Alberta bill aims to let municipal councillors take parental leave

The Alberta government is proposing legislative changes so municipalities can enact policies allowing councillors to take parental leave.

Currently councillors can be disqualified if they miss eight consecutive council meetings

Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson said the amendments to the Municipal Government Act enable municipalities to come up with their own parental leave policies. (CBC)

The Alberta government is proposing legislative changes so municipalities can enact policies allowing councillors to take parental leave.

A bill, introduced Monday by Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, enables but doesn't compel municipal councils to create these policies.

"We heard back from across the province that they wanted to be enabled," Anderson said. "They are local, autonomous, elected officials and they have the right to represent their elected areas."

Currently, councillors can be disqualified from office if they miss more than eight consecutive council meetings.

The NDP government sees the change as one way to encourage more women to run for municipal office.

Women currently hold only 26 per cent of elected seats on municipal councils in Alberta. Twenty-three per cent of Alberta towns and cities have no female councillors. Edmonton has one.

The bill proposes more than 50 changes to the Modernized Municipal Government Act, which will dictate how municipalities are run.

The bill includes changes to notification for annexations and amalgamations, offsite levies, and collaborations with adjacent First Nation reserves and Mé​tis Settlements.

The bill also clarifies that school boards don't have to pay off-site levies on the construction of new schools. 

"This is important to school boards because it allows us to keep important public funding in the classroom where it belongs," said Mary Martin, president of the Alberta School Boards Association. 

Martin also likes that the bill makes it mandatory for school boards and municipalities to craft joint use and planning agreements. These agreements govern how municipalities can use school facilities and sports fields after school hours and how schools can use municipal recreational facilities for their students. 

Tax ratio

The province wants municipalities to structure their taxes so there is only a five-to-one ratio between the highest and lowest taxed properties.  

The ratio is 18 to one in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray.

When the province first raised the idea of implementing a five-to-one tax ratio, councillors raised concerns about the potential impact on a municipality's bottom line.

Under the new amendment, the changes will be phased in over time.

The province also wants municipalities to have to provide at least 10 days' notice when they launch a legal challenge against an order from the minister of municipal affairs.

The change was prompted by a situation in Thorhild County last year, where then-minister of municipal affairs Danielle Larivee tried to fire the reeve and two councillors following an inspection report.

The councillors were able to win a temporary injunction against their dismissals. The province was only given 10 minutes' notice before the request was heard in court, so government lawyers were caught off guard..