Premier Alison Redford has since backpeddled significantly on Bill 28, the Modernizing Regional Governance Act, following a barrage of highly-charged criticism from the opposition that suggested the province was attempting to crush local autonomy and place absolute power in the hands of the provincial government.
After an all-night debate forced by the opposition last Wednesday, Redford announced Bill 28 would not proceed until more thorough consultation with municipalities and municipal leaders could be completed.
“I was one of the MLAs that sat up until 2 a.m. on Thursday morning (Oct. 30-31), debating the bill and putting forward some amendments on it,” said Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan.
“My biggest concern was policy, that there was a process being followed. It was affecting all the urban and municipal, any of the towns, villages and M.D.s, and counties. The process wasn’t being followed, they were trying to push through a bill fairly rapidly without input from people it affected the most.”
Claimed to be for the benefit of all municipalities, Bill 28 would give the provincial cabinet authority to create “growth boards” to tackle the mutual needs of municipalities in close proximity to one another. Powers would include the right to decide the geographical boundaries of the growth boards, appointment of membership, who governs them, what the voting process will be, as well as their overall mandates.
Bylaw decisions made by the growth boards would be subject to approval by the municipal affairs minister.
“I spoke for just about an hour on it, four different times, in the house that night, about whether we should be parliamentarians or politicians, do we impact the process, or if we put forward a bill to the people that it affects, we should give them the opportunity to have input on it,” said Donovan.
Decisions of the bodies would be binding, and would prevent any municipality from passing laws or making planning decisions that violate the board’s pronouncements.
Perhaps most shocking, elected officials who fail to co-operate or provide requisite information could face a fine of up to $10,000 or one year in prison.
“The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) haven’t really had a chance to sink their teeth into it,” said Donovan. “A lot of the counties and M.D.’s have had a turn-over of 30 to 40 per cent this year. A lot haven’t even been sworn in, or were just being sworn in this week.”
Municipalities and their elected officials should be allowed to make free decisions for the constituents of their communities, added Donovan.
“In the government’s defence, I was quite happy to hear they’ve turned their decision around, and they’re going to have a task force between the AAMDC and the AUMA, and let them go back to their members, and get some information, and share it from there. I guess out late night work paid off in spades, because they’re going to move forward and have a dialogue and open conversation with people about what the bill means. What I spoke on, just about every time, was policy and procedure. If it’s going to affect people, at least give them the option to have input to it, and let them make their decisions for themselves. If the towns, the counties and the M.D.’s think the wording in the bill is good, then by all means let it happen, and I just wanted to make sure they had the opportunity.”
If the province is considering revising the Municipal Government Act (MGA), forcing the issue of Bill 28 might be ill-advised, according to Donovan.
“The other one that worries me a little bit on it is — and the minister brought this up before — the Municipal Government Act (MGA), which governs all the towns, counties and M.D.’s. They’re looking to go through the MGA and re-draft it. So if they’re looking to do that, I’m not sure bringing in Bill 28 was the best approach.”
Bill 28 has already passed first and second reading in the legislature, but is currently on hold for the time being pending further consultation with municipalities.