St. Albert city hall is quiet for two weeks to accommodate councillors who are attending the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
The five-day meeting takes place in a different municipality each year, and is an opportunity for municipal elected officials from across the country to learn from each other and discuss resolutions on broad policy direction.
The trip can be fairly expensive. Councillors who attended in 2016 submitted between roughly $2,000 and $2,500 of expense claims, not including return air fare to Winnipeg where the 2016 conference was held – but those in attendance say the experience can be invaluable. Total costs of this year’s trip won’t be available until expense claims are filed. This year’s conference is taking place in Ottawa.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said he sees several benefits for elected officials, but the overarching reason is conferences like these ones offer training and insight a councillor might not be able to find in St. Albert.
“I encourage people to become engaged in boards, committees and opportunities for personal developments outside local (opportunities),” he said.
On top of the official educational opportunities, there’s a lot of value in meeting elected officials from different parts of the country and learning about where the similarities and differences lie.
“So much gets learned talking to other elected officials across Canada. Different ways, different approaches, different procedures,” Crouse said.
He also pointed to the opportunity to help effect policy change at the national level, with the discussion, debate and ultimately voting on major policy resolutions.
The resolutions for debate this year, however, don’t necessarily have much to do with St. Albert. Topics include consultation on placement of federal buildings, federal infrastructure cost-sharing, poverty reduction and softwood lumber.
Coun. Bob Russell, who does not typically attend the conference, sees value for newcomers to council but having spent time in municipal politics before his current stint, he said he doesn’t see as much benefit for himself.
“It’s brutally boring. Sitting around in a crowded room with not enough air conditioning, that’s my memory of FCM,” he said.
Where he does see the benefit is in the policy resolutions that are discussed, if there’s anything of particular interest to St. Albert. In this case, he said the topics on the agenda don’t have much local significance.
“If there was a motion with some resolution that’s been passed by some of the municipalities that I felt really strongly about, I would go,” Russell said. “I don’t like to just go and be an observer, but there’s nothing I see on the plate, really nothing that’s caught my attention.”
Council will resume its regular schedule on Monday, June 12.