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Municipal political party forms in Edmonton as politicians continue Bill 20 debate

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As municipal politicians in Alberta continue to question the need for a bill giving the province more powers over local governments, an Edmonton group has established a party it says will run candidates in next year's city elections.

And not only does TapYeg seek to elect seven people to city council "to form the next government in Edmonton," says president Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, its members believe the city can run more efficiently and see an opportunity for big savings.

"We crunched the numbers in our platform," he told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday.

"Essentially, what we're saying is we think the city can run more efficiently, deliver on redefined core services better with $400 million less revenue.

"So, $400 million is what we are saying we can cut quite quickly."

TapYeg promises to cut taxes within 100 days of being elected, maintain peace and order, and reboot relations with the province under a centrist vision.

"We've got a big tent in the middle for people that are idea-driven and action-orientated, Hansen-Carlson said.

The TapYeg effort — with Tap standing for Transparent and Active Partnerships, Yeg the long-time airport code for Edmonton that's become somewhat synonymous for local concepts/subjects — is not the first time Hansen-Carlson has stepped into the municipal spotlight.

He was the founder of The Edmonton Project, which in 2017 solicited ideas from residents for a privately funded competition that resulted in a gondola system being pitched to the city.

The project that morphed into Prairie Sky Gondolas, which sought to string a 2.5-kilometre operation from downtown to Old Strathcona and brought international attention to the effort, was effectively halted by city council in 2022.

Hansen-Carlson said the creation of TapYeg came from what he saw as "a void in the discourse" around municipal politics.

"There are 13 political parties in this city right now, and I think there's a lot of effectiveness to be had if we can consolidate that to be more clear about our expectations over time, get focused, and approach it with more of a coherent, underlying strategy," he said.

Competitive disadvantages feared

TapYeg's foray into local politics comes in the wake of the Alberta government introduction of Bill 20, which allows political parties to run in municipal elections in both Edmonton and Calgary.

Coun. Andrew Knack, who represents Ward Nakota Isga on Edmonton city council, says one of his concerns about parties entering the local election fray is the prospect of competitive disadvantages for those who run independently.

"Under the old rules, you could run as a slate, but you weren't allowed to share financial resources, you weren't allowed to share volunteer lists amongst each other, you weren't allowed to share any of that type of information because, as you can imagine, that puts somebody who wants to be run independently at a disadvantage because now you're combining those resources," Knack told CTV News Edmonton on Tuesday.

"I have no problem with political parties running — all the power to them — what we have concerns about is are they going to be given a competitive advantage over somebody who runs as an independent, which from what we can gather for this legislation, they will be given a competitive advantage, which will mean our local elections are less fair and democratic."

Paul McLauchlin, the president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta and reeve of Ponoka County, told CTV News Edmonton the province's push to allow political parties to run in local elections "is not a problem that anybody's asking to be solved" and that introducing a party system to the municipal level is something that could have an adverse effect.

"One of the other things that's horrible in our party system is the whip system, where I've had MLAs constantly vote against the will of their communities, whether at a federal or provincial level, because they had to tow the party line," McLauchlin said.

"It's not a way to govern, to address those needs in local communities as well. I see nothing but a degrading of democracy come out of this. I want the best people to represent the communities, and I think in many cases, that's what you get through the local nonpartisan process across Canada and Alberta, as well."

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said Tuesday local leaders "will have a voice" in helping the province develop legislation, "which is where most of the authority will rest at the end of the day."

Parties 'part of democracy'

Consultations on regulations are slated to begin this summer with the legislation taking effect in January.

Hansen-Carlson said he doesn't agree that Bill 20 takes away from municipal power.

"I think parties are a part of democracy. You can't just say they're wrong on some undefined level. They exist. They function, They contribute," he said, adding while he's "not interested" in partisan politics, he believes people want to "be part of something."

"There's a reason voter turnout in local elections here in Edmonton is horrendous because nobody feels like they're a part of it," he said. "TapYeg is a vehicle for people to feel like they're a part of something, get involved, and show up and vote."

Knack defends the current nonpartisan system, saying the "beauty" of it is councillors "don't all vote the same way."

"This council isn't a monolith," he said, describing debate between councillors today at city hall about a discussion from last year.

"It was funny, when I pulled the voting record, it was a 7-6 vote," Knack said.

"Some people make their assumptions about where every member of council sits on the (political) spectrum, but that 7-6 vote back in February was very different than anyone would expect.

"If you looked at all the names, people might have assumed how are those six people voting the same way because every issue municipally is not right or left. What is the right-wing way to do snow removal? What is the left-wing way to do snow removal? Well, there isn't. The issues you deal with locally are not ideological."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski and Brandon Lynch 

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