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Alberta Municipalities said it hasn’t been given chance to consult on changes to bill

Alberta’s municipal affairs minister declined Monday to clarify whether towns and cities would still get their say before changes are made to a contentious bill that gives the province broad authority to fire local councillors.

Ric McIver announced the changes last Thursday and promised at that time he would talk to municipal leaders about looming amendments to the bill.

But on Monday, when asked by reporters on the state of consultations, McIver pointed to the fact he already spoke with multiple leaders “over the last few days” about the impending changes.

When asked if he considered those discussions to be the promised consultation, McIver declined to clarify.

“It’s one form of consultation, it’s certainly not the only form,” he replied.

The bill, introduced April 25, has been widely condemned by municipal leaders as a broad overreach into their authority with a possible chill effect on their decision making.

The bill not only gives cabinet broad power to fire councillors but also overturn any council bylaw.

This weekend, Craig Snodgrass, the mayor of High River – Premier Danielle Smith’s hometown — said the only reason the bill is on the table is because the UCP has failed to get “their people” into the mayor’s seat in Edmonton and Calgary.

“This is about control. It won’t end with the big cities. Scrap it,” Snodgrass wrote on social media.

McIver said last week the amendments will address those concerns but has not provided specifics.

Tyler Gandam, president of Alberta Municipalities — the organization representing Alberta towns, cities and villages – confirmed that McIver called him last week to say changes were coming, but said that has been it.

“Minister McIver committed to consulting with Alberta Municipalities in advance of the announcement of the forthcoming amendments, but nothing has been arranged yet,” Gandam said in a statement.

“I trust we will have the opportunity to address our concerns on all parts of the bill,” he said.

Paul McLauchlin, head of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, told CHED radio Monday he has had “discussions” with McIver.

While McLauchlin said he’s hopeful McIver has heard the organization’s concerns and will make necessary changes, he said nobody was asking for a bill making it easier for cabinet to remove local councillors or mayors.

“What is the point? Is the point to assert authority? Or is the point to provide clarity to governance?” said McLauchlin.

It’s also not clear when the amendments will be brought to the floor of the legislature.

Smith has said amendments would come this week and would clarify the new cabinet powers would be used only sparingly.

Asked Monday about the timeline, McIver said, “When amendments are ready, we will introduce them in the house.”

But McIver said time is a factor. He said the government aims to ensure the bill passes debate in the legislature in the current sitting, which is scheduled to rise at the end of the month.

Opposition New Democrats have said the bill is so flawed it needs to be pulled altogether.

McIver said municipal officials will need time to get ready for the next elections in October 2025.

“Time is ticking, and it’s an important issue,” McIver said.

The bill also makes changes to local elections, including mandating hand-counted ballots, and green lighting political parties to run in Edmonton and Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

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