Despite over a decade of lobbying provincial officials and producing report after report to support their position, officials in tourism-based communities like Canmore and Banff still struggle to have their issues understood by the provincial government.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson was in the Bow Valley last Thursday (Sept. 7) to meet with elected officials in Banff and Canmore on a number of issues facing the mountain communities at the western edge of the province.
Anderson said he has been “briefed” on the issue of tourism-based communities and “one of the things we have tried to do is work with Canmore, Banff and Jasper on that.
“I am not the expert on it, but we are having discussions on trying to help that because we know there is a massive influx of people here that have to use services like roads, water and sewer systems,” he said.
“One of the jobs of the province, and myself in general, is to accelerate the conversation with the feds on that. I honestly don’t know where that is at right now.”
Canmore Mayor John Borrowman, however, said when it comes to funding and supporting tourism-based communities like Canmore and Banff, the conversation has always been with the province.
“We have not ever talked about whether or not there is a role in this issue for the federal government and off the top of my head I am not certain what that might be,” said the mayor.
Anderson said he has had discussions with Ricardo Miranda, the minister of culture and tourism. Miranda’s portfolio is responsible for collecting the hotel tax on all hotel rooms in the province. The three per cent pillow tax is used to fund provincial tourism and parks and recreation objectives, as well as provide the operational funding for Travel Alberta.
The tourism industry in the past has questioned when the province has taken a bigger slice of the pie, like in 2014 when the split went from 80/20 for Travel Alberta and the government to a 70/30 split. That year, the tax generated $87 million in revenues and, unlike in B.C. none of those funds end up helping municipalities.
In B.C., resort municipality status allows municipalities to receive a percentage of the hotel tax each year to support operations and capital projects related to tourism, and fund local events as a way of promoting more visitation. As visitation increases, so does funding to the tourism community.
Canmore’s mayor and Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen have been pointing towards towns in B.C. like Whistler, Sun Peaks and Revelstoke because they receive that funding and as a result have a competitive advantage over Alberta destinations.
But Anderson said when it comes to the tourism levy, it is not the responsibility of his department and his colleague Miranda would be the one to “take the ball on that.
“It is important to have communication back and forth on these things, as they change over time.”
With eight politicians having held the post of minister of municipal affairs over the past decade, the elected leaders of both communities have found themselves repeating their lobbying, submitting research and reports to support their positions, without any indication so far that solutions are actually being considered.
In addition to Anderson, Deron Bilous, now minister of economic development and trade, and Danielle Larivee, now minister of children’s services, have held the same ministry since 2015..
Before the NDP, ministers included Ray Danyluk, Hector Goudreau, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes and Diana McQueen – all of whom were lobbied by local mayors to address the unique circumstances tourism-based economies face.
Time after time, the towns of Canmore, Banff and Jasper have pointed west to the B.C. resort municipality funding program as an example of how the province can support communities that have a greater burden of providing services
The three towns have even quantified how much more their taxpayers spend on tourism-based infrastructure and services than other communities in the province. The fact that municipalities can only source funds through property taxes means property owners in each community are subsidizing the local tourism-based economy, while provincial and federal levels of government take 97 per cent of the revenues related to visitor spending.
The three towns have been asking for recognition and tools to help them compete as international tourist destinations while ensuring it remains fiscally responsible to taxpayers.
The three towns, all located in the Rocky Mountains, represent a large proportion of visitation to the province. According to the last report prepared for the minister of municipal affairs, Canmore, Banff and Jasper host 71 per cent of international visitors to the province, and 37 per cent of visitors from the U.S. and the rest of Canada. On an annual basis, the three communities host an estimated 4.3 million visitors, and that number is growing.
The province is pushing tourism as an area for economic development, with goals to reach tourism spending of $10.3 billion by 2020. While tourism benefits the provincial economy, the cost of providing services to visitors rests with municipalities and their taxpayers.
Anderson said he has spoken with officials from Canmore and Banff on this issue and it is important to keep communication channels open.
He said there are many municipalities in Alberta that face unique circumstances, and it is his job to understand and find ways to support them through things like the Municipal Government Act.