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Alberta rural municipalities speak out against latest provincial bill on wildfire authority

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta is calling a new proposed bill an affront to municipal authority and another example of the province’s overreach into local decision-making. 

Bill 21, Emergency Statutes Amendment Act, was introduced Thursday by Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis.

The proposed legislation would allow the province to take over emergency management in a municipality if local leaders ask for help, if they are overwhelmed or if the fire crosses into multiple jurisdictions. 

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities Association, says the bill would let the province to step in and take over if a municipality has declared a local state of emergency, but has no guidelines as to when this would happen. 

He said members are concerned that the province is pushing them out of firefighting efforts, and losing their local knowledge in the process. 

“If you read Bill 21 as it’s written, the provincial government is the decision-maker on their own,” McLauchlin said. “They’re the authority. ‘Put up and shut up’ is how we’re interpreting it.”

When asked about McLauchlin’s concerns, Ellis said the province already has the power to step in. He said Bill 21 lays out what happens when the scope of a wildfire exceeds a municipality’s ability to fight it. 

“What we’re doing is providing clarity and transparency within the legislation,” Ellis said. “This is a good thing. These are the experiences that we learned in the last fire season with the municipalities that were involved in these critical incidents.”

McLauchlin said the RMA was not consulted on Bill 21. He said none of his members asked for the measures in the legislation, and many are concerned the province seems to be picking a fight with them. 

McLauchlin said municipalities are also concerned about two other bills introduced in the spring session. 

Bill 18 prohibits the federal government from entering funding agreements with municipalities without the province’s permission. Bill 20 gives the provincial cabinet power to fire municipal politicians behind closed doors, and overturn bylaws it doesn’t like. 

The province said the Canadian constitution gives it these powers over municipalities. 

Both the RMA, which represents counties and municipal districts and Alberta Municipalities, which represents cities, towns and villages, have opposed the bills as an overreach of provincial power. 

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