May 27th, 2024

Bill 20 has municipal officials asking questions with no immediate answer

By Collin Gallant on April 27, 2024.

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Municipal leaders in the province say there are more questions than answers one day after the provincial government moved to take a stronger hand in dealing with municipalities, allow political parties to act in major centre elections in 2025 and change other aspects of the Municipal Government Act.

Mayors of Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton issued statements ranging from confusion to concern about the aspects of Bill 20 that was introduced in the legislature by Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver.

The Alberta Municipalities Association said changes don’t match their submissions to improve the legislation.

“Our members want to be respected by the provincial government as a democratically elected order of government and allowed to focus their attention and energy on providing the services their residents expect and deserve,” reads a statement.

Mayor Linnsie Clark did not respond to a request for an interview Friday and local administrators are expected to provided comment on potential impacts of the bill early next week, reporters were told.

It could add responsibilities to election staff to compile an official electors list and prevent the use of electronic ballot counting machines that have been commonly used for decades.

Municipalities would also be able to develop multi-year property tax incentives for residential development.

However, municipal leaders and opposition politicians expressed concern about the potential that would allow the province through cabinet to circumvent a set process to remove an elected official if it was in the public interest.

Municipalities president Tyler Gandam said the organization representing more than 260 municipalities will be looking for clarification on details of the bill, especially when it comes to allowing cabinet to overturn bylaws and dismiss elected councillors.

During a press conference Thursday, McIver focused on Local Election Act changes that would require hand-counting of ballots, allow municipalities to require criminal record checks from candidates (though not publicize results) and remove a ban on corporate and union donations to candidates.

“We know how important local democracy is to Albertans, and we will work with local authorities to protect and enhance the integrity of local elections,” said McIver.

The board issued a statement stating the inclusion of political parties at the local level goes against public sentiment, not just the group’s position.

“Albertans have been clear: they do not want political parties in their local elections,” it read. The provincial government (is) blinded by their incessant fighting with the federal government.

“Alberta’s local governments … do they want to be caught in the middle of an Alberta-Ottawa ‘forever war?'”

Municipal Affairs said it will engage municipalities this spring and summer “to hear perspectives and gather feedback to help develop regulations” that could be in place in 2025.

The next set of municipal elections in Alberta will be held in October 2025.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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