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Alberta government wants power to remove municipal councillors, repeal bylaws it doesn’t like

A new bill would give the Alberta government more power over municipalities, including granting cabinet the power to remove councillors from office, and forcing councils to repeal bylaws the province doesn’t like. 

Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment, was tabled in the legislature Thursday afternoon. 

The bill would also allow the creation of municipal political parties, but it comes in the form of a pilot project only affecting Edmonton and Calgary. 

Bill 20 proposes many other changes to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act to reinforce the province’s authority over municipalities. 

If passed, the bill would allow cabinet to call a public referendum on the fate of a municipal councillor, or go as far as to unilaterally remove them from office if it is deemed in the public interest. 

There are no legislative guardrails or limits for when that can happen but the decision can be appealed to the Court of King’s Bench.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver insisted that provision would be rarely used. 

“First of all, I hope it never has to happen. But second of all, if it does, then it will be incumbent upon cabinet to have a really good explanation for the public,” he told reporters at a news conference prior to the bill’s introduction. 

“I think the public will judge cabinet kindly or harshly depending upon the facts and the circumstances around when this decision is made.”

Cabinet has had the power to force municipal councils to amend or repeal land-use bylaws and statutory plans for 30 years. Bill 20 extends that power to all bylaws passed by councils. 

McIver said the current amendment power has never been used so the public shouldn’t worry about the government having an “itchy trigger finger.”

Cabinet would also gain the ability to tell municipalities what to do in protecting public health and safety, although the government already exercised that authority in 2022 when it prohibited cities and towns from passing or extending their own masking bylaws. 

Other measures proposed in Bill 20 include: 

  • Allowing unions and corporations to make donations of up to $5,000 to municipal candidates, a measure that was outlawed for provincial candidates in 2015. 
  • Banning the use of electronic voting machines like tabulators in municipal elections.
  • Limiting the practice of vouching only to confirming someone’s address, not their identity and age as currently allowed.
  • Giving the municipal affairs minister the power to validate recall petitions, not a municipality’s CAO who reports directly to council. This was something requested by smaller municipalities.
  • Allowing the province to make regulations to postpone elections in the case of an emergency or natural disaster such as a wildfire.
  • Making orientation training mandatory for councillors.
  • Giving municipalities the power to require criminal record checks for candidates. However, this provision is not mandatory. 
  • Exempt non-profit subsidized affordable housing from paying property taxes.
  • Prohibiting municipalities from holding more public hearings than legally required. This measure prevents municipal councils from purposefully delaying initiatives. 
  • Municipalities will be limited in how they can ask developers for non-statutory studies. 

Municipal political parties would not be allowed to have the same name or formal affiliations with provincial or federal parties. 

McIver said studies conducted by the government found the majority of Albertans and municipalities did not want political parties in local government. 

‘Is this democracy?’

Aaron Paquette, an Edmonton city councillor, suggested on social media that the new rules would be a threat to municipal politicians who didn’t share the same views as the governing United Conservative Party. 

“Bend the knee or be fired?” he asked on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Is this democracy?”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek expressed concerns about the bill and asked how the government planned to define “public interest” when removing a municipal mayor or councillor from office. 

“Are we now in a world where elections can be bought by big money, and elections can be overturned by a cabinet that doesn’t like the results?” she asked in a written statement. 

“The provincial government claims this is intended to ensure that local elections are transparent, fair and free.

“I’m left asking why they have inserted themselves into municipal government in a manner that actually strips the voting public’s right to elect the council they deem to be the best to serve them.”

Kyle Kasawski, the NDP Opposition critic for municipal affairs, said it’s inappropriate for the provincial cabinet to decide when to fire a councillor or a mayor.

Like Paquette, he worried about the bill could affect councillors, who may try to make their decisions align with the province’s views.

“They’re worried that they might actually lose their job and not be able to serve their constituents,” Kasawski said. “That’s a major problem for our province.”

If the bill is passed, the province plans to develop regulations by consulting with municipalities in the upcoming months.

The next province-wide municipal elections are scheduled to take place in October 2025.

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