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Episode 3: Recall legislation under scrutiny

Welcome to the third episode of the St. Albert Signal, a weekly community podcast about the St. Albert area. Listen to the third episode below:

Welcome to the third episode of the St. Albert Signal, a weekly community podcast about the St. Albert area. Listen to the third episode below:

One of the key talking points during the United Conservatives provincial campaign back in 2019 was Premier Jason Kenney's promise to give voters the ability to recall their elected officials.

Flash forward to the present day, and we finally know what that legislation looks like. The UCP introduced Bill 52 last month that highlighted the requirements needed to remove MLAs, city councillors and school board trustees from their positions.

Citizens who are unhappy with elected officials will have 60 days to gather signatures from 40 per cent of eligible voters in the area. If that threshold is met, a referendum that covers the entire constituency is held to determine the future of the elected official. If the recall is successful, a by-election to determine their successor is announced.

To remove a municipal official, a resident would have to pay a $500 fee and apply to the chief administrative officer (CAO) for a petition. The resident would then have to get signatures from 40 per cent of the population within a period of 60 days. That would mean getting 26,432 people to sign to recall a St. Albert councillor or school trustee in two months. 

In theory, it sounds like a good way to empower Albertan voters, but the provincial NDP party has raised concerns about the legislation as it stands.

Marie Renaud, St. Albert’s NDP MLA, said the requirements to force recall elections are far too difficult to attain for the average citizen.

“Looking at voter turnout over the last several general elections, you can see that our voter turnout isn’t much higher than 40 per cent,” she said. “It would take a really unique situation to have that many voters motivated enough to get that done.”

That isn’t to say that Renaud isn’t in favour of similar legislation. She said any legislation that gives voters the ability to hold their elected officials accountable is a good thing. However, Renaud said she is worried this bill could be ripe for abuse from special interest groups.

“There is always the fear that there will be a special interest group that would undertake a campaign like this and would have the resources and money to pull something like this off.”

Bill 52 has passed through its first reading and will continue through the legislative process before it becomes law. Renaud said she hopes that amendments can be made to accomplish more transparency and accountability.

“We always propose lots of amendments but very rarely does the UCP vote in support of those amendments,” she said. “Hopefully that debate will provide more information to Albertans who are paying attention.”

The St. Albert Signal reached out to UCP MLA Dale Nally for comment but he declined an interview.

To get a sense of what St. Albertans think of the legislation, we asked a few people walking downtown about whether they'd support it. 

"No, I think that would be going down a dangerous path," said resident Nancy Sheehan. "I mean, we have an election every four years. I'm sorry. People have to wait."

Trina Hutchison, who lives in Edmonton, said she wants to see recall legislation in place, but has doubts about the high threshold.

"I think that's almost impossible ... I don't think you'd ever be able to get 40 per cent because I don't think we actually get a full 40 per cent of people who come out to vote," she said. "It should be 40 per cent of people who voted (in the last election), because that's a realistic number to achieve."

Resident Owen Bundred also said he questioned how realistic it would be to recall elected officials under the proposed legislation. 

"I'm all for holding politicians accountable, I think a lot of politicians only get interested in what you think when it comes to election time," he said. "However, practically speaking, I think a bill like this would be very difficult to get support."

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