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Coming Up: Aug 27

Council meets on Monday night. Following is a summary and my take on what will be discussed. The biggest topic of discussion will be revisiting the Cannabis Retail Store license cap.

As always, any mistakes or opinions belong to me and me alone, not to Council or City staff.

If you would like to watch the meeting or read any of its supporting material for yourself, you can do so by clicking here.

Downtown Rehabilitation Borrowing

Council will be voting on a bylaw to authorize borrowing for Downtown Rehabilitation.

This bylaw would allow for borrowing of up to $12,040,000 with a repayment period of 30 years.

The cost to service this will be approximately $809,000/year. 

I voted in favour of the Downtown Rehabilitation Project knowing that it would entail debt. In my mind, this decision has already been made: passing this bylaw is a housekeeping matter. I will be voting "yes."

To get more information about Downtown Rehabilitation and why I voted in favour of it, click here.

Cannabis Retail Store License Cap

Council decided to only award 15 licenses for Cannabis Retail Stores in the first year of legalization. After these were awarded via lottery, several business representatives presented to both City Council and the Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee asking for the cap to be revisited. These businesses raised questions about who was allowed to enter the lottery, the lottery itself, the geographic distribution of licensed stores, and what should happen with businesses that won the lottery and have been unable to secure a location. However, in my mind, the most concerning issue raised is that luck rather than free competition is determining the fate of local businesses.

These arguments held enough merit in the eyes of enough Councillors to trigger more conversation. On Monday, Council will be re-debating the cap. There seems to be a potential appetite to either increase or remove it. 

I was strongly opposed to any cap on the number of retail licenses. I made a motion (which was defeated) to eliminate the cap. Knowing that a cap was likely to pass, I also voted in favour of every motion which proposed increasing it. To see why I had this position, you can read my June 18th Council Meeting preview. I am including the section about retail license caps at the very end of this post.

Despite my strong opposition to a cap, I have conflicting thoughts on re-visiting it.

On one hand, I think Council should be a deliberative body which is always willing to re-examine its position. I have tremendous respect for my colleagues who are re-considering their vote: I hope I have the same sort of humility in my positions.

On the other hand, the issues that have been raised were all predictable: I raised them as concerns in our original debates about the cap. I don't entirely understand why this is being re-considered when no new information has come to light.

I'll be talking and thinking about this lots over the weekend. I'll also be going into Monday's meeting with an open mind and an open vote. However, here is where I am leaning:

I do not support raising the cap. A cap is problematic for many reasons, one of them is that no matter how it is handled you are going to have winners who are happy and others who feel licenses were distributed unfairly. I don't think there is a single objectively right way to decide who gets to enter and how to run a lottery. We saw this with the first intake, and problems would just be amplified with a second intake. Additionally, if we are going to have a cap, it will be arbitrary: I don't see any real justification to have 20 or 25 or some other number rather than 15. If Council is firm on having an arbitrary limit imposed, I see no reason to change course on what this limit is.

However, I think I support abolishing the cap all together. There are downsides to this. The City and local businesses expended resources carrying out the rules Council set in place. Additionally, businesses that won a license have been planning assuming that there would not be more handed out in the first year of legalization. I don't love the idea of Council pivoting. On the other hand, I think that these downsides may be overcome by the benefits of allowing truly free competition in this market.

I welcome your input on any matter Council is discussing. But this is one where I would be especially grateful to hear your perspective.

It is worth noting that Council cannot actually make any changes on Monday. To change a bylaw, amendments need to go through a committee and be brought back to a later Council meeting. However, Council can give firm direction about its intention at Monday's meeting.

Video Monitors for Transit

Transit has requested permission to install video monitors on 10 buses. This is in response to a successful pilot project undertaken in 2017.

These monitors would be used to advertise transit service notices and upcoming community events. Additionally, they would be used to display paid advertising- the monitors are anticipated to pay for themselves in 3-4 years while lasting for 6 years.

This project carries a cost of $40,000. This would be taken from money already budgeted for other transit capital projects.

I intend to vote in favour of this request.

Canadian Mental Health Association Housing Projects

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) manages Willow Place: a 57 unit apartment which houses and supports those with mental health problems, addictions, severe trauma, and other disabilities. The City owns the parcel of land Willow Place sits on and leases it to CMHA for $1/year. This lease expires in 2022. It has been recommended that Council extend this lease for an additional 15 years.

CMHA is also pursuing two new projects: a 60 unit affordable housing building and a 22 unit permanent supportive housing project. It is recommended that Council support these projects by waiving all fees and levies that are usually charged to new developments. Furthermore, Council has been asked to direct Mayor Given to draft a letter expressing the City's support. This letter would help CMHA garner support from other sources.

CMHA is a trusted organisation and these projects fulfill a clear need in our community. I intend to vote in favour of all these recommendations.

Property Tax Sale

Unfortunately, every year there are some properties whose owners cannot or choose not to pay their tax bills. The Municipal Government Act requires municipalities to recover taxes by selling the properties through a public auction. There are 34 properties representing $662,764.42 in owed taxes slated for sale this year. Council will be voting on whether or not to approve the plans for an auction proposed for November 30.

These sales are a requirement of the Municipal Government Act. Furthermore, it is important that all property owners pay their share for municipal services. I intend to vote in favour of this motion.

City Manager Resignation

Council will be receiving a letter of resignation from the City Manager, Bob Nicolay, who has accepted the City Manager position in Medicine Hat. His last day with Grande Prairie will be September 28th. 

Mr. Nicolay has brought excellent leadership and many much needed changes to the City of Grande Prairie. I've also learned a lot from him. I'm sad to see him leave us. At the same time, I'm excited on his behalf for the new challenges he is taking on and I have great trust in Grande Prairie's Corporate Leadership Team. Over the next few weeks Council will be deciding how to fill the City Manager position. I'm confident that the organisation will continue to receive excellent leadership and I am excited to work with the person who provides it.

That is what is on the Council agenda for this week. As always, I welcome any questions, ideas, or feedback.

Thanks for reading!


Following is what I wrote about the Cannabis Retail License cap going into the July 3 Council meeting:

I strongly urge Council to re-consider this cap. There are four problems with this.

First, there is no way to limit black market dealers. The only way to push them out of our community is to have them be out-competed by legitimate retailers. Limiting Cannabis Retail Stores to an artificial number does not help with this. An artificial limit can be especially favorable to the black market if it means that large areas of our City are far away from the allowed retail locations.

Second, if there is a market for more than 10 retail locations, more will likely still open. They will just setup outside of City limits. If this happens, the City loses all influence over them. It also means that the City loses out on tax revenue which could go to mitigating any social costs of legalization.

Third, this could create a grey market where retail licenses get sold at a premium. We have seen this in other municipalities where the amount of business licenses are capped (taxi cabs are a classic example). This artificially drives up prices and the municipality receives no benefit.

Finally, I do not think there is a good way to distribute legitimate licenses. No matter how distribution is undertaken, some who don't receive licenses will feel that they were handed out unfairly. There are two options: give licenses out through a random lottery, or somehow pick retailers the City feels have the best business plans. A random distribution is concerning in that it rewards lucky rather than smart and hard working entrepreneurs who will open quality businesses. But the City choosing who gets licenses is even more disturbing. I'm skeptical of any government's ability to select better than the free market who most deserves to operate in a community. I also feel that doing so is overstepping government's role.