A City Charter for Calgary

Developing customized legislation to meet local needs.

When it comes to the laws and policies that govern a province’s many municipalities, a one-size-fits-all approach can be problematic.  

Currently, all 344 municipalities in Alberta operate under the same piece of legislation – the Municipal Government Act, or MGA. Under the MGA, the province’s smallest towns and villages have the exact same decision-making powers and authorities as its two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary. 

It’s not an ideal situation, especially if you stop to think about the issues and challenges of a city the size of Calgary (population 1.2 million) compared to those of, say, the village of Gadsby (population 40). Big-city challenges include things like managing population growth, meeting an ever-increasing demand for specialized services, and developing and maintaining roads, public spaces and entire communities. 

Even though the MGA has undergone recent amendments, it doesn’t yet recognize the uniquely urban pressures that Calgary and Edmonton face. 

That’s where City Charters come in. For the last few years, the Government of Alberta has been working with Calgary and Edmonton councils to develop a distinct charter for each city. 

A More Effective Way to Govern

A City Charter is a legislative tool that gives a city greater flexibility and authority to address the unique needs of its citizens. A Calgary-specific charter will provide our City Council with the power to modify or replace certain provisions set out in the MGA (or in other provincial regulations). Essentially, it will allow The City to develop local policies and deliver local solutions to Calgarians – solutions that will help to ensure our long-term success. 

The charter will focus on five main areas:

1. Administrative efficiency
Calgary’s City Charter will help to make the work carried out by The City’s administrative teams more productive and effective. This will be done through modernizing assessment processes, streamlining decision-making and providing clearer information on technical aspects of tax assessments. 

Put another way: there will be way less red tape to deal with. And less red tape means more time for innovative thinking when it comes to making local decisions.

2. Supporting community well-being
Our new Charter will enhance quality of life among Calgarians by supporting the delivery of essential services, and by allowing for greater freedoms in creating affordable housing and in building major arts, recreation and sports facilities with non-profit partners.
3. Smarter community planning
The City Charter will give Calgary more authority to plan for smarter development, both in new and existing communities. It will bring greater flexibility in modifying local transportation rules and regulations, managing neighbourhood revitalization and addressing growth matters in a way that best meets the city’s needs.    

4. Environmental stewardship
Through the City Charter, Calgary and its citizens will have more opportunities to bring local solutions to environmental challenges and issues. These issues fall under three main themes – energy efficiency and security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and balancing smart development with the protection of the natural environment.  

5. Collaboration
The City Charters for both Calgary and Edmonton will support and encourage collaborative work when it comes to matters of shared interest between the provincial government and both municipal governments. The charters will introduce three provincial-municipal policy and planning tables that will develop regular workplans to address ongoing issues around environment and climate change, social policy and transportation.    

Nearing the Finish Line

Both Calgary and Edmonton’s City Charters are expected to be in place before the civic elections in October 2017. But they’ve been a long time in the making, and there’s still work to be done. 

The two cities and the Government of Alberta signed an agreement to develop City Charters back in October 2014. Since then, all three parties have been working to determine what should be included in each city’s charter. They’ve had multiple meetings to develop policy proposals in each of the five focus areas listed above. 

Additionally, in October 2016, Calgary and Edmonton held information sessions for stakeholders and members of the public. These sessions allowed citizens an opportunity to review the City Charter policy proposals and to provide feedback. 

There will be further opportunities for public feedback in the coming months. Once the proposed financial framework is in place for each charter, the public will have a chance to review and comment on that framework, and on any changes made to earlier policy proposals. A final, 60-day feedback period will also be given to all of us once drafts of each City Charter are posted online (sometime this spring).

Much has been written about how City Charters should be enacted. Many pundits believe there should be a referendum where Calgarians are asked to vote on whether they want a charter or are content to be governed by the MGA. To this point it appears the charter will be decided by cabinet, not the entire legislature. 

When all is said and done, Calgary and Edmonton’s City Charters will be similar, but not identical. The whole point of this type of charter, after all, is to ensure that a city can tailor the details to meet its specific local needs. And for Calgarians, that’s something to look forward to. 

April 7th, 2017
Updated: September 1st, 2017

The City departments (and other stakeholders) involved with the development application process.