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Municipal leaders say Bill 20 set to make local politics 'unrecognizable' despite changes tabled Thursday

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After weeks of criticism and condemnation from Alberta's municipal leaders, the province has made some changes to its controversial bill granting cabinet more power over local politics.

Bill 20, introduced in April, would add political parties onto municipal ballots and give the province more power to axe municipal bylaws or councillors.

The bill received substantial pushback from municipalities of all sizes.

The president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) called it the worst thing to happen to municipalities in nearly two decades, while the Alberta Municipalities president said the bill "puts local governments up for sale to the highest bidder."

On Thursday, the province tabled an amendment to the bill.

The new legislation would require the province to order a vote for a councillor to be recalled, similar to the current recall process for residents.

The number of votes needed for the province to recall a municipal official has not been set, and no firm date has been given on when those regulations will be complete.

Edmonton Coun. Andrew Knack said the change falls short of the safeguards needed to protect local councils from potential abuses of power.

"Based off the way the amendment is written, cabinet can still come to that (recall) conclusion behind closed doors, and there's no guardrails that help hold folks accountable," Knack said.

Thursday's amendment also clarifies when cabinet can remove a bylaw, limiting the power to when the bylaw exceeds municipal authority, is unconstitutional or conflicts with the Municipal Governance Act or provincial policies.

Paul McLauchlin, RMA president and reeve of Ponoka County, said the bill's powers are still too broad.

"This is a large axe hanging over all of our heads," he added. "We feel that Bill 20 is going to change municipal politics in the cities.

"It will probably be unrecognizable in the future, and we're very concerned about that."

McIver said he listened to feedback from municipal partners and recognized their concerns, but local politicians from across Alberta have accused the province of failing to adequately consult on the drafting of the bill.

Alberta Municipalities reiterated its disappointment with the bill Thursday, saying the amendment "did not move the needle" on the issues and lacked the consultation being touted by McIver.

"None of the many solutions we shared with the provincial government over the past few months are reflected in these amendments," Alberta Municipalities said in a press release.

The organization also accused the Alberta government of "ploughing ahead" with the bill without addressing other key issues like added political parties at the local level, which several surveys have shown to be unpopular with most Albertans.

Edmonton city council unanimously passed a motion calling for the bill to be scrapped until further consultation was complete.

"Everyone wants more fair and transparent elections," Knack said Thursday. "So let's just take a step back, let's take a summer break.

"Let's actually go and host meetings with Albertans and figure out how to make this better."

The bill is expected to pass third reading before the spring sitting of the legislature ends on May 30.

CTV News Edmonton has reached out to McIver's office and is awaiting a response.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski 

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