CALGARY – The Alberta government is resurrecting a plan to create charters for its two largest cities to give them more power to deal with growth pressures.
But Premier Jim Prentice says the charters won’t mean more taxing powers.
“The charters will be finalized on a fiscally sustainable basis,” Prentice said Tuesday at a news conference beside Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and his Calgary counterpart, Naheed Nenshi.
“They will in no way endorse or permit the creation of new taxation powers.
“There’s only one taxpayer, the Alberta public, and were not about to add to the public’s burden at this point.”
The discussions will look at a variety of ways to give cities more autonomy and authority to deal with problems within their boundaries.
Examples could be more bylaw powers or more authority over how a city funds and manages social services.
Nenshi said it’s an “important first step,” saying there are lots of frustrating front-line examples where divided authority between the province and the city has led to unresolved problems.
“It’s important for us to clear that up, to clear up accountabilities,” said Nenshi.
The charter will also look at a fiscal framework to find a new way for the province to fund the city’s operating and capital budgets to reduce the municipalities’ reliance on property taxes.
The charter idea was launched in 2012 by former premier Alison Redford, with a memorandum of understanding signed in June of that year.
But the process eventually stalled as Redford became engulfed in a spending scandal that ultimately forced her to resign in March.
Iveson said he is heartened that the process is back on, and with clear timelines to completion.
“It has moved slowly up to this point, but with renewed leadership all around we’re now able to move forward,” said Iveson.
“If we are to be a globally competitive province, it must be led by two great globally competitive cities, and I think the charter discussions are the pathway to getting us there.”
There are three phases:
all three sides will hash out the issues to be addressed by the spring;
all sides will has out any issues dealing with other government departments by the fall of 2015;
all sides will work out a new fiscal framework by the spring of 2016.
Prentice said a deal is crucial.
“Our cities are under tremendous pressures,” he said.
“Each year 100,000 people move into this province, and that trend is not about to stop any time soon.”
Wildrose municipal affairs critic Jeff Wilson said his party, too, wants more powers for the cities. But he noted that the proof will ultimately be in the charters, if they ever get that far.
“Too often we have seen this government make big promises to our cities only to later break their promises and revert back to trying to pressure municipalities to fall in line,” said Wilson in a news release.
NDP critic Deron Bilous labelled Prentice’s announcement a re-announcment of the 2012 memorandum of understanding.
He said it was nothing but crass politicking by Prentice, who is running in a Calgary byelection to win a seat in the legislature.
“The PCs already had a plan in place to build big city charters with our civic partners. Now today, in the middle of a byelection campaign, they’re saying it’s finally time to get moving on it,” noted Bilous.