Kenney warns Alberta Municipalities now is not the time to go on a surplus shopping spree

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is telling municipal leaders not to expect big spending on local priorities despite an influx of oil and gas cash.

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Addressing the Alberta Municipalities spring leaders caucus Thursday, Kenney warned members representing the province’s cities, towns and villages the provincial government won’t be quick to spend this year’s expected $511 million surplus before it’s in the morning bank.

“I know people are looking at that potential surplus, and they’re looking at high oil prices and all of you have a very long shopping list,” said Kenney, who added it would be “imprudent” to assume high energy prices will stick around long-term, but the government is focused on funding “key pressure points” on public services and infrastructure.

“Please don’t ask us to spend surpluses that we do not yet have,” he said. “Who knows? This may be our last energy boom.”

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The extra cash, estimated in February’s 2022-23 budget, was based on an average US$70 per barrel West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price for the fiscal year, but could grow significantly, with WTI continuing to trade above $100 per barrel as of Thursday .

Speaking with reporters after Kenney’s speech, Alberta Municipalities president Cathy Heron said she agreed that the province shouldn’t be spending the money pre-emptively.

“But I do believe there is some wiggle room to continue to boost the economy and to continue to diversify the economy by investing in municipalities,” said Heron.

Heron said she has trust in many UCP MLAs, but “certain MLAs that just don’t get it,” and their relationship with municipalities could be improved.

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Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Cathy Heron is seen in the crowd at the Alberta Municipalities leaders caucus at the Edmonton Convention Center on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Photo by Ian Kucerak
Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Cathy Heron is seen in the crowd at the Alberta Municipalities leaders caucus at the Edmonton Convention Center on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Photo by Ian Kucerak Photo by Ian Kucerak /post media

Speaking to the room of representatives, NDP Opposition municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci pledged that an NDP government would restore trust, mutual respect and collaboration with municipalities, and legislate a fiscal formula tying higher provincial revenues to increases in municipal funding.

Ceci also took aim at recent comments from UCP MLA for Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland Shane Getson, who while discussing Edmonton city council’s now-rescinded masking bylaw, said he was glad to see the premier send the message that municipalities are “children of the province.”

“I’m going to be very colorful on this one — if the children get not aligned, maybe it’s time for someone to get spanked, because we have to move past this,” Getson said.

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Ceci accused Kenney’s government of picking unwarranted fights, saying the province’s move to limit municipalities from enacting their own COVID-19 public health measures with Bill 4, introduced Tuesday, has also exacerbated mistrust.

“I can’t believe this needs to be said but I’ll say it anyway: you are not children of the province and you do not need to be spanked,” said Ceci.

In a Wednesday Facebook post, Getson stood by his comments and accused the NDP of “stirring the pot.”

Let’s ‘reset the relationship’: Sohi

While Kenney’s speech touted increased funding for health-care capacity, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told reporters he had hoped to hear more support for addressing housing and the mental health and addictions crises. Sohi again expressed disappointment in Bill 4, but said there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

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“I want to move on. I want to move on to continue to look for opportunities to reset the relationship,” said Sohi. The mayor denounced Getson’s language as inappropriate, but added they reflect a problematic relationship between the two orders of elected government that isn’t unique to Alberta and needs to change.

Heron said she was “outraged” that Getson would speak about democratically elected governments as children who need to be spanked.

“It’s uncalled for. There are better ways to achieve outcomes in society than to belittle,” said Heron.

In his address, Ceci also reiterated that the NDP would abandon any plans to pursue Alberta police service proposals, something Alberta Municipalities’ members strongly opposed with a resolution passed Wednesday

At an unrelated event later Thursday, Kenney responded to the resolution by pointing to the potential benefits of a provincial police service, including that local recruitment and training would “massively improve” the quality of community policing.

“We’ll continue with the consultations and we’ll take on board any input from municipal leaders, but we think there’s a lot of merit to this idea,” he said, urging Albertans to read the third-party report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers examining the proposed models.

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