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Alberta could soon change legislation on municipal political parties

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Alberta could soon change legislation on municipal political parties
Political parties may soon play a bigger role in municipal elections. The United Conservative government has been considering changing legislation. And, as Jasmine King reports, those potential changes are being met with some pushback – Mar 15, 2024

Political parties may soon play a bigger role in municipal elections.

Alberta’s United Conservatives have been considering changing legislation in recent months.  Those potential changes are being met with some pushback.

In front of a room filled with civic leaders Friday morning in Edmonton, Premier Danielle Smith said party politics may soon be coming to Alberta city halls.

“It’s still under debate, it’s still under consultation. We’re still going through the process on that. (It) may not apply to everyone, may just be a pilot project, and may just be targeted to the major cities,” said Smith.

The Premier says Albertans deserve more clarity about who and what people are voting for. Currently, party affiliation is not allowed under the Local Authorities Election Act.

“It may be that that dynamic has not developed in most of the municipalities but it’s clearly developing in Calgary and Edmonton. We just think that there does need to be some transparency and governance around that,” Smith said.

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“If that’s going to occur, we feel there just needs to be some structure around what the reporting looks like on that, because we want to make sure that people have the transparency that we have in provincial politics and that we have in federal politics.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Municipalities reject idea of local political parties'
Alberta Municipalities reject idea of local political parties

Many municipal leaders, such as Alberta Municipalities president and mayor of Wetaskiwin Tyler Gandam, are opposed to the changes. They say their political affiliations don’t play a role in local government.

“I think it might change the dynamics of how people run, period. I’m not sure why this is going to improve how a municipality is able to govern and create better communities,” Gandam said.

“Which colour pyjamas I wear at night for a political party that I might align with I don’t feel is relevant to why we’re spending more money on infrastructure, or the parks or the roads and sidewalks we’re going to repair or replace.”

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In November of 2023, the government of Alberta conducted two surveys into proposed changes to the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA) and the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

The surveys closed in December and the results have not been shared publicly, however, a freedom of information request by the Edmonton Journal revealed more than 70 per cent of respondents expressed opposition.

Those results aligned with polling Janet Brown Opinion Research conducted on behalf of Alberta Municipalities last summer, which found more than two out of three Albertans (68 per cent) would prefer to see municipal candidates run as individuals. One in four (24 per cent) would prefer to see them run as members of a political party, and nine per cent were unsure.

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“The number one issue that Albertans raised as to why they don’t want political parties is that they felt that by introducing that, the people who get elected will be serving the party first and not the people they’re actually elected to serve,” said Ward Nakota Isga Councillor Andrew Knack. “If you look at our federal and provincial systems right now, you see how those MLAs and MPs act towards one another in public meetings. Do you look at that and say ‘Yeah, I want that in city hall too.'”

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Knack has been outspoken on the potential changes. He believes the province is trying to come up with a solution to a problem that does not exist. Knack says the current system allows him to be more flexible in his decisions at Edmonton City Hall.

“In these chambers, you don’t always get what you want. There’s lots of decisions I make that people don’t like but I go into every decision in those chambers with an open mind,” Knack said.

It’s not known yet, if or when this will be introduced in the legislature. The Alberta Municipalities believe it could come during the current spring session.

Alberta is scheduled to hold its next municipal elections in 2025.

-With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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