Regionalism/Annexation - Is it a good thing?

(AEN) - This is a huge issue for everyone who lives in Leduc County and the City of Leduc. Our future is going to be shaped by attitudes about this issue and I hope to provide my personal perspective on the pros and cons of Regionalism.

The simple, correct answer is that it is always good to cooperate with your municipal neighbour, and it's always good to resolve any issues through mutually-respectful dialogue. While this is true, some aspects involving Regionalism are not perfectly simple.

When we look at the Capital Region, and even the sub-region involving Leduc County and the City of Leduc and the other municipalities in this area, there are lessons to be learned.

The City of Edmonton's annexation bid cannot be described as a respectful dialogue. Rather, it was more like a surprise attack. For this reason it is understandable, and justifiable, that Leduc County's response has been forcefully defensive. This is why Leduc County has been strongly insisting on a collaborative approach. In saying that, it does not mean that Edmonton has absolutely no need for any annexation, but it does mean that the process, and the eventual results, have to be respectful and fair to all. Hopefully, after the upcoming election, the tone of Edmonton's communication concerning their annexation needs/desires will become more considerate of Leduc County's legitimate need for long-term financial sustainability and security.

In our sub-Region, the level of cooperation between Leduc County and the City of Leduc has been increasing. This cooperation has helped to create the C-Line, has helped with cost sharing in a number of areas. It has led to successful annexation to the west of Leduc and has also led to further studies as to how we can do better by working together. Hopefully, future cooperation will lead to coordinated communication to the Province and common priorities regarding the Region's critical need for infrastructure (highway 19 and the 65th overpass).

The main measure of the benefit of Regional efforts, in my opinion, is the degree to which value to tax payers is increased. If we can share costs, for example, all of us pay less. If we can avoid duplication, we all pay less tax.

The downside/danger of regionalism is two-fold, in my opinion. One is loss of autonomy and the other is politics. If one was to push for Regionalism to its logical extreme, you would have to advocate that the whole Capital Region, including Leduc, would become part of greater Edmonton. Would this be a good thing? I don't think so! Do we want our roads and snow removal to resemble Edmonton's? Do you think we would have the autonomy to enjoy higher levels of service in Leduc if we were one municipality with Edmonton? No we wouldn't.

This potential loss of autonomy can occur in our sub-region as well. Would we have been free to develop the LRC or other amenities if we had to have Leduc County's approval? Would our business park be at a higher grade than Nisku, if we were one municipality? These are just a few of many questions to be considered.

The other aspect to consider is that of politics. Case in point being the EDA, which promotes regional economic development. The EDA has gone through a lot of changes lately and everyone appreciates their sincere, professional efforts. I have nothing but respect for those involved. Everyone wishes them success as they move forward. However, in my opinion, I need to call a spade a spade. The EDA, in my view, has not delivered value to tax payers in recent years but it has been perpetuated at the same budget level nonetheless. In my opinion, it should have been reformed and made more accountable to tax payers years ago. Those closely involved will tell you the same thing now, I believe. Necessary changes were not made earlier because politics got involved. No one wants bad news, no one wants to be publically critical. As a result, this is an example of the potential downside of regionalism. Having said this, I trust that in the future, the EDA can again become a good example of regionalism by demonstrating value to taxpayers. There is no other reason for it to exist, as the EDA is not a necessary social or municipal service.

The lesson for me is to always keep in mind why we are doing things. It should not be regionalism for regionalism sake. It is regionalism where it can provide better value for tax payers, balanced with the need to maintain autonomy where needed. Of course, these needs can change over time, but the evaluation criteria always needs to be kept front and centre. Let's cooperate, by all means, but let's always ensure it means a good deal, and tax payer value, for Leduc and its residents!

 

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