Breakenridge: Bill 20 does not need amendments; need to retire

The sweeping changes initially proposed under Bill 20 implied an urgent need to fix a broken system. Now it’s not even clear what problem this bill is intended to solve.

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It is not often that we see governments admit mistakes and change course, and we should certainly welcome this happening. However, that should not shield the government from criticism for the original mistake, especially if its new flexibility is more strategic than sincere.

In the case of Alberta’s new Bill 20 (which, interestingly, was not the government’s only rollback last week), the sudden willingness to compromise and make peace only raises more questions about why this legislation exists. first of all.

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The bill, as initially introduced, would amend both the Municipal Government Act and the Local Authority Election Act. The most notable among the many changes would be an expansion of the province’s power to remove elected municipal officials and rescind local bylaws.

Those changes definitely caught the attention of municipal governments across the province. While the Alberta government might bask in the disapproval of its political enemies in the two largest cities, there was clearly greater sensitivity to the broader backlash.

Thus, last week, the Minister of Municipal Affairs issued a statement (in the absence of further public comment or explanation) announcing that House Bill 20 would be amended to recognize that “this authority (to remove elected officials) should only be used as a last resort” and only “in very limited circumstances.”

As for the power to override bylaws, that would also only be used in “very limited circumstances” that would be “related to areas that are primarily overseen by the province.”

There was no accompanying clarification on the parameters of these “limited circumstances,” which certainly leaves the term open to interpretation. Frankly, it can mean whatever the province wants it to mean.

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The sweeping changes initially proposed under Bill 20 implied an urgent need to fix a broken system. Now it’s not even clear what problem this bill is intended to solve.

While these “amendments” are obviously an attempt to save the bill, they also return us to the status quo regarding the province’s existing powers. If dramatic expansion of power is off the table, why bother with the bill?

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The power to remove elected municipal officials already exists, as we saw recently with the decision to recall Chestermere’s mayor and three city council members. It was quite a process, as such a monumental decision should be.

Additionally, the province has the authority to overrule municipalities or deny their efforts to legislate in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The premier’s two oft-cited examples – Edmonton’s masking bylaw and Calgary’s reluctance to adjust electricity rates – only serve to undermine the case for the legislation.

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Regarding the masking statute, legislation was advanced to make clear that provincial approval would be required for any such mandate. When the province decided action was needed to reduce Calgary’s local access fee, legislation was introduced so that it is so. No doubt the province would prefer to avoid the hassle of introducing and passing a bill. But when it comes to exercising that authority, it shouldn’t be that easy.

Bill 20 may still have political value for the government. It still serves to promote the cause of municipal political parties, something the UCP has set its sights on. The door opens again union and corporate donations, for any purpose. Curiously, it also seeks to ban electronic vote tabulators, a measure that will come at considerable cost but may serve to placate the most conspiratorial among the UCP base.

The province still insists that this bill aims to make local elections more transparent and elected officials more accountable. It is difficult to see how it achieves either goal, and the credibility of such claims of pure motive is rapidly eroding.

If the government has truly and belatedly realized a mistake on this point, then the correct course of action is to withdraw the bill altogether.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs Monday to Friday from 12:30 to 3 pm on QR Calgary (770 am/107.3 fm)

[email protected]

X: @RobBreakenridge

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