Should politicians be recalled following a democratic election?

With Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek facing a recall petition and several others cropping up in Alberta, it begs the question: should someone be able to recall a democratically elected politician just because they don’t like them?

Mayor of Medicine Hat Linnsie Clark faced a recall petition in December, which fell through, and the mayor of the Village of Donalda, Doug Booker, is currently facing one.

The Calgary petitioner, Landon Johnston, paid $500 per the legislation, and now has from Feb. 5 to April 4 to collect signatures from a minimum of 40 per cent of Calgary’s population per the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Former Premier Jason Kenney updated the MGA in 2022 to allow eligible voters to file petitions to recall politicians, including mayors and municipal councillors.

He said at the time this would allow Albertans to hold elected representatives accountable. Changes to the MGA also included taking away a local government’s ability to impose its own public health restrictions.

The changes also came about after the Calgary 2021 Municipal election when calls for Coun. Sean Chu’s resignation erupted after controversy surrounded him regarding two incidents that happened while he was a police officer.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott weighed in on the petition, saying you have to ask yourself, should someone be able to recall a politician just because they don’t like them?

“It also raises into question the outright respect we have for the democratic process as well that your elected official didn’t win or if your preferred choice didn’t win, that there’s a very easy way to at least try and get them out of office,” he said.

“Recall legislation almost sounds like it was built for when there is dislike or feelings of not being represented by an elected official. But then isn’t that the whole point of the democratic process that every four years you get a chance to reelect or get rid of people?”

Only those who are eligible to vote for the person named in the notice of recall petition — in this case, Gondek — are allowed to sign the recall petition.

The last municipal election in 2021 had around a 46 per cent voter turnout, with a little over 393,000 voters. Forty per cent of the population would amount to 514,284 valid signatures of a population total of 1,285,711, according to Elections Calgary.

Watch: Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek responds to recall petition to remove her from office

Mount Royal University Political Scientist Lori Williams told CityNews this could be from leftover frustration from the pandemic, but adds this is a time for politicians to respond to the concerns of their constituents.

“The current recall legislation in Alberta is at such a high threshold or bar that it’s very unlikely that anybody will actually be recalled,” she said.

“But I think some of these people are just saying, ‘We want to send a message that we’re not happy and we want to be listened to.'”

She says seeing the Calgary petition and the ones in Medicine Hat and Donalda may provide an incentive initially, but if nothing comes of it, could prove to be an unpopular choice.

“As time goes on, and people see that it is not an effective tool and that it doesn’t actually accomplish removing a politician, they may think twice about initiating the process,” Williams explained.

“On the other hand, if politicians reach out to the groups that are dissatisfied, if they respond to the concerns that they’re raising, if that’s the sort of thing that happens, then it may be something people continue to do.”

A kick-off event for the recall is taking place at City Hall Saturday at 1 p.m.

-With files from Jeff Slack and Lauryn Heintz

Editor’s note: Medicine Hat Mayor Linnsie Clark is not currently facing a recall petition as previously reported. We have corrected the story to include the correct information.

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