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'So damn undemocratic': Edmonton mayor reacts to legislation granting province power to fire councillors or veto local bylaws


A bill that would empower the Alberta government to remove elected municipal officials or strike down local bylaws is an "attack on local democracy," says the capital city's mayor.

Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, was announced Thursday and makes dozens of amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

 "I don't know who has asked for this," Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told CTV News Edmonton Friday. "I don't know what problem the province is trying to solve when there are so many other priorities that they should be focused on."

Ric McIver, minister of municipalities, claims the bill will increase accountability and transparency in local elections.

However, Sohi and other critics called into question the transparency of giving cabinet ministers power to fire elected council members behind closed doors.

"When the province writes laws, it puts it through the legislative system where it can be debated," said Eric Adams, a constitutional law expert at the University of Alberta.

"When a law hands that power to the cabinet, then that legislative scrutiny falls completely away and now it's the cabinet themselves," he continued. "Realistically, the premier and the premier's office exercises the most of that power."

Current legislation allows the province to remove a sitting municipal official under certain circumstances.

McIver said it has never been used and did not offer specifics where the broader powers would be needed, but he did promise they would only be used in "the public interest" only as a "last resort."

When asked about limitations or guidelines to protect against abuse, McIver said," I believe the public will hold us to account in the greatest way possible, the next general provincial election."

'An authoritarian approach'

Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said Bill 20 and Bill 18, which forces municipalities to get provincial approval to engage directly with the federal government, suggest the United Conservative government is seeking more power to enforce its preferences.

"There's a real sort of consolidation of power within the provincial government and a desire to impose a set of values on various institutions in the province," Young said. "It's not consistent with the notions of freedom that we've heard."

Sohi also believes the bill goes against the principles espoused by the premier and her cabinet.

"I'm actually surprised that a government … that takes pride in people staying in their lane, is coming in with such an authoritarian approach to regulating local governments, and basically saying that if we feel that you're not toeing the line, we can actually fire you," Sohi said. "That is so damn undemocratic."

Adams said the new powers create an "extraordinary scenario," but not one that can be challenged constitutionally.

"We might wonder whether or not that's a good idea in terms of giving the province really an open-ended power to exercise that control, but do they have that control? The Constitution says that they do."

The Alberta NDP have also criticized the proposed amendments, saying they are "dangerous" and "overreaching." None of Edmonton's twelve city councillors responded in support of the bill when asked about it Friday. 

McIver repeated Friday that Bill 20 intends to make local elections more transparents and hold local officials more accountable.

"Municipalities will continue to govern affairs within their jurisdiction and the legislation strikes a balance to give Cabinet the ability to step in when municipal bylaw actions crosses into provincial jurisdiction.

"We remain committed to fairness and due process and will continue working with local authorities to ensure Albertans have the effective local representation they deserve."

For more information on Bill 20, visit the Government of Alberta website. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski Top Stories

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