New powers for Edmonton council could come with city charter

A 25-page list of suggestions released this week proposes new, broad-reaching powers for municipal politicians in Edmonton and Calgary.

'We haven't gotten to the finish line yet, but the discussion's ongoing,' mayor says

When Edmonton's new city charter comes into effect next year, it could give council an array of new powers. (CBC)

Most of the broad-reaching powers council could receive when the new city charter comes out next year aren't controversial, says Edmonton's mayor.

But Don Iveson said he has heard from people concerned about how they'll be affected by proposed changes to the budget process.

"Obviously, there's a lot of interest in the fiscal framework and the financial dimensions of what might or might not come through a city charter," Iveson said. "We're not at a stage where those discussions have advanced that far, quite frankly."

The idea that Edmonton and Calgary need their own charters was agreed to by the province in 2012. The process of creating them actually began in 2014, when then-premier Jim Prentice inked a deal with Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The 25-page overview of what city charters could contain, released this week, denotes a number of areas where provincial jurisdiction will be transferred — from bylaw fines to housing, from traffic speeds to election rules.

In place before 2017 election

The final city charters are still months away, but are supposed to be in place before the 2017 municipal elections.

"How council could use any of these tools this close to an election, it's hard to speculate at this point until we understand exactly what the tools are and what the timelines are," Iveson said.

When it comes to financing campaigns, there is some indication reform could be on the horizon.

Iveson said he supports more stringent regulations on corporate and union donations — potentially similar to the blanket bans on which the provincial and federal governments already rely.

"If there's really large opportunities to affect campaign finance reform, which, I again support doing, but doing it responsibly and not doing it so close to election cycle to take fair effect, especially given that so many people are out fundraising today under the old rules," he said.

Iveson doesn't think setting rules around elections should be left to council. He suggested an independent commission, or citizen panel, might be best suited to look at that.

Other proposed changes would give Edmonton and Calgary the ability to set speed limits on their roads.

More say over housing

The cities would also have more say over housing.

For example, if affordable housing could be lost when a builder proposes a new development, the cities could legislate that it has to be replaced.

Iveson said there's more to be done around the provisions for dealing with dilapidated buildings.

"I think they're beginning to acknowledge and understand that there is a very serious issue in the big cities," he said. "It touches everything from absentee landlords to houses that may be being used as drug labs and other things.

"The city has an interest and the province has an interest in co-ordinating our approach to dealing with those. It's pretty jurisdictionally siloed right now."  

As it stands, the province legislates a maximum fine of $10,000 when it comes to bylaw infractions. Edmonton and Calgary could set new limits on their own.

"We don't have fines to raise money," Iveson said. "What we have fines for is to send a signal to support compliance, and sometimes the proceeds from those fines help to cover the cost of the enforcement program or education programs. In this case, we're not talking about anything that really should have a fiscal upside for the City of Edmonton. We're talking about the city being in a position to set appropriate penalties for wrongdoing. And I think most people would support that,"

New powers to set fines

Setting fine levels is typically a public process that involves consultation.

"It's not unilateral," the mayor said. "It's just enabling us to potentially set some higher fines, subject to due process, provided the proceeds of those fines are paying for appropriate things."

Each city could decide on the earliest bars could open and the latest they could close, as well as set "happy hour" times.

There would also be more attention paid to the environment, which could become a designated land use.

"We haven't gotten to the finish line yet, but the discussion's ongoing about how we can collaborate in ways that will improve quality life for people living in our big cities," Iveson said.

​People are invited to give feedback on the charter proposals at public consultations in Edmonton on Monday and Tuesday. The sessions will be held in the Maple Leaf Room at the University of Alberta's main campus from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.