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An open and frank discussion overdue

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  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 11, 2014 06:00 am

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St. Albert, a part of Edmonton? Every time the topic of amalgamation comes up, it invariably elicits emotions that range from complete contempt to total embracement.

Some feel amalgamation would be the worst thing that could happen to St. Albert as the city would lose its identity, while the other extreme contends that amalgamation is overdue, as it’s the only way to get taxes lowered and other civic improvements or projects underway.

Extremes aside, the topic does deserve to be discussed, and Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO James Cumming made sure it would be when he dropped the amalgamation bomb during what seemed like a routine breakfast meeting. Cumming claimed the province must consider amalgamating Edmonton’s surrounding municipalities into the big city. Cumming’s reasoning is that Edmonton is bearing the brunt of serious infrastructure and staff expenses, while smaller municipalities reap the rewards despite contributing little or nothing.

Mayor Nolan Crouse was blunt when asked for a comment Thursday.

“St. Albert and the Capital Region Board are not interested nor spending any time on the matter of amalgamation. The province and the CRB are not working on this and don't plan to. Our mandate and our priority is working together on a growth plan. The Edmonton chamber should not waste their time on this matter whatsoever as the 24 municipalities in the region has no interest on this, including St. Albert,” he said.

For too long the topic of amalgamation has been sensitive – maybe it goes back to the experience St. Albert had in the 1970s, which was by most accounts divisive and negative.

But the topic of amalgamation shouldn’t be unmentionable. Communities that live in the shadow of Edmonton benefit from the big city’s work, and the big city doesn’t always see reciprocity. There is wisdom in Cumming’s reasoning.

What would amalgamation be like? As Cumming noted, regional co-operation isn’t what it should or could be right now, but amalgamation could bring a benefit to a number of services such as economic development and transportation.

Redundancy is another issue facing the region. The neighbouring municipalities all have burgeoning bureaucracies that come with hefty price tags. Amalgamation would address duplication as no other solution would.

The topic of amalgamation is important and it has far-reaching consequences. It is understandable from a political point of view that our civic leaders do not have the appetite to discuss a municipal merger with Edmonton. But, as the region continues to experience rapid population growth, which puts a strain on many of our services, not the least of which is transportation infrastructure, amalgamation becomes a topic that’s difficult to avoid.


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