Alberta is governed through 3 general types of municipalities, urban, rural and specialized.
Urban municipal governments
Alberta's urban municipalities consist of areas where there is a concentration of people and residential dwellings. The Municipal Government Act describes the characteristics of the different types of urban municipalities, cities, towns, villages, and summer villages.
There are 19 municipalities in Alberta that have been granted city status. To qualify as a city, there must be sufficient population size present with over 10,000 people. Cities may establish ward systems with the same number of councillors in each ward. Candidates, or those elected to the municipal council, are required to be residents of the wards they represent. Cities are governed by a mayor who is elected at large and an even number of councillors or aldermen. There should always be an odd number of people on council to avoid tie votes. Elections for cities and all local government units are held every 4 years.
A town can be formed when the population is at least 1,000 people and may exceed 10,000 people unless it requests a change to city status. Under the Municipal Government Act a town is governed by a mayor and 6 councillors, unless otherwise specified. The mayor and councillors are elected at large. The size of the council is set by municipal bylaw and presently ranges from 5 to 7 councillors. Councillors are required to be residents to serve on their municipal council. There are a total of 107 towns in Alberta.
Villages may be formed upon request by 30% of electors in a community with a population of at least 300 people. They may apply for town status when the population reaches 1,000 people. The council of a village consists of 3 councillors, one of whom is the mayor. There are 86 villages in Alberta.
Generally, the provisions related to a village apply to a summer village except that in the latter, elections and annual meetings are required to be held in the summer. Those who own property in the summer village and others over age 18 and resident in the village on election day are entitled to vote. However, electors for school representation, if any, must be defined as resident. A summer village is the only type of municipality where a person can vote twice in municipal elections: once in the summer village and once in the municipality where their permanent residence is located. Summer villages can no longer be created in Alberta.
Specialized municipalities are unique municipal structures that can be formed without resorting to special Acts of the Legislature. Often, specialized municipalities allow urban and rural communities to coexist in a single municipal government. There are 5 specialized municipalities in Alberta. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Strathcona County are 2 examples of specialized municipalities.
A municipal district (M.D., also called a county) is a government form in rural areas of the province. It includes farmlands as well as unincorporated communities such as hamlets and rural residential subdivisions. The council consists of one councillor per ward, one of whom is elected by council as reeve. Presently, the number of wards varies from 4 to 11, with the most common being 7. There are 63 municipal districts in Alberta. To learn more about municipal districts see Rural Municipalities of Alberta.
The council of a municipal district or specialized municipality can designate an unincorporated community that is within its boundaries to be a hamlet. A community can be a hamlet if it consists of 5 or more dwellings, has a generally accepted boundary and name, and contains land that is used for non-residential purposes.
The Province, through Alberta Municipal Affairs (or Alberta Environment and Parks for Kananaskis Improvement District), is responsible for all functions of local government in the improvement districts, including the levy and collection of taxes.
Five of the 8 IDs are located in national parks: ID No. 4 (Waterton), ID No. 9 (Banff), ID No. 12 (Jasper), ID No. 13 (Elk Island) and ID No. 24 (Wood Buffalo) while 2 are provincial parks: Kananaskis Improvement District (including Kananaskis Provincial Park) and ID No. 25 (Willmore Wilderness) as well as ID No. 349. The provincial and federal governments have primary governing responsibility in these areas except for school affairs.
The formal power rests with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, but most authority and responsibility has been delegated to the councils.
For more information, see the Improvement districts page.
There are 8 Métis settlements in Alberta covering a total area of approximately 1.25 million acres (0.5 million ha). There are presently about 5,000 Métis people residing in the settlements. These are the only Métis settlement corporations established under the Metis Settlements Act.
Special Areas refers to a rural area in southeast Alberta administered by a board of 4 people appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council (Cabinet). Technically, there are 3 Special Areas in southeast Alberta, but for simplicity and in accordance with the common usage these are referred to as one unit.
The areas were established under the Special Areas Act in 1938 due to extreme hardship of the drought years of the 1930s. The Special Areas Board was mandated to provide municipal services and supports in place to enable this region to recover and thrive. Like a municipal government, the Special Areas Board looks after roads and parks, provides water and emergency services, manages public land and community pastures, and develops economic development and agricultural conservation strategies. The Special Areas Act of 1938 has more or less remained intact although there were some amendments in 1966 and 1985. An advisory council of 13 is elected in accordance with the Local Authorities Election Act.
The population of the Special Areas is about 4,500 people. The land area of about 5.1 million acres (2,063,896 ha) is comprised of 2.5 million acres (1,011,714 ha) of privately held land, 1.6 million acres (647,497 ha) of Crown land and one million acres (404,686 ha) of tax recovery land.
There are a number of agreements between the Special Areas and the urban municipalities within it. These agreements cover fire protection, ambulance, library, recreation, regional waste collection, limited family and community services and the development and operation of medical centers.
First Nations reserves
A reserve is not a part of any municipality. The British North America Act of 1867, places exclusive legislative authority on matters related to aboriginal peoples and reserves with the federal government.
The reserves, which range in size from 1,089 acres (441 ha) to 354,667 acres (143,532 ha), have a total area of 1,622,630 acres (656,669 ha). All but two of the smallest reserves are occupied.
To connect with the Municipal Services and Legislation Division of Alberta Municipal Affairs: