Types of Municipalities in Alberta
Alberta is governed through three general types of municipalities, urban, rural and specialized.
Urban Municipal Governments
Alberta's urban municipalities consist of areas where there is a concentration of people and buildings. The Municipal Government Act describes the characteristics of the different types of urban municipalities, cities, towns, villages, and summer villages. To learn more about urban municipalities, visit the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association website.
There are 17 municipalities in Alberta that have been granted city status. To qualify as a city, there must be sufficient population size present with over 10,000 people. Cities may establish ward systems with the same number of councillors in each ward. Candidates, or those elected to the municipal council, are required to be residents of the wards they represent. Cities are governed by a mayor who is elected at large and an even number of councillors or aldermen. There should always be an odd number of people on council to avoid tie votes. Elections for cities and all local government units are held every four years. In respect to the size of the 174 city councils, seven have seven councillors, five have nine councillors, Edmonton has 13 and Calgary has 15. Including the mayors, who are also considered councillors, there are a total of 122 elected city officials.
A town can be formed when the population is at least 1,000 people and may exceed 10,000 people unless it requests a change to city status. Under the Municipal Government Act a town is governed by a mayor and six councillors, unless otherwise specified. The mayor and councillors are elected at large. The size of the council is set by municipal bylaw and presently ranges from five to seven councillors. Councillors are required to be residents to serve on their municipal council. There are a total of 108 towns and over 740 elected town officials.
Villages may be formed upon request by 30% of electors in a community with a population of at least 300 people. They may apply for town status when the population reaches 1,000 people. The council of a village consists of three councillors, one of whom is the mayor. There are 93 villages in Alberta.
Generally, the provisions related to a village apply to a summer village except that in the latter, elections and annual meetings are required to be held in the summer. Those who own property in the summer village and others over age 18 and resident in the village on election day are entitled to vote. However, electors for school representation, if any, must be defined as resident. A summer village is the only type of municipality where a person can vote twice in municipal elections: once in the summer village and once in the municipality where their permanent residence is located. There are 51 summer villages in Alberta. Summer villages can no longer be created in Alberta.
Specialized municipalities are unique municipal structures that can be formed without resorting to special Acts of the Legislature. Often, specialized municipalities allow urban and rural communities to coexist in a single municipal government. There are five Specialized Municipalities in Alberta. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Strathcona County are two examples.
A municipal district (M.D., also called a county) is a government form in rural areas of the province. It includes farmlands as well as unincorporated communities such as hamlets and rural residential subdivisions. The council consists of one councillor per ward, one of whom is elected by council as reeve. Presently, the number of wards varies from four to 11, with the most common being seven. As of May 2015, there were 64 Municipal Districts with approximately 440 elected municipal district officials. To learn more about Municipal Districts visit, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties website.
The council of a municipal district or specialized municipality can designate an unincorporated community that is within its boundaries to be a hamlet. A community can be a hamlet if it consists of five or more dwellings, has a generally accepted boundary and name, and contains land that is used for non-residential purposes.
The Province, through Alberta Municipal Affairs, is responsible for all functions of local government in the improvement districts, including the levy and collection of taxes.
Five of the eight I.D.s are located in national parks: I.D. No. 4 (Waterton), I.D. No. 9 (Banff), I.D. No. 12 (Jasper), I.D. No. 13 (Elk Island) and I.D. No. 24 (Wood Buffalo) while two are provincial parks: Kananaskis Improvement District (including Kananaskis Provincial Park) and I.D. No. 25 (Willmore Wilderness) as well as I.D. No 349. The provincial and federal governments have primary governing responsibility in these areas except for school affairs.
There are a total of 10 people elected/appointed to the advisory councils in two of the eight I.D.s. Those councils, consisting of five members each, guide the activities of the improvement district manager and staff. The formal power rests with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, but most authority and responsibility has been delegated to the councils.
There are eight Metis settlements in Alberta covering a total area of approximately 1.25 million acres (0.5 million ha). There are presently about 5,000 Metis people residing in the settlements. These are the only Metis settlement corporations established under the Metis Settlements Act.
Special Areas refers to a rural area in southeast Alberta administered by a board of four people appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Technically, there are three Special Areas in southeast Alberta, but for simplicity and in accordance with the common usage these are referred to as one unit. The areas were established under the Special Areas Act in 1938 due to extreme hardship of the drought years of the 1930s. The Special Areas Act of 1938 has more or less remained intact although there were some amendments in 1966 and 1985. An advisory council of 13 is elected in accordance with the Local Authorities Election Act.
The population of the Special Areas is about 4,500 people. The land area of about 5.1 million acres (2,063,896 ha) is comprised of 2.5 million acres (1,011,714 ha) of privately held land, 1.6 million acres (647,497 ha) of Crown land and one million acres (404,686 ha) of tax recovery land.
There are a number of agreements between the Special Areas and the urban municipalities within it. These agreements cover fire protection, ambulance, library, recreation, regional waste collection, limited family and community services and the development and operation of medical centers.
First Nations Reserves
A reserve is not a part of any municipality. The British North America Act, 1867, places exclusive legislative authority on matters related to aboriginal peoples and reserves with the national parliament.
The reserves, which range in size from 1,089 acres (441 ha) to 354,667 acres (143,532 ha), have a total area of 1,622,630 acres (656,669 ha). All but two of the smallest reserves are occupied.