Alberta modifies controversial Bill 20 after municipal backlash

Alberta modifies controversial Bill 20 after municipal backlash

“Ultimately, the decision falls to the voters of the municipality, which is a good place to be.”

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The Alberta government has introduced amendments to its controversial Bill 20 in a move it hopes will ease concerns about cabinet influence over elected municipal officials and bylaws.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver on Thursday introduced two amendments in the legislature to the Municipal Affairs Charter Amendment Act of 2024, which was introduced in the legislature on April 25.

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The first amendment repeals the power the bill would have given the cabinet to decide, behind closed doors, to remove councillors.

The amendment proposes allowing the cabinet to remove a municipal councilor by ordering a public vote to determine whether a councilor should be removed.

That process would be limited to councilors who the cabinet deems “unwilling, unable or unwilling” to do their jobs, or if such a vote is “in the public interest,” although it is unclear how any of those criteria would be determined. It also takes into account illegal or unethical behavior by a councillor.

“This is similar to the recall petition process that a resident can initiate,” McIver said. “Ultimately, the decision falls to the voters of the municipality, which is a good place to be.”

Currently, the minister can only remove a sitting councilor in very specific circumstances through the municipal inspection process.

The second amendment addresses Bill 20’s proposal to give cabinet parallel powers to repeal or amend statutes approved by councils.

It proposes to establish a series of requirements that must be met before the cabinet can intervene, including when the statute exceeds the scope of the Municipal Government Act (MGA), conflicts with the MGA or the Constitution.

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That criteria also includes any bylaws that cabinet deems “contrary to provincial policy,” although again it’s unclear by what standards that would be determined.

Currently, the cabinet can only intervene in relation to a land use ordinance or statutory plan.

“These amendments maintain the intent of these sections while responding to what we have been told by our municipal stakeholders,” McIver said.

He previously said he believes the changes will be enough to calm some of the concerns about the bill.

“The amendments are largely the result of conversations with municipal leaders,” he told reporters inside the legislature on Wednesday. “We’ll see what they say after it’s on the table.”

McIver added that the government still plans to pass the bill at the end of the current session, scheduled for next Thursday, May 30.

“You can never take for granted what the legislature will do,” he said. “So all I can say is we plan and hope to get it passed this session.”

‘It didn’t move the needle’: ABmunis

McIver said he received a letter from ABmunis, which represents 265 municipalities across the province, on Tuesday requesting a meeting next week and spoke by phone with the organization’s president, Tyler Gandam, on Wednesday.

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“I had an oar in the water,” he said of Gandam’s role in the amendments.

Through a press release, ABmunis presented a different version of events surrounding that phone call, saying it lasted less than two minutes and Gandam described it as “brief and disappointing.”

“I told Minister McIver it was a shame we couldn’t sit down and discuss our concerns,” he said.

ABmunis previously said he was not consulted about the bill and later called for it to be scrapped entirely.

The bill also imposed political parties in civic elections in Calgary and Edmonton, although McIver could not point to any specific sources of support for the idea, as the government’s own poll showed that more than 70 per cent of Respondents were against allowing candidates to list party affiliations. on the electoral ballots.

Other changes in the bill include reintroducing union and corporate donations to local election campaigns and banning the use of vote tabulators, a move that municipalities warned could add millions of dollars to election costs.

On Thursday, ABmunis issued a statement saying the amendments “did not move the needle” on its concerns about the bill.

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“Alberta municipalities are disappointed to see the provincial government not listening to Albertans,” he says, citing continued concerns about cabinet powers over municipalities.

“We are disappointed with the provincial government’s level of consultation with Albertans, with municipalities and with municipal associations.”

Along with ABmunis, Alberta’s rural municipalities, representing 69 counties and municipal districts, also spoke out against the new legislation.

Opposition municipal affairs critic Kyle Kasaowski accused the government of ignoring public comments on a bill he characterized as “authoritarian.”

“Danielle Smith wants to control everything, everywhere, at the same time, and she knows this legislation is not being welcomed by Albertans,” he said in a written statement.

“The amendments proposed today…do not address the many concerns of Albertans.”

Time allocation

As with Bills 18 and 21, the government on Tuesday invoked a time allowance for Bill 20 that limited debate during second reading to one hour.

On Thursday, Government House leader Joseph Schow defended limiting debate and called the opposition “obstructionist.”

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“If the opposition is not interested in presenting new ideas, then we will advance the allocation of time to be able to approve the legislative agenda.”

He added that the government will introduce night sessions for the last four days of sessions scheduled for next week.

House Leader Christina Gray said the government’s limiting debate shows it has the right to do so, calling it “frustrating and shameful.”

“Not having enough time at home is taking a toll on Albertans. “It doesn’t allow them to see the bill, see the amendments, and it really does a disservice to all of Alberta.”

He said the government was on track to use the time allocation more than 50 times, compared to four used by the Alberta NDP when it was in power.

“Time allocation should be used sparingly and should be used after a significant amount of debate has already occurred,” Gray said.

“They feel so entitled to impose an agenda that they didn’t even execute.”

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