By Pamela Wilson
CEO, Association of Alberta Registry Agents
In rural Alberta, we are used to driving long distances to access all kinds of services including legal, health or otherwise.
Thanks to our province’s unique registry system, one thing rural residents don’t have to drive far for is government services. Registry Agents proudly provide over 200 products and services on behalf of the Government of Alberta right in the heart of 208 communities across the province. Seventy-nine per cent of these offices are located in rural and small communities. All of these offices are owned and operated by local entrepreneurs.
Albertans love this system. Polling from August of 2016 shows that over ninety per cent of rural Albertans think it’s important to have access to government services in their community, while over eighty per cent are satisfied with the service the local agent provides. And how could they not be? Albertans have access to the longest average opening hours for registry services in the country, and wait mere minutes to be served. Meanwhile our American neighbours wait an average of 34.2 minutes for similar services, while stories of hour-long lineups are not uncommon in provinces like Ontario and Nova Scotia.
As effective and popular as the Registry Agent Network (RAN) is in Alberta, it is now in need of modernization. Over the past twenty years, technological innovation and the rising cost of doing business have made it more challenging for agents to stay sustainable. A sample of financial statements from rural agents at the end of 2015 shows that the average rural agent is losing over $4,000 annually.
There are two simple and cost-free ways the Government of Alberta can help modernize the RAN. The first is to make sure registry agents are directly involved in delivering online registry services to Albertans (which support bricks and mortar locations). The second way is to establish a fair and equitable financial model that automatically adjusts for inflation the fees registry agents are allowed to charge.
There is never a good time to increase fees, especially during a time of economic hardship. Yet, the simple matter of fact is that the question of fair compensation for registry agents has been postponed by government after government. The cost of doing business has increased tremendously since the last fee increase in 2005, and we are now at a tipping point where many rural agents are seriously contemplating closing their doors for good.
The effect on small communities would be devastating. As Maggie Kronen, the Mayor of Cardston writes, “if the registry’s doors close, and our residents have to go to the nearest city to obtain these essential services, then of course it would have significant detrimental domino effect on all our other small businesses as people having travelled to the city will also stop to pick up groceries and other items which takes the money to another community.”
Rural Albertans know this is true: polling from August 2016 shows that over ninety percent believe the closure of the local registry agent would have a negative impact on their community.
Last Fall, delegates from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) voted in favour of a motion asking the Government of Alberta to move forward with modernization. And this spring, the rural councillors and reeves that make up the delegate list of the AAMDC voted overwhelmingly (85.7%) in favour of a similar motion. Rural Alberta is truly raising its voice, making it loud and clear that a sustainable registry network is crucial for the health of our rural communities.
We have seen encouraging signs that the Government of Alberta is heeding this call and is ready to take action. Registry Agents are willing partners, ready to embrace change for the sake of rural Alberta.
For more information please contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-644-2540