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Tourism based communities still need help

Well, there you have it. As a result of a plebiscite in Calgary this week, the efforts to bid for a 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games is dead in the water.

Well, there you have it. As a result of a plebiscite in Calgary this week, the efforts to bid for a 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games is dead in the water.

While Canmore council voted last week to conditionally support the bid, it is clear that 56 per cent of Calgarians had too many concerns and reservations about the proposed mega-sporting event – from possible cost overruns, to the reputation of the International Olympic Committee.

One of the biggest reasons for Canmore council’s support was the possibility of having a long-standing issue finally addressed by the provincial government – resort municipality status.

If you haven’t heard, it is a proposed method for tourism-based communities to fund visitor services and infrastructure other than through property taxes and utility rates.

The issue is not new. In fact, multiple mayors have gone up to Edmonton and spoken with countless ministers from municipal affairs, tourism and finance for over a decade.

This is the most important and resounding issue facing Bow Valley communities when it comes to provincial politics and we have largely been ignored and pushed aside by elected officials in the legislature.

But the Olympics was an opportunity to try and change that – with high-level meetings, discussions and negotiations taking place on the very issue local officials have struggled to be heard about since the early 2000s.

This week, Finance Minister Joe Ceci tossed a big bucket of cold water on those hopes when he said: “at this point in time we are not thinking about new taxes.” As it turns out, resort municipality status is a new tax – an additional two per cent hotel tax on room night stays in Canmore that would funneled to the municipality to pay for the increased services needed to support visitors.

Things like additional signage for people to find their way around our town, parking for the cars they drive, additional public washrooms, or a wastewater treatment plant for the toilets they flush. Even additional RCMP officers and victim services are needed to support a visitor population in the valley every single day.

Taxpayers fund all these things, while Calgarians and Albertans flock to their “backyard” every weekend to have fun, relax and escape. But their backyard is our home and it is about time they start contributing towards what it takes to keep the lights on and the water running.

There is a successful funding model used in other jurisdictions – like B.C. – that would address this over-reliance on property taxpayers in our communities to fund visitor services and that is resort municipality status.

As it turns out, the province would not even need to add a new tax to make this happen. There is already a four per cent tourism levy on hotel rooms across the entire province.

That money used to go to Travel Alberta and fund tourism-related departments like Alberta Parks and Culture and Tourism. But that flow through ended in 2015, and now the hotel levy goes into the government’s general bank account.

It would be easy for the province to recognize the needs of tourism based communities without creating a new tax by using the existing hotel levy to fund visitor-based services and infrastructure in these municipalities.

Despite the Olympic dream being set aside this week, Canmore, Banff and Jasper still need this issue to be addressed and we are tired of lobbying for a model that has been proved successful in other jurisdictions.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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