On Friday, September 5, 2014, the City of Grande Prairie hosted the Alberta Municipal Governance Symposium. AAMDC staff and board representatives attended the symposium, as there were a number of discussions from academics and municipal representatives on the potential future direction of municipal governance in Alberta.
There were a number of competing and often contradictory perspectives and ideas presented relating to municipal governance structures, cooperation among municipalities, and the relationship between municipalities and the province. Some ideas considered the rural municipal perspective, while others were very much urban focused or displayed a lack of understanding about the importance of rural municipalities to the province’s social and economic well-being. As such, the ideas summarized below are not endorsed by the AAMDC, but simply present an overview of some of the discussion at the symposium:
- The traditional focus on urban and rural municipalities may not be the most efficient means of organizing. Municipal boundaries should strive to match where the majority of people work and live. In some cases, this focus will combine rural and urban, but in other cases, it will not. As an example, see this report by Statistics Canada.
- Many emerging concepts related to municipal structures (ex. City-Region) are appealing in theory, but the challenges of matching these concepts to the complexities of municipal priorities and local realities make them very difficult to implement.
- Developing complete communities comprised of both rural and urban municipalities would allow municipalities to develop greater governance capacity and improve local decision-making and autonomy.
- Small urban communities can be sustainable within rural municipalities if the two are willing to cooperate on planning and service delivery. If this can be achieved, dissolution and amalgamation is unnecessary.
- Dissolution often negatively impacts community identity. It is important that the residents of a dissolving community are provided with information about how municipal services will now be provided as well as where to direct questions and concerns.
- Combining urban and rural municipalities would produce major challenges in terms of service delivery and governance. Urban and rural residents have very different expectations for how services should be delivered, level of taxation for municipal services, etc. This is often ignored by proponents of regionalization.
- Amalgamation is only effective when both parties are willing. Amalgamation should be an option for municipalities who are attempting to be proactive, rather than a last resort for struggling municipalities or something that is forced from other levels of government.
- The specialized municipality model presents benefits and challenges – it provides a diverse economic base, but service delivery and governance are often complex and difficult.
- Any amalgamation should consider local circumstances and be based on a municipality’s ability to be viable. Using an arbitrary measure (such as population) will harm certain municipalities and result in unnecessary transformation of municipal governments.
- Reconfiguring local boundaries will not empower municipal governments unless it is supported by citizens. Otherwise it will isolate municipal elected officials and create a disillusioned and apathetic citizenry.
The above comments attempt to summarize some of the key points made by presenters at the symposium. A video recording of the complete symposium will be available on the symposium website shortly. The AAMDC will share this with members when it is available.
Enquiries may be directed to:
Director, Advocacy & Communications