May 17th, 2024

AUMA past president weighs in on municipal election


By Dale Woodard on November 3, 2021.

The influence of partisan politics in Alberta’s 2021 Municipal Election was on the ballot as the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs held its online session last week.
On hand as the guest speaker was Barry Morishita, a long serving councilor and mayor in the City of Brooks.
In his talk, Morishita spoke of his extensive experiences and concerns with partisan politics and also estimated what the election results could mean for Alberta and speculated on the wisdom of allowing Political Action Committees and more money into municipal politics.  
“To get to where we are today it’s really important to look back as to why this has become an issue,” said Morishita, who spent seven years on the board and executive of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) becoming the association’s longest serving president. “Over a period of time, Alberta has been really lucky to not have partisan politics. There have been, in the past, a couple of high-profile opportunities in Airdrie when some former Wildrose members created a slate in Airdrie and were successful in getting elected.”
But beyond that, said Morishita, there hasn’t been a lot of organized, partisan politics brought into it.
“However, a few years ago the Local Authority Elections Act in Alberta was modified and amended by the current government.
“Also, by bringing in the referendum questions, there was a focused effort to drive a certain type of population to the polls in order to affect the outcomes of municipal races.”
In its 2021 Municipal Election, the City of Lethbridge added two extra questions on its election ballot, the first being the use of a ward system to elect city councilors – other than the mayor – starting in the 2025 municipal election.
The second question asked voters if they agree City Council should approve plans to construct a third bridge prior to 2030 as a municipal capital project priority.
The questions were front and centre during election forums and will no doubt be hot items for Lethbridge City Council to wrestle with going forward.
Morishita said he’s not a big fan of using referendums to determine these questions.
“I think these things put a new council in a particularly tough place,” he said.
“With just around 55 or 60 per cent saying ‘yes’ to those questions, as a newly-elected councilor, are you obliged to move toward a ward system at the expense of the 44 percent of people who don’t want it?”
Morishita said it’s the same with the bridge construction.
“Typically, those types of things are answered and dealt with in a very methodical way through the way we do our 10-year and multiple-year capital plans. We do it based on all kinds of things. I think a simple question is very difficult for people to vote on.”
Morishita added he had lived in Lethbridge for a while.
“If somebody had come up to me and said ‘Hey, are you in favour of another bridge to cross the river? That will make it easier for you to get from the west side to the east side.’ I would have said that yes, I’m in favour. But if somebody said ‘It’s going to cost a billion dollars to build the bridge, are you in favour?’ I would have said maybe not.”
“I think referendum questions, if they’re actually done as a kind of a poll in terms of public opinion, I think some people, by voting yes, think if they get enough people to vote yes, they’ll have a ward system. If we get enough people to vote yes we’ll have a bridge. I don’t really think that’s what the purpose of this is. So, calling it a referendum is a bit misleading and I think we should examine how we do that in order for people to continue to have faith and a good view of their municipal system.”

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