The amendments that fall under this question aim to improve municipal accountability, transparency, and viability, as well as re-frame the relationship between municipalities and the province.

After hearing from Albertans about how this is important, we developed these MGA amendments to support how municipalities are empowered to govern.

Collaboration with Indigenous Communities

What’s currently in place: The MGA does not apply to First Nations lands (federal legislation applies) and the planning and development components of the MGA do not apply to Métis settlements. Members of these Indigenous communities intersect with municipalities through regular interactions for a variety of reasons, such as utility service delivery.

What’s the issue: The province is committed to implementing the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As such, it is important to encourage the province’s municipalities to continue to take meaningful and reasonable steps to understand and engage with neighbouring Indigenous communities and citizens in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner, particularly with respect to land-use planning and service delivery.

What we heard: Indigenous groups are seeking more inclusion in the municipal decision making process, particularly issues involving land use and governance. Generally, members of the public, business and industry, and municipalities are supportive of initiatives that promote greater collaboration and inclusiveness with Indigenous communities.

What’s changing: Municipalities will be allowed to invite neighbouring Indigenous communities to collaborate on future regional service delivery and enter into agreements with them. Municipalities will also be required to notify neighbouring Indigenous communities of any new municipal development plans or area structure plans.

What this means: These changes are a “first step” to improving the relationship between Indigenous communities and municipalities. Requiring municipalities to notify adjacent Indigenous communities of any new municipal development plans or area structure plans mirrors current legislation regarding statutory plan preparation where municipalities must notify adjacent municipalities of the plan preparation.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government.

Parental Leave

What’s currently in place: Municipal councils have the authority to permit extended councillor absences without disqualification on a case-by-case basis, but do not have clear authority to establish ongoing standards that would provide for extended parental leave on a system-wide basis.

What we heard: Various stakeholders expressed an interest in opening the discussion around parental leave for municipal councillors by specifically allowing municipalities to create policies on parental leave. Albertans were generally supportive of a change that would make political life more family-friendly and accessible for women seeking office.

What’s changing: Municipalities will be enabled to provide for extended councillor parental leave by bylaw. The MGA will be amended to exempt councillors from disqualification when absent under the provisions of a local parental leave bylaw.

What this means: This change allows councils to locally determine their parental leave process and to address any concerns about an extended absence that would potentially result in a gap in councillor responsibilities according to their local needs and circumstances. This change aligns with existing absence provisions within the MGA that allow a councillor to miss a substantial number of council meetings, while maintaining their duties as an elected official.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government.

Environmental Well-Being

What’s currently in place: The MGA currently identifies municipal purposes as providing good governance; providing services, facilities and other things necessary or desirable for the municipality; and to develop and maintain safe and viable communities. Many municipalities consider environmental elements as part of their decision-making, but the MGA does not include fostering environmental well-being as a municipal purpose.

What we heard: Some stakeholders expressed concern that municipalities lack explicit authority to incorporate environmental well-being in their operational and land-use decision making processes. This may prevent municipalities from fully embracing a leadership role in environmental stewardship and more actively taking action toward the goals in Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan. Members of the public are supportive of clarifying municipal responsibilities and considerations in the decision making process that will lead to better planning and development decisions.

What’s changing: Fostering environmental well-being will be included in the MGA as a municipal purpose.

What this means: Expanding municipal purpose in the MGA to include fostering environmental well-being will give municipalities a clear signal to consider the environment in a multitude of operational and growth decisions. Municipalities will not be able to pass bylaws that conflict with provincial legislation on environmental matters.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government.

Notification of Amalgamations and Annexations

What’s currently in place: The MGA currently indicates a municipal authority initiating an amalgamation or annexation must notify any local authority it considers would be affected by the proposed amalgamation or annexation. Local authorities include school divisions, regional health authorities, and regional services commissions.

What We Heard: Some local authorities expressed concern they are not always notified of proposed amalgamations or annexations. Albertans have indicated support for a change that would positively impact collaboration and ensure all those affected by an amalgamation or annexation would be informed.

What’s changing: The municipality initiating an amalgamation or annexation will be required to notify all local authorities operating or providing services within the affected municipalities. For the purposes of an amalgamation, the notice must also include proposals for consultation with all local authorities operating or providing services within the affected municipalities. The municipality initiating an annexation will also be required to notify the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

What this means: All local authorities operating or providing services in the affected municipalities will be notified and engaged with during the amalgamation and annexation processes.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government.

Ministerial Enforcement of Directives

What’s currently in place: The Municipal Government Act recognizes that municipal councils are elected to represent their residents and make decisions that benefit their communities. As a result the Act only authorizes the Minister to intervene in local governance in very specific circumstances of significant concern. The Minister may issue directives in response to an inspection of a municipality that finds irregular, improvident, or improper governance, and to ensure compliance with an Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) regional plan. There is no time period for notice of a court application set out in the MGA.

What’s the issue: Currently, the MGA does not provide the Minister with any flexibility in enforcing directives flowing from an inspection; the only enforcement measure available is dismissal of councillors and/or the CAO.  In addition, the Act does not give the courts any guidance on how to consider Ministerial orders and directives. While this situation is very rare, it has created challenges in enforcing Ministerial orders and directives intended to address local governance concerns.

What we heard: Albertans and many municipal officials have expressed that it is important for processes to be in place that hold councils accountable for their actions and promote a high standard of local governance. Albertans are supportive of granting the Minister reasonable powers that may be used as a last resort in holding councils accountable for their actions.

What’s changing: The Minister will be provided with the same remedies to address municipal non-compliance with a Ministerial directive as are currently available to address non-compliance with an ALSA regional plan.  The MGA will continue to limit the use of these powers to extraordinary circumstances.

What this means: Additional options will be available to the Minister in the rare instances where municipal non-compliance has reached the level of last resort. These options include ministerial authority to suspend the authority of council to make bylaws, to exercise bylaw-making authority, and to withhold monies otherwise payable to a municipality. The Act will include additional restrictions on how the Minister may be able to apply these options, including a 14 days’ notice period to the municipality, to ensure these powers are used only as a last resort.

Ten days’ notice to the Minister will be required when a municipality intends to apply for injunctive relief against a decision or order of the Minister and an order of the Minister will remain in effect while a review of that order is underway.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government.