Redford government delays regional planning legislation after howls of protest

By Mariam Ibrahim, Edmonton Journal October 31, 2013

EDMONTON – Following a massive backlash against new regional planning legislation introduced this week, Premier Alison Redford’s government is hitting the brakes on the proposed law, saying “the time is right” to consult with municipalities.

Bill 28, the Modernizing Regional Governance Act, became the target Wednesday of all three opposition parties, which described it as heavy-handed and draconian.

The legislation will allow the province to create regional growth boards, which would be responsible for coming up with growth plans for municipalities clustered together. The opposition accused the government of trying to give itself sweeping powers over how regional planning decisions are made and who makes them because the bill includes provisions giving government the power to make appointments to the boards. Amid the backlash, Redford said Thursday her caucus had discussed feedback from mayors, reeves and councillors across the province and the time had come for feedback.

“Now that it’s been introduced into the House, we know that it’s important to consult with municipal leaders as the minister has been doing on an ongoing basis … and of course this is exactly the right time to do it, because we have new people elected in many councils, some new mayors and reeves,” Redford said.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths will set up a task force to begin consultations with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

The legislation should be completely rewritten, said Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

“I think that this minister needs to go back to the drawing board, do the proper consultation and bring it through with the proper principles that respect local autonomy and get it right,” Smith said. “To the premier’s credit, she listened to the backlash from mayors and reeves.”

Redford also said the bill will include an amendment to create a formal appeal process for municipalities.

Griffiths said this week that consultations on the new legislation weren’t needed because the bill would simply enshrine into law the regulations governing the Capital Region Board, a 24-member organization focused on regional planning in the Edmonton area.

On Thursday, that message changed.

“On this particular piece of legislation, we didn’t go around and say, “This is what we’re going to introduce,’ but we’ve introduced it so that now councillors and the cities and the counties will be able to look at it and we can talk about the specific legislation and whether or not it meets their needs,” Griffiths said. “But we’ve constantly had consultation about the needs for regional collaboration and what tools are best in place to help municipalities ensure success for their citizens.”

Griffiths said early Thursday afternoon that he hadn’t yet talked to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi about the new legislation, but Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said this week he supports it.

Alberta NDP MLA Deron Bilous said the government displayed its “arrogance” when it bypassed the consultation process, saying it only changed its tune after controversy erupted.

“Before this bill was ever brought to the legislature was when they should have consulted with municipalities, rural and urban,” Bilous said.

The bill was introduced Monday in the House and passed second reading during a late-night sitting Wednesday.

Liberal municipal affairs critic Laurie Blakeman suggested the government is hitting the brakes because Redford is set to face a leadership review vote at the Progressive Conservative annual meeting later this month.

“She is going to do anything she has to do to win,” said Blakeman. “If she thinks the municipal leaders are going to give her a smack down, she’s going to give them a task force.”

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