Local Government Laws Makeover

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” —Groucho Marx

Well, that grinding noise you have been hearing is not your transmission. That is the province working on revising the Municipal Government Act (MGA). This it the behemoth legislation (500 pages) that regulates our 349 municipalities.

This work began in 2012 under the previous government, and the MGA has now been revised via three separate acts of the legislature.

As Severely Normal Albertans read through the list below you will find your hopes are dashed that this legislation will help reduce property taxes. In part it is a  modernization effort aimed at cleaning up some of the irritants and problems spotted over the years.

But is it far more than that! The legislation pushes municipalities to pay attention to new priorities. Public accountability, indigenous relations, environmental considerations and regionalism are prominent themes. Some new powers are given to municipalities but there are lots of prescriptive limiting language too.

Alberta opposition parties and groups like the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association are not necessarily enthralled. Not the least of their concerns is uncertainty about the details in the 30 or so regulations that interpret the act not yet written. And there are areas within the act that erode municipal decision making that share worrying.

Much of this is “inside baseball stuff”for us Severely Normal Albertans. On the one hand, many of the changes are in keeping with modern times. But administrative cost, planning complexity and reduced municipal autonomy are the price to be paid.

Spoiler Alert the details below may cause boredom and lethargy to set in!

The first act brought in by the PC’s in March 2015 after 3 years of consultation. Modifications are:

  • enhanced the public participation, public notification and open meeting requirements to improve transparency.
  • A standard for a code of conduct for municipal councillors.
  • A concept of City Charters for Edmonton and Calgary. The charters offer more autonomy and flexibility.
  • The act also cleaned up dust bunnies related to municipal planning requirements.

The ND government got into the act (pardon the pun) with Bill 21 in 2016. The changes to the MGA are far more transformative (123 pages worth!):

  • Regional Growth Management Boards are mandatory for the Edmonton and Calgary regions and voluntary elsewhere.
  • Municipalities that are not part of Growth Management Boards must prepare an inter-municipal collaboration framework (IFC) plan covering regional land-use planning and funding of regional services within 3 years.
  • Municipalities can compel landowners to sell them land as new type of ‘conservation reserve’.
  • Additional rigour is added to development approval processes and timelines.
  • Non-residential assessment can be taxed at different mill rates
  • Non-residential tax rates cannot be higher than 5 times residential rates
  • Municipalities can cancel property taxes to encourage brownfield development.
  • Off site charges to developers are expanded to include capital costs of community recreation facilities, fire halls, police stations and libraries.
  • Municipal Affairs takes over responsibility for assessing heavy industrial property and pipelines.
  • Municipalities, can require developers to contribute units, land or cash for affordable housing. Municipalities are required to offer compensation.

Minister Shayne Anderson

This act was passed in December 2016 and government kept chugging along and more legislation in the Spring of 2017. The changes:

  • Insert an additional purpose of a municipality to consider “environmental well-being”.
  • Allow municipalities to levy taxes on roads that connect to Alberta highways.
  •  Indian Reserves or Metis settlements adjacent to municipalities must be notified during the preparation of municipal development plans and area structure plans and they may participate in inter-municipal collaboration frameworks (IFC).
  • Add more notification requirements for amalgamations and annexations.
  • require joint use and planning agreements with school boards for land dedication for parks and schools.
  • Allow the Minister greater powers to address municipal non-compliance  and creates a role for the Provincial Ombudsman.
  • Allow for parental leave policies that would apply to councillors.

All of the changes will come into force sometime before October’s municipal elections.  And just today some of the relevant  regulations were released for public comment.