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.

Edmonton Food Council Recruitment, What the Truck?!, Metro Edmonton’s Future

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Edmonton Food Council Recruitment

The Edmonton Food Council is seeking four new members for three-year terms beginning in September 2016:

“As a volunteer committee of the City, the Edmonton Food Council’s primary role is to advise and act on matters related to the ongoing implementation of fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Agriculture Strategy. The Edmonton Food Council aims to engage with the community on relevant and timely issues related to food and urban agriculture.”

Open Farm Days 7005
Open Farm Days 2015, photo by Premier of Alberta

I think we’ve had a difficult few years since the council was first established in 2013 but I am excited about the year ahead! We have agreed to focus on food security, have setup a website, and have established a few committees that have been working well together. There have been some big successes over the last couple of years including hens, bees, and the urban agriculture zoning changes, and I think there are lots of great opportunities ahead.

If you think you’d like to join us, you can apply online here. You’ll need your resume and two letters of reference to go along with the application form. The deadline to get everything in is 5pm on Monday, June 20, 2016.

What the Truck?! at Blatchford Tower

After a very successful first event of the season a few weeks ago at Northlands, we’re ready for round two! Our next What the Truck?! event takes place on Saturday, June 18, 2016 from 4-8pm at Blatchford Tower! You can see the event and RSVP on Facebook and you can check out the lineup and menus here.

CYXD - Edmonton City Centre - Last Day of Ops
CYXD – Edmonton City Centre – Last Day of Ops, photo by Jeff Wallace

The event takes place along Airport Road right in front of the old City Centre Airport control tower (see it on Street View here). There won’t be any snow thankfully, but check out that view! This is going to be a fun location because in addition to learning more about the City’s plans for Blatchford, if you bring a donation for Edmonton’s Food Bank, you can go up inside the tower to get a unique look at downtown Edmonton’s skyline.

Admission is free as always, and there’s lots of parking at either the Ramada Hotel on the west side or Aviation Museum on the east side. I hope to see you there!

Metro Edmonton’s Future

Last week the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future released its report. This new group was convened in September by the Metro Mayors Alliance which itself was only formalized over the summer last year. Here are the advisory panel members:

  • Don Lowry – Former President & CEO of EPCOR Utilities
  • Carman McNary – Managing Partner of the Edmonton office of Dentons Canada LLP
  • Stanford Blade – Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta
  • Phyllis Clark – Vice President, Finance and Administration, and CFO at the University of Alberta
  • Salima Ebrahim – Executive Director of the Banff Forum
  • Linda Hughes – 19th Chancellor of the University of Alberta
  • Reg Milley – Former President & CEO of Edmonton Airports
  • Liz O’Neill – Executive Director of Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters Society of Edmonton & Area
  • Tim Reid – President & CEO of Northlands
  • Andrew Ross – Executive Vice President, Northern Operations, for Clark Builders
  • Brad Stelfox – ALCES Group Founder
  • Paul Whittaker – President & CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association

The Alliance was established “to support the global competitiveness and future prosperity of communities in the Metro Edmonton area” and the Panel was intended to “provide insight on matters for the region to further consider.” The cost of the panel was $600,000 which will be shared by the nine member municipalities which include Edmonton, Strathcona County, St. Albert, Sturgeon County, Fort Saskatchewan, the City of Leduc, Leduc County, Spruce Grove, and Parkland County. As Paula Simons noted in her column today, that group “represents nine municipalities with 95 per cent of the regional population, and 96 per cent of the regional tax assessment base.”

The report, called Be Ready, Or Be Left Behind, “provides a roadmap for creating a globally competitive, future-ready Edmonton Metro Region.” It highlights three critical systems for the region: economic development, public transit, and land use and infrastructure development. Can’t get much broader than that! At least they said public transit and not simply transportation. The report makes these recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: Affirm the Metro Mayors Alliance by developing and signing a Memorandum of Understanding that spells out a commitment to plan, decide and act as one Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #2: Formalize the commitment to think, plan and act as an Edmonton Metro Region through a legally binding Master Agreement.
  • Recommendation #3: Consistent with the signed Master Agreement, establish the structures needed to create the three key cornerstones of a globally competitive Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3a: Establish and mandate a new entity responsible for regional economic development in the Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3b: Establish and mandate an entity responsible for planning, decision-making and delivering core public transit across the Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3c: Establish a structure with the capacity and authority to facilitate and act upon regional land use planning and regional infrastructure development in the Edmonton Metro Region.

Paula noted that this could become a major election issue next year. And she notes the potential impact of this group on the Capital Region Board:

“The 24-member Capital Region Board, created, somewhat forcibly, by then-premier Ed Stelmach back in 2008, isn’t nimble enough to give metro Edmonton the leadership it needs.”

Now that the report is out, it’ll be up to the nine mayors to do something about it.

You can follow this on Twitter using the hashtag #YEGMetroRegion and/or the shorter #yegmetro as adopted by the local media.