May 20th, 2024

Province ‘in its wheelhouse’ on municipal matters, says McIver


By Lethbridge Herald on May 13, 2024.

Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith take part in a press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday April 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson JASON FRANSON

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver Monday says the government intends to use powers in its proposed Bill 20 sparingly.

In a Zoom meeting with members of Alberta media on Monday, the minister discussed the rationale behind the bill, noting that the province already had powers but the bill will expedite the time in which the government uses them.

McIver also told media the province is “in its wheelhouse” in matters involving municipalities, be those matters related to bylaws or the conduct of municipally elected officials that merit an intervention by the Alberta government.

Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, if passed, will amend the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act.

The former “establishes the framework for the conduct of elections in Alberta municipalities, school divisions, irrigation districts and Metis settlements.”

The latter “which establishes the rules governing the conduct of local elected officials once on council, as well as the overall administration and operation of municipal authorities in Alberta, including any policy those authorities may wish to implement.”

Among the proposed changes to the Municipal Government Act is one that would allow cabinet to remove a councillor if such a move is in the public interest or to order a referendum to determine if a councillor should be removed.

Another change would give cabinet authority to require a municipality to amend or repeal a bylaw and give cabinet authority to direct a municipality to take a specific action to project the health and/or safety of the public.

Numerous proposed changes are also planned for the Local Authorities Act including making it easier for all Albertans to vote in a municipal election using a special ballot, prohibiting automated voting equipment, allowing union and corporate donations to local candidates capped at $5,000, put in rules in place for third-party advertisers  and put rules around when “local political parties organize for local elections. Currently, there are no rules or restrictions that exist,” McIver told media, noting those rules will be implemented in Calgary and Edmonton for the 2025 municipal election.

“Through this bill, Alberta’s government is updating the rules for local elections and locally elected officials, we’re improving the transparency in local elections and strengthening Alberta’s trust in local democracy,” McIver said.

“We are ensuring local elected officials and councils are accountable to the Albertans who elect them and make decisions that are clearly in the public interest,” said McIver.

“No candidate will be forced to join a political party and there will be no connection between provincial or federal parties and municipal parties or municipal parties that operate in more than one municipality.

“In other words, our goal is that local elections will remain local,” said McIver.

For the MGA, Bill 20 proposes to increase accountability for locally elected councillors including updating the process for the cabinet to remove a councillor from office, only if there are legitimate reasons including unethical behaviour or an unwillingness to perform their duties, he said.

The bill also proposes to amend the MGA to update the process on the province’s authority to request a municipality amend or repeal a bylaw.

“These are not new powers, but this is a new way of delivering the powers that have already been there,” McIver added, saying it’s the government’s intention to use the authorities sparingly.

“We don’t want to intervene in municipal matters; in fact we always prefer for municipalities to be operating efficiently and within the parameters of the Municipal Government Act,” he said.

But past experience has shown that isn’t always the case, he said.

McIver said in response to a question about the pilot project in Calgary and Edmonton, currently no rules or restrictions exist around political party involvement in municipalities.

The minister said Bill 20 would reduce the ability for a municipal party, or someone acting as one, “to do any darn thing you want.”

He said it’s important to institute rules, noting that in Calgary during the last municipal election, donations from two unions totalled about $1.6 million spread among nine candidates.

“It kind of sounds like group fundraising. They certainly didn’t call themselves a political party but it certainly looks like that,” he said.

He said the province is also trying to fix “an unaccountable pseudo party system,” referring to Calgary.

In terms of third party advertising, in the last municipal election, there was a ballot item on the flouride treatment of water in Calgary and the biggest contributor was about $1.7 million which he understands came from the U.S.

“The restriction is to make sure the donations have to be made from Alberta,” said McIver calling that restriction an important one.

Another third party advertiser spent about $400,000 on one candidate in the mayor’s race and according to the rules of the day, none of these were illegal, said the minister.

“I think the new legislation will put some rules around that, require some more disclosure about who gave money to who and put limits around how much can be given,” added the minister.

The authority to override or change bylaws, he noted, is not new, with those powers existing since Alberta became a province in 1905.

“What’s new is in some cases, it’s an expedited way to exercise those authorities,’ he said.

McIver cited as an example,the province introducing legislation to make changes in the City of Calgary which it believes is heavily overtaxing electricity. 

He said while Calgary made a requested change, it did so effective in 2027 which the government didn’t think was in the spirit of what had been asked of that city’s government so it put legislation on the table to change that.

He said Calgary was picking up $130 million in excess revenue compared to any other municipality in the same circumstance.

Near the end of COVID restrictions and  masking requirements were removed by the province, Edmonton decided to create its own mask bylaw which McIver said was that city acting as the health ministry. So the government developed legislation to undo that bylaw.

He said complaints that the province has not consulted with municipalities is not true.

He said that on the Municipal Affairs website, there are published results of two consultations in 2022, one on the MGA and the other on the LAEA.

“Consultation isn’t perfect, probably never has been, probably never will be and to some degree municipalities have a legitimate right to complain when it’s not as perfect as they would like,” he said.

One thing the government contemplated was putting rules around political parties in every municipality but the UCP restricted that to the province’s two largest cities “just because there’s too much I think of political party like activity happening there without putting restrictions around it.”

McIver said some municipalities have complained about the consultation around bylaws or dismissing councillors so the province is considering some amendments.

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[…] Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – [email protected] […]

[…] Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – [email protected] […]

Southern Albertan

What/who is driving the UCP’s municipal affairs wheelhouse is Take Back Alberta. Take Back Alberta interests include running candidates in municipal elections whose beliefs mirror theirs.
How much will Danielle Smith be beholden to Take Back Alberta? Perhaps she has to be very concerned about her toxic ultra right wing base. They will get rid of her if she doesn’t ‘hup to.’

IMO

In September 2022, over concern regarding the constitutionality of the Alberta Sovereignty Act in it’s initial form, Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, AOE B.Sc., LLD (Hon) indicated she may refuse to give Royal Assent to the Bill.
This drew the ire of Danielle Smith, then a candidate for the leadership of the UCP. At the time, Smith stated Lakhani’s comments were “entirely inappropriate political interference in our democratic processes.”
Amidst the push-back from the Alberta Municipalities Association together with elected officials in numerous jurisdictions across the province, there is nothing reassuring from either the premier or her minister that will alleviate the concern over this government’s rapid descent into authoritarianism.
In Smith’s own words, Bill 20 is a blatant and “entirely inappropriate political interference in [the] democratic process” at the municipal level.
Enough is enough!

buckwheat

Just the usual union and NDP whiners complaining the jig is up on election interference and influencing through massive fundraising. You can bet if they’re crying about it they were doing it. Like yanking a sucker out of a kids mouth.



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