May 22nd, 2024

Councillor not pleased with unexplained municipal politics bill

By Collin Gallant on April 30, 2024.

Coun. Andy McGrogan says there are mounting questions surrounding the provincial government's new municipal politics policy and that decisions made by local elected officials is what they were elected for.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

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A council working within existing regulations to censure a colleague and the provincial cabinet having power to remove local councillors are two different things, Medicine Hat city councillor Andy McGrogan said Monday.

McGrogan also expressed frustration about sweeping changes proposed by the provincial government in amendments to local elections and local government regulations.

“I don’t think the ‘why’ has been explained very well,” McGrogan told the News on Monday. “I’m not sure how much say we’ll have on it.”

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver told reporters last week that the province previously had powers to call for land planning bylaw changes, and he sees the new ability to be used sparingly.

Cabinet would also have authority to dismiss councillors more easily, though reasoning on how it might be used wasn’t discussed as the bill was tabled last week. The legislature has risen until next Monday, while actual regulations are to be drafted by the fall after consultations, said McIver.

The potential of provincial government intervention reignited some heated debate in Medicine Hat.

City council has been embroiled in controversy for a month after councillors voted to remove many of the powers of Mayor Linnsie Clark in late March.

That came after a finding she breached the city’s code of conduct bylaw – a finding she says she will challenge in court.

Current regulations in the Municipal Government Act specifically forbid penalties that prevent any council member from taking part in meetings.

“All of us were elected by the same people who elected the mayor, and we’re accountable to the community,” said McGrogan. “Someone sitting up in caucus in Edmonton isn’t. There’a big difference.

“We’ve seen on social media and (the paper) that people locally have a voice and they use it. We don’t want to be in conflict with federal and provincial partners, and it’s all about ‘staying in your own lane.’

“Well, if I’m in the wrong lane, I’ll stand by it,” he concluded. “Let the voters decide. That’s the way it is supposed to be.”

Clark has not responded to interview requests regarding the bill that would give the province the ability to force specific bylaw changes or remove a council member if it is in the “public interest.”

McGrogan is currently serving a six-week term as deputy mayor, which gives him some authority to speak on behalf of council, but McGrogan said the group hasn’t discussed the ramifications of the bill as a group.

That could occur next Monday in open or closed session at council’s next scheduled meeting.

Administrators were preparing an overview of effects of administrative requirements on residential development incentives, changes to local elections requirements, and participation at public hearings.

Last year, the province also gave itself the power to appoint additional members to local police commissions, resulting in two new members of the Medicine Hat Police Commission.

McGrogan, a former police chief who does not sit on the commission, said allowing former police officers to sit on the commission blurs governance and could lead to conflicts.

Alberta’s New Democrats also objected to the bill at a press conference Monday, saying the relationship between citizens and councils as well between councils and the province will be muddied.

“Instead of talking to the local councillors, do they go straight to Danielle Smith and the UCP government to effect changes?” asked Municipal Affairs critic Kyle Kawaski. “How does that help local democracy?”

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