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Regional transit on life support after Edmonton axes funding

The EMTSC board of directors will meet today to discuss the implications of Edmonton's vote not to participate in the regional transit network that was set to begin operations in April, and St. Albert city councillor's have mixed reactions to the news.

With budget deliberations running late into the evening on Dec. 14, Edmonton's city council voted not to pay their $10.3 million requisition for regional transit next year.

With only councillors Tim Cartmell, Sarah Hamilton, Karen Principe, Jennifer Rice, and Andrew Knack (Edmonton's representative on the Commission's board) voting in favour of paying, the future of the Edmonton Metropolitan Regional Transit Commission (EMTSC) is in immediate jeopardy.

Speaking in debate, Coun. Erin Rutherford said she saw the regional transit network as a "real money-suck," which is why she voted against Edmonton's participation moving forward. 

“The longer we get in it, the harder and more complex it’s going to be to get out," Rutherford said.

Likewise, Coun. Jo-Anne Wright said “we are digging a deeper hole and I think we are continuing to throw good money after bad."  

"I think it’s time we pull out of this deal and continue on in either the status-quo or some other fashion,” Wright said. 

Just as The Gazette previously reported in the case of St. Albert, Edmonton has just two options to get out of the EMTSC. The first option involves submitting a notice to the EMTSC that the city is withdrawing. The withdrawal option requires, as stated in the EMTSC's governance bylaw, a full year's notice and the full payment of the 2023 and 2024 requisitions, as well as the payment of "costs incurred by the EMTSC and remaining members resulting from the city’s withdrawal."

The 2024 requisition amounts for the eight member municipalities had not been decided prior to Edmonton's vote on Dec. 14.

Edmonton's second option is to initiate an attempt to dissolve the Commission by gaining the agreement of three of the eight representatives on the Board. The Gazette previously reported that St. Albert city council would be debating their future with the commission next month after Coun. Sheena Hughes, concerned over the cost of St. Albert's participation and benefits, submitted a motion on Dec. 6 that attempts to take this second option. 

Edmonton's vote on Dec. 14 may render St. Albert's debate unnecessary, as without funding from Edmonton, the biggest shareholder, the Commission's board of directors may vote to dissolve immediately.

The EMTSC Board is scheduled to meet today at 3:00 p.m. to discuss the implication's of Edmonton's vote, and The Gazette update this article following the board meeting with more details. The meeting will be live-streamed on YouTube.

If the Commission dissolves in the immediate future, Edmonton and St. Albert will still be on the hook for their respective shares of the EMTSC's $7-million operating loan. St. Albert has guaranteed $2,366,700 of the loan, while Edmonton guaranteed the remainder. 

The EMTSC had planned to begin operations on April 30. 

The Gazette contacted the EMTSC to ask what the Commission's next steps were, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Local councillors react

In an interview on Dec. 15, Coun. Sheena Hughes said she was pleased to see a few Edmonton city councillors share the same concerns she has regarding the costs of the regional transit network.

"I think there's many now that are recognizing that there really isn't any value to stay in the regional commission," Hughes said.

"What Edmonton has clearly said is that they don't intend to move forward with the regional commission on an operating basis." 

Hughes added that the question now becomes whether, and how, the commission will dissolve, and how the costs to do so will be distributed amongst the eight municipalities.

"We do need to now have those discussions," Hughes said.

Coun. Wes Brodhead, who represents St. Albert on the EMTSC board and acts as Board Chair, told The Gazette he was disappointed with Edmonton's vote.

"I believe the region was set back a little bit last night," Brodhead said.  

"I will certainly have more to say after that, but, you know, In the end, every councillor has the right to vote the way they want, but, in the end, we also have to deal with the implications of those votes."

For Coun. Ken MacKay, Edmonton's vote not continue with regional transit has raised some concerns about future regional collaboration.

"I'm just concerned what this does with not only the ongoing relationships with all of the metro region and our regional partners, but I'm also concerned that this may have some other long term impacts as it relates to regional planning on other significant matters," MacKay said. 

"I just think that there's it's going to be a little different when we're around the table."

MacKay said he thinks it will take some time before St. Albert, and every municipality involved, understands how they will be affected financially if the commission dissolves. 

The Gazette contacted St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron for comment but did not hear back prior to publication, but she tweeted that she is "heartbroken."

"I am heartbroken. Approx 8 years of my life working on this. We entered into agreements in good faith and lack of understanding of the long term benefits was its downfall," the tweet read.

The Thursday, Dec. 22 print edition of The Gazette will have more details about the future of the EMTSC.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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