The Problem

One of my top priorities as Mayor will be restoring Edmonton as Canada’s economic engine.  I will get this done.  Edmonton was always a city that enabled and celebrated the blue collar way we approached business and enabled entrepreneurship to thrive.  Small and medium enterprise is the backbone of what we do in this city.  I’ve already released a policy to reduce taxes for businesses (and equally for homeowners) by balancing the amount of consultants and middle management, but there is more to do.

With this policy announcement, I want to focus on another key area that is negatively impacting businesses: slow permits.

Over my terms as Councillor, I have had to push through individual permits for many of my constituents because they hit road blocks with the City of Edmonton.  There are endless examples where business owners have to jump through unnecessary hoops to get their business locations opened.  We need to change the culture at the City of Edmonton from saying “no” to business and get them saying “yes!- and how can we help expedite this.”

I will have more policies discussing other ways to change Edmonton’s business climate, but let’s continue on and discuss how we can launch businesses through a more efficient permitting process.

Solution #1: Customer Service

Many business owners feel the City of Edmonton makes the permit process unnecessarily cumbersome and challenging.  We need to foster a culture of “getting to yes” instead of the current culture of “adding roadblocks.”

I believe our most valuable tool in our toolkit is our frontline staff.  Most of them have years of immense expertise when it comes to the permit process.  They have overseen staggering numbers of blueprints, plans and designs, so much so, they can go back to this experience to provide expedited knowledge.  This means, when they are given a new permit applicant, they can rely on past experience to know what’s required for this particular applicant.

This knowledge can then be applied for faster guidelines and timelines, which I will write about shortly.

In the business world, most general inquiries should be responded to within 1-2 business days or 2-5 business days for more complex concerns.  This response should include a clear answer and not a response that kicks the can down the road.  There are many employees already practicing this culture, but I believe we need complete buy-in from everyone at City Hall (yes, including councillors).  When we provide clear and dependable responses within these timeframes, we will foster a more business-friendly city.

We also need to see the practice of “transferring” a permit file back and forth end leading to more delays.  That is why as part of improved Customer Service, when a permit application is opened, that case officer will see the permit through all the way to approval with the goal of getting that business to “YES” as quickly as possible.

Let’s always treat permit applicants as valued clients who are investing in our city.

Solution #2: Clear Guidelines

One thing I keep hearing from frustrated business owners is the permitting process is fragmented.

So what exactly does this mean?  Well, often a business will go into the permit office and show the plans of what new structure they are building or what building they are upgrading.  Next, the permit office will give them a set of tasks they need to complete to satisfy the permitting requirements.

Often, businesses will complete their permits and pass their inspections only to be given another set of tasks to be completed.  This could sound like:  You should get another set of engineering plans created… Do another impact study?  Here are another 10 things you need to do for now…

This is what I meant by fragmented, the business has not been given clear direction on what will be required to open when they started the process.  They also don’t have a clear timeline, which leads to uncertainty in their operations.

Now, I will never suggest that we should reduce our permitting standards or cut corners.  What we need to do is standardize our permitting process, so clear expectations can be given to the business.  This must also include:

  1. clear timelines
  2. a permit checklist, used by both the City an the applicant

Solution #3: Clear Permit Timelines

Let’s expand on timelines. We need more accountable management at City Hall within permitting. By tracking what we do better and setting clear goals for our departments, we can bring forth timeline guarantees.

In terms of permit timelines, I would like to suggest the following benchmarks be adopted at the City of Edmonton:

  1. Residential (Homeowner) Permits:
    • Clear Permit Guidelines within 7 business days
      • Includes a checklist
    • With a submitted checklist, Inspections and Approvals within 21 business days
  2. Residential (Commercial) Permits:
    • Clear Permit Guidelines within 21 business days
      • Includes a checklist
    • With a submitted checklist, Inspections and Approvals within 50 business days
  3. Commercial / Industrial Permits:
    • Clear Permit Guidelines within 21 business days
      • Includes a checklist
    • With a submitted checklist, Inspections and Approvals within 50 business days
  4. Developer Subdivision
    1. Clear Permit Guidelines within 60 business days
      • Includes a checklist
    2. With a submitted checklist, Inspections and Approvals within 120 business days