Premier Redford meets with Iveson, Nenshi to discuss future of Alberta’s major cities

EDMONTON – Rapid transit, the big-city charter and building globally competitive cities were among the issues discussed over breakfast at the Alberta Legislature Saturday morning.

Premier Alison Redford sat down with Edmonton Mayor- Elect Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to discuss how the Alberta government will continue to work with the province’s two largest cities.

“It’s good when we get in a room and hash things out,” Nenshi said as he emerged from the meeting.

One of the issues on the table Saturday morning was the expansion of transit in both major cities.

“We had a good conversation about how to keep the expansion of our respective rapid transit systems on the table in the coming years,” Iveson explained.

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More specifically, the leaders discussed how transit should be funded in the future. Nenshi says he would like to see transit funding separated from the “big umbrella of infrastructure funding.”

“Transit is different. Investments in transit have social and economic returns beyond investments in, for example, water and waste water systems. And I think it is time for us to think about transit separately.”

“I do agree that, with respect to transit, that if we think about what we want to be in 20 years, I think that every community needs to be thinking in terms of the social return and the economic return on those transit investments,” Redford added.

One of the topics Iveson focussed his campaign on was ensuring Edmonton becomes and remains a globally competitive city. It’s something the trio of politicians believes is equally important for Calgary and Alberta as a whole.

“And how can we coordinate our efforts to ensure that we’re attracting investment and people to this four million person region. And I think that means the two big cities working together with the province to do that,” Nenshi explained.

And perhaps one of the more complex issues up for discussion was the big-city charter, which could give Edmonton and Calgary more authority over areas such as building codes, planning regulations and how public funds are distributed.

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“Cities are no longer creatures of legislation,” Redford said. “They’re evolving, growing, changing and incredibly diverse communities. And so finding a way to work the sophistication of that relationship into our day to day operation is really, to me, what the charter discussion is about.”

“All municipalities in Alberta are evolving. We’re becoming better at governance and can be entrusted with more responsibilities and can be a strong partner for the province in building the kind of competitive and attractive communities that we all want to live in,” Iveson added.

All three parties agree there is much work to be done, and it won’t be done overnight.

“What I heard from the premier this morning that was most encouraging… was all keeping focussed on the kind of Alberta we’re trying to build 20 years from now,” Iveson explained. “And if we stay focussed on that, that allows us to rise above the short-term political considerations.”

“We can’t rely on the vagaries or the ad hoc nature of funding from provincial and federal governments that may change, if governments change,” Nenshi added.

“These are long-term plans. They’re 10 year plans and 20 year plans. And so we can get it done if we start now,” said Redford.

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With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News.