When Beaumont voters go to the polls to choose a new mayor on Monday, many will be thinking about how the town’s next leader will deal with its big city neighbour, Edmonton.
The municipalities are embroiled in a tussle over six square kilometres of land separating them, with both Beaumont and Edmonton arguing they have the best plan for the land straddling 50th Street.
The land was recently annexed by Beaumont, a town of almost 20,000 people with the motto Life is Better in Beaumont, for commercial and residential development, but Edmonton has since applied to annex the land for itself.
All six candidates vying for the mayor’s seat in Beaumont insist that developing the land is critical for the town’s growth and easing the tax burden on homeowners.
Now, the question is: How to solve the standoff?
“The stakes are Beaumont continuing to remain an independent town and not becoming a suburb of Edmonton,” said Bruce LeCren, who is running for the mayor’s job after serving two terms on council.
The mayoral race is wide open, with Mayor Camille Bérubé, a long-time fixture on city council, not seeking re-election. Many of the mayoral candidates have previous city council experience.
“To simply give up the nine quarter sections really restricts the way we can grow,” said LeCren who opposes negotiating with Edmonton for the land.
All the mayoral candidates said they’re hearing about the issue during the campaign.
“We’ve got a history of not playing well with our neighbours,” said Patrick Kobly, who added that the issue has been hanging over Beaumont for too long and should be a priority for the next mayor.
Kobly said his strategy would be to try to rebuild the town’s relationship with Edmonton.
Gil Poitras said his previous experience on council makes him best suited for negotiations with Edmonton.
“We need to build up those relationships as quickly as we can and get on the same page for a change and work together,” he said.
Kerri Bauer, a current councillor running for the top job, says a new era of collaboration is needed not just with Edmonton, but all surrounding municipalities.
And John Stewart, another former councillor, agrees.
“The previous council alienated everyone,” Stewart said.
Mayoral candidate K.C. Sommers could not be immediately reached.
Don Iveson, who is widely expected to be re-elected as mayor in Edmonton next week, said if he wins, he would rather hammer out a deal with Beaumont than go to a hearing before a provincial-municipal board.
But that means the future mayor of Beaumont will have to make efforts as well, he said.
“We have given Beaumont every opportunity to work with us on the joint planning of those nine quarter sections of land,” Iveson said.
Edmonton can put better infrastructure in place for sewage and storm water, which would protect Edmonton taxpayers in the long-run, Iveson said.
“If we arrive at a bilateral decision with Beaumont before our hearing, we can adjust our annexation ask accordingly,” he said.
Sitting down and talking with Edmonton worked for Leduc County, said Rick Smith, a councillor who has already been acclaimed in that municipality. Leduc County went through a similar land dispute with Edmonton.
Smith said an initial annexation ask by Edmonton under former mayor Stephen Mandel was problematic, but further discussions with Iveson’s administration went better.
“I think we really set the tone with regional collaboration with Edmonton,” Smith said. “There were huge compromises on both sides, but it’s really good for both sides.”