Alternative Approval Process for Local Government

The alternative approval process is a form of approval that allows electors to indicate whether they are against a local government proposal moving forward.

For certain matters, local governments are required to obtain approval of the electors or participating area approval before the municipal council or regional district board may proceed with its decision. The alternative approval process can be used as both a form of approval of the electors and participating area approval.

Approval of the electors is required for a variety of municipal and regional district actions, including disposal of certain utilities or specified parkland, municipal boundary extensions, and municipal loan authorization bylaws. Where approval of the electors is required, it may be obtained by the local government either directly through assent voting (referendum) or by first 'testing the waters' through the alternative approval process.

Participating area approval is required for regional district service establishing and loan authorization bylaws and can be obtained through either: assent voting; the alternative approval process; municipal or Treaty First Nation consent; or electoral area consent. How participating area approval may be obtained depends on the type of participant (e.g. municipality, electoral area, or treaty first nation) and the nature of the service.

The alternative approval process was formerly known as counter-petition. The alternative approval process requires that 10 percent or more of the eligible electors must sign and submit response forms in opposition to the proposed initiative to require the local government to obtain assent of the electors in order to proceed. When this happens the issue is considered significant and the local government has two choices. They may proceed to assent voting within 80 days, or they may put the matter on hold and consider alternatives to the proposed action.

Decisions that Can be Conducted by the Alternative Approval Process

The Local Government Act and Community Charter identify a number of matters where approval may be obtained by the alternative approval process. In all of these cases, municipal councils and regional district boards have the option of holding assent voting instead.

Municipal matters where approval may be made by the alternative approval process include:

  • Boundary extensions
  • Loan authorization bylaws (long-term borrowing)
  • Changes to municipal classification
  • Disposal of certain utilities other than water or sewage systems
  • Exchanges or other disposal of specified parkland
  • Granting an exclusive or limited franchise

Regional district matters where approval may be made by the alternative approval process include:

  • Loan authorization bylaws (long-term borrowing)
  • Disposal of certain utilities other than water or sewage systems
  • Exchanges or other disposal of parkland
  • Heritage property tax exemptions lasting two to ten years
  • Riparian property tax exemptions lasting two to ten years
  • Service establishing bylaws when certain legislative requirements are met

While the alternative approval process provides a local government with greater flexibility and the potential for cost-savings, it may not be appropriate for every situation, even where it is authorized by legislation. There are a number of factors local governments would need to consider when deciding whether to conduct an alternative approval process or proceed directly to assent voting, including:

  • History
  • Scale
  • Cost
  • Public expectations
  • Timing of the matter or proposal

For example, if an issue is controversial, requires a significant financial contribution by taxpayers, or is significant in scale or impact on the community, local governments may decide that it is more appropriate and cost-effective to proceed directly to assent voting. However, if the public has been actively engaged and there are reasonable indications that citizens are in favour, the proposal may lend itself better to an alternative approval process.

Find out more about these considerations and how local governments can plan and prepare for an alternative approval process:

The Alternative Approval Process

Notices

Eligible electors (persons who can vote during an election) have at least 30 days from the publication of the second notice of the alternative approval process to submit elector response forms to the local government corporate officer.

The notices must be published in accordance with section 94 of the Community Charter and must include:

  • A general description of the proposed bylaw, agreement or other matter
  • The area to which the approval applies
  • The deadline for elector response forms to be received
  • A statement that the council or board may proceed with the matter unless 10 percent of the electors in the area indicate the council or board must obtain assent of the electors before proceeding
  • A statement that elector responses must be in the form established by the council or board, they are available at the municipal or regional district hall, and only electors of the area to which approval applies are entitled to sign the forms
  • The number of response forms required to meet the 10 percent threshold

If the matter being proposed is for a regional district service or loan authorization bylaw, the notice must also include one of the following:

  • A copy of the bylaw
  • A synopsis of the bylaw that describes the intent of the bylaws, the proposed service area, and the date, time and place for public inspection of copies of the bylaw

Elector Response Forms

The local government is responsible for creating the elector response forms. The forms can either be single-response, or a longer petition-style form that can be signed by multiple electors. Response forms must be available for pick up at the municipal or regional district offices, and are often made available at locations in the community such as public libraries and recreation centres. Local governments may also make the elector response forms available on their websites.

For an elector's response to be considered valid, resident electors signing the form must provide their full name and residential address. In addition, non-resident property electors must provide the address of the property they own within the area defined for the alternative approval process. No person may sign more than one elector response form.

Certification

After the alternative approval process deadline has passed, the local government corporate officer must determine and certify whether the valid elector response forms submitted met or exceeded the 10 percent threshold established for the process. This determination is final and conclusive.

To assist in this determination, the local government is required to establish in advance the total number of electors of the area to which the alternative approval process applies for the purposes of the 10 percent threshold.