St. Albert: To be or not to be
Saturday, May 31, 2014 06:00 am
The recent reaction by municipal politicians to the idea of amalgamation of their respective communities into a greater Edmonton has been entirely predictable to the point of wry amusement. Triggered by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce along with the annexation plans of Edmonton to the south, the issue has legs. And with the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority managing the Villeneuve Airport following the demolition of the City Centre Airport, we should reckon on Edmonton applying to expand its boundaries in our direction as well.
If we are to remain an independent municipal entity, there is merit in considering what a city is supposed to be. In ancient times, cities were states in themselves (think of Troy). Under the Romans, they were chief towns of administrative regions. In England they were towns of pre-eminence such as the homes of episcopal sees or large commercial centres. In North America they are communities that reach specified population sizes.
Functionally, today’s cities are commercial, cultural and intellectual centres for their citizenry and drawing areas. At one time St. Albert was. Now it isn’t.
Prior to the Second World War, St. Albert was an important administrative centre for the Roman Catholic Church and a commercial support centre for our surrounding agricultural district. After the war, with a rapid influx of new citizens, we deliberately became a bedroom community for the City of Edmonton. That status remains and so it should be no surprise that the issue of amalgamation keeps returning.
Immediately following the Second World War, St. Albert was in difficulty, along with towns and cities throughout North America, in trying to finance a major population expansion. Town council gave up some of its autonomy by applying for provincial funds under a New Town Act.
St. Albert was governed by a board of administration, which included provincial public servants from 1957 to 1962. Returning to regular town status, St. Albert quickly went into debt and financial management was taken over by the Provincial Local Authorities Board from 1963 to 1969.
A group of St. Albertans called for amalgamation with Edmonton, and in 1969 a public plebiscite was held. Fifty-five per cent favoured amalgamation. Council ignored the results.
St. Albert then became a city in 1977 and, in 1978, Edmonton applied for amalgamation under an extended annexation plan. St. Albert’s finances had turned around and St. Albertans vehemently opposed the proposal. The request was denied.
Much has changed since then. The energy sector has benefitted every community in our area. Most of our neighbours have surged ahead with commercial development. St. Albert hasn’t.
Politically, everyone is proud of us being named Canada’s number one city to live in. But most of us work in Edmonton. Our chamber of commerce and Catholic school board are regionalized. Our community-based arts and cultural programs are underserviced. We have no airport or even a golf course.
How long can we continue with a city-sized municipal government when we are, in reality, a really terrific suburb?
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.