A new regional report is urging the 13 towns, counties and cities of Greater Edmonton to get their acts together and set up a regional public transit service.
Yes, a regional public transit system is way overdue, and, overall, is a good thing. Except, being government-driven and involving 13 municipalities, it will happen years later than planned, will cost twice as much as anticipated, will have far fewer riders than projected, and will not reduce the number of cars on the road.
(Always unacknowledged in these reports is human nature. When it’s super cold outside half the year, anybody with the means will use a warm, comfortable, door-to-door car, not public transit.)
The reason regional transit will take so long and be so inefficient is that — as with anything to do with Greater (or Metropolitan) Edmonton — 13 municipalities debate and must approve every major regional decision.
The governance system of Greater Edmonton — a hodge-podge of cities, towns, counties and an absurd unincorporated hamlet known as Sherwood Park — is basically ungovernable.
Too many mayors and councils, too much turf-protection, too much not-in-my-backyard, way too much arguing over who pays for what, years of meetings and palaver before any regional project happens.
Within this fractured system, regional co-operation has happened. Then-premier Ed Stelmach told the mayors of the Edmonton region 12 years ago to get their act together, or the provincial government would do it for them. Overall regional planning takes place through the Edmonton Metropolitan Regional Board.
But co-operation between 13 independent entities is innately inefficient. Every decision made by any regional body has to go back to 13 different municipal councils for discussion, clarification, back-and-forth, meeting after meeting after meeting …
This “Regional Commuter Service Task Force” first started four years ago and has still not made it past the “let’s talk about it” stage.
What would work much better — but won’t happen because it’s not on the provincial government’s priority list and only the province can make it happen — is the creation of one overall Greater Edmonton government.
There are dozens of successful regional government models out there, from the City of Toronto with its 25 wards to New York City’s borough system. All have one commonality: One elected, decision-making body makes final decisions for the region as a whole.
Financially, municipal taxes in our region should be equalized and pooled on a per-capita basis.
It’s unbelievable how long tax inequities have been tolerated. How does a city like Sherwood Park, population 71,300, get away with being an “unincorporated hamlet” within Strathcona County? Why does the City of Edmonton absorb the region’s social costs with little compensation from other municipalities?
Political consolidation is also inevitable. Edmonton grew by absorbing the neighbouring towns of Strathcona, Beverly and Jasper Place. Of late, much of Leduc County is becoming part of the City of Edmonton.
One Greater Edmonton Transit Authority, answering to one Greater Edmonton city council, could have implemented regional transit decades ago. Same with land-use planning. Same with economic development. All may be happening, but at a snail’s pace due to too many municipal governments.
A Greater Edmonton city council would simply reflect the realities around us. If you live in St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan or Edmonton, you are all neighbours and friends. So many of us live in one municipality, work in another, play in another, send our kids to schools in another, seek services elsewhere in the region. We are as intertwined as residents of one area can possibly be, all 1.3 million of us!
Yes, we are decades overdue for one regional government. But, as mentioned above, it’s unlikely to happen in the near future. The UCP government has more pressing priorities — like reviving Alberta’s economy — than the forced restructuring of antiquated regional governments.