Small towns will be on their own now the province has tabled plans to cut them out of the Capital Region Board, says St. Albert’s mayor.
Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee announced sweeping changes to the CRB at Thursday’s board meeting as part of the rollout of the revised Municipal Government Act.
In addition to adding regional servicing and economic development to the board’s mandate, she also said that its membership would drop to 13 from 24.
“There needs to be a tighter, more nimble team” if the region is to be globally competitive, she said in a press conference.
She proposed to drop all towns and villages with less than 5,000 people from the group, reducing it to Beaumont, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Morinville, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, and the counties of Parkland, Sturgeon, Strathcona and Leduc.
Those dropped have until Jan. 31 to contest the decision.
The decision comes as a blow to board chair and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, who has spent years defending the board’s merits to small communities such as Redwater that wished to leave.
“I can’t say that I’m not bitter,” said an audibly vexed Crouse.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was a bit irritated we couldn’t get to the next level as a group of 24.”
But the board couldn’t agree to support regional tourism, the downtown Edmonton arena, or even last month’s budget, which was a mere million dollars.
“We stayed thinking small, and because we stayed thinking small, the province had to make a change.”
Crouse said he suspects the change arose due to towns like Redwater wanting out, Edmonton wanting a smaller group, and the NDP wanting to put its stamp on an Ed Stelmach creation.
“Some communities were upset they were removed, some were happy they were removed,” Crouse said.
Redwater was amongst the latter, said Mayor Mel Smith, who has been lobbying for the town’s exit since 2013. Redwater has a tiny budget and didn’t believe in many of the board’s goals, which meant it often voted against board projects.
“The Capital Region Board will be much stronger with the 11 of us not there,” he said.
Towns like Bon Accord will have to strengthen their links with Sturgeon County, as counties will now represent many small communities at the board, Crouse noted.
“And they’re not going to get much help, quite frankly, from the larger communities.
“They’re going to be out on their own and they’re going to have to get their help from Sturgeon County, bottom line, because the City of Leduc isn’t going to care about Bon Accord. Neither is Spruce Grove, neither is Sherwood Park.”
Smith said Redwater wasn’t worried about having a lesser voice in the region, as the town would have a collaboration framework with Sturgeon County and could always bring its concerns direct to the province.
Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes said she was glad that the province kept her town on the board, but added that the province would have to step up its support of the board if it wanted it to do more work on economic development. The province also had to clarify what it wanted to do about regional servicing, noting that there were already many successful regional utility groups in place.
“What does that mean for our wastewater commission?” Holmes said as an example – it’s a regional group, yet includes many members that aren’t on the CRB.
Larivee indicated that these changes would be implemented in regulation by next spring following talks with member governments.
The changes won’t kick in until after next year’s municipal elections, Crouse said. His job now was to ensure a smooth transition.
“If the province has decided it’s 13 instead of 24, let’s get on with it. But the 13 better understand that the stakes are now higher.”
Board members will now have to bring serious cash to the table to support multimillion-dollar regional projects such as interchanges, Crouse said. St. Albert could also see more support for park-and-rides and a truly regional transit smartcard initiative.
“We’re no longer playing small ball,” Crouse said.