WHEREAS previous provincial governments created mandatory 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 to create and sustain safe and viable communities; and
WHEREAS under the MGA, rural municipalities have equal rights and standing to urban municipalities to make land use decisions and pursue economic development; and
WHEREAS the creation of mandatory GMBs with a double-majority governance structure introduces a fourth level of unelected government, creating significant additional layers of oversight and bureaucracy which cause delays and impede economic development, investment opportunities, and job creation; 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; and
WHEREAS increased red tape and approval timelines, coupled with increased uncertainty as to approvals of development areas, is a risk to attracting and retaining business, investment, and jobs in Alberta;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) advocate that the Government of Alberta remove mandatory growth management boards (GMBs) from the Municipal Government Act;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that RMA advocate that the Government of Alberta strengthen existing regulatory tools and mechanisms to encourage and incentivize regional cooperation with respect to land use planning and service delivery to residents;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that should the Government of Alberta fail to abolish mandatory GMBs, the RMA shall advocate to amend the current voting structure to remove double majority vetoes and ensure the interests of all members of a GMB are equally considered and represented;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that should the Government of Alberta fail to abolish the mandatory GMBs, the RMA shall advocate to implement an independent appeal process for members to appeal decisions of the GMB that may have a detrimental impact on a member;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that should the Government of Alberta fail to abolish the mandatory GMBs, the RMA request that the Government of Alberta amend the Regional Evaluation Framework and the Interim Regional Evaluation Framework for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board and the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board respectively.
Section 708.011 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) allows for the creation of growth management boards (GMBs) anywhere in Alberta, but mandates GMBs for the Edmonton and Calgary regions. Rocky View County is one of 10 member municipalities mandated into the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) by the NDP government, effective January 1, 2018. Rocky View County, Foothills County, and a portion of Wheatland County are the rural members of the CMRB. Sturgeon County, Strathcona County, Parkland County, and Leduc County are the rural members of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB)
The purpose of GMBs is to provide for integrated and strategic planning for future growth in municipalities. However, each member municipality must submit their council-approved statutory plans to the GMB for approval. If the GMB refuses the plan, there is no independent appeal recourse. Under the current double majority governance structures of the EMRB and the CMRB, approvals of plans require the support of two-thirds of the members and two-thirds of the population. This represents a fourth level of unelected government that creates a severe power imbalance, weighted toward the urban members, as they typically have the greater population.
As a result, residents in these seven rural municipalities have an unelected level of government making decisions for them, in which they, as voters, have no recourse. Decisions of their elected councils can be overturned by a GMB for political reasons with no appeal recourse. As a result, the autonomy of rural municipalities and the value of their residents’ democratic rights are severely diminished. This governance imbalance will allow a GMB to pursue policies and directions that are in the best interests of cities, potentially at the expense of the surrounding rural municipalities.
At the current time, GMBs are only mandatory for the Calgary and Edmonton regions. However, other areas of the province that are experiencing growth and pressure, 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 in the development community that has, and will, impact job creation.
GMBs also add significant additional time and regulatory requirements as all members must submit statutory plans for review by the respective Board administrations and an independent third party consultant. Upon the review, the decision on the statutory plan’s compliance is shared with member municipalities who can appeal the decision even when it is deemed to be compliant with the regional growth plan. This adversely impacts the economic competitiveness of the applicant and the region.
In cases where a GMB’s administration and third-party consultants deem a statutory plan compliant with a regional plan, no member municipality should be able to challenge or appeal the decision. This will provide greater certainty to the development and investment communities and further reduce red tape.
Rural municipalities, especially those near large urban centres, have a unique opportunity to contribute to the economic prosperity of Alberta as they can provide development areas for businesses that benefit from being in close proximity to large urban centres, but require larger tracts of land at lower costs.
Regional cooperation is important to provide services to residents in a fair and equitable manner, to responsibly manage land, and to seek opportunities for economic development and the creation of jobs. However, Rocky View County has significant concerns that mandatory membership in the CMRB will severely limit the County’s ability to pursue economic development, create jobs, and diversify our assessment base.
Instead of mandatory GMBs, there are multiple tools in the MGA that could be used or strengthened to help municipalities achieve mutually beneficial servicing arrangements, cost sharing, and effective land use planning without the imposition of an unelected level of government.
The Government of Alberta recently announced they would be bringing a number of amendments to the MGA for consideration in the Legislature in November 2019. Given these impending changes, it is an opportune time to advocate for changes to the MGA that will remove the impositions placed on the seven rural municipalities that are members of mandatory GMBs.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Municipal Affairs recognizes the ongoing challenge of balancing the needs of rural and urban municipalities, residents, and business and industry. The growth management boards were created in response to intermunicipal disputes that delayed development and economic growth at substantial costs to the municipalities and developers involved, and in recognition that regional growth planning contributes to the overall economic success of a region.
Municipal Affairs is reviewing the growth management boards to ensure they are meeting their intended objectives, and will be inviting input from the member municipalities on solutions to current challenges facing the boards. Strong regional collaboration continues to be key to ensuring the Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan regions are globally competitive and prosperous.
The Government of Alberta response indicates that a review of growth management boards (GMBs) will take place soon and provide member municipalities an opportunity to provide input on solutions to challenges facing the boards. Unfortunately, the resolution response provides no information related to the specific changes to GMBs requested in resolution ER1-19F, including the removal of mandatory GMBs from the Municipal Government Act, or alternatively, strengthening of tools to incentivize regional collaboration within GMBs, the development of a more equitable GMB voting structure, an independent appeal process, or amendments to regional evaluation frameworks.
In late 2020, the Government of Alberta passed Bill 48: Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, 2020 (No. 2). Bill 48 included several changes to the sections of the Municipal Government Act establishing the requirements for GMBs. The majority of changes made to the GMB structure through Bill 48 removed specific requirements related to the development and approval of growth plans, the ability of a GMB to require a member to cease an action deemed inconsistent with a growth plan, and other areas. Most of the areas removed may be addressed through regulations, as Bill 48 also alters the Minister’s regulation-making power by allowing the Minister to make regulations relating to areas such as membership and voting rights, operations and management, consistency with municipal plans and bylaws at any time, whereas the MGA previously allowed such regulations to be made only when a GMB was established. While broadening the Minister’s regulation-making power could result in some of the changes requested in resolution ER1-19F being implemented for existing GMBs, there is no indication at this time that any changes to the current operations will take place.
In 2021, RMA has heard from several members participating in the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) that the flawed voting and governance structure is leading to serious consequences for rural land use planning in the region through the repeated vetoing of rural plans by urban CMRB participants, despite the fact that they are in compliance with CMRB requirements. Rural CMRB participants have also indicated serious concerns that the CMRB growth plan has been finalized and submitted to the Minister despite opposition from rural CMRB members, and that if implemented, the Growth Plan will significantly reduce the autonomy of rural CMRB members to make local land use planning and growth decisions.
In 2022, the Minister of Municipal Affairs refined the membership of the CMRB, removing Wheatland County and the Town of Strathmore due to their distance from Calgary, small populations, and the costs associated with members. While reducing the size of the CMRB is a step in the right direction, it does not address the significant governance issues that continue to impact remaining rural members of both GMBs.
This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met, and RMA will continue to advocate on this issue.