Three Alberta mountain towns have lobbied the province for more than a decade to be recognized as tourism-based communities, hoping to get provincial support for hosting visitors from around the world.
Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland was there when these talks first started, back when Ray Danyluk was at the table as minister of Municipal Affairs (2006-10).
This time, Ireland says, the discussions with the current government seem different.
“We feel that our case is being heard and relatively well received,” Ireland said. “We are optimistic that the conversation will end differently this time, and I think we have reason for that.”
Ireland says he’s encouraged by how the UCP government is engaging with Banff, Canmore and Jasper on granting resort municipality status.
“The biggest change, from my perspective, is how the needs of tourism-based communities now seem to be in more complete alignment with provincial goals,” Ireland said.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs told CBC News it is aware of the mountain towns’ request and is consulting with municipalities and other groups.
Province looking to diversify with tourism
The province has been looking to tourism as one of the many ways to diversify the economy, with lofty goals to double provincial tourism revenue by 2030.
With pandemic restrictions on travel and gathering, tourism was hit hard the past few years.
Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno says the province recognized her town’s unique situation, and role in tourism, with funding from the Municipal Operating Support Transfer.
“If they invest in us, it’s really about investing in the province as a whole,” DiManno said.
That same recognition and funding, she says, was extended to Jasper and Canmore. She sees that as a signal the tourism towns could help the province rebound from pandemic economic lows.
Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert says the timing is right.
“I think it’s the right time because … the amount of financial load that our residents are carrying, it’s not going to get any less,” he said.
In December, the mountain towns commissioned a consultant report about their unique situation.
It found Banff, Jasper and Canmore spend more per capita than the provincial average because of the gap between the population and visitor load — while also contributing $112 million annually in provincial taxes and $2.2 billion in provincial GDP.
On a summer weekend, each town can double and even triple its population with visitors flooding the streets.
A huge chunk of each town’s budget goes toward having the proper facilities, infrastructure and staffing in place to contend with that influx of visitors. Banff spends 43 per cent, Jasper 32 per cent, and Canmore 26 per cent of budget dollars on tourists.
“Banff sees four million visitors a year, and the cost of hosting those visitors currently is borne on our 8,300 residents and our local businesses,” Dimanno said. “That comes down to flushing toilets and treating our water … maintaining the roads and sidewalks for up to 40,000 people each day. And on and on and on.”
In British Columbia, there are 14 resort municipalities eligible to participate in what’s called the municipal and regional district tax program. Money generated from the provincial hotel tax is redistributed to communities for tourism-related costs, such as infrastructure and visitor experience initiatives.
Krausert says other communities across the province may strive to be recognized, and the mountain towns could serve as a blueprint.
“It sets a bar, it allows other communities that also have tourism to understand what they would need to achieve in order to get the same designation,” Krausert said. “Following that, we can determine what that status actually means, whether it means dollars and cents, whether it means being considered differently.”
The three communities have submitted a proposal to the province ahead of the looming budget.
In a statement, a spokesperson from Municipal affairs wrote that the ministry is aware of the request to create a designation for resort towns.
“As this would require an amendment to the Municipal Government Act, we’re consulting with municipalities and other groups before a decision would be made,” the statement read.