Growth plan for Calgary region sent to province for final say

In a seven to three vote, with Rockyview County, Wheatland County, and Foothills County opposed — a growth plan dictating how the Calgary region develops now rests with the province. 

The Regional Growth Plan passed at the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) level on May 23, after years of meetings, studies, and contention between urban and rural municipalities involved. 

“There certainly are some strong opinions and feelings one way or the other,” said board chair Greg Clark. “The bottom line is it is a thoughtful plan to target where we’re going to add the next million people to the Calgary region.” 

The CMRB Growth Plan dictates where and how development can take place in the region. It details where employment centres are appropriate, what lands suit industrial zones, where to reserve land and how to connect these regions with transportation corridors and other servicing. 

“One of the benefits of the plan is it’s going to reduce the cost of infrastructure, the cost to taxpayers, by about 36 per cent for the next million people,” said Clark.

In 2017, the revised Municipal Government Act mandated regional growth boards for both the Calgary and Edmonton regions. The CMRB was formed in 2018 to include 10 municipalities: Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, High River, Okotoks, Strathmore, Rocky View County, Foothills County, and a portion of Wheatland County.

The 10 municipalities of the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board are mandated to meet and discuss regional issues. (Calgary Metropolitan Region Board)

The previous Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) played a similar role, with voluntary participation. Rocky View County pulled out of the CRP in 2009 after disagreements over its voting structure, the counties of Foothills and Wheatland followed suit. 

Clark said the same voting split was reflected throughout the CMRB process, as rural and urban sensibilities and ideas around growth clashed. 

Foothills County came to the table in good faith, Reeve Suzanne Oel said, but feels the board doesn’t set rural members up for success.

Rural, urban divide

“The growth plan shuts the door on rural opportunity, limits economic development for rural members, creates red tape and economic uncertainty, and is biased against the rural municipalities,” Oel said. “It will cost taxpayers money and also ignores our requested changes.”

She said the plan limits Foothills County to agricultural or home-based businesses unless approved by the board. Which, Oel feels, sets her region up for economic failure, while also infringing on autonomy. 

Cutting down on waste with unified vision

“I want to say we’re not ready or willing to hand Calgary the keys to Foothills County,” Oel said.

Having the CMRB handle these decisions, Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown said, will ease future tensions. 

“It’s a recognition that we’re all in this together,” Brown said. “We have to really look at the economics of development, how well, how and why it’s successful, and then share in those successes.”

It may add time to decision making, Brown added, but ultimately he said approving development this way will save on duplication and waste. 

Especially, he added, in terms of water treatment, transportation corridors, and strategies along with environmental goals. 

Municipal Affairs reviewing

Now that it’s finalised and approved, the Growth and Servicing Plans are in the hands of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, under MLA Ric McIver. 

“The Minister will carefully consider both the plan and what it means for the region,” read a statement from press secretary Charlotte Taillon. “Alberta’s government has no intention of approving any plan that does not support and promote enhanced economic activity in the region.”

Clark said the review could take months, and he was warned it may not be approved until after the coming municipal election. 

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