AUMA had an exclusive conversation with the Honourable Travis Toews, President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, to discuss areas of key interest to our municipalities -- as well as who his favourite sports team is! (And read our previous conversation with Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu here.)
AUMA: What sports team do you cheer for, and why?
Mr. Travis Toews: I would have to say the Edmonton Oilers.
AUMA: What is your favourite activity in the summer?
Mr. Travis Toews: I really enjoy getting into the back country and fly fishing. I picked up the interest from my father-in-law and have grown to appreciate the sport and being able to take in the quieter corners of our beautiful province.
AUMA: Now that you are likely spending more time in Edmonton, what aspect of your cattle operation do you miss? What is one thing more people should know about cows and farm life?
Mr. Travis Toews: I enjoyed every aspect of the cattle ranching business. We have a great team and they put in a lot of hours and hard work. I really miss sorting cattle on a clear Alberta morning with a good cow horse and a good crew.
Alberta farmers and ranchers care deeply about the welfare of their livestock and take pride in providing a sustainable, nutrient dense, world-class product.
AUMA: What would our members be surprised to learn about you?
Mr. Travis Toews: I am an avid downhill skier.
AUMA: When cannabis was legalized, the Government of Canada signed a cannabis excise revenue sharing agreement with the provinces, which involved an understanding that municipalities would share in that revenue. To date, Alberta does not have an agreement with municipalities to share the cannabis excise tax revenue, despite the fact that municipal governments continue to incur costs related to the regulation and enforcement of cannabis use. What is your vision to ensure that municipal property taxpayers are not covering the costs associated with cannabis use?
Mr. Travis Toews: While we understand there are some costs for municipalities in addressing legalization, the province also participates in making the legal use of cannabis, a federal directive, happen in a safe, sensible manner.
Our focus remains on keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth, protecting public health and keeping our roads, workplaces and public spaces safe.
The Municipal Cannabis Transition Program provides $11.15 million over two years (2018 and 2019) to the 52 Alberta municipalities that pay for their own policing. This funding is short-term and is aimed at assisting municipalities with incremental transitional costs at the outset of legalization.
We will continue to work with municipalities across the province to better understand the impacts of cannabis legalization and determine next steps following the first two years of the transition, and work with our partners at the federal and provincial level to address these ongoing challenges. We will continue to ensure municipalities have the knowledge and tools to develop the policies that best suit them.
AUMA: The Municipal Government Act now requires municipalities to have three-year operating budgets and five-year capital budgets. This is a positive step forward, but municipalities report challenges in planning for their future when provincial funding often changes year-to-year. What role could your Ministry play in improving the predictability of future funding so that communities can effectively plan for their future?
Mr. Travis Toews: Our government is committed to ensuring municipalities have predictable, long-term infrastructure funding and is currently developing an approach for a new fiscal framework for municipalities that will meet this commitment. We will continue to engage our municipal stakeholders, through their associations, in this work.
I am working closely with all my colleagues, including the Minister of Municipal Affairs, as we develop Budget 2019, and am using the MacKinnon Report to help inform our decisions.
AUMA: Community infrastructure is essential to keeping our economy moving and attracting people to our province. What is your vision for a partnership between the province and municipalities to fund and care for the infrastructure that is essential to the lives of Albertans in every community?
Mr. Travis Toews: See answer to the previous question.
AUMA: We want to be a partner in helping the province to streamline legislation and regulations. Municipal governments are uniquely aware of areas where they experience barriers or over regulation, which increases costs at both the provincial and municipal level. As partners in the delivery of public services, what is your Ministry’s plan to work with municipal governments to reduce red tape?
Mr. Travis Toews: The Alberta Government recognizes the current regulatory framework may be placing unnecessary burdens on municipalities, and in turn, may also impact businesses.
Municipal Affairs, in consultation with our Red Tape Reduction Associate Ministry, is part of a working group consisting of the AUMA, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, the Local Government Administration Association of Alberta and the Alberta Rural Municipal Administrators Association. We are identifying areas of unnecessary legislative and regulatory burden, and considering where we can appropriately reduce red tape while still providing Albertans with quality public services, and efficient and accountable provincial and local governance.
A few examples of the areas where Municipal Affairs is looking for potential red tape reduction include:
- whether some of the authorities and flexibilities Edmonton and Calgary have under the city charters can be applied to other municipalities;
- opportunities for pre-approved industrial zones; and
- the processing of municipal grants.
AUMA: What has surprised you most about your portfolio since being appointed the President of Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance?
Mr. Travis Toews: I always knew Alberta is home to many driven and talented individuals, but in my time since being appointed to President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, I have been continuously impressed with the extremely talented individuals I have interacted with in our public service. I am thrilled with the dedication and service of our department. It’s been a pleasure to work with them.