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Alberta Municipalities blasts province for Bill 20 ‘power grab’

The organization representing Alberta cities, towns and villages says a new provincial bill will force some municipal councillors to refrain from criticizing Premier Danielle Smith and the UCP government. 

Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, gives the provincial cabinet the power to fire mayors and municipal councillors and overturn bylaws.

Tyler Gandam, the president of Alberta Municipalities and the mayor of the city of Wetaskiwin, blasted the bill in a news conference Monday afternoon calling it a “power grab.”

“Bill 20 would allow the provincial government to remove councillors and repeal bylaws it doesn’t like based on backroom cabinet decisions made without public scrutiny or accountability,” he said. 

“The fact that the cabinet decisions are confidential means that the public can never truly know why these decisions were made.”

Bill 20 was introduced on Thursday, on the heels of the Provincial Priorities Act or Bill 18, which Premier Danielle Smith has jokingly called the “not in my backyard bill.” 

Bill 18 would require the federal government to involve the province in any deals it wants to make with provincially legislated bodies like universities or municipalities. 

Alberta’s post-secondary research universities are alarmed the province wants to approve research funding that is approved by the non-partisan tri-council federal agencies.

They are concerned the province will meddle with the funding applications and drive researchers out of the province. 

No guardrails

At an unrelated news conference Monday, Smith repeated Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver’s statement that cabinet would rarely use the powers it wants to grant itself. 

 “It’s only going to be, as the minister of municipal affairs said, in the case of very extreme circumstances where he would feel a need that he had to step in based on circumstances or overwhelming public demands,” she said. 

Bill 20 has no guardrails governing when cabinet can use these powers. Currently, the minister of municipal affairs can remove a mayor or councillor, as in the recent case with Chestermere city council. But that decision stemmed from a municipal inspection report, followed by a period of supervision by an official administrator.

Bill 20 proposes eliminating all those other steps. 

Gandam said the board of Alberta Municipalities will discuss whether there are any legal options the organizations could use to stop the bill. 

In the meantime, he is urging members of the public to complain to their local MLA.

The Alberta NDP Opposition is urging the government to withdraw Bill 20. The NDP said they are also looking at using amendments during the committee of the whole phase of debate to have the bill not read a second time, which would essentially kill the legislation. 

Municipal Affairs critic Kyle Kasawski defended the NDP’s use of the word “totalitarianism” to describe the government’s decision to introduce the bill. 

“We are dealing with a very serious threat to our democracy here,” he said. 

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