By Nikki Jamieson
With the second reading of Bill 21, the Modernized Municipal Government Act, coming up this fall in the Alberta Legislature, the Wildrose opposition is concerned about funding models.
Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider attended the Municipal Government Act review public session in Lethbridge last month, during the last stop of the MGA summer tour. The conference was well attended, and in addition to the standard government presentation, there were booths — each one pertaining to a section of the MGA that is proposed to be overhauled — which allowed people to go up and voice their opinions.
“The bureaucrats that were there were writing down the information as it was presented to them, and it was to be presented to the ministry for, well I assume, potential changes,” said Schneider. “Thats the part I don’t know, whether anything that anybody, whether any offering anybody had for tweaking, more change to a potential subject, I don’t know if that (any change) would happen. But we’ll have the opportunity to debate that.”
During the last session of the legislature, Bill 21 — which amends the MGA — was given its first reading, with consultations being held over the summer on it in time for session to start up again in the fall. This will be the first overhaul of the Act since 1995, which reportable took a decade to complete.
The MGA is legislation that empowers cities, towns, districts and counties the authority to form their own government. The MGA provides the 347 municipalities in Alberta with a framework on how to operate, and sets restrictions on what they can or can’t do. The changes Bill 21 will make to the Act revolve around how municipalities are empowered to govern their area, how municipalities collaborate and plan for growth and how they are funded.
Schneider says that he has consulted with municipal councils in his riding, about what they thought about the changes. While he doesn’t want to state his opinion on the proposed changes, as “my level of government doesn’t live by the MGA”, he is prepared to take everything he hears to the debate in the upcoming fall session.
However, there is one point he wants to stress, and that is a funding model.
“We’ve been adamant about the necessity for a predictable, stable long-term funding model, for all our municipal partners — and that’s what they are, partners,” said Schneider.
“I will say, sadly enough, that is not among the changes proposed by the government. That MSI funding — Municipal Sustainability Initiative Funding — that municipalities receive now is great, but not long. It is a grant, and it could be cut at any time, and it is concerning.”
The Wildrose opposition intends to lobby the NDP government to include a long-term funding model in the changes.
“Frankly, a lot of them, I would have to suggest, a lot of them couldn’t survive without it.”
Linear funding is a another issue that the Wildrose will bring up. Although just a few rural municipalities receive the consistent yearly funds, those that do are able to upkeep their roads and other vital infrastructure needed for business in the area. Schneider says that several villages and towns have expressed a desire to receive similar funding as well.
“The government has made no changes in the proposals to the MGA, in the way linear funds are used now, which is disappointing to some. I expect I will hear from both sides regarding that.”
Another change to the MGA was the introduction of intermunicipal plans and an intermunicipal framework, which municipalities in his riding are doing already. While the frameworks do need to be worked on, Schneider says that it helps benefit more in those municipalities.
Acknowledging that they can be a little pricey to complete, he did note that Municipal Affairs Minister, Danielle Larivee, had said that the plans could be less in depth, so there could potentially be some cost saving there. But he criticized her suggestion that there was some money available for it, calling the statement “pretty vague”, so Albertans would have to wait and see if that funding becomes available.