Whether it be fights with Sturgeon County over rec-centre money or stern words to the province about botched chip seals on Highway 642, some of the biggest issues at town council last term involved regional relations.
This week’s Morinville mayoral Q&A asks candidates Shane Ladouceur, Simon Boersma, and Barry Turner how they would improve the town’s relationships with its neighbours.
Ladouceur: build a power plant
Ladouceur said Morinville should seek common ground with its neighbours to improve relations. At the same time, he also said residents aren’t interested in regional governance or mergers.
“Morinville needs to focus on itself more,” he said, and work on business attraction and tax reduction.
The one regional initiative he does want to pursue is construction of a natural gas power plant. Ladouceur said such a plant could bring cheap energy and potential revenue to Morinville, if built.
“Natural gas power is one of the cleanest forms [of energy] besides nuclear,” he said, and this region has plenty of it.
Ladouceur said he will not revive the regional transit pilot with St. Albert that was cancelled due to the pandemic if he takes office, calling it a waste of money.
Ladouceur opposed the idea of charging non-residents more to use town recreation facilities and sees no issue with non-residents using facilities their taxes have not contributed toward building or running (a long-standing complaint of Morinville toward Sturgeon County).
“We are all neighbours,” he said, and these facilities benefit everyone.
Ladouceur said Morinville should take care of its own first before it shares things, adding that all communities have their own recreational facilities anyway.
Boersma acknowledged that the town had struck a new recreation cost-sharing agreement with Sturgeon County but questioned if the deal is really the result of the town’s efforts, as it is just one of the many area governments to benefit from that deal.
“There’s been a lot of pandering, there’s been a lot of talking and not a lot of doing, and that bothers me,” he said of council’s deals with other governments.
Boersma said he will pursue more joint equipment purchases with Sturgeon County to save money.
For transit, Boersma said Morinville should set up a car-pool program complete with free parking in other jurisdictions before it pursues a bus line. He would poll town residents to see if there is any interest in a transit pilot with St. Albert and revive use of the town’s community bus to give seniors transportation.
While he said Morinville should review the return on investment it gets from its many regional partnerships, Boersma said the town should reverse its decision to leave Edmonton Global.
“We need economic development in this town,” he said, and this group’s global reach is vital.
Boersma said he would pursue a tighter relationship with Alberta Transportation to ensure the town is not caught off guard by road repairs (such as the botched chip seal on Highway 642).
“We should be on a first-name basis,” he said.
Turner said Morinville should pursue every chance at collaboration it can afford. Area governments all face the same financial challenges and can meet them by sharing revenues and benefits.
“We’re all looking for the same thing, which is doing things at a lower cost for our residents.”
Turner said council improved its relations with Sturgeon County last term and is now getting about $833,000 a year under a new recreation cost-sharing agreement, in addition to a $500,000 capital contribution to the Morinville Leisure Centre. Council has also revived the Sturgeon Regional Partnership Committee so Sturgeon County, Morinville, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, and Redwater can seek ways to share services (such as bylaw enforcement) and reduce costs.
“It will save residents money. We just need to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Turner said.
Turner said he is looking forward to restarting the transit pilot with St. Albert, if re-elected.
“Transit is the logical next step for us,” he said, and is an important way for workers, students, and seniors to get around.
While he did vote to start the three-year process to leave Edmonton Global, Turner said he hopes to stay in the group if the town can negotiate a lower membership fee.
Amalgamation or regionalization?
In January 2020, Boersma called on town council to amalgamate with Sturgeon County, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, and Redwater as a specialized municipality, arguing that doing so would reduce administrative costs and improve the town’s residential/non-residential tax split.
Boersma said he will study this option if elected in addition to looking at city status for Morinville. His research suggests amalgamation will save the town money by allowing governments to share facilities (such as equipment yards), cut staff and elected officials, and find economies of scale on purchases.
“Morinville would still be Morinville,” he said, and will keep its sense of identity, just as Sherwood Park is distinct from the specialized municipality of Strathcona County.
Turner said Morinville should stick to its current path of regionalization rather than amalgamation. That means co-operating in areas where it makes sense — such as utilities, transit, and revenue sharing, as the town is now doing through the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board — and not others that are better managed locally, such as community services. Doing so allows governments to save money while keeping their identities.
“Amalgamation really fails to deliver on actual cost savings,” Turner said, citing research he has reviewed on the subject, in part because the higher wages of big governments cancel out the savings from having fewer employees and councillors.
Ladouceur opposes amalgamation. Morinville has its own identity, and county residents have no interest in paying Morinville’s tax rates.
“Sturgeon wants [to stay] on their own, and I think Morinville should stay on our own.”
In next week’s Q&A, The Gazette will ask mayoral candidates about the future of Morinville.