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Calgary snow budget could jump after recent Supreme Court decision

You might be getting improved Calgary snow clearing whether you want it or not.

And it’s likely to have a significant budget impact, according to one Calgary city councillor.

A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision involving the City of Nelson, British Columbia, and Taryn Marchi around liability and negligence involving snow clearing, paved the way for potential legal action against cities not exercising duty of care in removing snow.

Calgary’s annual base budget for snow clearing is roughly $40 million. A one-time $9 million in additional funding was added in 2020 to better clear sidewalks and pathways. The city has also drawn $13.5 million from department reserves to battle the snow.

In comparison, Edmonton’s winter roads budget is roughly $64 million.  

During the election, several candidates brought up snow clearing as an issue in Calgary. Further, issues polling done by Janet Brown for CBC Calgary showed that 64 per cent see it as “highly important.”

In January, former Coun. Jeff Davison brought forward a motion giving city admin the latitude to call a snow emergency. As a part of that, they could move funding from other transportation areas to clear snow.  

In an email response, the City of Calgary said it’s aware of the Supreme Court of Canada decision.

“We cannot comment further at this time,” they wrote, in response to questions about budget impact.

The newly elected group of city councillors will grapple with budget adjustments in November.

Most lane kilometres, among the lowest budget: Carra

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the city’s relied on its unique weather pattern including Chinooks and lower average snowfall as a reason behind a lower budget.

With climate change, Carra said we can expect more severe weather events, particularly with heavy snowfall.  Further, Calgarians expect better accessibility and mobility in the winter, he said.

“Now we have a Supreme Court decision that clearly creates a liability situation that didn’t exist before,” Carra said.

“I fully expect that we’re going to see a significant increase in our snow and ice clearing budget in the years ahead.”

Carra didn’t think the biggest impact would be seen in the upcoming November adjustment. He also said the city’s been slowly “ratcheting” up the snow-clearing budget.

“I think you’re going to see a preview of coming attractions in this budget adjustment,” he said.

“The real decision is going to be made in the next budget.”

To put it on par with Edmonton ($64 million) would require a base boost of roughly $24 million. Each $13 million added to the city’s operations budget represents an approximate tax increase of one per cent.