Leaders of Alberta’s opposition parties addressed a number of issues at the annual Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMC&D) conference, in Edmonton last week.
“Municipalities need a hand up, not a handout,” said Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.
Although there were disagreements between the three leaders; Sherman, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, and New Democratic Party leader Brian Mason, they did agree more power needs to be handed to municipal governments.
Smith and Sherman agree provincial revenue needs to be shared by the province with lower levels of government.
When asked about the current municipal taxation structure, Mason said there are limit to resources available to municipalities. He also said a form of revenue sharing is needed.
“In reality everyone has funding problems,” said Sherman. His question was, starting at the highest levels of government, where is the money going when Albertans are working harder than ever.
Sherman believes power should be handed to municipal governments that will allow them to increases taxes or levies to aid in reducing deficits.
Alberta has an infrastructure deficit that all the leaders recognized, and Smith said government needs to put a finger on how big the debt is so stable, long-term plans can be created accordingly.
Smith believes there is a need for more funding shared between the levels of government and stopping wasteful spending is part of the answer.
Mason disagreed and doesn’t believe the deficit can be met by cutting expenditures because that limits the means of municipalities.
Striking a balance between industry, people and water was also discussed at the conference. Municipalities, especially in southern Alberta, are having problems accessing water needed for development.
Sherman said his government thinks independent monitoring is needed to enforce that water is being used properly. Fracking, which is already a sensitive subject for Albertans, was also mentioned and Sherman believes fracking could be done with salt water.
Mason took his stance on the matter one step farther. “A rational use of water needs to be implemented.”
He believes fracking with fresh water should be prohibited, and fracking as a whole needs to be regulated more strongly.
In fracking, water is put back underground and isn’t returned to the system. Smith added there also needs to be better classifications regarding water use so people who are retuning the water to the system aren’t penalized.
Smith also said industrial processes where water is not returned should be reduced.
Other resources, such as land, also need to be managed and developed responsibly.
To manage and integrate different sectors, such as oil and gas and agriculture, long-term planning needs to take place, said Sherman. To do this citizens and industry need to sit at the table together to strike a balance.
More time needs to be taken when planning for the future. “The only way we can support our municipalities, both big and small, is by building and maintaining strong relationships with them,” said Sherman.