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Wednesday , 24 February 2021
Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Image: FCM.

Municipal councils growing colder on national lobby group FCM

County of St. Paul quits the FCM group and the M.D. of Bonnyville is continuing to push for a stronger Western Canadian voice.

The County of St. Paul withdrew their membership in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities after a lengthy discussion during their regular council meeting on Jan. 12.

Membership in the organization, which is a national lobby group for municipalities, would cost the County $1795.82 in 2021.

County of St. Paul Reeve Steve Upham lobbied for the County to remain a member for one more year, but said it would very much be a probationary year. The County of St. Paul has been a member of FCM since 2006. The neighbouring M.D. of Bonnyville voted to end their membership in Nov. 2019.

In previous years, Upham has been involved in committee work at FCM. He said he didn’t apply for the committees this year because he “found the process of being online to be very unproductive and we really weren’t getting any voice.”

“There’s a lot of them on that committee that just fall in line with administration rather than thinking for themselves,” said Upham. “It’s an administration that is very sympathetic to Quebec’s issues and not necessarily in tune with what’s best for all of Canada.”

“I still want to be there, but I think it has a ton of problems. I think their approach is going to lose them a lot of rural members,” said Upham.

Div. 6 Coun. Laurent Amyotte expressed support for continuing to participate in FCM, reasoning “it’s better to be on the inside looking at what’s happening rather than the outside looking in.”

Div. 4 Coun. Maxine Fodness said “I think they’re listening but they’re not acting on anything that rural is saying.”

The feeling that the organization is not acting on behalf of rural municipalities was echoed by a number of council members including Upham.

“They’re going to have to adjust or die or just revert to being a big cities caucus which is kind of where a lot of the power lies now. I mean with a change of government I think it would all change, because I think that the federal government under different leadership would take a different approach to FCM and then we’d see our power come back,” said Upham.

Fodness made a motion to deny FCM membership in 2021. That motion carried.

Bonnyville wants Western Canadian Municipalities Association

The M.D. of Bonnyville is sending a letter to all the municipalities in Alberta asking for them to join municipalities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the Western Canadian Municipalities Association.

“If some of those folks in B.C. join in–all the better. I think we have a lot of the same issues. And I think as one group, we would still have a strong voice to the federal government because right now we’re not getting it out of FCM, which have their offices in Ottawa,” said Greg Sawchuk, the Reeve of the M.D. of Bonnyville.

In previous years, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, Rural Municipalities of Alberta, Association of Manitoba Municipalities, Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities have met to discuss common concerns.

According to Sawchuk, Western Canada is an afterthought to FCM because they are based on population and rooted in Montreal and Toronto where the large population is.

“We’ve got an organization which is supposed to lobby the [federal] government and put forward programs. Well, I looked at what they’re lobbying for now. We got this presentation yesterday, they had nine things that they were lobbying the Liberal government on. And four of those things were involved with climate change and the new green economy,” said Sawchuk.

Just over a year ago, FCM established the Western Economic Solutions Taskforce (WEST) to address natural resources to market, energy, diversification, and infrastructure.

Asked if the issues at FCM could be resolved by splitting in to an urban lobby group and a rural lobby group, Sawchuk said it was possible but at FCM, “they consider a small municipality as one that has less than 100,000 people.”

According to a listing of municipal populations maintained by the Alberta government, just five out of 341 municipalities in Alberta have populations greater than 100,000 people. Calgary (1.2 million), Edmonton (972,223), Lethbridge (101,482), Red Deer (101,002) and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (111,687, however the listing notes this figure includes a shadow population of 36,678 people who are employed in the area for at least 30 days in a year.)

In Saskatchewan, only Regina and Saskatoon exceed the threshold of 100,000 people, and in Manitoba, only Winnipeg.

According to Sawchuk, the cities need to step up because they won’t survive without the surrounding rural communities.

“This is where the city’s energy comes from. This is where they city’s food comes from,” said Sawchuk.

He said we need to make sure rural communities survive and challenged the larger urban centres like Edmonton and Calgary to recognize that.

“A lot of our people also come to your municipality, and help out with your businesses from time to time. They can’t look at themselves as an individual bubble within Alberta. I think they need to be a team player as well,” said Sawchuk.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.