The Constitutional Status of Municipalities

There’s been a lot of discussion in Alberta in recent days regarding several new pieces of provincial legislation that will impact municipalities.

The Alberta government is proposing a series of reforms that aim to clarify the role and scope of municipal governments - and the role of the Province in governing municipalities.

Getting into the specifics of each individual reform - and the pros and cons that go along with them - would probably require a separate email per item, as they cover a broad spectrum of different topics.

So for now, instead, we would just like to explore the relationship between the Province and municipalities, and how that relationship relates to our mission here at the Free Alberta Strategy.

This is important because many of the opponents of the proposed legislation, rather than actually debating the ideas themselves, have instead tried to claim that the proposals are inherently bad because they represent provincial “overreach” into the affairs of Alberta’s municipalities.

They’re accusing the Province of being hypocritical, and of subjugating another level of government and meddling in its affairs - the very same thing we (and the Province) criticize the federal government for doing.

There’s just one problem with this claim - it’s not the very same thing at all.

As big proponents of protecting Alberta’s jurisdiction from federal overreach, we think it’s important to ensure that public debate on this issue is accurate, so we want to take some time to clarify the difference in relationship between the federal government and the provinces, versus the relationship between the provinces and municipalities. 

Some of you may already be aware, but it's worth repeating that the Constitution does not place the federal government above or in charge of the provinces.

In fact, the Constitution of Canada establishes an equal partnership between the provinces and the federal government, each with its own sovereign areas of jurisdiction, in which they alone control policy in their respective areas.

The federal government has its role and the provinces have their roles, and just as the provinces don’t tell the federal government how to conduct affairs in their jurisdiction, like say national defence, the federal government shouldn’t (even though they do) tell the provinces what to do in their areas of jurisdiction, such as health care and education.

The provinces and municipalities do not, however, have the same relationship as the one that exists between the federal government and the provinces.

Municipalities are not signatories to the Constitution, nor are they equal partners of the federal or provincial government.

They are what are known as “creatures” of the provinces - existing solely due to an Act of the Alberta Legislature, the Municipal Government Act.

And this is the case because the Constitution gives provinces exclusive jurisdiction over the management of municipalities.

Now, before we get too carried away and the left start accusing us of being dictatorial too, it’s important to note that it can be argued (and in many ways we agree!) that provinces should give municipalities a good amount of policy flexibility in order to give them the ability to establish local rules to fix local problems.

Equally though, in certain policy areas it can sometimes make sense to have standardized rules for all municipalities, and provinces retain the authority to establish those rules when necessary.

In other words…

When the federal government tries tells a province what to do, they are overreaching and acting unconstitutionally, because the Constitution explicitly does not give the federal government this power.

When the provinces tell a municipality what to do, they are not overreaching or acting unconstitutionally, because the Constitution explicitly does give the provincial government this power.

So, while it’s not our role as the Free Alberta Strategy to necessarily take a position on every provincial policy that affects municipalities, when opponents of those policies try to claim that these are constitutional issues, and that the province doesn’t have the authority to do these things, it’s important for us to point out that they’re wrong.

That’s because this type of misinformation, that lacks any kind of factual basis in law, can actually undermine Alberta's ability to defend its constitutional jurisdiction against federal overreach, by perpetuating myths about how Confederation works.

This debate, therefore, is also a good reminder that we have a very long way to go in educating Albertans of all political persuasions about how the Constitution is structured, how it’s supposed to work in theory, how the federal government has twisted it to work in practice currently, and the ways Alberta can respond in order to restore the original separation of powers envisioned in the Constitution. 

At the Free Alberta Strategy, we are committed to doing just this, by educating Albertans about the Constitution and defending Alberta's rights.

If you know someone who would be interested in learning more about the Constitution, please consider forwarding our emails to them - it helps us a great deal.

There are also three other ways you can help us in our mission to defend Alberta's constitutional rights.


  1. Volunteer with us - Your time and skills can make a big difference.
  2. Make a donation - Support our efforts with a contribution.
  3. Follow us on X (formerly Twitter) - Stay updated and engaged with our latest activities.


Thank you for your ongoing support.

Together, we will stand up for Alberta's rights and ensure that the public discourse is informed and accurate!


The Free Alberta Strategy Team


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  • Free Alberta Strategy
    published this page in News 2024-05-02 01:27:47 -0600