May 20th, 2024

MLA Wright defends Bill 20 as ‘last resort’

By Medicine Hat News on May 2, 2024.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Justin Wright is defending his government's legislation regarding municipal politics, saying the province is simply concentrating aspects of the Municipal Government Act "that already exist."--NEWS FILE PHOTO


The United Conservative MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat defended on Wednesday planned changes to local government rules that touched off controversy this week, while the MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat – Premier Danielle Smith – could have more to say today.

Smith will speak to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon today as part of time in the riding while the legislature is not in session, having risen after Bill 20 was introduced last Thursday.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver outlined the measures that would allow the provincial cabinet to more easily remove local councillors, require local bylaw changes, change some local election rules and allow political parties to form at the local level in Calgary and Edmonton.

The changes have been panned by Alberta Municipalities, local elected officials and even former regional MLA Drew Barnes and a leadership contender for the New Democrats.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Justin Wright told the News on Tuesday measures would be used sparingly “as a last resort” and only focus powers that are already available to the provincial government.

“The heart of Bill 20 is just to really identify existing roadblocks, but also really consolidating different aspects of the MGA that already exist, and bringing them into just one concentrated area.” said Wright.

City Coun. Andy McGrogan told the News that changes are much more than that, and haven’t been properly explained.

“Hatters elected two people to go to Edmonton, and should ask them to explain it,” he said this week.

Mayor Linnsie Clark told the News on Wednesday that she is reserving comment on the issue “for the time being.”

Barnes, who sat as an independent to end a three-term political career in 2023, continued to call for more referenda and lower recall requirements to improve local democratic processes rather than the current proposal.

“I’m absolutely against this (bill),” said Barnes on Tuesday. “True conservatives believe in local decision making. Why would anyone put in time and effort to represent their neighbours when Edmonton has veto power? It’s indicative of a government that in two years under Danielle Smith hasn’t found its way.”

That comes as Smith is set to appear this afternoon at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon for a general address.

Medicine Hat has seen controversy at the local level over sanctions levelled from code of conduct allegations, and several groups have called for municipal inspections of both Cypress County and city utility operations.

Recently, the mayor and three councillors in the City of Chestermere were removed recently after McIver said they had repeatedly refused to follow proper administrative practice or institute reforms called for in an inspection.

“Alberta has already had a history of situations where the province has had to step in and address a couple of different things, but they’re the path of … last resort,” said Wright. “We want to make sure that we’re working with all of our municipal partners.”

Critics have said it concentrates power and could influence local decision making, the implication being that councillors will be wary of going offside with the province rather than considering local will.

MLA Kathleen Ganley, a Calgary-area NDP leadership candidate, said the purpose is likely to make local governments fall in line with UCP party policy, just as Bill 18 seeks to control university research priorities.

“It’s an obvious attempt to control what people are thinking about,” she told the News on Wednesday.

“People know they (the UCP) are vindictive. If you walk around and talk to people, generally, people are reluctant to criticize them, even when they’re doing something bad. Especially if you are an organization that receives (government funding), the UCP will not hesitate to take that funding away.

“It’s an attempt to control and impose a very narrow view and it’s to the detriment of everyone in society.”

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