Most people don’t realize that the actions of any municipality – whether it’s Edmonton or Evansburg – are governed by a piece of provincial legislation called the Municipal Government Act (aka the MGA). As far as documents go, they don’t come much thicker than the MGA – mainly because of the incredible complexity that comes with legislating the existence and function of Alberta’s 344 municipalities, including how we pay for roads, where school sites are assembled, and how we develop our communities. The Act has a grand total of 710 sections.
The MGA has not been overhauled since 1995 and in that time municipalities (and society) have evolved significantly. Yesterday, the Government of Alberta tabled important changes to the Act that are intended to modernize it for the 21st Century.
While I haven’t reviewed all the proposed amendments in detail, there are important sections that Edmonton has been paying particular attention to.
For starters, the amendments recognize the imperative for regional collaboration on issues of shared importance and will expand the mandate of the Capital Region Board to to address not only planning for responsible growth, but also regional service delivery and cost sharing. If you watched my State of the City address, you’ll know that this is something I have been pressing hard for and I’m pleased that the Province heard our concerns. These amendments will enable us to build a more equitable, competitive, prosperous Edmonton Metro region – which is in all the region’s interest.
There are other important aspects to this legislation that will have an impact on Edmonton, including the ability to ‘split’ the non-residential tax base into different classes, which we hope will allow us to send price signals that encourage the redevelopment of complicated sites like surface parking lots and contaminated sites (as an example) and prevent buildings from being prematurely demolished.
The proposed amendments also give municipalities the ability to charge land developers new levies (i.e. a fee) to help build community recreation facilities, fire halls, police stations and libraries. This could be an important tool for how we might start to close the $1.4 billion shortfall on new growth, but we are only at the start of a conversation with industry about which tools are most appropriate to close the fiscal gap on new residential growth. Having this legislation tabled will certainly help focus that discussion.
Lastly, amendments also allow for the creation of inclusionary zoning in new communities – essentially enabling us to mandate that new communities contain a proportion of affordable housing. There will undoubtedly be some benefit to the municipalities who choose to use this tool, but I’ve always viewed this as a last resort. While I am a firm believer that communities across Edmonton should share the responsibility for housing those in need, I am concerned about the equity of the cost of new affordable housing being downloaded upon new homebuyers. I also believe that allocating more land doesn’t actually solve the problem alone; instead, predictable and sustainable funding to help build or renovate housing projects will. Both our City Charter discussions and the upcoming review of the provincial Housing Act offer opportunities to address the shortfall in the public funding we currently face, and recent commitments by both the federal and provincial governments to building new affordable housing are also part of the solution.
Overall, the amendments proposed yesterday are a good start in resetting the roles and responsibilities for cities like Edmonton, and giving us the authority to make our own decisions on issues of local importance. We’re certainly ready to handle it.