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CRB to draft "divorce" papers

The Capital Region Board may soon get a bit smaller now that it has agreed to rethink its roster, despite the objections of St. Albert's mayor that doing so amounted to getting a divorce.
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The Capital Region Board may soon get a bit smaller now that it has agreed to rethink its roster, despite the objections of St. Albert's mayor that doing so amounted to getting a divorce.

CRB members voted 23-1 in favour of a timeline that would see it draw up a membership review process by this September.

The CRB consists of 24 municipalities in the Edmonton region, including St. Albert, and is meant to co-ordinate the area's overall development. The province controls membership in it.

In 2013, the Town of Redwater asked the province if it could leave the group. Although the province said no, the board decided to look at whether or not it should change its membership.

The intent of this review is to set up a process by which members could leave or join the board, said Beaumont Mayor Camille Berube, who introduced the motion.

"We need to have a board comprised of members who want to be at the table."

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson supported the move, as it related to the board's ongoing efforts to create its new growth plan.

"Part of the trepidation about the growth plan for some people is they don't see how it could or should apply to them," he noted.

The province cast its net too wide when it set up the board's membership and that's caused a lot of frustration, he continued. If the board lets communities that honestly don't see a role for themselves in the growth plan drop out of it, everyone else can get on with implementing it.

Board chair and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse cast the lone vote against the motion. In an interview, he said having a process in place to join and leave the board would encourage governments to jump in and out whenever doing so benefited them.

"I just don't think beginning the process of planning a divorce makes any sense," he said to the board.

Making an impassioned speech to the board about "the importance of the marriage" that the group represented, he cited numerous examples of where local governments drew significant support from the province by acting together.

The Sturgeon Foundation would not have received millions for seniors housing earlier this year were it not for the support of Redwater Mayor Mel Smith, he said as an example.

"I need Mel Smith, and I believe he needs St. Albert."

Warburg and Wabamun have two of the highest percentages of seniors in the region and will need the region's help, he continued. Bruderheim and Devon would not be fenced in by pipelines as they are today if they had a role in regional planning 50 years ago.

"Do you want to begin the process of a divorce when you need each other?"

Yes, says board

But every marriage sometimes needs counselling, said Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur. She'd heard a lot of members "whine and complain" about having to be in the board, and said there was no sense in keeping members who spent all their time pulling "coups" to stop board initiatives. A formal membership process could also set rules saying when communities had to stay with the group – a population threshold, for example.

Communities like Redwater shouldn't have to appeal to the board just to leave it, said Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes.

"You enter into a marriage knowing there's always a way to get out of it," she said, to laughter from the board.

Lamont County Reeve Wayne Woldanski noted that the board itself was a "forced marriage" in that it was the province, not its members, that determined its membership. Some of its members felt they gained no benefit from being at the table.

Redwater Mayor Mel Smith said in an interview that his community still hoped to leave the board if given the chance, and suspected that a few others would as well.

"I believe the Capital Region Board is the most important thing we could have for this region … but only with the appropriate membership," he said.

"Our council has looked at the value of being a member numerous times, and to be honest, we can't find (any)."

The draft membership review process is to be developed this summer.




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Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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