Like Icarus, strapping on wings of feathers and wax, Municipal Affairs Minister Griffiths attempted to glide Bill 28 Modernizing Regional Governance Act through the Legislature. It sparked an uproar among municipal officials and disintegrated under the Oppositions’ scrutiny.
Griffiths and the Premier responded to the crash and burn with a cheeky “this is exactly what we meant to do along” press release and created a task force to do the consultation they should have done in the first place.
Setting aside the obvious explanation (hubris), what the heck happened?
A “legal technicality”
Griffiths argued that Bill 28 was no big deal. It simply addressed a “legal technicality” created by his department’s failure to follow its own regulations. The government passed a regulation creating the Capital Regional Board. This regulation automatically expires after two years unless the government passes a statute (Bill 28) to roll the Capital Regional Board under the Municipal Government Act.
Big snag (or legal technicality depending on your point of view), the two year deadline expired four years ago.
To make matters worse, Parkland County launched a law suit arguing that the Capital Regional Board could not interfere with its plans to build an industrial park because the Board was four years past its expiry date.
Mr Griffith Responds to Questions
Five months after Parkland filed its lawsuit Mr Griffiths unfurled Bill 28. The Opposition, fueled by enraged mayors and reeves, shredded Mr Griffiths.
Why didn’t you engage in public consultation? Mr Griffiths was all over the map. First he said he did consult. When the opposition said their constituents had never heard of Bill 28, Mr Griffiths admitted he was referring to general consultation starting in 2007.
Then he said there was no time to consult because the court’s decision in Parkland was imminent and if it went against the government the Capital Regional Board and 18 commissions would vapourize overnight and the world as we know it would end. He pressed on: “Sometimes leadership isn’t just about consulting…it’s about making decisions…and if we manage to make some mistake, then we fix it.”* (Assuming we haven’t completely screwed it up).
If Bill 28 is meant to correct the Parklane problem why does it apply to every municipality in Alberta? Mr Griffiths had no answer. So he defaulted to the government’s usual tactic—attacking the Opposition for fear mongering (and conveniently forgetting that his “the world as we know it will end” argument is fear mongering of the first order).
Then he made a fatal mistake. He argued that Bill 28 was the “mirror image” of the Capital Regional Board regulation. The opposition had him for breakfast.
Rachel Notley (NDP) put it best. Not only was the Capital Regional Board regulation the result of consultation and negotiation, it allowed municipalities to set their own objectives, to appoint the members and chair of the growth management board, and resolve differences through a complaint process. Bill 28 was born of government edict and did none of those things.**
Which leaves us all wondering…why is Bill 28, an act Premier Redford describes as changing the relationship between the province and the municipalities “for the better” and Mr Griffiths says gives the government no new powers, so draconian?***
Brian Mason (NDP) suggests it’s a Trojan horse trotted out to “address” the Parklane problem when it’s true purpose is muzzle municipalities so they can’t interfere with the province’s growth agenda (projects like power lines, nuclear plants, whatever).
The “cart before the horse” consultation process
The Wildrose brought a number of motions (with the full support of the Liberals and NDP) to delay second reading of the Bill so the government could consult with municipal officials, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMD and C).
They were roundly defeated and at 1:40 a.m. on Oct 30 Bill 28 passed second reading.
Then a funny thing happened. The very next day Premier Redford and Mr Griffiths suspended the legislative process to allow time for consultation with the municipalities. Premier Redford said, ”Now that it’s been introduced into the House, we know that it’s important to consult with municipal leaders as the minister has been doing on an ongoing basis.”****
And guess what, Mr Griffiths will create a task force, the government’s “cart before the horse” consultation process will begin and the world as we know it will not end after all.
Danielle Smith summed it up with this: “To the premier’s credit, she listened to the backlash from mayors and reeves.”****
The trouble with hubris
Notwithstanding the Premier’s assertion that she truly values our input and perspective, the hubris of Redford’s government is such that they can’t hear us unless our feedback reaches “backlash” intensity.
It’s time to crank up the volume and blast Icarus out of the sky.
*Hansard, Oct 30, 2013, 2640.
**Hansard, Oct 30, starting at 2606
***Hansard, Oct 30, 2571, 2604
**** Calgary Herald Nov 1, 2013, A5