EDMONTON — Alberta is reviewing photo radar across the province, responding to concerns that what is supposed to be a watchdog road safety tool has morphed into an engorged cash cow.
Transportation Minister Brian Mason says a review is now underway in his department. It's a plan that has the support of all four opposition parties in the legislature.
Mason said the review is based on public feedback.
"There's a strong public view, I think, that photo radar has gone beyond just enforcing safe traffic and has become, in some cases, a bit of a cash cow for municipalities," Mason said Thursday. "That is a misuse, if that is occurring.
"We need to know to the degree to which that is occurring, and we need to make sure that we correct that."
Municipalities with 5,000 residents or more can run photo radar through their local police or RCMP.
Most of the money from a photo radar ticket — 73 per cent — goes to the municipality. The other 27 per cent goes to the province. Every ticket has a 15 per cent surcharge for a victims of crime fund.
Under guidelines established in 2014, photo radar should be set up in areas where drivers habitually ignore traffic laws, where there have been a lot of collisions or pedestrian accidents, or where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic.
The guidelines are flexible but the overarching principle is public safety. Mason said his department will review where municipalities are running photo radar and how much money they are receiving.
Mason's department could not provide figures or municipal breakdowns on how much money photo radar is collecting. Mason said that will be part of the review, which he wants completed by the fall.
The Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have previously raised questions about photo radar. In fact, Mason's news conference was arranged on short notice Thursday just before a scheduled Wildrose news conference urging a photo radar review.
Wildrose justice critic Angela Pitt agreed with Mason's review, and said the public deserves to see some numbers.
"We know that there's significantly higher number of photo traffic locations in Edmonton than there are in Calgary," said Pitt.
"Why is that? We don't know but we'd like those answers."
Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney has been calling for a photo radar review following a cross-province tour he made to win the party leadership in March. He said he heard "hundreds of Albertans in every corner of the province" express frustration with photo radar.
"It's supposed to be a law enforcement and not a tax-collection tool, but I think there's growing anecdotal evidence that's not the case."
Pitt and Kenney also urged Mason make the results public by Sept. 15, so voters have the information before casting a ballot in municipal elections later in the fall. Mason, however, said he won't commit to an artificial deadline.
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark and Liberal Leader David Swann also said photo radar has a place in traffic safety but should be reviewed to ensure it's fulfilling that mandate.
In March, Drayton Valley councillors scrapped photo radar after a majority of voters in a plebiscite urged them to do so.