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Key Municipal Government Act amendments affecting planning

A key initiative for AUMA is to provide input on amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA), as it provides the foundation for the way that municipalities plan, govern, and pay for services for their residents.

The amendments to the MGA contained in the Municipal Government Amendment Act (MGAA) adopted in 2015 and the Modernized Municipal Government Act (MMGA) introduced in the spring of 2016 are summarized here under six broad categories.

Further amendments were made to the MMGA in November and the government has released a "Continuing the Conversation" discussion guide indicating areas where further changes may be considered before the MGA is given final approval in the spring of 2017.Regulations associated with the MGA will be released in early 2017 for sixty days of public input prior to finalized versions being passed in the spring/summer of 2017.

As further changes may yet occur, the amendments have not been intergrated into the hub at this time.  AUMA’s analysis of the proposed MGA amendments can be found on our dedicated Municipal Government Act Review Page.

Intermunicipal coordination

An overarching theme of the amendments is an emphasis on intermunicipal coordination. The tone is set in the preamble to the Modernized Municipal Government Act, which notes the importance of working together with Alberta’s municipalities to cooperatively and collaboratively advance the interests of Albertans. This intent is defined by adding to the purpose of a municipality the phrase, “to work collaboratively with neighbouring municipalities to plan, deliver and fund intermunicipal services” and by adding to the duties of a councillor the phrase, “to promote an integrated and strategic approach to intermunicipal land use planning and service delivery with neighbouring municipalities”.

Two specific mechanisms are proposed through which this intent will be carried out. Firstly, growth management boards will be mandatory for the Edmonton and Calgary metropolitan regions. Growth management boards will be required to prepare a regional land use plan and address the delivery of regional services and infrastructure. The Capital Region Board is deemed to be a growth management board, while further details on the membership and mandate for the Calgary region will be set out in a regulation.

Secondly, all municipalities not within a growth management board will be required to prepare an intermunicipal collaboration framework (ICF) with their neighbours.  ICFs can either be developed between individual municipalities or at a regional level involving a group of municipalities.   ICFs must identify services that are to be delivered jointly and outline how the cost of these services will be shared.  An ICF will not be considered complete until every municipality that is party to the ICF has adopted an IDP that provides for the coordination of future land use. There are many details around the scope and process and timing involved in ICFs that are yet to be determined.

A further amendment approved in the spring of 2016 would require municipalities that are members of a growth management board to prepare an ICF with other members of the same board only to address any matters that are not covered in the growth management plan. The amendment also clarified that municipalities that are members of a growth management board must prepare an ICF with any adjacent municipality that is not a member of the growth management board.

Mandatory plans

Every municipality will also now be required to adopt a municipal development plan (MDP), In the past, only municipalities with a population of 3,500 persons or more were required to adopt an MDP. Municipalities will now be required to review or adopt an MDP and an IDP within two years of the coming into force of this section of the Act. 

 Transparency and clarity in planning

According to the MGA amendments, municipalities will be required to maintain a list of any documents or policies that are intended to guide planning decisions. The list must include a summary of each document or policy and a statement explaining how they relate to one another and to any plans or bylaws adopted under the Planning Part of the MGA. The list and the documents must then be published on a municipal web site by January 1, 2019. Planning authorities and appeal boards may not consider documents or policies unless they are included in the list. Examples would are expected to include such matters as outline or concept plans, design guidelines, and requirements for the type of documents to be included in a subdivision or development application.

A hierarchy of plans is also established in the amendments to the MGA. If there are any inconsistencies or contradictions between the plans, an IDP prevails over an MDP with respect to any lands included in the IDP and an MDP takes precedence over Area Structure Plans or Area Redevelopment Plans.

New/expanded planning tools

The scope of offsite levies will be expanded to community recreation facilities, fire halls, police stations and libraries. The requirement that at least 30 per cent of the benefit of the facility accrues to the new development in a defined benefitting area has been removed. Applicants will be able to appeal the specifics of this levy to the Municipal Government Board. 

Provisions will now be made to allow municipalities to require developers to provide inclusionary housing. Requirements may be met through the provision of housing units or cash in place of units. Developers will be compensated through offsets. Details setting out when a claim for inclusionary housing may be made and the basis for offsets to compensate developers will be established in a regulation.

Provision will also be made to allow municipalities to grant multi-year tax forgiveness on properties that have been identified as brownfield sites.

In addition, the amended MGA will allow the non-residential class to be split into subclasses and taxed at different rates as defined in the regulation. These tax rates must comply with the maximum link of 5:1 (i.e. the highest non-residential rate cannot be more than 5:1 of lowest tax rate.) This provision will allow municipalities to split non-residential property into assessment and taxation sub-classes other than “vacant” or “improved”.  Some types of non-residential property exert higher costs on municipalities, so having separate assessment and taxation subclasses will allow municipalities to recoup these costs.  Categories for sub-classing will be done in regulation.

Subdivision and development approvals and appeals

A number of changes are proposed to the process for receiving and deciding on subdivision and development permit applications and appeals. Principal changes include revision to the notice requirements to allow for an electronic means of giving notice (i.e. publishing on the municipal web site), allowing an additional 20 days to the period for deciding on subdivision and development permit applications within which the municipality must determine whether the application is complete, and related provisions allowing for deemed refusal where applications are determined to be not complete. Flexibility to adopt alternative times for processing subdivision and development permit applications originally extended to cities and specialized municipalities has now been extended to all municipalities with a population of 15,000 people or more. Subdivision and development appeal boards will now be limited to having only one member of council, however the Minister will have the ability to order that these new restrictions do not apply to a municipality when there are challenges in recruiting panel members who are not councillors. 

Reserves

The definition of Environmental Reserve (ER) has been modified to add provisions to take land as ER where there is a significant risk of personal injury or property damage resulting from the development or use of the land. Municipalities may now also require developers to provide lands considered to be environmentally sensitive as Conservation Reserve (CR). Landowners, however, must be compensated for these lands based on fair market value of the land prior to subdivision. Statements concerning CR must be contained in an MDP before any lands can be taken as CR.

Continuing the Conversation

Several new items were presented for discussion in the "Continuing the Conversation" document, which was released by the province at the end of 2016 to seek input on new policy proposals on additional MGA issues.

Highlights include:

  • Enable municipalities to invite Indigenous communitites to participate in any ICF or ICF sub-agreement and to inlcude policies on how the municipality will keep neighbouring Indigenous communities informed with respect to the preperation of statutory plans.
  • Include environmental stewardship as a municipal purpose
  • Enable municipalities to use a benefitting area concept when requiring reserve dedications to assist in the creation of larger school sites up to a maximum of 15%.
  • Empower municipalities to collect offsite levies for improvements to the provincial highway system with the approval of Alberta Transportation.
  • Enable offsite levies to be collected in neighbouring municipalities for the benefit of facilities that are used by multiple municipalities.
  • Require municipalities and school boards to enter into Joint Use Agreements to address reserves and other matters.
  • Replace the term "swamp" with the word "wetland" in determining land that is to be taken as environmental reserve.

AUMA is developing a response to the "Continuing the Conversation" discussion guide to submit to the province at the end of January. More details on the MGA review process including AUMA's engagement are available here.