“We call on your government to join us in this commitment and move forward in creating a stronger federation for all Canadians.”
The above quote is from a letter by Premier Jason Kenney to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that was sent the day after the Federal Election.
That desire to develop a true partnership and work together is important and I believe it’s what should also happen between Edmonton and the Provincial Government. In my six years on City Council, I’ve never felt like there was a true partnership. That has been the case with all three governing parties (Progressive Conservative, NDP, and now UCP).
With the release of the Provincial Budget I believe that it’s time for a new relationship. The same type of relation that the Provincial Government is looking for from the Federal Government. One that recognizes that we can solve significant issues, including financial challenges, by coming together and working through each issue.
You may be asking what that looks like and I have a few suggestions about how we start this new relationship:
Public Provincial Budget Meetings between the Provincial Cabinet and Edmonton City Council
One of the many things I love about municipal government is that almost everything we do is in public. On many weekdays you can visit this site and watch our Council or Committee meetings. While the Provincial Question Period is public, it’s often considered theatre as each party tries to score points. Many major decisions, including the vast majority of the budget process, is done behind closed doors. Why is it that a nearly $60 Billion budget is debated in private? By the time the budget reaches the floor of the Legislature, most of the decisions have been finalized. It’s an archaic process that needs to be modernized and we can look to municipalities to create the transparency that is necessary for such an important decision.
Part of this new process needs to include meetings in public with City Council. Each Minister could schedule a few hours where they will sit down with all of City Council and review the areas that involve funding for our city. If they are expected to present a budget that includes a reduction, we can then work together to determine the best areas to cut or reduce instead of each municipality anxiously waiting the release of the budget and then having to react to whatever has been handed down to us.
Edmontonians understandably get frustrated when they don’t feel like they have been properly engaged on a city issue. Therefore we should have a proper engagement process that allows us to have a true dialogue on the issues that have a significant impact on our lives.
Working Together To Diversify Our Economy
While this may have some overlap with the budget process, I think it’s important to break this out. The Provincial Budget almost exclusively relies on growth in energy prices and our non-renewable resource sector. When the price of a barrel of oil is high, we thrive. When it’s not, we often see large cuts to important services and infrastructure. This boom/bust cycle has been occurring for as long as I’ve been alive and it’s time to finally do something about it instead of just saying we are doing something about it.
We have to stop putting all our eggs in one basket. When you invest for retirement, no one recommends investing all your money in one specific industry or company. We are told to diversify so that if our assumption of growth in one area does not materialize, we do not have to make drastic changes.
One example of an area that the Province should invest in is our tech sector. We are fortunate in Edmonton to have a growing tech sector but we risk quickly falling behind the rest of the world if there isn’t a similar level of investment when compared to the rest of the world. I will write more about this in a later post but Edmonton is ready to help the Province diversify their economy and that is why we need to work together or else we risk economic failure.
Formalize A True Partnership in the City Charter Based On Trust
As noted above, it appears that many people feel like the current Federal Government is not listening to us and they are not taking our needs seriously – particularly in relation to our economy. Assuming that is the case, why should we accept a similar relationship between the Province and the municipalities? We are each elected by the voters and in fact, each City Councillor in Edmonton and Calgary represent far more people than an individual MLA in the same two cities. Therefore I would suggest that Councillors have a very strong grasp on what is happening and are ready to help tackle the tough issues just as we do within our city.
Instead of having either partner write an article in a local newspaper saying that the other partner isn’t doing enough, let’s formalize a process – outside of the budget discussions – where we can have a public meeting to work through the concerns. If there are concerns about a current or future project, we should spend time reviewing those concerns, answering questions, and reviewing possible alternatives.
After completing that process, we may still not agree with the final decision but at least we can understand each other’s concerns. That’s how we try to deal with each issue that comes before City Council and I would suggest it works well. So why not have a similar public process provincially? That is what we as Albertans are currently asking for from the Federal Government and therefore it feels reasonable that Edmontonians should be asking for the same thing of our Provincial Government.
I think now is the time to put everything that has happened behind us. Yes, I’m frustrated about certain decisions in the budget, especially the elimination of the fiscal framework in our City Charter, but I think that people expect all elected representatives to work together no matter their political ideology. I’d like to see Edmonton City Council extend an offer to the Provincial Government to re-imagine their Provincial Budget process. I believe this government values transparency and cooperation which means they should be more than willing to develop a new process that not only treats the municipalities as true partners, but also truly engages Albertans from across the political spectrum. This new way of engaging for the Province will ensure better decisions are being made because we will be making them together.
The Premier’s letter that I referenced above also mentions that a strong Alberta ensures a stronger Canada.
Similarly, a strong Edmonton ensures a stronger Alberta. An Alberta that has a thriving, diverse economy with the amenities needed to attract and retain the talented people across Canada and the world. Let’s transform how we work together and set a new standard for engagement between all orders of government.