My first interaction with the 35th Mayor of Edmonton came a few years ago while attending the Pride Parade when it was held in the downtown core. Don Iveson was cruising the streets on his bike along with other City Councilors waiving to the crowd and stopping briefly to talk to those who came out to support the LGBTQ2+ community. It was obvious at the time that he had the pulse of the city and his perch on his bike was a sign of things to come for transportation changes to the streets of YEG.

A short time later a few fitness leaders brought to light a new popup fitness event that had come to Edmonton. We invited Mayor Iveson out to one of the 6am workouts for the November Project being held at Kinsmen Park. It was great to see him join about 100 other Edmontonians for a workout that involved some fitness and some play in the park. To me, it was the way I had always visioned our Mayor. Just a regular guy trying to make the city he grew up in better.

Since being elected as Mayor in 2013, Don Iveson has become Edmonton’s ‘Collaborator-in-Chief’, a champion of open and effective local government, and a leader who has led Edmonton through a time of profound change by taking on some of our city’s most pressing issues. 

His political career sky-rocketed after he had first sought office in the 2007 municipal election as he ran for, and won, as Councilor for Ward 5 against incumbents Bryan Anderson and Mike Nickel. Focusing his campaign on improved transit and housing issues, he came second to Anderson, beating Nickel by over two thousand votes and claiming the second seat in the Ward.

On June 18, 2013, Iveson announced that he would run for Mayor in the 2013 municipal election, as long time Mayor Stephen Mandel had announced he would not seek a fourth term. On October 21, Iveson won the election with nearly 62% of the vote. On October 16, 2017, Iveson was re-elected as Mayor, winning by a large margin with over 73% of the vote reaffirming his support by the vast majority of citizens.

While age is a little more evident now with the salt and pepper appearing in his trendy beard, he’s still young for a politician. Tall and athletic looking, he is a champion advocating to make Edmonton the healthiest city in Canada. Along with his spouse, Sarah and adorable kids he’s continuing to push the boundaries of change the city needs to move forwards as a growing metropolis. While there have been setbacks including the LRT expansion and bike lanes, these hiccups are but part of the growing pains of moving forward to see his original campaign goals back in 2007 of improving transportation come to fruition.

With all that comes from being part of the leadership team responsible for the growth and inner workings of the 5th most populated city in Canada, it can be a challenge to balance work, family and your own personal wellness. We sat down to chat with Mayor Iveson to see how he handles his work and still manages time to find time to enjoy a bike ride with the family or to catch an FC Edmonton match.

“There is no typical workday, which is great,” says Iveson. “One day I am advocating for Edmonton’s needs to the provincial or federal governments, and other days I am chairing Council or committee meetings, making key decisions on how our city is being built and services we offer. On some days I’m working with my mayoral colleagues across the Edmonton Metro region to strengthen our collaboration and build our economy.”

Iveson has always been a popular figure in the community. As an ambassador for the city when he visits other regions across the country, it is obvious he loves the city he has made his home and is constantly thinking of ways to lead us forward. He enjoys attending community events and announcements when his schedule allows. These are always great reminders for him of the amazing community we live in.

“Every Edmontonian I meet is passionate about our city and each has ideas to share on how to make things even better.”

Under his watch, despite a huge hit to the economy when oil prices crashed and unemployment across the province rose, Edmonton has been able to do quite well. With a new arena and ICE District now in play thanks to the stage being set by his predecessor, the city’s physical infrastructure development has thrived during his tenure. Neighborhood renewal, bridge construction, recreation and policing are all improvements made by Iveson and City Council over the past decade.

So how does a man who is responsible for a city that is approaching 1 million people take care of his own physical and mental health so he can stay healthy and continue to be the leader our city needs?

“My days at work can be long so sometimes the only exercise I can fit in is my bike ride to work,” he says. I few other members of Council have made biking to work part of their routine over the years and this may be part of the reason for the development of the bike lane network in the downtown core. Getting people out of their vehicles and biking to work or school is a way of life in many other big cities around the world along with a functioning mass transit system, and for far too long it was something that was missing in Edmonton.

More recently, he has worked to incorporate more meditation and reflection time for himself.

“I am not always good at this piece,” he says. “I am a recovering perfectionist and I’ve been attempting to do a better job at forgiving myself when I make mistakes personally or professionally.

As any leader can attest, every decision you make will be met with some opposition. Whether it’s Metro Line LRT issues or bike lanes and rising property taxes, you need a thick skin to be in his position.

“I have good days and bad days just like other people. The key is knowing yourself and your triggers and how best to manage them appropriately,” he says.

When the media is grilling him about some of the hard decisions, it is easy to lose perspective and snap back. It’s always a work in progress trying to honour how he feels while also ensuring he doesn’t lash out at the people around him. Leadership is hard when you’re struggling, and to Iveson, that’s the most important time to ask for help.

“It’s hard being in the spotlight every day because my stresses can easily come out in what I say, so sometimes I have to take an extra breath before I speak. A walk in the river valley or even a few minutes of quiet mindfulness in my office helps me reset,” he says.

Being in public office is very demanding – there will always be those who aren’t happy and nowadays there is a lot more vicious reactivity on social media. He notes that he often needs to remind himself not to take things personally.

“My job isn’t to make everyone happy – I’m doing my best to build a better city for the next generation, not keep everyone happy today.”

Between being tall and having been rear-ended three times, Iveson has a lot of back and neck trouble. It’s well documented that sitting is the new smoking and sometimes it feels like many of us sit for a living in endless meetings. For Iveson, his back pain flares up under stress, so he needs to be mindful of all those factors to keep it from knocking him down.

“I need to be mindful of posture and get up and stand or walk from time to time to keep from seizing up,” he says. Advice that we could all take to heart in our daily work routine.

The Mayor and City Council have some lofty goals for the city to foster healthy living and encourage everyone to lead an active lifestyle. Council approved a strategic plan for 2019-28 where one of the 4 key strategic goals is to build a Healthy City. Council described our Healthy City goal as follows: Edmonton is a neighbourly city with community and personal wellness that embodies and promotes equity for all Edmontonians. 

This can mean everything from maintaining our river valley trails, an expansion of active transportation modes, access and expansion to transit, recreational opportunities to ensuring we are a city that strives to address poverty and homelessness on a social-determinants-of-health basis.

As for bike lanes, not only do they promote fitness and give people options other than their cars, but they are something more Edmonton employers, from Stantec to video game producers are looking for because it’s what their young workforce is demanding. For example, one of Amazon’s criteria in the HQ2 bid was having good cycling infrastructure in the city.

“Ultimately, a healthy city is more than just fitness,” he says. “It’s about productivity, engagement and human thriving. Communities are only as strong as the health of their residents, particularly their marginalized residents. People make cities – in order to fully embody community wellness, we need to make sure all Edmontonians are treated fairly and that we’re not leaving people behind.”

Well said Mayor. Well said.

By TJ Sadler