Municipal Affairs mandate calls for oversight of regional board

Municipal Affairs mandate calls for oversight of regional board

· The Pulse

Alberta's minister of municipal affairs has been asked to keep tabs on the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board and its Calgary counterpart to "ensure they are serving the needs of their urban and rural residents effectively and fairly without unnecessarily interfering with the autonomy of small and mid-sized municipalities."

That directive in Premier Danielle Smith's mandate letter to Ric McIver comes at a time when members of the EMRB have been at odds over Sturgeon County's desire to develop the Villeneuve Airport Area beyond what the regional growth plan allows. While seven of the board's 13 members supported Sturgeon's proposed development in April, Edmonton voted against it, resulting in its defeat.

"I am always in favour of being at a table and an understanding the perspectives of other folks at the table … (but) the province has to look at whether we are fulfilling the mandate and whether we have the right power in the right place," Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw told Taproot earlier this year.

Sturgeon County filed a formal dispute with the board, resulting in an in-camera meeting of the board's dispute-resolution committee on June 30. The EMRB meets next on Aug. 18.

The mandate letter also asks McIver to work with other ministers to develop incentives and benchmarks to "significantly reduce municipal approval times for housing and business park developments." Edmonton is currently pursuing a renewal of its zoning bylaw that is intended to streamline development while introducing more equity.

A lack of provincial funding is standing in the way of more housing rather than red tape binding developers, Alberta Municipalities president Cathy Heron told CBC.

"I've met an enormous amount of very good mayors and councillors across Alberta who believe in affordable housing," said Heron, who is also mayor of St. Albert. "I see good decisions being made in the face of NIMBY-ism to put in affordable housing."

The mandate letter does mention funding, asking McIver to review the feasibility of allowing municipalities to retain some of the $2.5 billion in education property taxes that they collect on behalf of the province. Heron told CBC she was intrigued by that idea, though the mandate letter does not address the $30-billion infrastructure deficit that municipalities say won't be addressed by the incoming Local Government Fiscal Framework.

Another directive in the mandate letter asks the minister to protect "the province's constitutional right to oversee the governance of Alberta's municipalities without federal interference." While that move seems generally aligned with the UCP's desire to push back against everything it deems to be federal overreach, Edmonton has been known to appeal directly to the Canadian government.

For example, city council passed a motion in April 2022 asking for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize personal drug possession, reflecting a tendency to favour harm reduction over the province's focus on treatment and enforcement.

Image: The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board has 13 participating municipalities. (EMRB)