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A brief history of planning legislation in Alberta

The first provincial regulations controlling the subdivision of land were passed in 1912, and further planning related legislation was passed in 1928 with the Town Planning and Preservation of Natural Beauty Act. While early planning Acts enabled some municipal control over land use, they did not reach the full extent of contemporary community plans. Instead, they were largely reserved to subdivision plans that laid out streets, lots, and utilities. Although Alberta was a pioneer with the 1929 Town Planning Act which allowed municipalities to adopt separate goal-based community plans and zoning bylaws, roadblocks such as the great depression limited the advancement and adoption of planning principles. Even in the 1940s, the majority of municipalities in the province had not yet adopted a community plan.

The discovery of oil at Leduc in 1947 ushered in an unprecedented period of rapid growth and urbanization. In 1950, the province created a Provincial Planning Advisory Board and new District Planning Commissions. The 1953 Act saw the transformation of District Planning Commissions into the beginnings of a system of regional planning commissions. By 1981 nine regional planning commissions had been created serving all but the north east portion of the province. The commissions were charged with the mandate to prepare regional plans, act as the subdivision authority for the region and provide planning advice to municipalities.

A complete re-write of the Planning Act in 1977 saw the formalization of many key practices around development agreements, offsite levies and reserve dedications that are part of the planning framework today.

A new Municipal Government Act introduced in 1994 introduced a different style of legislation. Rather than prescribing what municipalities could do, the legislation gave municipalities natural person power and provided that municipalities could do anything that a person could do unless otherwise prohibited in the Act. This philosophy of devolution of authority was very much part of the political culture of the day. The economic downturn of the early 1990’s combined with growing tensions between urban and rural municipalities over the function of regional planning commissions led the government to dissolve regional planning commissions and devolve all planning authority directly to each municipality. In 1995 the Planning act was repealed and the planning provisions became Part 17 of the Municipal Government Act. In place of regional plans the government adopted Land Use Policies that were intended to guide municipalities in carrying out their planning responsibilities and working with their municipal neighbours.

Continuing tensions between urban and rural municipalities led the government to introduce mediation services to support the cooperative resolution of issues. Increasingly however tensions in the Edmonton region led to more direct provincial involvement. The province adopted the Capital Region Board Regulation in 2008 creating the Capital Region Board and mandating the adoption of a growth management plan for the region. Municipal plans would now be required to be consistent with the Capital Region Growth Management Plan. In the Calgary region a voluntary partnership of municipalities created the Calgary Regional Partnership. The partnership undertook a variety of regional coordinating activities and produced a metropolitan plan for the region. Difficulties in securing a consensus to adopt the plan led to the rural municipalities withdrawing from the partnership.  

 A major review of the Municipal Government Act was initiated in 2012 culminating in three separate three separate pieces of legislation: the Municipal Government Amendment Act (MGAA 2015), the Modernized Municipal Government Act (MMGA 2016), and An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government Act (ASMG 2017). These amendments came into force on various dates between October 26, 2017 and April 1 2018.