BARRHEAD - The provincial government is asking whether Albertans would support establishing legislation that would allow for the recall of elected officials like school division trustees and town and county councillors.
On Feb. 4, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu announced the start of a provincial consultation on possible changes to the Local Authorities Election Act, which sets the rules around elections for cities, towns, villages, summer villages, municipal districts, counties, specialized municipalities and school boards.
“Albertans expect local elections to be fair, transparent and inclusive. This consultation will determine if and how we, as a government, can better meet these goals,” said Madu, in a release.
This consultation will mostly take the form of an online survey, which will be available until March 4 at https://www.alberta.ca/local-election-rules-engagement.aspx.
Madu also indicated there would be focused discussions with representatives of municipalities and community advocacy groups. All feedback would potentially inform changes to the Local Authorities Election Act.
This is not the first time changes to the act have been considered; in November 2018, the NDP government introduced Bill 23, An Act to Renew Local Democracy in Alberta.
Chiefly, the legislation empowered the now-defunct Alberta election commissioner to investigate, prosecute and enforce rules related to campaign finance and third-party advertising.
That was before the Office of the Election Commissioner was dissolved in November with the passage of Bill 22, also known as the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act.
Bill 23 also lowered the amount that any Alberta could contribute to candidates during municipal and school board elections to $4,000, and reduced the campaign period from four years to one year.
It also required third-party advertisers to register with the jurisdiction where they intend to advertise when they reach $1,000 in expenses or contributions, and to file disclosure statements regarding their expenses by March 1 of the year following a general election.
Madu acknowledged that the NDP had revised the Local Authorities Election Act just over a year ago, but said the government continues to receive feedback about gaps in the legislation.
While some of the survey examines to what extent Albertans agree with the new election rules the 17th question in the survey pertains to the recall of locally elected officials.
The notes accompanying the survey state that recall is the ability for eligible voters to remove current elected officials through a defined process, like a petition or a special vote.
It is further noted that Alberta legislation does not provide for the recall of elected officials. Such provisions are more common in the U.S., although B.C. does allow for the recall of provincially-elected officials.
The survey then asks to what extent Albertans agree with the idea of establishing recall legislation for municipal and school board elected officials.
County of Barrhead reeve Doug Drozd was surprised to hear that the province was asking about the recall of municipal councillors and school board trustees.
He said the concept itself is basically a good idea, but like everything else, “the devil is in the details.”
For example, if the recall provisions are tied to petitions, setting an appropriate number of names required for those petitions would be a challenge.
“If it’s too low, then it becomes a nuisance, because then anybody with an axe to grind … can get a couple dozen of their best friends to go after an elected official. But if the bar is too high, then it becomes too onerous to actually remove somebody from office,” he said.
Drozd then alluded to the fact that the province is currently mulling over a private member’s bill that would allow for the recall of MLAs.
Bill 204, the Election Recall Act, was introduced in November by United Conservative Party (UCP) MLA Mark Smith. It would allow for the recall of MLAs if 40 per cent of eligible voters in a constituency sign a petition within a 60-day period.
The bill has passed first and second reading and the committee stage, but has yet to go to third reading.
Drozd suggested that if there is recall provisions for municipally-elected officials, there should probably be a law impacting MLAs as well.