Province still mum on municipal pot funds

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St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron says tracking costs of legalizing cannabis could help the province understand how much municipalities such as St. Albert are paying.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), of which Heron is a board member, released a cost-tracking tool on Aug. 1. The tool takes the form of an Excel spreadsheet and aims to track training costs, education costs, equipment costs and staff costs associated with legalization, among many other factors.

The tool comes out as Heron says municipalities such as St. Albert are getting increasingly frustrated with the provincial government’s silence on what money – if any – will be doled out.

“Quite honestly, I’ve said to the province a few times – because we’re so frustrated – ‘Do you recognize it’s going to cost municipalities some money to deal with the cannabis legalization?’

“Even getting a yes or no out of them to that question is hard.”

The answer to that yes-or-no question seems obvious. After all, St. Albert has already spent money on legalization after city council approved a $50,000 public engagement survey. That’s not counting the amount of staff hours that have gone into drafting cannabis bylaws.

Heron has been lobbying the province for a response for months. Toward the end of June, following the federal government’s announcement of Oct. 17 as the official date of legalization, she took to Facebook to express “extreme disappointment” in the province’s lack of response to municipalities.

“Both Ontario and Quebec have made commitments to their municipalities. Why can’t Alberta?” she asked at the time.

Barry Morishita, AUMA president and mayor of Brooks, said the province has yet to even recognize municipalities will have costs to cover, let alone what those costs might be.

He described the situation as “unreal.”

“There’s so much of this incremental downloading going on that municipalities are quite tired of it,” he said.

“On top of that, the biggest thing is this one comes with a revenue source they could share … and for them to not consider sharing just doesn’t seem right, particularly when the federal government said 75 per cent of the excise tax was meant to be shared, and other provinces are doing that.”

The province’s lack of response prompted AUMA to develop its cost-calculating tool, and Morishita said the organization will present the data gathered to the province as proof of how much municipalities are paying.

He said AUMA is hopeful municipalities will participate.

“We know that, individually, a lot of municipalities are already tracking costs, but we’re needing them to plug into our tool so we can have a cumulative total,” he said.

Heron said St. Albert has been tracking and keeping records of what the city has spent so far, and although she’s not sure if the city will use AUMA’s spreadsheet, she is in favour of doing so.

“I think we should (use it).”

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April Hudson

April Hudson joined the Gazette in 2017. She writes about city issues and municipal politics. She also writes general news and features.