The City of Edmonton often states that the City of Calgary had 16 annexations approved since Edmonton’s last in 1982 and it is time for one for Edmonton.
Edmonton’s 1982 annexation was for a total of 700.6 km2 in cumulative area and included land located in the northwest, southeast, and southwest. The current proposal is for 856.6 km2 in area and from Leduc County. That’s one big chunk of territory for one municipality to accept as a fair proposal.
Yes, Calgary has successfully annexed 16 times since 1982; however there are two major factors that distinguish Calgary from Edmonton. The first is Calgary, even after annexations, does not have communities or established industrial sites right up to its borders. The nearest communities to Calgary are Chestermere at 22.7 km east, Airdrie at 28.2 km to the north, Cochrane at 36 km to the west and De Winton at 37.6 km to the south. Meanwhile many of the communities around Edmonton can already be referred to as the suburbs of Edmonton. Sherwood Park in the east nearly borders Edmonton, St Albert in the north does border the city, along with Beaumont in the south, and Acheson industrial area is just 19 km going west.
Because most communities around Calgary are far enough away from the city’s borders the effect of annexation on them is minimal unlike the communities around Edmonton who are often immediately affected by an annexation bid. Beaumont is currently an excellent example. When Edmonton changed its bid it resulted in the elimination of any plans for Beaumont to expand to the north and became identified as the next major community to be swallowed up by Edmonton in the not too distant future.
The second and perhaps the most important factor is the soil. The soil around Calgary is generally classed at two or lower. Much of the land surrounding Calgary is more suited for rangeland than farmland. It is the soil that drew the first settlers to the area around Fort Edmonton, not the advantages of city life. Much of the soil along Edmonton’s southern border is classed as one or two making it, according to Jim Hole of the Enjoy Centre, among the best farming soil in the country! What is the first thing a developer does with the land? They strip it and use that rich soil to make berms! Then they bring back a lower grade soil for landscaping.
Edmonton has highlighted eight agricultural programs and services that are partial funded and supported by the province that Leduc County currently provides its rural residents that will end immediately once annexation is approved. They include programs such as weed and pest control, drainage funding, and sustainable agricultural. This is not land that should be covered in concrete and asphalt but preserved as the richest farmland in the country!
The city likes to state that 55 per cent of the growth has been towards the south and no one denies that fact. But the question not asked is why? Is it because of the airport or the Nisku Industrial Park? Or is it that people are following the development of the Anthony Henday ring road? When we lived in Edmonton in 2005 the fastest growing residential area was Lewis Estates and The Hamptons in the west then as the Henday moved east it became the Cameron Heights subdivision that saw rapid growth. A few years later as the Henday continued east Terwillegar and Ellerslie saw rapid growth. Today as the northeast section is coming to completion there is rapid growth occurring along Manning Drive! With the growth of the Industrial Heartland Park the growth in the northeast could soon surpass the current southern growth. So why has the city put all its eggs in one basket? It appears it’s not for the need for more residential space but the wish to gain control of the tax sources generated by the airport and Leduc County’s industrial park. Is it any wonder why, after years of co-operation between the county, Leduc City and the airport in developing a tax revenue sharing agreement and other programs that benefit all concerned, that a successful Edmonton bid to absorb the international airport will result in the loss of years of co-operation and the benefits gained?
It will be interesting watching the NDP wrestle with Edmonton’s annexation bid. Will they succumb to the pressure of 19 Edmonton MLAs or will they stand on their principles of protecting all citizens and looking out for the “little” man? If the NDP wants to convince the 60 per cent of the voters who cast their ballot for other candidates to take another look they need to develop a new system for municipality growth.
Edmonton city council should realize that there is a huge difference between Calgary and Edmonton and that difference could provide Edmonton with major advantages. All around the city there are communities more than willing to become partners with the city to provide services that meets the needs to all parties. Already there are major agreements to provide water and pest control services to the area. Leduc City and the county have a Transit agreement with Edmonton to the benefit of all. These are just some of the projects where Edmonton has successfully been able to negotiate a satisfactory agreement with its neighbours.
Tom Dirsa is a freelance writer who has covered Leduc councils for The Pipestone Flyer.