Edmonton Global is hiring two consultants as it embarks on a roughly six-month "listening tour" to gather concerns from its 14 member municipalities and consider how it might convince those who want to leave to change their minds.
The organization's move follows decisions late last year by Devon, Fort Saskatchewan, Parkland County, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County to state their intentions to leave the regional economic development body. The earliest those decisions can take effect is 2025.
An Edmonton Global spokesperson told Taproot via email that the listening tour is "process driven rather than time driven," though the members have requested updates by June.
Ozone Advisory Group Inc. will work with the stakeholders and chief administrative officers in each of Global's 14 member municipalities. Meanwhile, Christopher Steele of Boston-based EBP US will meet with their economic development teams. Details about the engagements are confidential but could result in recommendations for Edmonton Global's board and shareholders.
"Part of this listening tour is really trying to figure out what is the crux of the concerns from those five member municipalities," Edmonton Global CEO Malcolm Bruce told Taproot. "I also think it's important to highlight that the remaining nine municipalities are always looking for continuous improvement, but they're quite happy with the structure, too."
Edmonton Global is an organization that seeks to find foreign direct investment for the region. It was created in 2017.
During a Jan. 25 in-camera meeting among the organization's municipalities, the mayors of Edmonton, St. Albert, Beaumont, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Morinville, and Strathcona County formed a new subcommittee. Details of the meeting are confidential, even to Edmonton Global's board and staff, though board chair Enzo Barichello gave attendees an opening presentation.
The subcommittee includes urban and rural mayors; two of them represent municipalities that voted to depart Edmonton Global — Fort Saskatchewan and Strathcona County. Morinville Mayor Simon Boersma acts as the new subcommittee's chair. Its first meeting was Feb. 5. St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said the subcommittee will meet every three weeks, and has said since it formed that changing Edmonton Global's fee structure could create a path towards harmony.
"It's not a main part of it, it's just something that's on the table," Heron told Taproot. "One of the things I suggested at our first little working group is to find those mayors that were around the table back in 2016 and '17 when this was all really starting — they must have explored governance structures and fee structures — and ask them why they settled on the one they did. I've already had drinks with (former Edmonton mayor Don) Iveson to talk to him about it."
Member municipalities set Edmonton Global's fees and these are based on population and tax base. Sturgeon County has contributed $600,000 since Global's formation in 2017; Strathcona County, meanwhile, pays around $500,000 annually. An Edmonton Global spokesperson said it receives $5 million yearly from members, up from $500,000 in 2017, and that there are no plans to increase fees.
Heron said that making Edmonton Global better for all members involves discussions within the subcommittee about diverging investment opportunities that interest its urban and rural members. Counties have much more land for industrial development; towns and cities, on the other hand, are best suited for housing investments.
"There's been hesitation about how it's never fair that the counties get all the heavy industrial with high investment dollars and very little servicing fees," Heron said. "It's like winning the lottery for a county, and the cities just don't have that opportunity."
Despite Heron's observations on dissatisfaction, she said the news that municipalities had decided to leave Edmonton Global shocked her.
"I was honestly quite upset that they didn't bother to let the rest of us know because we're all in this together," Heron said. "We're a family, and we should be talking about these things."
Bruce said knowing in advance is not an important issue for Edmonton Global. It's the discussions that come out of the decisions that matter.
"This, to me, is a perfect opportunity to figure out how we can improve, how we can do better, and hopefully that will lead to some of those member municipalities deciding that, actually, they want to stay in the family," he said.
What happens if municipalities choose to pay lower fees? "The reality is less money does mean less impact," Bruce said. "I can't presuppose the future. At the end of the day we're at the beginning of the discussions. We're not even sure that this may become an issue."
What happens if the five departing municipalities don't reverse course?
"I can't imagine a regional entity without the entire region," Heron said. "I love them to death but they're tiny and far away, so maybe Edmonton Global could survive without Devon. But you really can't survive without Strathcona and Sturgeon."
However, she and Bruce are both optimistic that membership will remain intact.
Bruce said tweaking Edmonton Global is par for the course.
"We're at about the six-year mark, in terms of Edmonton Global's existence," he said. "This regional collaboration thing is relatively new, even though this region has talked about it for about 50 or 60 years. I think this is a really important pivot in our evolution, where it's time to reexamine some of these things."
What's important, Bruce said, is if members remain committed to regionalism and the idea of regionalism. But what that might look like "may change over time," he said.
Edmonton Global before councils
Edmonton Global appears before member councils annually, and this year's schedule falls within the six-month tour timeframe. It has already visited St. Albert, Gibbons, and the City of Leduc. Heron said the visit to her city was "very constructive," though perhaps the organization should visit more than once per year.
The remaining dates are below, aside from Edmonton and Sturgeon County, which are still to be decided.
- Devon on Feb. 12
- Morinville on Feb. 13
- Parkland County on Feb. 20
- Fort Saskatchewan on Feb. 27
- Stony Plain on March 4
- Strathcona County on March 5
- Spruce Grove on March 11
- Leduc County on March 12
- Beaumont on March 12