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Smith shapes UCP vision at Chamber luncheon

Posted on May 23, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman
Southern Alberta Newspapers Photo By Collin Gallant. CHAMBER LUNCHEON: Premier Danielle Smith speaks at a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch event in Medicine Hat.

By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers

Premier Danielle Smith says the Alberta government would only step in to nullify local bylaws in exceptional situations, but she also wonders whether that could be the case in Calgary’s blanket zoning changes debate.

Medicine Hat, meanwhile, is still planning similar changes in its planned land-use bylaw update, though local politicians say they will move ahead.

Smith has made a keystone policy to exert greater provincial autonomy, and told reporters in Medicine Hat earlier this month that $230 million in a strings-attached federal housing funds could be a potential cause for controversial development changes in Calgary that have led to opposition and a week-long public hearing.

“I’m trying to figure out what’s happened,” Smith said, outlining “mixed messages” of whether the zoning changes are a required condition to access federal funding.

“We don’t want to interfere with Calgary or Edmonton getting important accelerator funding, but if they’d negotiated with us at the federal-provincial level, I think they could have been shielded from having to make those kinds of decisions,” said Smith.

Smith says Ottawa’s housing outlay to the province is sub-par, and only involves a small number of municipalities, including Calgary and Airdrie, when the need extends across the province.

The United Conservative government has blocked municipalities from making bi-lateral agreements with Ottawa, and last month introduced a bill to extend that to universities and other agencies.

After introducing Bill 20, regarding cities, last week, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver announced consultations will follow and Smith told reporters it will be thoroughly considered.

“We’ve found a couple things that need to be clarified and some guard rails put around it of when we might feel compelled to step in if a council member needs to be removed and when we might feel compelled to step in,” said Smith.

Last month, the province changed utility regulations to force the City of Calgary to update its local access fee regulations. That follows long-standing complaints the fee overcharged customers, said Smith.

As well, on May 1, McIver announced the province was not onside with a Calgary council vote to allow permanent residents to vote municipally alongside full Canadian citizens.

Changes would need to be incorporated in the province’s Local Elections Act before any change would take effect.

That won’t be happening, said Smith.

“It’s in our Constitution, that’s how it works,” she said. “Those are some of the things that we’ve seen from some councils that have caused us to step in. We want to make sure they are Constitutional and with the provincial direction.

“We’d use those kinds of things sparingly, but we’ve seen a couple examples where we’ve had to use them.”

During her speech, Smith outlined the province’s plans to change the health-care system, and ongoing efforts to provide the province more power in its dealings with Ottawa. Earlier in the day, Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf signed an early agreement with Saskatchewan to share expertise and initial licensing to develop a small-modular nuclear reactor.

On the economic front, she says Medicine Hat is set to boom and could benefit greatly because of its sound electricity supply, more is continuing on the transportation and agri-food development corridor, and aero-space and higher-tech industry development could be centred in the Hat.

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