but not the arts. Particularly, Bredin is well-versed in providing career and employment information for immigrants with education and work experience that requires licensure and accreditation recognition.
Given all this, it was a pleasant surprise to hear about the four-hour Creative Connection Exhibition which took place on April 22nd right at Bredin. The exhibition featured artwork from five immigrant visual artists – Bushra Yousaf (who came to Canada from Pakistan via Australia); Olesea Litvinova (from Moldova); Kalpa Radhakrishnan (from India); Almira Mikhailova (from Kazakhstan); and Grigory Litvinov (from Russia) – as well as live music by immigrant artists, including Veniamin Tomsa (from Moldova) and a musician from Armenia.
In fact, Bredin has been supporting newcomer artists for some time through their Creative Connections program, which began in January 2016. That same month, I met Tomsa, who had mentioned he knew a few artists at Bredin and that they occasionally played music together; this was before I understood that there was such a program as Creative Connections at Bredin.
From my conversation with Tomsa, he explained the emptiness he felt in working at his daytime job where he felt he could not have conversations about art or more intellectual topics with his coworkers. However, when he spoke of the artists he met at Bredin, his expression literally lit up.
“In the One-Step Settlement Program, we help newcomers with all their settlement needs – housing, referrals, job search, etc.,” shares Settlement Counsellor Tarek Fath Elbab, who was behind organizing the exhibit. “We noticed we have several newcomer artists, and we realized that a very important part of their settlement needs is to be able to be a part of the art community in Edmonton. It is not enough for them to have a regular job.”
“They were very disappointed that they were isolated from the art community in Edmonton.”
Mikhailova, whose whimsical works really stood out with the way she used speckled colours and painted trees with long thin trunks, was not able to be present at the exhibit in the morning as she was at her cleaning job at that time.
In an effort to assist these newcomer artists, Elbab started a networking group called Creative Connections, and the first session had local visual artist, Elsa Robinson, as a guest speaker. Robinson, who is from Jamaica, shared her experience as an immigrant artist and motivated the newcomer artists to pursue their artwork.
“In the following session, we agreed on organizing an exhibition, which would be an ideal [platform] for [these artists] to network with the arts community and organizations in Edmonon,” says Elbab.
Getting off the elevator on the ninth floor of the building where Bredin is located, the artwork already beckoned the passerby to come in. An entire room was transformed into a gallery space comparable to that of a professional art gallery, and there were already a number of people checking out the exhibit fifteen minutes after the exhibit had begun. It was filled with artwork on easels along with a keyboard in the corner where a musician was playing music.
Next to each visual artist’s artwork was a short biography of the artist.
Elbab admits this is the first time he’s organized an art exhibition, but fortunately, he was able to garner support in learning about the process.
“I received advice from Elsa Robinson and Nakita Valeria,” says Elbab. “In addition, Delta Art & Drafting Supply provided us with twenty easels [at no cost] to use during the exhibition.”
When Elbab took the idea of hosting an art exhibit to the Bredin’s management team, the support came quickly.
“My manager Maria Lewin was very supportive and took it to our general manager Steve McGean and the Executive Director, Debbie Green, who was very supportive as well,” shares Elbab. [They] made all of Bredin’s resources available for the Creative Connections group.”
Artists were also encouraged to sell their work. The Bredin Centre has been so supportive that they already plan to purchase the work of one of the exhibiting artists.
“Some artists asked me, ‘Tarek, how much should I price this?’” Elbab laughs. “I told them, ‘Please don’t ask me! You have to decide for yourself!’”
Litvinova, whose work mainly consisted of still life, had recently created the works specifically for this exhibit. Meanwhile, some of Yousaf’s work consisted of portraits which had very interesting stories behind them including that of a lady known as the “Oldest Woman” (due to adults in Yousaf’s hometown forever knowing her to be old even in their youth) and that of a driver she has known since childhood who was “always late, sometimes by more than an hour!” Others were landscape including that of a large boat against the backdrop of a place that looks exactly like the Rocky Mountains except that Yousaf had based the painting on a mountainous region of Pakistan that looks very similar.
The works of Kerala-based artist, Radhakrishnan, were very colourful and intricate. It’s hard to believe she only took a few art classes to get to this level of artistry. Her husband happily explained the work to one of the event’s attendees as if he was the artist himself.
Radhakrishnan had recently migrated to Canada and was registered as a client of Bredin for settlement services. While attending the settlement and resume building workshops in late January, she was invited to participate in the exhibit, which also invited all clients with an artistic background.
“The whole theme was to brainstorm to generate ideas on how Bredin can help new migrants with an artistic background to build a career in Canada,” Radhakrishnan recalls. “I [met] Ms. Elsa Robinson who […] is a self-taught artist and has been hosting exhibitions of her paintings since 2006. Then I was curious to know if Bredin could do something for the new artists in Edmonton.
“Thus the idea of organizing an art exhibit finally evolved with the support of all the artists with painting and music background [at Bredin]. A team was built by Tarek, and thus I got this opportunity to exhibit my works.”
Although she is a self-taught artist, Radhakrishnan has had numerous exhibitions in Kerala and also used to make custom-made paintings from customer orders. She has also received numerous awards and recognition for her art and has travelled to different states in India to promote her drawing and painting work.
The visual artist made several efforts to connect with the Edmonton arts community by approaching places such as the Art Gallery of Alberta and various galleries, including a gallery at West Edmonton Mall.
“But the response I received was not so positive initially as most of them [said] that my painting style won’t be the one liked by Canadians,” tells Radhakrishnan. “I started working on doing paintings in Canadian style and ended up with a painting I named as Waterworld, which got tremendous appreciation from visitors during the Bredin Exhibition.”
Radhakrishnan has nothing but positive things to say about the opportunity that the Bredin Centre provided for her and other artists.
“I [was able] to get the connection of many esteemed guests working in the arts in Edmonton. The exhibition helped me to gather feedback from visitors on my painting styles. This will help in my long journey as an artist to work on themes and styles, which will be acceptable for the larger crowd in Edmonton.”
Of course, my resto recommendations really don't mean much, since I'm not, well, East African. And it does bug when ethnic cuisine is only ever reviewed by folks who didn't grow up with the cuisine from "blank" culture. So some time back, I asked some folks in the African & Caribbean community for some advice on their respective culture’s cuisine. And yes, we are going beyond East Africa this time around.
Which restaurant, aside from your own cooking or mother/grandmother’s cooking would you recommend for cuisine from your culture?
Oliver Kamau (Kenyan): We don’t have Kenyan [restaurants] here. Most restaurants are Somali or Ethiopian and you can find chapati in the Somali places. In a heartbeat, any Ethiopian restaurant. Blue Nile – they do very well.
Dama Diriye (Somali): I would suggest Banaadiri and Shabelle Coffee around 118 and 95 Street. African Safari is also another good restaurant. In fact, there are lots of others, but Banaadiri and Safari are the major two I usually go to. Shabelle Coffee has nice samosas.
Chakanaka Zinyemba (Zimbabwean): The sad thing is…there are many Zimbabweans, but no Zimbabwean restaurants in town! Though many of us go shopping at Betsie’s South African Deli on Gateway Boulevard.
Gai Jacob (South Sudanese): We don’t really have South Sudanese places here. Regarding African restaurants [in general], Banaadiri’s food is tasty, but the space is small and setting is less Canadian. I often go there, because its unique setting is normal to me. But there may be changed needed if they want to attract conventional Canadians.
Lado Luala (South Sudanese): We don’t have [South Sudanese] restaurants here – that’s the problem. But I like that Jamaican restaurant on 118th Avenue [A Yah Mi Deh]. They have beans together with other things like rice – it’s healthy. Always, I want to eat at a Jamaican restaurant. [Other African restaurants} always focus on the meat, so it’s not that healthy…but Ethiopian injera is probably good for you.
Ahmed Knowmadic (Somali): Banaadiri is where it’s at. I [also] want to recommend Mareeg Café & Restaurant on 9420-118 Avenue.
Yodit Tesfamicael (Eritrean/Ethiopian): Sunshine Habesha Restaurant on 95 Street & 108A Ave. [and] Zembaba 2 Shisha on 118th Ave. & 125 Street.
Frankline Agbor (Cameroonian): There is only one West African restaurant here in Edmonton, and that is Koultures [Afro-Continental]. The rest are Somali and Ethiopian. There used to be a Ghanian restaurant on 118th Ave., but that has closed down.
Shima Robinson (Jamaican): I would recommend A Yah Mi Deh, because they have a very good selection of food, including beef patties, chicken patties, and fish patties on most days. The have escovitch fish, beef soup, jerk chicken, curry goat, and curry chicken – beef stew. They have traditional cake – it’s like rum cake; they also have other baked goods like bulla bread and other breads available. The menu is extensive – so [certain items] are only available on certain days, but they have it all available if you call or go in.
Babatunde Olateju (Nigerian): There’s two: Koultures – that’s more geared towards West African, and then there’s an east African one – African Safari; I was just there yesterday!
Earlier this month, we began the East African Way food tour by starting with Avenue of Nations. We continue the tour by moving a bit north to 118th Avenue (a.k.a. Alberta Avenue).
Banaadiri African Bistro
I’ve never physically gone inside Banaadiri (from outside, it looks extremely tiny), but a few years ago, a colleague and I were canvassing restaurants from different cultural communities to help supply some lunches for a high school orientation designed specifically for newcomer students to Canada. My colleague followed up and perhaps reluctantly, the owner said "yes" to her request. When she went to pick up the food a week later, she told myself and our coworkers how she felt like she had literally walked into a “hole in the wall” that might be at risk of being judged harshly by a food & safety inspector. Yet, the Somali business gave us a ton of food, consisting of rice similar to the rice you’d find at African Safari; chapati; and suqaar so rich in spices and flavouring that the food had excellent feedback from students and colleagues alike.
So although more could be done to make the restaurant itself more presentable, it definitely deserves two thumbs up for the excellent food and for its community support.
Imaan East African Restaurant
Some diners may remember that Hakuna Matata (which was actually a Somali restaurant, not Kenyan) used to be in the very same location as Imaan. Now, I loved Hakuna Matata and its large platters of food and its fluffy rice, so when the owner of Imaan asked me whose food I preferred more the first time I paid a visit, I had to avoid making a comment.
The first time I went to Imaan, it was with five other people during the Kaleido Festival over a year ago. The signage outside of Imaan is quite eye-catching, but as soon as you walk in, it looks a bit run down with old wooden tables that aren’t quite aligned, and when we all got there, it was empty. The menus handed to us were actually the menus from Hakuna Matata, which caused momentary confusion. My table ordered everything from chicken suqaar (cubes) to rice to chapati (flatbread). The servings, similar to Hakuna Matata, were huge! The rice is sprinkled with red peppers and raisins; meanwhile, the spaghetti is drier, less tomato-based than Italian pasta, and has a slight hint of spiciness. I also ordered a soup, which was quite spicy. At the time, the owner mentioned that they were going to change the menus very soon, but that the dishes they make from the Hakuna Matata menu are their own recipes.
A few months later, I came in with two friends while we were at the Deep Freeze Festival. Imaan was just a block away from where Deep Freeze began, and it felt odd that it was completely empty. I can’t recall if they were there before, but the small paintings bring a more welcoming feel to the modest establishment. We seated ourselves and waited for the server to arrive.
It took us some time to decide what to get. Imaan now has its own menu, and describes each dish, but does not have pictures; my friends commented that they wished there were pictures to help them choose what to order. The menu has some funny spelling mistakes – a friend pointed out that they must have meant chicken or beef “suqaar” rather than “sugar”. All main dishes come with a choice of rice, pasta, jabaati (chapati), or mufo. There are also a large variety of pastas on the menu that rival my mom’s ever-changing rotation of homemade pasta.
I ordered tea for myself, which ended up being tea for all three of us. We were also given a cup of milk, but the tea – with what tastes like cardamom and nutmeg – was already sweetened and completely fine without it. If anyone has been fortunate enough to try the Somali tea at Heritage Days before the Somali community stopped participating in recent years due to the unfortunate fact that Ramadan falls around the same time, Imaan’s tea is an exact replica.
We decided to get three separate dishes, so that we could try each other’s dishes. I ordered beef muskalo with mufo; one friend ordered goat meat with jabaati, and another friend ordered chicken suqaar with jabaati. All of our dishes came with an oval platter of what looked like tomato-based soup with bits of lettuce and carrot. On a separate small platter, we were served lime slices and a white dip with pepper; it had a slight wasabi taste. We figured it was for the salad or to combine with the meat and breads. The mufo was soft like a cushion and perfect to dip in the soup-like platter, which itself tasted like it had some habanero in it. One friend remarked that the soup was a bit like a Vietnamese soup he’s had with its slight sweet and sour taste. The muskalo reminded me of a tenderer version of Filipino tapa (beef jerky) that my mom makes, and it tasted great with the lime. I tried some of my friend’s goat, which was extremely flavourful. Two of us thought the chicken suqaar was okay; it wasn’t very well marinated, but was really good mixed with the jabaati and lime.
The most amusing thing happened when the server slipped three bananas at the corner of our table some time after he had given us the main dishes, as if it was a grave omission on his part. I wondered what the deal is with bananas being served with Somali meals (since African Safari does the same thing), so I later asked a Somali friend, and he said it’s actually a Somali custom.
Our three platters were large enough to feed ten people, and I struggled to eat all the muskalo on my plate, because it was three times the amount of meat I would normally eat in a week. The one downside of Imaan, I’d have to say, is it doesn’t have much options, if any, for vegan or vegetarians. There is a low-fat section of the menu that has a fish platter and pasta with eggplants.
Our total bill, amazingly, was only $33. The server even told us that we could get free tea refills (located right by the cashier). All three of us took him up on his offer – if there’s any reason to go to Imaan, it’s definitely their sweet tea!
Shabelle Coffee House
The first time I tried to go to Shabelle, it was -30 below outside during the Deep Freeze Festival on a Sunday, and I was making a mad attempt to keep my feet from turning into frostbitten stumps as I waited another ten minutes for the bus. To my horror, Shabelle was closed. At the time, I thought it was just any other coffee house, and later found out that it’s actually a Somali restaurant!
The second time was less of an emergency – a quick dinner on a Saturday. The set up was very similar to a place like La Shish Taouk. The space is tiny, modest and bright orange all-around with a “Please Order Here Pay Here” sign along with circular photos of menu items along with their prices – great for those who are not very familiar with Somali cuisine. To the side is the cash register with a blackboard listing the menu items. A new patron might easily get confused, as the two menus don’t quite correspond, aside from the mango shake.
I first requested a plate called asariah, which looks like samosas, but it wasn’t available. A friend and I definitely wanted to try out the mango shake after seeing someone else order it. Unlike most mango shakes ($3.75), Shabelle’s looks like mango lassi infused with strawberry jam and ice cream. We also ordered mandazi ($1), fried, fluffy bread that is not much different from a donut; beef suqaar ($10); and bajija (2 for $1).
It took some time to clarify the orders due to language barriers, so one will have to be prepared and open to trying something unexpected or perhaps go to African Safari first to familiarize yourself with Somali cuisine. Although it was a lady who took our order, I was clearly in the minority with all the other diners being men, most of them Somali; and this is the same case in other Somali restaurants such as African Safari and Mareeg Café.
Within a few minutes of ordering, we got our mango shakes, which I think may just be Shabelle’s signature menu item. The bajija were small, deep-fried balls that look like falafel but with only a hint of flavour – not salty at all – and may just be a bit bland for Western tastes. The golden brown mandazis were as big as elephant ears with a slightly sweet caramel flavour, while the suqaar had green and red peppers tossed in with caramelized onions. It was delicious, but there wasn’t enough of the dish for the amount of chapati we were given.
Still, the experience was good overall, and I would come back purely for the unique mango shakes.
Daryn Baddour & Kristina de Guzman
Ward 12 has a high immigrant and newcomer population. What are your plans to help them integrate into the community?
Danisha Bhaloo: There is a lot of newcomers and immigrants coming into Edmonton. In the last two years, there were 60,000 immigrants that moved to Edmonton. Research shows that by 2020, we’re going to surpass the number of Aboriginal people in Edmonton that there is in Winnipeg. We’ll be the number one. So I think we need to see what supports they need whether it’s language training, jobs skills – those are the resources that I would be more interested in investing in in terms of social programs. I think Ward 12 is probably the most culturally diverse ward in our city. I think that presents a really great potential and opportunity to be a best practice ward for the rest of the city. I think [Ward 12 is] a great place to actually form grassroots community-building.
Rakesh Patel: New people are coming in, and even now with Syrian refugee crisis, they are coming in. I got involved with one of the organizations for raising money for Syrian refugees. We work with UNICEF Canada, so all the money we raised through that concert went to UNICEF Canada. We have already started working with [settlement agencies]. One is the Welcome Centre, which is just outside the ward in Millbourne Mall, but it takes care of Ward 12, too. Another one is Indo-Canadian Women’s Association, and a third one, too called IFSSA [Islamic Family and Social Services Association]. They’re very good. They are helping out people with Safeway coupons and bus passes. So these are the three organizations that comes to my mind. We have to work with them. We cannot work in isolation when we are collaborating. It increases our efforts. With them, we will reach out to the newcomers and find out how [the settlement agencies] can help them in integrating. Even the social housing, [Capital Region Housing Corporation] will calculate points. Say for example, a single mother with school-going child will have top of the priority. Sometimes the forms are not filled up correctly. Maybe a single mother with a five-year-old daughter or son will fill up a general application, but we have to educate – “No, you have to fill up the application [so that] the points will be scored higher.” So this advantage is there but they do not know. We have worked with the provincial office closely. We have worked with the councillors as well. So we are learning constantly and evolving, and we have some traction on getting them to integrate. To give a very good example, a single mother with a small child – they did not have any place to go. The social organization put them in a motel over the weekend, and they gave [the family] the food coupons – they cannot give cash. They gave the bus passes and come Monday, the Human Services Ministry took over and they appreciated the social organization, and then they put [the family] in their own shelter. So we all have to work together – the government as well as the social organization and the fantastic programs, which are there.
Lincoln Ho: A start is using some of those current facilities like libraries, and the rec centre has a lot of different rooms and areas that are completely [available] for them. We can convert that space into multicultural [hub]. I know that Clareview opened a multicultural centre. It’s not actually a multicultural centre. It’s just a hallway with four rooms. But it can serve for that purpose if we use libraries and cultural spaces for that. There’s a lot of empty spaces in shopping centres that the mall could give that up to the City so that cultural spaces can be used [by] newcomers. They don’t all have to go to the [Edmonton] Mennonite Centre for Newcomers Downtown; [services are] right in their neighbourhood.
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: Yeah, fifteen percent plus [live in the Ward]. I wanna build on what we’ve been doing, ‘cause I think we’ve been doing a great job of integrating and bringing out the best of our new residents and new Canadians. I wanna make sure we continue to do what’s working and maybe address the things that maybe aren’t. Every community that comes is always different even over time. People who came from India 20 or 30 years ago aren’t the same as the people coming today. And so it’s always a change we have to stay on top of making sure that we’re meeting their needs, helping them access the resources and help they need whether that’s the [Edmonton] Mennonite [Centre for Newcomers] or Catholic Social Services or just the City itself. The City’s been doing a good job of that with that [Edmonton] Newcomers Guide in many languages, and so it’s just making sure that we stay on top of this process. I think we should also look at the other jurisdictions that are immigrant-heavy. I know Brampton has the diversity and equity committees set up with citizens to give input to Council about what they are looking for in terms of that respect, so I think that’s something we should take a step towards.
Nav Kaur: Yes, there is a large newcomer population in Mill Woods and it’s growing. City Council needs to consult with the newcomer population to find out what their needs are before implementing services. City Council also needs to partner and work with frontline agencies that are already working within Ward 12 and providing the necessary services. I want to work directly with non-profits and immigrant communities to support their services and programs by advocating all levels of government for funding and resources. I also want to acknowledge and highlight the work these organizations such as Edmonton Immigrant Services Association are doing within the community, because this is what makes the community so vibrant. I don’t like the idea of creating and implementing new programs without the support of the community or when there are already organizations working incredibly hard to provide resources and assistance to newcomers. We need to work together and be able to support these organizations to make them stronger and efficient in delivering the needs of the immigrant community.
Preet Toor: There is a lot of newcomers moving to Ward 12, and [Ward 12] developing very fast. We need more access to community services and help newcomers access those already existing services. I also want to advocate for better communication between newcomers and Ward 12 residents.
How do you plan to improve accessibility in any one (or more) of the following areas:
- Affordable housing for those in need?
- Community leagues?
- Arts, culture & sports/recreation?
Danisha Bhaloo: We already are, I think, one of the best cities when it comes to arts and culture. I think, Ward 12, if you have different people with different backgrounds and traditions and cultures coming into one area, just the potential to share their culture is a lost opportunity when we don’t make use of that. We need to relook at what arts means to our city, first of all. When people think of arts and culture, they think of the opera. They think of the Citadel, the Winspear – but arts comes from people, and especially somewhere like Ward 12, none of the Ward 12 residents are going to care about access to the Winspear Theatre, right? They’re not. They’re going to care about what do they have in their community – it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It could be a community hall or a school that they actually have access to local artists and where especially youth have the opportunity to share their art or share their talents. That’s what art is to me. Like I sit on the board of the Edmonton Opera – I love the opera, but for me, it doesn’t resonate totally with Ward 12 residents. Yes, there are some that love the opera that I’ve met, but you’re not gonna see that from low-income [families]. Definitely access to those mainstream arts is important, but I think we need to look at what are people bringing to the table from different cultures and backgrounds and bring it to their own grassroots communities. Because if it’s successful in Ward 12, it’ll move to other areas of the city, and it’ll come to Downtown eventually. Because if you start in Downtown, you’re never going to get back into the suburbs [laughs].
Rakesh Patel: [Shayne Bergdahl, President of the Mill Woods Presidents’ Council and the President of Garvi Gujarat and I] had a meeting, and we were surprised that this President of the [Mill Woods Presidents’ Council] and so many community leagues – they have no access to other South Asian communities like my community. So Shayne and I and my board president, we have to – whatever the result of the election is – continue working in integrating more and more people. One challenge Shayne brought up is that in Tamarack area, it may come under the umbrella of Presidents’ Council but it is still not. He doesn’t don’t know how to go about talking to people, because a lot of the people – I don’t want to use the word – but they are not in the “mainstream” community. So my job and that of the constituents over there working with me is to make everyone a mainstream community. First, a primary objective is we have to bring in Tamarack under the umbrella of the Presidents’ Council.
Ward 12 does not have any good auditorium. We have some community halls, but suppose you want to have a concert right here in Ward 12? It is not there. The nearest one is in Whyte Avenue. So we look forward to building with our own strengths and of course, some government support, and the government has the budget for it – it’s called Community Enhancement Program for support in our community to bring in $125,000. The provincial government, through their Department of Culture, they give us $125,000 matching grant and each year you can claim the matching grant provided you have the matching funds you have raised through your community and provided you have a good plan to do it. In a question of about four years, we can have an excellent auditorium right here in Ward 12. And it will be acoustic and state-of-the-art, and you don’t have to go outside the community [to this venue].
Sports access right now I think is better, but we can do more and especially looking into the indoor facilities, because there are seven out of twelve months [of winter]. Basketball is doing very well and hockey is the major sport, but we have to diversify more into soccer, cricket…people in the South Asian community are crazy about [cricket]. There are a few cricket leagues, which are doing very well, but we are thinking again of building something indoor. [Indoor cricket] is there in Australia, which is not so much needed. We’re working with organizations that are registered non-profits for cricket. This organization I’m talking about is there for about last ten years, but recently we have got them registered. Now they know about the facilities and government programs. They got registered only about seven or eight months ago.
Lincoln Ho: In terms of affordable housing, I don’t think that building entire complexes for affordable housing is the solution. From how I visited a lot of the complexes that were obviously affordable housing, it almost becomes like the projects. When we give out contracts to developers, developers [should] have to set aside a certain number of units randomly for affordable housing, so that one: it doesn’t stigmatize the people who live in them. And two: it gives them a chance to get out of that situation. Because a lot of the times, you become what you’re associated with. And if you’re just associated with the same people with the same socioeconomic status, it becomes your identity and mixing that in with the rest of the population gives people hope. In terms of condo units and apartment buildings, same thing. Certain units can be set aside for affordable housing. It can just be written into the contract that if you’re gonna build with the City, maybe 2% or 5% of the housing that you build will be given to affordable housing.
Community leagues is a private thing, so you can’t really control what community leagues do. I know down in Terwilleger, the community league space has been pretty much rented out for weddings after weddings after weddings, because they make money off of that. That’s basically what it’s used for. There’s not a lot of groups that go in there and meet, whereas Ridgewood Community League, not very much happens there anytime. The only thing that I’ve ever seen it used for is election space, so whenever there’s an election, it’s used as a polling station. There’s the occasional meeting of sorts but it doesn’t get utilized at all. But that’s a decision the Ridgewood Community League has chosen. I live in Ridgewood – so that community league building never gets used [laughs]. Southwood is very active. They have a lot of events that happen and that building gets used for anything and everything. So they have local clubs that meet there. They have a lot of fundraisers. I know they have a preteen dance going on there as well recently. It’s actually used as a community centre. And honestly I don’t think what community leagues choose to do with their centres is something the City can decide, but we can definitely encourage community leagues to be more involved with the community.
In terms of arts & culture, from what I understand, the art budget goes directly to the Edmonton Arts Council. Now the Edmonton Arts Council splits [the funds] between [over a hundred] organizations, so that includes museums, art galleries, festivals. It includes multicultural events, so the things happening in Chinatown. There’s also the Public Art and the artists that are funded by that as well. When you split [the funds] between all of those [organizations], it’s not even minimum wage – let’s say there’s one person per organization. It’s not a lot of money, but yet people think it’s a lot of money. I’m not saying whether we should spend more money into the arts, but I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t spend more money on the arts. But I do have an option where we can access the arts within the city by the same method that I talked about with multicultural services. So the malls and stuff like that, we can have art studios and art galleries there for local art. When you go to a subway station in Hong Kong, you’ll see a wall of art that’s done by a school or a community group within walking distance of that subway station. So what we can do with our transit centres is the same thing – have local art within those areas that could be added on. So those are some art ideas that could be implemented on a very low budget. In terms of sports, we can’t remove the surplus school land and expect everyone to go to the one giant sports park. We need more access to the leisure system.
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: So the issue with affordable housing is we’ve been doing a lot and we need to do more, but there’s a limit to what the City can do. The Mayor said it’s time for the Province to step up again and take on more, because it is a provincial jurisdiction issue. We need to be responsible for what we’re legally responsible to do, so that we’re all doing our own jobs. The City has to do what it can to assist the Province in getting more affordable housing built, ‘cause we have to take care of everyone. It’s our society, so we can’t just leave people to fend for themselves. That’s not our values in Ward 12. It’s not our values in Edmonton. I don’t think it’s our values as a Canadian society. It should be the right person paying the bill, and I think the Mayor’s right, it should be the Province.
[Access to community leagues] is tough because you have a lot of new neighbourhoods. So there’s not that sense of community just yet. At the same time, I guess we need to help our community leagues do more outreach and engage with the residents who live there. Not just so you can pay your fees and use the [outdoor rinks], but there are the other things that we can do together. I think there is an appetite for that out there. We have some community leagues that are absolutely massive. The community league that the Meadows covers are two of the largest neighbourhoods in the ward: Wild Rose and Silver Berry. There are over 5000 residents in both. And you’re looking at Larkspur, Maple, Tamarack – massive growth. Laurel – massive growth. Those are all relatively new communities. Silver Berry, especially – despite being finished, it is still really new. So it’s a question of making sure that [community leagues] can connect new residents as they come in and help establish that relationship with them, so that they can be involved with the community league from the start. Also, I think we have to look at how big some of these community leagues are getting. Burnewood [Community League] is just Jackson Heights and Kiniski Gardens. The Mill Woods model works, because it’s usually about three neighbourhoods per community league. I think Meadows is getting to the point where were we might need to look at how we work with all these new neighbourhoods. I think in the southside, Walker and Charlesworth don’t even have their own community leagues yet. We have to look at these new neighbourhoods and make sure we get these community leagues off the ground at the right time, so the people who live there have an organization that can advocate on their behalf.
[Arts and culture] do tend to be centralized. We have some great facilities here in southeast Edmonton. [Ward 12] is a heavily residential ward, but Ward 11’s next door and Mill Woods is almost considered its own entity. I think there’s great opportunity for access at the Mill Woods Town Centre area, especially with the LRT line coming in. I think it’s going to be a great hub for the communities here in southeast Edmonton, and so I’m looking forward to doing things like youth drop-in centres and some other projects that are coming down the pipeline. This LRT is going to be so fundamental in helping connect us to the rest of the City and bringing the City to us. I think people should be coming to Mill Woods. We have so much to offer the rest of the City beyond just negative headlines, and I wanna help change that, ‘cause I’m born and raised in Mill Woods. The fact that we can only get news coverage when it’s bad news – that bothers me a lot. We call ourselves “Festival City”, but every year the Sikh community has a parade between this gurdwara and that gurdwara down there and...[the media] doesn't cover it. It’s 30,000 people in a single afternoon coming out! Free food for everyone. It’s open to the whole community. And we don’t get coverage. I honestly think it’s one of the top five festivals in the City. Where else do you get 30,000 people in a single day? There’s not a lot of festivals here that can do that. So it’s a question of telling our story and making people realize that, “Hey, we’re here, and we have a lot to offer.” I wanna make sure that we get the respect we deserve.
I don’t think there’s a place in the city where there are two rec centres as close as Mill Woods and Meadows are. We do need more [outdoor rinks] in some of the newer neighbourhoods. Hockey is a great Canadian pastime. [Outdoor rinks are] a great place for kids to get together and meet each other in the neighbourhood, play hockey and build that team spirit. It’s a great way to keep kids out of trouble. We have problems with playgrounds in some of the new neighbourhoods. [The community is] telling me that they’re opening two schools a year for a few years. [It’s] great that we’re catching up on schools, but then they found out they can’t get grants for more than one playground a year, which is crazy to me, because you’re delaying certain playgrounds for two to four years just because the City says you can’t get the grant? I mean kids grow up so fast in a year! I don’t want to pull these bureaucratic rules. It’s not like they’re going to be asking for new playgrounds every year. They’re going to be asking for the ones those communities need, so we should get them the grants right away, so that they can build the playgrounds for the kids... so [the kids] can grow up playing with [other] kids to build those community bonds.
Nav Kaur: Arts, culture & sports/recreation are crucial to the fabric of the Ward 12 community.
Community leagues are formal forums of engagement. I want to see more funding and affordable spaces available for community leagues to organize and operate.
Preet Toor: The reality is that people are more concerned with jobs right now above anything else. That is a priority that much attention must be given to, because people are not going to be concerned so much with arts and culture if they can’t meet their basic needs such as food and shelter.
What do you think makes Ward 12 unique compared to the rest of Edmonton?
Danisha Bhaloo: That pluralism and diversity again – that would be the number one thing for me. I could be in one neighbourhood doorknocking and see a totally group of people on another night. [Different communities within the ward] don’t know each other, which is sad. We need more community-based programs, events that are very grassroots, and community leagues can have a role with that. Canada is pluralistic; Edmonton is pluralistic; Ward 12 is the most pluralistic, so why are we not taking advantage of that right now?
Rakesh Patel: What makes it unique is that it is a first-time settling ground. Coming outside from Edmonton within Canada or from outside Canada, [people] are mostly settling down in the southside in Ward 11 and Ward 12. So there is a lot of pressure for new settlement in Ward 12, and it is unique in the sense that there are lots of pockets that are still not integrated with a lot of challenges. I believe challenge is an opportunity. If there is a challenge, only then you can do something, so we’ll make that challenge into an opportunity.
Lincoln Ho: If I were to use one word, it would be diversity.
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: I look at it as Greater Southeast Edmonton. We talk about being global citizens – I think the next generation of world leaders can be found in Mill Woods and southeast Edmonton. We all grow up with each other. We’re from all over the world. We’re from here. We’re from elsewhere. And we grow up with each other’s faiths, traditions, cultures, values, and we learn to respect each other. We learn to see things from each other’s perspectives, and I think that is a great strength that we don’t celebrate enough: the ability to see things from the way maybe our families or cultural background [do]. The way we learn how to see things in school: the Canadian mainstream view and our friends’ views. That mental flexibility to see more than one perspective on the same issue is something that we need to expand. I think that makes us uniquely gifted as problem-solvers. It’s not black-and-white for us all the time. We see in three dimensions. I wanna make sure we raise the next generation of leaders. I wanna give the kids who were born or raised here the same opportunities that I’ve had and more opportunities than I’ve had to engage in our society and to show everyone that we’re world leaders.
Nav Kaur: The community is very diverse in culture, race, and class. The history of Mill Wood’s and its relationship to the Papaschase Indigenous Band is one that is very rich and special in history. Mill Woods was created on Papaschase land, and in time of reconciliation we need to acknowledge and develop this history and relationship between the residents of Mill Woods and the Papaschase people. This is an incredibly important relationship that we must take care of and develop for the future accomplishment of Ward 12.
Preet Toor: Multicultural, lot of diversity in the area, and it’s new and developing very fast. We need to have more services to meet the needs. We are not lacking, and it’s quite vibrant. Ward 12 is an entire city. We have everything we need.
Daryn Baddour & Kristina de Guzman
A few days ago, CommuniFLY began covering the upcoming Ward 12 byelection by gathering some thoughts from some Ward 12 residents. The diversity of their views is just about as diverse as the slate of 32 candidates running – technically 31 since Shani Ahmad declared that he is hoping not to win albeit too late to actually take his name off the ballot.
Part 2 shares interviews with a handful of Ward 12 candidates to better understand their backgrounds, platforms and motivation behind running in this byelection.
We contacted candidates who we felt were actually serious about representing Ward 12 in terms of online presence, community work background, media presence, having detailed platforms and word of mouth mentions via our social circles. Out of the eight candidates we attempted to contact, six responded to our interview requests. We would have liked to talk to more candidates, but we can certainly relate to the time crunch that both Ward 12 voters and candidates are facing.
Ultimately, we encourage Ward 12 voters to do their own research and get out the vote on Monday, February 22 to choose the candidate that they feel will best represent and advocate for Ward 12 issues. With 32 candidates coming from a variety of backgrounds running in one of the most culturally diverse areas of Edmonton and with a good turnout already in advance voters, this byelection is undoubtedly one for the record books.
Tell me about your relationship to Ward 12, whether that is living and/or working there.
Danisha Bhaloo: I grew up there with my dad; he lived in the Meadows area before he passed away when I was twelve-years-old. I have friends and families now who live in the ward that are raising their own kids, and my mom and I also have investment property in the ward. In my job, I work with Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters as well other community work with kids, [and a lot of them] live in that ward. Right now I live with my mom, and she lives just outside the ward.
Rakesh Patel: I have my business and my home office in Ward 12, so when I finish late, I sleep there. But I live just outside the ward with my parents. Half of [my postal code] is Ward 12 and half of it is outside.
Lincoln Ho: [Ward 12] is where I’ve been living for the last 25 years. I went to elementary school here and also junior high. I haven’t worked within Ward 12, but I’ve done things with the local community league, and I go to [Corpus Christi Catholic Church] – that’s gonna be one of the largest [Catholic] churches in Western Canada.
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: I’m born and raised here actually. [My family and I] lived in Daly Grove when I was born and lived in Pollard Meadows after that. Since then, I’ve lived in Minchau, Jackson Heights, and for the last 16 years, I’ve lived in Kiniski Gardens. I’ve also had the privilege of building some of the ward. My family’s got a small construction company, so in the summers I used to haul gravel or excavations for my dad after-school. I actually dug Walker Lake in the southside; we moved a lot of earth in the southern portion of the ward. I was involved heavily in university days with the Sikh Student Society. Since then, my friend’s been running Seva Food Truck. It’s a non-profit where they go and feed inner city school children hot lunches fairly often. They’re also trying to build a free kitchen, so it’s in the planning design phase I believe. [Seva Food Truck] is one of those examples of innovative social entrepreneurship.
Nav Kaur: I was born and raised in Mill Woods, I have never lived anywhere else in Edmonton. My family used to own a daycare here, and I volunteered extensively within the community. I have done work with the youth. I was a board intern with Mill Woods Family Resource Centre, and I volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of Edmonton here in the community. I am also a part of a large Punjabi community that has the largest concentration here in Ward 12 in all of Edmonton.
Preet Toor: I have lived in Mill Woods for 25 years since the day I came to Canada. I was a board director for the Mill Woods Family Resource Centre, and I am a member of the Sikh Women Assocation, where we provide assistance to women dealing with domestic issues such as violence and partner abuse. We support these women with women’s work and connecting them to resources such as language translation, shelter, food, clothing, education, legal help, childcare and the list goes on. I have provided my home as a safe shelter for these women and their children on several occasions so they may stay safe and have the time to heal and rebuild their lives. I am a teacher, community advocate, and volunteer for a number of charitable causes here in Ward 12 such as organizing blood services campaign drives, and Edmonton Transit Stuff-a-Bus Program. I have also organized and supported Santa’s Anonymous campaigns in Ward 12, and I volunteer with people who are isolated and lonely, such as widows, senior citizens, or the disabled. I feel like if there is any opportunity to help this community, I am there to lend my help, because it is what we all should be doing – helping each other out.
Why did you decide to run in this byelection?
Danisha Bhaloo: The first is that I lived through challenging times in a single parent home, so I lived in low-income, nearly poverty circumstances. I used a lot of the City of Edmonton facilities, so when you look at Donate-a-Ride or affordable housing or the Food Bank, those are all the services that I used growing up. So part of the reason I decided to run was to give back to the community that did so much for me and my family. The other reason is when you look at City Council, there’s a huge gap. I don’t think it represents our city and our community – not just gender, but age, diversity and even experience. When you look at Edmonton, we’re probably one of the youngest cities: our average age is 34; the average age of City Council is almost 50. Edmonton is 50-50 gender split of men and women; we have one woman at City Council while they elected one at Saudi Arabia last year (laughs). With Amarjeet Sohi gone, there’s no cultural diversity on City Council. I would argue that Edmonton is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Western Canada, so I really don’t think that our leadership represents who we are as Edmontonians.
Rakesh Patel: I would say that I’m of a young age in politics when I compare with my fellow colleagues running. You’ll see I’m below the median and average age – I’m just about turning 32. I came from India and then settled pretty quickly. I believe in the philosophy of “earn, learn, and return”. First, it’s a learning phase, which I did. Then there’s the earning phase; I’m still doing it pretty well. I employ quite a few people in my small business. But now I think is the time to return to the community. I started by taking up a board position with [the Garvi Gujarat Association of Canada four years ago], so I’m now the Vice-President. [The Gujarati] community is a very large [Indo-Canadian] community. I’ve [served] for a particular community, but I want to do it for the community-at-large. Why should I connect – because many of the opportunities or facilities, which are offered by the government – people don’t know about them. I take my parents regularly to the [Mill Woods] Seniors Activity Centre, and I see people just waiting in the corner, and they don’t know much about it. They are not able to open up. So I do the job of connecting with the government and non-profit opportunities, which are there for the constituents of my ward.
Lincoln Ho:I actually wanted to run two elections ago. But when they [changed to] Ward 12, I was pretty satisfied with Amarjeet Sohi, so I decided not to run at the time. This [byelection] was an opportunity for me to run, and also I have a lot of ideas that I want to implement with the City. Especially Ward 12 has been neglected quite a bit in terms of transportation services. Most of my goods and services come from Ward 11…[Mill Woods] Town Centre or South Edmonton Common. Without the [Meadows] Rec Centre that just recently opened, we barely have any other City services. We don’t have a police station. We don’t have hospitals. We don’t have a high school even. So I want to [ensure] we have those services.
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: I was looking at the candidates that were going to step up, and in fact we had great representation for the last eight years. I think [Ward 12] is the best part of the city to live in. Now people are paying attention to us, and I wanna make sure we don’t lose our place in the city’s consciousness. A big part of it is I’m a fairly young candidate. The decisions we make are going to impact the next fifty years, and I don’t really see that vision in anyone else. If I make a decision, I’m going to have to hear about it whether it’s right or wrong for the next fifty years [laughs]. That’s my lifetime here. You don’t really get that sense from someone a little bit older, so I think it’s time for the next generation to step up and take the torch.
Nav Kaur: Initially I was not planning on running in this election, so this is a grassroots movement for me that came about at the last minute. Prior to making that decision, I recalled a story of my childhood when I went for a trip to City Council, and I did not feel like I could ever see someone like me, a Punjabi woman – who represented my values – sitting in council chair. However, I made the decision to run, because people were encouraging me to run. I am also passionate about the neighborhood, Ward 12 and it represents my values. So when I started my campaign and started door knocking, I garnered so much support and overwhelming response specifically from girls in grade school and professional women. In me they saw a role model, someone who they could relate to and represent their future, and someone who could finally represent and be there voice for them in City Council. Given this support from my community, I feel even more validated and driven to run in this election. I now feel more than ever that it is possible for someone like myself, a Punjabi woman, to sit on City Council and represent the diversity of this city and Ward 12. I also believe that the candidate who is running for this seat should be from Mill woods.
Preet Toor: I have always been interested in politics since I was very young. I actually wanted to be a lawyer or go into politics. However, circumstances changed the course of my path, and I went into a different career path. But now I have the time to pursue my passion for politics. I not only have the passion, but I also have a strong female perspective that is diverse. I have the knowledge and experience with the City as I work with Edmonton Transit System as teacher and trainer. I am honest, responsible, and I am accountable for my actions. I have courage to stand up for what is right. I have effective leadership, which is what Ward 12 and City Council needs.
What issues are you hearing from Ward 12 residents?
Danisha Bhaloo: I’ve been going doorknocking everyday for the last couple of months, and before that I met with a lot of community groups in the ward. The three main issues that I’ve been hearing [are]: crime prevention and safety in communities; transit; budget management. Going into this economic downturn, what does that mean for families in terms of spending?
[The types of crime] really depend on which area of the ward you’re in. In Summerside right now, there’s a big increase in car thefts. Summerside is a diverse area, but there’s a lot of high-income people that live there. The houses are a million dollar houses, they have a lake, and even if you go on their facebook page on the Summerside Community League, ninety percent of what they talk about is there are car thefts in the area. Parents are scared of having their kids roam the streets in their own neighbourhoods. They leave the lights on at night. [The community league] is a great support in terms of community watch, but that’s their primary concern right now. Now when you look at Mill Woods and Meadows, those are more immigrant, newcomer families who already have challenges with the language and things like that, and you’re seeing a lot more violent crimes in that area. They don’t know where to go or how to deal with that. The ward is so big – there’s 90,000 people. It covers Summerside, Mill Woods, Ellerslie – it’s not necessarily the same issues in Summerside that [are] in Mill Woods. The communities are different.
[With spending and taxes], I’m glad [the City of Edmontoni is] doing a review on all the services they provide right now. I wish they had done it before the budget came out in December, because I truly believe we don’t need to ask citizens for a tax increase until we actually do our homework and find out how we’re best spending our money that we have right now. Edmonton has been stagnant over the last several years, and that’s why taxes haven’t gone up which is why it’s such a shock when they go up so exponentially now. I really think we need to look at – is there duplication of services? Are different departments doing the same thing that they don’t need to be doing? What is the service delivery that we’re offering citizens whatever class you’re in terms of low income, middle class or higher class? Especially going into an economic downturn, more and more families are living paycheque to paycheque – families that never had to worry about that before. Growing up in poverty, I know personally how to live paycheque to paycheque and how to live within your means, and working within the not-for-profit sector, you don’t get a lot of money, but you have to do the most you can with the dollar. I think we need to have the same perspective when it comes to city management.
Rakesh Patel: One of the major issues I’m hearing from residents is the property tax. I believe increasing property taxes should be the last resort. But in the past this has not been the case.
Snow removal and roads, of course. [For] roads, I’ve also got a very novel idea – I mean it’s not my original idea. Before I was in Toronto for some time and saw that this route called 407 has come up very well. What happens is that it’s a toll road, so pay-as-you-go like you’re Internet is pay-as-you-go. If you’re in a hurry and you are to reach somewhere, people who can really afford will take the toll road. So we will get revenue generation as well. We will also free up traffic on main roads [like the] Whitemud Drive or even Anthony Henday. Instead of trying to get revenue through photo radar, which is controversial, but I would not say it’s good or bad because once I am elected, I would like to see an independent committee do a study and report back what is happening with photo radar. But when I talk to my constituents, they are not really sad – they’re mad sometimes, you know – sometime there could be a revolution because of this [laughs]. But it is a cash cow for the City. So instead of trying to make a cash cow through photo radar, I would like to replicate the 407 model here.
With snow removal, administration is trying their best, but it is not adequate. We need more people to be employed [to do snow removal] not only on the major roadways, they have to come into the alleyway. They have to come into the bylanes as well to remove it. We are fortunate this year till now, but there are times when it is minus 20 [degrees Celsius]. [Snow] will remain for ten days.
Lincoln Ho: One is definitely transportation. Now in terms of the safety issue, it’s mainly an issue with the new communities where there’s been a lot of break-ins, because those new communities haven’t had their security systems installed yet. So Orchard, new parts of Summerside, a lot of the new areas of Ellerslie, there have been tons of break-ins. I talked to someone who has had her car broken into twice in the same week, so that’s definitely a concern. Schools are a concern, but not really something as a Councillor we would do [much about]. We could definitely work with school boards to make sure that enough school zones are available. Snow removal is another issue that is different between communities I find. Older communities in the ward like Mill Woods – we’ve lived here pre-Mandel days, and we didn’t have residential snow removal before, so we survived. We had no issues. But as I walk in the newer areas of the ward, like the Meadows, the snow removal is exactly the same in those areas. I don’t notice a difference. But those residents think that snow removal isn’t enough there. So it really is a perspective issue and definitely something that needs to be brought up.
Mayor Mandel had snow removal at five centimetres and then Iveson actually lowered it to three centimetres, which actually increased how dangerous the roads were, because the snow removal basically went down to the pavement. Whenever it’s that low, it’s harder to stop when there isn’t snow there for traction. So if you noticed on the side of the roads now, there’s absolutely no windrows at all, whereas pre-Iveson days there were still some windrows. The windrows actually do serve a purpose on winter roads. At the intersections, when you can’t slow down and you’re sliding, you can actually drive into a windrow to help you to stop. Now that option is not available.
Infrastructure, obviously. There’s not enough infrastructure in [the newer areas].
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: People are concerned about traffic relief and about government accountability and transparency, especially with our big infrastructure projects. The biggest one, though honestly, is jobs. People are worried about losing their jobs. People have lost their jobs. A lot of our friends and neighbours are unemployed now, and they just wanna know where they’re going to be able to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
Nav Kaur: I have been door knocking for a minimum of eight hours a day and have spoken to over 200 residents of this neighborhood. One of the primary issues that the residents have been voicing is concerning transit and roads. There is a lack of effective transit services and bus routes from connecting Ward 12 to the rest of the city. There are also a lack of roads connecting Ward 12 to other major city hubs and neighborhoods. Speeding is also another problem in [certain] neighborhoods.
Preet Toor: I have been door knocking and talking to the residents of Ward 12. Right now joblessness is a big concern. People need jobs. Other issues such as community services such as recreation centres, because there is only one in Ward 12, and it is always busy. We need to have more recreation centres to meet the growing needs of this [ward]. Also, better ETS and LRT systems need to be expanded in the city to allow for an efficient transportation system to get people around. People are also concerned about the growing crime rate; where there is joblessness, there is a higher rate of crime, and better policing is required to help deal with these issues that are arising.
What are key issues you would like to address and how will you address them?
Danisha Bhaloo: I think the big thing is after-school programs for kids. Research shows that kids tend to get into trouble if they have nothing to do between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. every night. That’s when there’s high instances of drugs in terms of in-school areas. If kids don’t have a place to go ‘cause their parents are working, then they get into trouble. So we need to have programs – whether they’re in the school or outside of the school – that keep the kids busy. And actual valuable programs, not just sit in a room and watch TV for a few hours but homework help and recreational support and active living – those things that make kids healthy and make the right choices. I think that’s key if we’re looking at long-term again, and we don’t want kids to get into trouble now when they’re youth and then end up into a cycle of crime later.
[With transit], a lot of people just look at transit and think of the LRT or think of just bus service. They don’t think that transit is a huge holistic approach. For me I look at it from the family’s perspective or the individual’s perspective, especially a low-income family or individual. If you have a single mother that has two kids, how is she getting from point A to point B, whether that’s work, school – God forbid her kids are sick and have a doctor’s appointment? More than just bus and car and LRT, I think it can include taxi, uber and DATS for seniors, especially. It can include bike lanes. What are the options you’re providing to each user that is accessible? For each family and their needs? Like you can look at it as simple as if this mother is going to a grocery store at 11 p.m. at night. How is she getting back home from the grocery store with bags of groceries when a bus comes every two hours? She doesn’t have a car. Even something as little as having a taxi stand right next to the bus station is easier for her, so that she doesn’t have to walk ten minutes to get to a taxi. I’m a big believer in investing in public transit. We’re a car city right now. Even I drive everywhere. But if there’s options – affordable and accessible options – like busses that come every ten minutes instead of ever hour or two hours, I’m more likely to take the bus. When people have that option, then there’ll be less cars on the street. There’ll be less congestion. You’ll have less roadwork and maintenance.
Rakesh Patel: My platform [on property taxes] is logical, though I think it’s revolutionary as well. In the current scenario, when they assess the value of the properties in Edmonton, [the values] either stagnated or have gone down. I advocate for lowering property taxes. I am the only [candidate] who is saying, “Not only am I going to freeze, but I’m going to lower property taxes till such time when the property price begins going up.” I believe in developing new sources of revenue. People will ask, “If you lower property taxes, how is the budget going to be balanced?” To give an example, I was listening to BBC News the day before yesterday and officially BBC announced that India now has the fastest growing economy in the world; China has grown by 6.9%, but India has grown by 7.4%. Alberta’s trade with India is less than 5%, so can you believe the amount of opportunities to learn? I will bring changes into bringing new investments and rebrand the City and again call it City of Champions! I don’t have to talk about “Cut here. Cut there.” No, whatever is there is a good investment. Keep it as it is. Bring in new investments, so that people see there are no more cuts. Because I’m a business person, I’m itching to go. I’m talking already with a green business based out of Windsor, Ontario; they’re a completely green business, certified [federally] to make the vehicle [more fuel efficient]. They are making the vehicle about 17% lighter. That way the fuel efficiency will be more. I’m talking to them, and we are hoping that this is a time when infrastructure development will happen. We are losing jobs. That way we can create some jobs.
Seniors issues is close to my heart, ‘cause I live with my parents. I see in the parks, when there is rain, the seniors now are supposed to run to a shelter. They can hardly move! In Missaussauga area, there are shelters. But here in Edmonton, there are nice parks, but no shelter for seniors. So these are a few points, which I don’t think anybody has even thought about, but because I had the firsthand experience living with seniors, I know. When I take my parents in [the Mill Woods Seniors Activity Centre], I see that there are compartments: there’s an Ethiopian compartment, there’s a South Asian compartment; there’s the Russian compartment who are all within themselves. They’re still in mini-India, mini-Russia, mini-Hungary – they are not integrating. I’ve already started with, “Okay, let’s have a coffee altogether. Language is no barrier; you can at least speak business English – that should be good enough, and unless you speak out, you will not improve at all.” So you’re making it into mixed groups now for their sports activities. They play bingo. They play card games. They have coffees together. Now they’re already started to integrate. My major objective is that Canada is as diverse as possible but not in small compartments.
A very important thing, which I have already started planning, is the eradication of abuse to the seniors. I strongly believe that society is judged by how people treat their seniors. My mother and my father taught me how to walk, and if I cannot take care of them, then I am not even a human being. I hear about [the senior abuse issue] a bit, and it is quite a bit of a silent issue. That’s the reason a lot of education is required. We have to find out how it happens, where it happens, and then we really have to step in. I have a very short story, which I feel I can tell you how the silent thing comes out sometimes. I was passing through a park, and there was a group of senior gentleman – I don’t want to say which background. Maybe one of them was having a birthday. They were celebrating and having a bit of alcohol there, which is not allowed. So when I was passing by there was a police gentleman and policewoman also passing by. They stopped, and they said, “Sir, you are not allowed to have alcohol here.” So only out of those eight or ten of them, only one of them knew a bit of English. [That] gentleman, supposedly the leader, [asked], “What is going to happen if we have alcohol here?” “The repercussions are [this and that], or sir, you can be asked to leave [the park] for sure and in the worse scenario, you can also be deported back to your country.” As soon as they said that, the leader, who doesn’t speak that good English, [said], “Open another bottle! Just open another bottle!” He wanted to be deported! So what happens, [these seniors] are here. They are not being taken care of by their children. They’re doing a lot of household work. They’re looking after the kids, but they do not have much of independence even to go out. It’s a very silent issue. Only few people talk about it. And it’s a question of educating [seniors] by talking to them about their rights and even talking [to the public to] say, “Seniors are important.” So educate them as well and say that there are a lot of facilities. There are a lot of programs available with the government. We will all work together. Seniors are not just your responsibility; they are our responsibility. So senior issue is possibly the most important for me.
I have two very young children, so when [me] or my wife drive to pick them up from school, it’s completely stagnated; we need more parking for the school. People talk about more schools, lowering class sizes – but not many people would say we need more parking for school parents. These are very new issues you’ll not see repeated; I don’t want to say the same thing, because there are 32 candidates.
I would like to ensure is that there is no delay beyond the time [for LRT]. What happened when that NAIT and Grant MacEwan route started, there were unnecessary delays. So I want a professional project manager. Look at Japan, they would have completed maybe four times more quickly. In the meantime, I have seen all the councilors have been very effective. When I call and say, “This particular place doesn’t have a bus route,” they take care of it. Sometimes it’s a question of people in the decision-making chairs are not always made aware [of issues]; they are looking to help, but they don’t get an opportunity to help. We need more frequent ETS transportation for sure and even for a little bit later hours. I know there are places where after 10 p.m., there’ll be no transportation at all. If someone wants to go out on a weekend, then it’s “No, I cannot, because I don’t have transportation.” So more frequent for sure and at the same time, any seniors should be able to just get into any transit with only their identity card with completely zero fee transit fare.
Lincoln Ho: [Laughs] Transportation I would say is one-third of my platform, but it’s pretty much 90% of what we did on my website for my platform there. Out of all the candidates, no one has such an extensive view of transportation as I do. One of my initiatives is obviously to fix transit service on low budget, so things like all-doors boarding. In fact, San Francisco has actually cut the commute time by half on some routes, because [all-door boarding] is way faster to get people on board and off. Route changes – along the [Route] 60s express busses that go to Downtown from Millgate, you notice that around 4:30 to 5 [p.m.], with the 60s coming to Millgate, there’s barely anyone standing, which means there’s a lot of room on the 60s. And yet the 8 and 15 that come, they’re always crowding. So take the 60s and the 8 and the 15 – they all travel the exact same route from Downtown to Millgate – and it’s route numbering issues that can be solved overnight if we just named them all to route 8 and leave ‘X’ for “Express”. That would relieve a lot of the crowding that we have without having to invest in new busses. I have introduced a tram system, a feeder into the LRT, so if you check that out, there’s an entire essay on that [on my website].
Road design is a huge issue. Currently the roads that we designed now are designed for speeding. It’s hard to redesign school zone areas that we have now – so padding school zone barriers, which are kind of like construction sites to force people to maneuver around them – is something that can be done. I’d add on-ramps and off-ramps onto [Anthony] Henday; lane expansions in Summerside, Ellerslie, and the Meadows; reduce the number of intersections between 50th Street and Beaumont, because if we get people to come into the ward, then the ward gets more prosperous, and obviously, that will allow them to come in through the ward. From Jackson Heights, if you cut across Mill Woods from the north to the south, there’s a utility corridor that’s not in use right now. That can be used as either multi-use trail. You could also have transit that you can add there. So someone could technically get down there by bike from Jackson Heights down to South Edmonton Common in about ten minutes on a bike. For the rest of the City, there’s an issue with access to Valley Zoo. Valley Zoo is actually closer to the LRT Station than Fort Edmonton Park, and so the best way to connect those two points is by cable car system. That would not only be a good view type of thing or tourist attraction but it would actually serve the Valley Zoo and bring people down there, so that Valley Zoo actually makes money. Because [the City] implemented another huge expansion of the Valley Zoo, and there’s no way to pay for that. There’s no bus service for like half the year, even though it’s open all year round. That’s a huge issue, especially when the City owns all of that.
For safety, I want to ensure a text-to-911 service. It’s something that can be used for everyone.
[For infrastructure], the Orchards – the elementary here – the kids have to walk more than ten blocks to get to school. Schools are definitely an issue. We have to work with the Alberta Government on that. The Meadows Rec Centre is good, but there’s a whole bunch of rec centres that are missing for the rest of the City. And in terms of the schools sports fields, some of those school lands are being removed to put in low-income housing. The City is banking on hoping that people will go down to Ivor Dent Sports Park with  sports fields to use that instead of using their local community sports fields. For lower-income people, that’s an issue, because they’re not going to have a car to drive all the way to a new sports field. We opened a new library [Meadows] – again there’s nothing south of the Henday.
Arundeep Singh Sandhu: We have the LRT coming in. It’s not quite gonna hit Ward 12. It’ll end up in Ward 11, but it’s the heart of Mill Woods. It’s not just about getting us out [of Ward 12], it’s getting other people in. I think we have a great foundation here. I think we’re the best suited to be world citizens. We have so much diversity and strength to offer to the rest of the city, so it’s about connecting us to the rest of the city. We gotta make sure we take care of the nuts and bolts of that, too. Make sure the LRT is on time and on budget, on track – make sure that when we’re building it, 50 Street isn’t becoming an unmanageable mess and making sure that we have some shovel-ready projects if the infrastructure funds are going to come in from the federal government and the provincial government. That’s something we’ve been falling down on. Parsons Road should be twinned, but we don’t have anything beyond a conceptual design.
With accountability, we know how to build bridges in the city. Our provincial projects are going off without a problem. When the City itself does [infrastructure projects], they seem to go off-track, so we need to bring in a little more transparency into how we do it. We need to maybe bring back the Chief Engineer’s Office and have some dedicated people for project management, not a hodgepodge of this project, this department – that project, that department. We should also be using social media to help people know exactly what’s going on. With the Provincial government, when they were doing the big school building [on the street], they had a website briefly before the election that had a photo of every single school site in the province with detailed information on where in the process it was, was it applying for development permits, were they doing design work, were they opening up the ground, shoveling it – we need to have that same kind of accessibility, so that people can go on the website. They don’t have to go down the street to see “Is this bridge on track or not? Is this bridge going up?” Here’s a photo of the bridge. This is what’s happening right now. People should be able to access that from home, on their phone, anywhere they are.
[With jobs], I’ll be honest. There’s not a lot of leverage for the City to create jobs. That’s more of a federal, provincial issue. But we need to do what we can. One of them is actually [Ward 10 Councillor] Michael Walter’s idea, and I’m really excited about helping him get this done. It’s creating more serviced industrial and commercial land. We have a shortage of [that]. We have a bunch of vacant zone land, but it doesn’t have the sewer, water, or electricity or roads to make it viable for businesses to build. So we were talking about economic diversification all the time when times are good. I compare to a forest. We have a forest full of tall trees. They’re strong. The soil’s good. The sun is strong. But nothing can grow out of the forest floor, because there’s no light coming down – because the trees are so tall. Now we’re facing a situation that’s kind of like a forest fire. The forest fire passes. The forest is gone, but the soil’s still there. We’re still here. Now the sun can hit the floor of the forest, and some smaller industries, smaller businesses can take root. They have lower construction costs, lower labour costs, lower material costs. They can succeed where previously they were competing against the prices of oil and gas and other industries. So now’s the chance for us to make sure we diversify our economy, and we have to make sure that Edmonton’s the right environment for that. That’s gonna help us create jobs. It’s also going to help lower property taxes on our houses, because commercial and industrial property pay three times as much taxes as a residential property for the same assessment value. I think if we have a more non-residential tax base, it’s creating jobs, and we’re also lessening the burden of our homes for property tax. So we can continue to maintain good services, and have jobs for people.
Nav Kaur: We need to have more transportation options in place that meet various needs of the residents in the community and that needs to be concurrent with The LRT and BRT [bus rapid transit] which are both important transit systems that need to be implemented. This means access to Wi-Fi, express buses and expansion of the LRT system. I also want to make sure that everyone pays a fair share of their taxes, because everyone should play the same rules. I also want to address barriers to success such as accessibility to affordable mental health services and keeping our city clean and healthy. I also want to advocate all levels of government for more funding and resources to help pay for and support community infrastructure such as schools, affordable housing, community centres and day cares to make Ward 12 more resident-friendly and build a stronger community.
Preet Toor: We need better roads and infrastructure to move people from Ward 12 to other parts of the city. Given my experience with Edmonton Transit Services and as an LRT instructor, I want to expand the South LRT because it will help mitigate the transportation problems of the community and help connect Ward 12 to greater Edmonton and area. South LRT is expected to create at least 13,000 jobs which should help decrease the joblessness caused by the weakening economy and alleviate the social problems that come with job losses such as poverty, crime, and domestic issues. Domestic violence is also a major issue in this community because when the parents fight, the children are directly affected and become part of the cycle of violence. So we need to implement mental health services within this community that are easily accessible. What I want to do is expand the Edmonton Police Service’s budget so they can hire more officers to deal with the gravity of the cases such as gang violence, drugs, and sexual assault. If we can work on basic planning on domestic violence, than we can free up more officers and move them to other files. Another plan would be to move the domestic violence file to peace officers and front line staff already working with these issues within the community. We need to support organizations that are already operating by giving them more resources and funding to provide the much needed services.
Eligible voters in Ward 12, which covers half of Mill Woods and surrounding areas in Edmonton’s southeast, are now faced with the tremendous task of choosing amongst 32 candidates for the upcoming February 22 byelection to replace former councillor Amarjeet Sohi. Likewise, candidates are faced with the uphill climb to stand out from the competition, and to get to know as many of the issues facing the ward’s diverse constituents.
While coverage on the Ward 12 byelection has increased in the last couple of weeks, it has largely been negative, from ousting the candidates with past criminal records to complaints of lawn signs being placed without permission to intimidation at the advance polling stations. But what issues matter to Ward 12 residents and what are their thoughts on this upcoming byelection? And which candidates are actually serious in making Ward 12 the best that it can be?
Part 1 gathers perspectives from some Ward 12 residents. Part 2, which will be posted later this week, will share interviews with a handful of Ward 12 candidates to better understand their backgrounds, platforms and motivation behind running in this byelection.
What City-related issues are important to you and/or of concern to you?
A. Gill: I am concerned about lack of accessibility to [affordable] arts and culture programs and opportunities for newcomer youth [such as] refugees and first-generation immigrants. While there are many opportunities for involvement in sports programs, there is a gap in programming in arts and culture. Secondly, I am also concerned that Community League board positions do not reflect the people of the Ward 12 community. It is essential that we have greater diversity in these positions, as Community League boards members are able to effect change and advocate for the needs of the residents of Ward 12. Greater outreach, marketing, advertising and accountable equitable representation is needed.
Wilfredo Santos: [Public transportation]. When we came here to Walker Lake, there was a bulletin that said they will have [a transit centre nearby]. But I don’t know when [that will happen]. We don’t have [recreation services] yet. But there’s the K-9 school here now, so there is progress. And I don’t think [the candidates] can help, but unfortunately, there’s so many people that have no jobs at this time because of the mass layoffs.
Eduardo de Guzman: I think education is one of the most important, because I believe education is the key to success, and we’d like to see a City Councillor who will be actively supporting the improvement of education. Another one is transportation. From my observation, [Ward 12] is composed of many immigrants, and those immigrants normally don’t have the capacity to buy their own vehicles when they arrive here or when they’re trying to settle. So public transportation is very important for those people to go find a job or go to work daily. And I just noticed that the bus routes we presently have – there are some big busses that pick up passengers starting from the main road; then they go all around the neighbourhood, and it takes twice as much time [as it would] if the bus will be travelling directly from point A to point B. It’s best if we have bus routes that will take the direct route from one main point to the other main point and some secondary buses – small busses or even private transportation – to pick up those passengers from the neighbourhood.
Edmon Rotea: Probably public transportation, because it’s something I rely on every single day to get to work and get back home. The issues of homelessness as well. There are certain parts of Downtown I just avoid at night like this old YMCA; I don’t even take the bus in front of there anymore, because people keep asking me for money. Yeah, I know it’s a combination of [many things] like the downturn in oil prices and a lot of First Nations people leaving the reservations in droves and facing issues with discrimination when trying to find job opportunities here, but I seem to see more [poverty] as an adult today in 2016 compared to when I was in high school in the late 90s/early 2000s.
A. Khajuria: I would say education and definitely the infrastructure of transportation.I feel there’s not a lot of opportunity for people in Mill Woods and surrounding areas to go to places like Central or Whyte Ave. – that’s why there’s so much breakaway from the core of Edmonton with all these places like Mill Woods and whatnot. So having that kind of ability to move people from here to there is definitely very important if we want Ward 12 to grow, and if we want our kids to see all sorts of festivals that take place in Downtown or Whyte Ave. I feel that a lot of people in those areas who are immigrants or even first-generation – they don’t necessarily step out of that area unless it’s needed, and that’s because there’s no sense of, “Oh, we can just hop on a train and go there” type thing. So I think having that kind of infrastructure set up with transportation and public transit would definitely help. Education could always do better in having the opportunity for kids to have different kinds of schools to attend. I know that in the southside here, there’s J. Percy and then there’s some Catholic School, but I feel that they’re just overly populated by the same kinds of community members – coloured people; there’s not a lot of diversification.
Vedran Eminović: Investigation into the corruption regarding the way in which roads are constructed, which are built by a system of "we build it so it will break in order for us to get the contracts to fix it." Furthermore, improvement of safety on Edmonton roads, which have overabundant road rage incidents, particularly from people who drive large pick-up trucks. The grossly inefficient and backward public transportation system must be fixed. Monitoring of new construction projects, which are often done with extremely poor quality standards in the city.
Anonymous: The LRT expansion and also urban sprawl. With the LRT, I just hope they get it done on time and on budget. I’d also like to see further plans to move the LRT beyond Mill Woods Town Centre in the coming years. And I also want to see an increase in bus service as well like instead of it coming every 30 minutes or every hour on Sundays or statutory holidays, maybe they should decrease the wait time, [so that busses are] coming every 10-15 minutes. [With urban sprawl], I want the future councillor of this ward to slow down the number of developments, issue less permits to the property developers. I think they should make it more infilled and increase public transit [in Ward 12].
Danna Schumann:Community programs for our children are important, recreation centres, playgrounds and spray parks that are walking distance. Safe, walkable communities.
Which candidates do you feel best knows the issues of Ward 12 & has the best platforms?
AG: I feel strongly about Nav Kaur.
WS: I’m not sure yet.
ED: Honestly, I haven’t checked all their credentials, but I’m happy that there are at least 32 people who are willing to support or help the citizens of Ward 12.
ER: Probably Lincoln Ho. Not because I’m his friend, but because he has made a lot of YouTube videos, especially on how to address public transit issues - like he actually has had plans for solving public transit and big city infrastructure issues even before he was a candidate.
AK: Well, there’s two people that stand out in my head. I would say Nav Kaur or Danisha Bhaloo. And I’m probably biased, because I really want a female to win.
VE:I don't have any candidate that I would choose personally, as none of them have the necessary experience and political knowledge to properly represent Ward 12.
Anon: Well, so far, [Nav Kaur] looks to me the most favourable one. I think Lincoln Ho is another good one, but he doesn’t have a very good chance of winning.
DS:It's hard to sift through all of the candidates and their platforms. There are so many and I really don't have time to check out every website and read their platforms in detail.
Have you had any candidates reach out to you either via phone or doorknocking? Who?
AG: I was visited by Arundeep Singh and Laura Thibert.
WS: Yeah, Irfan Chaudhry just a while ago. But there are lots of leaflets – they’re always giving us in front of our door, but I put [them] in the wastebasket [laughs]. I don’t know how to [choose], because it’s my first time [voting]. I don’t know [what the candidates] are planning, their programs, their background…
ED: There are two friends of Danisha [Bhaloo] who knocked at our door, and they asked permission if they can put up the sign, and they would like to hand out leaflets in order to talk about their candidates. But I haven’t seen any candidates personally.
ER: I know Irfan Chaudhry called my landline here. [I haven’t met any candidates personally] ‘cause I’m not really home during the day. Or at night [laughs]. I don’t get home till like 9pm. I would get home earlier, but it takes an hour to travel from Downtown to Mill Woods so [laughs]…but we’ve received a lot of literature over the days, so almost growing desensitized. Some of it seems really empty – like it’ll talk about what they want, but it won’t go into great detail about the person themselves, what do they do in their professional work lives or what were their accomplishments. For the community, I imagine there’s a lot of people who are running just for the sake of promoting some kind of business. And that’s not to say that they’re necessarily bad people, but it just seems when I see another small business owner or restaurant owner or real estate agent run, is it to get media attention?
There’s also the issue where a lot of people don’t even live in the ward but they’re running, because they feel like they have the chance. How are they invested in the community if they’re not even from the community? Like I know there are people on City Council who are great who don’t live in their communities, but when they don’t live there and take the bus there…or candidates where they may have a lot of support and a great campaign team, but a lot of their supporters are from outside of Ward 12.
I felt this byelection should have been longer rather than people just launching their campaigns, and they have to leave voters to decide in a short amount of time who should win when there’s so many candidates. It should be like the U.S. presidential election [laughs]. It’s just an overwhelming number of candidates and literature. What can people call it – campaign overload?
AK: No. I’m really surprised, because even during the federal election, nobody came to our neighbourhood; it’s really weird. I don’t know why our area is not very well visited. I mean, I don’t mind. I’m not complaining.
VE: No I have not, but I have done by own extensive research on all of them through my own contacts and resources.
Anon: I did meet the volunteer of Laura Thibert. Moe Banga – he actually came by here and doorbelled. The rest just dropped of campaign literature on the door or in the mail.
DS:Yes, Nav Kaur came to our door and chatted with us, she was very friendly and enthusiastic. We've also received lots of flyers from other candidates in the mail. Honestly I feel that they all use the same catch phrases, so it's hard to decipher who they really are. I appreciate that Nav came to the door, she was very genuine, listened to our questions and seemed to be really committed to listening and representing Ward 12.
Given that Ward 12 is a very diverse ward in terms of cultural diversity, high newcomer/immigrant population, youth population and also given that there is low representation of visible minorities, women, and youth on City Council - do you think Ward 12 would best be represented by a minority voice? Why or why not?
AG: Yes, I believe that Ward 12 would be best represented by a minority voice. It is likely that this individual would have a 'lived experience' of what it means to be a newcomer/immigrant in Edmonton, specifically in Ward 12. In my opinion they would better understand this group at a collective level - not only would they speak to the concerns of the newcomer/immigrant population in Ward 12, but [Edmonton] as a whole. Currently there is no minority represented in City Council and more accurately, no minority woman. It is key that City Council strengthens its diversity and includes a range of diverse perspectives.
WS: Yes, it’s important. [With the young ones], they have so many plans; they can give some ideas, and they have the curiosity in them to help the community. Nowadays, [it’s important for] youth to have a chance to voice out what they want to do to help the community.
ED: In my opinion, [Ward 12] can be represented by the minority or majority as long as the representative looks out for the majority of the citizens. Even if the representative is male or female or old or young, as long as they truly care for the welfare of the constituency.
ER: What it really comes down to is which people are really engaged with their community and really want to make a difference and are willing to put in the time and effort – not just in running, but they put in a lot of time and effort before in their communities. The demographics of Ward 12 have changed dramatically since the ‘70s when it was largely – from what I understand – younger, white families to the demographic that it is today. So yeah, I guess it would be best served with having a different voice on Council and not someone of the dominant culture or ethnic group.
It used to be that in many campaigns, there used to be one sole Punjabi candidate, and everyone else was white. And in this election, it’s so unique, because you have – I’ve lost count – probably at least a dozen people of Indian descent running, and multiple candidates within the same ethnic communities, so that’s really exciting to see. There’s a lot of Sikh, Punjabi individuals running, and not just the token visible minority candidate. In fact, I think the minority in this election are the lights, so it’s gonna be interesting to see which candidate will win.
AK: I do, because we’ve seen how well Amarjeet Sohi did in his position, and he came from a minority group. And he definitely brought forth the views and the issues of Mill Woods in general really well. But it’s hard to say – just because you’re a coloured person and a female doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll do well. But I would say that from previous experiences we’ve learned that it’s important to have that diverse voice. So it would benefit City Council in various ways rather than electing another old, white male to make decisions on behalf of everyone.
Anon: I think it is, because Mill Woods is an ethnically multicultural ward of Edmonton.
VE: I am horrified by the fact that people campaign on an ethnic minority platform. This is not what democracy is about; it is about choosing the best possible candidate for the job, regardless of their background. The very notion of "visible minority" is offensive to those newcomers to Canada who are of Caucasian backgrounds, yet are not taken seriously as experiencing discrimination. Therefore, Ward 12 will best be represented by the most resourceful, educated, experienced, intelligent, and non-corrupted candidate, regardless of ethnic background, gender, or age.
DS: I think it would be wonderful if there was another female city councillor, provided that she is equally qualified.
Ultimately, what kind of representative would you like to see for Ward 12? Ideally, what characteristics would they have?
AG: Ideally, I would like to see a candidate that has had a strong track record of governance and advocacy experience and living in ward 12. They should have a strong record of committed ground level, hands-on community service. They should have strong communication and effective community organizational skills. I am looking for a leader with a sharp, clear vision who is open to change and accessible.
WS: Strong personality, dedicated to their job, and willing to help their community.
ED: Someone who will be active within the community, who can be easily approached by the people from this ward, will be a good representative.
ER: What I liked about Amarjeet Sohi was he seemed engaged, because I saw him take the bus. And especially, he got on my bus, and it was like, “Wow! This is a person who’s involved!”- I imagine he had some influence on transit issues. It’s nice to see that he’s not just some guy making six figures driving an SUV back and forth, he was at city events and travelled to and from home back to City Hall – on a bus that I also took! So he understood the reality of public transit at the ground level – at my level – and I would hope that the next candidate is just as invested in the community and is not only willing to discuss transit issues but take transit. Because the only way to experience how much improvement transit needs is to take public transit yourself and experience it rather than looking at it through the lens of all these committee reports. So yeah, someone willing to wear boots and willing to walk in the shoes of their constituents – that’s who I want.
AK: I would definitely think that someone who cares about the ward, who obviously has spent time in the ward, has lived in the ward, knows what the challenges are, and is very active in the community. [Someone who] is able to be at all sorts of places at the same time, ‘cause that’s definitely a big challenge. I feel Ward 12 covers a lot of different areas, so having somebody who has that personality who wants to be out there and wants to be seen is really important.
Anon: Well, they need to be liberally progressive, they need to be open; they need to, at least, listen to the majority population of Ward 12 and appeal to all political stripes. And of course, they need to slow down the number of developments; they need to build residential developments in industrial areas before they build it past the Henday ring road.
VE: I want to see the best person for the job, regardless of what their racial, ethnic, religious, or gender background is. I am not concerned about what their personal background is, as that is irrelevant and completely useless to the citizens of Ward 12. What is relevant and useful to us is to have the best person for the job, who engages with the community and actually represents their interests, instead of corporate Big-Money interests, thereby fostering a community that has a sense of representation within their municipal government.
DS: We want a councillor that will continue to consult with the community. Open, honest and easy to communicate with.
African cuisine in Edmonton used to primarily refer to two restaurants: Habesha, complete with its hookahs and veggie buffet; and Langano Skies – both Ethiopian. To the disappointment of many foodies, Habesha has been closed for some time now; fortunately, Langano Skies is still kicking.
However, Edmonton is full of locally owned African restaurants that are worthy of mention, many of them located in neighbourhoods outside the Downtown and Whyte Ave. core, namely 107th Avenue (a.k.a. Avenue of Nations) and 118th Avenue (a.k.a. Alberta Avenue). CommuniFly decided to focus on the Horn of Africa, since a disproportionate amount of African restaurants in Edmonton are East African. These are the restaurants that you know will give you a legit experience of the cuisine and its culture, because when you walk in, you can’t help but feel like an outsider: this is partly the reason why the average Joe might be hesitant to venture into these establishments. But grab some courage, and you’ll see that there are some wonderful and surprising things to discover on the road less travelled. Also, given that most of these restos are open till 10pm or later, Chinese dim sum is no longer the only option for the late-night munchies in YEG.
Part 1 focuses on the East African Way along 107th Avenue from Little Italy to Avenue of Nations.
Just one block north of the Italian Centre Shop in Little Italy, entering Abyssinia feels like you’ve entered someone’s home. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s neat and nicely decorated. Unlike most homes, it’s complete with a bar featuring Ethiopian beers. For the non-alcoholic drinker, the restaurant serves traditional spiced tea with ginger root, cinnamon, and lemon ($2) as well as Ethiopian traditional coffee (buna), slowly brewed in a clay coffeepot called jebena ($2.50). The veggie buffet hole left behind by Habesha seems to have been filled by Abyssinia, with their veggie buffets taking place every Wednesday and Friday from 5:00-9:00pm. The Saturday buffets from 5:00-9:00pm include meat dishes.
Some time back, myself and four other friends had dinner at Abyssinia, and surprisingly, there were a number of diners there of non-Ethiopian descent, similar to Langano Skies. Some of us went for the buffet, which had a good variety of dishes; others ordered a meat/veggie combo platter ($14.00) which came with salad, along with a meat platter and three veggie platters of choice, all served on spongy injera (sourdough flatbread). The Shiro (seasoned milled chickpeas simmered in spicy berbere sauce with onion and jalapeño) is definitely a winner along with Beef Chacha (beef cubes sautéed with white wine, onion, rosemary, jalapeño, and fresh garlic). We ordered coffee and those of us who drank some got at least 3 espresso-sized cups each out of the jebena each. Ethiopian coffee is not for the Tim Hortons coffee drinker; needless to say, we were awake for quite some time after.
Everyone agreed Abyssinia had really good food and excellent service. This is definitely the place to go to if you’re with a large group of people, so that you can try a variety of dishes.
African Safari Restaurant
101, 10610-105 Street
Since Habesha’s closing, African Safari is not only the East African restaurant to go to, it might just be the place to be for African cuisine in general here in Edmonton. A former colleague of mine (who is East African) joked about how he went there once during the work lunch hour and completely regretted it, because of the crowd and how much time it took to be served (“It’s good…but be prepared to bring your own stool and utensils– I think they were still chasing the cow.”) But simply go check out African Safari’s website, which is very professional and eye-catching, and read the backstory of how the restaurant came to Edmonton in 2004; the backstory gives one the feeling of being in good hands, since the owner knows how great restaurants operate from decades of personal experience.
Contrary to some of its rundown surroundings, African Safari inside looks like a pristine, clean salon with dark, polished wooden round tables and large-scale beautiful paintings of Somalia by renowned artist Amin Amir against warm magenta walls.
I first ventured into African Safari three years ago with a friend from out of town, and the owner actually came out to introduce himself and to get our feedback after our meal. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce a lot of folks I know to this restaurant, and aside from one friend who really couldn’t each much of anything since there isn’t much for vegetarians, all have really enjoyed the food and the dining experience. The staff, aside from a lady who seems to come off a bit harsh at times, are all extremely friendly. Once, I received a complimentary bowl of soup waiting for my co-diners. African Safari is also where I started noticing a trend with being given bananas with Somali meals; occasionally, the bananas are not served, and the regular diner can’t help but feel the void.
For a long time a very affordable $13 got you salad, mango juice, and two main dishes – Group One dishes consist of a choice of rice, pasta, mufo (corn flatbread), or chabati (flatbread) while Group Two are various meat/fish dishes (all halal) such as beef suqaar (cubes); fish steak, goat, and even camel meat! The beef and chicken suqaar is almost always available, but it’s really dependent on the day if the other main dishes are. A few months ago, the Combos were slightly increased to $1 but given the gigantic servings, there isn’t much to complain about. Some of the best dishes are the basmati-like rice, which comes with peas, green beans, and carrot cubes; and the chicken suqaar, which is very well-marinated with a caramelized flavour.
Open 8:30am and closed 11pm every day, it’s no wonder how African Safari has become not just a place to eat, but also a place for people to gather, socialize, and act as a community hub.
Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
Blue Nile was actually around for 12 years some time back in a different location closer to 97 Street and recently re-opened at this new location on Avenue of Nations. This particular spot has seen a number of different ethnic restaurants come and go. Before Blue Nile took over, there was another African restaurant that was also quite good (name escapes me now). The owners have openly said they are hoping to get the word out to former customers about Blue Nile’s comeback. I’m sure the word will spread in no time. Before finally taking the time to sit down and eat the food at Blue Nile, I heard at least two people give the restaurant words of praise. Really, it was the shout out to Blue Nile in a spoken word performance that really motivated me to finally check it out.
The restaurant is both small and modest but also slightly elaborate with its ceremonial coffee display in a corner and the fancy bar with purple lights emanating from it. The last time I went to Blue Nile, my share of the meal, which was quite huge, was only $10! If you want to get a ton of food for cheap, this is the place! Mesfin, the tall, kind-hearted man who is one of the owners, is always excited to see Canadians (a.k.a. white people) visit. Who knows – maybe he doesn’t often see them come in?
The first time I went was on Remembrance Day a couple of years ago with two other friends. We were the only ones in the restaurant when we arrived, but later, a handful of people came in…all east African. One friend ordered a coffee (which he vouches is “really good coffee”) along with a meat dish, while another friend ordered shiro wot (crushed chickpea stew), and I ordered the gomen wot (chopped collard greens). We all got three separate injera plates with our dishes placed right in the middle of the injera. My dish was extremely flavourful, and so was my friend’s shiro wot. The friend who had ordered the coffee noticed the slight spiciness of his meat dish, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle.
The second time, I came in with two coworkers, one of which had never tried Ethiopian food (this is when Mesfin commented how he is always happy to see “Canadians”). The lentils, in particular, got a high rating from the whole table. We also ordered coffee, which was served in a traditional ceremonial style with Mesfin’s wife, Aster (also, the chef), pouring a cup for us. The coffee was aromatic and strong. Mesfin even brought extra small cups of two spices (one berbere, and the other one a special house mix) just for us to sample. The berbere had an obvious hint of chili powder.
Don’t let the bad reputation of Blue Nile’s neighbor across the street keep you from visiting. This Ethiopian restaurant, hands down, is in competition with African Safari for having the friendliest service.
11012-107 Ave NW
My first encounter with Harambee was during a blackout on 107th Avenue two years ago. I was meeting the owner at the time to chat, and didn’t have time to eat, but what I did get was that it was an eatery, very similar to many other places on 107th, that had a largely male patronage.
I have since had a friend who works a few blocks away rave about the food, claiming it’s better than African Safari and it took this long for me to finally pay a visit. Thanks to another friend who wanted to try a new restaurant on 107th, we decided with Harambee since neither of us had ever eaten there. We came in after 5:30pm to find that we were the only ones in the café. The ownership has since changed; the new owner, Abraham, immediately greeted us and was impressed by my friend’s perfect pronunciation of the Eritrean dishes. The menu contained a mix of Ethiopian/Eritrean dishes and Italian dishes like lasagna. My friend opted for the Combo platter (containing Alicha, Tibs, etc.) and espresso while I ordered just the Alicha and a cappuccino. Both platters came with two pieces of injera (one rolled up on top of the injera plate with the platter). The alicha, which was a potato and carrot dish with turmeric, was okay, perhaps a bit bland, but I really enjoyed the hint of berbere spiciness in my friend’s lentils. We were served the hot drinks after, which made for a nice dessert.
Abraham was extremely friendly and said to call him anytime if we needed anything. “Harambee” which means “coming together” in Swahili is a place that lives up to its name. The café became busy shortly after we had arrived and people came and went to grab drinks and converse, easily chatting up with each other along with the owner. By the bar is a giant mirror in the shape of Africa; reflecting the roots of people who come into the restaurant.
My bill was less than $15; worth the quick service and healthy food. “So did you guys enjoy yourselves here?” Abraham asked. I certainly did, and really like the chill community vibe in this place. Harambee truly is a gathering place on 107th.
5th Annual El Mundo al Revés Latin American Film Festival
October 10-12, 2014
While Calgary has the Latin Wave Film Festival, which showcases new Latin American cinema, Edmonton has El Mundo Al Revés Latin American Film Festival coming up from October 10-12, which features critical documentaries aimed at challenging existing stereotypes that people may have on Latin American culture, politics, and economy.
"El Mundo Al Revés LAFF has a unique profile in Edmonton, because of the nature of the movies' content in itself, which are diversity, democracy, solidarity, equity, peace with justice, ecological sustainability, and indigenous wisdom," says festival organizer Ruben Contreras. "The protagonists of the films shed light onto the issues faced by Latin Americans, so the intention of the festival ultimately is to discuss and propose solutions to address the facts being presented."
Organized by Memoria Viva Society of Edmonton, El Mundo al Revés LAFF features films come from a variety of countries including Chile, Venezuela, Guatemala and Mexico.
The festival’s title is based on a book of a similar name by Eduardo Galeano called Patas Arriba, la Escuela Del Mundo Al Revés (“Patas Arriba, the World Upside Down School”). Some films that look quite interesting include: John Petrizzelli’s Er Relajo del Loro which tells fifty years of Venezuelan history through the eyes of a parrot; Andrés Cárdenas Caicedo’s Coca: La Lengua de Dios (“Coca: the Tongue of God”) explores how compared to the Western notion that the plant from which cocaine is derived should be illegal, tribes in the Andes Region of Colombia view the coca plant as sacred and one that has many benefits; American directors Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine’s Inocente, about a young artist who refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be trampled by her reality of having been an undocumented immigrant forced to live homeless for the past nine years; and Frauke Sandig and Eric Black’s Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth, which follows six young Maya in Guatemala and Chiapas as they struggle to resist the destruction of their culture and environment by mining activities of corporations (including those that are Canadian-owned). Earlier in September, Heart of Sky Heart of Earth spokesperson Juanita Cabrera-Lopez attended a pre-screening of the film at the Sun & Moon Visionaries Gallery & Studio, where the Edmonton Aboriginal community was also invited to attend.
All film screenings are free and open to the public and will be taking place at Education Building South Room 129 at the University of Alberta (Main Campus). There will also be a chance to try authentic Mexican food through Adelitas Mexican Food!
Winner of last year's Edmonton Music Prize Singer-songwriter Nuela Charles
Edmonton, despite the nearly infinite number of things to do in the city, seems to be lacking in platforms that cover great initiatives in the arts and community building. Often, the events and initiatives that do receive coverage are mentioned by several media outlets while others are only known by a very small community due to a number of factors ranging from lack of having someone with good PR sense to spread the word to lacking the right networks.
The birth of this blog is an opportunity to profile some of the really cool things that are happening in Edmonton that deserve to be known by more people. Rather than waiting to receive press releases six weeks in advance to find out what is going on in the city, we're going to take a more proactive approach, go into different communities and find out what's happening, and even do some digging if we have to.
Thought I would start things off by mentioning the 7/11 from 7-11pm Party in the 7-11 Parking Lot (that's a mouthful!) which took place Saturday, August 16 on 118th Avenue. This really neat idea began with Afro-Canadian Magazine. Despite the fact it is a business, the magazine is a social enterprise of sorts and recognized there were were artists from the immigrant community (many living on 118 Avenue) that were not connecting to opportunities, and they also recognized that a large immigrant and refugee population living in the area were not necessarily engaging in the arts. And of course, everyone on 118 Ave is concerned with getting rid of crime and being seen as a safe community as can be seen by the number of "We Believe in 118" signs displayed on store windows.
Frankline Agbor (who launched Afro-Canadian Magazine in late 2012 and also produces the publication) started the Skills & Talents Development Project to work with young artists from the immigrant community. The project has given the opportunity for these artists to come together each month, share their challenges and also to connect them to some key contacts within the arts community.
Afro-Canadian Magazine eventually joined forces with City of Edmonton's Avenue Initiative Revitalization, Neighbourhood Empowerment Team, Arts on the Ave, Alberta Avenue Community League, Nova Plaza, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, the Rat Creek Press, and of course, 7-11 to create an event aimed at showcasing local artists and engaging community members in the Alberta Avenue area through performances and a variety of workshop sessions including spoken word and painting. Artists outside of the Skills & TalentsDevelopment Project were also invited to take part, a refreshing thing to see when the natural tendency is to just invite people you know well.
The fact that this event took place at a 7-11 was reason enough for me to want to see how this event would go down. Who hasn't thought of a 7-11 without thinking of some sort of convenience store holdup?
Such notions quickly disappeared upon arrival at the 7-11 parking lot, there was already a big crowd watching multicultural dance group Light of the Sun doing a Middle Eastern dance number. They actually closed the gas pumps for this event to set up a stage in-between! At the same time as the dance performance, there was a visual artist exhibiting art along along with other vendors selling clothes, bags, and jewellery.
Dance and drum group SANGEA had a lot of people shaking. This group, which has members from the African and Latin American communities, mainly has its musical roots from West Africa but their performances, as seen during Heritage Days and at this particular event, naturally brings everyone together.
One neat thing to point out about the location of this particular 7-11 is that it's across the street from the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and the Nova Plaza apartments which houses a large number of immigrants and refugees. If community engagement was a goal for this event, it was clearly achieved. The crowd was multicultural and with the event being free and family friendly, both young and old alike came. Many people walking by, were reeled in to sticking around, even for a bit, to see what was going on at the parking lot.
Visual artist and educator Aneta Staniszewski, who originally hails from Poland, did a workshop around drawing faces. Not only were the kids following closely, with pencils and paper in hand, but their parents, too.
KingDeng, a hip hop artist who escaped the civil war in South Sudan before immigrating to Canada, went with the flow despite some technical difficulties to engage the audience in some improvising including a rap about 118th Avenue along with SANGEA founder Reckie Lloyd drumming along to one of KingDeng's tracks, "God is My Guide". He also pointed out that it was Melissa the MC's birthday that very day, which got the crowd singing her "Happy Birthday". Melissa, by the way, did a fine job of keeping everyone on Canadian rather than immigrant time.
There were many other artists who shared wonderful work, and the 7-11 was constantly filled with people throughout the night - no doubt, the franchise owner benefited from having the event take place there and would probably be the first to sign up should a similar event take place in the future. It was definitely one of the coolest block parties I've been to!
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Jednak zrozumieć, że prawie każdy wzrosła o często może być poprawnie suche wraz z wykorzystywana w jedynek planu w pobliżu New flory przebywania . Poczta kwiatowa Białystok
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