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 have partnered with the School of Public Policy (SPP) at the University of Calgary on this project. The SPP is engaging municipal experts from Alberta and across Canada to conduct research on a wide variety of topics.

NEW! Kevin McQuillan, author of the recently published Future of Municipal Government paper, 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. 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. A recording of the June 20 webinar is available on ABmunis video channel here.

On May 26th 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.

Papers on the following topics are under development. Stay tuned for updates. 

  • Financing Municipal Infrastructure
  • Local Citizen Engagement and Municipal Governance
  • Climate Change and Environment Considerations for Municipal Governance and Regionalization
  • Annexation, Amalgamation, Regionalization? Potential Solutions for Alberta
  • Administrative viability with a focus on the role of CAOs
  • New approaches to revenue and cost-sharing
  • A new relationship between the province and municipalities

Some of the topics may be adjusted as the research evolves. 

While Alberta Municipalities has input on the scope of this research, the SPP has complete academic freedom over its research methodology and its findings. The purpose of this project is to seek independent, fact-based information to serve as the foundation for solutions-oriented discussions on the practices, policies, legislation, and financial arrangements that shape municipal government. 

This webpage will be regularly updated to reflect progress and identify opportunities for stakeholders to provide input.

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 has intensified existing challenges municipalities face and highlights 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.  

Phase 1:    

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. 

Phase 2: 

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' Board has established a Research Engagement Committee (REC) to support the project composed of: 

  • Neil Smith, CAO, NantonAlberta Municipalities Small Communities Committee   

  • Christine Beveridge, CAO, Edson – Alberta Municipalities Municipal Governance Committee  

  • Bill Given, CAO, Jasper – Member at Large  

  • Sarah Ranson, Director of Municipal Sustainability, Municipal Affairs.

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) was invited to join the REC, but it declined in favour of receiving updates through the Board and Administration. 

Alberta Municipalities and the SSP have agreed that the following principles will guide our work: 

Academic Independence 

The research of the SPP is independent and fact-based. 

Transparency 

Alberta Municipalities, the SPP and project partners will proactively share the project process and findings. 

Engagement:  

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. 

Respect 

The project will create the space for civil dialogue on challenging issues impacting the future of municipal governance.