Municipal Environmental Purpose

 

Municipal Environmental Purpose

A white paper to catalyze discussion on the new municipal purpose ‘to foster the well-being of the environment’, introduced in Alberta’s revised Municipal Government Act of 2017

The Issue / Idea

How do municipalities consider the revised Municipal Government Act’s (2017) added a new purpose for municipalities: to foster the well-being of the environment?

The Project

The well-being of Alberta’s natural environment is heavily dependent on decisions made at the municipal level. The overhaul of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) recognized this with a new purpose for municipalities: “ to foster the well-being of the environment.” However, there was no accompanying policy direction as had been the case with other revised elements of the Act.

Since that time, several municipalities have begun trying to interpret this new purpose in varied ways, risking the creation of isolated and inconsistent approaches. This paper is intended to be an initial step to better understanding the implications of this significant change in the MGA.

While the literature offers little insight into the concept of “well-being of the environment”, there was clearly an intent behind this phrasing, so it is therefore worthwhile understanding the three critical elements – foster, well-being, and environment – informed by definitions, common usage, and associated legislation.

It is significant that the inclusion of ‘well-being of the environment’ in the Municipal Government Act was codified as a municipal purpose inserted immediately after the “good government” purpose, suggesting it should be interpreted more pervasively than the specific ‘service, facility, safety, and viability’ purposes.

Even with definitional clarity, municipalities are still challenged with understanding how decision-making processes would be affected. The authors suggest a common set of process characteristics be clearly reflected in municipal policy or decision rationale: Due Consideration, ‘Two Roads’ Assessment, Proactive Approach, Measured and Evaluated, and Liability Mitigation. Undertaking this approach would have the benefits of reinforcing current efforts, supporting regulatory alignment, enabling innovation, and increasing clarity and accountability.

Recognizing it would not be possible to comprehensively describe all discrete decision making circumstances, but that greater direction is needed, the authors suggest ‘categories’ based on the wellbeing of the environment powers in the Big City Charters.

Implementation of the well-being of the environment purpose will need to be embedded in municipal governance and regulatory frameworks, including bylaws, plans, policies, strategies, and measurements, with tool choice dependent on the specific environmental application or media.

More work is now needed to clarify the environmental decision-making areas affected (or created) by this new purpose, and to offer pragmatic direction for municipalities with regard to implementation. That work prerequires a broader conversation amongst municipalities to come to some consensus, and high level policy direction from Municipal Affairs.


BRIEF: ‘TO FOSTER THE WELL-BEING OF
THE ENVIRONMENT’:
INTERPRETING ALBERTA
MUNICIPALITIES’ NEW PURPOSE

‘TO FOSTER THE WELL-BEING OF
THE ENVIRONMENT’:
INTERPRETING ALBERTA
MUNICIPALITIES’ NEW PURPOSE

 

Organization

These assessments were undertaken by

The Miistakis Institute

The Environmental Law Centre

Status

This project was completed in

2019

Supporters