Mind the Gap: the Municipal Government Act needs to bridge environmental management

Mind the Gap: the Municipal Government Act needs to bridge environmental management

Mind the Gap: The Municipal Government Act
needs to bridge environmental management


The ongoing review of Alberta’s Municipal Government Act (MGA), along with the proposed amendments introduced in  Bill 21 this spring, presents a vital opportunity to enable municipal environmental governance.  In its current form Bill 21 provides several steps forward in environmental management, including (but not limited too):

  • A preamble that acknowledges that “Alberta’s municipalities play an important role in Alberta’s economic, environmental and social prosperity today and in the future”;
  • The need for adjoining municipalities to undertake coordinated planning which must address “environmental matters within the area, either generally or specifically”(s.631, intermunicipal development plans); and
  • Clarity around the use of brownfield tax incentives (s.364.1);

However, a new MGA must go further to address an ongoing gap in environmental management in the province.   Minding this environmental gap means addressing both real and perceived jurisdictional, financial and enforcement constraints on municipal environmental management.

To this end, the ELC proposes that a new MGA include:

  • A clear articulation of jurisdiction over land and water within the municipality (both in the development of statutory plans and in bylaws). For example, s. 640 which deals with municipal land use bylaws should be amended to include a section allowing “the development of land, construction of buildings or infrastructure, maintenance, excavation or reclamation of land for the purpose of managing the environment in a manner the municipality deems appropriate”.
  • In order to enable all governments to excel in environmental management, there must be a clear nesting of environmental management efforts among municipal, provincial, federal and Indigenous roles. The MGA should provide explicit guidance in this regard.
  • The need for additional funding mechanisms to deal with conservation planning, environmental assessment, monitoring and management. We note that Bill 21 contains amendments to “off-set levies” which could have provided a mechanism (albeit less than ideal) to address this issue.
  • Clear municipal enforcement powers to manage pollution within the municipality.
  • Clear municipal jurisdiction to require actions for the mitigation and adaption to climate change risks.

For more details, see the ELC’s earlier submissions on the MGA.

CC 3.0 Robert S. Donovan,

–Still “in the gap” with Bill 21

Those familiar with Bill 21 will note I haven’t listed the new conservation reserve as a mechanism to be lauded in the new legislation.  Bill 21 enables the taking of land as a conservation reserve during subdivision for the preservation of “environmentally significant features”.  This requires that the municipalities pay fair market value for the reserve. As first blush, this mechanism seems to meet the conservation objectives of the municipality; however, two major concerns arise.

  1. Conservation reserves may create the perception within municipalities and with developers that this is the “go-to” option for non-environmental reserve related land management even though land use bylaws may be equally or better suited to reaching municipal environmental and conservation outcomes. In effect, the provision may result in moving municipalities away from valid land use regulation toward a system of managing “environmentally significant features” by land acquisition.  This potential pigeonholing of municipal environmental governance must be avoided. (For more information about how environmental reserve may be used see s.664 of the MGA .)
  2. It requires payment of fair market value (not in itself a bad thing) without creating a financial mechanism to cover the costs of purchasing, monitoring and maintaining the conservation reserve. This creates financial pressures around conservation reserve with a potential (and undesirable) “find money or lose it” result.

Interestingly, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) was amended in 2011 to clarify (purportedly) compensation rights for the impacts of provincial regional plans on private property.  This provision expressly excludes claims for compensation arising from municipal planning decisions under the MGA (ALSA, section 19.1(9) ).  In other words, Bill 21 is creating potential claims for compensation in the same situation where previous government policy and legislation has previously declined to do so.



The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to educate and champion for strong laws and rights so all Albertans can enjoy clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. Our vision is a society where laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations.

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