FCM conference a benefit for councillors
St. Albert councillors speak about experience at recent conference
Saturday, Jun 07, 2014 06:00 am
St. Albert city councillors descended on Niagara Falls, Ont. last week for more than just the scenery.
The mayor and Couns. Wes Brodhead, Cathy Heron, Tim Osborne and Gilles Prefontaine flew east to represent St. Albert at the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
“It’s been an interesting and productive week,” Brodhead said, noting he and other councillors went a day early to participate in a regional workshop that brought in representatives of successful regional partnerships from across North America.
“We chatted around what it takes to be successful as a region, what it meant to collaborate and the benefit of not only working together for the region but it allowed the companies within the area to also compete better,” he said.
Brodhead also highlighted a pair of study sessions he went on, one to view the urban, completely accessible forest and the other looking at the trail systems.
With Brodhead’s interest in whistle cessation and railway safety, he found a session on the latter a natural fit.
“It was heartening to hear that municipalities … across the country are taking a greater interest in what it means to have rails going through their community,” Brodhead said. “The reality of it is we need to stay on our national railways to make sure their infrastructure’s maintained.”
Heron, a member of the St. Albert smart city master plan steering committee, found herself on a panel with city staff from Halifax and Winnipeg talking about their different approaches to having a “smart city.” Smart city is about using technology as a tool in a variety of ways for municipalities.
“I think the people in the room were really appreciative of having a politician speaking to them,” Heron said, noting she talked about the alliance St. Albert has formed with post-secondary institutions and technology companies and about how politicians can use the data to drive better decisions. “I got swarmed afterwards.”
There is a trade show that runs as part of the conference, and Heron noted there was a smart city focus there as well.
“So the profile of St. Albert I think was really elevated nationally on our smart city initiative,” she said.
Heron said she finds the side conversations with other municipal officials the most beneficial, something Prefontaine echoed.
“It’s not so much the sessions themselves as the opportunity to sit and talk with people,” Prefontaine said. “The presentations are wonderful but they open up that conversation.”
Prefontaine went on a study tour that he found interesting because it showed the differences in approaches to how municipalities deal with the rivers that flow through them in different provinces.
“It was really interesting to see the different model that is utilized in Ontario compared to what’s been done in Alberta in terms of river (watershed) alliances,” he said.
Prefontaine stayed behind for some extra time to attend the Canada Green Building Council’s conference.
For Osborne, the main benefit came from connecting with other municipal leaders.
“I have a lot of interest in some of the social issues that communities across the country are dealing with so some good conversations around affordable housing, seniors housing, things like that,” he said.
Osborne said he thinks municipalities have a stronger voice when they work together towards a common message.
“I think FCM is kind of one of our stronger mechanisms for doing that,” he said.