Local government is the most accessible and responsive level of government, made up of local citizens elected by the community, which together form the Town Council.
All local governments in Canada are granted their powers by their provincial government. The legal framework and foundation for local government in Alberta is set out in provincial laws called the Alberta Municipal Government Act (MGA) and the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA).
What is Local Government?
According to MGA, the purposes of municipal government in Alberta are to:
·provide good government;
·provide services, facilities or other things that are necessary or desirable and develop; and
·Maintain safe and viable communities.
What is Important to Understand about Local Government in Alberta?
Most geographic communities in Alberta are governed by a local government, the level of government given the power to make decisions that relate to local issues and services. Local government is also called municipal government, whether that is a city, town, village or rural area. Municipal government is created by the provinces to provide local services. There are other forms of local governments, such as health care authorities and education boards, butAlbertaMunicipal Affairs provides resources and expertise to municipalities, boards and associations that support municipalities.
Information on local and municipal government is provided on the Alberta Municipal Affairs website.
What is a Municipality, and What Does it Do?
A municipality is an administrative entity composed of a clearly defined boundary and the population within it. As a means of governance, municipalities can either have officials elected at-large or from wards, which divide the municipality into more manageable sections. When a ward system is used, each ward usually has the same number of councillors. The number of wards within a municipality are specified when it is formed, but may be changed by council through a bylaw.
Municipalities provide essential and non-essential local services such as road, grounds and property maintenance; water and sewer services; and garbage collection. Municipalities share the characteristics of having defined boundaries, providing residents with ways to make decisions about local issues and being a focus for community activities.
In municipalities, there are also other local authorities, such as health care authorities and school boards. Municipal Affairs works in partnership with Alberta’s municipalities to ensure Albertans live in safe and sustainable communities, and are served by open, effective and accountable governments.
Purpose, Powers and Capacity of a Municipality
Municipalities in Canada provide essential and non-essential
local services, such as road maintenance, water and sewer services and garbage
collection. Municipalities share the characteristics of having land and
boundaries, providing residents with ways to make decisions about local issues
and being a focus for community activities. In municipalities, there are also
other local authorities, such as health care authorities and school
boards.Alberta Municipal Affairs works in partnership with Alberta’s
municipalities to ensure Albertans live in safe and sustainable communities,
and are served by open, effective and accountable governments.
The MGA, the provincial legislation governing municipalities, outlines the purpose, powers and capacity of a municipality. Municipalities are established to:
·provide good government;
·provide services, facilities or other things that, in the opinion of council, are necessary or desirable for all or a part of the municipality; and
·develop and maintain safe and viable communities.
The MGA defines the broad powers or general
jurisdiction of municipalities; for example: municipalities have the authority
to regulate the activities of the public. These rules are found in municipal
bylaws and resolutions. Bylaws and resolutions are passed by council,
under the authority established by the MGA. The council uses
resolutions as a way to make decisions when a bylaw is not required.
A municipality’s powers are addressed in the MGA, which states "a municipality is a corporation" that has been provided with "natural person" powers. Natural person powers give municipalities the rights and powers of an individual for the purpose of exercising their authority. So, just as an individual can start up a business, enter into agreements, lease equipment or hire employees, so can a municipality; however, the municipality can use these powers only to the extent that those powers are limited by the MGA or any other enactment of the legislature. The MGA states that a council may pass bylaws for their municipalities respecting the following matters:
·the safety, health and welfare of people and the protection of people activities and things in, on or near a public place or place that is open to the public;
·nuisances, including unsightly property;
·transport and transportation systems;
·businesses, business activities and persons engaged in business;
·services provided by or on behalf of the municipality;
·wild and domestic animals and activities in relation to them; and
·The enforcement of bylaws.
The Entire Municipality
Elected officials on a municipality’s council are elected to look after the interests of the entire municipality. In a municipality with a ward system, an official who has been elected to represent a ward must be careful not to place the interest of the ward or electoral division above the interest of the whole municipality. A ward or district is a geographical area that any municipality can use to divide areas equally, based on the number of people who live there.
Municipalities may also choose to elect councillors at large, or by and for the whole municipality. As challenging as it may be at times, elected officials must base any decision on what is best for the entire municipality. The council’s effectiveness depends on elected officials providing input on their areas while thinking and voting for the whole municipality.
Elected officials also have to make certain that they do not put themselves in a pecuniary interest situation. This means that they must ensure that decisions made do not monetarily affect them or their immediate family. When a council member or his or her family, employers, business interests or partnerships can potentially benefit or lose monetarily from decisions made by the council, he or she has a pecuniary interest. The MGA states that "when a Councillor has a pecuniary interest in a matter before the council, a council committee or any other body to which the Councillor is appointed as a representative of the council, the Councillor must, if present:
·disclose the general nature of the pecuniary interest prior to any discussion of the matter;
·abstain from voting on any question relating to the matter;
·abstain from any discussion of the matter; and
·Leave the room in which the meeting is being held until discussion and voting on the matter are concluded.
A council can require, by passing a bylaw, that the councillor file a statement with the names of family members and employers, as well as any corporations, firms or partnerships from which the councillor benefits. A councillors constituents have expectations that the councillor will represent them in an ethical and informed manner. Public perceptions of the openness of local government influences how the public interacts with the council. When issues arise in a municipality, the public may perceive a council member to have a conflict of interest; however, from a legislative context, the only guidelines that are established by theMGAare for pecuniary interest.
Municipalities in Alberta
A municipality is an administrative entity composed of a clearly
defined boundary and the population within it. As a means of governance,
municipalities can either have officials elected at-large or from wards, which
divide the municipality into more manageable sections. When a ward system is
used, each ward usually has the same number of councillors. The number of wards
within a municipality are specified when it is formed, but may be changed by
council through a bylaw.
When a municipality has its councillors elected at-large, this means all councillors are elected by the eligible voters of the whole municipality. Candidates, or those nominated to run for election for a position on council, are required to be residents of the municipality for six consecutive months immediately preceding nomination day. Municipal elections are held every three years.
Urban municipalities (cities, towns, villages, summer villages) are formed in areas where the majority of buildings are on parcels of land smaller than 1,850 square metres. Municipal districts are formed in areas in which a majority of the buildings used as dwellings are on parcels of land with an area of at least 1,850 square metres.