Inter-Municipal Planning in Alberta - Rep by Pop or Electoral College?

October 11, 2017

Conceptually, inter-municipal planning enjoys broad support. The efficient sharing of resources and infrastructure among, and cooperative land-use planning along the boundaries of, neighbouring municipalities make sense for taxpayers, municipal planners and politicians alike. The Capital Region (Edmonton and surrounding municipalities) has had inter-municipal planning regulation in place since 2012. For the Calgary region, however, the implementation of inter-municipal planning has proven to be elusive. The proposed Calgary Metropolitan Region Board Regulation (“CMRB Regulation”) is looking to fix that but it appears to have missed the mark.

The Calgary Region, as defined in the CMRB Regulation, comprises a vast area: the Cities of Calgary, Airdrie, and Chestermere, the Towns of Cochrane, High River, and Okotoks, Rocky View County, the Municipal District of Foothills, and a portion of Wheatland County. The city of Calgary, with 1.5 million people, holds the majority of the population in the Calgary Region. And therein lies the problem for achieving a consensus model for inter-municipal planning. Calgary holds the power.

The Calgary Regional Partnership (“Partnership”), the current model of inter-municipal planning among Calgary and its neighbours, was formed in 1999, in the absence of legislated regional planning, as a voluntary organization of participating towns, cities and municipalities. Conspicuous by their current absence from the Partnership, however, are Rocky View County and the Municipal District of Foothills, which bound the city of Calgary almost entirely. These municipalities withdrew from the Partnership in 2009 in part because of Calgary’s veto power.

Under the Calgary Metropolitan Plan (“CMP”), developed by the Partnership and approved in 2009, if the partners cannot achieve consensus on a regional decision within their purview, then they vote according to the following rules:

The Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) is committed to achieving our regional decisions by consensus first. In fact, arriving at consensus has been a successful practice within the Partnership since 1999. In very rare cases when consensus may not be reached, we have a decision-making model in place to make regionally significant decisions. Our model represents both the population of the region and the CRP municipal membership. It is a democratic model striking a balance between the principles of one municipality/one vote and representation by population.

5.b.1 Regional decision-making. Member municipalities will abide by the following regional decision-making model.

  1. Amending the Calgary Metropolitan Plan:
    For all amendments to the CMP, including amendments to the Priority Growth Areas illustrated on the Planning Concept Map, a positive vote must contain at least two-thirds of the CRP’s regional municipalities, and a majority (50 per cent plus 1 person) of the region’s population, and must also include the support of the member municipality whose land is adversely affected by the proposed amendment. (emphasis added)

  2. Planning, coordinating, and governing regional water, wastewater, and transit systems:
    A positive vote must contain at least two-thirds of the CRP’s regional municipalities, and a majority (50 per cent plus 1 person) of the region’s population. Decisions under this regional model are the final decisions by the CRP Board and will not be reconsidered except in accordance with the Board’s procedural by-laws. (emphasis added)

Under these voting procedures, until the partners other than the City of Calgary achieve an aggregate majority (>50%) of the region’s population, Calgary will continue to have the power to veto any inter-municipal planning initiative in the CMP region.

Remarkably, the Alberta government has proposed in the CMRB Regulation an even greater population threshold to approve an inter-municipal planning initiative:

 Voting rights of representatives

5(1) Subject to section 708.03(2) of the Act and section 4(4) and (6) of this Regulation, each representative has one vote.

(2) If a decision of the Board is to be made by a vote, the decision must be supported by not fewer than 2/3 of the representatives from participating municipalities that collectively have at least 2/3 of the population in the Calgary Metropolitan Region. (emphasis added)

Counterintuitively, the threshold to overcome Calgary’s population advantage has become even higher under the regulation intended to replace the CRP and promote regional planning. Under the voting procedures proposed by the CMRB Regulation, until the partners other than the City of Calgary achieve an aggregate of 2/3rds of the region’s population, Calgary will have the power to veto.

As of 2016, the city of Calgary had approximately 88% of the population within the CMP. The CMRB Regulation proposes to reshuffle the Partnership by including Rocky View County, the MD of Foothills, and a portion of the County of Wheatland, and excluding Black Diamond, Irricana, Redwood Meadows, and Turner Valley. With this revised membership, the city of Calgary would have only slightly less, approximately 84% of the population in the Calgary Metropolitan Region.

By contrast, the city of Edmonton has approximately 70% of the population in the Capital Region, as that region is currently defined under the Capital Region Board Regulation. Under this Regulation, 17 of the 24 members (about 71%) of the Capital Region Board comprising 75% of the population would be needed to effect a positive vote. With its replacement regulation, the proposed Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board Regulation (“EMRB Regulation”), the number of participating municipalities has been reduced to 13 from 24. Edmonton has approximately 71% of the population in the proposed Edmonton Metropolitan Region. The threshold for a positive vote has been lowered to 2/3rds of the members comprising at least 2/3rds of the population – from 17 of 24 members comprising 75% of the population to 9 of 13 members comprising 67% of the population. Under the proposed EMRB Regulation, Edmonton’s big city veto is being weakened whereas Calgary’s is being strengthened under the proposed CMRB Regulation.

The Edmonton region has a history of inter-municipal cooperation and is moving closer to a voting model that will eliminate the big city veto, By contrast, the “rep by pop” voting model has been responsible for discord in the Calgary Regional Partnership The disparity between Calgary’s population and that of the rest of the Partnership is much greater than that between Edmonton’s population and that of the rest of the Capital Region. The CMRB Regulation, which is intended to create a workable framework for replacing the Partnership and the Calgary Metropolitan Plan, is in need of a rethink to its voting procedures. Perhaps the much maligned Electoral College system in the United States, which is intended to balance the popular vote with regional representation, could serve as a template for decision making on inter-municipal issues in Alberta, especially in the Calgary Metropolitan Region.

City Charters Regulation – Henry VIII Revisited

Look for our blog post on the draft City Charter Regulation, coming soon, where we comment on this unprecedented delegation of provincial legislative powers to charter cities.

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