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  • Writer's pictureTyler Downey

What’s on offer? A look at training for local governments

Updated: Mar 25

In a recent post, we dove into the reasons why municipal training is crucial to the strength and effectiveness of local governments in Canada. Today, we look at some of the programs and courses offered to local officials across the country, beginning with the general state of training offered by provinces, moving into some of the advanced training offered by local government associations, then discussing one of the most robust municipal training programs in Canada, offered in Calgary.


Most provinces offer a basic training set, framed either as mandatory municipal training or as a local government orientation. Training from the provinces themselves usually covers the legal basics: conflicts of interest, budgeting, code of conduct, access to information and privacy regulations, roles of councillors and CAOs, and procedures of council. In short, anything that might create legal headaches for the province is included, however some provinces go further than others.


In BC, the Board of Examiners, an entity formed by the provincial government and the Union of BC Municipalities, offers certification in service delivery, municipal administration, and executive management. Each certificate requires an oral and written presentation to the board, similar to an academic defence, with many certificates requiring coursework at a partner university or specific work experience. Although the requirements are stiff, the certifications are unique, and offer great learning opportunities as well as a tangible qualification for the resume.


Although each province offers some form of basic training, they often rely on the relevant municipal associations to provide in-depth and topic-specific training courses. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, for example, offers programs on asset management, data management, local climate resilience, and regular webinars on a breadth of topics including sustainable development, diversity, equity, and inclusion, even niche topics like the development of biogas and renewable natural resources projects. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario offers governance and leadership training, disability inclusion workshops, anti-islamophobia training, human rights training, and cybersecurity prep. There’s a clear appetite for deeper dives into emerging and socially relevant policy topics, especially in a policy era defined by the importance of the intersections between topics.


What about associations in Western Canada? The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), offer an interesting joint training program called the Elected Officials Education Program, covering topics like land use and development, strategic and corporate planning, public engagement, and regional partnerships. Topics like these represent a more comprehensive form of training, one focused not on the legal aspects of the job, but the policy and technical expertise designed to bring out the administrator within any councillor.


With this backdrop, we’re ready now to discuss the merits of Calgary’s training system. What makes it unique? As a matter of course, the City of Calgary offers the familiar basic orientation as required by the province, covering topics like roles of council and code of conduct, but they go much further. Prior to an election, Calgary administrative staff spend months preparing materials, presentations, and workshops for new councillors.


After they’re elected, councillors spend a whopping 10 weeks in various elements of training, with each week focused on a different key milestone on council, like the swearing-in, the budget, and business planning. Throughout those weeks, Calgary’s City Solicitor, City Clerk, Manager of the Office of Councillors, and the City Manager offer workshops, handbooks, and presentations to get every Councillor up to speed. Between the four of them, Calgary City Councillors get a deep dive into the legal and legislative aspects of running a city (Solicitor), city structure and the role of a municipal government (Manager), an overview of the Freedom of Information Act, by-laws, and city procedures (Clerk), and a workplace transition and organization manual and presentation (Office of the Councillors). The sheer amount of time and effort spent on developing this program, with presentations from in-house subject matter experts, all on top of the basic municipal orientation are what make Calgary’s orientation policy so unique.


Do you know of a municipality doing interesting things to prepare new councillors for a life in the public eye? Reach out to us at tyler@strategicsteps.ca.

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