Representatives of Alberta’s cities are hoping the appointment of a new municipal affairs minister will help repair their relationship with the province.
Premier Jason Kenney announced a
on Tuesday, naming Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as Alberta’s new municipal affairs minister.
Kaycee Madu, the previous minister in that role, was shuffled to the justice portfolio.
Madu’s relationship with municipal representatives had at times been contentious over the past year.
A board member of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the main advocacy group for Alberta’s cities, said last month the organization
“broken” in the wake of the UCP government’s changes to local election rules.
, who suggested the minister was “interested in distracting people from his own budget” after Madu referred to Calgary city council as “
” last year.
The minister said
that “Calgary needs to take some responsibility, tighten up its internal spending rules and do a better job at protecting taxpayer dollars.”
Calgary Coun. George Chahal said Madu “was very open and upfront and blunt with his assessment” in his previous role.
“Every minister has their own way and approach,” Chahal said.
“Some would argue it was a bit of a testy relationship. There’s different personalities in every role and you’ve got to learn to work together with whoever the minister is and the appropriate ministry. In this case, I guess there will be a fresh start and a reset for all parties.”
Nenshi congratulated Allard on her appointment to the role on Tuesday, stating he was “looking forward to working together to focus on what matters,” in reference to creating jobs.
Congratulations to the new Minister of Municipal Affairs, Tracy Allard.
Her reputation as a hard working MLA precedes her and I’m looking forward to working together to focus on what matters for The City of Calgary and all Alberta municipalities – jobs. https://t.co/Hqur9iUMfG
— Naheed Nenshi (@nenshi) August 25, 2020
AUMA president Barry Morishita said he looked forward “to resetting the relationship” with the minister of municipal affairs.
He said the biggest issue for municipalities would be dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact.
“It’s just really essential for us to get in a room and understand what we’re trying to achieve and how we can achieve it together. We can’t do it separately. We can’t try to impose things on each other,” Morishita said.
“There’s a lot of complexities in municipalities that I think the public and everyone needs to understand, just like we need to understand the really specific challenges and goals that the province is trying to meet . . . I don’t think we spent enough time on that part of the relationship.”
Kenney said Allard “will be challenging municipal governments across Alberta to work with us on creating jobs and growth to recover from the COVID catastrophe.”
As part of her new role, Allard will be publishing a “fiscal report card” on the performance of Alberta’s municipalities, according to Kenney.
The premier said the government will compare those fiscal performances to municipalities in other parts of the country.
“It is critical that our municipal governments stop raising taxes, stop adding red tape that inhibits job creation and focus with Alberta’s government on the overriding goal of economic growth, of job creation, of diversification and of competitiveness,” Kenney said.
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said Alberta’s cities could face more pressure in the months to come.
She said the UCP government has “placed municipalities under scrutiny in an accusatory way.”
“It’s quite clear that more or less the attitude of this government is to cast aspersion or suspicions on other entities, whether it be municipal governments, school boards, union representatives, medical association representatives, and sort of imply they aren’t handling taxpayer dollars wisely,” Williams said.
“It’s a bit ironic given that they are responsible for some of the increase in municipal taxes. This so-called fiscally responsible government that will not raise taxes has, in fact, done exactly that and is now blaming municipalities for increased taxes. That increase is directly a result of this government.”
She said that trend might continue, regardless of which MLA holds the title of municipal affairs minister.
“It just raises the question about whether they’ve considered that collaborative work might actually generate more positive results,” Williams said.
— With files from Madeline Smith
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