Cannabis excise tax among several hot topics for SUMA delegates

SASKATOON - Cannabis was one of many issues on the minds of delegates to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities convention in Saskatoon.

In particular, SUMA delegates overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution supporting receiving a portion of the cannabis excise tax that the province receives from the federal government.

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The resolution, from the Town of Aberdeen, called on SUMA to advocate for the provincial government to immediately develop and implement a cannabis excise tax sharing agreement, in co-operation with SUMA and with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.

According to Councillor Randy Goulden of the City of Yorkton, that tax money was needed so municipalities could meet the costs associated with cannabis legalization.

“We all know in this room, Saskatchewan’s home towns are on the front lines of cannabis legislation,” Goulden said from the floor.

She pointed to municipal costs of policing, enforcement and business licensing, and said that without excise tax sharing, municipalities would be forced to raise their property tax.

“Anything that comes out of Ottawa lands at the feet of municipalities,” said Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark, who also didn’t like the idea of cannabis costs being covered by property tax.

He said to reporters cities had to allocate resources for bylaws and inspections and policing. He pointed out his city’s last police budget included costs of $100,000 directly related to cannabis.

“We should be seeing those costs covered by those dollars that are being generated directly through the industry,” said Clark. “We’ll continue to make that point and we think that’s fair and reasonable.”

However, Premier Scott Moe seemed in no rush to come up with a cannabis excise tax deal with municipalities.

Speaking to reporters prior to the resolution session, Moe noted there just “isn’t a lot of revenue” to talk about.

“There hasn’t been … very much in the way of revenues, as of yet, although there’s been a fair amount of expense, talking from a provincial perspective, setting up the regulatory process, setting up the RFP process,” said Moe.

“At this point … we’re not open to that discussion but we're always open to having a discussion with our municipalities. Our expenses at the provincial level far exceed any revenues that we have collected to date. As we move forward, we’ll see what that is.”  

Right now the federal government allocates 75 per cent of the cannabis excise tax to the provinces.

Here are results of some of the other resolutions that made the floor Monday afternoon:

A resolution that didn’t make it was the Town of Shaunavon’s proposal that all SUMA members voluntarily contribute a minimum of $2 per capita per year to help maintain STARS air ambulance. There were various objections raised to the proposal: one expressed concern it would force municipalities to make contributions to STARS while also pointing out that health care was a provincial responsibility. Another noted there was a patient fee already in place.  

A proposal from La Ronge for a five per cent tax on the sale of alcohol, to be returned to communities for investment into initiatives that increase community safety and well-being, also didn’t make it. One delegate pointed out there was already a 10 per cent liquor consumption tax already in place and did not want to see yet another tax on top of it.

There were three resolutions that were presented on the floor on what were deemed “emergent issues.” But the only one passing was one in favour of reinstating the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program.

Of the other two, one called on the province to immediately develop and fund a plan to see Urban Highway Connector Plan roads in less than fair condition be rehabilitated in the next three years. But a number of delegates complained the resolution wasn’t “emergent” at all and had been sprung on the floor of the convention that day, with delegates unable to make informed decisions on it in advance.

“This would not fly at our council table,” said one delegate from the floor. It was defeated. 

There was also a resolution from the City of Saskatoon and the SUMA board calling on the province to amend the Cities Act, Municipalities Act and Northern Municipalities Act to allow for leaves of absence from council of greater than three months without council’s approval, in defined circumstances.

Currently, leaves of greater than three months can be granted, but only with council approval.

Among those speaking in favour of the SUMA resolution was Councillor Kelli Hawtin of North Battleford. She pointed out Canada labour law allowed for every employee to take maternity or parental leave, “except for this room,” she said at the microphone.

“I faced this issue last term, I delivered my first child during our last term of council,” said Hawtin.

“I was eight months pregnant during the election for this particular term. And I thought maybe I shouldn’t run for council because I would have to seek approval from all of my colleagues if I were to take maternity or parental leave in this next term. So we look around the room and I don’t see a lot of young females in this room, and I think we can all agree that we want to see more young people take a step and join our councils, and I think this is a step in allowing that.”

But the resolution went down to defeat, with concern expressed that smaller councils could be impacted if elected officials were gone from the table for long periods of time.

One delegate expressed the view that if he was missing from the table for longer than three months he would resign because he felt he wouldn’t be fulfilling his obligation to be there.    

One resolution that carried, but by a small margin, was from the Town of Carnduff calling for RCMP service costs to be assessed at a per capita rate that is fair for all municipalities that fall under the provincial policing contract. There was lively discussion and some resistance expressed, as not all municipalities had access to the same amount of service.

Byron Tumbach, councillor from the Town of Lumsden and also former director of finance for North Battleford, spoke in support of the resolution.

“If we don’t pass this resolution, we will not deal with this issue. It will continue to grow and the disparity will continue to be there,” said Tumbach.

He said the resolution was about looking for fairness, pointing out that neighbouring communities might be able to access the RCMP services at a cheaper rate.

Other resolutions that passed included a proposal from the town of Gravelbourg called on SUMA to advocate the province and feds make necessary changes to allow gaming events to fund operating costs of municipally-owned facilities. In particular, this would allow for bingos to be held to offset costs to small communities.

Also passing easily was a resolution from Pilot Butte to review the public notice requirements and “expand the methods of communication with our taxpayers” to include consideration for the use of email, municipal websites, social media and other electronic notifications available to a municipality.   

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