May 24th, 2024

Alberta Municipalities hasn’t been asked for input on bill giving cabinet new powers

By Lisa Johnson, The Canadian Press on May 3, 2024.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says next week she will amend a bill granting cabinet new powers to fire local councillors and overturn bylaws. Smith speaks to reporters on the sidelines of the Canada Strong and Free Network event in Ottawa, Friday, April 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

EDMONTON – The umbrella organization for Alberta’s municipalities says it hasn’t been contacted by the province despite a promise to consult before amending a bill that grants Premier Danielle Smith’s government sweeping authority to fire councillors and cancel bylaws.

The turnaround time for consultation appears to be tight.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver promised consultations on Thursday, and on Friday morning Smith said the amendments will be introduced as early as next week.

Tyler Gandam, the head of Alberta Municipalities, said in a statement Friday, “We are not aware of any broad consultation between municipal leaders and the provincial government.”

Alberta Municipalities represents towns, cities and villages comprising about 85 per cent of the provincial population.

McIver’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Friday on the state of consultations.

The bill, proposed last week, has met with a torrent of criticism from municipal leaders. They call it a dramatic and undemocratic overreach of power.

The legislation gives cabinet the right to fire a councillor if it deems it in the “public interest.”

Alberta Municipalities said the government’s acknowledgment that the bill needs fixing is a good start, but much more needs to be done.

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta organization says if those new powers remain in the bill, there need to be tight restrictions on how and when they are employed.

McIver announced Thursday that amendments were coming while also promising the new powers would only be used as a last resort.

“We will be working with municipalities to propose amendments to the legislation and clarify that this would only be used in very limited circumstances,” McIver said at the time.

Speaking to reporters at an unrelated announcement in Calgary on Friday, Smith said changes to the bill will be put in front of the legislature as early as next week.

Asked why amendments were needed at all, Smith replied, “We were asked by the various municipal associations if we could just be more clear about what those terms would be.”

Kyle Kasawski, Opposition Alberta New Democrat critic for municipal affairs, said the bill must be withdrawn.

“There’s no credible way they can come back to the legislature next week and say they’ve consulted and they have the amendments that are needed to make this bill better and acceptable,” said Kasawski.

“I don’t know how you’re going to talk with (over) 300 municipalities over the weekend and get everyone’s perspective that needs to be heard.”

He said even in areas where rural residents traditionally vote conservative, he’s heard blowback against the idea of cabinet being able to unilaterally fire local councillors.

“It’s alarming to people,” he said.

Those same concerns were raised when the bill was first introduced, but McIver dismissed them at that time, saying cabinet would be ultimately accountable to voters at the ballot box.

“I think the public would be most unforgiving of us if we make a decision to dismiss a duly elected councillor and don’t have a darn good reason,” he said.

The bill also faces criticism for provisions that allow political parties to run in Calgary and Edmonton and permit corporate and union donations in municipal elections.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2024.

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