Who’s responsible for the Edmonton Metro Region?

Last week the Metro Mayors Alliance signed a Memorandum of Understanding “outlining a commitment to plan, decide, and act as one Edmonton Metro Region on regionally significant issues.” The MOU was the first recommendation of the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future, which delivered its report in early June. The next step is to negotiate a legally binding Master Agreement.

Mayors at MOU signing
Photo courtesy of the Metro Mayors Alliance

Today the Capital Region Board approved its updated Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan with a 22-2 vote. The plan “sets a path for more compact and efficient growth within the region’s 24 municipalities” over the next 30 years. The next step for the CRB Growth Plan is to send it to the Government of Alberta for review.

CRB Growth Plan

If you’re thinking there might be some overlap here, you’re right.

The Metro Mayors Alliance is made up of the mayors of nine municipalities: Mayor Roxanne Carr (Strathcona County), Mayor Stuart Houston (City of Spruce Grove), Mayor Don Iveson (City of Edmonton), Mayor Gale Katchur (City of Fort Saskatchewan), Mayor Rodney Shaigec (Mayor of Parkland County), Mayor Greg Krischke (City of Leduc), Mayor John Whaley (Leduc County), Mayor Tom Flynn (Sturgeon County), and Mayor Nolan Crouse (City of St. Albert). The latter two are not pictured above and were not at the ceremony, but they did sign the MOU. All nine municipalities are of course members of the Capital Region Board, and together they represent 95% of the region’s population, 96% of its assessment base, and about 80% of its land base.

The Metro Mayors Alliance MOU declares the municipalities’ intent to work in three key areas: economic development, public transit, and land use and infrastructure. The idea is that by acting together on opportunities related to these three areas the region will be better able to compete globally. The CRB’s Growth Plan also aims to “advance the Region’s global economic competitiveness” in a way that balances the region’s diversity and rural and urban contexts. It too discusses economic development, transportation, and land use and infrastructure.

There are some key differences to note between the Metro Mayors Alliance (MMA) and the Capital Region Board (CRB). First, as mentioned above, the MMA is much smaller than the CRB which has in the past been criticized for moving too slowly due to infighting (the new Growth Plan took 30 months to develop). Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur spoke about this to the Fort Saskatchewan Record:

“Quite often, it takes us a long time to make decisions (at the CRB) and a lot of the projects can take years before we see any advancement on them. The Metro Mayors came together to say we would be the willing who want to move things forward and to see how we can advance the items out of the recommended report. We can show that working together corroboratively with the biggest population and the biggest land mass, we can be more effective and more efficient than the CRB.”

In theory getting just nine municipalities to approve something is easier than getting a majority of the twenty-four at the CRB.

Another key difference is that while the CRB was mandated by the Province in 2008, the MMA is merely a partnership between the nine municipalities (formed in 2015). It’s a “coalition of the willing” as opposed to a group of cities forced to play in the same sandbox. That means that until a legally binding agreement is in place, there’s really nothing forcing the members of the MMA to do the things they say they’re going to do, unlike with the CRB. At the same time, the members of the MMA are the ones with all the resources (and the bulk of the challenges) needed to make things happen.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse is the chair of the CRB and this week suggested the two groups have too much overlap. “The report that was issued by the panel is basically the same mandate that the capital region board is already working on,” he told the St. Albert Gazette. He signed the MOU, but only because there was no cost and nothing binding, and said he’d be skeptical of next steps. “I’m being critical because we’ve got a good amount of work going forward with the capital region board.”

Note that two CRB members voted against the new growth plan. Leduc County voted against it because they felt it didn’t value the agricultural land south of Edmonton highly enough (the new plan includes an Agriculture policy area). Parkland County voted against it because they felt the CRB was expanding its mandate by considering agriculture and economic development. The rest supported the new plan however, which CRB CEO Malcom Bruce has said will save the region $5 billion in land and infrastructure costs and will save 250 quarter sections (160 sq km) of land.

It does seem redundant to have two groups focused on the same goals. And it’s confusing when there are potentially two different visions for the future of the region, especially if they overlap significantly. Some are already trying to use this confusion to their advantage. On top of this there’s the Municipal Government Act review and the City Charter discussions, both of which could have an impact on how things get done in the region. Especially if the City of Edmonton is granted new powers that the other municipalities lack. And of course there are annexation proposals that add to the tension. Does our regional governance need to evolve to clean all this up? It’s a suggestion that has come up many times over the last few decades.

At least there seems to be some consensus that we’re calling it the Edmonton Metro Region.