April 16th, 2024

Province told to keep party politics out of municipal elections

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 23, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Alberta Municipalities wants the provincial government to keep political parties out of municipal elections.
Organization president and mayor of Wetaskiwin Tyler Gandam told media Friday that results of a UCP survey obtained by a Freedom of Information and Privacy request show that 70 per cent of Albertans are opposed to party labels being attached to municipal elections.
And a resolution at the organization’s convention last fall had 95 per cent opposing party involvement.
The Alberta government held two online surveys last year on potential changes to the Local Authorities Elections Act and the Municipal Government Act.
The LAEA provides the legislative framework for municipal and school board elections in Alberta. It pertains to municipalities of all sizes in all locations as well as school boards, Metis settlements and irrigation boards.
The MGA provides the legislative framework supporting councillor accountability once councils, reeves and mayors have been elected.
Last September, ABMunis commissioned its own survey by pollster Janet Brown on keeping politics local and results showed 68 per cent of respondents are opposed to the introduction of partisan politics at the local level.
In the past six months Albertans have heard rumblings from the UCP that it’s thinking about introducing political parties to local elections, said Gandam Thursday.
“These rumblings became louder and more frequent in November of 2023 when the government of Alberta conducted two surveys into proposed changes to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act. The results of these surveys, which closed on December 6 of 2023 have yet to be shared with Albertans,” said Gandam.
“An enterprising reporter managed to get some of the survey results released through a Freedom of Information and Privacy or FOIP request,” said Gandam.
More than 70 per cent of respondents to the online survey opposed adding party labels alongside the names of candidates on municipal election ballots, he said of the results.
“While this may come as a surprise to some Albertans, it is consistent with what Albertans and our members have been saying for months,” he added.
“There’s clearly little support for the provincial government’s plan to introduce divisiveness into local governments. The government of Alberta has been rubbing many Albertans the wrong way with its effort to promote political parties in local municipal government and school board elections.
“Alberta Municipalities objects to the idea and opposes it for many reasons,” he said.
The first reason is nobody has clearly explained what perceived problems the introduction of political parties to municipal elections would fix.
“While political parties serve a purpose at the national and political level due to differences of scale,’ they aren’t necessary at the local level, he said.
“The current municipal government model ensures local elected officials, selected by most voting residents, stand for the best interests of their residents and businesses. Today’s model allows mayors and councillors to debate and vote on issues from independent points of view, be open minded and freely collaborate with all council colleagues to find solutions to their communities’ complex problems. This is what residents expect and want.
“These norms would be lost in a party system as shown by the politics practised at the provincial and federal levels,” he said.
The second reason – claims that introducing political parties would improve voter turnout in local elections – seems unwarranted, he said.
Preliminary research conducted into elections in Vancouver and Montreal, where party politics now occur, show they have similar voter turnout as municipalities across Alberta, he noted.
“So there’s little evidence that the provincial government plan would help,” he added.
“There are other and better ways to improve voter turnout.”
If political parties are introduced, it’s reasonable to expect, he said, that those candidates elected to council will need to balance the interests of the political parties they represent with those of their constituents. In some cases, local elected officials could be asked, or directed, to vote as a block along party lines regardless of what’s in the best interest of their community. And without being permitted to consider the needs of their residents,” Gandam said.
“Local mayors and councillors are elected officials closest to the voters. They live and work shoulder to shoulder with their constituents. They’re committed to building their communities to make them better places for everyone.
“Local government should be safe spaces for conversation and dialogue among neighbours without the divisiveness or vitriol we are seeing at the provincial and federal levels.

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