From bar closing times to infrastructure grants: City charter takes another step forward

The province and its two biggest cities unveiled a draft city charter on Thursday, with proposed regulations that would give Edmonton and Calgary more powers to make their own rules.

Cities have asked for years to be given powers to issue new taxes, but that idea is now off the table

Edmonton, Calgary and the province have reached an agreement toward developing a city charter that gives Alberta's major municipalities more powers to set their own rules. (City Market Downtown/Facebook)

It's about closing times for bars, and a traffic bylaw that might require drivers to yield to buses.

It's also about how the province funnels millions of dollars to Alberta's two biggest cities to build bridges and other infrastructure.

The province unveiled a draft city charter on Thursday, with proposed regulations that would give Edmonton and Calgary more powers to make their own rules. The document encompasses almost 40 regulatory changes that cover everything from the minutiae of municipal decision-making to sweeping changes on how major capital projects are funded.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it will benefit generations of Calgarians and Edmontonians.

"It is the most significant change that we've made to municipal-provincial relations in the history of the province," he said. 

But the biggest question that had been underlying the city charter debate — whether cities will be given the power to issue new taxes — is now off the table. The answer is no.

Instead, the province and the cities have agreed to work on a new fiscal framework, including a new infrastructure-funding formula based on provincial revenues.

Cities could expect more infrastructure funding during economic boom times and less during times of recession.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said that would move the cities away from dependence on a "politicized grant cycle."

"(It moves us) in the direction of sustainable, predictable, guaranteed revenue sharing to support infrastructure. That's a much bigger, more positive development for us (than taxation powers) in the short term," he said.

Iveson the charter would make the cities "partners" in economic development, which would share in the profits from any positive economic activity in their areas.

That will also likely mean changes to the the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, which is currently the core capital funding program for cities. The MSI is paid annually to municipalities, which must submit a list of proposed projects. MSI funding must be approved in the legislature. 

Other changes included in the draft of the city charter:

  • Municipal tribunals
    Allows the cities to develop an administrative tribunal system to manage transit and parking tickets.
  • Regulating licensed premises
    Gives the cities the ability to pass bylaws varying the opening and closing hours of licensed establishments, so long as they do not increase hours beyond those set by the AGLC. Iveson said: "In busy entertainment districts, the ability to stagger the coming and going helps us with loading for transit, with demand for vehicle-for-hire, with orderly conduct."

  • Bylaw fines
    Allows cities to increase the maximum fine for serious bylaw offences to $100,000. Iveson said: "When you're dealing with particularly large sites or businesses ... a $10,000 fine may just be a cost of doing business. It's occasionally not enough to get the attention of certain businesses or individuals."

  • Housing agreements to follow title
    Allows for housing agreements — such as an affordable housing agreement — to remain with the property, even if the property is sold. The agreement continues and is assumed by the new buyer.
  • Variations to the Traffic Safety Act
    Gives the cities the ability to vary some components of the act within their borders, such as yielding to buses, default maximum speed limits, and allowing back-in angle parking.
  • Clean Energy Loans
    Gives the cities the ability to provide loans to homeowners to fund energy efficiency or renewable energy upgrades. These loans will be tied to the property.

The cities are not required to enact these bylaw changes, but can choose which additional authorities to use. Cties would have to consult with citizens and have a public hearing process before enacting any new legislation.

A draft of the city charter will be online for the next 60 days, and residents of Calgary and Edmonton will have the opportunity for feedback.