Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Local Governments Getting Together to Influence Alberta Government

The recent Working Protocol Agreement between the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties is a very important step in the right direction for better governance in Alberta. Congratulations are in order all around.

The local government, the so-called "third order" of governance, is the most vulnerable because of its limited revenue generating capacity and growing demands in its areas or responsibility. Paradoxically it is the order of government closest to the everyday lives of citizens but has the least governance authority of any order of government.

The senior orders of government most often overlook the municipal level unless they want to download costs and responsibilities in tough times. Not always true as seen in the federal stimulus funding finally going directly to local government and the Paul Martin direct payment of Gas Tax revenues to local government. The big boys at the province often like to put local politician in their place by pointing out that they are merely "creatures of provincial law." I always like to remind the provincial politicians that they too are creatures of statute from the federal level and refer them to The Alberta Act that created the province.

There seems to be constant battles over boundaries and services and cost sharing between municipalities and surrounding rural areas. Sometimes those can be negotiated but often a province has to dictate resolutions. The threat of a provincially imposed regional planning "solution" in the greater Edmonton areas was enough to bring the parties to the table. They worked out a mutually acceptable deal. Not perfect but better than submitting to an imposed deal by the province.

That said, here is an excerpt from the News Release that outlines the essence of the deal between the parties:

"The AUMA/AAMDC Working Protocol provides opportunities for joint political advocacy and calls for organizations to strengthen and enhance their individual business services to members. Both organizations’ boards have agreed to meet regularly to monitor the development of the Working Protocol. The protocol outlines that there will be times when the AUMA and AAMDC must take different positions on an issue. However, they have agreed that these times will not affect other positive joint efforts."

Might I suggest that one of the first projects these groups tackle together is pressing the CRTC, Alberta and Canada to require Telus to provide Albertans access to the copper wire land-based phone lines. Once that is done virtually every Albertan can have direct access to the SuperNet fibre optic system. That access is critical to rural and small town Alberta being sustainable and viable. It means time and distance are defeated and the best-of-breed SuperNet online communications network is just a click away for Albertans all over the province - at a fraction of wireless and fibre optic costs.

Reality, maturity and wisdom are all evident in this initiative. Albertans will be better served in the long run because of this collaborative approach amongst local governments. Well done!  Full disclosure: I am not currently working with either association but I have been advising a private business who is trying to convince the CRTC to require Telus to provide access to local copper wire for citizen's access to SuperNet, especially in small town and rural Alberta.