The Alberta Institute, an Atlas Network partner in Canada, had been promoting accountability, transparency, and fiscal prudence in municipal governments across Alberta for years, and their efforts are bearing fruit in a number of areas.
Alberta’s economy is struggling, not just from the recent pandemic, but also from a downturn in oil, gas, and other resource prices that has now stretched on for more than five years. Many governments hoped the downturn would be short-lived, meaning they could avoid making any difficult budget choices, but as the slump has stretched on and on, the need to make changes has become more apparent.
The Alberta Institute believes that smaller government isn’t just something we should be forced in to during a recession or crisis, but actually a positive thing that should be embraced. The Alberta Institute routinely releases briefs on the potential benefits of lowering taxes, cutting regulations, and opening up opportunities for people in the province to innovate and prosper, and a number of their suggestions have been adopted recently by various levels of government.
At the end of 2019 the Institute released “City Budgets and Municipal Tax Rates”—a brief calling for an across the board freeze to property taxes in Alberta. The Alberta government recently announced that they would be freezing the provincial portion of Alberta’s property tax, while many smaller cities and towns have also frozen or greatly reduced their planned property tax increases for 2020.
While the two big cities of Edmonton and Calgary proceeded with sizeable tax increases for 2020, the increases were still smaller than originally planned, and the public mood seems to be shifting against further tax hikes in future years.
“This massive and unsustainable growth in city spending has led to a never-ending reliance on property tax increases for Edmontonians and Calgarians—tax increases that often far exceed inflation and create an undue burden for residents,” said Kaycee Madu, Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister.
Meanwhile, transparency at the City of Calgary is about to get a major upgrade with City Council meetings moving towards digital voting for every council and committee meeting. A policy long advocated for by the Alberta Institute, this will mean that every vote by every councillor at every meeting is recorded and released automatically in a digital format as part of the City's Open Data Catalogue.
This data transparency will help the Institute expand its reporting of Council activities, Councillor attendance rates, and budget issues, as well as allowing for much more in-depth analysis and reporting of Council meetings, helping keep citizens informed about what is happening at City Hall.
The Alberta government also has plans to set new standards for how Alberta’s municipalities report their financial report each year, helping to ensure figures and statistics are more comparable between municipalities and revealing municipalities that haven’t made sufficient efforts to get wasteful spending under control.
Alberta Institute received support as a start-up organization from Atlas Network.