Town or City status comes to current council, but decision will fall on the next

by Colin Smith

To be or not to be – a city?

That is the question on the agenda for Morinville now that the community has more than 10,000 residents.

While the idea that a town automatically becomes a city once there is a population of 10,000 is incorrect, it’s the point at which the community can begin the process to become a city. If it so chooses.

Morinville Town Council took up the issue at its Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, with reintroduction and discussion of a 2016 report on seeking city status.

Prepared by Darren Young, a senior planner with ISL Engineering and Land Service, the report outlines the basic requirements for incorporation as a city, as well as the pros and cons of city status. It also provides an overview of cities and potential cities in Alberta and Canada as a whole.

Alberta’s Municipal Government Act states in Section 82 that a city may be formed for an area in which a majority of the buildings are on parcels of land smaller than 1,850 square metres and there is a population of 10,000 or more.

When the report was prepared Morinville had a population of 9,893.

In a presentation to the Council meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne stated that the census completed in Morinville in 2020 projects the community now has a population of 10,578.

Labonne suggested that, in the light of the census results, the current Council now wants to “really look at engaging the next one to be elected this fall on whether or not there is a desire on the part of the community to move forward with the whole city status conversation.”

The CAO also noted that he had reached out staff in Beaumont, which incorporated as a city in 2019, for information about their experience.

“I can say that a significant amount of work has gone into this whole conversation about town versus city status,” he said. “Including a very exhaustive public engagement plan, which is a requirement of the Municipal Government Act as it relates to transitioning between town and city status.”

In response to a question from Councillor Rebecca Balanko, Labonne said the public engagement process would take one to two years, at a probable cost of about $200,000.

According to the ISL report, major pros for city status include the designation’s potential to generate a potential increase in economic development interest, and greater clout in lobbying higher levels of government.

Cons might include the loss of “small town feel,” and the costs associated with the transition from town to city.

Often seen as the major drawback to acquiring city status, however, is the responsibility of cities for maintenance and upgrades of highways within their boundaries, eg. Highway 642, currently a provincial responsibility.

Labonne said this can be subject to negotiation, but also pointed out that control over highways can provide advantages.

“Among them is the ability to control development or be more development-friendly as it relates to development that occurs adjacent to that roadway,” he said.

“In recent memory, if you look at the City of Edmonton’s decision to turn over the Manning Freeway to the Government of Alberta, the City of Edmonton would probably reconsider that decision now,” added Labonne. “That’s based on the fact that the province now controls what is developed and how development occurs along that stretch of road.”

Councillor Stephen Dafoe, who initiated the original report, said he was pleased to see it come back, particularly so that those who were not on the previous Council have a chance to look at it.

“It’s going to be an interesting thing,” he said. “Obviously there is going to have to be a lot of engagement. I’m sure a lot of engagement would happen during the election. Because it’s on people’s minds.”

Several council members asked the Administration to gather information about the experiences of other communities that have explored moving to city status, including Beaumont and Stony Plain. The possibility of meeting with the Beaumont’s Council was also raised.

“Beaumont was very much onboard with getting together,” said Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall. “They were willing to discuss with us what they went through. I’m hoping the next council will be as open.”

“I do think these are ongoing conversations,” Hall added. “I don’t see them going away.”



  • The Province of Alberta contains a total of 19 cities. The oldest is Calgary, incorporated on January 1, 1894. The newest is Beaumont, which became a city on January 1, 2019.
  • Calgary is also the Alberta’s largest city, with a population of 1,285,711, according to its 2019 municipal census. In second place, Edmonton had a census population of 972,223. The smallest city is Wetaskiwin, with a population of 12,655.
  • Three other cities have existed in the province’s history: the City of Strathcona, 1907 to 1912, when it amalgamated with the City of Edmonton; the City of Drumheller, incorporated in 1930, which reverted to town status in 1998; and the City of Fort McMurray, 1980 to 1995, now an urban service area within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
  • The City of Lloydminster, divided by the Alberta’s border with Saskatchewan border, is also listed as one of that province’s 16 cities.
  • Alberta communities eligible for city status by virtue of population include Okotoks, Cochrane, Stony Plain, Sylvan Lake, Strathmore, Canmore, High River and Whitecourt.


  • Canada has a total of 155 cities.
  • The largest city in the country is Toronto, population 2,956,024. The smallest is Greenwood, BC, which has 665 inhabitants.
  • Ontario and British Columbia contain the greatest number of cities, tied at 52.
  • Two provinces have no cities: Nova Scotia and Quebec. In Nova Scotia, amalgamations in 1990s dissolved all cities in favour of regional municipalities. In Quebec, both what are known elsewhere as cities and towns are legally known as villes, which range in size from Montreal at 1.8 million to L’Ile Dorval with five residents.
  • The territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut have one city each: their capitals Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit.







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