FACING FISCAL CHALLENGES
In late October, the new Alberta government released Budget 2019. This budget will have a significant impact on City planning and as we head into our own budget discussions at Council, I wanted to address my constituents about the challenges we are facing.
A significant and unexpected impact of the provincial budget was the repeal of the City Charter Fiscal Framework Act, a piece of legislation years in the making. The Fiscal Framework Act acknowledged that Edmonton and Calgary were equal partners in the growth and prosperity of Alberta and this cut hits reset on that relationship.
I hear the calls for restraint from residents and business owners — the cumulative effects of tax increases at multiple levels of government. I believe that when times are tough, the role of government is to invest in major infrastructure projects. Government spending can be very powerful in helping to stabilize the economy and maintain a quality of life, especially when paired powerful policies like Percent for Art, which ensures that all sectors of the economy benefit from government spending. Infrastructure means jobs, which means spending — mortgages and cars, sure — but also restaurants and movies, hair salons, and vacation; the things that drive our economy on a daily basis.
In government, my experience is that it’s never the case that problems can be reduced to a single factor — like a “spending problem” — because decisions are rarely so simple. Edmonton has a poverty problem and a housing problem; we have a mental health problem and substance abuse problems; we have a gender and family violence problem; we have a deferred maintenance and infrastructure deficit problem; we have a density problem; we have a transportation network problem; and growth problem that is on the horizon; all the while we are trying to focus on the brand and reputation problems that will help us address the investment and capital problems that will help our city grow.
All this is to say — there’s no one problem that’s affecting Edmonton — it’s the accumulation of these problems, and the front-seat role the City has taken in trying to find solutions.
But here I see the problem that actually could address all of the above: we need to focus. In the absence of focus, we all look in ten different directions. To the credit of our Administration, they work very hard to address each of these issues (and the hundreds of issues within them that I can’t even begin to mention), but City Council needs to focus and clearly define our priorities.
This is the time for strategic economic investments in the future of our city, for Council to focus on key priorities, and for us to be champions for our city. There’s a lot of small changes in the provincial budget add up to big changes. I think we will all be okay — but it means adjusting accordingly.
As always, I’m happy to hear your feedback and opinions. If you would like to reach out, you can connect with me by phone at 780 496 8120, email at email@example.com or via twitter @sjlhamilton.