CANMORE – Premier Jason Kenney and members of his caucus have been briefed about the ongoing efforts by Canmore, Banff and Jasper to be given special status to support their tourism-based economies.
Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin said she recently submitted a four-page briefing about the issue with background information and statistics to the premier’s office, the minister of municipal affair’s office and the minister of economic development, trade and tourism’s office.
For more than a decade the three mountain towns have been lobbying successive provincial governments to be given additional revenue tools to help pay for the infrastructure needed to support millions of visitors every year.
While the issue has often garnered a sympathetic ear from the government of the day, the issue remains unresolved and doesn’t appear to be a priority for the current government.
“Given that our towns welcome more tourists every day than they have permanent residents, the desire for tax relief to fund infrastructure is understandable,” wrote Rosin.
“It is a conversation I will continue to push, however in the immediate months after the election our government’s first priorities will be getting Alberta’s economy back on track by honouring the policies and promises that the largest mandate of Albertan voters in history just voted to support.”
In 2016, a report commissioned by the three communities indicated they make up less than one per cent of Alberta’s population, but host 13 per cent of the province’s visitors, attracting more than four million tourists every year.
The report found that visitor spending in the three mountain communities results in an annual economic impact of $2.46-billion and $756-million in tax revenue, however 97 per cent of the tax revenue goes to provincial and federal government coffers.
As a result, the three municipalities claim the current revenue model disproportionately burdens local taxpayers while benefiting higher levels of government.
Timothy Gerwing, press sectary for the minister of municipal affairs, confirmed the minister was aware of the issue.
“We recognize the benefits and impacts tourism has on these communities,” wrote Gerwing. “We are currently reviewing what options may exist for communities with temporary changes in population, like these tourism communities.”
In February, Lisa de Soto, the Town of Canmore’s CAO, said the three municipalities tried to amend the Municipal Government Act so they would be legally recognized as tourism-based communities, however those efforts proved unsuccessful.
As part of their lobbying efforts the municipalities looked at several revenue tools that could help ease the burden on local taxpayers, including implementing a tax on overnight stays, taking a share of the provincial consumption tax, or imposing a real estate transfer tax.
She said they also tried to change how the province determines population size because many grants are based on a per capita funding formula and the towns of Canmore, Banff and Jasper do not get to count their non-permanent resident population, which swells in the summer months.
Canmore also tried to address the issue during Calgary’s Olympic bid, however that opportunity dissipated when Calgarians rejected hosting the Games in the fall.
Currently the provincial government applies a four per cent tourism tax on overnight accommodations such as hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts, however none of that money is funneled back to the municipalities where it is derived from.
According to Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in 2017-18 the levy generated $85 million, which helped it invest nearly $110 million to support the tourism sector last year, including $44.1 million to support destination marketing through Travel Alberta.