Growing pains

Photo by Aida L-Unsplash

Cities and R.M.s collaborate to build the future

Vibrant cities tend to grow and push their boundaries outward. In Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon region is grabbing headlines as a locus for economic growth. The region is expected to swell to a half million in the next couple of decades. In any such situation, rural municipalities and cities need ways to work collaboratively, to ensure a well-designed future.

Saskatoon’s Partnership for Growth (P4G) was formed to bring a collaborative and coordinated approach to intermunicipal growth. The group of five municipalities recently won a Saskatchewan Municipal Award for Regional Cooperation. 

P4G’s beginnings can be traced back to 2014. “When we first started, we were all very carefully protecting our little pieces of ground and not wanting to give up anything because of course, you’ve got to build trust around the table,” says Judy Harwood, reeve of the R.M. of Corman Park. 

But now, she says, they’re all pulling in the same direction. Each municipality—Warman, Martensville, the R.M. of Corman Park, Osler and Saskatoon—gets one vote, which tends to level the playing field.

“We have open dialogue now where we can talk about our concerns and be very frank with each other,” says Harwood. “I’m a big believer that all ships rise with the tide. If Martensville does good, we all do. It’s a region and I think we have to look at it that way with regional cooperation. We had a lot of the provincial ministers in for the SARM convention and they recognize what we’re doing here.” 

There’s an understanding that development should not impede the growth of a neighbouring municipality. There’s also a recognition that their agreement needs to be a ‘living document.’ “Who said that what we put on paper two years ago is going to be appropriate two years from now? Things change and growth is so rapid,” Harwood reflects. If a project comes along that looks good for the region, or if part of the Official Community Plan (OCP) needs to tilt more residential or more commercial, there could be room for that. 

Occasionally, an R.M. may acquire land from a city. In February, the R.M. of Sherwood formed an agreement with the City of Regina to alter part of a shared boundary. The deal brings approximately 24 acres into the R.M. to support the potential growth of businesses currently operating in the R.M.

Not long ago, Sherwood and the City of Regina undertook a major negotiation regarding the Viterra industry coming to the region. Reeve Susan Oakley says the R.M. had to ask itself, “do we really want Viterra in the region? Does it benefit us as a greater rural community?” 

“These negotiations are tough, they’re hard work. There are hard feelings. There’s always history amongst these groups. People take shots. My slogan, which I said to our group a number of times was, ‘Keep your eye on the prize’,” says Oakley. The parties reached a solution and as we would expect, it involved compromise. 

Sometimes collaboration remains a work in progress. Recently, the Saskatchewan Municipal Board (SMB) rejected White City’s bid to annex 4,000 acres of the R.M. of Edenwold, including all of Emerald Park. This included a commercial district that represented years in planning and development on the part of Edenwold.

“[White City] is really saying, ‘we want to take over all your Shoppers Drug Mart and your Tim Hortons and your Dairy Queen’,” says Lee Chambers, communications officer for the R.M. It was back in the 80s when Edenwold began to make strategic plans to develop, expand and diversify its tax base. “Recently, we opened a Dollarama and a Pet Valu and there’s a Burger King coming,” says Chambers. Much of this commercial development is located along the Trans Canada Highway. Chambers says White City’s main tax base is residential and located about three kilometres off the highway. 

The SMB revealed their reasoning behind their decision. “We have concluded that annexation of the developed lands is sought only for financial reasons rather than to enable future growth of the Town.” The SMB added that, “we are troubled by the Town seeking to annex land that it expressly said it would not pursue under the 2015 consensual annexation agreement.” 

Usually, annexation is sought for development and growth. “They [White City] wanted all of our already developed land,” says Chambers. Essentially, this would have robbed Edenwold of the fruits of its labour in building a diversified tax base. The R.M. collaborates in other ways with White City as well as the nearby communities of Pilot Butte and Balgonie, for the benefit of all. White City has appealed the SMB decision. 

Inevitably, there’s a lot of passion around negotiations over land. Saskatchewan rural municipalities and cities have shown a lot of resilience at the bargaining table in the face of significant challenges. Hopefully, the benefits of proactive collaboration extend beyond economic growth, to quality of life and wellbeing for all citizens.