Strathcona County votes to cut itself from Edmonton Global

· The Pulse

Strathcona County has signalled its intent to leave Edmonton Global by cutting its contribution to the organization from its latest budget.

The county's council passed the decision unanimously during budget deliberations held on Nov. 30. Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank told Taproot that the municipality simply can't justify a yearly contribution close to $500,000 to remain part of the organization.

"It's really not a comment on Edmonton Global," Frank said. "It's a comment on a tight budget. Clearly capital costs have increased. So, we ended up going to every line of that budget, almost, justifying each cost."

The idea of whether regional cooperation works for all comes up often, like in the recent saga of the Villeneuve Airport Area. Though Strathcona County's decision could be perceived as a second hit on its regional collaboration — the first being its rejection of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Transit Commission — Frank said the county remains committed to working with others. He cited membership with the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, Edmonton International Airport, the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB, and Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association as examples.

"We'll continue to work with Edmonton Global, so this is not isolationism," he said. "It's just actually getting a better bang for the taxpayer dollar. But at the same time, we're part of the region — it's a fact — and we're going to continue to be."

The off-boarding process for municipalities to exit Edmonton Global takes two years, meaning Strathcona County will retain all member benefits until its departure takes effect in December 2025.

"Their financial commitments will also remain in place until they are fully withdrawn in December 2025," Enzo Barichello, chair of the Edmonton Global board, told Taproot in an email. "If Strathcona County does not reverse this decision before then, the financial impact would impact Edmonton Global in its 2026 fiscal year."

Barichello said he wished the county would see its dues as an investment rather than an expense. He added that Strathcona County is a "critically important" part of the region, and that regional business development is a long game.

"There isn't a direct capital investment yet in Strathcona County," Barichello said. "Deals take time to close. All municipalities are benefiting from indirect and induced benefits. Just one example is the construction, logistics, and jobs to build the $1.6 billion Air Products facility. Air Products is coordinating the building of the world's first and largest net-zero hydrogen facility from their office in Sherwood Park. Residents and businesses of Strathcona County are certainly engaged in that massive project. We're also working closely with companies in Strathcona County on expanding into international markets through trade and export."

A man wearing a suit and glasses sits behind a table with computer, microphone, and gavel on it.

Mayor Rod Frank was part of a unanimous vote by Strathcona County council to exit Edmonton Global on Nov. 30. (Strathcona County)

(Air Products's net-zero facility will be near another of the company's projects, a hydrogen-refuelling station in northeast Edmonton.)

Were Strathcona County to double back on its exit plan from a regional organization, it would not be the first municipality in the Edmonton region to do so. In 2020, Parkland County and Morinville did just that, before both rescinding the decision in 2022; meanwhile a motion at St. Albert council to leave was voted down in 2021.

Bon Accord is the only municipality to follow through on an exit plan, leaving not long after Edmonton Global's establishment in June 2017.

"Things can happen in that two-year period," Frank said. "Finances might change. We have kick-started the process. We've done that, but nothing's final until the two-year period is over."

Frank said that despite Strathcona County maintaining the lowest municipal taxes in the region — which may increase in 2024 — his council is looking out for residents affected by inflation by focusing on municipal services. Major items in this budget include emergency services, building a new fire station, and repairs to the Sherwood Park Arena and Sports Centre, the Emerald Hills Leisure Centre, and the Bethel Transit Terminal.

"Everything that (the) public is experiencing is adding up, and so we have to be responsible stewards of the public purse," he said. "The expectation is that we have excellence in municipal services."

Looking ahead, Frank mentioned that Strathcona County has started to explore integrated, regional transit with "10 to 12" regional municipalities (it also collaborates with regional transit authorities on the Arc payment system). It's still too early to say what will come of that.