By Nikki Jamieson
The Municipal District of Taber has sent a list of concerns to Municipal Affairs over the changes to the Municipal Government Act.
During the last session of the Alberta legislature, Bill 21 — which amends the MGA — was given its first reading, with consultations on it being held over the summer before session starts up again in the fall. This will be the first overhaul of the Act since 1995, which had reportably taken a decade to complete.
M.D. councillors have attended the open houses in Brooks, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, and have heard feedback from their ratepayers on the proposed changes. Taking this feedback, a letter was drafted up and reviewed at their regular July 26 meeting, to send to Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee on behalf of council, to urge her to take into account a number of issues and concerns that council has about the changes.
“It was a request from the workshops we went to,” said Brian Brewin, reeve for the M.D., adding that the minister requested that they put everything down in writing. “We expressed them also at the workshops. But when you’ve got a room of 100 people or so, it’s hard to get into the details, exactly, on what your specific concerns are.”
These changes include the lack of stakeholder input on assessments, a worrisome overt reliance on regulations over clear language, the role and authority of an unelected Ombudsman and intermunicipal agreements. While the M.D. has a history of successful and multiple-party intermunicipal collaboration and framework agreements, it also means that at any given time, a number of them could come up for review and renewal for all parties involved, and that takes time. The two year plan outlined in Bill 21 would be a “daunting task”, considering everything that needs to be done.
“You have to realize that you also have a municipal election coming in that two year plan, so everything could change, after that too.”
Another issue brought up in the letter was the new definition of water bodies. The new proposed definition of water bodies is a “permanent and naturally occurring body of water”. Under sect. 60(1), Water Bodies, in the current MGA, it states that “…the rivers, streams, watercourses, lakes and other natural bodies of water within the municipality, including the air space above and the ground below.”
As the M.D. is home to a lot of irrigated land, council is concerned with what this could mean for the irrigation districts and want more clarification because of their relationship with irrigation districts.
“We live in an irrigation area, where we basically, have water turned on and turned off. Irrigation canals are literally turned off in the winter and turned on in the spring. So it becomes a little bit of a grey area, as to what a water body is,” said Brewin. “Is an irrigation district a water body, under what definition would it be?”
Council passed a motion to send the letter, as is, to the minister.
The MGA is legislation that empowers cities, towns, districts and counties the authority to form their own government. The MGA provides the 347 municipalities in Alberta with a framework on how to operate, and sets restrictions on what they can or can’t do. The changes Bill 21 will make to the Act revolve around how municipalities are empowered to govern their area, how municipalities collaborate and plan for growth and how they are funded.
Bill 21 received first reading in the previous session, and is expected to receive second, and perhaps its final reading, once legislature starts up again in the fall.
“The devil’s going to be in the details. Really, our biggest concern is in regulation; a lot of them refer to regulations we haven’t seen yet, so until we see what the regulations are going to be, it’s kind of hard to comment too much on the Act.”