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COLUMN: Collaboration is a good idea that works

Lisa Holmes is a former Morinville mayor and councillor who lives in St. Albert.

Regionalization can be defined as the growth of social and economic interactions between connected communities, as technological and societal changes reduce the relevance of political boundaries. Essentially, it is a reaction to how our world is changing as more people are moving into cities and towns, and because of that, our communities and our expectations of what service benefits we receive as residents are changing too.  

Why does this matter? Because our lives are less focused around one community than they were in the past. I grew up in a small town in southern Alberta. Everything we did from our workplaces, shopping, social activities, schools and entertainment were all located in one town. A trip to a neighbouring community was a big deal, taking place no more than once a month. There wasn’t internet service, online shopping, same-day delivery or big box stores. Businesses were small, locally owned, and residents made do with limited selections and higher prices because that was what was available.

But times are changing, and that model of community is changing too. Government of Alberta population reports shows more of us are moving into large urban centres. They predict that by 2046, 80 per cent of Albertans will live in the urban centres along the Edmonton-Calgary corridor. And how we live is changing. We are boundaryless. In the past week, our family has worked in Edmonton, lived in St. Albert, shopped in Morinville, watched sports in Spruce Grove and has driven through Sturgeon County and Parkland County to get to those places. We live our lives regionally. Our communities are socially and geographically larger. And it is more important than ever that our local governments adapt and plan for these changes as well.

When a group of municipalities begins to investigate regionalization, they would start with a review of the functions that each city, town or county offers, look at the linkages between them and then consider what strategic regional elements could be supported through joint planning. Regionalization in our area started in 2008 with the creation of the Capital Region Board (now the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board). Twenty-four municipalities from the Edmonton region joined into this exercise of faith, believing they could offer more services for less cost if they worked and planned together.  In 2016, the Growth Plan was released, a document outlining how the region will manage the growth that will occur over the next 30 years while encouraging economic development and investment, lessening negative environmental impacts and protecting agricultural land.

And now, we see real outcomes from these plans and discussions. Last week, nine regional municipalities agreed to partner on offering transit service regionally, expanding the current offerings and making it more efficient and cost-effective over time. Edmonton and St. Albert signed an intermunicipal collaborative framework agreement to plan and partner on recreation services.

Collaboration is a good idea that works. You can call it compromise, strategic alliances, working together, breaking down silos, partnerships, teamwork or whatever you want – it produces results. As the provincial government continues to provide municipalities with fewer resources, reduce their decision-making powers, and further download responsibilities, there is an opportunity to get stronger and more resilient. In today’s world, the most powerful leaders are those who find their own solutions and uncover new ways to combine and leverage resources. St. Albert, Morinville and Edmonton councils seem to be embracing this new reality. Hopefully, other regional councils, and most importantly their residents, won’t be left behind.

Lisa Holmes is a former Morinville mayor and councillor who lives in St. Albert.