In December, the Government of Alberta passed Bill 48 in an attempt to continue the reduction of red tape in provincial matters. Bill 48, the Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, introduced changes that impact municipalities, especially in the area of subdivision and development appeals. Prior to Bill 48, the Municipal Government Act mandated that local or regional Subdivision and Development Appeal boards (SDAB’s) were established to respond to appeals made regarding development decisions in municipalities. In Southern Alberta, many municipalities use the Chinook Intermunicipal SDAB through the Oldman River Regional Services Commission (ORRSC) to respond to development appeals. SDAB’s are a quasi-judicial board with local representation from the municipality and local councillors, which meant there was always a local understanding when the group made a decision about an appeal. Now these boards could be seeing less of the local matters, as the new legislation expands the role of the Municipal Governance Board (MGB), which has membership from across the province. The MGB will be seeing more appeals, especially those in which there is a provincial interest (for instance the current appeal regarding a development decision near Payne Lake in Cardston County).
In a recent interview with Lenze Kuiper, director at ORRSC, Kuiper shared that ORRSC aids municipalities in reviewing about 17-25 appeals across the region annually. So far, two appeals have had to be turned over to the MGB since the December changes that would previously gone to the Chinook Intermunicipal SDAB. Part of the efforts to reduce red tape also include the amalgamation of a few different boards (the municipal government board, new home buyer protection board, land compensation board, and surface rights board) into one agency, which will be called the Land and Property Rights Tribunal (LPRT). So, while the MGB will see some appeals from now until June, after that the MGB will be absorbed into the LPRT. While it makes sense to consolidate the four provincial boards into one LRPT for cost savings, there is some question as to whether it reduces red tape to restrict the powers of the local SDAB.
“We’ve taken action toward becoming the freest and fastest-moving economy in North America, but we’re not done yet,” said the Minister of Red Tape Reduction, Cardston’s own Grant Hunter. However, moving development decisions into the hands of the province and away from local councils prompted NDP Municipal Affairs Critic, Joe Ceci, to say “I don’t trust (Premier) Jason Kenney to do what’s best for Albertans who want to live in vibrant communities — I trust councillors to know better.” While Minister Hunter says that the changes would speed up subdivision and development permit approvals while reducing costs for developers to ultimately bring down the cost of homes, there is room to question this also. Both of the two appeals that would have been completed by the Chinook Intermunicipal SDAB early this year have yet to be heard by the MGB, who now have more on their plate and are still attempting to interpret the changes that came into legislation in December.
According to Lenze Kuiper at ORRSC, their commission is also still working to interpret the legislation and provide professional advice to their municipalities. Many groups are still “awaiting further interpretation on the legislation, so we are all in limbo. We may see regulations changed and put back to municipalities. Everyone is still trying to feel out where things are going. This isn’t unusual with new legislation.” Kuiper states that “With more provincial oversight, you may see local councils taking a little more time to make firm decisions in development matters so there are less appeals.”
The new legislation also touches on reducing redundancies in municipal legislation, and addresses red tape that doesn’t exist in Alberta in order to proactively avoid bylaws that have created problems in other provinces.
Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star