We hate to be the bubble-bursting barons of the obvious but when it comes to Banff’s struggle with regulating franchises or souvenir shops it is much more complicated than an argument about free market economics.
Banff is not even close to being a free market.
There, we said it.
We’re pretty sure economist Adam Smith would not consider a federally legislated commercial growth cap and municipally administered system of allocated additional square footage for development to be indicators of a free market system.
There is already significant government interference in the local economy from the federal level yet local elected officials seem shy when it comes to added layers of regulation.
Now added regulation for the sake of it is never a good idea but the community made itself heard on this issue again and again.
Two years before the treasured Banff Book & Art Den was felled by the national chain of Chapters/Indigo in 2009 after 45 years in business residents spoke in favour of the municipality stepping in to regulate.
Here is where this becomes a tale of two Banffs.
Throughout this debate and culminating in Monday’s council meeting it is clear from feedback there are two very different points of view – that of business and that of the community.
Council has quashed the proposal to cap souvenir and gift shops – a victory for the free market proponents – and referred regulating new franchise fast food establishments to a working group for an external economic review.
It has been said before and we will say it again – the best way for politicians to avoid being pinned down into making a decision, which is their job, is to study an issue even further.
More research means nothing happens with the land use bylaw with respect to adding this type of regulation and the invisible hand of the local economy continues unabated.
We hope this economic review not only looks at what would happen to businesses and the community if regulations were enacted but what would happen if they are not.
If council continues to do nothing to address the concerns of its residents about the slow erosion of the community’s character and essential services what kind of place will it be to visit and more importantly to live?
Banff is not like any other town of its size in Canada. It sits within a national park and has restrictions like the need to reside and leasehold titles on property.
Business as usual elsewhere should not be the default position of politicians, who are likely being heavily lobbied by the business sector.
We hope with review and analysis of this working group, whose terms of reference will return in August, gives council the confidence it needs to take a balanced incremental approach to address community concerns on this issue.
It would be a shame if in a decade from now those looking back at this point in time as the place when something could have been done and wasn’t.