Economic growth stifled by regional protectionism
Friday, September 20, 2019
Rocky View County officials are concerned about the economic viability of the Calgary region after minor amendments to the County’s municipal development plan were voted down by a group of urban municipalities led by the City of Calgary.
In January of 2018, the NDP provincial government, responding to demands from Calgary, forced area municipalities to join a Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) with the aim of developing a long-term plan for managed, sustainable growth in the Calgary region. However, the City of Calgary was given what essentially amounts to a veto over CMRB decisions due to the city’s population size, and the City has significant influence over neighbouring urban municipalities as their water supplier.
Rocky View County had proposed minor changes to its County Plan to remove limits on the population of hamlets to allow Albertans more freedom on where and how they choose to live. The County also proposed a change that would allow it to be more flexible in certain business and commercial development areas, to ensure economic opportunities were not lost to the region.
The County’s plans were reviewed by the CMRB's administration, and by an independent third-party planning consultant. Both reviews found the changes to be in compliance with the board’s Interim Growth Plan, but Calgary appealed the decision. At a board meeting on Friday, the City of Calgary used its power and influence over other municipalities to kill the County’s plans.
“Some of the comments made by Calgary politicians recently lead me to believe the CMRB is rapidly becoming an instrument to hobble healthy competition between municipalities. Any notion of developing a flexible, co-operative, sustainable, well-planned approach to regional development seems to have gone out the window,” said Rocky View County Reeve Greg Boehlke.
Approximately 90 percent of the Rocky View County’s land base is zoned for agricultural use. However, because of strict Provincial regulations on agricultural property assessment, that land generates only enough in taxes to keep the County operating for less than two days a year.
To compensate for that sustainability challenge, Rocky View County has worked diligently to create healthy residential communities and a strong commercial base that is the envy of municipalities throughout the province.
“Right now, I would consider Rocky View County to be the most financially sustainable and economically viable municipality in the region. We’re an Alberta success story. But instead of learning from our approach and emulating it, other municipalities seem to believe it’s easier to just stifle our efforts,” Boehlke says.
In 2018 alone, Rocky View County added almost $265 million to its business and commercial development assessment base, and almost $400 million to its residential base, all in a municipality of just over 40,000 people.
“We’ve played to our strengths and made tough decisions. A Calgary councillor recently accused us of eating their lunch in attracting businesses to the County. But the reality is those businesses locating in Rocky View County, such as massive distribution centres, could never afford to develop in Calgary or some of the other high-tax municipalities. Without the County they would be lost to the entire region, along with all the jobs they bring,” Boehlke says.
Boehlke says the County has taken a similar approach to residential development, where unique housing opportunities are created that couldn’t be duplicated in a dense, urban environment.
“There should be room for choice. For the Calgary region to thrive, each partnering municipality must be able to play to its strengths. There are certainly things that would do well in Calgary, or Cochrane, or Airdrie that would not be a good fit in the County. But the urban municipalities seem to think they can have it all,” Boehlke says.
The reeve points out that Rocky View County has long been a strong regional player that shares its success, proving that rural municipalities carry their weight in the region.
“We are significant funders of recreation centres and libraries in neighbouring municipalities – the very municipalities that voted with Calgary against us at the CMRB. We make strong financial contributions to regional family and community support programs in these urban centres. And, the County has spearheaded the creation of regional partnerships, where municipalities can reduce costs and increase service in areas including fire services, solid waste and recycling, transportation, and more.”
Boehlke says that despite the disappointing outcome of today’s CMRB Board ruling, Rocky View County will continue in its efforts to sustain a high quality-of-life for its residents, and a receptive environment for business and development.
“With the constant attacks on our success, it’s hard to keep taking the high road. But we’ll never give up on our ‘good neighbour’ approach, or on the principles of sound and truly co-operative regional planning. That’s the only real path to success for the Calgary region,” Reeve Boehlke says.
Rocky View County comprises approximately one million acres of land in southern Alberta. The County is on the west, north, and east borders of Calgary. Due to its size and location, the County has an unusually large number of neighbours, including seven urban municipalities, six rural municipalities, and four First Nations peoples on two reserves.