“There’s going to be a risk of an outbreak of way too many recall petitions”

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The Alberta government says it is reviewing the province’s recall legislation after complaints from municipal leaders that it is being used in a way that was not intended.

Speaking to a gathering of local leaders put on by Alberta Municipalities, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said the concept of recall was still generally supported but that the current legislation needed changed.

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“Most people are OK with it as long as we do it right,” he said. “We’re already reviewing it.”

“It’s relatively new legislation and there’s some shortfalls there that we are going to have some discussions on to see if we can improve on those.”

Under the current law, a petitioner has 60 days to gather signatures from 40 per cent of eligible voters in that constituency.

That threshold is often either too high or too low, McIver said, depending on the size of the municipality.

“Forty per cent of a municipality with 1,500 people is a lot different than 40 per cent of a municipality with 1.6 million people. So we need to be sensitive to that issue, too,” he said. “There’s going to be a risk of an outbreak of way too many recall petitions.”

Ric McIver
Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver speaks to the Alberta Municipalities 2024 Spring Municipal Leaders’ Caucus, in Edmonton Thursday March 14, 2024. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

He also acknowledged that the current setup often puts a municipality’s chief administrative officer (CAO) — a civil servant tasked with administering the recall petition — in the untenable position of potentially writing up one, or several, of their bosses.

“That’s stress they don’t deserve. They don’t need. They didn’t ask for,” McIver said of CAOs, adding the government was considering having either his ministry, an independent body, or a provincial commissioner oversee recall petitions.

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‘Every four years you’re held accountable’

Alberta Municipalities president, and mayor of Wetaskiwin, Tyler Gandam said more oversight is needed for recall petitions.

“It’s been weaponized by members of the community who don’t agree with maybe a decision made by a member of council or even council as a whole,” he said.

“I’m hoping that we can change that so that if somebody does have a concern … at least that there’s some oversight with that.”

Gandam said he is aware of four ongoing recall petitions, including one targeting him, with petitioners accusing him of not listening to his constituents.

“It’s a distraction and a waste of time,” he said of the recall campaign, adding he believes there should be no do-overs for elections and that councillors and mayors already are held responsible.

“Every four years you’re held accountable,” he said.

Evelynne Kobes, a city councillor with the Town of Smoky Lake, asked McIver Friday about updating the legislation and described the recall process as “costly, disruptive, and damaging.”

“This seems to be being used right now his way of saying, ‘We don’t agree with your most recent decision,’ ” she said.

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Kobes, who is not subject to a recall petition, says there’s also a big difference between the attempt to recall Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and parallel attempts in smaller towns or villages.

“It’s very personal because you know everybody,” she said. “That’s what adds the extra toxicity and stress to it … it personally affects you. People do know where you live.”

Danielle Smith at a podium
Premier Danielle Smith speaks to the Alberta Municipalities 2024 Spring Municipal Leaders’ Caucus, in Edmonton Friday March 15, 2024. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Smith on local political parties

At the same gathering Friday, Premier Danielle Smith spoke about her government’s plans to allow political parties to be listed alongside candidate names on municipal election ballots.

The government’s own survey engagement survey showed the idea was overwhelmingly unpopular with Alberta Municipalities also speaking out against the plan.

Smith defended her government’s plan, but hinted the addition may not be applied to all municipalities.

“(It) may not apply to everyone. It may just be a pilot project. It may just be targeted to the larger cities,” she said.

“Our perspective, having watched this, is that we are seeing that these slates, whether formalized or informalized, are forming.”

Gandam said municipalities have not yet been told when that legislation would come, and reiterated his opposition to the idea.

“Political parties at a local level isn’t in the best interest of that community,” he said.

“I don’t believe it changes how the individuals govern and make those decisions to make their communities better.”

mblack@postmedia.com

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