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.

Refocusing the Provincial-Municipal

Relationship

Preamble for the Municipal Government Act

What’s currently in place: A preamble is an introductory statement used to explain the purpose of a document, set context and describe relationships. The MGA currently does not contain a preamble, but does describe the purpose of municipalities in Alberta.

What we heard: Municipalities have requested a formal acknowledgment of their role in providing services to Albertans. Municipalities have asked the province to approach interactions with municipalities in the spirit of collaboration and partnership to ensure their respective roles and responsibilities are understood.

What’s changing: A preamble will be incorporated into the MGA to describe the role of municipalities in relation to the Province of Alberta, their varying interests and capacity levels, and the importance of working together to advance the interests of all Albertans.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act.

Municipally Controlled For-Profit Corporations

What’s currently in place: Municipally controlled for-profit corporations are private corporations where a municipality or group of municipalities hold a majority of the shares. Although municipalities maintain the controlling interest in these corporations, day-to-day operations occur at arm’s length. Epcor, Enmax and Aquatera in Grande Prairie are all municipally controlled corporations.

Currently, municipalities submit applications to establish new municipally controlled corporations to the Minister of Municipal Affairs for review and approval.

What we heard: Municipalities are seeking greater flexibility and autonomy to establish municipally controlled corporations. Members of the public, as well as business and industry, have asked for stronger measures to ensure accountability and transparency regarding the establishment and operation of these corporations.

What’s changing: Municipalities will be able to establish these for-profit corporations without the requirement for ministerial approval. New procedural and consultative requirements focused on accountability and transparency will be put in place to ensure the public has a meaningful opportunity to review new proposals for the corporations, and to provide input before final decisions are made.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act and the development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Regulatory expiries

What’s currently in place: The MGA includes a provision (s. 603) that allows for regulations to be created by Cabinet for any matter that is not sufficiently addressed or provided for in the Act. These regulations, unless renewed, expire two years after adoption, after which the policy is meant to be addressed within the MGA. A number of regulations have been created under this provision, each of which has been renewed a number of times past the intended two-year expiry timeframe.

What we heard: These policies have been in place for many years, as far back as 2003. Finding permanent places in legislation or regulation is important to provide predictability and certainty.

What’s changing: Existing policy, found in the following regulations, will be incorporated into the MGA or through new regulations established under new specific regulation-making authorities:

  • SuperNet Assessment Regulation
  • Municipally Controlled Corporation Regulations:
    • Alberta Central East Water Corporation Regulation
    • Aquatera Utilities Inc. Regulation
    • Aqueduct Utilities Regulation
    • Chestermere Utilities Inc. Regulation
    • NEW water Ltd. Regulation
    • Newell Regional Services Corporation Regulation
    • Peace Regional Waste Management Company Regulation
    • Sheep Creek Regional Utility Corporation Regulation
  • Municipal Finance Clarification Regulation
  • Business Tax Exemption (Legislative Office) Regulation
  • Local Improvement (Road) Tax Bylaw Regulation
  • Aeronautics Act Agreements (City of Medicine Hat and Cypress County) Regulation

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Enabling 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.

Enhancing Municipal Accountability and

Transparency

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.

Municipal Ombudsman and Municipal Inspections

What’s currently in place: The MGA provides a high degree of municipal autonomy, and largely leaves enforcement of the legislation at the local level through the courts. Municipalities are primarily accountable to their citizens through election and public participation processes. In certain circumstances, the Minister may step in. The province helps to protect the public interest and ensure that municipal actions and decisions are administered fairly through requirements in the MGA. Currently, citizens can petition the Minister for an audit or an inquiry, but not for an inspection.

What’s the issue: Albertans often call on the Minister of Municipal Affairs to get involved when they feel they have not been treated fairly by a municipality, or when they believe a municipality is not following rules. While the Minister has a role to play in some cases, many cases would be better investigated by an impartial party, such as the Alberta Ombudsman. Currently, the ombudsman’s authority only extends over the provincial government and certain professional organizations.

What we heard: Albertans suggested the current system does not always hold councils accountable between elections. They also indicated it can be confusing to petition the Minister to act on public concerns. Pursuing the matter through court can be too expensive for many citizens or businesses.

What’s changing: The mandate of the Alberta Ombudsman will be expanded to include municipalities. The MGA will also be amended to clarify petitioning processes for municipal inspections.

What this means: The Alberta Ombudsman will objectively investigate complaints to determine if a public organization has acted fairly and reasonably. The ombudsman will review the case to ensure actions and decisions were fair and consistent with relevant legislation, policies and procedures. Other changes to the MGA’s provisions on inspection and inquiry will mean citizens can petition the Minister for an audit or inspection on matters of municipal affairs, including the conduct of councillors, employees, agents and contractors of the municipality.

What’s next: Municipal audits, inspections and inquiries will continue under the current system until the legislative amendments are in effect. Cases partly underway will not be affected. Municipal Affairs is working with the Office of the Alberta Ombudsman to make sure its expanded mandate receives adequate supports.

When this takes effect: The re-structured petitioning provisions for municipal audits and inspections will be proclaimed by October 1, 2017. The Alberta Ombudsman is projected to accept municipal complaints starting April 1, 2018.

Composition on Local Appeal Boards, and Reporting Structure of the Municipal Government Board

What’s currently in place: Under the MGA, municipal councillors and public members may sit on municipal appeal boards. Councillors, who may approve projects while in their elected roles, may also sit on appeal boards ruling on those decisions because it can be difficult to recruit, train and retain public members to those positions, especially in smaller municipalities where appeals can be infrequent. Rules about the number of councillors who may sit on a board also differ between Assessment Review Boards and Subdivision and Development Appeal Boards. The MGA designates the Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs as the chair of the Municipal Government Board, although that authority may be delegated.

What we heard: Albertans expressed an overall desire for municipal appeal boards and the Municipal Government Board to be free from bias and conflict of interest to ensure decisions are made fairly.

What’s changing: Municipal councillors will be prohibited from forming the majority of any legislated appeal board hearing panel. This will be done by aligning the existing rules for Subdivision and Development Appeal Boards with those for Assessment Review Boards. The Chair of the Municipal Government Board will be appointed by Cabinet and report directly to the Minister of Municipal Affairs

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act.

Public Participation Policy

What’s currently in place: The MGA doesn’t require municipalities to demonstrate how they will conduct public participation. Municipalities determine their own public participation practices using required mechanisms such as open meetings, petitions, and notices.

What we heard: Albertans have indicated there is a lack of clarity around the scope of municipalities’ responsibility to engage with their constituents. Due to the existing flexibility of public participation provisions in the MGA, municipal public participation is inconsistent across the province.

What’s changing: Require municipalities to adopt public participation policies that outline their approaches for engaging with stakeholders. Municipalities continue to have the flexibility to determine their approach to public participation, and the new public participation policy helps citizens and stakeholders see how they will be engaged.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Conduct of Elected Officials

What’s currently in place: The use of codes of a conduct is voluntary. Councillor accountability and conduct is addressed through the election process, boards, the courts, or Ministerial directives.

What we heard: Albertans have indicated a desire to hold their councillors more accountable for their actions. Elections help to hold municipal councils accountable, but this may not appropriately address immediate or urgent issues when it comes to the conduct of individual councillors.

What’s changing: Require all municipalities to develop and adopt codes of conduct that:

  • meet standards established in an MGA regulation (to be developed);
  • address enforcement and administrative procedures at the municipal level; and
  • do not allow councils to remove councillors from office.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Council Meetings

What’s currently in place: There is no definition of council “meeting” in the MGA. Councils must hold meetings in public, unless the purpose is to discuss a matter that falls under specified exceptions set out in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.

What we heard: Albertans have expressed concerns over the proper use of closed meetings. Municipalities have expressed an interest in specifying what constitutes a council meeting. Clear definitions will support transparency in council deliberations.

What’s changing: The Minister will be able to make regulations defining “meeting” for purposes of one or more provisions of the Act. MGA amendments will clarify the process required when a council or council committee closes a meeting or portion of a meeting to the public.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Petitions

What’s currently in place: Petition sufficiency requires a percentage of eligible signatories, time limits for completion and several other submission and verification factors.

What we heard: Albertans noted that existing petition requirements make it very difficult for the public to successfully petition a municipality. Municipalities have indicated the timelines to validate petitions are challenging.

What’s changing: Municipalities may, by bylaw, choose to decrease the required percentage of eligible signatories, accept online petitions, extend the time period for collecting signatures and allow petitioners to recall their signatures. Timelines would be extended for petition validation.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Enabling More Efficient Municipal Operations

Public Notification Methods

What’s currently in place: The MGA requires traditional communication methods, such as mail or newspapers, to notify the public.

What we heard: Albertans have observed that traditional notification methods may no longer be as effective in communicating with the public due to increasing costs and limited accessibility in smaller communities. Municipalities have requested flexibility on notification methods to allow for current and future technologies.

What’s changing: Add posting notifications to municipal websites to general advertising requirements, and empower municipalities with flexibility to pass a bylaw specifying how they will notify the public. Certain municipal matters will continue to require public notification in legislation, such as those related to bylaws and taxation, but municipalities will have more flexibility to determine the methods they use to notify the public. This change will likely include, for the first time, the use of electronic methods of notification.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Council and Administration Roles and Responsibilities

What’s currently in place: The MGA sets out the responsibilities for council and administration. The chief administrative officer (CAO) is the administrative head of the municipality, and the MGA lists numerous administrative responsibilities for the CAO.

What we heard: Municipalities have asked for flexibility to clarify administrative duties and the chief administrative officer’s ability to delegate, in order for municipalities to consider local circumstances. It is important for the separation between council and administration to be maintained.

What’s changing: Provide clarity on the administrative duties and the chief administrative officer’s ability to delegate.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Strengthening Municipal Capacity and Viability

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.

Elected Official Training

What’s currently in place: Currently, the MGA does not require municipalities to offer training and orientation sessions to newly elected councillors following a municipal election.
What we heard: Albertans have expressed concern about the ability of elected officials (especially new ones) to do their jobs without thoroughly understanding their roles and what is expected of them.

What’s changing: Municipalities will be required to offer orientation training within 90 days to elected officials following each municipal election and by-elections on specific matters such as: role of municipalities in Alberta; council and councillor roles and responsibilities; Chief Administrative Officer and staff roles and responsibilities; and budgeting and financial administration.

When this takes effect: July 1, 2017. (Amendment A1 to the MMGA)

Corporate Planning

What’s currently in place: Municipalities are required to adopt annual operating and capital budgets, but all other long-term financial planning is voluntary.

What we heard: Albertans and municipalities have suggested there is a need for longer-term planning to address the full impact of present day financial decisions.

What’s changing: Require municipalities to adopt, at minimum, three-year operating plans and five-year capital plans, so Albertans have greater access to information about municipal financial decisions.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Voluntary Amalgamations

What’s currently in place: The MGA enables a municipality to give written notice to one or more municipal authorities with which it proposes to amalgamate. The Minister may also initiate a municipal amalgamation. Amalgamation is one of many options that municipalities may consider to proactively address their long-term viability.

What we heard: Municipalities feel the current amalgamation process is lengthy and does not encourage a cooperative approach. Summer villages have advocated that they be able to retain their summer village status during amalgamation.

What’s changing: Allow for a streamlined voluntary amalgamation process. Summer villages with non-contiguous boundaries may amalgamate if they share a common body of water, and retain their status as a summer village.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

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.