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Intermunicipal Planning

Intermunicipal planning and collaboration is a major theme of the recent amendments to the Municipal Government Act. Prior to these amendments, except for the Capital Region Board, intermunicipal planning and collaboration was entirely voluntary. Municipalities were only required to consider adjacent municipalities in their planning. Formal arrangements were left to each municipality. Many municipalities used their natural person powers to enter into agreements with their neighbours to address shared services such as utilities, fire protection, recreation or other matters of mutual interest. Many high growth municipalities prepared intermunicipal development plans to address growth and development in areas of joint interest.. The recent MGA amendments introduced mandatory arrangements: growth management boards for the Edmonton and Calgary regions; mandatory intermunicipal collaboration frameworks that include intermunicipal development plans for all municipalities that are not members of regional growth management boards.

Growth Management Boards

Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board

In 2008 the Government established by regulation the Capital Region Board (CRB) with a mandate to prepare and adopt a growth plan. The objectives of the plan were to:

  • promote an integrated and strategic approach to planning for future growth in the Capital Region;
  • identify the overall development pattern and key future infrastructure investments that would
    • best complement existing infrastructure, services, and land uses in the Capital Region, and
    • maximize benefits to the Capital Region;
  • co-ordinate decisions in the Capital Region to sustain economic growth and ensure strong communities and a healthy environment.

The plan was approved by the Board and the Minister of Municipal Affairs in 2010.

Since the adoption of the plan in 2010 the CRB has undertaken a number of plans and studies to support plan implementation including:

  • An integrated transportation study and prioritization process for regional infrastructure 
  • A 30 year intermunicipal tranist service plan
  • A regional housing needs assessment study
  • A regional energy corridors master plan
  • An economic roadmap for the capital region
  • Operation of a capital region GIS database and web portal 

The CRB initiated a review of the regional growth plan beginning in 2013. A revised plan was adopted by the Board in October 2016.  The plan addresses policies in the following areas:

  • Economic Competitiveness and Employment
  • Natural Living Systems
  • Communities and Housing
  • Integration of Land Use and Infrastructure
  • Transportation Systems
  • Agriculture Economic Competitiveness

In December 2016 the Minister presented the CRB with proposals for revising the regulation establishing the CRB as part of the overall review of the MGA. Proposals include reducing the membership in the CRB to include only the rural municipalities abutting the City of Edmonton and urban centres with a population over 5,000 persons within these rural municipalities and adding some form of regional service delivery and economic development to its mandate.  The Province approved The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board Regulation on October 26, 2017. The regulation continues the Capital Region Board as the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board but with a broader mandate and a reduced membership. 

The regional growth plan prepared by Board in 2016 was also approved by the Minster of Municipal Affairs under the new regulation on October 26, 2017. The Board uses a revised regional evaluation framework to assess statutory plans specified by the Board as requiring Board review and approval. The regulation provides that the Board may approve or refuse plans submitted to it and that has no effect unless it is approved by the Board. The decision of the Board is final.

In addition to adopting a growth plan and evaluating statutory plans for consistency with the growth plan the Board is now required to prepare and adopt a regional servicing plan within 2 years (October 26, 2019). The objectives of the servicing plan are to:

  • Identify the services required to support the goals of and to implement the Growth Plan
  • Support the optimization of shared services to enhance the use of ratepayer dollars
  • Support orderly economical and environmentally responsible growth in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region
  • To coordinate planning and decisions regarding services among member municipalities to ensure the optimization of ratepayer dollars.


Calgary Regional Partnership

The Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) was formed in 1999 as a collaborative network of municipalities in the Calgary Region that work together to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner. The partnership prepared the Calgary Metropolitan Plan (CMP) to provide a guide for sustainable development within the region. Adopted by the membership in 2014, the CMP notes that the CRP does not have jurisdiction on local land use decisions. Rather,

“The municipal members of the CRP have committed to the CMP by aligning their plans with the CMP. Regional context statements will be included in CRP members municipal development plans to set out the relationship between the local MDP and the CMP. Regional context statements are policy tools that enable municipalities to develop locally appropriate approaches to aligning with the CMP.”

The CMP identified five principles of what the region needs to be successful and sustainable:

  • Protecting the natural environment and watershed;
  • Fostering the region’s economic activity;
  • Accommodating growth in more compact settlement patterns;
  • Integrating efficient regional infrastructure systems; and,
  • Supported through a regional governance approach.

The CRP urged the provincial government to formally adopt the CMP.

Calgary Metropolitan Region Growth Board

The provincial government did not adopt the Calgary Metropolitan Plan. Rather it adopted the Calgary Metropolitan Region Growth Board Regulation which came into force on January 1, 2018. The regulation establishes the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board with a directive to prepare and adopt a growth plan and a servicing plan within 3 years (January 1, 2021). The Board must also prepare and submit to the Minister for approval a regional evaluation framework containing:

  • Criteria to be used to determine whether a statutory plan must be must be submitted to the Board for approval
  • Procedures for submitting statutory plans for approval
  • Criteria and procedures to be followed by the Board for the objective evaluation and approval of statutory plans in relation to the Growth Plan and the Servicing Plan

The regulations for the two regional growth boards are essentially identical and set out in broad terms the purpose, mandate, operating principles and mandatory requirements of each board. The enabling legislation (MGA section 708.011) allows other regional growth management boards to be formed on a voluntary basis. There is no indication at this time of an intent to form other regional boards.

Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks (ICFs)

As of April 1, 2018 municipalities that are not members of a growth management board will have 2 years until April 1, 2020 to prepare and adopt an ICF with each municipality with whom they share a boundary. Municipalities that are members of a growth management board must prepare an ICF with any neighbour that is not a member of the growth management board and with any municipality that is a member of growth management board to address any matter that is not provided for in a growth management plan.  If the municipalities cannot agree on an ICF then mandatory arbitration provisions in MGA sections 708.33 – 708.43 will apply.

The purpose of an ICF as set out in MGA section 708.27 is:

  • To provide for the integrated and strategic planning, delivery and funding of intermunicipal services,
  • To steward scarce resources efficiently in providing local services, and
  • To ensure municipalities contribute funding to services that benefit their residents.

The legislation links services and land use planning by providing that an ICF is not complete unless an Intermunicipal Development Plan has been adopted by each of the municipalities that share a boundary.  AUMA and RMA have developed a workbook and templates for developing an ICF including the process for developing an IDP, which be found on the AUMA MGA Change Management Resources page.

Regional service commissions

The requirement to prepare an intermunicipal collaboration framework does not in itself provide for the joint delivery of services. As in the past, two municipalities that share services can do so through bilateral agreements. Where more than two municipalities share a service, a regional service commission provides a means of formalizing these arrangements. A Regional Services Commission (RSC) is a corporate entity through which municipalities can partner to provide services regionally. Commissions must include at least two municipal entities and can include First Nations reserves, Métis settlements or armed forces bases. Formation of a regional service commission is entirely voluntary, however, formal establishment requires a provincial regulation which sets out the membership, services that are to be provided, the service area, and a number of other operating and reporting requirements.  

There are currently about 70 RSCs in Alberta. Many were initially established to provide water, wastewater, or solid waste services. More recently the range of services provided has expanded to include such matters as transit, emergency services, airports, assessment and land use planning services. Most involve a limited number of partners (2-5 members), but some are quite large involving over 30 members. The establishment of RSCs has been encouraged through provincial government funding and regulatory requirements for solid waste, water, and sewer services that emphasized regional service delivery.

Intermunicipal development plan (IDP)

As of April 1 2018 municipalities that are not members of a growth management board must prepare and adopt an intermunicipal development plan with any municipality with whom they share a boundary. Municipalities will have 2 years (until by April 1 2020) to prepare and adopt the plan. If the municipalities cannot agree on an IDP then the mandatory arbitration provisions of MGA sections 708.33 to 708.43 apply.  The IDP must include those areas of land lying within the municipalities as they consider necessary and address:

  • The future land use within the area,
  • The manner of and the proposals for future development in the area,
  • The provision of transportation systems for the area, either generally or specifically,
  • The co-ordination of intermunicipal programs relating to the physical, social and economic development of the area,
  • Environmental matters within the area, either generally or specifically, and
  • Any other matter related to the physical, social, or economic development of the area that the councils consider necessary.

Intermunicipal development plans must provide for all of the matters referred to above. Previously the Act stated that an intermunicipal development plan may provide for:

  • The future land use within the area,
  • The manner of and the proposals for future development in the area,
  • Any other matter related to the physical, social, or economic development of the area that the councils consider necessary.

As a result, municipalities with existing IDP’s will need to review and amend them as necessary to ensure they address the new legislative requirements. Municipalities will have until April 1, 2020 to complete this review.

There is no central record of the number of IDPs that have been adopted to date, but there are likely 75 or more. Most plans are between an urban and a rural municipality and focus on a limited area surrounding the urban municipality. More recently IDPs have been used to address multi-municipal planning issues. 

This statement from the Sylvan Lake- Red Deer County IDP outlines the intent of the plan:

  • An IDP is is a broad-based policy document that is designed to ensure that development, usually in and around an urban municipality, takes place in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner without significant unnecessary costs and unacceptable negative impacts on either municipality.

The plan goes on to identify some of the benefits of intermunicipal planning as follows:

  • Building positive and mutually beneficial relationships between municipalities;
  • Recognizing the Town and surrounding rural areas as one diverse, mutually supporting community;
  • Encouraging dialogue to reduce the potential for land use conflicts and foster a better understanding of each other’s interests and views;
  • Achieving a common purpose for growth and development in the broader area which is supportive of intermunicipal agreements and other cooperative initiatives in the provision of municipal services;
  • Promoting certainty for rural land use and development activities by designating and safeguarding areas for continued rural development;
  • Confirming future urban growth directions and land requirements and allowing for the efficient and economical expansion of the town;
  • Enabling both parties to jointly consider the effects that a specific development in one municipality might have on the other;
  • Promoting effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of services including such things as coordinating of transportation planning; and
  • Obtaining certainty around the types of land use allowed within the urban fringe and the development standards that will be applied.

The plan carries out the intent under the following main headings:

  • Growth management
  • Economic development and Fiscal health
  • Potential Joint Development Area
  • Land use Concept
  • Transportation
  • Utility Services
  • Plan Implementation and Administration

A final section of the plan includes a Dispute Resolution Flow Chart.


Urban municipalities are limited in their ability to accommodate growth within their boundaries. While there is a growing emphasis on increasing densities for both cost and environmental benefits, at some point urban municipalities may need to look at extending their boundaries. Typically, this occurs through annexation of land from an adjacent rural municipality.

Long term growth directions should be established in the municipal development plan and in the intermunicipal development plan. Applications for annexation are made to the Municipal Government Board (MGB). In making its decision the Board will look at a number of factors including the need for the land, whether the annexation is a logical extension of development and servicing, and the extent to which there is intermunicipal cooperation. The MGB has established a list of 15 annexation principles to guide municipalities in preparing for annexation.  The MGB also provides an overview of the annexation process, an application checklist and rules and procedures for annexation on its website

AUMA and annexation

As part of AUMA’s submissions to the MGA review, we called for the province to clarify regulations regarding annexations. Annexation is at its most fundamental a change in boundaries between two municipalities. Despite this simple premise, the annexation process has become increasingly contentious in recent years with a number of high profile contested annexations. The current process for annexation does not address the growth pressures faced by municipalities and is onerous.

AUMA sought additional changes such as expedited processes for annexations that are negotiated in an IDP, criteria that look at land use policies of both the initiating and responding municipality, extending the target annexation period from 25 to 50 years, and additional conflict resolution mechanisms around the issue of compensation.  Further details are outlined in a letter AUMA’s president sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs in September 2015.