Since 1991, the population of Alberta has nearly doubled from 2.5 million to the over four million people who call the province home today. As the communities and economy continue to grow, many feel it’s time to update the piece of legislation that dictates how municipalities govern their citizens.
The Municipal Government Act (MGA), which was first passed around 30 years ago, is now going through progressive changes and amendments so it can better suit the needs of the growing province.
“I think it’s a good thing, absolutely,” said Lloydminster Mayor Rob Saunders. “It hasn’t been revised for a few years now, so it’s quite timely and we’re looking forward to the review and the end results.”
Saunders said it’s positive that the Alberta government is reaching out into the province and the municipalities, giving fair opportunity for everyone to have their say.
“We at the City of Lloydminster have had those opportunities and will continue to do so and we look forward to working with our fellow municipalities and the Alberta provincial government towards a renewed MGA,” he said.
Premier Jim Prentice, Minister of Municipal Affairs Diana McQueen, and representatives from Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC), met in Calgary on Jan. 22 to discuss the review of the act.
“This Municipal Government Act provides the government’s model for Alberta’s cities, towns, villages, municipal districts and our other local governments,” said McQueen at the press conference. “It lays the foundation for how municipalities operate, how municipal councils function and how citizens can work with their municipalities.”
She mentioned how the economy has changed along with the growing population and Alberta is facing a new set of challenges and opportunities, so it only makes sense that the act change as the province does.
Prentice said province-wide consultations helped identify eight areas of discussion that they will be focusing on in the work plan for the updated act.
“They include, firstly, the provincial-municipal relations, because we all know that it’s important to strengthen relationships between the province and the municipalities and to ensure that we have legislation that empowers the municipalities to serve the people of their communities in the unique ways that each community must be served,” he said.
The second area involves the province working with municipalities on accountability and transparency to make sure councils have the tools to operate in an effective manner. Next will be the support of effective local governments and the promotion of better practices across the province.
Fourth, is for Alberta to work with municipal leaders on tools they need to meet their unique long-term needs.
“I think it’s fair to say that we recognize that every community is different, every community is facing different issues, but the long-term viability of all of our communities is important. Communities large and small,” said Saunders.
Fifth on the list is to promote regional decision making by giving municipalities the power to provide local solutions for local issues and put them in the legislation with the tools that they need to work together.
Item six involves discussion on municipal revenues.
“Which is obviously an important subject, highlighted by the difficult circumstances that we are in at the present time to enable communities to operate within existing financial means and within the resource envelopes that we will have available to us as Albertans,” said Prentice.
The seventh topic of discussion is working on property assessment and taxation to make sure municipal assessment and taxation systems are fully transparent, to provide certainty and equity for tax payers and to contribute to our province’s over all economic strength.
“And finally, we’ve heard loud and clear that managing growth is a priority in all of our communities,” Prentice said. “(We have) experienced unprecedented growth in this province and in particular in our cities over the course of the last few years.”
He said projections have Alberta heading toward five million people and such growth can only be managed if the province and its communities have a strategic and collaborative approach.
The MGA process has been divided into three “distinct” phases, the first of which is already underway.
“Phase 1, which we are currently in, and which we are working on with our partners, will identify areas of agreement with legislative amendments targeted for the spring of 2015 in this legislative session.” The second phase involves pointing out items that need more discussion and consensus and they feel they will have legislative amendments ready by this fall. The third phase of this process will involve a regulatory review and proclamation of the act in 2016.
“So, I look forward to the upcoming conversations and I know there will be a few debates about all of this,” Prentice said. “There are many different perspectives on this legislation and we all look at it through the lens of the communities that we represent.”