Future of Municipal Government
Municipalities face a wide array of financial, political, social, cultural, and environmental pressures. In response, Alberta Municipalities initiated the Future of Municipal Government (FOMG) project to explore and assess options for government structures that will enable municipalities to build thriving communities into the future.
We partnered with the School of Public Policy (SPP) at the University of Calgary on this project. The SPP engaged municipal experts from Alberta and across Canada to conduct research on a wide variety of topics.
The main finding of FOMG is that intermunicipal collaboration is key to building thriving communities. ABmunis hosted a President’s Summit in March 2023 to discuss factors identified as key to enhancing the effectiveness of collaboration. These discussions were used to inform ABmunis Recommendations on the Future of Intermunicipal Collaboration. The recommendations focus on opportunities for:
- The provincial government to enhance legislation, policy and funding supports for collaboration.
- Municipal associations to model collaboration and provide guidance and capacity-building support.
- Municipalities to learn from successes and challenges to enhance their collaborations.
ABmunis would like to thank everyone who provided input on a draft version of the recommendations through participating in the June 2023 Summer, Municipal Leaders Caucus or through providing written submissions. The final recommendations are guiding our ongoing work with Municipal Affairs and other municipal associations to support enhanced collaboration.
Research released to date & key takeaways
As part of the FOMG series, the School of Public Policy has released its paper on Community Engagement: Hearing the Voices of the Public. The paper details how municipalities can engage the silent members of a community for input using methods beyond the traditional town halls and open houses.
The paper highlights that public hearings, open houses, and other traditional means of engaging citizens are no longer sufficient for true participatory democracy. For municipalities to improve decision-making, municipalities need to invest in engagement practices that will overcome existing barriers that prevent most residents from engaging. This includes simplifying communications and making the effort to go to where people are along with online engagement.
A recording of the November 2023 webinar with the report’s author, Kimberly Jones, is available on ABmunis’ Vimeo channel.
This paper explores the role and tenure of Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) in Alberta municipalities and the implications for those municipalities. A recording of the October 2023 webinar with the report’s authors is available on ABmunis Vimeo Channel.
The paper concludes that overall CAOs are community-minded public servants who take pride and ownership of their work and have strong relationships with their administration. At the same time, the paper reveals concerning trends of decreasing CAO tenure which can contribute to significant disruption to municipal organizations. The research points to negative political dynamics as being the greatest challenge of the role and (factor) in increasing transition.
Based on these findings ABmunis is exploring ways we can partner with other municipal associations to bolster awareness of the differences in roles and responsibilities of elected officials and administrators. We are also pursuing opportunities to improve dynamics between council, administration, and the public through our Fostering a Culture of Respect Initiative. The What We Learned Report can be found here.
From floods to flash storms – extreme weather can wreak havoc. How municipalities adapt to changing weather challenges is the subject of the FOMG paper - Climate Risk Assessment and Adaptation Considerations for Municipal Government by Dr. Mary-Ellen Tyler. Three major risks were identified: infrastructure, water, and governance capacity.
- Unpredictable and extreme weather events can cause damage and increased maintenance for critical infrastructure.
- Greater variability in weather patterns places additional stress on scarce water resources.
- Extreme weather adds pressure on local governments and the risk of extreme weather increases if there is limited capacity to face them.
Dr. Mary-Ellen Tyler has identified eight strategies for local governments to pursue to adapt and thrive in the face of these challenges. Dr. Tyler presented what she’s learned in a webinar on April 20, 2023. ABmunis also shared this paper through the Summer Municipal Leaders Caucus in Diamond Valley, Wembley, St. Paul and Spruce Grove and the Sustainability and Environment Committee to gather feedback. The What We Learned Report can be found here. The one key theme—collaboration, working together goes a long way to help municipalities adapt.
The ABmunis Sustainability and Environment Committee 2023/24 work plan includes following up on the recommendations in the paper to support adaptation that integrates asset management, emergency management, land use planning, etc.
“Local Governance in Alberta: Principles, Options, and Recommendations”, a summary of which is available in an SPP briefing paper, looks at governance principles and provides suggestions as to how Alberta’s existing governance structures can be enhanced to better meet those principles. The report’s authors, Sandeep Agrawal and Cody Gretzinger shared their ideas with an engaged audience during a webinar on February 23.
A recording of the webinar is available on ABmunis Vimeo channel.
The paper reinforces findings from previous papers that collaboration is key to the future of municipal governments. Ideas from this paper informed discussions at ABmunis’ March 2023 President’s Summit on factors that are key to enhancing the effectiveness of collaboration. These discussions were used to develop ABmunis’ Recommendations on the Future of Intermunicipal Collaboration. The recommendations have been shared with the Minister and Ministry of Municipal Affairs to help shape their upcoming review of Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks, which is anticipated in early 2024.
The Future of Municipal Government (FOMG) paper by Bev Dahlby and Mel McMillan on Provincial Transfers and Financing Municipal Infrastructure in Alberta examines trends in infrastructure expenditures and finances, and proposes a new system of provincial transfers that includes:
- Matching grants to municipalities for spending on infrastructure, which directly benefit the broader region and generate fiscal benefits for the provincial government from increases in economic activity and tax revenues.
- Grants to municipalities with deficient tax bases.
- A separate capital transfer program for summer villages, special areas and improvement districts, given their unique characteristics.
- Funding municipal transfers through the provincial property tax.
While the details of the proposed grants do not align exactly with ABmunis' advocacy for non-competitive, predictable transfers through the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF), their concepts do align with principles we are pursuing through our proposal on the LGFF allocation formula to:
- Account for the scope of existing infrastructure and growth pressures in each municipality;
- Account for each municipality’s fiscal capacity; and
- Support the principles of effective asset management.
Findings that provincial transfers have decreased over the last decade, have been integrated into ABmunis' advocacy for an increase to the Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) funding pot. The paper’s findings also lend credence to the principles that ABmunis pursued through our proposals on the LGFF Allocation Formula.
The authors have provided an extended version of their report which shares further details of their financial analysis.
Kevin McQuillan, author of, Population Growth and Population Aging in Alberta Municipalities, shared his observations on demographic trends with ABmunis members and staff in a virtual seminar on June 20, 2022 a recording of which is available on ABmunis video channel.
The paper looks at trends in population growth and decline in municipalities across Alberta over the past decade and outlines key factors that have driven those trends. It also opens the door to a conversation on how municipalities can attract and retain residents.
Based on discussions during the webinar, along with a brief survey on ideas presented in the paper, ABmunis developed a What We Learned Report, which highlights key findings, results of member engagement, and future direction ABmunis will take based on the engagement.
The paper reinforces the opportunity for collaboration to help create complete communities that attract and retain population. It also reinforces the need for ABmunis to reinvigorate our Welcoming & Inclusive Communities (WIC) initiative.
ABmunis hosted a WIC Networking virtual meeting for municipalities in late 2023 to share challenges and opportunities. Further WIC Network meetings are planned.
On May 26, 2022 Alberta Municipalities held a virtual discussion with Zachary (Zac) Spicer on his paper, Organizing Canadian Local Government, which outlines municipal government models along with principles and considerations by which to assess them. A recording of the webinar is available here.
Based on discussions during the webinar, along with a brief survey on ideas presented in the paper, ABMunis has developed a What We Learned Report which highlights key findings, results of member engagement, and future direction ABmunis will take based on the engagement.
This paper finds that “one size does not fit all,” top-down solutions have mixed results, while collaboration has promising results. These findings informed subsequent papers on local governance options and CAO dynamics.
The final paper in the FOMG series on Alberta’s Viability Review Process will be released soon.
Learn more about the project
The project was launched in response to several factors:
Economic uncertainty, which is creating financial challenges for all levels of government.
Member interest in exploring alternative structures and financial options as expressed through correspondence, resolutions, and at events.
Increasing number of municipalities who are struggling with their political, administrative, and financial viability.
Experience from other jurisdictions, where new municipal structures were imposed by provincial governments.
COVID-19 intensified existing challenges municipalities face and highlighted the necessity to rethink how all governments work together to address issues that defy jurisdictional boundaries.
Overall, Alberta Municipalities' Board strongly believes that change is inevitable, and municipalities need to have a strong role in shaping their own destiny based on solid research-informed evidence.
The project will be conducted in two phases.
The initial deliverables are research papers on various aspects of municipal government led by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (SPP).
Each research paper will be released with a clearly written executive summary. A variety of engagement techniques including webinars, in-person sessions, surveys, and online engagement tools will be used to share research findings and seek input from municipalities, the provincial government and stakeholders on what the implications of this research are on policy.
The results of the research papers will inform the ultimate deliverable, which is a principle-based recommendations paper outlining options that will work for Alberta, including:
An overview of options for alternative local government structures.
Principles/criteria that would be used to evaluate these options.
Based on these criteria, recommendations as to which options are best suited to Alberta.
A review of what the recommended structures could look like at the provincial and local levels.
Alberta Municipalities selected the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (SPP) to be our research partner as it has a strong track record of municipal research, is well respected by the media and the Government of Alberta, and has strong connections to municipal experts across Canada.
The School of Public Policy is Canada’s leading policy school. The School was founded in 2008 by well-known economist Jack Mintz with a vision to drive policy discourse with relevant research, outreach and teaching.
The School’s research is conducted to the highest standards of scholarship and objectivity. The decision to pursue research is made by a Research Committee chaired by the Research Director and made up of Area and Program Directors. All research papers are subject to blind peer-review and the final decision to publish is made by an independent Director.
The SPP is committed to academic integrity and academic freedom. Information on the steps it takes to ensure its research is unbiased and objective are outlined in this FAQ.
The quality and quantity of its research lead to The School being named one of the top policy schools in the world in 2021 by Ideas/Repec (Research Papers in Economics).
Alberta Municipalities' role in this research is guided by its respect for academic freedom. The SPP has developed a research plan which it is implementing by drawing on the knowledge and experience of municipal experts from academic institutions across Canada.
Alberta Municipalities supports the SPP’s work by:
- Discussing the ideal scope of specific research papers to ensure the right questions are being asked to fulfill the purpose of the project.
- Identifying sources of information.
- Reviewing drafts of papers:
- Review is limited to identifying any gaps and providing editorial comments to ensure the information is provided in an accessible manner.
- Alberta Municipalities will not have any input on research findings.
Alberta Municipalities and the SSP have agreed that the following principles will guide our work:
The research of the SPP is independent and fact-based.
Alberta Municipalities, the SPP and project partners will proactively share the project process and findings.
Municipalities, the Government of Alberta and other stakeholders will be given opportunities to provide input on the project and discuss the policy implications of its findings.
The project will create the space for civil dialogue on challenging issues impacting the future of municipal governance.