Some Thoughts on Provincial/Local Revenue Sharing, Part I

I am a passionate believer in local self-government, and I worry that provincial and state governments all across North America are undermining its viability.  Sometimes, perhaps, provincial and state governments are completely unaware they are doing this.

Personally, I describe my model of democracy in Alberta as – “bi-cameral, with a twist”.  It has two chambers (like the Parliament of Canada, or the American Congress), but the two chambers relate vertically, not horizontally.

I see myself, and my neighbours, as self-governing both locally and provincially.  We want both our local community and our province to work well, which means that we (citizens) must be careful about which responsibilities we assign to which of our servants.  We must also be careful to ensure that each of our servants gets the necessary resources to discharge their responsibilities, and they must have the assurance of stability and protection from egregious unilateral intervention by their alter ego.

I believe that the people of Alberta should make the important decisions about what work gets done by which aspect of government.  Perhaps we could make such decisions by way of referenda.  It should not be for the provincial government to make such decisions unilaterally and then impose them on local government, sometimes with little or no notice and no negotiations whatsoever.

I also believe that, depending upon economic conditions, local government should get the resources necessary to do the work we (citizens) assign to it.  In addition, diverse revenue streams should flow to local government, to smooth the ebb and flow, and an independent party, including representatives of the provincial government and local government, should manage the terms and conditions of the flow; again, so that the flow is not subjected to unilateral political adjustments.

(I digress to say that it always astonishes me that we rely so heavily on taxes on property to fund services for people.  I am astonished that the provincial government has access to such circumstance responsive taxes as income tax, resource revenue, gaming revenue, etc., and local government does not.  I am astonished that local government is constantly a supplicant at the seat of the provincial government.  I am astonished that the provincial government can claim to be debt free while local government has considerable debt.  I am astonished that the provincial government can prevent local government from saving, yet unexpectedly withhold money that has been voted by the Legislative Assembly.  I am astonished that the provincial government can impose its priorities on local communities, whether for schools, or roads, or cultural facilities, with no reliable knowledge of local circumstances and – perhaps – the personal agenda of the local government M.L.A. being the driving force behind decisions to fund or not.)

For a long time, I have felt that rural voters are fierce in defense of their control of the Legislature precisely because they know that local decision-making has been sucked up by the provincial government, for many many years.  Community decision-making is being curtailed and undermined.  More and more decisions are being made by the provincial government.  It should come as no surprise that the more politically attuned of our citizens would want to maintain effective control of the Legislative Assembly.  Would all of us be more ready to enjoy representation by population if our self-government was organized to be more respectful that some people want to live in small communities, some want to live in large communities, some in rural communities and some in densely settled urban areas.  All of us, irrespective of the size of the community that we live in, want to be able to enjoy significant self-government in the community of our choice.  If that is taken away from us, we will look to control further up “the food chain”.

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