McIver says future city funding cuts part of quest to ‘live within our means’

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The province is rolling out municipal funding changes criticized by Alberta’s big-city mayors in the wake of this year’s budget.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver introduced Bill 56 on Thursday. In addition to capital funding changes for cities, the legislation brings in federally mandated upgrades for 911 systems.

Technology changes will make it possible for Albertans to text 911 for help if they can’t call, but it will also more than double the wireless 911 levy on people’s cellphone bills — from 44 cents to 95 cents each month. McIver said all the funds from that increase would go toward supporting 911 call centres.

The bill introduces a cut to the infrastructure funding municipalities were expecting in future years. Edmonton and Calgary were set to split $455 million in Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds in 2022 but, instead, they’ll now receive $382 million to share.

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Capital grants are increasing in 2021 as part of the pandemic recovery effort, but Mayor Naheed Nenshi was critical last month of plans to pull back, saying it could hamper ongoing economic recovery.

“On the one hand they want us to build stuff and create jobs, but on the other hand, they want to take away the money we need to build stuff and create jobs,” he said.

Two years ago, the UCP government threw out the previous agreement on capital transfers for Edmonton and Calgary, replacing it with a new system that would see the cities get $455 million annually starting in 2022. The cities weren’t happy about the change, since it was a cut from an expected $500 million per year.

McIver said the government is holding off introducing that framework “to soften the blow” and help municipalities continue working on projects that are already started. The province also distributed extra capital funding last year to spur job creation in cities.

The minister said future funding reductions are intended to align spending with the recommendations in the 2019 MacKinnon report, a document that recommended sweeping financial reforms.

“I certainly appreciate (cities) are saying less money is more difficult for them than more money. No one can argue with that,” McIver said.

“But the fact is we’ve got an $18-billion deficit in this year’s budget. I think most Albertans would agree that all of us need to do what we can to live within our means while we’re still providing services to our citizens the best we can.”

masmith@postmedia.com

Twitter: @meksmith

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