This was an excellent article about the real threat in this election to the continued success of the region. Many of us have worked so hard to develop cooperative relations between the cities in the area. We are finally starting to see the fruits of our labour… with shared data, Global Edmonton, and the new transit M.O.U. that was just recently signed.
It is my strong desire to continue representing St. Albert in this developing region, so we can benefit from all that strong relations with Edmonton, Sherwood Park, Sturgeon County, and the cities and towns around us have to offer. Together we will ALL benefit, grow, and provide brighter opportunities for future generations.
Edmonton is losing at least four friends in the capital region as retiring politicians leave wide open election races to the south and north of the city.
Edmonton, Leduc and Leduc County have been working to build the Edmonton International Airport south of the city into a key job generator for the region. But two of the three political leaders behind a deal signed just this year are departing their posts.
To the north of Edmonton, St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse — who poured his heart into his five years chairing the Capital Region Board — is also stepping down. His leadership helped created the fledgling regional transit commission, a commuter deal beginning with just St. Albert and Edmonton.
That deal has the potential to gradually build seamless public transit from Sherwood Park to Stony Plain, Leduc to St. Albert — or it could die after the Oct. 16 election.
Two councillors are in a battle for Crouse’s seat. Cathy Heron has been a key player in many regional discussions. Cam Mackay avoided them — his platform includes a new local economic development corporation focused on St. Albert and he said, so far, it looks like the regional transit system will cost more for the same service.
“I voted for it because it’s in the preliminary stages,” said Mackay, adding he’s made it clear he’ll vote against the plan if the numbers don’t improve.
Regional co-operation often doesn’t make sense, he added. Each municipality is “large enough on their own to provide economies of scale.”
For years, the capital region was dominated by voting blocks, with Edmonton butting heads with regional mayors afraid the larger municipality would limit their ability to grow. It was every city for itself when it came to planning new roads and communities or attracting industry, for example.
Since the last municipal election, those voting blocks have been breaking down. But new economic, land use, and transit initiatives passed by the regional board are still really new.
The board for a new regional economic development corporation — Edmonton Global — still hasn’t been announced. Those involved say a lot rests on the upcoming regional elections.
“It’s a risk for the whole region,” said outgoing Edmonton Coun. Ed Gibbons, who focused most on regional files during his 16 years on council. He’s been watching races in Strathcona County, St. Albert and Leduc closely, wondering if the voices for co-operation or protectionism will win.
The region has come a long way. But if politicians who don’t see the global picture are elected, who act only in the short-term interest of their own taxpayers, it could set things back, he said. “You can’t be autonomous in this big world.”
Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes is another ally Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson will lose on the regional board.
She supported Iveson’s push for higher density targets to support growth focused on public transit and using less farmland. She also sided with Edmonton against Beaumont, when Iveson wanted to force the smaller municipality to run water and sewer services more efficiently through joint planning with Edmonton.
Holmes’ successor was elected by acclamation last Monday.
“I’m still kind of in a state of disbelief,” said mayor-elect Barry Turner, a current town councillor who works as a business analyst for the University Hospital Foundation in Edmonton.
Turner served on Capital Region Board committees during his time as councillor. He said newly-elected politicians often start off more protectionist, feeling a heavy responsibility back to their ratepayers. “But real progress happens when you think about the success of the region overall.”
When it comes to regional transit, land use, and economic initiatives, he said, “there might be a couple steps back in the short term, depending on how many faces change. But we have a great foundation.”
Morinville, he added, needs to stay committed to co-operation, especially with economic development. A town of less than 10,000 can’t do that alone. “That’s going to make a difference for a lot of regional municipalities. It gets us at the table.”
He also hopes the new commuter transit commission will eventually extend lines into Morinville, but he doesn’t expect that to happen this term.
Beaumont Mayor Camille Berube is also retiring. His departure comes after pitched annexation battles this term, with a growing divide between Beaumont and Edmonton.
Regional races to watch
Two current councillors appear to be the front-runners in the race to replace Mayor Nolan Crouse and they’re taking opposite approaches to co-operation. Cam Mackay’s 50-point plan calls for building St. Albert through a new St. Albert-focused economic development agency. He’s had little to do with the Capital Region Board or regional government during his time on council.
In contrast, Cathy Heron is making regional collaboration a key policy in her campaign. She wants to continue building the transit partnership and be a “leading and strong” voice in the new regional economic development entity, Edmonton Global.
Malcolm Parker, a former one-term councillor, is also running.
Leduc County Mayor John Whaley and Edmonton’s Don Iveson became allies through the long hours and days of annexation negotiations. They found common ground in the push to build more dense, transit-oriented urban areas and save as much farmland as possible.
On the airport agreement, Whaley and the other mayors are still meeting into October — even with the election running — trying to firm up as many details as possible on how to jointly plan and fund growth.
It’s unclear who will be mayor after Whaley. In Leduc County, a councillor is elected from each of seven districts and they elect a mayor from among themselves after the election. Three of 13 people running for council are incumbents, including Clay Stumph, Tanni Doblanko and Glenn Belozer. Incumbent Rick Smith was acclaimed for Division 1.
Whaley doesn’t sound worried. “There’s strong support to collaborate with Edmonton on the airport,” he said. “As long as the personalities don’t rub each other, we’ll be good.”
Candidate Patrick Kobly’s version of regional co-operation is making regional allies to “stave off” an Edmonton takeover.
The former mayor’s son says he’ll fight to ensure recently annexed land stays with Beaumont, and blames recent losses on the previous council’s failure to play nice with Leduc County to build support for its side.
But not everyone in the race is looking for a fight. Former town councillor Gil Poitras says Edmonton’s recent move to block Beaumont’s growth plans shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone. It needs to “drastically improve” the relationship, going into talks with an open mind.
Current Mayor Camille Berube is retiring and six people are in a race to replace him, including Kobly, Poitras, and current councillors Kerri Bauer and Bruce LeCren.
LeCren says he wants to get the Upass for regional transit and work with Edmonton to share costs in a future recreation centre. He also says he’s not giving up any of the disputed annexation lands without a fight.
City of Leduc
Both sound keen on regional co-operation, stressing ongoing work on fire, recreation and transit partnerships with Leduc County. Both also say co-operation with Edmonton to support development at the Edmonton International Airport is a key growth opportunity for the region.
But as for regional transit — which south of Edmonton could mean realigning the commuter system and airport bus to improve service — Young sounds more interested than MacKenzie. Young said he’s interested, but needs more information on the fledgling commuter transit commission before committing.
MacKenzie said he wants to wait and see. At the moment, he said, this new model looks like it could add cost rather than increase efficiency.
Donna Tona, an emergency management consultant and past president of the Leduc Regional Chamber of Commerce, is also running.
Strathcona County (Sherwood Park)
In 2013, current Mayor Roxanne Carr pulled off an upset, defeating incumbent Linda Osinchuk by just 446 votes.
Now Osinchuk is back to challenger Carr again, selling herself as a “fighter” who would fend off an annexation challenge from Edmonton. “Let us not be next!” she warns on her campaign website. Her platform says neighbouring communities “are being systematically absorbed by the City of Edmonton.”
Carr butted heads with Iveson over density targets for Sherwood Park’s new Bremner development, but she also chaired regional committees and pushed for increased economic co-operation.
Fenske is a former councillor and former Progressive Conservative MLA. She said she’d move cautiously on any regional transit deal, ensuring first that rural areas in the county don’t get forgotten.