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Home » Breaking News » Valley Mayors Repeat Calls for Province to Help Tourism Communities

June 7, 2017 – Rocky Mountain Outlook (Tanya Foubert) – Banff, AB. The mayors of Canmore and Banff have yet again repeated requests to the province for help in addressing issues that tourism-based communities are facing; this time their pleas for assistance were made to the minister of economic development and trade.

Deron Bilous, Minister of Economic Development and Trade, was in Canmore for a roundtable discussion on economic development in March, during which the mayors of Canmore and Banff asked once more for help from the province for communities that have economies based almost entirely upon tourism.

Both Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen and Canmore Mayor John Borrowman recognize that economic development in tourism-based communities is intricately linked with tourism to begin with.

Borrowman pointed out that tourism represents a multi-billion industry province wide and the Bow Valley and Jasper represents a major portion of that, with tax revenues generated for provincial and federal governments, but very little for municipalities.

Economic Development a Challenge in Mountain Towns

“Canmore, Banff and Jasper represent a big chunk of the tourism sector and we have been working collaboratively, at least since I was first elected, on meeting with ministers (about this issue),” he said.

Sorensen said taxpayers in the communities are the ones paying for the infrastructure, programs and services needed in a resort- or tourism-based community and the three municipalities believe new revenue tools are needed to help them remain competitive.

“Tourism is a crucial industry in the province and it deserves to be celebrated and I believe it deserves to be invested in as well,” she said.

While the issue of tourism-based communities has been ongoing for well over a decade, it would typically be the minister of municipal affairs who is not only responsible for hearing concerns, but addressing them as well.

The most recent economic impact assessment completed by tourism-based communities in Alberta was presented to current Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson, MLA for Leduc-Beaumont, last year.

The assessment completed before that one by the Headwaters Group, said Sorensen, would have also found its way onto Bilous’s desk because he was minister of municipal affairs after the last election. The minister acknowledged he has heard first hand from both mayors about the economic impact and heard the appeals to do something about it.

In fact, under the NDP government, there have been three ministers of municipal affairs, including Bilous, Anderson and Danielle Larivee. Under the Progressive Conservative government before, however, five different ministers held the post dating back to its creation as a stand-alone ministry in 2006.

Those ministers include Ray Danyluk, Hector Goudreau, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes and Diana McQueen – all of whom were lobbied by local mayors to address the unique circumstances tourism-based economies face. That means that over the past decade, there have been eight different ministers assigned to address the issue.

Both Sorensen and Borrowman referenced the most recent economic report and Bilous responded that it is indeed on his desk.

“I am aware that tourism is probably on the top of mind of everyone and is your priority,” he said, “and that it is one of the economic drivers for this area of the province.”

Bilous went on to remark on the provincial budget and what he feels is an investment into the overall economy of the entire province when it needs it most.

“In the current state of the economy, with it being as fragile as it is, we need to work on getting more Albertans employed, not the opposite, and our investments in infrastructure, hospitals, roads, bridges are frankly long overdue.

“In addition to the infrastructure, we also recognize we need to invest in our core services, so we want our children to have schools to go to and teachers and support staff to support them.”

The minister pointed to a positive economic outlook issued by the Conference Board of Canada that forecast Alberta growing in 2017-18 at a rate of 2.7 per cent, the highest in the country.

Bilous said he would argue Alberta is starting to turn a corner and the initiatives he has rolled out to promote economic development and diversification helps to build on strengths in this province already.

But in the Rocky Mountains where tourism is the economic engine – to the tune of $1.5 billion spent by visitors in Canmore, Banff and Jasper in 2015 – investments in agriculture, energy diversification and programs like petrochemical diversification programs don’t have that much impact.

Bilous pointed to the Alberta Investor tax Credit program announced in 2016, which provides a 30 per cent credit to investors into small technology-based businesses and includes investments in tourism as one example of how the government is supporting the local industry.

“We are trying to help encourage investment in capital in the province in areas that are going to have the biggest bang for our buck and this is a way to protect Alberta taxpayer dollars and ensure we are not throwing away money at projects,” he said.

Even with the minimum wage going up in October this year and to $15 an hour in 2018, and local businesses concerned about that, Borrowman spoke about how economic development for a community focused entirely on tourism is a challenge when those jobs don’t pay well to begin with and the cost of housing is one of the highest in the country.

Whereas economic diversification, said the mayor, is geared toward attracting business or industries to the community that employs staff at wages above the minimum offered by the tourism sector.

“In this community, when we talk about economic development, it is mostly around tourism,” said the mayor. “In Canmore, at least, economic diversification has become a big conversation as well. Tourism is a great industry, but the downside is that when you have a bunch of jobs that don’t pay well and your housing is the most expensive in the country besides maybe Vancouver, it is a problem.”

Areas outside tourism that have been discussed include the health and wellness sector and food manufacturing as two examples, but Borrowman questioned how you attract investment when the cost to live and buy land is so high.

“This place is prime and ready to develop and one issue is around land cost and housing costs,” he said.

Mayor Karen Sorensen repeated Borrowman’s concerns expressed at the meeting. She even addressed a question from Stoney Nakoda Nation Wesley band Chief Ernest Wesley, who asked if Banff even had any poor people living there.

“For our current council and the Town of Banff, household affordability has become a major focal point for us,” she said, adding 65 per cent of Banff residents earn less than $40,000 a year and the average income is significantly lower than the provincial average.

Sorensen said a further challenge for communities like Canmore, Banff and Jasper is that even though provincial and federal governments benefit from visitor spending in these locations, local governments have no support or revenues from tourism that help provide infrastructure needed to be a resort destination.

“In the town of Banff, like Canmore and Jasper, we need to build a stable local economy where households and businesses can flourish and we are challenged by the current provincial regulatory framework that fails to accommodate for the impact of visitors on our economies,” she said.

“The Alberta municipal funding regulatory framework limits tourism community competitiveness and revenue sources such as property taxes fail to capture the goods and services consumed by visitors and provincial grant funding formulas do not include visitor or non-permanent populations in their calculations.

“We believe new revenue tools are needed to help Alberta’s tourism communities become more competitive.”

Unlike Canmore, the ability to diversify is not available for Banff, which is in a national park and specifically geared toward providing services for visitors to the park.

Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association executive director Ron Remple told the minister maintaining a strong tourism industry is important for the construction industry as well.

“Many of the people that come here and visit end up purchasing here or come back time and time again,” he said. “The economies here have a platform of tourism, there is no doubt about that, but tourism isn’t the only industry.

“What we see in the building and development industry continues to be quite strong right now in the Bow Valley and I think we want to maintain that.”

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