Alberta Municipalities President and Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam held a virtual news conference on Monday, April 29, to present the association’s opinion on the provincial government’s Bill 20.Qiam Noori, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Alberta Municipalities President and Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam held a virtual news conference on Monday, April 29, to present the association’s opinion on the provincial government’s Bill 20.

Gandam said that the bill is an attempt by the provincial government to gain more power and control over how people choose to live in their communities.

“If passed, the proposed legislation will fundamentally redraw the blueprint of our local democracy and alter how people’s local needs are met and who represents them,” Gandam said at the press conference.

The bill reduces the autonomy and authority of a recognized government order, the local government, Gandam said in a press release.

He said it also undermines the power of the local voter.

Gandam also claims that the bill will intimidate and silence legally elected officials who dare to criticize the provincial government.

“If passed, Bill 20 will allow corporations and unions to fund candidates of their choice. The bill does almost nothing to improve transparency regarding financial donations to individual candidates and the money being raised and spent by third-party advertisers,” Gandam said.

According to Gandam, if the bill passes in its current form, local government elections will end up being about what influential corporations and unions want, not about what voters want.

“Essentially, Bill 20 puts local governments up for sale to the highest bidder. We know this doesn’t sit well with Albertans, who have repeatedly said that “big money” has no place in local politics,” as per the release.

Bill 20 would allow the provincial government to remove councilors and repeal bylaws it doesn’t like based on backroom cabinet decisions made without public scrutiny or accountability, ABmunis said.

“The fact that cabinet decisions are confidential means that the public can never truly know why these decisions were made. Our association is speaking out about this because some of our members fear repercussions if they disagree openly with the provincial government,” per the release.

Gandam asked Who stands to benefit from Bill 20? We ask because local governments and most Albertans have not been calling for these changes.

“Time and again, Albertans have said they do not want political parties at the local level. Who is the government listening to if it isn’t Albertans? We call on the provincial government to answer these questions and explain its rationale for introducing Bill 20.”

The release further stated that the association has reviewed Bill 20, and it doesn’t see how it will make local elections any more transparent, free, or fair.

Local government decisions are made in public. By contrast, Bill 20 would allow decisions to dismiss councilors and repeal bylaws to be made by provincial cabinet ministers in secret.

The proposed law, introduced last week by Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party government, would give the cabinet broad authority to dismiss councilors and overturn local bylaws.

Cabinet conversations are confidential and conventionally exempt from public disclosure. That means under the law, the public may not be privy to why a councilor is dismissed.

Smith said on April 29, the aim of the proposed legislation is to ensure municipalities are not enacting policies that are out of step with provincial priorities or creep into provincial jurisdiction.

If passed, the law would also open the door to corporations and unions being able to donate in municipal elections, which was banned by the previous New Democrat government under former premier Rachel Notley.

Smith said the aim is balance, and existing rules on third-party advertisers have so far failed to bring proper oversight or discourage “big money” in local elections.

-With files from The Canadian Press

By Qiam Noori, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 30, 2024 at 14:57