Letter: The New Regional Reality

When Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw holds her daily Alberta news briefings updating Canadians on the province’s COVID-19 crisis, most Albertans have no doubt heard her speak in terms of “zones”. For Dr. Hinshaw, zones are a version of “a region” and are defined by Health Services. It is clear that this approach does not report her statistics municipality by municipality to Albertans. Now, while some people would prefer to see data by municipality, she presents her data only with a regional viewpoint. Of course, if anyone wishes to drill down further, an on-line map (geospatial function) on the Alberta website shows additional data is broken down into more detailed sub-regions. Most coronavirus data, however, is not defined by municipal boundaries, and rightfully so.

So, what is my point? Why does this matter?

You see, we each view different regions through different regional lenses, depending on the topic. For property taxes (and municipal spending) for example, the lens is a single municipality and not a region. For grocery shopping, the radius extends beyond municipal boundaries and we see shopping regionally. A new regional economic entity, Edmonton Global in the north, created in 2017, the lens is 15 municipalities who are “hunting as a pack” for better regional and local economic prosperity. And, for this newspaper the region is a wide variety of towns, villages and county residents. But, for Dr. Deena Hinshaw it is 5 regions or zones. That is her lens.

The concept called “modern regionalization” has been a growing concept around the globe since the 1950s. As increased globalization began to take foothold after WWII, so did regional efforts to address needs. Municipalities could no longer serve their residents alone and now, more than ever, municipalities must work as collectives. For example, British Columbia has 162 municipalities but 27 formal regional districts. Manitoba has 137 municipalities and 23 census divisions and 8 regions. Italy has 20 regions, yet 7,914 municipalities. Regions matter, depending on the context. Alberta can learn so much from other jurisdictions in Canada and indeed throughout the world about regional benefits.

With the pandemic affecting so many aspects of our lives, some Alberta municipalities will have to reassess their financial viability. Addressing recent debt incurred in 2020 in Canada and Alberta will be everyone’s responsibility to deal with over the coming decade. And, while “bigger is not always better”, many of the villages in Alberta are already reassessing their viability to serve their residents and their viability to exist in the first place.

The regions that these villages are within may now, more than a few months ago, be better equipped to handle the financial burden than the villages can handle by themselves. Spreading the debt, tax burden and liabilities over a broader tax base is no doubt appealing to many.

Unless Canadians begin de-urbanizing by moving into smaller communities as a result of COVID-19, the future of villages and some towns is even now in more jeopardy. Many of the villages and towns in Alberta may be now faced with “handing their keys” over to their regional county partner.

We all know that little will be untouched by the virus.

Re-opening is occurring region by region.

Municipal policies will need to be re-written with regions in mind.

Regional policies will need to be re-written with neighbours more in mind. Municipalities will rely on their neighbours more than ever before.

Regions now matter more than ever before. Guaranteed.

Now, I wonder what Dr. Hinshaw would say?

Nolan Crouse