What do Successful Inter-Municipal & Regional Collaborations Have in Common?

Bill 21 – A Municipal Primer for the Modernized Municipal Government Act

Barring some unforeseen impasse, Bill 21, the Modernized Municipal Government Act, will likely be passed by the legislature before the end of the year, and likely proclaimed in force as of January 1, 2017, or soon thereafter. These changes will include mandatory establishment of an inter-municipal development plan, and an inter-municipal collaboration framework (ICF) created by an inter-municipal collaboration agreement (ICA), with your neighbours (unless exempted, such as if part of a growth management board) within 2 years of the applicable sections coming into force.  The ICF must be adopted by matching bylaws, and all other bylaws must be amended to accommodate the ICF.  Plus, the ICF, ICA and bylaws must address how transportation, water and wastewater, solid waste, emergency services, recreation, and any other inter-municipal services are provided.  Lastly, there must be clear plans and time frames for implementation of the resulting inter-municipal or regional collaborations on those identified services.

Since inter-municipal and regional collaborations have been a part of our planning, service delivery and advice for decades, we have seen the highs, the lows and the in-betweens of inter-municipal and regional collaborations.  Now that these are becoming mandatory, in a series of articles we would like to share and discuss what successful inter-municipal & regional collaborations have in common, and prepare you for the transformative changes coming with Bill 21.

Common Elements of Successful Collaborations

All inter-municipal and regional collaborations have can have far reaching impacts, affecting areas of responsibility and operation such as planning and development, public works and operations, taxation and revenues. The breadth of Bill 21 and the services and operations that an ICF or ICA is required to address, and the variety of existing interactions between municipal neighbours, has even greater implications for municipalities.  The matter is so large, where does one start?  What we know from our extensive experience is that successful collaborations share the following characteristics:

  • The People in the Room – First and foremost, successful collaborations have the right people involved and in the room from the outset. Successful collaborations involve the right people for the creation of each of the other elements that define successful inter-municipal and regional collaborations.  Specifically, this includes a champion for change/collaboration, a relationship manager, a guide to legal and practical issues of collaborations and their implementation, an engineering and asset management expert to assess services and service levels, and a financial analyst to test, confirm or disprove assumptions or propositions.
  • Trust – Trust is not manufactured or forced, but earned, fostered and reinforced. It allows for the leap of faith to enter, and provides the means to address the inevitable barriers and challenges that will arise, to make collaborations possible.  This ranges from trust in each other, to trust in the advice and the direction received, to trust in the process that is being undertaken.  If trust is lacking, something must be done to establish and foster it.
  • Vision – A collective vision and understanding of what community means, what the existing and future needs of the community are, and what the existing and future strengths and weaknesses are (economic, social, services, planning, infrastructure, etc.). Collective vision means that there is already, or there is developed, an understanding of mutual challenges and aspirations, and the trust needed to address them collectively and not individually.


  • Mission – In addition to a vision there is a reasonable, practical, and achievable mission to act upon. Something that can be embarked upon immediately in order to meet the community vision and needs of the community in the future.  In developing this, the vision and the assumptions or desires that flow from it are tested against some of the legal, practical and financial realities that apply, in order to ensure that the proposed pathways to collaboration do not have dead ends.  Inevitably, trade-offs, prioritizing and rationalizing will occur with respect to elements of the vision and mission, in order to arrive a collective path forward.
  • Realistic/Long Term Outlook – Another way of saying this is to provide the means, method, and information necessary to manage expectations of all of the participants and the stakeholders. Having a view of and insight into all of the actual or potential issues, and the reasonable and probable impasses or hurdles, as well as a realistic knowledge of the likely time frames involved, are all must-haves.
  • Strategic Plan for Implementation – Implementation does not stop at agreement upon an inter-municipal collaboration framework. If the prior elements of successful collaborations have occurred with the right review, advice, insight, trust building, etc., an actionable plan of implementation should be possible.  This requires a clear plan for implementation that anticipates the issues and requirements, addresses the potential impasses and hurdles, provides for clear actionable steps to be taken within clear time frames, and most importantly assigns both responsibility and accountability for all actions and steps.  In many cases, the implementation plan starts with small changes and builds from there, because collaboration on any particular service will have several steps, conditions, pre-requisites or other requirements (i.e. whether regulatory, Ministerial approval, ownership and/or governance structure, further detailed agreement on services, etc.) in order to make it happen.  What those are in each case comes from the experience of having seen it or done it before.
In our next installment of our continuing series on Bill 21 and its impacts, we will discuss: who is in the room?  What are the key roles, kinds of experience, and advice needed to carry out successful inter-municipal and regional collaborations.

For more information please contact:

Rodd Thorkelsson, Managing Partner
Direct: 780-497-4843
Email: rthorkelsson@brownleelaw.com