New bill would give Alberta power to fire city councillors, reverse bylaws

The Alberta government has introduced a bill that would grant it sweeping powers over municipalities, including the right to fire councillors, overturn bylaws and postpone elections.

Municipal Affairs Minster Ric McIver says the new powers outlined in Bill 20 are justified to ensure fair elections and accountability from municipal leaders.

“We are doing this in order to protect the provincial interests, by ensuring municipalities are governing affairs that are within their jurisdiction,” he says.

The provincial government’s authority over local bylaws was previously limited to land-use and, more recently, public masking and vaccinations.

“It is our intention that such interventions will only be considered at last resort,” says McIver. “My most fervent wish is that this authority is never ever used.”

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The province is pointing to the instance of dropping masking regulations during the pandemic, only to have the City of Edmonton institute a bylaw requiring masks. In order to overturn the bylaw, a piece of legislation had to be tabled.

McIver says if that happened when the house was not sitting it could have meant recalling the legislature.

When asked about how the power of cabinet to make changes would be checked in the future, McIver said voters would hold politicians accountable, and if mistakes are made it will come up in future elections.

“If it’s an unreasonable partisan, selfish decision than cabinet would be at great risk being held accountable,” he says.

Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek says she finds it interesting that the last few bills introduced by the province overreach into municipal territory.

“You have an order of government that is duly elected to represent its citizens, the people that voted for them,” she says. “You have another order of government that doesn’t have that connection, that can overturn things.”

“I think that’s absolutely cause for concern.”

Gondek did say she sees some positives in the new bill, like the province now requiring criminal record checks for candidates, and that the minister of municipal affairs’ will be validating recall petitions.

She also says it’s good to see the province exempt non-profit housing providers from property taxes.

The proposed law would also allow political parties to run on municipal ballots in Edmonton and Calgary.

Two weeks ago, Premier Danielle Smith’s government introduced a bill that would give it the power to veto any deal between the federal government and provincial entities, including municipalities and post-secondary schools.

With files from Tiffany Goodwein

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