A Primer on Municipal Law in Alberta.

AuthorThrondson, Ben
Position2021 Alberta, Canada municipal elections

With local elections approaching, it's a good time to brush up on municipal law and government in Alberta.

Municipal governments play an important role in shaping Albertans' daily lives--from taxes to transit bike lanes to bylaw enforcement and development permits to dog licenses.

Albertans go to the polls on Monday, October 18, 2021 to elect new municipal councils. With this in mind, this article provides readers with a better understanding of municipal law and government.

What is the legal authority for municipal government?

All authority to make laws in Canada flows from the Constitution. But the Constitution only creates two levels of government: the federal Parliament and the provincial Legislatures.

This raises the question: where do municipalities fit into the picture?

Legally speaking, municipalities are "creatures of the provinces". Section 92(8) of the Constitution Act 7S67 gives provinces the power to make laws on "Municipal Institutions in the Province". This means the provinces

have the power to--and indeed do--create and regulate municipalities within their borders.

In Alberta, the main piece of municipal legislation is the Municipal Government Act (the MGA). The MGA has over 700 sections. It includes rules on many subjects, including:

* the scope of municipal powers

* forming new municipalities

* municipal council procedure

* financial administration

* property assessment and taxation

* land use planning and zoning

Many other pieces of provincial legislation also impose unique powers and responsibilities on municipalities, including in the areas of transportation, the environment, and privacy.

How are municipalities created and governed?

The MGA says Alberta's Minister of Municipal Affairs may form a new municipality in three situations:

  1. on the Minister's own initiative

  2. if an existing council requests the Minister do so, or

  3. in response to a petition signed by at least 30% of the population within the boundaries of the proposed municipality.

    Five different types of municipalities may be formed under the MGA:

  4. municipal districts

  5. villages

  6. towns

  7. cities

  8. specialized municipalities

    Once formed, a municipality may change its status (for example, from a town to a city) if it meets the requirements set out in the MGA.

    Additionally, the MGA sets out processes under which municipalities may change their name, amalgamate (combine) with another municipality, annex land from another municipality (by changing their border)...

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