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Alberta municipal leaders criticize vagueness of Bill 20 amendments

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Alberta's premier says changes to a controversial bill are expected to be widely accepted by the province's municipalities.

Leaders of them, however, are saying the opposite of Bill 20, arguing the legislation introduced a month ago in the legislature continues to threaten democracy.

When asked this week about Bill 20 amendments, Premier Danielle Smith said her government "heard loud and clear from municipalities they would like more clarity" and is changing legislation.

"We have early indication that the approach we are taking is one that will be widely accepted by municipalities," Smith said Thursday in the legislature.

The bill is expected to pass next week.

Cabinet can now remove councillors by ordering a vote if they are unwilling, unable or refusing to do their job or if cabinet considers it to be in the public interest.

Bylaws can also be repealed by cabinet if they exceed the scope of council, conflict with the Municipal Government Act, provincial policy or are unconstitutional.

Leaders of municipal groups across Alberta call the criteria vague, arguing it gives cabinet too much authority over local government, a concern echoed by Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who says the changes "do not address the real concerns municipalities across the province have been sharing" as he continues to call for the bill to be scrapped.

"(It's) the same disappointment I had from the get-go. We're not sure what the spirit and intent (are) of two key pieces of Bill 20," Paul McLauchlin, the president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, told CTV News Edmonton on Thursday.

Tyler Gandam, the president of Alberta Municipalities, said if the government "want(s) to start taking away the ability of the local voter to represent them, then they can just start appointing members of council."

Political scientist Jared Wesley says anger, specifically from rural Alberta, could cost the ruling UCP government.

Politicians in Alberta who go against the public don't last very long," said Wesley, a political science professor at the University of Alberta.

"I think this premier's office may have forgotten that."

Wesley is also concerned the bill's ban of vouching for people without identification will prevent up to 50,000 Albertans from voting in the next election. He says this allows the UCP to silence certain voters.

"It ends up being the government choosing its voters instead of voters choosing its government," he said.

"Most Albertans, I think, would have a problem with that if they knew it was in the bill." 

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