Calgary finally has its city charter

The province has officially proclaimed city charters for Calgary and Edmonton, giving their city councils the ability to make more local decisions.

Province gives Alberta's 2 big cities new powers, so they have greater local control

Calgary officially has its own city charter. (CBC)

The first phase of Calgary's new city charter is now in effect.

After years of negotiation between the city and the province, council has the option of wielding new powers for the benefit of Calgarians.

Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson said the City of Calgary Charter was proclaimed as law earlier this week. 

Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson said the new charters became law this week. (David Thurton/CBC)

The same charter powers have also been granted to Edmonton.

Previously, the two cities — home to half of Alberta's population -— fell under the Municipal Government Act. That's the same piece of legislation that applies to every other city, town, village and hamlet in the province.

"We know that large cities such as Edmonton and Calgary have different needs from smaller centres," said Anderson. 

"This gives our two largest cities new tools to adapt municipal laws to better fit their needs."

Negotiations took time

Mayor Naheed Nenshi noted that since he was first elected in 2010, he has sat across the table from five premiers and nine ministers of municipal affairs while the charter negotiations have gone on. 

But he said it's been worth it. 

"The building of a city charter for Calgary as well as a city charter for Edmonton is the largest legislative change in terms of how the cities work since the province was created in 1905," said Nenshi.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's glad the long wait for a charter is finally over. (Colin Hall/CBC)

There is a laundry list of more than three dozen powers that the province is handing the two cities the authority to administer for themselves.

They aren't required to take over those areas, but the charters do give them the ability to develop their own bylaws in those areas, something they couldn't previously do.

For example, the cities can set up their own tribunals to deal with parking and transit tickets rather than sending people to provincial court.

The cities could decide they want to have variable speed limits on certain roads or make other changes currently prevented by the province's Traffic Safety Act.

Lower residential speed limit now more feasible

Nenshi said city council has been lobbied for years to look at lower residential speed limits. The charter could make it easier if council wants a change.

"Under the current rules, we just couldn't do it without signing every single street and the cost is absolutely prohibitive," he said. 

"Under the charter, the regulations give us the flexibility to find solutions that work for Calgarians and we can start doing that right away."

The charters allow the big cities to find their own efficiencies rather than be bound by provincial legislation. Currently, property assessment notices must be mailed to owners.

But with charter powers, Nenshi said Calgary could choose to send those notices electronically and save thousands of dollars a year through reduced postage.

The charters even permit the cities to set up their own energy-efficiency programs or loan money companies to create new affordable housing units.

No new taxes

One thing the charters do not allow is for the cities to have any new tax powers.

"New taxes were never really anything that was part of the discussion. I think it was more using the tools we have there and enabling more flexibility in the tools they have because they are more complex," said Anderson.

Negotiations are ongoing on expanding the items covered by the charters. 

Nenshi said one thing he'd like to see in the next round is a provincial commitment to long-term funding for municipalities.