Mayoral Election 2021 Meet the Candidates is The Gateway’s series of interviews with candidates running in Edmonton’s mayoral race. This is the second of eight articles.
With the October 18 municipal election just around the corner, The Gateway sat down and interviewed candidates running in Edmonton’s mayoral race. Brian “Breezy” Gregg was interviewed for the second instalment of this series.
Gregg was born in Edmonton, and has lived in the city his entire life. He has worked as a musician for a number of years, including opening for Led Zeppelin at their 1968 Edmonton show. Gregg has volunteered for the NDP since 2014 and has previous work experience in the skilled trades.
The Gateway spoke with Gregg to find out more on how, if elected, he plans to represent the residents and students of Edmonton as the city’s new mayor.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
The Gateway: Why did you decide to run in this election?
Gregg: Well, the thing that triggered my decision was that Don Iveson stepped down. I thought ‘here’s a vacuum and who’s going to fill it?’ I’m going to try and fill it because I’ve been watching politics closely all my life. I have only been involved on the ground in the past six years. I volunteered a lot for the NDP since 2014. I feel like there’s several things wrong with the way democracy is working in our society.
Number one is is the fact that we have big money in our politics. I think that’s a problem all across the world. I feel like somebody has to step up and say, ‘hey, this is wrong.’ It’s wrong for politicians to go out and solicit for donations. They can only get donations from rich people; they can’t get it from poor people.
I want to win this election without doing that. I’m not going to take any donations from anyone. I’m going to self-finance, and I’m not going to buy any advertising. I’m not going to have plastic signs on lawns. I’m not going to have paper brochures in people’s mailboxes. My platform is on the web at www.briangregg.com.
This doubles as a protest [of] the big money in politics, but also to be sensitive to the fact that we’re in a climate emergency and this is an incredible waste to have millions of dollars spent on plastic and paper.
What is the biggest issue you see facing the city and how would you address it?
The biggest issue facing the city is this idea that we should turn to charities to provide social services. People that aren’t compassionate do not donate to charities. So with this kind of thinking that we have, of leaving social services up to charities, a big sector of the population that is not compassionate is let off the hook. They don’t take any financial responsibility for trying to help provide social services and in our society, which are essential.
I think this is wrong — I think that that we should be raising taxes so that we can provide proper social services, so the charities don’t have to do it. The people that work in the charities are all compassionate people, and they might be upset by me saying this, but I feel very strongly that the reason that we don’t have proper self social services is because we bought into the charitable sector.
I want to speak up for raising taxes slowly over the next 20 years to get back to where they were 40 years ago. Over 40 years, at all levels, Canadians have been lowering and lowering the taxes. We just don’t have the revenue to provide the kind of services to have a healthy society. We need robust services that can deal with emergencies, like this pandemic, where even right now our hospitals have been stripped down to the bone to being very efficient. They don’t have one extra spare nurse available, and [all the nurses] have to be working hard all the time. Then when an emergency comes along there’s no capacity to deal with it, because we’ve stripped everything down to be able to have the lowest possible taxes.
Also, a certain sector of the business community has as taken initiative to get involved in politics, to try to lower their own taxes and to lower labor standards, so it can be easier to make profits. I just think that’s wrong. I think that we shouldn’t be hampering or pampering business. I think that if a business needs low taxes, and they need low wages and low benefits for their workers so that they can make a profit, they should try to think of a different business plan. I don’t think that’s the way to move forward at this time. We’re in a modern society; we need to be efficient with how we’re using people’s time. If we’re not paying them property, we’re wasting their time. It’s not fair. It’s not right.
Are there any prominent past city leadership decisions you disagreed with?
I disagree with the decision to not buy the CN yards when the CN closed down their rail yards in downtown Edmonton. We had a transportation corridor that connected to the Trans Canada railway. We had a railway all the way from downtown Edmonton — the line going west and north — it was totally built over. They built Grant MacEwan University and Oliver Square Shopping Centre overtop of a railway. What a bizarre thing to do. They could have built all that stuff overtop and left the railway line there. But no, the city didn’t take the initiative to try to get the rights to that right away, so now it costs us billions of dollars to to make new transportation corridors. It’s things like that.
I even wonder about the airport — I’m not sure that was such a good idea to destroy that piece of infrastructure. If we were in an emergency and we needed to get supplies into our city, that’s a way we could have done it.
The other thing is, I think that we should never have built the new arena [Rogers Place] until we’ve taken care of a homeless situation in our city. The old hockey arena [Northlands Coliseum] could still be functioning and they could still be having NHL games there. We didn’t need that new facility. It’s very nice, but I refuse to go into it until we’ve dealt with the homeless problem. I won’t go into any events there. If I’m elected as mayor, and there is an event there, somebody will have to go represent me. I’m not walking in there. I think that was terribly wrong to put that as a priority.
What previous experiences do you have that make you a good candidate for Mayor of Edmonton?
First of all, I’m the oldest. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I have paid attention to what’s going on. That’s the kind of person I am. When I was a little boy in school, I’ve always paid attention and if I didn’t understand something, I put my hand up to ask the teacher ‘what do you mean?’ That’s the same now. Now I’m putting my hand again and asking, ‘City of Edmonton, what do you mean?’
Also, I made my career as an electric guitar player. The music industry in Edmonton is a boom and bust industry, just like the oil industry. In the bust times, I worked at all kinds of different kinds of jobs. I’ve worked nine years off and on as an engineering technician at the university in the mechanical engineering department. I know trades. I know how to do TIG welding, carpentry, and pipe fitting; I have all of those trade skills. Also, I’ve worked in precarious work. I’ve worked as a cab driver, I’ve worked as a teaching assistant, I’ve worked as a home care person, as a stay at home father… I have a real diversity of work experience, both in the private sector and the public sector.
In the private sector I ran my own band for 15 years. When you’re running a band, you have to deal with the management of each venue, you have to arrange contracts every week with a different business, you have to manage musicians. Artists are not the easiest people to manage all the time, but you have to learn how to work and get the team happening. I feel like I have a much broader work experience than any of the other candidates.
If elected, how would you support post-secondary students within Edmonton?
I already yell about the fact that we need a change of [provincial] government. The province really is who funds post-secondary education. I see education as a super important part of our society. I’m disgusted with the present [provincial] government with the way they have cut [budgets], especially at the U of A. Some of the other candidates are saying that we have to get a better relationship with the provincial government. There’s no way I’m going to try to have a better relationship with the present government, I totally oppose that they cut post-secondary so drastically. It’s so short sighted. Education is for the long term. We need politicians that can see what’s important for the long term.
A way the city could support education is to invest heavily in the public library. That’s what I will speak up for on council. I will speak up for for having more and more funding.
It is also part of my long term plan for the city, to have social service hubs in every one of the 153 communities, and those hubs will provide four things: emergency shelter, soup kitchens, public clinics, and public library branches. People [will be able to] walk to get any of those essential social services if they need them. In my platform is free Wi-Fi; I would also have that linked with the public library service.
As a lot of students use transit within the city, in what ways are you looking to support Edmonton’s Transit System?
That’s the third thing of my platform, to have free transit in the city. I have a caveat on that plan, it is that first we have to take care of the homeless problem, we have to have proper shelters for people that need shelter. We found out, during the first wave of the pandemic when we had free transit — which I was excited about —[transit] became a shelter. They became shelters for people that needed shelter. That’s not a proper solution. That’s really important, that we first take care of the shelter problem. I want to have free transit, and I want the city to really look into having on-demand transit.
I think autonomous vehicles are going to be the way of the future, that that is going to be how our transportation system is going to evolve. This idea of having buses and trains, where people are confined in a space where they share pathogens from their respiratory systems, is perhaps not a wise kind of solution for transportation. What makes more sense is to have a modern system where there are smaller vehicles, but they are very organized because they’re autonomous, the traffic flows smoothly, because everything is controlled by machines. I think it will be more efficient. Some people will prefer to own their own autonomous vehicle, but there also be public vehicles that you can just summon to come and take you where you want to go. [A] piece of that solution is focusing on the 15 minute neighbourhood where people can walk in 15 minutes and get almost all the services they want.
If elected, how will you concretely work to address climate change?
If we travel less, we burn in less. Let’s get more organized and get services close by. Let’s get away from this model that the city has been built on to have giant roads and cars with big motors burning fossil fuel, and everybody’s driving for hours a day. That’s the biggest thing I think that the city can do is, is to make it possible that people can get out most things that they want without having to drive or without having to travel very far. Some people that are disabled, they may have to use vehicles to drive a short distance to get what they need. For lots of us, it would be nice if we could just walk to the store and back.
If elected, how will you concretely work to support Indigenous communities and students in Edmonton?
All the levels of government are just stalling on acting on the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. It all has to do with money, it really does. They are just not putting the funding into it. They want to keep taxes low [so] they are just not putting the money into it. I would like to see our city have a boom of building social services. To include having urban reservations in our city like they have in Saskatoon or Winnipeg, where they’ll also be social service centres but centres where people can meet and embrace the Indigenous culture and recognize the Indigenous teachings that show the relationships between people and Mother Earth and how to respect Mother Earth.
That’s what I would like to see. I would like to see the city speaking up for that, and moving ahead on building at least three urban reservations in the city.
According to a recent UASU poll, many Albertan students are heavily considering leaving the province after finishing their degrees. What initiatives are you considering to keep young professionals in the province, and specifically within Edmonton?
I have been asked this question before and I relate it to my own experience. When I first started in my music career, when I was young, I was really successful in the first few years. The first band that I played in we got to open up for Led Zeppelin for their first North American tour. Then some of the very best musicians that I knew started moving away. They moved to Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York. I thought to myself this is my city, I am going to stay here. If I can’t make it in my own city, too bad, but I am staying here, and I am going to support music in my own city. That’s what I’ve done. I think it’s up to the individual. I love my city, so that’s why I stayed here. If people don’t love the city, well, go somewhere that you love, I guess.
To keep people here, the only thing I would say to them is that if you take the time to meet people in this community, there are so many awesome people in this city. That’s the biggest attraction for me — my deep relationships that I have with so many of the wonderful people here in the city.
If you were to choose one initiative or area of policy, what makes you stand out from the other candidates?
I’m talking about raising taxes, I’m talking about building up our social services, and I’m talking about getting big money out of politics.
I’ll tell you about my strategy is for getting my message out. Since May 27, I’ve done around 100 street concerts. I go out every day, and I go into busy intersections with an electric guitar and a battery, and I play really rocking electric guitar with distortion and slide. People honk and wave and film me with their phones, and I have no sign at all. There’s nobody else in the city that’s doing that. No politician, no busker. The buskers all go where people are, so they can get money. I’m not trying to get money. I’m hoping by election day, I’ve made the connection with the voters. I hope they realize the guy they are seeing playing the electric guitar and that is giving them a little buzz while they’re waiting at the light, is Breezy — a guy that’s running for mayor and wants to get money out of politics.
There are a lot of candidates that come from the business community and they often say that we should run government like a business. I strongly disagree. I think we should run government like a rock and roll band. In a rock and roll band, taking care of business is very important, but most important is that everyone is having a good time and having fun. That’s what I want for the city — I want everyone to be having a good time.
Fun Question: What is your favourite piece of public art in Edmonton?
Can I tell you what it’s not? It’s not the baseball bat, it’s not the pile of silver balls, and it’s not the tallest building in the city. I know what it is — It’s the new Walterdale Bridge. It’s beautiful, and kind of extravagant.