By Tim Kalinowski on April 17, 2021.
The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association Spring Municipal Leaders Caucus ended on Friday with dialogue sessions with various Alberta cabinet ministers in a Q & A format, and remarks from Premier Jason Kenney on the province’s pandemic response and economic path forward.
While there was widespread acknowledgement of the ongoing fiscal challenges the province is facing, the consensus among AUMA members, based on the questions asked and comments made, seemed to be that the province needs to be doing more to foster better relations by engaging with municipalities as true partners in the economic recovery effort.
“It needs to be improved,” stated AUMA president and Brooks mayor Barry Morishita when asked about municipalities’ strained relationship with the province. “Where there is cooperation and coordination, we can have results. I think the (provincial) government is short-changing Albertans if they are not more interested in working together with us.”
Morishita said the AUMA has consistently offered suggestions for ways to help reduce the province’s fiscal burdens without offloading additional burdens onto municipalities, but the province has largely chosen to keep its own counsel on these matters instead.
“We don’t think the ad hoc measures of just cutting us to restrain spending for a couple years is really a good planning tool,” he stated. “There are solutions we have provided, and we want long-term solutions because municipalities plan long term â€¦ When you take away certainty from us– that’s a problem. I appreciate the need for restraint, but I just wish they would work together with us to come up with a plan.
“Cutting MSI to municipalities, 25 per cent over the next three years, doesn’t speak to investment. It doesn’t speak to jobs,” Morishita added by way of example.
Morishita was responding to comments made by Premier Kenney earlier in the day which suggested municipalities should willingly bear up under their share of MSI and other funding cuts in light of the “massive fiscal challenge” facing the province as a whole.
“Every partner in society has got to play a role, including municipalities, because the MSI and other provincial infrastructure grants are booked as an expense, and count against our deficit, it is an expense we had to deal with in our budget,” Kenney stated. “I do hope you’ll understand the need for some restraint in those areas.”
On that matter of public health restrictions and the pandemic, Kenney told AUMA members the province had reached the goal line with the endzone in sight as vaccinations continue to roll out at a steady pace.
“We just have a few more yards to go,” Kenney stated as he defended the necessity of continuing restrictions for a while longer.
Overall, said Kenney, he was glad to put the last year in the rearview mirror and look toward a future of renewed economic growth and optimism in Alberta.
“A year ago, I certainly felt on some days that I was staring into the abyss,” he told AUMA delegates. “Days where for a few weeks we couldn’t sell Alberta Government bonds. We went from oil prices of $70 a barrel to -$30 a barrel. When we didn’t know how bad this pandemic would last or how bad it would get. There were some pretty bleak moments, but I have to say that Albertans have risen to the challenge.”
Kenney went on to praise the strong leadership municipalities have shown during the pandemic, and his appreciation for their efforts.
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter
Follow @@TimKalHerald on Twitter