By Trevor Busch
The modernized Municipal Government Act has now been proclaimed into law in Alberta, and it marks the first implementation of changes to the legislation in more than two decades.
The Municipal Government Act (MGA) affects the lives of all Albertans by setting the rules for how local governments function and provide services to citizens. Amendments to the MGA, the rulebook that Alberta’s municipalities use to govern and plan, were made through three bills passed by the legislature since 2015. Provisions of the act will come into force in phases, with some happening immediately and others becoming effective on Jan. 1, 2018 and in April 2018.
Key aspects of the improvements in the updated act include ensuring municipalities are governed in an open and transparent manner, keeping municipal councils accountable to their citizens, creating a framework for greater regional collaboration, and improving consistency of the municipal revenue framework. The new act will also require municipalities to draft a code of conduct for their politicians, and it gives Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson more discretion when called on to step in when something goes wrong. The new legislation will give the minister the option to write a bylaw to prevent an issue, or to respond to a petition from local residents, speak with councillors and outline the criteria for improvement moving forward.
“We’ll be going over that with our CAO, Cory Armfelt, as far as where we go from there,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “That’s a type of thing that’s something to spell out, that’s required now. So we’ll need some direction there as far as how that’s going to work. But I think it’s a pretty basic format they’re looking for, as far as I understand. I think a lot of agencies have some form of code of conduct format. So I think there’s a base version out there. So I would think we’re going to try to follow something along those lines and not try to reinvent the wheel. So I don’t see that as anything extraordinary, just kind of a formality that they’re trying to secure that’s consistent across the board.”
Other changes include allowing parental leave and requiring training to be offered to councillors. Adding an enhanced aspect of municipal oversight for municipalities, the provincial ombudsman will now be involved in monitoring and investigating municipal actions when called upon.
“I don’t know how much that’s changed. The ombudsman’s office has been out there forever,” said Prokop. “That’s another thing that’s a bit of grey area with me, but from what I know about that previously — and I don’t know how much that’s changed, it’s been a government entity option for that purpose for anybody out there. If you’ve got an issue with whatever occurred for yourself, or a business, and you’re not getting satisfaction through other channels, then that’s usually the last resort to try to come to some kind of fruition-type decision. They have the ultimate say in the end — and generally do a pretty thorough investigation, but for the most part, all other means are supposed to be exhausted before you utilize the ombudsman.”
All municipalities and counties in Alberta now have two years to sign collaboration agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions, or be forced to pay for arbitration. The agreements could potentially cover everything from joint land-use planning to shared recreation facilities.
“I think that’s probably another enhanced version that’s beneficial for all municipalities,” said Prokop. “Particularly, we’ve tried to improve on that in the last several months, and I believe we have done, with better relations as of late with the M.D. of Taber. I think it only helps enhance both sides being reasonable and consistent, dealing with your neighbours. Just like anything else, it’s not a bad thing how they’re suggesting this be done, and they’re trying to promote that collaborative effort instead of going your different ways on different focuses. I think that’s another good positive all the way around.”