EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford slammed the brakes Thursday on a provincewide regional planning bill amid concerns it would gut local authority and give her government absolute control.
Redford said the bill, which had been moving through the house at breakneck speed since Tuesday, will not be acted upon further until her officials hear more from municipal leaders.
"We believe that this (bill) will modernize the relationship between the provincial government and municipal leaders," Redford said outside Government House, where she met with her caucus.
"Now that it has been introduced into the house we know that it's important to consult with municipal leaders.
"We're going to make sure that the legislation that we put in place meets the objectives that rural and large municipalities have to keep building the province."
The controversy is over a proposal to expand throughout the province work that is being done by the regional planning commission in the Edmonton area.
The legislation would give the province power to set up regional growth boards, appoint board members, set board mandates and have the final say on all decisions.
Elected local leaders who didn't work with the boards by filing all requested documentation would face a $10,000 fine or a year in jail.
Opposition critics said such a law would effectively sideline municipalities and make their leaders little more than the province's puppets.
They also said the bill was being rammed through the legislature with little to no chance for input.
The legislation was not signalled Monday by Redford in a speech outlining her priorities during the fall sitting. It was introduced by Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths in the house Tuesday night. Thirty hours later, it passed second reading in a late-night legislature sitting that didn't end until almost 2 a.m. Thursday.
Griffiths said Wednesday that mayors and reeves were not consulted because the bill was just a house-keeping matter to put into law rules already in force in the Edmonton planning region.
On Thursday, however, Griffiths said the bill is much more than that.
"It (the legislation) creates the opportunity for other areas of the province to do the same thing if they want (and have a regional planning commission), if they recognize they have challenges meeting growth pressures."
Griffiths also said while he didn't consult municipal officials on the bill, consultations are constantly ongoing.
Redford said whether the bill is passed in the fall sitting depends on talks with municipal leaders.
Griffiths said he has not heard from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. New Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said the bill is fine as is.
Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith said the bill is the right idea horribly executed.
"We all want to be able to see a proper growth planning council," said Smith.
"But that has to start with voluntary participation; it has to start with respect for local autonomy. And you can't be threatening to put mayors and reeves in jail if you don't get what you want."
Liberal house leader Laurie Blakeman said the issue reflects badly on Griffiths.
"I don't think he's in control of what's going on in his department, and I am expecting to see him not be around in that ministry pretty quick," said Blakeman.
"Mr. Griffiths' biggest problem is that he has been unable to forge strong working relationships with some of the major municipalities in the province," added NDP Leader Brian Mason.
"If he's unable to correct that, I think the premier may have to draw some conclusions."
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