BOW VALLEY – A bill that could designate Canmore, Banff, and Jasper as tourism communities reached the floor of the Alberta legislature last week but was ultimately shelved before it could pass second and third readings with the end of the assembly’s spring session.
On March 23, Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin introduced Bill 208, which establishes a special designation in the Municipal Government Act for tourism communities.
While it did not have adequate time to pass with the spring session ending that day, the mayors of Banff and Canmore said the bill is a huge step in the right direction recognizing the municipalities’ unique challenges with tourism-based economies.
“We’re really happy that we’ve moved to a point where the province is giving recognition for tourism-based communities like Banff, Canmore and Jasper,” said Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert.
“This is a necessity to help us address the substantial costs that each of our communities bear in order to host the number of people far beyond that of our resident populations.”
Bill 208 would allow communities to seek a tourism designation and would create a program for designated communities to request aid for infrastructure maintenance and development to increase capacity to host visitors, or to enhance a community’s character, subject to the approval of a destination development committee.
According to the bill, a committee would be formed by appointed members, including councillors and members of the tourism sector in an eligible community, and, upon meeting the criteria set out in regulation and passing a motion from their respective municipal councils, municipalities would be able to apply for the designation via the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
“It’s very much recognized from these communities in the Rockies that these tourism-based economies require municipal infrastructure far beyond what a resident tax base can and should need to support on its own,” said Rosin.
A recent Verum Consulting report contracted by the three municipalities found the towns of Banff, Jasper, and Canmore contribute a disproportionate amount of tourism GDP, jobs, and taxes to higher levels of government.
The three mountain towns attracted $2.3 billion in visitor expenditures in 2019, contributing $2 billion in total GDP, 23,600 jobs and $308 million in taxes to the economy.
The economic contribution of the communities was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting their susceptibility to industry-related economic shocks. The Rockies region suffered a loss of $1.3 billion in visitor expenditures. This loss would have otherwise added an additional $1.1 billion to the region's GDP, created 13,300 jobs, and generated $174 million in taxes.
In 2021, Banff, Canmore and Jasper spent $20.5 million, $15 million and $6.5 million, respectively, to support visitor populations. Banff’s visitor price tag was equal to roughly half the municipality’s $47 million budget that year.
“That is really unsustainable,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno. “We’re really wanting to shift that reliance from our local residents and businesses, who currently bear the cost of supporting visitors, on to getting some of that $20 million back from the province.”
In the municipalities proposals’ to the province in the lead up to the 2023 budget, they requested a grant program allowing them to tap into a larger portion of what they contribute to the province in revenue each year to offset visitor costs.
While timing of the bill’s introduction could have been better for it to pass before the provincial election in May, Rosin said she was glad to still get it on the floor as a strong draft and framework to potentially be brought back for consideration by the future government entering the legislature in spring.
Regardless of what party is elected, DiManno and Krausert said they will continue requesting a commitment from the province for a better sustainable funding model for Banff and Canmore.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.