St. Albert and Morinville mayors say they plan to be bridge-builders this week as a new Edmonton region growth board meets for the first time.
Leaders from 13 Edmonton-area communities, including St. Albert, Morinville and Sturgeon County, will be at the Chateau Louis Thursday for the first meeting of the new Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board.
Formerly known as the Capital Region Board, this regional growth organization was renamed on Oct. 26 when the province approved new regulations under the Municipal Government Act. The regulations approve the board’s growth plan and reduces its membership to 13 communities from 24, all of whom have more than 5,000 residents.
“We’ve got everybody who wants to be at the table at the table,” said Morinville Mayor Barry Turner, which could make it easier to forge a regional identity. This smaller membership also puts Morinville in a fantastic position to represent the region’s smaller communities.
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said the board’s smaller membership should mean more common interests among its members, adding that the old board was so diverse that members sometimes clashed with each other. She saw herself as a potential bridge between Edmonton and smaller regions such as Beaumont, as she was a known figure and proven collaborator at the board.
The new board comes with a new chair, as past chair Nolan Crouse handed the reins to NorQuest College president Jodi Abbott last Oct. 31.
Abbott said she accepted this appointment due to her interest in regional co-operation.
“We have incredible leaders leading the municipalities,” she said, as well as excellent agricultural, industrial, and labour assets in this region.
“How can we accomplish something great together?”
Unlike Crouse, who was elected, Abbott was appointed as the board’s new chair.
While he did a good job of it, Crouse was often torn between his role as board chair and St. Albert’s representative on the board, Heron and Turner said. As an appointed chair, Abbott won’t have that conflict and will better focus on the region’s interests.
Abbot said she saw herself as a facilitator at the board, adding, partially in jest, that her experience as an Olympic figure skating judge could come in handy.
“One of the things I’ve learned through my involvement in international sport is that there are diverse opinions around the table, and when you have really good process and good criteria to make decisions, you usually come to the right decision.”
The new board, like the old one, will regulate growth in the Edmonton region through implementation of a growth plan.
That plan will discourage urban sprawl and encourage governments to get the most out of the infrastructure they have, said Heron, who was on the plan’s task force.
“We as a province are home to some wonderful, good agricultural land, and I don’t want to see it concreted over to build more roads to reach more houses when we don’t have to.”
The province has also given the board two years to come up with a regional servicing plan that lists the transit, water, solid waste, emergency and other services needed to implement the growth plan, sets out how those services will be delivered and funded, and ensures the best use of taxpayer dollars.
“In terms of rubber hitting the road, this is where the ratepayer and taxpayer can actually see a benefit on their bills,” Turner said, as regional servicing could save people money.
Heron said the board might be able to check off water and wastewater from the servicing plan pretty quickly, as the Alberta Capital Region Wastewater Commission and Epcor Water have done most of the work. Transit and transportation might be a bigger focus. St. Albert and Edmonton have agreed to make a joint transit commission, and are just waiting for the province to fund it.
Edmonton Metro is also linked to a spin-off group called Edmonton Global, which is meant to promote economic development across the region – something the old board didn’t do, Turner noted.
“Being involved regionally for economic development is going to be potentially a huge improvement for us,” he said, as it meant Morinville would be at the table when big companies come by the Edmonton region.
In an email, Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said she looked forward to working with Abbott and area mayors on sustainable development.