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Confidential conversations and loophole wording concerns Cold Lake council

Closed door meetings and five days notice were the bones the City of Cold Lake had to pick over Municipal Affairs’ draft terms of reference for the Regional Partnership Committee.
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Closed door meetings and five days notice were the bones the City of Cold Lake had to pick over Municipal Affairs’ draft terms of reference for the Regional Partnership Committee.

On Tuesday, July 10, the City of Cold Lake discussed their trials and tribulations over the draft terms of reference laid out in a letter from Alberta Municipal Affairs.

“Late last month, the City of Cold Lake received a letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs that outlines the minister’s expectations for the Regional Partnership Committee that will be tasked with distributing the allotted money through the ID 349 arrangement,” explained Andrew Serba, strategic initiatives manager for the city.

During their regular meeting, council shared their thoughts towards the confidentiality clause and members’ ability to call a meeting on short notice.

As a response to the minister’s letter, Cold Lake will be sending one of their own.

“The issue I have is inter-municipal discussions being confidential when it comes to project review, assessment, and agreement. I strongly resist and reject the minister’s indication or wishes that all discussions be in confidence,” Coun. Bob Buckle expressed. “I don’t understand why. The business of municipal politics is done in the public, not behind closed doors. This is highly irregular.”

He added, “Why this shroud of secrecy? If we were trying to run our municipal council meeting like that (Municipal Affairs) would come and cuff us because you can’t go in-camera and can’t be confidential on things. That’s a principal under the Municipal Government Act.”

Buckle stressed the need for clarity as to why the Minister of Municipal Affairs has mandated closed-door meetings.

“I think the minister feels bullet proof because he changed ID 349 without any public consultation,” noted Mayor Craig Copeland. “I think he has the feeling that he can have these meetings without the public or the media in the room because they significantly changed the City of Cold Lake without us even at the table.”

The draft terms of reference currently indicates that any discussions had during a Regional Partnership Committee meeting are considered to be confidential, and can’t be shared with the public. 

Coun. Vicky Lefebvre said an item she didn’t feel comfortable with was the term allowing the committee to call a meeting “within a very short period of time.”

She used an example where a meeting could be called and only a handful of representatives are able to make it. If a certain community isn’t there, their voice isn’t being heard, and if a consensus is reached, then the project is approved without them having a chance to share their opinion.

“I really feel uncomfortable with that,” Lefebvre added.

For Coun. Jurgen Grau, it seems as though the minister’s message is constantly changing.

He referred to the clause detailing how projects qualify for funding.

At one point, Grau said, the minister had indicated the projects must be regional. In the draft terms of reference they only have to “contain elements of regional benefit.”

“Everybody at the table is in the region, and every one of their projects has an element of regional benefit,” he noted. “By using this language... he is fracturing up this money. In a sense, he is just going to divide the money and that wasn’t the intent.”

The committee will have about $6-million in funding annually for these projects, which will be brought forward by each municipality represented.

The first meeting is July 24, and the Minister of Municipal Affairs requested each community have a list of possible projects.

The city has been open about what they will be presenting, which includes the regional CATSA-screened commercial air service project, and the expansion of Portage College.

Council agreed to send a letter to Municipal Affairs detailing their issues with the suggested terms of reference. They plan to send it to other municipalities in hopes of garnering feedback on the topic.

The city has chosen Copeland and CAO Kevin Nagoya to represent council on the Regional Partnership Committee. Should they be unable to attend, a stand-in would go in their place.