PHOTOS: St. Albert’s iconic City Hall. Below: St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, City Councillor Ken MacKay, anti-smoking lobbyist Les Hagen, and former mayor Nolan Crouse.
ST. ALBERTA, Alberta
An arresting news story in a community newspaper on Saturday claimed Ottawa’s plan to legalize marijuana this summer will result in more than $3.5 million in additional costs to the Edmonton dormitory community of St. Albert, plus continuing extra expenses of up to $2.2 million a year.
According to the St. Albert Gazette, the source of this claim is a report by the city’s manager of corporate planning, which St. Albert City Council will review tonight. The report, said the paper, estimates “one-time and ongoing costs for 2018” for this suburb of some 65,000 souls “at between $1.96 million and $3.53 million, while recurring costs are estimated to fall between $1.6 million and $2.2 million.”
Furthermore, the report by Paul Edginton warned, these extra costs could rise by 50 per cent again by summertime, when pot is supposed to become a legal substance.
The story continues: “The majority of costs are expected to be for enforcement, with the city budgeting for up to 10 new RCMP officers and up to five new municipal enforcement officers at a cost of between $1.2 million and $2.5 million.” (Emphasis added.)
So, think about this: Legalizing a substance that used to be illegal, which common sense would suggest would reduce enforcement costs, is going to create the need for nearly 6,000 new police officers nationwide, plus another 3,000 municipal enforcement officers?
Good try, but this is highly unlikely.
A word of advice off the top, St. Albert had better be singing from the same hymnbook as other municipalities in Alberta or the city administration is going to look plenty foolish when this report lands on someone’s desk at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
That said, you can count on it that St. Albert is not the only municipality where this kind of thing is being tried. It’s likely similar claims will be made by municipal officials across Canada this winter and spring as municipal officials try to press Ottawa and their provincial capitals for more cash.
Fair enough. Senior governments have been downloading the costs of federal and provincial policies on municipalities for generations. But unless officials in Ottawa and Edmonton have been smoking banana peels (which remain legal for this purpose, by the way), actually getting any money from this effort is almost certain to remain a pipe dream, if readers will forgive the expression.
In addition to the highly doubtful proposition a massive nationwide increase in policing resources will be needed because of pot legalization, most other costs cited in the report are in reality likely to be insignificant.
For example, the cost of drafting bylaw revisions that may be required by pot decriminalization and ongoing police enforcement of intoxicated-driving laws are both mostly fixed costs, already largely in the budget, as the report half-heartedly concedes. Anyway, how complicated is it to insert the words “and cannabis” after the word “tobacco” in a smoking bylaw?
The anti-smoking lobby group Action on Smoking and Health – inevitably know as ASH – and its always energetic leader Les Hagen want the bylaw amended to include hotel rooms, which makes sense. But St. Albert needs not panic about this. It can be left to local hoteliers to enforce their own no-smoking-room policies until the city legal department manages to find the time to draft a new bylaw.
Another cost cited by the report was the need for a communications plan. In the spirit of public service – and since I understand the St. Albert Communications Department has been booted out of City Hall and has even less idea about what’s going on than the rest of us citizens – I’ll draft a communications plan right now for use by the city. Here it is, with my permission to use it without cost to taxpayers: “Hey folks, the province has new rules about the use of legal cannabis. Please go to Alberta.ca to check them out.” I’ll even do a second draft if city officials think the tone of this one is too flip.
This peculiar story raises some serious local issues too. For the past couple of years supporters of a group of supposed budget hawks on council who didn’t like St. Albert’s former mayor lobbied tirelessly for a Police Committee to deal with this kind of stuff.
The most ridiculous claim made by this group was that the former mayor, Nolan Crouse, was somehow influencing how the RCMP did their work. Another was that this unneeded expense was needed “to fill a communication void within the city.”
Eventually, the previous council did their bidding, and now we have a nine-member committee that’s supposed to be in charge of policing. So what have we heard about this from these fillers of the communications void on this startling policing issue? Crickets.
So why did we form this committee again? To provide an election platform for unsuccessful right-wing candidates?
Well, St. Albert City Council has one former police officer among its elected members, the eminently sensible and progressive Ken MacKay. Perhaps he can provide some guidance to the committee and his fellow council members.
Unfortunately, the current communications void also seems to extend to Mayor Cathy Heron. According to the Gazette, she was not available at press time – in itself troubling, as for a decade St. Albertans have been used to a mayor who did the communications part of the job superbly well, and was always available to media.
Ms. Heron told the local paper in December, soon after her election last fall, that while she hoped to get assistance from the province with the additional expenses stemming from pot legalization, “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge cost.”
Was she not made aware by city officials or Police Committee members of the concern expressed in this report?