EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford defended Wednesday a new regional planning bill she says will help municipalities, but opposition leaders say the legislation will gut local authority and could be used to jail dissenting municipal elected leaders.
"This will change the relationship between municipalities and the provincial government for the better because we have modern communities with strong leaders that want to build Alberta just like us," Redford told the legislature, referring to Bill 28, the Modernizing Regional Governance Act.
The proposed legislation would give Redford's cabinet the authority to set up growth boards to address the shared needs of municipalities clustered close together.
Cabinet would have the right to decide the geographic boundaries of the growth boards, who sits on them, who will run them, what the voting breakdown will be, and what their mandates will be.
Any bylaw decisions made by the growth boards must be approved by the municipal affairs minister.
The decisions of the growth boards would be binding, and no municipality would be allowed to pass laws or build anything that contravenes the board's decisions.
Elected officials who refuse to co-operate and provide paperwork asked for by the boards would be subject to a maximum $10,000 fine or one year in jail.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith called the bill a blindside attack on municipal councils just getting down to business after recent elections.
"It strips local municipalities of power, and it has some of the most draconian provisions I've ever seen," said Smith.
"I don't know what mayor or reeves they were consulting with, but I cannot imagine mayors and reeves and councils were saying that if they didn't follow provincial law and they didn't follow what the PC appointees on these councils wanted to do that they would be forced to either go to jail or pay huge fines."
NDP Leader Brian Mason agreed.
"It's to give control to the provincial government over the activities of municipalities when they choose to use it," said Mason.
"It's an enormous infringement on the authority and the autonomy on municipal governments in this province."
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said he is very concerned about the tone of the bill, calling it very heavy-handed.
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said the legislation mirrors regulations already on the books governing regional planning in and around Edmonton.
Griffiths said those local politicians are OK with the rules and the penalties.
"They have obligations to each other, so there are fines and penalties in there (but) none of them have ever been used because they (the politicians) all work very well together," said Griffiths.
"But when it was being crafted that was what was determined would be the punishment, but I don't anticipate we'll ever need it."
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson commended the province for the bill, agreeing with Griffiths that it puts into law what has been the practice in the Edmonton region.
"There's still broad latitude for us to define how we want to work together. There is still lots of room to negotiate and create for ourselves in the Edmonton region the kind of future that we want to design together," said Iveson.
Iveson said he's not concerned about jail time.
"Well I'm going to comply, so no I'm not worried at all."
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