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ABmunis resists premier’s push for municipal party politics

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Cal Braid
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis) is standing firm in its resistance to the injection of political parties into municipal elections. There’s only one problem: Premier Danielle Smith is the one pushing for it. 

Tyler Gandam, mayor of Wetaskiwin and president for ABmunis, told the media during an April 9 press conference that the provincial government intends to introduce party politics at the local level sometime soon. 

“Perhaps as early as this spring,” he said. In mid-March, Smith and Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver addressed more than 350 municipal leaders from across Alberta at a spring municipal leaders caucus, confirming their plan to make the change.

“The provincial government’s rationale is that since informal party politics is already taking place in some communities, the formal addition of political parties would make it easier for Albertans to choose their candidate(s) on a ballot in municipal elections from 2025 onwards,” Gandam reported. He said that Smith and McIver suggested that the move would improve transparency and lead to better governance. He disagrees.

“Alberta Municipalities isn’t buying in,” he said point blank, restating what he has already established in recent ABmunis updates. “For the last year or so, our association has been telling anyone who would listen that introduction of political parties in local elections is unnecessary and, without putting too fine a point on it, a bad idea.” He referenced surveys showing that over 70 per cent of respondents do not support the change.

“And yet the provincial government keeps plowing ahead with its plans for reasons that don’t benefit municipal governments or improve local democracy,” he said, adding, “Premier Smith told our members that she was open to hearing our ideas to address the government’s concerns.”

“Most issues faced by mayors, reeves, and councillors are practical challenges that are clearly non-partisan,” he said, listing activities like snow clearing, wastewater treatment, providing safe drinking water, public transit, recreation, and doing road repair. “None of these is a partisan issue.”

“The current non-partisan system creates an environment in which councillors are encouraged to listen to one another, consider alternative views, weigh the pros and cons, seek additional information, and debate issues before voting on them. It encourages collaboration, compromise, and willingness to find consensus on even the most difficult issues.”

“A party-based system, by comparison, is likely to encourage councillors to stick to the positions of the political parties they represent instead of listening to residents and considering the welfare of their municipalities as a whole,” he continued. “We believe that a party-based system will lead to a more adversarial and combative environment. It seems likely that divisions on municipal councils along party lines will inflame existing divisions among groups within the communities and even between neighbouring municipalities.” He believes that Albertans want to elect people rather than parties at the local level.

He offered some solutions for improving transparency instead. Those suggestions were:

-Donation amounts be limited to $2,500 per candidate. Survey results signalled that Albertans want municipal elections to be less driven by money, thereby creating a level playing field where grassroots movements can compete.

-Financial disclosure rules be improved. Voters should know who is donating money to candidates or supporting them through advertising.

-Changes be made to the nomination form so candidates must confirm they know the role of councillors as set out in the Municipal Government Act.

-Education resources should be made available to prospective candidates. Councillors should never ignore or be unaware of their legislative duties to the detriment of the community.

Gandam said the recommendations had been sent to both the premier and the minister in recent weeks. He said that he hopes Albertans will be heard on the issue and he quashed the suggestion that there might be a disconnect between his office and the province. “Minister McIver has actually been the most open minister from the provincial government. I was in his office probably two weeks ago. He reached out following the provincial budget once that was released, wanting to know our concerns on that. Myself and Minister McIver have a very good relationship and I can reach out to him anytime we need.”

ABmunis suggests the following actions for those who would like a say in the matter. Members of Alberta Municipalities can:

-Contact your local MLA and address your concerns

-Create awareness about the topic with your residents by discussing with your local news media or via social media posts

-Pass a motion in council to draw attention to your official position on the proposed legislation

Concerned residents can:

-Contact your local MLA and raise your concerns

-Share your thoughts respectfully on your favourite social media platform

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