Redwater, Lamont to leave CRB

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Province has final say

The Capital Region Board has voted to let two of its founding members leave the group.

But it’s the province that will have final say on whether they go, notes St. Albert’s mayor.

CRB members voted 23-1 Thursday in favour of two requests from Redwater and Lamont to leave the board. Board chair and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse opposed both requests.

The towns of Redwater and Lamont have been members of the board since its establishment in 2008. If the province agrees to their request, they will be the first communities to leave the government-mandated group in its history (apart from New Sarepta, which dropped out when it merged with Leduc County).

Redwater previously asked to leave the group in 2013, but didn’t win enough votes to have its motion pass. It did, however, trigger years of soul-searching in the group that, last fall, led it to create a process by which communities could join or leave.

The board agreed to hold a membership review every four years to let any community of populations of fewer than 5,000 join or leave the board, Crouse said in an interview. The threshold was set there since none of the larger communities were interested in leaving.

Redwater and Lamont were the only two members who asked to leave as part of last January’s review.

Redwater Mayor Mel Smith said in an interview that his community has wanted out since pretty much Day 1. The town’s rural mindset frequently puts it at odds with the rest of the board, causing clashes and disunity. They’re also 70 kilometres out from Edmonton, and have no interest in becoming a major centre.

His council voted unanimously to leave the board last September.

“We didn’t say that there was no value in the Capital Region Board,” he told the board, adding in an interview that he thought it vital for long-term planning.

“We just don’t see it in Redwater.”

Lamont Mayor Bill Skinner (who was not at the meeting for medical reasons) said his council voted 6-1 to leave last October. (He opposed the motion.)

“We’re a very small community on the very outer edge of the capital region area,” he said, and council didn’t feel there were enough benefits to staying in the group. He personally believed the group had the potential to do many things its members couldn’t do on their own, such as addressing needs for specialised transit and housing.

Stay with the pack, argues Crouse

Crouse opposed both departures. The board’s lobbying efforts had helped get the Anthony Henday built, and would help rural communities out on issues such as regional broadband and senior’s housing.

“We can hunt as a pack where others cannot,” he told the board.

Other members, while supportive of Redwater and Lamont’s moves, expressed disappointment in their departure.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson (who, due to the board’s voting structure, holds a veto over its decisions) said he had mixed feelings over Lamont’s decision, given that this was the group’s eight-year anniversary.

“But for coming together to be most effective, people have to want to be here,” he said – if someone wants to leave, it’s prudent to have a process to let them.

Iveson said he was “pleasantly surprised” that just two communities wanted out, as this implied that the rest wanted to work together.

Strathcona County Mayor Roxanne Carr questioned how this move would affect Lamont, given that Lamont County was still on the board.

As the CRB’s membership is set out in provincial law, the province must agree to change that law before Redwater and Lamont can leave the group.

“The province has told us they wouldn’t be making any fast decisions,” Crouse said – he’s not expecting one before 2017 – and it could always reject the board’s recommendation.

Lamont and Redwater will remain members until the province makes its decision.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.