Province needs to step up on rural/urban divide
Tuesday, Dec 04, 2012 12:00 pm
Don Good makes a good analogy when he compares urban and rural municipalities to children squabbling over a haul of goodies and presents.
If a parent decided to give all the presents to one child, and then told the other upset siblings to talk it out and find a solution amongst themselves, it would be a pretty poor way of settling arguments. But that’s exactly what happens to municipalities on a regular basis: some have the luck to sit on vast deposits of oil and gas deposits or pipelines, while urban municipalities usually don’t have access to this type of income. The province lets municipalities figure out if and how they want to share in this wealth, leading to a patchwork of agreements with varying popularity.
An issue like this doesn’t fade quietly into the background, and urban councillors sometimes raise a fuss to question how and why they must pay for things like recreation or policing, and provide services to their surrounding rural municipalities without receiving much in return.
The City of Cold Lake is a prime example. For years, Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland was a vocal advocate for his community, crying out about a significant and growing deficit and crumbling infrastructure without the resources and capability to change the situation, while Lac La Biche county and the MD of Bonnyville received the benefits of oil and gas activity in the region.
After years of struggling to be heard, in 2011, a tax reassessment deal was signed that would see $16 million in tax revenue from industrial development on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) shift from Lac La Biche County to the City of Cold Lake, over the course of five years. It was, Copeland said at the time, a deal that would “lead the foundation to rebuild this city.”
Of course, counties and MDs counter they have expenses as well, and that they bear the burden of building and maintaining miles and miles of roads. That is a valid point, but they must recognize the current situation is not necessarily fair or equal to them, either, as there are still huge income discrepancies between rural municipalities.
This is where Good’s point is right on the money – one can’t let municipalities fight it out to decide where the industrial wealth of the province should go. Those that are “have” municipalities won’t easily let go of the control of the wealth they have the luck to enjoy by virtue of where they are located. Just as the federal government redistributes the wealth of the country through equalization payments, the province needs to find a more equitable way to distribute the wealth within its own borders to ensure that all municipalities, rural and urban, have a chance to achieve economic success, without attacking or competing with one another over perceived injustices.