Alberta Municipalities 2023 Year in Review 

By Tyler Gandam, President

As another year ends, I’ve been looking back at the year that was and taking stock of Alberta Municipalities’ numerous accomplishments. The past 12 months were a particularly busy time for all of us, as Alberta’s recovery from the pandemic continued, Albertans resumed their usual activities and the provincial economy began to thrive.

So, top up your mugs of hot chocolate or pour yourselves some eggnog and settle down for a summary of Alberta Municipalities’ 2023 highlights from my perspective as President.

Infrastructure Funding (aka Community Building)

While infrastructure funding has been a long-standing top issue of ours, we succeeded in drawing greater public attention to it at our 2023 Spring Municipal Leaders’ Caucus in late March. That’s when we said that Alberta faces an infrastructure deficit of about $30 billion and we called on the provincial government to increase funding for local infrastructure by $1 billion a year.

We continued talking about this serious funding gap throughout the 2023 provincial election and through our post-election ‘It’s Time to Talk’ and ‘Let’s Talk About Infrastructure’ public information campaigns. We continue to call on the provincial government to increase the base Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) funding amount from $722 million a year to $1.75 billion a year.

As things stand now, LGFF simply won’t provide municipalities with enough funding to deliver on the provincial government’s ambitious claim – that Alberta is the best province in Canada in which to live, work, and raise a family. We want Alberta to succeed as the province’s population grows, but it will take more funding for local infrastructure to do it.

Community Safety

Our association continued its advocacy efforts on the issues of policing and public safety throughout 2023. A survey on policing and public safety in Alberta was conducted for ABmunis by pollster Janet Brown in January 2023. The results confirmed what our association had already been saying for nearly a year – most Albertans see no reason to replace the RCMP with a new provincial police service. A resounding 85 per cent of respondents said that if the Government of Alberta insisted on going ahead with the creation of a provincial police service, the matter needed to be put to a vote.

When we learned that the federal government was passing on the costs of the RCMP’s retroactive pay increase to municipalities that rely on contracted policing in late March, we expressed our members’ objections. We added our voice to a nationwide call for the Government of Canada to reconsider its approach and absorb the one-time costs, which amounted to $60 million in Alberta.

During the 2023 provincial election, ABmunis drew attention to the issue of public safety through our ‘Think Alberta, Vote Local’ public information campaign. We emphasized that only seven per cent of respondents to our February 2023 survey said ‘a lack of policing resources’ was a major cause of crime. Instead, respondents pointed to the economy and unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and poverty as major causes of crime. 

While the provincial government hasn’t ruled out the creation of an Alberta Provincial Police Service (APPS), it appears to have placed the idea on the ‘back burner’ for now, adding more sheriffs instead. Alberta Municipalities’ Board of Directors believes our advocacy efforts on this issue over the past few years have paid off, but we will continue to closely watch the situation in 2024.

Community Healthcare

Community healthcare continued to be a ‘top of mind’ issue for us in 2023. Municipalities of all sizes and locations experienced numerous challenges, including doctor shortages, reduced hours of operation at hospitals and medical clinics, emergency room closures, and ambulance response times.

Unsurprisingly, community healthcare was one ABmunis’ top three issues during the 2023 provincial election. Our ‘Think Alberta, Vote Local’ campaign encouraged Albertans to ask candidates which party had the best plan to attract and keep the medical professionals their community needs to ensure the health and well-being of their family, friends, and neighbours.

In late November, ABmunis welcomed the news that nurse practitioners will be expanding their role in Alberta’s healthcare system in early 2024. The news, which may increase Albertans’ access to primary healthcare services, especially for residents in smaller rural communities, aligns with our 2023 resolution on the Integration of Nurse Practitioners into the Alberta Healthcare System. Our association has advocated for an expanded role for nurse practitioners since 2015.

2023 Alberta Provincial Election – Think Alberta, Vote Local

ABmunis conducted a month-long public information campaign in May 2023 to bring our members’ top three issues – Community Building, Community Safety and Community Healthcare – to the attention of political parties, candidates, and regular Albertans during the 2023 provincial general election. Throughout the campaign, we encouraged Albertans to consider who had the best plan when it came to meeting their communities’ needs.

We conducted three online media events in May, each one focused on a specific issue. Then-President Cathy Heron, Director Trina Jones (Towns-East) and I took part in these events, along with guest mayors Michael Yargeau (Town of Penhold) and Ren Giesbrecht (Summer Village of West Cove). Their statements, responses to questions, and follow-up interviews gave voice to our members’ stories. We also delivered our messages through several panel discussions and an opinion piece that ran in the Lethbridge Herald and Red Deer Advocate. Our efforts were reinforced and amplified through digital advertisements, which delivered a steady stream of ‘Think Alberta, Vote Local’ from May 1 to 29.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

Our association continued working closely with the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA) on the critical issue of EPR in 2023. Through newsletter articles, web articles and online seminars, ABmunis communicated vital information and deadlines to members.

Registration for EPR opened October 1 and closes on December 31, 2023. The act of registration should be looked at as an expression of interest, as registration will activate a robust and supported intake and onboarding process in which ARMA will work with each registrant. Registering does not require a council decision, as the community is not committed to anything at this stage. Municipalities that choose not to register by December 31, 2023, will continue to pay for their recycling systems, but will have an opportunity to register later.

Family & Community Social Services (FCSS)

Our advocacy efforts to secure more FCSS funding from the provincial government resulted in a five per cent increase to the annual budget in 2023, from $100 million to $105 million. While we appreciate this funding increase, many of our members are contributing more than the 20 per cent called for by the provincial government’s program. We support the FCSS Association of Alberta in its call for an additional $25 million in annual funding for these social services and supports. More needs to be done to address the root causes of social disorder in communities throughout Alberta.

2023 Convention & Trade Show

More than 1,200 members and 125 exhibitors took part in our 2023 Convention & Trade Show – Alberta’s largest gathering of municipal leaders. Fifteen educational sessions offered something for everyone. This year’s Resolutions session saw members debate and vote on no less than 26 resolutions. Ninety-eight per cent of members voted in favour of asking the provincial government to add $1 billion a year to the LGFF’s base funding amount of $722 million when it comes into effect in 2024. Ninety-five per cent of members voted in favour of asking the provincial government to keep political parties out of municipal elections.

Future of Municipal Government (FOMG) project

The Future of Municipal Government (FOMG) project, which is a partnership between ABmunis and the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, saw another four discussion papers published in 2023. Seven FOMG discussion papers have been published so far. To date, the main finding of FOMG is that intermunicipal collaboration is key to building thriving communities. Intermunicipal collaboration was discussed at length at our President’s Summit in March 2023, and these discussions informed ABmunis’ Recommendations on the Future of Intermunicipal Collaboration. These recommendations will guide our ongoing work with the Government of Alberta and other municipal associations to support greater collaboration.

Possible introduction of political parties in local elections

Our association conducted a public opinion survey on the possible introduction of political parties at the municipal level in early September. Alberta Municipalities’ survey determined that more than two-thirds of Albertans were opposed to the idea. During our annual Convention, members debated and voted on resolution B11: Maintaining Non-Partisan Municipal Elections. Nearly 95 per cent of voting members were in favour of ABmunis asking the provincial government to refrain from introducing partisan politics in local government elections.

When the Government of Alberta announced surveys on the Local Authorities Elections Act (LAEA) and the Municipal Government Act (MGA) in early November, ABmunis expressed concern over the introduction of partisan politics in local elections and encouraged Albertans to complete the surveys and have their say on the future of local government in Alberta.

Our commitment to member value

Power+, our newest offering, is an innovative and long-term electricity solution to meet our members’ needs for budget certainty at a low total cost. Launched in the spring of 2022, the member response to our initial call was tremendous. Over 120 municipalities and not-for-profit organizations combined their purchasing power under a single public procurement process to achieve results that no one member could achieve on their own. This year, we were able to finalize significant cost savings for our members, particularly during a period of immense volatility and escalated electricity prices. With strong success and significant member value generated from our initial call, we are in the process of structuring another Power+ offering for members that we look forward to releasing in 2024.

Our Insurance & Risk Services offset premiums by providing a rebate from its Insurance Reciprocal (MUNIX) of $3 million in 2023 to shield members from market shocks, dramatic premium increases and delivering budget stability. Over the last three years, $10.5 million has been rebated in the form of premium reductions to our MUNIX pool subscribers. This marks our commitment to providing members with stability during volatile times. 

Our Employee Benefits team and Regional Representatives were hard at work this fall delivering in-depth reviews to participating members during our annual renewal period. As employees are increasingly finding value in their employee benefits coverages and usage continues to rise, you can trust that our commitment to sustainable plans allows our members to avoid the significant premium fluctuations witnessed in the marketplace from year to year.

We remain committed to working with you in the months ahead to answer any questions and meet any additional needs you may have.

Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP)

Our Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP) continued gaining momentum in 2023. This program is an innovative financing tool that enables residential and commercial property owners to access flexible, long-term financing through their municipality, improving their ability to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. Another seven Alberta communities introduced CEIP in 2023 which doubled the number of participating municipalities!

Thank-you to departing Board members

I speak for ABmunis’ entire Board of Directors when I say we deeply appreciate the contributions and dedication of all those Board members who left in 2023. Cathy Heron served our association admirably for eight years, including two eventful years as President. My heartfelt thanks to Bruce McLeod (six years), Angela Duncan (five years), Mike Pashak (four years) and Peter Brown (two years) for their outstanding service. With the help of their leadership, ABmunis made great strides towards our goals in advocating for our members and speaking with a unified voice.

Closing remarks

As our Year in Review web page clearly shows, ABmunis faced many challenges and achieved notable success in 2023. I’m very pleased with how things went this past year, and I look forward to working together with you – our members – to accomplish much more in 2024.