Calgary and Edmonton residents will get to have their say about proposed city charters, policies that affect taxpayers on a wide range of topics from transit issues to parking tickets and tax assessments.
Public consultation sessions will be held in both cities during October to allow the public to weigh in on the charters, ask questions and give feedback. Sessions will be held in Edmonton on Oct. 3-4 and in Calgary Oct. 11-12.
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"Our goal is to help Calgary and Edmonton address climate change, plan smarter communities and work more efficiently on issues from tax assessments to parking tickets," said Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee in announcing the sessions Wednesday.
The charters are billed as a way of giving the province's two largest cities more power over bylaws regarding some areas that now fall under provincial jurisdiction, as well as create more flexibility and authority around local social policies.
"City charters will fundamentally change the relationship between the government of Alberta and its two biggest cities," Larivee said.
Larivee says feedback by residents will be used to help craft the city charters and the drafts will be posted online in early 2017. The charters are expected to be completed and enacted before the next municipal election in 2017.
Current system is broken
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has been a proponent of the charters throughout his time in office.
"Put bluntly, the system we have now doesn't work," he said.
Nenshi says the current system puts every city, town and hamlet under one system. He says it's a system "that is unfair, that is inefficient and that does not allow us to serve citizens and businesses in our community as well as we could."
Nenshi said residents of both cities can provide feedback on the following five key areas:
Supporting community well-being
Smarter community planning
"It's really about bringing decision-making closer to Calgarians and Edmontonians … and moving more quickly and efficiently on things that matter to our citizens."
But not everyone agrees.Taxation watchdog groups like See Charter, Think Tax, say proposed new charters for Calgary and Edmonton are an attempt to gain power to levy new taxes.
Paige McPherson, with the See Charter, Think Tax organization, called the public information sessions "faux consultations."
"They are not even giving Edmontonians and Calgarians any details on what any new tax powers would look like before holding these consultation sessions," she said.
McPherson says the only legitimate way to gauge public opinion would be to hold city-wide referendums.
"My question is why are we shifting the onus completely onto taxpayers and taking the onus off municipal governments that have been overspending for years now," said McPherson.
According to a report done by the organization earlier this year, taxes and fees in Calgary have risen three time faster than the rate of inflation over the past 10 years.