Goodbye, Capital Region. And good riddance.
For decades, we’ve been saddled with that absurdly generic name, a name that seemed designed, in a quasi-Orwellian manner, to erase our city’s name from the map. We were the anonymous city, which could not speak its name aloud, allegedly for fear of annoying our regional neighbours.
It was a ridiculous situation, one that savagely undercut our ability to market this place as a magnet for investment, as a tourist destination, as a new home for immigrants.
But no longer.
Late last week, by order-in-council, the province gave us our name back. It officially changed the name of the Capital Region Board to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board.
Which means we now live together in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
It marks a bold new start for the board, which includes the mayors of 13 different cities, towns and counties: Beaumont, Leduc, Leduc County, Devon, Parkland County, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Morinville, Sturgeon County, Fort Saskatchewan, Strathcona County and Edmonton.
There was a lot of turn-over amongst regional mayors in the last election, which means eight of the board members are new. And the board meetings will now be helmed not by a mayor, but by the new board chair, Jodi Abbott, the president of NorQuest College.
“I want to find a way to help all the different players in the region, with their diverse needs and requirements, to come to a common vision,” says Abbott, who assumed her new role Oct. 31.
It’s all a remarkable change from 2008, when then-premier Ed Stelmach created — that is to say, forced together — the regional board. Back then, the suspicions and animosities among neighbouring municipalities were toxic. Things got better over time, as the regional mayors had to compromise and work together on planning issues. Still, when Don Iveson was first sworn in as mayor of Edmonton in 2013, he created a bit of a firestorm when he suggested it was time to adopt a more “geographically precise” name.
“‘Capital Region’ is a hangover from a time when our neighbours couldn’t even say the name Edmonton without wincing,” Iveson said four years ago in his first official speech as mayor.
It was a pretty low-key call to arms. Nonetheless, some local mayors were livid.
Attitudes started to change in 2015, when the board invited an international “site selector” from a big New York commercial real estate firm for a visit. He told the mayors that when he searched “Capital Region”online, this area didn’t come up at all. There were just too many other “capital regions” around the world.
Malcolm Bruce, the board’s CEO, says that meeting marked a turning point. Regional mayors truly realized just how self-defeating the “Capital Region” marketing strategy was. And now, two years later, the “Capital Region” is gone.
“It is a huge milestone in the maturity of the political culture in this region,” says Iveson. “With a global economy even more fiercely competitive than it was four years ago, there is a sense of urgency with all of the mayors to put the best foot forward for the region.”
But this is about more than changing mayoral minds.
Back in 1995 or 2000, it felt almost as if our regional neighbours despised this city and didn’t want to be associated with it, any more than they could possibly help.
Now that Edmonton has recovered its amour propre, its self-confidence, and feels more prosperous, more hip, more cosmopolitan, I think people in nearby suburbs feel a greater buy-in.
Maybe it’s just a little bit more cool to associate yourself with Edmonton than it used to be.
And I think there’s a greater sense of cohesion throughout the region. Some of that has to do with the completion of the Anthony Henday ring road, which links us in new ways. Today, more people are commuting back and forth, living in Morinville or Fort Saskatchewan or Spruce Grove and working in Edmonton or Nisku.
More Edmontonians are exploring, too, heading to Beaumont for French cuisine, to St. Albert to the outdoor market, to Sherwood Park for a show at Festival Place, to Enoch for a concert at River Cree.
Perhaps, today, we all feel a little bit more integrated, part of a larger community.
“There’s just a broader pride in the city and the region,” Iveson says. “I think the whole region can trade on that.”
You might even say we could … capitalize on it.