A motion by Mayor Rick Bonnett to withhold the school tax requisition from the province resulted in a split vote among town councilors and, consequently, defeated.
Bonnett made the motion after relinquishing the chairperson position temporarily to deputy mayor Carla Prediger Tuesday, April 15 during the council meeting. Bonnett is opposed to collecting tax money for school divisions without the town being able to have a portion of it.
With Coun. Sandra Lyon away, the vote came down to six councillors with Councillors Marc Yaworski, Teri Underhill and Bonnett in favour of withholding the funds.
Councillors Tim Falkiner, Carla Prediger — acting as deputy mayor — and Loanna Gulka were against it. In the case of a split vote, the request is always defeated.
During the same meeting, council approved the 2015 budget, which shows school tax requisitions at $1.9 million for the Alberta School Foundation Fund and $193,000 for the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic school division.
“In the constitution, it was said that it is a provincial matter. The province has decided to bring it down to the municipalities . . . I would at least like 10 per cent,” stated Bonnett, referring to education funds.
He takes issue with council being a tax collector for the province and suggests that revenue could be put to use by the town for other matters.
Coun. Loanna Gulka was against the motion.
“I think we’re walking a very fine line by acting without legal consult(ation) before we do something,” said Gulka. She requested that the names of votes for and against the motion be recorded.
Coun. Teri Underhill felt the risk was worth it. “If you want to affect change and you want to be able to have more control . . . perhaps you have to step outside of the box and take a risk,” she remarked.
CAO Rachel Kunz offered only one piece of advice. She referred to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and said council would be breaking rules in the act. Kunz added she was be required to notify council of that fact.
Coun. Tim Falkiner asked what position this would put the town in. “If we pass this motion, what kind of liability are we placing the town in,” he questioned.
Mosquitoes on the beach
Council has no say in how the province mandates a municipality’s function, explained Jim Lightbody, professor of political science at the University of Alberta.
He took a pragmatic look at Bonnett’s motion and likened it to a person (the province) being on the beach and having to deal with mosquitoes (the municipality).
In the Canadian Constitution, section 92, Exclusive Powers of Provincial Legislatures states: In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects…
“They are what the province says they are,” said Lightbody. “There’s no debate.”
He says if council is able to garner strong public support, especially during an election period, candidates might listen. “MLAs, especially rural MLAs, are very sensitive to the voters,” he said.
If council passed the motion to hold the money, the province could take it from grant funds, or a deputy minister might speak directly with the CAO to bring council in line.
He says this is not necessarily an extreme case, but it isn’t unheard of for the province to dismantle a council and it has happened in recent years, said Lightbody.
“They (council) do not have a strong bargaining position without public support,” he concluded.