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COLUMN: Municipal progress will come from hopping on regionalization bandwagon

'The Rural Municipalities Association (all rurals) and the Alberta Municipalities (mostly urbans) appear too often to have their hands out for more money for their own individual needs rather than advocating for regional needs. Municipal leaders might be well advised to more often hunt in a pack.'
0101 Crouse file
Columnist Nolan Crouse. DAN RIEDLHUBER/St. Albert Gazette

The need for regional collaboration and co-operation in Alberta has been growing as the landscape of services and infrastructure has evolved since Alberta became a province in 1905 and the need for shared infrastructure has increased in the past several years.

For example, in the past decade, 14 of the province's villages and towns have dissolved (now county-controlled), one of the most recent (and largest) being Grande Cache. Such dissolutions are set to continue at a quick pace as financial realities require more regional approaches than going it alone. The past 12 months has seen many regional efforts that show regionalization is a growing trend in Alberta. Let’s recap several examples of recent regional initiatives in the province.

For example, several hundred newly-required Intermunicipal Collaborative Frameworks (ICFs) were approved prior to the 2021 municipal elections, outlining substantial agreements, mostly between counties and their adjacent town and village neighbours.

Another example is the amalgamation proposal made to the minister in 2021 by the towns of Black Diamond and Turner Valley.

The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board submitted its regional growth plan to the province in 2021, a long-awaited collaborative plan among 10 municipalities in the Calgary region.

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board made progress on two matters that are best done regionally. Regional broadband efforts plus agricultural master planning advanced forward regionally — both initiatives intended for the benefit of many.

Annexation agreements have been reached in many regional jurisdictions and the examples of Vermilion River-Lloydminster and Sturgeon County-St. Albert were both 2021 success stories, each after a decade of discussions that resulted in regional solutions.

The MD and Town of Fairview, operating as two separate municipalities, completed a comprehensive amalgamation review and determined that collaboration rather than amalgamation was the best solution. While for some this may seem short sighted, the importance of working together was made clear by this full review.

A Regional Transit Services Commission in the Edmonton region was formed in 2021 because of the strengths of commissions throughout Alberta. Commissions have been strengthened during the pandemic due to the nature of needing to be “in it together.” Commissions involved in fire, waste, water, and sewage leaned on each other more than ever before to survive the challenges during the pandemic.

With all these success stories, the province included essentially no funding in the recent budget to support or demonstrate the importance of regional efforts in Alberta.

While there has been some progress as noted above on regional efforts, when it comes to advocating for additional funding, municipalities too often fail by advocating individually rather than regionally.

The Rural Municipalities Association (all rurals) and the Alberta Municipalities (mostly urbans) appear too often to have their hands out for more money for their own individual needs rather than advocating for regional needs. Municipal leaders might be well advised to more often hunt in a pack.

Regional collaboration needs to be deepened within Alberta municipal cultures, otherwise the towns and villages will continue to throw in the towel. Regional funding and regional advocacy and regional collaboration are all the best approaches and stakeholders need to better view it this way.

Nolan Crouse is a former St. Albert mayor.