Alberta moves to empower local governments, strengthen community collaboration
The Modernized Municipal Government Act was tabled in the Alberta Legislature on Tuesday and Municipal Affairs will consult across the province this summer to ask Albertans for their feedback.
The last major review of the MGA was completed in 1995 and does not reflect new economic realities, changes in technology or evolving municipal roles and relationships. Municipalities are at the grassroots of creating stronger, more dynamic communities and they need robust, forward-looking legislation to meet the changing needs of Albertans.
“In order to promote a healthy economy, we need to move forward on outdated legislation. Our government is showing leadership by addressing the complex and wide-reaching issues municipalities face. We are also taking the time needed to engage Albertans and get this important piece of legislation right.”
The Modernized Municipal Government Act is a culmination of nearly four years of comprehensive review and consultation with municipalities, local citizens and businesses, community organizations, the oil and gas sector, builders and developers, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.
Now that the Act has been introduced, Albertans will have yet another opportunity to provide their feedback. Representatives from Municipal Affairs will travel to 20 communities over the summer to speak with and listen to municipal partners, community organizations, businesses, industry and the general public. This tour will give Albertans an opportunity to review the proposed amendments and provide input before the Legislature completes debate of the bill.
“The MGA touches the lives of every single Albertan by setting a foundation for how the municipalities they live in are governed, funded and developed. Our government is delivering on its promise to modernize the MGA to make it a responsive piece of legislation that gives municipalities and businesses the tools and resources they need to build strong communities and a more resilient and diversified economy for Alberta families.”
Regional partnerships to better serve Albertans
A key focus of the Modernized Municipal Government Act is on working together, growing together and making Alberta better together. Instead of duplicating costly services, the revised MGA requires municipalities to work together, through municipal partnerships, to deliver more effective, efficient services to their communities.
The metropolitan regions of Calgary and Edmonton will do this through mandatory growth management boards. Calgary and Edmonton are the two fastest-growing regions in Alberta, with more than half of the population living in those two metropolitan areas. This creates increased pressure on the natural and built environments - and increased opportunity for economic prosperity.
Growth management boards will address these matters, by being responsible for developing regional approaches to the delivery and equitable funding of services including water, wastewater and transportation. They will also be required to develop a growth plan for the region to help ensure the preservation of agricultural lands and the wise use of the environment.
Growth management boards will be used as a tool to stimulate new opportunities and innovation within Alberta’s economy. By including regional economic development in their mandate, the boards will help promote the region’s economic development and competitiveness. By taking a collaborative and co-ordinated approach to economic development, the boards will support jobs and create an economy that offers more opportunities for all Albertans.
“I’m pleased to see that the revised MGA will include mechanisms that will continue to contribute to greater inter-municipal co-operation and regional growth planning. We know that by working together we can strengthen not only our region’s economy but that of Alberta, taking us from a winner-take-all approach to one where we all win.”
Outside of the metropolitan regions of Calgary and Edmonton, municipalities will develop intermunicipal collaboration frameworks. These frameworks will ensure that neighbouring municipalities partner to produce better land-use planning, co-ordinate services of a regional benefit, and equitably fund those services.
The current linear tax assessment system will be maintained, but locally negotiated inter-municipal collaboration frameworks with neighbouring communities will strengthen working relationships between municipalities to better share costs of services.
“The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties wants to congratulate the Government of Alberta on the introduction of Bill 21: The Modernized Municipal Government Act. We would like to commend the province for their planned consultative process with partners like the AAMDC. We are particularly encouraged that the new MGA will not redistribute linear assessment tax dollars while focusing on cost-sharing as the primary collaborative funding tool. The AAMDC looks forward to hearing from our members on the proposed changes so we can continue to work in their best interest with the province to create sustainable rural communities.”
Alberta’s communities are interconnected and transcend municipal boundaries. All residents of a region utilize the same services and the same infrastructure. Therefore, locally negotiated and equitable cost-sharing agreements will be required to help municipalities effectively plan, pay for and deliver the infrastructure and services used at a regional level. This includes services such as water, wastewater, emergency management and transportation. There are more than 600 examples of this type of agreement already in place in the province, and this change to the MGA acknowledges the strong co-operative nature of Albertans by enshrining this good practice into law.
“The amendments realize one of our three key goals, which is to modernize legislation to reflect the importance of regionalization. The mandatory long term inter-municipal funding agreements should enable municipalities to work together to ensure that they all contribute to the costs of infrastructure and services that their respective citizens and businesses use. We look forward to the public consultations so that we can discuss additional ways to ensure municipalities have the required resources to provide core services and can more collaboratively be engaged to work in partnership with the province to build sustainable communities for the future.”
Building better, more complete communities
Alberta is growing. More than four million people now call our province home and changes to the MGA will give municipalities the tools they need to ensure new development is done in a way that creates real neighbourhoods for families - neighbourhoods kept safe by police and firefighters at nearby stations, and ones where hockey practice is held around the corner, not across the city.
Off-site levies are already used by municipalities to help fund infrastructure, like roads, water, storm, and sewage systems. The revised MGA will empower municipalities to include fire halls, police stations, community recreation facilities, and libraries in those levies when the new development receives 30 per cent or more of the benefit of the new facility. This approach will make sure the fire halls, swimming pools, and services Albertans need are there when they move in.
“Investments in local facilities are critical to complete communities. We are happy to see that the MGA will recognize this, and we encourage all stakeholders to implement these changes in a way that will focus on building stronger neighbourhoods.”
Right now, there are more than 30,000 Albertans on wait lists for government-supported affordable housing units or programs. The updated MGA is helping ensure all Albertans have access to safe and affordable housing by giving municipalities the option to reserve a portion of a new development for affordable housing.
Inclusionary housing is used across North America to increase affordable housing and promote diverse, inclusive communities. Programs have been in place in the United States since the early 1970s and many Canadian communities are following suit. British Columbia requires the inclusion of affordable housing in new housing developments, while Ontario recently proposed legislation that would enable municipalities to mandate the inclusion of affordable housing units in new development projects.
Inclusionary housing is one way the province is working with municipalities to address the critical need for affordable housing in a collaborative and sustainable way.
“Inclusionary zoning is one of the important tools contained in the MGA that will help municipalities to tackle complex issues such as affordable housing.”
These changes to the MGA will result in more complete, inclusive communities for Alberta families – communities where Albertans have an affordable place to call home, access to the infrastructure they need and where growth is funded in a collaborative way.
Supporting small business and increasing industry competitiveness
Right now, all businesses are charged the same property tax rate, regardless of their size. Changes to the MGA will create a more flexible property tax framework between small and large businesses, by empowering municipalities to split non-residential properties into different subclasses.
Small businesses comprise 95 per cent of all businesses in Alberta and are responsible for 35 per cent of all private sector employment in the province. They are strong contributors to the provincial economy and the updated MGA will make it easier for them to do business in Alberta.
The updated MGA will also increase industry competitiveness by linking non-residential and residential tax rates. Non-residential municipal property taxes have increased at rates faster than residential taxes. In some municipalities, that has resulted in owners of industrial property paying a much higher tax rate than residential property owners.
Under the revised MGA, the highest non-residential tax rate can be no more than five times the lowest residential tax rate, or a ratio of 5:1. Grandfathering provisions will be put in place.
Enhancing municipal accountability
Changes to the MGA will help municipal leaders provide well-managed, transparent and accountable local governments for Albertans. Municipalities will be required to develop and adopt codes of conduct for council members and will have authority to enforce those codes. It will also require municipalities to offer orientation and training to newly elected councillors to help them understand their duties and responsibilities.
The modernized MGA also expands the mandate of the Alberta Ombudsman to include the investigation of complaints about municipal actions or decisions. This allows Albertans to bring matters of concern to the attention of an impartial third-party who can investigate issues as necessary. This creates an additional accountability mechanism for municipalities and gives Albertans another resource to have local concerns addressed in a fair, efficient and transparent manner.
“I am encouraged the government has chosen to expand the Ombudsman’s mandate to include complaints concerning municipalities. Albertans expect and deserve fairness at all levels of government decision-making and administration. Our role is to facilitate fairness and ensure clear and consistent decision-making. Including municipalities under the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction enhances transparency and accountability and offers Albertans value.”
With 710 sections, the Municipal Government Act is our province’s second-largest piece of legislation and touches the daily lives of all Albertans by defining how their municipalities are governed, funded and developed.
The current MGA review began in 2012. Consultation has been comprehensive, involving input from more than 1,250 written submissions, approximately 1,500 people at 77 community meetings and 15 months of intensive policy discussions with representatives from municipalities and industry, the oil and gas sector, builders and developers, as well as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.
Government representatives will travel to 20 communities this summer seeking feedback on the changes to the Municipal Government Act. The tour provides Albertans with the opportunity to review the proposed amendments and provide their input before the Legislature completes debate of the Bill.
The government will craft new regulations to accompany key changes in the modernized MGA with input from municipalities and key stakeholders. Regulatory review and development will be ongoing until January 2017, with resulting regulations posted online for public review and feedback before they are finalized and approved.
All changes to the MGA, including regulations, will be proclaimed before municipal elections in fall 2017.