For now, we’re not quite in that Edmonton anymore

While justifiably excited crowds in Edmonton look forward to relaunched City facilities and services, Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin is one of those who remind people that we’re not exactly where we used to be.

For now, at least, when it comes to everything from dandelions to recreation centres to transit, we’re not back to the pre-COVID Edmonton that people remember.

And while relaunch is in the air, Laughlin keeps attention and expectations closer to the ground.

Before a physically distanced meeting of Edmonton City Council on Thursday, June 11, 2020, Laughlin repeated his theme.

“We, too, are optimistic about the arrival of [provincial relaunch] Stage 2 and at the same time we are pacing ourselves for this pandemic marathon,” Laughlin said. 

And again: 

“There is nothing automatic or guaranteed about the resumption of our services in either Stage 1 or Stage 2.”

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin addresses City Council, June 11, 2020. Left: Niki Anderson, Recovery-Reimagine Task Team. Right: Bonnie Andriachuk, City Solicitor

Laughlin talks about balance. He talks about achieving “cautious progress,” and how optimism about the future should be imagined realistically.

“We temper excitement and enthusiasm of Stage 2 reopening with realism,” said Laughlin. “Our focus is to create the conditions that ensure Edmontonians are safe and the City is in a healthy position to take on the ongoing pandemic challenges.”

Laughlin at news conference, City Hall, June 11, 2020

The four questions

On behalf of all Edmontonians, Laughlin and his team ask four prudent, sober, civil-service-sounding kinds of questions about any facility or service re-opening. 

  1. Can the City relaunch in alignment with provincial Orders and public health guidelines? 
  2. Is the service sustainable? (Including the City’s ability from a staffing perspective to restart and continue the service.)
  3. Can the City afford it? 
  4. Can we backtrack if a spike in infection rates occurs?

Because the pandemic is still a thing. 

“With Council’s support, Administration is asking Edmontonians to continue to observe physical distancing, wear masks where that cannot be achieved, respect the limits to size of gatherings, and commit to proper hand hygiene,” said Laughlin, admitting he sounds like a broken record.

Mayor Don Iveson at news conference, City Hall, June 11, 2020

And because the financial challenge is still a thing. 

Mayor Don Iveson put it this way, when talking about how the City of Edmonton reacts to the green light from the Province to plan to open more facilities.

“Our role is to, in alignment with that strategy, work to maintain distancing on public transit, open facilities only when we can be assured that we can align with the [public health] guidelines and try to do so with a $170-million dollar hole still blown in our budget,” said Iveson.

“That’s our challenge,” said Laughlin. 

“Great question”

At a live streamed news conference after the City Council meeting, Laughlin was asked by Vinesh Pratap of Global Edmonton if “for the rest of 2020 and even going into 2021…do we expect a full restoration of City amenities, like rec centres, or is it going to be a different kind of playbook for the next foreseeable while?”

Laughlin responded: “I would say it’s the latter. It’s going to be a different playbook for the next little while.”

Laughlin continued: 

“We do have to take into consideration, can we return to the way we were before? The new normal will be different than what we’re used to because we don’t see that the relaxation means that it’s going to be an elimination of  the physical distancing requirement, the need to limit social gatherings and to take a public health approach to the decisions that we’re making. 

“That reimagining could mean a different kind of transit service, a different kind of rec service, a different kind of asset inventory that we recommend to Council.” 

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading. In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll share stories here on Transforming Edmonton about the City’s relaunching and reimagining work of 2020.