Urban and rural Saskatchewan collide in land dispute between White City and RM of Edenwold
Years-long dispute highlights competing interests of 2 municipalities in southern Saskatchewan
Travel about 20 kilometres east down Highway 1 from Regina and you'll find the town of White City.
It's a fast growing exurban community that wants to become more and it's well on its way to getting there.
White City recorded the fifth largest growth of any population centre in Saskatchewan according to the latest census.
Between 2016 and 2021 the population of White City grew by 10.5 per cent, or 449 people.
But continued efforts to grow have been hampered, according to the town's mayor, highlighting a contentious and lengthy battle in small-town Saskatchewan and the growing split between urban and rural parts of the province.
"We're essentially, you know, becoming the doughnut hole and we're being surrounded," Mayor Brian Fergusson told CBC News during a recent interview.
In 2019, White City filed a Municipal Boundary Alteration Review with the Saskatchewan Municipal Board (SMB), an administrative tribunal that oversees issues for local authorities in the province.
It's all part of a bid for growth by the town. It would require the annexation of land that is currently controlled by the Rural Municipality (RM) of Edenwold.
What was supposed to be a purely administrative process has become anything but simple. The application quickly faced a jurisdictional challenge from the RM of Edenwold.
Even though a judge eventually ruled in White City's favour, saying the SMB is the right place for the topic to be decided, the actual application has yet to be heard on its merits.
A hearing is set for later this year, but it's now been nearly three years since the application was filed and a clear answer has yet to be provided to either side.
The RM of Edenwold says its issue is not the process that has been followed, but what the Town of White City is looking to gain.
The area to be annexed is not empty lots, according to officials with the RM of Edenwold.
"It has businesses, it has houses and has everything, so it's very unusual," said Sameh Nashed, Edenwold's chief operating officer.
Fergusson said that White City has very little choice if it wants to meet the demands of a growing population.
Through its community plan, White City hopes to develop a town centre and create a "lifestyle-oriented community" that would make it even more attractive.
That will come with a cost, but it's one that Fergusson believes people will be willing to pay.
"So the individual residents of our community don't see the border between White City and the RM as much as obviously the administration and councils do," he said.
"Our vision is to essentially eliminate that border, bring the entire area under a single urban government to manage the urban affairs in a fashion that's really focused on its residents."
As part of its push to sway public opinion, the White City's council has begun sending letters to other towns and cities in Saskatchewan, looking for other political entities to lend their support in creating an urban municipality.
Fergusson said it's still early in the process and they've yet to receive responses from other municipalities in Saskatchewan.
As for residents that the White City governs, efforts to expand have been well supported. With more people moving to the community, Fergusson expects it's only a matter of time.
"We've had a rapid growth from 2006 to 2016," Fergusson said.
"It's slowed down a little bit over the last five years, but we've still exceeded just about every other part of the province."
Co-operate not divide
The politicians and officials on either side of the border that divides White City and the RM of Edenwold are confident their view is the right one and that the SMB will rule in their respective favour.
But for city planning experts, this is an example of competing interests colliding.
Bob Patrick is the chair of the regional and urban planning program at the University of Saskatchewan. He said one way of avoiding tension between urban and rural growth is to work together.
"I recommend always taking a large scale approach, a regional approach. We've learned that for the past 100 years, that regional planning is one way and sometimes the only way of mitigating these conflicts over land," Patrick said.
- City of Saskatoon searching for answers after planning for freeway indefinitely postponed by province
That would likely mean bringing the RM of Edenwold together with White City and the City of Regina, along with other municipalities, to create a shared plan.
He said the success of the Saskatoon North Partnership for Growth is a good example of what can be done when municipalities — some of which might have competing interests — decide to work together for the greater good.
"When we compete, there will always be a short-term winner and then someone that's left behind or multiple municipalities left behind," Patrick said.
"Competition is not going to help our province grow or our regions grow."
For now the two sides of the dispute wait and prepare for a hearing that could decide the future of municipal governments in Saskatchewan.
Both sides say that whatever the outcome, it is likely going to be precedent-setting.
A resolution hasn't come quickly.
Once the hearing is held it's unlikely that a ruling will be given immediately. Once a decision is made there will still be a period of time before any official borders begin to change.