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Tweaks still possible to controversial legislation affecting Alberta municipalities, minister says

“We are committed to working with municipalities across the province,” said Alberta's Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about Bill 20.
Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver speaks during a lunch event hosted by the Highwood Progressive Conservative Constituency Association on March 22 in Okotoks.
Ric McIver

The door remains open for Aberta municipalities to influence the province as it implements controversial legislation affecting local governance and elections, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said.

Further consultation will help shape the content of regulations stemming from the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, 2024 or even result in “perhaps one or more small changes,” McIver said in an interview following Bill 20’s passage.

 “We are committed to working with municipalities across the province,” he said.

But provisions surrounding the repeal and amendment of bylaws and the dismissal of councillors aren’t as intrusive as the Opposition and municipal associations portray them, the member for Calgary-Hays said.

Bill 20, which became law when it was given royal assent on May 30, allows the province to order elector votes on the removal of councillors. Cabinet must first determine that a councillor is unable, unwilling or refusing to perform elected duties.

 Cabinet can also look at unethical or illegal behaviour by a councillor, then require a vote on removal if it decides one serves the public interest.

The province can make municipalities revoke or revise bylaws that cabinet determines clash with provincial policy, contravene the Constitution, or exceed the scope or authority of the Municipal Government Act or any other provincial statute.

McIver said the provisions are not power grabs. The Constitution gives provinces authority over municipal governments, he said.

 “I just completely don't understand why municipalities are concerned about some perceived power grab when there's actually no more power to get than the Constitution gives every province across Canada,” he said.

 Regardless, removing councillors and repealing bylaws are not actions the province wants to take, he said.

 “I try to explain to [municipalities] until I'm blue in the face. The fact is, we don't really like dismissing councillors. It's hard on us. And we only do it when we feel we have to. We don't like overturning municipal bylaws,” said McIver.

 “So I guess the day after the legislation has passed now is exactly the same for municipalities as the day before the legislation has passed,” he said. “The only thing that's really changed is that if something extreme happens where the province is required to step in and make a change, there's a shorter path to get there.”

He said bad actors are the exception in municipal government. “The vast majority of municipalities and municipal elected people do an amazing job. I don't know what we would do without them,” said McIver.

 Most mayors, reeves and councillors know of instances when elected officials didn’t act ethically or properly, McIver said. “This is a shorter path to deal with the very few that behave poorly.”

In an email exchange, communications staff with the Rural Municipalities of Alberta said that the group’s position has not changed since it issued a May 24 news release.

RMA said then that late amendments to Bill 20 failed to address concerns about the removal of councillors and the altering or revoking of bylaws.

The release quoted Paul McLauchlin, the association’s president, saying: “After waiting nearly a month for amendments to be introduced, I am frustrated and disappointed that Bill 20 continues to allow for the same Cabinet intrusion into local government.

“Our expectation was that Bill 20 would be amended to remove any new provincial powers to remove councillors or amend bylaws. Instead, the powers remain virtually unchanged. If these powers were going to remain in the bill regardless, what was the point of going through the motions of making meaningless amendments?”

The association that represents other, less rural municipalities also has problems with the legislation. Alberta Municipalities said in a news release that regulation development is critical for its members.

“Our efforts to shape regulations will profoundly affect how this imperfect and hastily designed legislation shows up in communities of all sizes and locations across Alberta for years to come,” says the ABmunis release.

The Opposition also remains unimpressed. Kyle Kasawski, municipal affairs critic, said the new act invades local turfs and shifts power beyond public view.

Municipal councils have “the closest connection to voters and residents of Alberta,” but some decisions affecting them will be made behind closed doors. Effective processes are already in place to act in extreme situations, said Kasawski, the NDP member for Sherwood Park.

 “It doesn't make any sense to me,” he said.

Tweaks that happen now are at the wrong end of the process, Kasawski said. Classifying the bill as omnibus, far-reaching legislation, he said the Opposition was given too little time to absorb and debate it properly.

And the bill doesn’t stem from the UCP’s election campaign or the mandate the party earned.

“They're saying it would be great to get some help in refining some of the finer bits of the legislation. I just think that's such a disingenuous and cynical way to govern,” Kasawski said.

“The approach of government should be transparent and open, and you should be able to discuss ideas with voters before you bring things into the legislature.”

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