B.C. municipalities continue to be left out of cannabis revenue-sharing

Aphria grows and distributes cannabis. APHRIA

Municipal governments are once again appealing to the B.C. government for a share of the cannabis excise tax revenue to help deal with the extra costs and responsibilities they’ve taken on since marijuana legalization.

It’s the fifth year in a row that delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention have voted on a resolution about receiving some of the federal tax that is applied to medical and non-medical cannabis.

The federal government passes on 75 per cent of the excise tax revenue to the provinces and territories, and although three provinces have deals to share that cash with their local governments, B.C. does not.

UBCM president and Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said the group’s requests to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement have been repeatedly declined.

“It’s time for them to show us the money,” said Tait.

survey showed that it’s expected local governments will incur $11.5-million-per-year in incremental cannabis-related costs for the first three years after legalization. These costs include policing, land-use planning and licensing.

In the most recent fiscal year, the B.C. government received $14 million in federal excise tax revenue. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, it expects to receive $50 million in revenue from the federal excise tax, and $40 million from a 15-per-cent markup on the landed cost of cannabis.

“It has now been almost two years since non-medical cannabis was legalized,” Tait said. “Two years of a legal framework that has provided millions in taxation revenue to federal and provincial orders of government. Two years of B.C. local governments receiving none of that revenue.”

A number of other special resolutions were endorsed at the convention:

• In response to concerns that arose during the 2018 municipal election, a resolution was endorsed asking the province to amend legislation to provide greater oversight for elector groups and financial contributions made in non-election years, better tracking of third-party ads and generally greater transparency around election finance reporting.

“UBCM supports the principles of fairness, accountability and transparency in the local elections process,” said past-president and Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh.

• Transit agencies have been hit hard by COVID-19, and delegates voted to have the province, TransLink, B.C. Transit, UBCM and local governments work together on a provincial transit recovery strategy to deal with the financial hit and a rebuilding strategy for the transit and transportation sector to strengthen funding models. Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, who is on the UBCM executive, said the idea is to ensure that public transit remains stable and viable in future.

• Broadband internet is still not accessible to many rural communities in B.C., and the UBCM is urging the federal and provincial governments to implement measures to address access and affordability issues. Funding programs for universal broadband access should also require service-providers to make use of existing, dormant network infrastructure.

“Slow or no internet access is the reality for communities in many parts of this province, making it particularly difficult to use video conferencing and other collaborative tools. This means that during the pandemic — and pre-pandemic — staff, elected officials and citizens are unable to complete their work, attend meetings, represent residents, provide input or feedback, or otherwise participate in the administration and operation of local government,” said Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, UBCM second vice-president and Quesnel councillor.

• On a day when the B.C. Coroners Service published even more dismal news about illicit drug-toxicity deaths — 147 in August — delegates at the UBCM urged the province to introduce a comprehensive strategy for the provision of protective health services, including funding for the overdose crisis, integrated teams to manage people with mental-health issues, an agreement between police and mental-health officials on managing mental-health patients in emergency wards and long-term care beds to deal specifically with those who have mental-health concerns.

• The UBCM is also asking the province to commit to “thorough consultation” with local governments before making any changes to the Police Act, which is currently being reviewed by a provincial special committee.