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EDITORIAL: Housing ministers give clear expectations to Canmore

EDITORIAL: The Town of Canmore was put on full notice in recent weeks by two of the highest profile portfolios in the federal and provincial governments.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

The Town of Canmore was put on full notice in recent weeks by two of the highest profile portfolios in the federal and provincial governments.

Federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser lobbed the first bomb Feb. 19 and Alberta Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jason Nixon came next Feb. 26.

In no uncertain terms, the two ministers each said Canmore needs to do more when it comes to housing.

It’s one thing to say you’re bold or taking initiative. It’s another thing when two ministers say they’re not impressed and want to see more.

While they may be on polar opposites of the political spectrum, Fraser and Nixon are two of the most important ministers in their respective governments. They’re also one of the final signatures on any cheques getting cut to municipalities when it comes to housing.

Agree or disagree with them, they hold the hammer and they have hundreds of municipalities which would love housing money dropped off on their doorstep.

The federal government has shown it wants to invest in housing. The Housing Accelerator Fund will push out $4 billion across the country, but it comes with the caveat of municipalities needing to change decades of traditional planning.

They want to see density, they want roadblocks jettisoned and they want the changes to happen as fast as possible. If you play by their rules, you’re getting a cheque with many zeroes at the end. If not, they’ll find someone else who wants the money. On Tuesday (March 5), Airdrie was given a late Christmas gift of $24.8 million and more is likely to come, but the pot is becoming thinner.

The City of Windsor’s council was unwilling to allow fourplexes across the city and left upwards of $70 million on the table when the federal government went elsewhere.

Similarly, the provincial government – both the NDP and UCP focused on housing in the last election – has shown a priority in getting housing built. The purse strings are not as large as the federal commitment and the recently released provincial budget leaves much to be desired, but they want building and development permits flying out the door.

When Premier Danielle Smith spoke at the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association October luncheon, she was clear the province is watching permitting timelines and the municipalities working as fast as possible will be the ones rewarded.

It can be rare for politicians to speak as clearly, plainly and directly as both Fraser and Nixon did on Canmore. But when that occurs, municipal politicians need to listen and provide clear direction.

The first box to check off is repair a damaged relationship with the development community. Potentially going to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal over an off-site levy bylaw amendment is the exact opposite thing the provincial and federal government want to see right now.

In Banff, various local organizations met with Fraser in Ottawa in late 2023 to express support for direction the Town and council began in changing aspects of its land use bylaw to foster more housing. It was a key cog in Banff gaining support, with a show of alignment for the changes being undergone.

The same would simply not happen right now in Canmore.

When Smith appeared at a pre-election UCP event last year at Silvertip, she took questions from the crowd. A local construction company owner asked Smith when the province would look into the issues being faced by development industry in the Town of Canmore.

The question was met by raucous applause, including nearly half the room of more than 200 people standing, and lasted for nearly 30 seconds. More telling was Smith not being fazed and asking follow-up questions.

There is no greater problem to be handled by levels of government than housing at this time.

The higher levels of government are looking for solutions and they want everyone working for an answer.

This shouldn’t be seen as upper levels of government picking on a municipality, but an opportunity to see what more can be done at a local level.

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