Alberta’s government is considering allowing municipal candidates to run as part of a political party and councillors from the provinces two largest cities are divided on the idea.
The premier’s office said changes to the Local Elections Authorities Act are being considered.
The notion has precedent across Canada — in Vancouver’s recent municipal election, more than half a dozen parties ran candidates for mayor and council. Montreal has five parties represented on its 65-seat council. In both cities, the parties are not chapters of any provincial and federal parties.
According to Calgary city councillor Dan McLean, party politics already exist behind the scenes in municipal politics, and having distinct parties campaigning will help voters make decisions and increase turnout.
“I think it’s a good idea. It kind of turns things more into issues-based candidates instead of individual-based candidates,” said McLean.
However, Edmonton city councillor Aaron Paquette said a civic party system will force traditionally independent councillors to vote as blocks, which he said would be a disservice to voters.
“Every issue, instead of being a calm and rational discussion, which we love to have at the city, becomes mired in wedge politics and culture issues and all the things that plague federal and provincial governments,” said Paquette.
“When you start looking into it, it rapidly becomes a terrible idea.”
A political scientist at Quest University in Squamish, B.C., said though provincial parties can be polarizing, he doesn’t see that division extending to municipal parties. However, the ties that municipal parties have to provincial ones are evident, though informal.
“You can see issues and debates that exist at the provincial level replicating themselves at the municipal level, even if the parties themselves have different names,” said Stewart Prest.
Edmonton’s mayor said he hasn’t heard anything from the premier or anyone else in the government on this idea, but he thinks the current system works well.
“At a time when we are seeing so much political polarization across the country, keeping municipal councils not affiliated to any political party is the best approach,” said Amarjeet Sohi.
In a statement to Global News, the premier’s office said the Municipal Affairs ministry recently completed engagement with stakeholders “about possible updates to the Local Authorities Elections Act.
“Some of the possible updates are designed to address some issues identified during the 2021 municipal elections in Alberta,” said Rebecca Polak, spokesperson for the premier’s office.
“As the premier has stated, updates to the legislation are under consideration and the idea of localized political parties will be part of Minister Schulz’s consultation with municipalities and other key stakeholders.”