St. Albert city council received their annual presentation from Edmonton Global on Feb. 6, during which multiple councillors said they think Edmonton Global's communication is a major issue the company needs to overcome.
The presentation, made by Edmonton Global's vice president Chris McLeod and board member Jason Randhawa, was the first such presentation since more than a third of the investment attraction company's member municipalities gave notice of their intent to withdraw from the initiative late last year.
The municipalities that voted to start the two-year withdrawal process are Strathcona County, Sturgeon County, Parkland County, the Town of Devon, and the City of Fort Saskatchewan. If all five municipalities do in fact withdraw from Edmonton Global, the remaining member municipalities will be St. Albert, Edmonton, Beaumont, Leduc, Gibbons, Morinville, Leduc County, Spruce Grove, and Stony Plain.
Randhawa, responding to a question from Coun. Natalie Joly during the meeting, told council that it was “a bit troubling” that so many municipalities gave notice of their intent to withdraw from Edmonton Global, especially because “there was no warning,” but he doesn't think the company's work will change moving forward.
“The mission of Edmonton global, and the reason we were set up, remains the mission,” Randhawa said. “It is a regional mission to put this region on the international map with investors and to ensure that those municipalities whether... they are part of Edmonton global or not, are represented.”
“This is regional work to benefit the region, and we're going to continue to do that.”
Coun. Shelley Biermanski, who previously told the Gazette that she would be in favour of St. Albert withdrawing from Edmonton Global, asked the company representatives if the lack of warning provided by the five municipalities was a result of a communication breakdown between the company and all member municipalities.
“We're still in the process of diagnosing what's happened,” McLeod said in response. “The work that's happening now is really just to go a little bit more in-depth to learn those things.”
“I would suspect that communication, and more than that, [a] really deep sense of engagement, probably is at the heart of this.”
Mayor Cathy Heron, as well as Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Ken MacKay, each said they thought Edmonton Global needs to do a better job of communicating and explaining the importance of their work, as well as success stories.
“I think somehow you have to do a much better [communicating] back to individual communities what you are,” MacKay said. “That's, for me, one of the challenges because you've got so many exciting things, but we just don't hear about it.”
“What I'm asking for is not easy because I recognize that large negotiations are complex and there's a requirement for confidentiality and all the rest, but there's a rub there somewhere because you have to get 14 municipalities to come along with you,” Brodhead added. “Behind 14 mayors [are] councils and then you've got 14 municipalities that are saying, 'hold on, what's happening?' because you're spending our money and we don't know where it's going.”
“What I'm asking you is just to keep an eye on both goals.”
MacKay, as well as Heron, also expressed some concern about the perception that Edmonton Global mainly focuses on industries that don't necessarily benefit St. Albert, namely hydrogen and the Edmonton International Airport.
“I can guarantee you the conversations we're having at the board table are not just hydrogen and the airport,” Randhawa said in response.
“They're much more comprehensive than that [and] I think part of the reality of the budget we do have, and you might think it's big ... [but] we can be triple the size and we probably still wouldn't have enough money to do, really, the job we want.”
At the end of the presentation Heron said she thinks Edmonton Global has a good opportunity to improve itself given how many municipalities have given notice to withdraw.
As the Gazette reported earlier this month, Heron recently joined a new committee of mayors that will work with Edmonton Global's board of directors over the next few months to discuss possible changes to the company's operations, such as a potential exploration of a new fee structure.
Currently, Edmonton Global's member municipalities pay annual fees based on population and tax base. St. Albert, for example, gave Edmonton Global about $245,000 this year, whereas Strathcona County, which has a higher population, was required to pay about $500,000.
St. Albert's overall contribution to Edmonton Global since the company was founded in 2017 is close to $1.1 million.