Don Iveson Naheed Nenshi Brian Bowman Gregor Robertson Grey Cup Sarah Chan 2014

Western Canada’s Big City Mayors at the 2014 Grey Cup in Vancouver. From left to right: Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Photo credit: @misssarahchan

As the collapse of the Wildrose Party and speculation about Alberta’s next provincial budget dominate political discussions, one of the most politically important discussions impacting governance in our province next year could be about the creation of City Charters.

In his first month as Premier, Jim Prentice met with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to restart discussions around the creation of City Charters for Alberta’s two largest cities.

A recent survey conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. and provided to shows Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi with 74% and 70% approval ratings. For Mr. Iveson, this is an impressive increase from a survey in March 2014 in which respondents gave him 70% approval rating.

“The two mayors of the big cities are the second and third most powerful politicians in the province,” ThinkHQ President Marc Henry told this blogger. “The mayors are obviously the two people in the province Premier Prentice has to take into consideration,” Mr. Henry said.

The popular mayors have made City Charters a priority. The adoption of charters would be a long overdue change that could recognize the crucial roles and responsibilities that our largest municipal governments have in the lives of millions of Albertans.

“Most Albertans like the idea of a charter but don’t understand it,” Mr. Henry explained. “The challenge with the city charter is defining it,” he said.

The Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta published a detailed explanation and background of City Charters in April 2013:

Civic charters are different in every city, but a “charter city” (a city with a civic charter) has its own stand-alone legislation, rather than following the general municipal government acts of the province.  It is a special agreement between a province and city designed to meet the demands of city governance, usually by giving a city more tax-raising powers, along with more autonomy to set policy that will allow it to meet its individual needs.

The cities of Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto have City Charters passed by their provincial governments granting those municipalities increased levels of responsibility and access to additional revenue.

In an October 2014 blog post, Mr. Iveson explained why City Charters are important and why they can also be an abstract concept to explain:

The City Charter process can be an abstract concept; talking about roles and responsibilities with another order of government probably isn’t the sexiest thing for many people. But – I would argue – delivering on this is one of the most important factors in Edmonton’s future success. Correcting the imbalance in responsibility and authority with the Province is one of the most critical city building things we can do because it enables the ‘real work’ like building LRT lines and keeping our cities safe to actually happen.

Rather than a broad increase in taxation powers, City Charters in Alberta could include a more serious commitment to revenue sharing by the province as recognition that our big cities are no longer tiny localized organizations. They are important levels of government that provide services and infrastructure that also benefit millions of Albertans living outside the city boundaries.

Discussions about City Charters began in 2012 while Premier Alison Redford was in office but slowed down as political scandals engulfed the Progressive Conservative government. A Memorandum of Understanding signed by Mr. Iveson, Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Prentice on October 7, 2014 laid out the following timeframe for City Charters:

  • Phase one will address matters specific to the two cities and Municipal Affairs (MA) by Spring 2015;
  • Phase two will address matters between the two cities, MA and any other Government of Alberta ministries by Fall 2015; and
  • Phase three will address the development of a new fiscal framework for the two cities by Spring 2016.

The ThinkHQ online research panel had a sample size of 1656 people and was conducted between November 26 to December 1, 2014.

The Yards Podcast
In episode one of The Yards podcast, host Omar Mouallem talks with Mayor Iveson about downtown memories, bike culture and whether downtown development can survive another oil crash.