A specialized municipality is a type of municipal status used in the Canadian province of Alberta. Alberta's specialized municipalities are unique local governments formed without the creation of special legislation. They typically allow for the coexistence of urban and rural areas within the jurisdiction of a single municipal government.
Specialized municipalities may be formed under the authority of Section 83 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) under one of three of the following scenarios:
Applications for specialized municipality status are approved via orders in council made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council under recommendation from the Minister of AMA.
Alberta has five specialized municipalities that had a cumulative population of 178,598 and an average population of 35,720 in the 2011 Census. Alberta's largest and smallest specialized municipalities are the Strathcona County and the Municipality of Jasper with populations of 92,490 and 4,051 respectively.
44 elected officials (four mayors, one reeve and 39 councillors) provide specialized municipality governance throughout the province.
An order in council to incorporate any municipality must give the municipality an official name. Of Alberta's five specialized municipalities, two of them have branded themselves simply as municipalities in their official names, while two others have branded themselves as counties. The remaining specialized municipality has branded itself as a regional municipality.
The use of the regional municipality term in the official name of the one specialized municipality has led to a common belief that a regional municipality is its own separate municipal status type in Alberta, which is not the case. Meanwhile, the use of the county term in the official names of two specialized municipalities and 46 municipal districts has partially led to a common belief that a county also is its own separate municipal status type, which also is not the case. The other major contributor to this common belief is that a county was a former municipal status type in Alberta prior to the County Act being repealed in 1995.
An update to the MGA in 1994 legislated the ability to incorporate a specialized municipality "when no other classification of municipal government can meet the needs of residents of the proposed municipality." The incorporation of five specialized municipalities followed starting with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in 1995, Strathcona County in 1996, Mackenzie County in 1999, the Municipality of Jasper in 2001, and the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass in 2008.
The first specialized municipality was created on April 1, 1995, when the former City of Fort McMurray amalgamated with Improvement District (ID) No. 143 to form the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Specialized municipality status was chosen for the amalgamated municipality "to provide for the unique needs of a municipality including a large urban centre and a large rural territory with a small population." Upon incorporation, Fort McMurray was designated an urban service area, an equivalent to a city under the MGA, while the balance of the municipality was designated a rural service area, an equivalent to a municipal district under the MGA. The Municipality of Wood Buffalo was renamed as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on August 14, 1996.
The second specialized municipality was incorporated on January 1, 1996. Strathcona County changed its status from a municipal district to a specialized municipality "to provide for the unique needs of a municipality that includes both a large urban centre and a significant rural territory and population." The status change designated Strathcona County's large urban centre, Sherwood Park, as Alberta's second city-equivalent urban service area, while its rural territory was designated a rural service area deemed equivalent to a municipal district.
The Municipal District (MD) of Mackenzie No. 23 became the third specialized municipality on June 23, 1999. Previously a municipal district, it changed its status "to address concerns about municipal government and management in a municipality that serves a number of unique communities within a very large territory." Its unique communities include the hamlets of Fort Vermilion, La Crete and Zama City. The order in council that formed the MD of Mackenzie No. 23 as a specialized municipality included a clause to automatically change it back to a municipal district on November 1, 2001. This order in council was amended on January 30, 2001, at which point the clause to automatically revert its status was removed. The MD of Mackenzie No. 23 was renamed Mackenzie County on March 8, 2007.
The Jasper Improvement District was established as Alberta's fourth specialized municipality under the name of the Municipality of Jasper on July 20, 2001. It was established as a specialized municipality "to provide for the unique needs of residents living within the municipality." The order in council that formed the specialized municipality defined the Town of Jasper as those lands within the Jasper townsite as described in Canada's National Parks Act.
The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass was originally formed as a town on January 1, 1979, through the amalgamation of the towns of Blairmore and Coleman, the villages of Bellevue and Frank, and ID No. 5. After another amalgamation with ID No. 6 on January 1, 1996, the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass eventually had its town status changed to specialized municipality status on January 16, 2008. Unlike those of the four other specialized municipalities, no specific reason was provided in the order in council that changed the status of Crowsnest Pass. However, the motivation to become a specialized municipality was to enable membership in the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties for increased alignment with its neighbouring rural municipalities.
|Crowsnest Pass, Municipality of||Southern Alberta||January 16, 2008||7||5,589||5,565||+0.4%||371.44||15.0/km2|
|Jasper, Municipality of||Alberta's Rockies||July 20, 2001||7||[N 1]
|Lac La Biche County[a]||Northern Alberta||January 1, 2018||9||
|Mackenzie County||Northern Alberta||June 23, 1999||10||
|Strathcona County||Edmonton Capital Region||January 1, 1996||9||
|Wood Buffalo, Regional Municipality of||Northern Alberta||April 1, 1995||11||[N 2]
|Total specialized municipalities||—||—||53||—||199,313||187,376||+6.4%||157,285.11||1.3/km2|
On August 1, 2007, the Town of Lac La Biche and Lakeland County amalgamated to form Lac La Biche County. Lac La Biche County initiated an investigation in April 2015 to change its status from municipal district to specialized municipality. The purpose of the status change would be to preserve different tax rates that temporarily apply to areas surrounding the hamlets of Lac La Biche (the former town) and Plamondon from those that apply to the balance of the municipality. the Government of Alberta has approved the status change, which will become effective on January 1, 2018.
Other municipalities that are investigating specialized municipality status include Spruce Grove, Morinville and Grande Prairie. Proponents of the Cooking Lake Airport have also expressed interest in breaking away from Strathcona County to form its own specialized municipality.
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