The Municipal Government Act (MGA) sets out minimum requirements for giving notice and holding hearings on planning matters. A municipality must notify the public of the plan preparation process and of the means to make suggestions and comments concerning the plan. A land use bylaw must provide notice for how and to who notice of the issuance of a development permit must be given. Before giving second reading to a bylaw adopting or amending a statutory plan or land use bylaw the council must give notice and hold a public hearing. Notice of the hearing must be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks in at least one newspaper or other publications circulating in the area or mailed or delivered to every residence in the area affected by the bylaw. Recent amendments to the MGA allow municipalities to pass a bylaw providing for electronic other means of notice (MGA 801.1). At the hearing council must hear any person who claims to be affected by the proposed bylaw. After considering the comments the council may pass the bylaw, amend the bylaw or defeat it.
The need to do more
These minimum provisions often do not satisfy public demand for earlier and more extensive opportunities to engage on planning matters. The Alberta Municipal Affairs Public Information Tool Kit gives three reasons for expanding opportunities to engage with citizens:
- It leads to greater satisfaction and better relationships with citizens;
- It reduces complaints and concerns that arise late in the process and cause expensive delays and responses; and,
- It leads to better solutions.
A wide variety of engagement techniques can be employed depending on the nature of the decision that is to be made. Some common formal engagement methods include:
- Appointing public members to a municipal planning commission;
- Creating project based planning advisory committees;
- Conducting on line surveys; and
- Maintain opportunities for public feedback.
Successful citizen engagement requires careful thought, planning, and implementation. Municipalities should develop broad strategies of public engagement that apply across all aspects of municipal operations. Alberta Municipal Affairs’ Public Information Tool Kit provides detailed information on the level of, and techniques for, public engagement that are appropriate to different types of issues. Recent amendments to the MGA require municipalities to adopt a public participation policy. The Public Participation Policy Regulation sets out specific requirements the policy must meet.
AUMA has also developed a Public Engagement Guides to assist municipalities in meeting MGA requirements and ehancing public participation and engagement.
Municipalities may have the best intentions of engaging citizens whenever possible, but there may be norms and processes that inadvertently exclude or marginalize certain communities whose needs and concerns differ from those of majority or dominant groups. AUMA has developed Engaging with Ethno-cultural Communities: A Guide for Municipalities, a practical and easy to use resource that municipal staff can use to engage with ethno-cultural communities. An ethno-cultural community is a group that has one or more shared characteristics such as ancestry, language, religion, geographical region of origin, or national identity. These characteristics are the basis on which the group distinguishes itself from other groups.
Your municipality may have many different ethno-cultural communities; some may be newcomers to Canada, while others may have lived in your community for a long time.
In the municipal context, some ethno-cultural communities may face barriers such as unequal access to services, perhaps due to language barriers or because available services and programs fail to address their unique needs. This may be exacerbated by other factors such as lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and social exclusion. Keep in mind, however, that not all ethno-cultural communities will encounter these barriers, or experience exclusion in the same way.
The Engaging with Ethno-cultural Communities Guide is part of a suite of resources that AUMA has created over the years to support municipalities in their efforts to create welcoming and inclusive communities.
Engaging with Indigenous Peoples
Alberta is privileged to have one of the largest, youngest, and fastest-growing Indigenous populations in Canada. Nearly 250,000 First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and urban Aboriginal people play an important role in the social, cultural and economic fabric of the province.
A number of Alberta municipalities, including Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Lethbridge have developed processes for engagement with their Aboriginal populations.
Many goals of Canada's Indigenous communities intersect with planning concerns. These goals include preserving language and culture, building governance and planning systems, investing in community health and wellness, practicing sustainable resource management, establishing self-reliant economies, developing sustainable food and energy systems, and improving community housing and infrastructure.
The City of Lethbridge: Traditional Knowledge and Use Assessment
In April 2016, the City of Lethbridge initiated its Traditional Knowledge and Use Assessment (TKUA) by holding a ceremony jointly hosted by Elders and officials from the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika Nations. Through the TKUA, the municipality is able to work collaboratively with these three nations to create a greater understanding of the local Indigenous heritage of the region.
The project fits within the scope of regional development goals as promoted through the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) as well as through Lethbridge’s SSRP Compliance Initiative (a comprehensive baseline data gathering project to support the City’s legislative obligation to be compliant with the SSRP). TKUA also complements ongoing work within Lethbridge to document and protect heritage sites from the post-settlement era.
Traditional land use experts from these three nations are now working in partnership with a local archaeology firm to identify, document, and capture the history of the Siksikaisitapi (Blackfoot Peoples) in this region for thousands of years. The TKUA is part of a larger relationship building process between the City of Lethbridge and its Blackfoot—and other Indigenous—neighbours in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
When initiating planning developments, all municipalities are required to consider the impacts of development on heritage sites. Until now, however, these considerations largely excluded pre-settlement Indigenous heritage sites, many of which are more difficult for city planners to identify. These spaces will include ceremonial and sacred sites, wildlife corridors, traditional hunting grounds, as well as places with significant narrative history. The Lethbridge TKUA is working to highlight the 12,000+ year old history of the region, and assert the value of Indigenous historical sites to Alberta’s heritage.
Reflecting the spirit and intent of reconciliation, the TKUA is working closely with the Blackfoot Confederacy to understand and protect this history. In this way, it is the Indigenous nations themselves who are empowered to gather information and tell their histories.
The work of the TKUA is an example of reimagining the relationship between municipalities and Indigenous communities, and promoting reconciliation at the local level. It also represents a significant effort on the part of Lethbridge to acknowledge Indigenous histories as essential and foundational to city planning, rather than something that can be accommodated after development.
South Saskatchewan regional planning
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) requires that municipalities consider the broader implications of land use, growth, and development, including on historical resources. The SSRP also calls for greater collaboration between all land use planners and decision makers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
The implementation of the TKUA meaningfully incorporates two SSRP goals: It fosters increased understanding of local histories, and encourages relationship building with regional neighbours, particularly First Nations communities bordering Lethbridge.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
The Lethbridge TKUA is also an important step in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and can serve as an example for other municipalities looking to engage in reconciliation. The TKUA addresses at least three of the TRC Calls to Action directly:
- The local implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);
- A revision of policies in order to meaningfully incorporate Indigenous histories, heritage values, and memory practices into Canadian national heritage, and;
- The repudiation of the concepts of terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery.
For municipalities interested in implementing some of the recommendations of the TRC, but unsure of where to start, the Lethbridge TKUA provides an example of tangible reconciliation work at the local level. Not only does it address a number of aspects of the reconciliation framework, but it is also a project that will continue to guide development in Lethbridge in future years.
Significantly, the TKUA addresses not only the recommendations that concern the involvement of municipalities, but has gone further by reinterpreting some recommendations concerning provincial and federal governments, and considers how municipalities could meaningfully engage with those needs as well.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
In addition to its work to implement the Calls to Action, the project is also part of a larger goal to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) at the municipal level. Planners are hopeful that the project will help the city gain a more comprehensive understanding of the roles and responsibilities of municipalities when it comes to treaty rights, consultation, and development. Furthermore, the work of the TKUA supports the cultural continuity of Indigenous nations by ensuring the history is acknowledged, preserved, and respected.
Challenges and opportunities
The nature of this project requires particular sensitivities beyond what might be typically involved in planning initiatives. Significantly, the TKUA requires a willingness to work within the framework of Indigenous values and protocols. It is sometimes the case that traditional knowledges and outside perspectives are undermined by the assumptions of trained professionals. It is important to remember that all peoples involved in the project bring valuable perspectives that are important in reaching collective goals. Because there may be challenges associated with accessing various kinds of traditional knowledge, patience is key to ensuring respectful relations.
Planners in Lethbridge have noted the value of ongoing and effective communication. To ensure the success of the project, it has been crucial to bring together all the nations involved as early as possible in the planning process. This enables good relations from the outset of the project and allows all parties involved to have a shared vision moving forward.
The development community
Offsite levies represent a critical vehicle for municipalities to secure improvements necessary to the development of new subdivisions. These levies represent a significant expense for developers. Consequently, the legislation specifically requires the municipality to consult in good faith with stakeholders.
Developers are often identified as a group for specific inclusion in project based consultations. Preparation of a downtown development plan, for example, would be remiss if there was not a specific effort to engage representatives of the development industry in an advisory committee. The participation of developers is also encouraged in developing broad policies on community development.
Municipalities play a critical role in meeting the community need for schools through their planning and development authority. When preparing statutory plans, municipalities must notify school boards operating in the municipality of the preparation of the plan and provide opportunities to those authorities to make suggestions and comments. Municipal development plans must include policies respecting the allocation of reserves and the identification of school requirements in consultation with school boards. School authorities must be given notice of subdivision applications if the application could involve the allocation of reserves and may appeal decisions relating to the allocation of reserves or the location of school reserve sites.
Joint use agreements
As noted in Chapter 2, a developer may be required to provide up to 10% of the land to be subdivided for park, recreation and school purposes. Reserves are allocated to the municipality and each school board either in accordance with their needs as determined by the subdivision authority or in accordance with an agreement between the municipality and the respective school board. Many municipalities enter into joint use agreements with school boards to address the process for allocating reserves for new school sites as well as to arrange for sharing recreation areas and providing public access to school facilities such as gymnasiums after school hours. Amendments making these agreements mandatory have yet to be proclaimed, and are expected after a review of the School Act is completed by the province.
AUMA and school sites
AUMA members passed a resolution at the 2015 Convention requesting the provincial government to develop a strategy that provides urban municipalities with increased involvement in the planning for an announcement of new school sites. An improved engagement strategy would allow municipalities to prepare for the requirements of new school developments such as road access infrastructure, and also assist the province in effectively siting schools so that they can be developed in a timely manner that does not burden local taxpayers.
Intermunicipal cooperation and collaboration is a principle theme of the recent MGA amendments. All municipalities that are not members of a regional growth board must adopt an Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework to address the delivery of services and an intermunicipal development plan to address land use, servicing and development in areas of common interest. AUMA has developed an Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework Workbook to assist municipalities in meeting this requirement, which is available on the AUMA MGA Change Management Resources website. When preparing a municipal development plan, the municipality must notify adjacent municipalities of the preparation of the plan and provide opportunities for those municipalities to make suggestions and comments. Similar requirements apply if an area structure plan is being prepared for lands that are adjacent to another municipality. Subdivision applications affecting land that is adjacent to another municipality must be referred to that municipality unless otherwise provided for in a municipal development plan or intermunicipal development plan.
Many municipalities have established joint committees or agreements with neighbouring municipalities. These may be related to shared services such as fire protection or recreation, or they may be of a more general nature relating the simple exchange of information and maintenance of good working relations.
AUMA has developed a resource page on intermunicipal cooperation to support municipalities in beginning or continuing effective working relationships with their neighbours. This resource can be viewed here.