Why giving Calgary control of regional planning and utilities would be a huge mistake?
The Provincial government is poised to legislate the Calgary Metropolitan Plan (CMP). If approved, this legislation would allow Calgary to further limit supply and choice of housing in the Calgary region and drive housing prices even higher than they already are. This runs counter to the Province’s goal of supporting economic growth for the benefit of all Albertans.
We don’t argue that regional planning makes a lot of sense. It’s a good idea to sit down with regional players and coordinate efforts around utility servicing, transportation networks and other planning issues. In 2009, the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) was formed to find ways to accommodate growth in the region over the next 60 years. CRP is made up of 17 local municipalities (including Calgary, Airdrie, Okotoks, Cochrane, and Chestermere, being the largest by population; and Wheatland County, Rocky View County, and the M.D. of Foothills being the largest by area).
Admittedly this voluntary organization is a step in the right direction from its predecessor, the Calgary Regional Planning Commission (CRPC), which was eliminated by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995. The CRPC was a layer of bureaucracy which curtailed development outside of Calgary, so that land in Rocky View County and the M.D. of Foothills would be held for Calgary’s future annexation. This limited supply and choice of housing in the region and it was expropriation of land without compensation. This historical footnote is important to note, as this sentiment seems to have carried over into the new partnership, which unfortunately doesn’t embrace equality between partners but dominance by its most populated member.
The major issue is water. Over the last several decades Calgary has amassed water licenses sufficient to service over 3 million people. During CRP discussions, Calgary led member jurisdictions to believe they might share in this licencing bounty. This convinced members to adopt the aspirational yet unlegislated Calgary Metropolitan Plan to concentrate future growth in specific areas in the region.
However, during the eleventh hour of planning discussions, Calgary literally dropped a water bomb, placing strict conditions on members wanting to access their water. Member jurisdictions would need to meet density targets of 8 to 10 units per acre (similar to Calgary’s newer suburban communities) and Calgary would have a veto on all regional planning matters. Justifiably incensed by this act of bad faith, the three rural municipalities left the partnership. Upon completion of the mediation process then Minister of Municipal Affairs Mr. Ken Hughes sent a letter to the CRP where he recognized a collective desire to see the CRP remain a voluntary entity, while enshrining the CMP, handing the controls firmly over to Calgary. This would be a terrible mistake. If people want to live in inner City Calgary that is what they will do. This further limits housing choice and servicing options. It will also drive up prices and damage the economic diversity and health of the region.
Calgary continued to flex their muscle by informing members that they will pay yet undetermined capital and operational costs if they expect servicing, and that all decisions are subject to approval by Calgary City Council. This will further curtail growth for CRP members and further drive up the costs to supply water and waste servicing. If you live in Cochrane, Airdrie or Chestermere, you should be concerned.
If the province is going to legislate the CMP, we would like to see two simple amendments to create a better balance of power between members.
First, any development that has an independent local servicing solution should not be subject to the CMP decision making process and would not require CRP approval.
Secondly, Calgary should be required by the Province to distribute some of the unused portion of their regional water licence in line with the projected growth across the region. Members should work together to find alternative less expensive ways to provide water for their citizens.
We encourage the Province to not give Calgary the keys to the local housing and water services marketplace.
Rocky View 2020