Fall 2017

Newsletter Archive


'Big City Charters' Could Mean Big Opportunities for Conservation

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More and more people are becoming aware that decisions by municipalities can impact ecological conservation and environmental management - for good and for bad! For that reason, Miistakis has been tracking the current revamp of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to see what this means for conservation.

The latest development has been the release of the draft Big City Charters. These charters recognize that the one-size-fits-all MGA struggles to provide guidance for both Granum's 450 people and Calgary's 1 million people. These new Charters will give Edmonton and Calgary an extra layer of powers, in effect adding to the MGA or re-writing certain sections.

So what will this mean for conserving the natural world?

The good news is the changes appear to be positive in that they bestow extra abilities and responsibilities on Alberta's big cities with regard to the environment. They are in draft form, and currently receiving comment, but it looks like the Charters will have three fundamental changes that affect conservation.

  1. First, the big cities will have their bylaw powers expanded to include "environmental well-being." When that term first appeared in the MGA consultation, it was unclear what it meant. However, the draft Charters explain this means creating programs for a number of environmental matters, including "environmental conservation and stewardship" and "the protection of biodiversity and habitat." To date municipalities have struggled to do this, drawing on guidance from other (environmental) legislation, and liberally interpreting existing powers to provide good government and vital services. Now the Big Cities can hit this head on with empowered clarity.
  2. Second, the big cities are now required to create both climate change mitigation and adaptation plans. The Charters are playing a bit of catch up here, as both Edmonton and Calgary have done a tremendous amount of work in this area. However, this enshrines in legislation the need to create these plans, and provides standardized guidance for reporting, adoption, review (every 5 years), and timelines (both plans must be in place by the end of 2020). The draft Charters also enable these plans to address any matters that the Council considers necessary or appropriate. As well, the climate change adaptation plan provisions specifically allow the cities to include actions for the purpose of "biodiversity management."
  3. Finally, the big cities' planning and development powers will be expanded to include the environment. The existing MGA gathers all the "planning and development" powers of municipalities in one section (Part 17), and states the purpose of these powers. Currently, those purposes include the "orderly economical and beneficial development" and "to maintain and improve the quality of the physical environment." The draft Charters would expand this second purpose for the big cities by adding the clarifying words "...including by promoting environmental sustainability and stewardship."

Are there any guarantees with these new changes? Of course not, but they do better enable the cities to protect the natural world at both the big-picture policy level and the plan-implementation level. It is also important to understand that these changes were sought by Calgary and Edmonton rather than simply being imposed on them. Calgary and Edmonton are both internationally recognized for their conservation planning and management.

So whats the bad news? The challenge - as always - is these opportunities come with no new funding, nor additional methods for the big cities to raise the necessary funds. And of course Alberta's other 350 municipalities do not get these powers!

You can read more about the Big City Charters and take the online survey at: alberta.ca/city-charters.