July 23rd, 2024

SACPA talk addresses new government bills

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on June 21, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Coaldale mayor Jack Van Rijn speaks to SACPA about two new pieces of Alberta legislation that will impact municipalities.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

What are the pros and cons of two pieces of Alberta government legislation that will have an impact on municipalities?

That was the focus of Thursday’s presentation of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs at the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization.

Coaldale mayor Jack Van Rijn gave the SACPA audience an indepth look at Bill 18, the Provincial Priorities Act, and its potential impact on the relationships municipalities have with the federal governance.

A shorter part of his presentation was on Bill 20, also known as the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act and its significance, one being the elimination of automatic ballot tabulators which he said would greatly increase the time it takes to count votes in a municipal election.

Bill 18 “requires provincial entities to obtain prior approval from Alberta’s government before entering into, amending, extending or renewing an agreement with the federal government,” says the province, and “supports Alberta’s government in pushing back against overreach by the federal government. The Act will require provincial entities to obtain prior approval from Alberta’s government before entering into, amending, extending or renewing an agreement with the federal government.”

Regulations will set out any requirements that must be met before a provincial entity can enter into an agreement with Ottawa and exceptions to the legislation.

The province anticipates the legislation will be put into place early next year.

Bill 20 sets rules for local elections and municipal councils “to enhance integrity and maintain public trust,” says the government.

The Local Authorities Election Act component of the Act establishes the framework for the conduct of elections in school divisions, irrigation districts and Metis settlements as well as municipalities.

The Municipal Government Act component establishes rules of conduct for locally elected officials once they are on council and the “the overall administration and operation of municipal authorities in Alberta,” says the province.

Van Rijn told the audience that Bill 18 “seeks to place restrictions on municipalities entering into agreements with the federal government without provincial approval.

“This proposed amendment raises significant questions about the autonomy of local governments and their ability to respond effectively to the needs of their communities,” he said.

Bill 20 introduces changes “that could further politicize our local elections. This potential shift has sparked substantial debate among municipal leaders and citizens alike as it threatens to alter the foundational principles of fairness and integrity that our electoral processes are built upon,” he added.

“We must engage in a thoughtful and constructive dialogue to ensure that the integrity” of local elections is preserved and that local governance remain transparent, accountable and representative of the communities they serve, he added.

Provincial oversight on agreements between municipalities and Ottawa “is intended to ensure that all agreements are consistent with provincial policies and priorities,” he said.

Pros include uniformity and consistency. By requiring provincial approval, this provision “ensures agreements made by municipalities align with the broader strategic goals and policies of the province” which helps to achieve a cohesive approach to governance in the province, he said.

Provincial oversight can also facilitate better co-ordination between different levels of government, potentially leading to more strategic and unifying initiatives that benefit the entire province, Van Rijn added.

Among the cons are that municipalities don’t have the ability to negotiate agreements that directly address their specific needs and priorities which could hinder local innovation and responsiveness, he said.

And it could cause potential delays to crucial projects and initiatives by adding another layer of bureaucracy.

Greater control by the province over agreements will enhance accountability, reducing the risk of arrangements that might not serve the public interest, he said, citing the town’s policing agreement with the RCMP.

Another pro is resource allocation with the province being able to manage and allocate resources more effectively ensuring funding and support is distributed equitably across municipalities based on strategic priorities.

Among the cons is centralization of power with increased control concentrating decision-making power at the provincial level, potentially marginalizing local voices and undermining the principle of local self governance, he said. Political interference is also a concern, with biased or partisan decisions that might not represent the best interest of local communities.

There are also financial implications, added Van Rijn, with provincial oversight ensuring that financial agreements are consistent with provincial municipal policies and constraints, he added.

Provincial oversight can ensure agreements are fiscally responsible and in line with Alberta’s broader budgetary policies. The province can also help mitigate financial risk of municipalities entering into potentially detrimental financial commitments, he added.

Cons include municipalities facing difficulty securing federal funding for local projects if provincial approval is delayed.

The bill could have “significant changes to the dynamics between municipal, provincial and federal governments” And raises considerable critical concerns about local autonomy, delays and the risk of provincial interference, he added.

He said municipal leaders must engage in an open dialogue to advocate for amendments that protect the integrity and autonomy of local governance while ensuring agreements align with provincial and national interests, he added.

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