Mayor Don Rigney of Sturgeon County is worried that planning by the provincial government is hindering economic development in the region. He is asking for this planning, allowed by the Municipal Government Act, to be eliminated. This message was part of his speech, delivered this past Thursday at the Mayor’s Address. Roughly 100 attendees at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre were there to listen to Rigney’s words.
Rigney cited the Agrium fertilizer plant as an example. It was close to shutting down some ten years ago. The county managed to bring more industry into the area, thus diversifying its investments. They successfully lured Williams Energy, North West Upgrading and Access Pipeline, among others and now the Sturgeon area is looking towards a prosperous future.
But, Rigney noted, the entire process took ten years because of all the red tape. Some of the provincial laws got in the way, and he cited a need for changes made to that MGA. More development is needed and Rigney fears it’s just not possible under the current laws.
Regional planning was the biggest culprit. It discourages city councils from considering development of business. If regional or central planning is involved, housing costs increase by four to 14 percent per year. Without it, that increase goes to between one and three percent, making the housing market more affordable.
Affordable housing attracts business, which is one reason the upgrader projects are being built further south. Sturgeon County couldn’t provide the housing, thus the labor to do the building at a competitive rate. The Capital Region Board has figuratively brought developmental growth to a halt.
Rigney wants the public planning part of the MGA eliminated, calling it a “feudal anachronism.” He also noted that Alberta saw its largest expansion between 1996 and 2003 when the regional growth plans had been eliminated, favouring instead a competitive process.
Rigney also advocated that each mayor should be a chief executive officer, giving individual city councils a more powerful presence. He hopes that Alberta’s fiscal situation would drive the province to enact such changes.
This is an old argument. Rigney has been advocating these changes for the last ten years, according to Nolan Crouse, Mayor of St. Albert, who happens to disagree. Crouse noted that Rigney wanted no planning, and that the province of Alberta isn’t likely to go along with such an idea. Crouse noted that provincial planning is needed so that the infrastructure is ready to go when the individual communities are ready to expand.