A former Edmonton MP says his experience as a cat-wrangler should come in handy as chair of the Capital Region Board.
Local mayors got a chance to meet incoming interim chair Jim Edwards last week at a meeting of the regional board. Edwards, a former member of Parliament for southern Edmonton, replaces current chair Chris Sheard next month, and has been appointed for a one-year term.
The province appointed Edwards at the board's request, said St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse.
"We needed somebody strong with experience and wisdom from the region, and he was the right guy."
Edwards is a former broadcaster, and has previously headed the University of Alberta's board of governors, Economic Development Edmonton and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
"What the province has done in establishing this board is inspired," Edwards said. "There's nothing like it anywhere else in Canada."
Sheard, who has been the board's interim chair since its creation in 2008, says he decided to step down after recent elections brought a lot of new faces and ideas to the group. "I thought it was the right time for this organization, in its maturity, to have a new chair that was one of its choosing."
Cheers for Sheard
The CRB plans development throughout the Capital region and consists of mayors and representatives from 24 communities. While it's supposed to be chaired by one of its members, the board has instead opted to use an interim chair picked by the province from outside the group.
Sheard, the former president of Atco Gas, was asked by the province to chair the group in 2008. Appointed for a year, he was re-appointed for two more years at the board's request.
The first year was very tough, Sheard said. "There was no staff [and] no structure to this on day one. There was just me." He knew right away that he had to be absolutely neutral in his position as chair — anything less would have been fatal for the group.
Many local mayors were opposed to the idea of the board at first, particularly Sturgeon County Mayor Don Rigney, who argued that it would transfer wealth away from Sturgeon County.
There are a lot of divergent interests on the board, Rigney said, and running it is no easy task. "Some of my fellow members likened it to herding cats." He cited Sheard as instrumental to the board's success. "He was the right man for the job, for sure."
Sheard's key attribute was his flexibility, Crouse said. "He's allowed every voice to be heard all the time." Sheard was always professional, and never favoured one community over another. "His only objective was unity."
The CRB has since created an overall growth plan that covers land use, transit and housing.
Sheard's efforts helped transform one of Alberta's worst and most dysfunctional regions into one of its best, said Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. "Nobody thought at the end of the day that we could come to a consensus, build relationships and actually become friends."
New challenges ahead
Edwards said he was looking forward to the challenge of managing the board's members, adding that he had "a lot of experience herding cats" as an MP. "It's going to be a really worthwhile job."
Sheard said he would go back to being semi-retired, and wasn't sure what he would do next. "I'm sure there will be something interesting that will come along."
The board next meets on April 7.