making cities matter in alberta’s election.

Alberta is the most urbanized province in Canada (81% of the population living in urban areas) and the Edmonton-Calgary corridor is one of the most urbanized regions in Canada.

Looking to put cities on the provincial election agenda, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is using the CitiesMatter.ca website to weigh in on why it is important that Albertans know where the provincial parties and their leaders stand on the future of our urban centres. Mayor Nenshi has sent surveys to each of the parties asking them about their positions on urban issues. The surveys responses are expected to be posted on the CitiesMatter.ca website when they are returned.

University of Alberta professor Ian Urquhart, who is standing as an Independent candidate in Alberta’s Senate Nominee election has written about the role the Senate and the federal government could play in supporting our municipalities and the inequity that exists between the orders of government.

Dr. Urquhart correctly points out that even after the federal and provincial governments have downloaded more services and responsibilities to our municipalities, our cities receive a pittance of the revenue collected from Alberta taxpayers (just 8% in Alberta):

“From this small pot of money our cities must try to finance more than half of the infrastructure we use every day.”

Enthusiast of everything Edmonton, Mack Male, has joined a group of under-40 Albertans who are trying to put some important issues on the provincial agenda, like the expansion of Light Rail Transit in our major cities:

Edmonton and Calgary are often thought of as “car cities” but the desire to change is strong. Both cities have transportation plans that call for the expansion of light rail transit. Edmontonians consistently rank public transportation as the most important issue that the City should address. Most recently, a Leger Marketing poll showed that two thirds of Edmontonians would like to see the province fast-track its share of the LRT expansion to Mill Woods. In Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi himself has been leading the charge to convince the province to provide long term and predictable funding for transit infrastructure in Alberta’s large cities.

Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples has suggested that the Wildrose Party’s proposed fiscal plan would axe the much needed transit funding, something that supporters of Danielle Smith has disputed (having an anti-LRT former mayoral candidate on her slate of candidates surely does not help reassure their critics). The Wildrose Party would cancel the existing Green Trip funding for future projects, but slot 10% of provincial tax revenues and 10% of surplus money for municipalities, which I understand could actually be less than the amount currently received through regular funding and special funds like GreenTrip (please correct me if I am mistaken).

Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives have not released any strong policies on municipal funding during this election, but they have committed to increasing funding for libraries, which play an important role in communities, and continuing the successful safe communities initiative.

In their “Yes!” platform, Dr. Raj Sherman‘s Alberta Liberals have called for the drafting of City Charters, the creation of a Municipal Heritage Fund (which would include direct funding for community associations), and the reinstatement of Community Lottery Boards. As a former Edmonton City Councillor, NDP leader Brian Mason, supports an increased in funding for the GreenTrip fund. Mr. Mason was also one of the only MLA’s who spoke out against provincial funding for Daryl Katz‘s new Downtown Arena.

Led by former Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, the Alberta Party‘s municipal plan focuses on both urban and rural municipalities, Mr. Taylor also draws some strength from his past role as the chairman of the Rural Alberta Development Fund (whose board of directors includes former Tory MLA David Coutts and former Liberal leader Ken Nicol):

Some people will suggest that future Wildrose Party government heavy with conservative rural MLA’s would not understand the needs of our big cities. Although there is certainly a geographical divide in our politics (urban and rural, Calgary and Edmonton, small city and big city), fanning these flames will not move our province forward.

Urban enthusiasts worried about rural decision makers should remember that only a short time ago, it was a rural conservative leader, Ed Stelmach, whose government made some of the most important urban infrastructure investments of the past decade, including the creation of the GreenTrip fund.

14 thoughts on “making cities matter in alberta’s election.”

  1. Hi Dave,
    I’m happy to correct your information on this one: Edmonton will not lose any municipal funding under the Wildrose 10-10 plan.
    In addition to the 10-10 plan providing more province-wide funding for municipal infrastructure (it would have been at least 68M more if in place this year) we’ve also made a commitment that no individual municipality will get less funding than they were scheduled to get under the current patchwork of programs.
    Thanks for the invitaiton to set the record straight.
    Cheers,
    Bill Bewick
    Wildrose Director od Research

  2. I have to say, I like Dr. Sherman’s proposal the best. It’s no small feat to undo the PCs starving of cities since they seized taxation authority.

  3. Personally, I think this rural urban split is a myth. I don’t feel that we in rural areas live better or receive more government services than anyone else.

  4. I agree terry86.i am not so sure that there is this big political or geographical division – it is convenient whipping boy: north/south; urban/rural. Perhaps we just have different needs – not more or less. That is why I appreciate the WR plan which removes the patchwork of programs and grants and puts it into a single allocation – an allocation that is the same for everyone. And as I understand the plan, this money has no strings – the Urban or rural municipality would make its own funding decisions dependent upon their needs. Seems a more ” grown up” solution as opposed to the multiple applications to multiple grants and/ or programs. Decisions at the local level- god idea.

    If my understanding is incorrect, please correct. Thanks.

  5. One thing I often find with these conversations is that what is meant by “urban” and what is meant by “rural” is often changed from paragraph to paragraph – or at least isn’t consistent. For example when you mention a government heavy with rural Conservative Wildrose MLAs most of those “rural” constituencies contain areas that are counting towards that 81% of Alberta is urbanized figure. A riding like Fort Saskatchewan – Vegreville is typically categorized as a rural one, but Fort Saskatchewan and Vegreville themselves are having their populations counted towards that 81% figure, even if the constituency covers a large rural area as well.
    There are constituencies like the Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge ones that are almost purely (or are completely) urban, but there are very few that are purely rural (and the MLAs representing the constituency know this) – in fact I’d go as far as to say that the majority of the population in most constituencies that are categorized as rural live in urban areas within the constituency.
    Obviously places like Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and Lethbridge are urban and when urban areas are mentioned they’re clearly included. But it’s less clear cut whether places like Lloydminster or Taber which have their populations counted towards that 81% figure are included as well.

  6. If it wasn’t for the PC’s, Poor Mayor Nenshi wouldn’t have had to raise property taxes by 6%, so another reason to hate them.

    Really though, it’s time for all parties of all stripes to realize that in truth there needs to be a re-think of government in general, and there has to be more power devolved down to the municipalities to allow them to get creative in how they raise revenue.

    First and foremost, Calgary… go buy a billing platform with greater capacity and stop using that piece of crap platform Enmax uses. It’s terrible,and it only allows for line item billing.

    Second, expand your definition of what constitutes a tax, and what constitutes a fee.

    Third, charge for garbage by the pound/kilogram. (See “get a fricken billing platform”.) My conservative estimate is it’s worth in excess of 1.5 billion per annum in Calgary alone.

    Fourth, consider toll freeways. Contrary to popular belief, they are not punitive, but actually a pretty fair way to pay for stuff.

    Take Calgary or Edmonton for that matter as an example. We have over 150,000 people who commute to Calgary or Edmonton to work, but don’t pay land tax in either City. A simple .50 cent toll on all roads leading into either City would generate in excess of $72 million per annum for each city respectively, and doesn’t begin to factor commercial or visitor traffic. No one is going to give up their job or stop coming to Alberta because it costs .50 cents to get into Calgary or Edmonton.

    How do I know this, because I get ass-fucked for $20 bucks everytime I fly out of Calgary, and gee the number of commuters leaving Calgary and coming here just keeps going up.

    That’s half an interchange per annum.

    A .05 cent enviro fee on gas for Calgary alone would generate roughly another $50 million per annum for a City like Calgary or Edmonton.

    Oh yeah “how do we track it?”.

    Simple, pass a bylaw forcing all gas retailers to produce their fuel purchase receipts at the end of each year (if they don’t the City doesn’t renew the business license), and all wholesalers to produce their Fuel sales orders (Same deal, don’t produce, don’t do business here), compare the two for fraud, and send the gas bar a bill. Whoa… that was tough to figure out eh?

    “but that is a tax and infringes on provinical jurisdiction!”. Only if you call it a tax. Call it a “infrastructure greening fee” or something along that lines and the province can’t touch you.

    Same for tolls, call it a “road improvement fee”, and hey, actually use the money to improve the roads.

    Throw a fee on liquor and tobacco… call them “health service improvement fee’s”… who cares, the point is think outside the box, and find ways to quit reaching into my fricken pockets for bridges I, and 99% of the rest of the population whose name isn’t Farrel or isn’t related to a Farrel, don’t give a shit about.

    See Naheed, I just showed you not only where, but how to get $130 million dollars, add in the liquor and tobacco and you’ll take it up to a half a billion. Put a health awareness fee on Candy and Pop, and you can add another $100 million.

    Use your head man, think out of the box, and stop taxing the shit out of me. Charge fee’s for bad habits and things people have a choice to do or not do instead, and you’ll be Mayor forever.

  7. People always wonder where the math comes from:

    Number of Gas Bars in Calgary – 500 (it’s actually more like 550, but I’m averaging down)

    Average Fuel Sales per annum – 2 million liters

    Total liters sold = 1 billion

    muliply by .05 cents, you get $50 million.

    In actuality approximately 20% of those gas bars doing in excess of 5 million liters per annum.

    Garbage, take the total tonnage in Calgary, of all waste, not just what the City picks up (see “Get a fricken billing platform”… you need to be able to rate within your billing platform, otherwise your screwed. Mayor Nenshi, maybe $4 to $6 million and you can have a kick ass billing platform these days.

    Anyway, take the total tonnage, throw a levy fee on it of whatever, and that is how you get a number.

    For example, if you take the average residential waste of 50 kilograms per week, with 375,000 households, multiple that by say .25 cents a kilo and you’ll end up with $245 million per annum in collected disposal fee’s… that is just houses in Calgary mind you, we haven’t factored in apartment blocks, construction, commercial waste etc…

    Now admittedly your going to be screwing everyone that owns a house for an average of $12.50 per week on pick-up, but then the idea is to reduce waste, and maybe leave my LAND TAX’s ALONE!!!

    It’s fun and easy, every one should try it. Pick up your pencils and ask yourself “if I was a government and I needed money, who could I screw and how would I screw them”.

  8. The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association has asked all parties to commit to sitting down with our cities, towns, villages and counties to negotiate how the current flagship – the MSI grant – can be evolved into a 21st Century funding arrangement. The Alberta Party and the Liberals both said yes. The NDP and PC were non commital and the WRA said no – they already came up with their 10-10 solution and that should be good enough.
    My biggest concern is that 10-10 will just improve the surface of the problem without for example addressing the huge disparities in revenue between counties and cities (look at Edmonton vs Strathcona County). Finally there is no way only one grant will meet all needs. A community with several bridges in it (which are horridly expensive to build and maintain) might never get to build new recreation facilities in a single grant system.

  9. Cities, don’t worry about a thing. A Wild Rose government will let you make all the decisions, since their leader has already pledged to abdicate responsibility and rule through binding citizen initatives. Anyone remember the classic 22 Minutes “Change Stockwell Day to Doris Day” referendum? Danielle’s idea today is as foolish and laughable as the Alliance concept of 2006.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdXjUCX6ONw&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL1080742F85D636E7

  10. And perhaps equal treatment is less prone to “favors” than the granting and program funding model.
    So the only one who endorses your plan small town mayor is the liberals and the Alberta Party! Sounds like a deal

    So there is a 10-10 plan. Perhaps when WR is elected, they will be sitting down with AUMA to work on the issues you raise without the ” favor” element being at the table. I think people are fed up with that model. Numerous examples of that around and look at the reaction when the head of AUMA brought it up.
    When someone reacts like Doug Griffiths reacted- you know there was some truth in her thoughts – the truth sometimes hurts
    So vote responsible govt – vote WR

  11. I just don’t get it. Rather than a 10-10 plan, why not just let municipalities keep the Provincial Education Levies on the property taxes they collect. The province can decrease the amounts of money they transfer to cities in kind. Why do we have a system where the cities collect property taxes and gives some of that money to the province and the province collects income taxes and gives some of that it to the cities? It seems every time taxes go up the cities get the opportunity to deflect some of the blame to the province. And if provincial taxes go up, you know they’ll be sure to assign a goodly chunk of the blame to their need to support municipalities. At what point do we take these excuses away and stop playing shell games with taxpayers?

  12. So Mayor Nenshi today stated, ( in the Calgary Herald) the party that would be most likely to built the south portion of the LRT in Calgary was the Wildrose Party .

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