The better part of yesterday's Speech from the Throne felt like it was right out of a book on Cochrane.
Much of it spoke about the pressure being faced by Alberta in dealing with its fastest population growth ever.
As mayor of the fastest growing in Alberta, Jeff Genung says we know what that's all about.
"You could take out Alberta and put Cochrane in there," says Mayor Jeff Genung. "We've been living that for the last 10 years. In a way, I'm kind of relieved that the province is speaking that way, and we'll start to align some of our language with theirs and say, hey, we get what you're talking about, we've been growing like this for the past decade."
The province says hundreds of thousands of people are moving here each year and believes we'll be over 5 million strong within the next 24 months. By 2050, it believes Alberta will be the second most populated province in the country.
Jeff Genung underlined the stats, particularly the reference to hitting 5 million.
"That was the alarming one for me. Where are all these people going? We already know a lot of them are coming to Cochrane. Well, we're going some need some help from the province in building roads, schools, health care system, all of that is going to be under pressure. We're already under pressure."
A few weeks prior to the opening of the fall session of the Legislative Assembly, Genung and the other 23 representatives of the Mid-Sized Cities Mayors' Caucus (MCMC) sat down with Premier Danielle Smith to discuss sustainable funding and welcomed the utilization of their municipalities as resources in building a better Alberta.
"At the end of the day, we were saying to the premier, your Come to Alberta Campaign is working, so we need your help in placing all these Albertans in good communities that provide the services that we all wish to have and the quality of life that we want in our province."
Genung says the municipalities weren't looking for a hand-out. Instead, they presented two major ideas.
"There's only so many dollars to go around and just increasing taxes is not the answer. I think we need to find some efficiencies."
That includes combining some municipalities and eliminating duplication. The MCMC suggested to the premier that about 10 per cent of Alberta municipalities are struggling to make ends meet and their operations could become more efficient by amalgamating with counties or closeby centres to reduce red tape and operational costs.
He says there was a positive reception to establishing a separate funding pot for communities experiencing extremely fast growth. Cochrane and Airdrie are among them.
"There are communities that are seeing population bursts way, way faster than any other communities in the province. Maybe there's special attention given to us to get more schools quicker and allow us to address our infrastructure levels faster. Basically, it would be a levelling agent across the communities but it would be a metric that would have growth as part of it, and they're looking at it."
The Throne Speech recognizes a new funding model is in the works for municipalities. Soon the Municipal Sustainability Initiative infrastructure fund will be replaced by the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF). Albertans can expect to hear more about what's proposed in the immediate future and its calculations will be included in the 2024 Alberta budget estimates.
Among other issues, the Throne Speech read by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani addressed how the government intends to focus on infrastructure deficiencies, attainable housing, cost of living, and electricity and insurance costs. It spoke of how it is realigning our healthcare system and finding ways to enhance public safety and tackle the addiction crisis.
It kept alive the idea of creating a passenger rail service between the Calgary International Airport and the Canmore/Banff corridor. Genung says optimism is growing and it's something Cochrane and other municipalities have jointly sought.
"It just makes sense in a lot of ways. I'm happy to hear that it's still in the conversation at the provincial level. So fingers-crossed they'll continue to do their due diligence."
At this point, he says they are looking for funding to complete a design phase, so municipalities, in turn, can start their planning.
The speech also came with a threat to the federal government to back off on matters that it believes come under provincial jurisdiction. It stated the Alberta government is prepared to introduce several motions that will test the Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.
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