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Time to talk sales tax, Alberta, says Heron

St. Albert calls for PST debate, mask rules at AUMA
1101 Heron 2020 hl
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron supported a resolution from Lethbridge for a sales tax, saying it has been many years since the province asked residents how they feel about it. HANNAH LAWSON/St. Albert Gazette

It’s time the province asked Albertans if they are ready for a sales tax, says St. Albert’s mayor.

Municipal leaders from across Alberta met in Calgary and online Sept. 23 to 25 for the 2020 Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention. The AUMA represents Alberta’s urban communities and lobbies the provincial government on municipal issues.

Leaders voted on 20 resolutions during the conference that covered everything from lights on tow trucks to municipal finances.

Tax time?

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron spoke in support of a resolution from Lethbridge that called on the province to implement a one-per-cent sales tax, the revenue from which would be used solely to support capital projects in Alberta communities. Lethbridge’s resolution won support from just 32 per cent of AUMA members and was defeated.

Alberta is the only province in Canada without a provincial sales tax. Scholars and lobby groups such as former provincial finance minister Ted Morton and the C.D. Howe Institute have called on the province to implement one as a way to address falling oil revenues.

The province plans to cut supports to cities, such as the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, next year at the same time communities are struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic, said Lethbridge Coun. Jeff Coffman, who tabled the resolution.

“We all hate taxes,” he said, but a one-per-cent sales tax would generate $1.1 billion for communities to use on roads and pipes, reducing infrastructure deficits and fiscal pressure on the province.

Heron supported the idea of a sales tax (but not necessarily the one proposed here), saying it has been many years since the province has actually asked Albertans about having one.

“The UCP government is focused on expenditures,” she said in an interview, and has warned of sweeping cuts to come next budget.

“They haven’t really talked about the other side of the ledger, which is the revenue side.”

Municipalities are responsible for most of Canada’s infrastructure but get maybe 10 per cent of the country’s tax dollars, Heron said. A sales tax would let municipalities build up funding for capital projects and could be offset by cuts to other provincial taxes.

Masks?

Morinville Mayor Barry Turner proposed to have the AUMA call for a province-wide requirement to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The motion fell just shy of the two-thirds support it needed to actually be debated, however, and did not go to a vote.

Morinville voted down its own proposed mandatory mask bylaw earlier in September.

“This is an issue of public health,” Turner said in an interview, and the province is the one that has the data and jurisdiction to regulate public health measures such as masks.

“They should be setting the guidelines.”

Turner said the province could issue guidelines for local mask bylaws or implement mask requirements on a regional or province-wide basis. Without such guidelines, the province had ended up with a patchwork of local mask laws that confuse residents.

Heron supported Morinville’s proposal, and said the divisive nature of masks plus some procedural confusion might explain why the resolution didn’t make the convention floor for debate.

Communities don’t have the expertise needed to answer medical questions such as which children should be exempt from wearing masks, she said – Edmonton says those under two, while St. Albert says those under 10. Provincial guidance would create more consistency.

“The more people that wear masks, the slower this will spread,” Heron said, and the province needs to step up and give some advice on this front.

Transit cash

AUMA members passed a resolution tabled by Edmonton and seconded by St. Albert to call on the province to provide permanent long-term funding for transit.

The elimination of the GreenTRIP program means that Alberta no longer has a dedicated funding stream for transit, Heron said. That’s unfair, as transit cities like St. Albert now have to choose whether to use their limited provincial funds for buses or, say, roads – a choice places without transit (e.g. Morinville) don’t have to face. The province could address this issue by restoring GreenTRIP or creating a similar program.

See the AUMA website for a list of currently active resolutions.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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