How are we shaping the future of Alberta cities?
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Alberta is the second most urbanized province in the country
As the second most urbanized province in Canada, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson suggests that municipalities of scale can, and should be trusted to do more. He gives the example of the Black Lives Matter protests this year, in which community members are asking governments to step up and put more money into systems impacting the social determinants of health. Yet many of these systems—housing, mental health, childcare, and the justice system—are provincial responsibilities. According to Iveson, meaningfully moving the needle requires “bringing cities in to deliver more of that work in partnership with agencies on the ground, at the community level, in a more transparent and accountable way.”
2. Reimagining the structure of the local government
According to Grand Prairie Mayor Bill Given, the pandemic offers us an opportunity to reimagine the structures of local government. Municipalities have already stepped in in areas where they don’t have authority, to continue to meet the needs of Albertans. But cities cannot have additional authorities without the proper corresponding resources and capacity. “We need to get provincial governments out of the way…. I find myself often wondering what exactly it is that the Province does that appropriately structured local governments couldn’t do on their own. The question is not whether local governments have enough authority, it’s whether provincial governments have too much.”
3. Regional harmonization is critical
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer emphasizes that we don’t live, work, and recreate within municipal borders. Albertans are fluid in their travel patterns. And as the level of government closes to the people, cities know much more about how people live in a multi-municipal context. The lack of harmonization and coordination between orders of government, and patchwork policy responses among municipalities in a region creates challenges for flattening the curve of the pandemic.
4. Enhancing reconciliation within local government
Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman talks about the importance of embedding reconciliation into the structures, policies, and practices of municipal government. “We’ve done things like adopt Oki, which is the word welcome in Blackfoot, as our official greeting for the city of Lethbridge. We have monthly reconciliation meetings with every Indigenous community. We’re trying to build ways of working together on economic opportunity, addressing social issues.”
5. Fostering cooperation, not competition
All the mayors talked about the importance of intermunicipal cooperation. But Mayor Veer highlights that this is easier said than done. “The way that the current fiscal frameworks and government funding work, how municipalities are defined, and how infrastructure dollars are awarded, actually positions us as competitors and not neighbors. For example, we had a 90-million-dollar overpass that was funded by the Province because our neighbor is a rural municipality…. If it had been within our borders, [it would have had to be paid for] through the property tax base. So as much as there is a spirit of cooperation and willingness, there is a protectionism and a territoriality, because if you follow the money, it rewards that unfortunate division and divides us as competitors.”