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Strathcona and Sturgeon County's withdrawal from Edmonton Global could be a 'wake-up call': Heron

“It might be a wake up call for [Edmonton Global] to get back to some of their grassroots, get back to the sectors that they originally decided would be perfect for economic development in the region...  more than just hydrogen and the airport,” St. Albert's Mayor Cathy Heron said.
“Maybe [the counties' recent decision] is a wake up call for Edmonton Global — maybe they need to be doing more outreach with individual municipalities,” Mayor Cathy Heron said. JACK FARRELL/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert's Mayor Cathy Heron says recent decisions made by Strathcona County and Sturgeon County to withdraw from Edmonton Global, an agency working to attract foreign investment that represents more than a dozen Edmonton-area municipalities, could be a “wake-up call” for the organization.

Edmonton Global's member municipalities, including St. Albert, pay annual contributions to support the organization, and Strathcona County council voted to leave the organization unanimously on Nov. 30 as a way to trim the municipality's budget, Mayor Rod Frank said during debate.

“This motion is indicative of the financial strain our organization is under, but also that our greater public is,” Frank said. “We have to start looking at every line of the budget and... we have to make sure any spend of that budget is responsible.”

“It's a difficult decision, but I think it's one we have to make to reflect the tenor of the times.”

On Dec. 4, Strathcona County council approved its 2024 budget, which carries with it a 5.87 per cent property tax increase and includes a new 2 per cent recreation levy to partially fund the County's planned fieldhouse project in Sherwood Park.

Sturgeon County, for its part, voted to withdraw from the agency on Dec. 12. The county's Mayor Alanna Hnatiw was unavailable for interview, however, county spokesperson Megan Candie said in an email that the vote was unanimous.

“Council reached this decision after careful consideration,” Candie said, adding that the County is still committed to regional collaboration given the continued involvement in the provincially mandated Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, the Villeneuve Landing Network, and the Edmonton Region Hydrogen Hub.

Sturgeon County approved its 2024 budget, and its corresponding 2.13 per cent property tax increase, on Dec. 12.

Despite the decisions to withdraw from the group, Edmonton Global's policies dictate that municipalities must provide two years' notice before actually withdrawing from the organization. As such, both counties will still be required to pay their annual contributions for 2024 and 2025, which Strathcona County's council heard on Nov. 30 was estimated to be nearly $500,000 each year.

According to a Dec. 13 news release, Sturgeon County's annual contribution is around $137,000 per year. 

As part of the motion to initiate the withdrawal process, Strathcona County council decided to use reserve funds to pay the municipality's contributions for the next two years so that the amount isn't generated through property taxes.

Unlike Strathcona County, Candie explained that Sturgeon County council did not consider a motion to use reserve funds to cover its Edmonton Global contributions for the next two years, so that amount will still be generated through taxes.

In an interview on Dec. 7, Heron said she understood Frank's concerns about budgetary spending, however, she thinks the work being done by Edmonton Global is a long-term project that will generate positive results for the region in the years to come.

“Regional economic development was identified [as a need] a long time ago... and we need it, we can't continue to act alone,” she said. “We still have our individual economic development departments, but Malcolm Bruce (the CEO of Edmonton Global) and his staff have done a very good job of propelling the region onto different international and national stages.”

Heron said she thinks Strathcona County may change its mind about leaving Edmonton Global over the next two years, and after the 2025 municipal election, similarly to what the councils of Parkland County and Morinville did in 2022 after both municipalities gave notice to withdraw in 2020 only to change their mind two years later.

“Maybe [the counties' recent decision] is a wake-up call for Edmonton Global — maybe they need to be doing more outreach with individual municipalities,” Heron said. “It might be a wake-up call for them to get back to some of their grassroots, get back to the sectors that they originally decided would be perfect for economic development in the region...  more than just hydrogen and the airport.”

“They've been very, very focused on the airport, which I struggle with because it doesn't really help St. Albert's economic development. There's probably a very far away ripple effect that the airport's sustainability has for St. Albert, but it's not so immediate [or] advantageous.”

City spokesperson Cory Sinclair said St. Albert has contributed nearly $830,000 to Edmonton Global since its creation in 2017, and the city's estimated contribution for 2024 is $243,200.

In an email, Edmonton Global's board chair Enzo Barichello said the organization has attracted more than $2.6 billion in business investments to the region.

“When we look at overall impact of Edmonton Global since it was founded, it’s clear that the investments made by the 14 municipalities who own Edmonton Global are paying off,” Barichello said, adding, “we expect to close approximately $2 billion in investments within the next six months, making us one of the most successful investment attraction agencies in Canada.”

He also said that every member municipality's financial contributions should be thought of as “an investment line rather than a cost line item.”

“You can’t only cut your way out, you need to grow the revenue side too, [and] Edmonton Global is our region's collective tool to raise revenue without raising taxes.”

Coun. Sheena Hughes, who put forward an unsuccessful motion in 2021 to have St. Albert withdraw from Edmonton Global, said she respected the counties' decisions.

“It's a very expensive membership fee,” Hughes said. “I mean, I've definitely questioned the value we're getting for this [and] I am definitely open to reevaluating whether or not it's in our best interest to continue as well, but I also suspect that council will continue to support staying in.”

In an interview prior to Sturgeon County's vote, Heron had told the Gazette she was worried Strathcona County's vote would have a ripple effect, but she also said only time will tell if the withdrawal from Edmonton Global will have any larger impact on collaborative regional initiatives. 

“[Mayor Frank] is very much a regional player, I can honestly say that about him, so we'll have to see,” Heron said. 

“It's still pretty much new information — a bit of a shock; I'm sure the mayors in the region [were caught off guard],” she said, joking that “the next time we get together, we're going to have ask [Frank]: ‘what the hell?’” 

Heron was unavailable for an interview on Dec. 13.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

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