April 12th, 2024

Keep municipal politics local

By Lethbridge Herald on November 17, 2023.

Al Beeber

Recently, the Alberta government announced it had launched two online surveys on how to improve both the provincial electoral process and accountability for local elected officials.

The surveys will remain open until Dec. 6 and the province says input “will will help inform potential changes to the two acts. Any input gathered will build on feedback collected in 2021 and 2022 regarding local elections and councillor accountability.”

In a press release, the government said that after every election cycle, Municipal Affairs reviews the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act – you’ve heard the latter mentioned plenty of times at city council meetings – to see if it’s necessary to make any changes.

In addition to surveying the public, the UCP is also asking for input from other stakeholders including locally elected officials, municipal associations and municipal administrators.

I have a suggestion thanks to an issue that arose during the 2021 municipal election. I call for banning interference in municipal elections by any member of the Alberta legislature or House of Commons.

This would leave party politics from taking root at the local level to ensure independent local government.

This is one matter which was addressed a few weeks ago during the Alberta Municipalities convention in Edmonton.

One session at the ABMunis convention called “Fight for Your Right Not to Party: Defending the Local in Local Elections” addressed the introduction of political parties at the municipal level, an issue that ABMunis believes could undermine the ability of councils to fulfill their roles while diminishing municipal autonomy.

“One of the things that local government quite prides themselves on is the fact that we are non-partisan, that we can enter council chambers with an open mind for a debate,”  Cathy Heron of ABMunis told media before the convention opened.

Before the 2021 election, NDP candidates in several communities publicly stated who they supported in local elections, including here.

While that is allowed, questions have to be asked, including is it fair? Can an MLA or MP influence an election because they have preferred candidates for mayor or council? Should that influence be allowed? With star power behind a candidate, it certainly provides a boost just due to name recognition alone. 

And it has the potential to have a local political agenda reflect a provincial or national one regardless of where voter sympathies on a local level may lie.

While doing pre-election coverage, I tried to discuss the issue with various candidates who off the record, told me they felt the preferred candidates had an advantage. But none were willing to speak publicly out of fear of repercussions against their own campaigns.

What was the motivation? Fear of being targeted for bullying or smear tactics perhaps? I don’t know because nobody would tell me, the issue being that much of a concern to some.

If the province passed a law banning MLAs and MPs from publicly offering support to candidates or campaigning with them or for them, it would help to ensure municipal elections remain clear of partisan interference.

Anyone who follows politics at all knows there will be leanings by elected municipal officials but the support shouldn’t be blatant because that can and will alienate voters who elect local councils based upon how they feel those candidates will address local matters.

Like we are all urged to do when it comes to shopping, let’s keep things local.

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Keep partisan politics out of local elections!!!