ABmunis in the News: Q1, 2023

As the unified voice of our members, Alberta Municipalities works hard to bring attention to our members’ priorities. Alberta Municipalities appeared in the news many times during the first quarter of 2023 (Q1, 2023), representing the interests of our member communities in which 85% of Albertans live and bringing public attention to the issues facing Alberta’s communities.

Public Safety & Policing (including RCMP backpay)

A public opinion survey conducted in January 2023 by Calgary pollster Janet Brown for Alberta Municipalities found that most Albertans do not support replacing the RCMP with a new provincial police force. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents believe switching to a provincial police force would have little or no effect on reducing crime, and 85 per cent want the idea to be put to a referendum before it is adopted. "The results of this survey paint a very clear picture," said ABmunis President Cathy Heron. The survey also found broad support for increasing spending to improve existing policing efforts and the provincial justice system.

Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said the provincial government was willing to fund municipalities to transition from RCMP to local or regional police services in late February. In particular, the Government of Alberta said it was willing to provide $9.7 million to the City of Grande Prairie for startup costs if the city chose to create a municipal police service. Grande Prairie city council debated the issue on March 6 and voted in favour of creating a new municipal police service. President Heron said ABmunis sees no need for municipalities to transition away from the RCMP, but said she would prefer a local police service to a provincial one.

Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn, who is an Alberta Municipalities board member, told Postmedia that municipalities are unsure whether the provincial government has truly shelved the idea of creating a provincial police service following a lack of funding for the idea in the 2023 provincial budget. "From Alberta Municipalities' perspective, we certainly will be pushing (a provincial police force) as an election issue, just to get clarity on what the intended plan is if the UCP should be re-elected in our province," she said.

The issue of RCMP backpay arose on March 31, following the introduction of the 2023 federal budget. Municipalities that have local policing contracts with the RCMP owe $60 million to the Government of Canada to pay for the Mounties’ recent salary increase and retroactive pay that goes back to April 2017, said President Heron. “We knew it was coming for a long time but we just didn’t know that, in the end, (municipalities) were underestimating the cost – it’s a big hit,” said Heron.

2023 Provincial Budget (including LGFF & Alberta’s infrastructure deficit)

Alberta Municipalities released its preliminary analysis of the 2023 provincial budget on March 1, 2023. President Heron said the budget is, in many ways, good news for municipalities but that more funding should be put toward Alberta's growing $30 billion infrastructure deficit. Heron said that ABmunis will continue pressing the provincial government for more strategic infrastructure investments and plans to raise the issue with all provincial political parties ahead of the election in May.

President Heron also called for infrastructure investments beyond major projects. "We want to have good roads within our municipalities, not just connecting our municipalities," she said. "We don't want to have potholes. We want to have good snow-clearing. So, a lot of these things that drive the economy do fall to the municipal level," she said.

The provincial government's plan to tie municipal infrastructure spending to provincial revenue will result in municipalities being more affected by the volatility of the energy economy, as outlined in this Radio-Canada article. Finance Minister Travis Toews said the Government of Alberta hopes to mitigate the effect by rolling in the policy after three years. President Heron said that while indexed funding provides more predictability, the provincial government's capital investments are insufficient.

Minister Schulz formally announced changes to municipal funding made as part of the 2023 provincial budget, which pledges $2 billion for municipalities over three years, on March 21. The following day, Alberta Municipalities issued a news release, saying it is "disappointed" with the $722-million capital funding baseline for the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) set for 2024-25 and suggesting the provincial government's $2-billion allocation falls $3 billion short of what's needed. However, the organization is "encouraged" by the provincial government's willingness to boost the revenue index factor for the LGFF from the proposed 50 per cent to 100 per cent.

In a late March interview with The Journal of Commerce, President Heron said that the 2023 provincial budget is "wholly insufficient" in providing infrastructure funding for Alberta cities and towns. She said the LGFF, which will replace the MSI in 2024, is providing municipalities $722 million, compared to the $1.7 billion for which the association asked. ABmunis pointed out that while municipalities receive less than one per cent of the budget for capital costs, they own and maintain more than 60 per cent of Alberta’s infrastructure.

Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP)

Calgary successfully introduced its Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP) on January 31, becoming the ninth municipality to launch a CEIP with Alberta Municipalities. Within a few short hours, the program was fully subscribed.

Airdrie city council voted unanimously on February 6 to conduct a feasibility study on implementing the CEIP. The County of St. Paul and the Town of St. Paul are also considering CEIP after regional energy manager Ron Dechaine provided the councils an overview of the program in January 2023.

The City of Lethbridge launched its CEIP on February 28 to great fanfare. Within a week, the program reached maximum capacity for the first year of the four-year program.

Calgary announced March 11 that it plans to accept more applications for its CEIP this summer. The program launched in January and received 238 applications within 24 hours.