+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 12-23F

Growth Management Board Voluntary Membership

Date:
November 8, 2023
Expiry Date:
December 1, 2026
Active Status:
Active
Sponsors:
MD of Foothills
District:
1 - Foothills-Little Bow
Year:
2023
Convention:
Fall
Category:
Municipal Governance and Finances
Status:
Intent Not Met
Vote Results:
Carried as Amended
Preamble:

WHEREAS the Government of Alberta has mandated growth management boards (GMBs) in the Edmonton and Calgary metropolitan regions; and

WHEREAS the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states that the purpose of a GMB is to provide for integrated and strategic planning for future growth in municipalities; and

WHEREAS the MGA states that Alberta’s municipalities, governed by democratically elected officials, are empowered to provide responsible and accountable local governance; and

WHEREAS under the MGA, rural municipalities have equal rights to make land use decisions and pursue economic development; and

WHEREAS mandatory GMBs introduce a fourth level of unelected government, creating significant additional layers of bureaucracy which cause delays and impede economic development, investment opportunities, and job creation; and

WHEREAS mandatory GMBs use a double-majority governance structure and are empowered to overrule decisions made by democratically elected municipal governments; and

WHEREAS the Edmonton- and Calgary-region GMBs diminish local government autonomy and provide little or no value to residents of member municipalities, particularly rural residents, whose democratic rights are greatly reduced as a result of the GMBs;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) advocate that the Government of Alberta (GOA) remove mandatory growth management boards (GMBs) from the Municipal Government Act (MGA); and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that should the GOA fail to abolish GMBs, the RMA advocate to amend the MGA to change the membership in GMBs from mandatory to voluntary.

Member Background:

Section 708.011 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) mandates GMBs for the Edmonton and Calgary regions.

The purpose of GMBs is to provide for integrated and strategic planning for future growth in municipalities through regional Growth Plans. The current Regional Growth Plans and Regional Evaluation Frameworks (REFs) require that new statutory plans in member municipalities be approved by the GMB in order to come into effect.

The mandatory nature of the GMBs, coupled with the weighted urban vote at the board table, ensures that urban municipalities can control future development in rural Alberta. There is no requirement to ensure that the rural objections are heard as they can simply be outvoted. The GMBs have approved regional growth plans despite the rural objection to these plans. Now the GMBs are implementing these plans, regardless of the continued objection of the rural municipalities.

If the membership of GMBs was made voluntary, municipalities would participate of their own volition. The GMBs would then have to ensure that their work provides value to all participants in the region. Currently both GMBs are planning to requisition member municipalities for funds to run their operations and pay consultants for their project work. When the rural municipalities vote to not support a project moving forward, they are overruled by the urban municipalities at the board table. Now the rural municipalities will be forced to pay for the projects that they did not wish to undertake. This governance imbalance allows a GMB to pursue policies and directions that are in the best interests of cities, at the expense of the surrounding rural municipalities.

Rural municipalities fully acknowledge the benefit of working together with our urban neighbours both inter-municipally and regionally. Regional cooperation is important to efficiently provide services to residents in a fair and equitable manner, to responsibly manage land, and to seek opportunities for economic development. There are multiple examples of joint service delivery and intermunicipal planning throughout the province that have achieved success because municipalities were equals in their negotiations and had respect for one another. Under a system where membership in a GMB is mandatory, the weighted urban voting results in there being no need find solutions that work for everyone. The mandatory nature of the GMBs allows the urbans to ignore the rural perspective by simply outvoting it.

At the current time, GMBs are only mandatory for the Calgary and Edmonton regions. However, other areas of the province that are experiencing growth, such as the Red Deer and Grande Prairie areas, could find themselves in a similar position in the future. If this problematic governance structure is not repealed, rural residents in many areas of Alberta could also be forced into overly bureaucratic and undemocratic GMBs which privilege the interests of urban dwellers over rural residents. All municipalities should be deeply concerned as GMBs create regional uncertainty which impacts economic development.

There are multiple tools in the MGA that could be used by municipalities working together to achieve mutually beneficial servicing arrangements, cost sharing, and effective land use planning. These tools include intermunicipal development plans, intermunicipal collaboration frameworks, master shared services agreements, intermunicipal off-site levies, intermunicipal business licensing, and the implementation of a suite of arm’s length governance and intermunicipal service delivery models. The oversight of mandatory GMBs pits urban against rural in an expensive, inefficient, and undemocratic governance structure that is detrimental to rural Albertans.

RMA Background:

RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.

Government Response:

Alberta Municipal Affairs

Municipal Affairs’ mandate includes a commitment to continue monitoring the structure and effectiveness of GMBs to ensure they are serving the needs of rural and urban residents.

GMBs for the Calgary and Edmonton regions were established to help ensure regional collaboration and coordinated decision-making. Prior to the establishment of the boards, there were a significant number of intermunicipal disputes regarding development in the metropolitan regions. These disputes often resulted in appeals to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal. Appeals presented significant development delays and additional costs of up to $1 million for each municipality involved in the disputes.

Taking a regional approach to planning and economic development helps set Alberta’s metropolitan regions up for success. GMBs allow for complex discussions regarding growth, including working as a region, reducing intermunicipal conflict, and ensuring effective and efficient infrastructure is in place to support development. This includes ensuring sufficient land and infrastructure capacity is available to accommodate future commercial and industrial employment growth in the region. It also ensures there is planning for cost-effective and collaborative service delivery to manage future growth.

The GoA continues to support and value regional planning and the coordination of service delivery.

The GoA has made adjustments to address concerns raised by members of GMBs, including the requirement for dispute resolution processes and revisions to the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board’s growth plan to reduce barriers to smaller-scale development in rural areas.

Development:

The Government of Alberta response does not entertain the possibility of eliminating growth management boards (GMB) or making membership voluntary. For several years, rural municipalities within GMBs have expressed concerns about the impacts of GMBs on land use planning autonomy, and in particular have pointed to a voting and governance structure that provides urban municipalities with a disproportionate level of control over both regional plans developed by the GMB and local planning decisions made by individual municipalities that are required to align with GMB plans. In 2023, RMA released a report recommending changes to the GMB voting model to enhance equitability between rural and urban members. The report recommended the following:

  • GMB member voting strength should be determined based on a combination of member population, area, and infrastructure responsibilities.
  • No single GMB member should have the ability to individually pass or veto a motion.
  • To maximize equity, the GMB voting structure should utilize a combination of weighted and unweighted voting, similar to the approach used in BC’s regional districts.
  • GMB appeals should be sent to an independent third party.
  • The scope of decisions subject to member votes under the REF should be reduced.

To this point, none of the recommendations have been implemented. Progress on GMB governance would alleviate some issues outlined in the resolution, but given the ongoing rural frustrations with GMB membership, and the very real impacts of GMB decisions on economic development opportunities in the Calgary and Edmonton regions, there is value in stepping back and seriously considering whether there is a better way to balance regional collaboration and local autonomy in these high-growth areas.

This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met.

Provincial Ministries:
Municipal Affairs
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