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Group reiterates its opposition to Alberta plan allowing political parties in municipal elections

The head of an advocacy group representing hundreds of Alberta cities, towns and villages said Tuesday party politics have no place in municipal elections, a day before the provincial government is expected to introduce legislation allowing them at the local level.

Tyler Gandam, president of Alberta Municipalities, said a party-based municipal system would “contribute to a more adversarial and combative environment” and that divisions along party lines would “inflame existing divisions among groups within the communities and even between neighbouring municipalities.”

He pointed out a September 2023 survey his group conducted that found 70 per cent of Albertans were opposed to allowing political parties in municipal elections.

“I don’t think there’s an advantage to having political parties at the local level for any size municipality,” he told reporters.

“I think the ability to come with an open mind and not being attached to a political party while you’re making decisions for your community is in the best interest of that council as well as the municipality and the residents that they represent.”

In mid-March at an Alberta Municipalities’ caucus meeting, Premier Danielle Smith reiterated her government’s support for legislation allowing political parties at the local level, a structure that’s already in place in British Columbia and Quebec.

“(Candidates) are coming along on an ideological platform when they’re elected, and they’re working together on policies that they’re putting forward,” Smith said.

“That is a de facto political party.”

Gandam said his group would rather see the province take action to improve transparency and governance at the local level by limiting donation amounts for candidates to $2,500, improving candidate financial disclosure rules, changing nomination forms so candidates understand councillor roles, and offering educational opportunities and resources to prospective candidates.

“Legislation alone cannot fix divisiveness and dysfunction on municipal councils,” Gandam said during an online media conference.

“That’s why we are committed to working with Alberta Municipal Affairs and other associations to provide education and resources that support productive councils. We want to avoid situations in which councillors disregard their legislative duties to the detriment of their community.”

Gandam said he’s been in regular contact with Ric McIver, the provincial minister of municipal affairs with whom he says he has “a very good relationship,” regarding the proposed legislation but that the consultation process between municipalities and the province “could use some improvement.”

“I don’t know that we’re getting our message across or even a part of the consultation while they’re developing this new legislation,” he said. “I think that we can improve that moving forward.” 

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