St. Albert city council candidates talk Capital Region Board
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 05, 2013 06:00 am
This week, the Gazette asked the city mayor and councillor candidates to share what they think of the Capital Region Board and how they’d like to improve it.
Crouse, who is currently the chair of the Capital Region Board, thinks the board is a good avenue to do long-term planning for the region.
“My opinion is that there has to be a long-term planning body for the region and the province has done a very good job of legislating a planning body that has a 35-year horizon,” Crouse said. “If what we could do is add a couple of items I think we’d be better off.”
Those items include regional economic development and specialized transit for special needs.
He said a member of council must realize that part of their role is to plan long-term, including decades down the road.
“I’m not in favour of the Capital Region Board,” Biermanski said. “I think that’s done a lot of damage to the region.”
Biermanski said she thinks it’s unfair that Edmonton wields so much power in the voting and can reject the hard work communities have done to attract growth. Those communities, including St. Albert, should be able to direct themselves, she said.
“At this point I don’t believe St. Albert wants to be a part of Edmonton so they should have the right to manage and grow and design and build and recruit to their city as they see fit, that’s what we elect a mayor and council for,” she said.
She thinks the CRB has caused tension between neighbouring municipalities and would prefer to see communities working together as “good neighbours” instead of via the board.
“It needs a thorough examination after the election. It’s not democratic, that’s my main concern, and there’s not an opportunity to appeal the decisions that are made there,” said Russell.
He’s also concerned municipalities’ representatives to the CRB don’t necessarily consult their fellow councillors.
Russell said the voting structure puts too much power into the hands of the bigger municipalities involved.
“I think the members themselves have got to look and see how we can make this more democratic,” Russell said.
“I believe the CRB provides a good framework for collaboration amongst municipalities in the region,” Prefontaine said. “Hopefully the point is to collaborate and make the whole region a bigger, stronger economic powerhouse in Western Canada.”
Prefontaine said the CRB will go through continuous levels of improvement, noting when you get several communities together, they have diverse goals.
“You could end up in deadlocks for certain things and I’m not sure there’s a proper mediation process established quite yet,” he said.
Prefontaine said he’s not sure the CRB has gotten its head around how it’s going to work on regional projects.
“That framework isn’t quite there,” Prefontaine said.
He did note the organization is still young.
“We’re going to learn the more and more we work together,” Prefontaine said.
Parker said the concept of the CRB is good and idealistic, but it’s going through some growing pains. He suggested part of the concerns stem from the differences between rural and urban communities.
“At the end of the day the issue seems to be how do you deal with a community’s self interest versus the idealistic view of what’s best for the whole region?”
He thinks the voting structure should be looked at, and noted some issues like continuity and the need for more efficiency in committees.
That said, he thinks over time the CRB will be good for the region.
“At the end of the day we’re competing in global markets and not against each other,” Parker said.
Osborne thinks it is important for St. Albert to be at the table.
“I think that regional co-operation is certainly an important thing for us and it’s only going to get more important as our community and those around us continue to grow,” Osborne said.
“I do think it is important for the CRB to look for opportunities where co-ordination will be more cost effective and offer better services to residents,” Osborne said, giving an example of transit as a potential opportunity.
“It’s got to change the way that it does business I think quite dramatically,” MacKay said. “It needs to start promoting win-win items instead of always just being a venue to take development away from somebody.”
He would like to look at more collaborative and voluntary models for regional co-operation, noting if the CRB was voluntary “it would really have to prove its worth.”
Jones noted that the CRB is mandatory.
“With that in mind, I think the four issues they had as part of the things that the CRB should be looking at were needed to be looked at anyhow as a group,” Jones said, noting those areas are land use, intermunicipal transit, affordable housing and geographic information systems.
“There’s been lots of problems mainly because there are so many partners,” Jones noted, though he added no one can be cut out either. He raised concerns that the voting structure means if a community wants something passed, they need Edmonton onside.
He’d like to see the group come together to collaborate in a better way.
“I think it has potential but we have regional differences that are causing us big problems right now,” Jones said.
“I think the Capital Region Board as it is right now is completely dysfunctional,” Hughes said. “It represents the interest of just basically large populations only.”
She said the board has done the opposite of what she thinks it was created for.
“What we want to do is change it so we actually have regional growth and working together as opposed to being able to veto other people’s growth because it isn’t in your community’s best interests,” Hughes said.
“I think the CRB is entirely necessary and I like it,” Heron said. “It’s a good venue for learning and listening to other municipalities and understanding what their priorities are.”
She noted St. Albert is not an island and the CRB helps plan for regional efforts, including transit.
“It has its faults. I think its faults stem from the growth plan,” she said, though added a new growth plan is in the works.
“The concept of the CRB is great, it works in theory but not in reality,” Harley said. “The size and the population of the communities are just too diverse to have any meaningful applications. What we need is co-operation and co-ordination of services not competition with the largest city in the region.”
He’d like to see the voting structure changed so Edmonton can’t have a veto over other communities’ land use plans.
Goldsmith thinks the issues around the CRB need to be acted on quickly before some groups elect to not participate at all.
“Apparently it’s not working that well. I’d like to see it reviewed. It’s really important to have the surrounding areas collaborating and co-operating,” Goldsmith said, adding that it does need to be recognized each area has its own needs and wants to grow.
He suggested the chair of such an organization should be someone who doesn’t have any self-interest in a particular community but does have an interest in the region.
“The way it operates right now, I don’t think it operates in the best interest of all the surrounding communities because I think Edmonton has too much of a say in that,” Durham said.
Durham added he thinks the distribution of the vote and the decision-making process could be made more fair to all involved.
“Participation in the regional planning process needs to be compulsory and involve all municipalities,” Climenhaga said. He said the province needs to make clear that the CRB is mandatory for the involved municipalities.
He said a tax revenue sharing scheme that is fair for the entire region, including the bigger urban players that lack industry, needs to be developed.
It doesn’t make sense for the rural communities to participate when they have no incentive to participate, he said.
“The board was set up to provide shared benefits for growth. It hasn’t lived up to what it was designed to do, so it should be changed,” Cassidy said. “If it’s designed and municipalities are not happy, it has to be changed to accommodate those good neighbour relations.”
Cassidy predicted the CRB will be dissolved and something better developed. He’d like to pool the municipalities together and find some common ground, and then see the province approached with an agreement.
“I also think it has to be taken apart because there was not accountability for some of the decisions and it was run improperly,” Cassidy said.
Burke attended the CRB candidates orientation, and found herself shocked they’ve come up with policies, but no bylaws. She expressed doubt over the voting system.
“Honestly, it should be looked at,” she said.
She’d like to see the municipalities have some dialogue about what’s working about the CRB for each community.
She does like the idea of regional cost sharing for things like transportation or land use.
“I think it’s a great idea. I don’t know much about if it’s working yet,” Burke said.
“I believe the CRB has a purpose,” Brodhead said.
He added that, for the region to be successful, the member municipalities have to work together.
The CRB offers the opportunity to provide services jointly in a more effective way, instead of having municipalities each offer separate services.
He’d like to see the voting system improve, noting Edmonton needs to have a say but the virtual veto it has due to the voting system might not have a purpose.
“I’d do a review of the governance model,” Brodhead said.
He also thinks the board needs a win, suggesting public transit and geographic information systems are “low-hanging fruit” for collaborative efforts.
Bradley attended the recent CRB orientation for candidates and said he understands the province has legislated the board into being, and the CRB allows for long term plans for strategic growth in areas like land use planning, transit and affordable housing.
“To me, it makes sense to do it that way. If you want provincial funding to help with your capital project, you go through this organization,” he said.
Since he’s on the outside of the system, Bradley wasn’t sure what he’d like to improve just yet. He noted some municipalities want to leave the board but doesn’t think the province will change the system.