Don Iveson | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Don Iveson

Donald L. Iveson, environment and community advocate, mayor of Edmonton 2013–21, journalist (born 30 May 1979 in St. Albert, AB). Beginning in 2007, Don Iveson served two terms as an Edmonton city councillor and then two terms as mayor. He became Edmonton’s 35th mayor in 2013, winning nearly 62 per cent of the vote. He was known for his progressive work on homelessness, social housing and the environment. As chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors Caucus, he called for a national expansion of social housing policy. Since stepping down as mayor in 2021, Iveson has worked with several community and environmental organizations.

Early Life and Education

Don Iveson was born in St. Albert, Alberta, the only child of Margaret Iveson, an education professor at the University of Alberta, and Bob Iveson, a sculptor. Iveson grew up in the Edmonton neighbourhood of Parkallen, a community with quick access to the university. He was active in sailing, debating and Scouts, and was a lover of literature. While earning his Bachelor of Arts in political science at the Univeristy of Alberta, Iveson worked for the student newspaper, the Gateway.

During this period, Iveson met his future wife, Sarah Chan, who also worked as a journalist at the Gateway. They have two children: Dexter and Alice.

After graduation, Iveson moved to Toronto to become president and later chairman of Canadian University Press, a co-operative student press newswire. After two years in Toronto, he returned to Edmonton to manage the Gateway’s business operations. He later became an advocacy director with the University of Alberta Students’ Union, and led negotiations with city officials to create a universal transit pass for post-secondary students.

Edmonton City Councillor

In 2007, Iveson, then 28, ran for an Edmonton city council seat in Ward 5. Campaigning against two long-time incumbents, Iveson pledged to increase affordable housing, transit services and densification of housing. He used YouTube and other social media to spread his message to voters. On 14 October, Iveson earned nearly 32 per cent of the votes in Ward 5, ousting incumbent Mike Nickel. The result surprised political pundits and even Iveson himself.

In office, Iveson worked with other councillors to improve city transit. Mayor Stephen Mandel also gave Iveson the city’s environment portfolio. In that role, he attended the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, and pushed for cost savings in Edmonton through the use of LED lighting. He also supported Edmonton’s neighbourhood reconstruction program — a plan to revitalize and repair aging roads and sidewalks in older neighbourhoods to curb urban sprawl.

In 2013, Mandel announced he wouldn't seek re-election for a fourth term. Iveson added his name to a race that included two other councillors. Iveson campaigned on promises to find efficiencies in city spending and to boost road repair and maintenance spending. On 21 October 2013, 62 per cent of voters chose Iveson, who became mayor at age 34. “There is a new sense of optimism in our city,” he told supporters at a post-election party. “This is the best place to take a risk and to innovate.”

Don Iveson

Mayor of Edmonton

As mayor, as on council, Don Iveson focused on expanding Edmonton’s social housing and public transportation infrastructure. Both were integral to realizing the 2020 City Plan, which aims to double the city’s population to two million by 2040, with net greenhouse gas emissions of zero. Iveson had a reputation for favouring data-driven analysis. He was also known for long-term policies that sought to combat Alberta’s historic trend of investment that fluctuates drastically with the price of oil.

Iveson’s government also expanded Edmonton’s light rail transit (LRT) infrastructure. Prior to his mayoralty, the city had commissioned the blueprinting of the Valley Line LRT to improve transit linkages to West and Southeast Edmonton. City council had approved its own funding plan for the estimated $1.8-billion project. But it relied on significant contributions from the provincial and federal governments. In 2014, after negotiating with the higher levels of government, Iveson’s government secured the funding. Construction on the Valley Line Southeast LRT route began two years later. It was originally projected to be completed in 2020, but multiple delays occurred in the process. As of August 2023, the timing of the opening remained undetermined. Construction on the Valley Line West LRT route began in 2021, as Iveson was leaving office, with an expected completion period of five to six years.

One of Iveson’s primary objectives as mayor was to functionally end chronic homelessness in the city. His administration expanded Edmonton’s stock of social housing. By the time of his departure, the city’s Housing First program had housed 14,900 people since its inception in 2009. The homeless population had reached a low of about 1,600 in 2019, although that number grew to 2,600 over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout his tenure, Iveson promoted the “supportive housing” model in which multi-unit buildings are staffed with healthcare and support workers. These policy objectives generated tensions with the provincial government after 2019, when Jason Kenney became premier. In February 2021, the provincial government’s budget prioritized only the expansion of shelter spaces — an approach that Iveson argued would fail to protect at-risk people from COVID-19. “The government of Alberta’s failure to work with Edmonton on supportive housing for vulnerable people, a failure to follow evidence showing the substantial savings in areas of provincial jurisdiction like healthcare, is truly frustrating for the people experiencing homelessness during a pandemic,” he said in a statement in 2021.

From 2016 to 2021, Ives0n also chaired the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors Caucus. He advocated for the expansion of social housing policy on a national basis. The initiative found some success in the Justin Trudeau government’s National Housing Strategy.

Iveson faced a number of criticisms during his time in office. His property tax hike faced opposition and he was the subject of frequent complaints from the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Many Edmontonians were also annoyed by the delays in the LRT construction. A poll released in October 2020 found that his approval rating was only 38 per cent. Soon after, he announced that he would not seek re-election. One year later, he was succeeded by Amarjeet Sohi.

Community Work

Prior to his first term as mayor, Don Iveson served as an alumni volunteer for the University of Alberta. He also volunteered for Canada25, a now-defunct group that engaged young Canadian adults on public policy issues. He volunteered for the Alberta Debate and Speech Association and the Alberta Sailing Association and served as vice-president of the Malmo Plains Community League.

Since leaving office, Iveson has served as co-chair of the board of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. He also accepted an appointment as Canadian Urban Leader at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities. In March 2022, he began working part-time as executive advisor at Climate Investing and Community Resilience for the Co-operators Group. In March 2023, he began serving on the Canadian Climate Institute’s Expert Panel on Climate Adaptation.

Honours and Awards

In 2014, Maclean’s magazine ranked Iveson at 27 on its list of the 50 most important people in Canada. In 2016, he received the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) Urban Leader Award “for championing, promoting and elevating Edmonton’s public library system.” In 2021, he received a Canada’s Clean50 award for leading “nearly all the green initiatives in the city since elected, including the creation of Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy, one of the most progressive in Canada.”

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