By Cole Parkinson
With a reduction of Regional Economic Development Alliances (REDAs) from the province of Alberta, Municipal District of Taber council is concerned about the future of the program moving forward.
After a motion tabled by the M.D. of Spirit River at the Rural Municipalities meeting in March that RMA advocate the Government of Alberta enter into a five-year contract with the existing nine Regional Economic Development Alliances (REDAs) at an equivalent or higher funding arrangement as was in effect in the previous agreement; and that RMA request the Government of Alberta enter into meaningful discussions with REDA chairs to ensure long-term sustainability of REDAs, the M.D. of Taber had directed staff to formulate a letter of support of the motion.
“Rural Alberta communities rely on REDAs to help plan and undertake economic development activities,” reads the report from the resolution provided by the M.D. of Spirit River. “REDAs provide a forum and mechanism for municipalities and other economic development agencies to identify common issues and solutions to problems or opportunities beyond the limited resources of individual municipalities. Examples of big problems that benefit from the collective actions of municipalities include broadband research, alternate and value-added crop studies; medical training in rural communities; regional infrastructure needs including future access to water; the retention of companies in rural communities through productivity initiatives; and the importance of supporting innovation and competitiveness as a way to retain and grow rural communities. REDAs are supported by their member municipalities, community futures, post-secondary institutions, chambers of commerce and industry. Member municipalities are being asked by the GOA to prosper on reduced provincial grants, less funding and increased costs such as policing. This challenges REDAs to go back to their municipalities for more funding to make up for any shortfall from the GOA.”
During council’s regular meeting on June 23, a draft letter was brought forward for council review and discussion. In terms of REDAs that the M.D. work with, they work jointly with SouthGrow and many other regional partnerships, including the Canadian Premier Food Corridor (CPFC). A loss of funding to SouthGrow presents a reduction in service to many adjoined operations.
“Council had given some direction to administration to bring back a potential resolution to take back to a Foothills Little Bow Municipal Association meeting,” said CAO Arlos Crofts. “That being said, we did do some research into it and it looks like at the spring resolution session, there was a resolution to this effect put forward. What administration is putting forward to council consideration is to simply endorse that resolution or sentiment. We do have a letter drafted regardless to go to the appropriate ministry outlining council’s perspective on the funding of the REDAs. The question is, do you still want to see an M.D. of Taber specific resolution being brought forward at the Foothills Little Bow meeting or ware we okay with what has already been put forward?”
Even though that particular motion had already been tabled, many on M.D. council agreed that keeping the discussion at the forefront was important.
“I know often times multiple resolutions over a number of years endorsing the same principal and the importance of that is making sure the government keeps it in their mind that it is an issue for municipalities,” explained Reeve Merrill Harris. “I think it is always good to keep these issues at the forefront.”
“I don’t disagree with what you’re saying but with it being just back in the spring, I can see more merit bringing it back either next spring or next fall to keep it current,” responded Coun. Brian Brewin.” It certainly is an active resolution we are working on it as we speak but to bring it back in a year or so would bring it back to the top.”
Other councillors brought forward their opinions on how to proceed and many were in favour of keeping the talks as present as possible.
“The only concern I have is that funding wasn’t awarded and there was letters and a resolution brought forward, and it didn’t change it. We know that economic development, if the foot is taken off the gas, it’s hard to return to that same spot. That would be my only concern. If we wait for six months or a year, it doesn’t stay in the forefront and then the REDAs go by the wayside because there aren’t many left,” added Coun. Tamara Miyanaga.
“I’m in agreement with Tamara,” stated Coun. John Turcato. “I mean, the resolution was passed in the spring but I don’t know if RMA has had the opportunity to draft something in regard to that. I agree with Brian that maybe we should bring that up when (they) are here but also, I don’t think it hurts to send letters and refer to the resolution in the letters to the province.”
Brewin pointed out a similar motion with changed phrasing could be a valid move forward if council wanted to bring forward another motion.
“Maybe if you structured the resolution stating that it wasn’t in the current budget, it does change the intent of it a little bit. Being that it was decreased in the current budget. If you reframed it that way, it could be worthwhile,” he said.
The need for economic development in the Taber that isn’t just oil and gas has been prevalent for the past several years and a continued reduction of REDAs would be a hindrance for the M.D.
With council realizing the boom of oil and gas in Alberta is likely done for the foreseeable future, they are hopeful the province realize the necessity REDAs bring to southern Alberta communities.
“I don’t think our oil and gas is coming back anytime soon. It’s new economic development, new industry and new businesses coming into the municipality that will make up the difference. At a time like this, we can’t take our foot off the gas,” said Harris.
“The problem with losing (REDAs) is you lose people like Peter (Casurella, executive director of SouthGrow),” added Turcato. “They are very good at their jobs and then you lose them and you have to start over. When you’re starting from zero, it is hard to catch up to where you were when you left off. We need to make sure we maintain the REDAs we do have. I do see that as one of the paths out of the problems we see right now.”
A motion the M.D. brings forward a resolution to the Foothills Little Bow Municipal Association meeting in September referencing REDA funding not being included in the current budget and the importance of retaining the funding that was previously provided and that letters be sent to the minister and local MLAs addressing the reduction in funding was carried unanimously.