Joining Edmonton not a cure for what ails St. Albert
By: Jared Milne
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 22, 2012 06:00 am
Amalgamation with Edmonton is a topic that comes up in St. Albert every now and again. Some citizens, frustrated by the state of affairs in St. Albert, believe that we’d be better off as part of Edmonton. Whether or not that’s true is another matter entirely.
There’s been a lot of criticism of our city council, for instance when it approved the Arlington Drive affordable housing project over the objections of most Akinsdale residents. Under St. Albert’s current system of government, we elect a council of seven members, all of whom are meant to be accountable to the entire population of St. Albert. The people of Akinsdale were able to reward or punish any member of St. Albert’s council who ran in Oct. 2010, and their votes may have been make or break for some incumbent candidates.
Edmonton, on the other hand, has divided itself into 12 wards, each of which elects only one council member. The only person accountable to the entire population is the mayor. If St. Albert were part of Edmonton, we would only have one or two councillors representing us. The 12 or 13 councillors representing the rest of the city could easily ram through policy decisions that would negatively affect St. Albert, and we would be powerless to stop them. In a large city ward system, each councillor is only accountable to his or her own ward and doesn’t have to face the voters in the rest of the city.
And then there’s the question of just how big these councils can become before they’re increasingly unworkable. The amalgamated city of Toronto now has a whopping 45 people on its council, and the news is full of storIes about the different factions on council that are constantly fighting with each other. Is that really the sort of system we’d want for St. Albert?
It’s an open question as to whether being amalgamated with Edmonton would actually increase the quality of our services. Driving through Edmonton is a pain in the neck due to its incredibly slow and inefficient road crews, who leave important roads closed or partially blocked for weeks at a time. St. Albert’s road crews, on the other hand, get the job done much faster. You can be sure that if we were part of Edmonton, we would be getting Edmonton-quality road service.
Nor is St. Albert the only city that embarks on spending projects many residents would consider a waste of money. Edmonton has spent money on everything from poet laureates to a statue meant to be a memorial to the city’s dead homeless people. Right now, Edmonton taxpayers are being asked to cough up more than $100 million for a new downtown arena to host the Edmonton Oilers. If St. Albert were part of Edmonton, you could be sure that we’d be on the hook for that. Would we really want our taxes to be paying for that?
The dangers of being amalgamated with Edmonton far outweigh the positives. While it’s possible that our property taxes might be reduced somewhat, we could easily end up with a less responsive and accountable government, and there’s no guarantee that our services would improve or that our tax dollars would be more wisely spent.
Before amalgamating with Edmonton, we as St. Albertans would do well to consider what we might lose, in addition to what we might possibly gain.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.