+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 2-23F

Amendments to the Municipal Government Act – Section 619

Date:
November 8, 2023
Expiry Date:
December 1, 2026
Active Status:
Active
Sponsors:
MD of Willow Creek
District:
1 - Foothills-Little Bow
Year:
2023
Convention:
Fall
Category:
Planning and Development
Status:
Intent Not Met
Vote Results:
Carried
Preamble:

WHEREAS the Municipal Government Act (MGA) requires the preparation and adoption of planning documents such as intermunicipal development plans, municipal development plans, land use bylaws and area structure plans to ensure orderly, economical and beneficial development and use of land, unless specifically exempted; and

WHEREAS section 619(1) of the MGA allows a license, permit, approval or other authorization granted by the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB), Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (AEUB) or Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to prevail over municipal statutory plans, land use bylaws, development authority, and more; and

WHEREAS section 619(2) of the MGA mandates municipalities to approve development applications consistent with licenses or authorizations granted by provincial boards like the NRCB, ERCB, AER, AEUB, or AUC, thereby limiting municipal authority in land use decisions; and

WHEREAS there is no legislative requirement for the NRCB, ERCB, AER, AEUB and AUC to consider municipal land use planning bylaws put in place for the protection of productive agricultural land when these agencies approve confined feeding operations, electrical generation or transmission projects; and

WHEREAS section 8 of the South Saskatchewan Implementation Plan for Agriculture requires municipalities to delineate primary agricultural areas, curb the fragmentation and premature conservation of agricultural lands, guide non-agricultural development to suitable areas and minimize conflicts between intensive agricultural operations and incompatible land uses;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to amend Section 619 of the Municipal Government Act to state that decisions made by provincial regulators in granting licenses, permits, approvals and other authorizations under their jurisdiction must be consistent with municipal statutory land use planning related to the protection of productive agricultural lands, impacts on municipal infrastructure, existing land uses, and other possible local project impacts.

Member Background:

Application approval processes for licenses, permits, approvals or other authorizations related to large scale development projects through the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB), Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (AEUB) and Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) are regulated by specific rules and directives. For instance, the current approval process for the AUC reviews the social, economic, and environmental impacts of facility projects for power plants, substations, transmission lines, industrial system designations, hydro developments, and gas utility pipelines to determine if approval of a project is in the public interest.

The application includes a requirement to “summarize consultation with local jurisdictions (e.g., municipal districts, counties),” as part of the participant involvement program. According to the AUC this early consultation “may (but is not guaranteed to) lead to greater influence on project planning and what is submitted to the AUC for approval.” Formal submissions of outstanding concerns will be heard, understood, and considered; however, it is up to the AUC to decide whether to hold a hearing on the application(s). The AUC must hold a hearing if a concerned person can demonstrate that they have rights that may be directly or adversely affected by the AUC’s decision on the application. It is the purview of the AUC to issue a written decision of approval, denial, or approval with conditions. Therefore, while municipal input is possible, the potential of the applicator or the AUC to disregard municipal input if considered irrelevant by their standards is unacceptable.

The other quasi-judicial agencies have similar processes. Application processes for pipelines, wells, processing plants and facilities, bitumen upgraders, oil sands mines, and coal mines are filed with the AER. Generally, the process requires a participant involvement program including the municipalities. While the potential for input exists, the municipality is treated like other stakeholders and not valued as holding local expertise. The NRCB approves natural resource projects and confined feedlot operations. The application process for natural resource projects includes a notice of application to invite public submissions. On the other hand, the confined feedlot operations applications fall under the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA), which states that an approval officer must consider whether the application is consistent with municipal development plan land use provisions and must deny the application unless a variance may be granted. A requirement for consistency would reduce dissonance between the agencies and existing municipal statutory land use plans.

Previous efforts on the parts of municipalities, agricultural service boards, and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) have not garnered enough traction to precipitate further provision for municipal input and the preservation of productive agricultural lands. RMA has formed the RMA Committee on Quasi-Judicial Agencies (QJAC), which has engaged with RMA members, provincial quasi-judicial agencies, and other stakeholders. In addition, an RMA research report examining the concept of “public interest” and the role that Alberta’s quasi-judicial agencies have in upholding the public interest in relation to the industries they regulate is expected to be completed in Fall 2023. This report should provide RMA with evidence, analyses, and recommendations to continue to advocate for changes to section 619. This an effort to ensure municipal plans and local expertise is accepted and integrated, particularly as it relates to protecting agricultural land use, and to uphold municipal responsibility to comply with the South Saskatchewan Implementation Plan for Agriculture, Weed Control Act, Soil Conservation Act, Agricultural Pests Act, and Municipal Government Act to direct weed and pest control, soil and water conservation programs, and to provide safe and viable communities.

RMA Background:

9-22F: Renewable Energy Project Reclamation Requirements

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that the Government of Alberta implement a mandated collection of adequate securities for future reclamation of renewable energy projects on private lands, either by requiring renewable energy project proponents to post a reclamation surety bond as a condition of any renewable energy project approvals or by other means;

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the amount of the required securities be calculated based on data-driven projections of actual reclamation costs to protect municipalities and residents of Alberta from incurring costs associated with the decommissioning of all renewable energy projects.

Click here to view the full resolution.

 

21-22F: Loss of Agricultural Land to Renewable Energy Projects

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request the Government of Alberta to work collaboratively on policy that will find a balance between the development of renewable energy and protection of valuable agriculture lands.

Click here to view the full resolution.

 

6-22S: Responsiveness of Service Delivery by Quasi-independent Agencies in Alberta

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that the Government of Alberta review the continued use of unelected, quasi-independent agencies for the administration and delivery of essential public services, with the results of the review published for public examination.

Click here to view the full resolution.

 

7-20F: Amendments to Municipal Government Act Section 619

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta urge the Government of Alberta to amend Section 619 of the Municipal Government Act to clearly state that the Natural Resources Conservation Board, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the Alberta Energy Regulator, the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board or the Alberta Utilities Commission must consider municipal statutory land use planning related to the protection of productive agricultural lands when making decisions on licenses, permits, approvals and other authorizations under their jurisdiction.

Click here to view the full resolution.

Government Response:

Municipal Affairs:

The 2020 fall Rural Municipalities of Alberta resolution requested an amendment to Section 619 of the MGA to require provincial regulators to consider municipal statutory land-use plans, and particularly the protection of productive agricultural lands, when making decisions on licenses, permits, approvals, and other authorizations under their jurisdiction is similar in nature to this request. At the time, the Government of Alberta recognized the importance of high-quality agricultural lands and their value to economic growth and environmental sustainability and the government continues to do so. An appropriate balance must be sought between energy and utility infrastructure development and minimizing land disturbance and retaining important natural features. Provincial regulatory entities are encouraged to consult with municipalities to help develop important infrastructure to maximize economic growth.

Further, in August 2023, to address mounting public concerns, the AUC announced a six-month moratorium on power plants and hydro developments that produce renewable electricity greater than one megawatt.

  • The AUC is the provincial regulator responsible for renewable energy projects. This includes solar farms, which have raised significant concerns in some rural areas.
  • The AUC’s reports will explore impacts to land use, the role of municipal governments, electricity generation supply mix, and electricity system reliability.
  • The reports will also help to inform potential changes to AUC policies and processes and ensure there continues to be an appropriate balance between local decision-making and broader provincial interests.
Development:

The Government of Alberta response states that regulatory entities are “encouraged” to consult with municipalities. Unfortunately, encouragement is an insufficient policy approach when projects approved by quasi-judicial agencies have significant local impacts. Section 619 insulates quasi-judicial agencies from being accountable to municipalities or even considering municipal planning documents unless they choose to do so.

While the resolution does not specifically reference the Alberta Utilities Commission and the approval process for renewable energy process, this is a prominent example of a provincial approval process that does not properly consider local impacts. Since RMA received the Government of Alberta response to this issue, the AUC released their report on changes to the renewable energy project approval process. Included within the report is the following observation: “With AUC enhancements to its process, changes to Section 619 of the Municipal Government Act are not necessary.” The rationale given for this observation is that changes to AUC approval process will mitigate the risks of provincial approvals being inconsistent with municipal land use plans, and that there may be risks to municipalities have final decision-making power on such large-scale and economically significant projects. While there is merit to both arguments, the resolution (and RMA’s existing positions on this issue) do not request that municipalities have final decision-making authority for such developments, but rather than projects are not approved unless they are consistent with municipal plans in relation to several local impacts. S. 619 could be amended to require quasi-judicial agencies to work with industry and municipalities to reach consensus on the planning areas referenced in the resolution prior to approving a project. This may require compromise on the part of the municipality and proponent, but it would ensure the project is evaluated through a local lens.

Continuing to leave quasi-judicial agencies to determine if, how and to what extent they consider municipal land use planning in project approval processes contributes to uncertainty for municipalities, both in terms of different processes across quasi-judicial agencies, and changes to individual agencies’ processes. Amending s. 619 to support a provincewide approach of consistent and meaningful collaboration between quasi-judicial agencies, municipalities and industry proponents would lead to more strategic economic growth and reduce red tape associated with currently complex and inconsistent approval processes.

RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will continue to advocate for amendments to s. 619 of the MGA.

Provincial Ministries:
Municipal Affairs
Back to Resolutions Database