Kananaskis Country may be Provincial Parks, various protected areas and public lands, but it all needs to be managed from a municipal perspective, too. In most of the Province, Cities or incorporated Towns provide services like fire or ambulance or garbage or sewage. As you get away from those and into more rural settings, they’re done by Municipal Districts (“M.D.”). In places that are just too sparsely populated to justify those, the model used is an “Improvement District” (“I.D.”). There are a handful of I.D’s in the Province. And the Kananaskis Improvement District (the “K.I.D.”) qualifies as “sparsely populated”; only about 250 people live in its +4,000 sq. km space
It turns out that Dave Neilsen, who sits on the Friends Board, was (among other things) the Chief Administrative Officer of the K.I.D. for 2 years. We (virtually) sat down with him in early 2020 to find out all about the K.I.D., what it is, what it does, and how it impacts the general public such as Friends members.
What is the K.I.D.?
Dave Neilsen: Simply put, it’s the entity put in place to look after the delivery of municipal services to the residents, businesses and visitors in the Improvement District. By “municipal services”, I mean fire protection, ambulance service, garbage, water, sewer, licensing of businesses, collection of municipal taxes and the Province’s educational levy.
How is an I.D. different than an M.D.?
DN: They serve the same purpose, but M.D.s, Towns and Cities are independent under the Municipal Government Act. They have something called “natural person powers”. I.D.s, on the other hand, are under the direct authority of the Minister of Municipal Affairs. They may or may not have Advisory Council to help make local decisions, like K.I.D does. In 1994, what was then I.D. 5 was reviewed in terms of what it was responsible for, driven by some local ratepayers. They concluded that it was best for the K.I.D to stay an I.D and not become an independent M.D., because it was less onerous on them. For instance, M.D.s are responsible for their own Subdivision and Development Authorities, Development Appeal Boards, Land Use Orders, Municipal Plans; the K.I.D isn’t responsible for any of that. In the K.I.D, the Minister of Municipal Affairs has delegated all Ministerial authority for the I.D. to the Minister of Parks, so Ministers get to worry about such matters.
What does the K.I.D. encompass?
DN: It’s everything in Kananaskis Country, including Parks and Public Land, with the exception of the space around the Canmore Nordic Centre, which is within the Town of Canmore — everything in blue on the map to the right. Those ~250 people who live there are folks with businesses in the K.I.D., and who live and work at the RV park and Golf Course, plus there is some Parks staff housing. There are business like the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Boundary Ranch, Fortress Ski Hill, Nakiska Ski Area, and the Ribbon Creek Hostel. There are camps like the Tim Horton Children’s Ranch and the U of C Field Station. The cottagers on Lower K. Lake are in the K.I.D., but since it’s against the lease rules to have a permanent residence there, they’re not included in the census population number. The K.I.D. does not administer the cottage leases themselves, or any lease in the K.I.D. for that matter; they are all administered by Parks or Public Lands directly.
How is the K.I.D. managed?
DN: It has an Advisory Council, consisting of a Chair and 5 or 6 Councillors. Some of those are Citizens at Large, selected by the Minister of Parks to represent the citizens of Alberta; some represent businesses, large or small; some represent the cottagers (Ed Note: Read more about the current council make up here). They have a full or part-time Chief Administrative Officer (my former role), who is usually a Parks employee, and used to be, in my time, paid by Parks. In my day, that person reported to Alberta Parks’ Regional Director of Kananaskis Country (which was also a former role of mine). The K.I.D. offices are in the Kananaskis Emergency Services building on Hwy 40. The K.I.D. Council Chamber is in the basement of the Kananaskis Village Centre building, though. It kind of hides. (Ed. Note: As of May 2020, in the K.I.D. there was one full-time Administrator, two full-time Municipal Advisors, as well as a Chief Administrative Officer who was also the Manager – Kananaskis Emergency Services with Alberta, Environment and Parks).
How does the K.I.D. impact the general public and Friends members?
DN: Since they fund the K.I.D. Fire Department and the Ambulance, hopefully the general public won’t ever need the service! The ambulance service is particularly relevant because the level of service is stipulated to a 24/7, EMT-P level of service, particularly to manage the types of injuries that happen at Nakiska Ski Hill. They work hand-in-glove with Kananaskis Mountain Rescue and the Conservation Officers.
To quote from the Alberta Government website on Improvement Districts:
Improvement districts are municipal authorities originally formed by the Government of Alberta in sparsely populated areas where there was neither the population nor the tax base to support and finance a viable local government. In many ways, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) treats districts as any other municipality. However, the Government of Alberta manages all local government functions, including the levy and collection of taxes, for the districts unless a local council has been elected.
Of the 8 Improvement Districts in Alberta, 5 are in the National Parks, and 2 (including the K.I.D.) are in Provincial Parks. Read more about Improvement Districts in general here, about the K.I.D. specifically here, and visit the K.I.D. website here.
Find out more about the elements that make up K-Country here!