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Keep councils ‘free of political vitriol,’ municipalities tell province

The provincial government has ramped up talk about introducing political parties into municipal and school board elections in recent months, but the majority of Albertans want to "keep their communities as the last area free of political vitriol," Alberta Municipalities president Tyler Gandam said during a press event on Feb. 22.
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Alberta Municipalities President Tyler Gandam and Director of Towns West Krista Gardner spoke at a press conference opposing political parties in local politics.

The provincial government has ramped up talk about introducing political parties into municipal and school board elections in recent months, but the majority of Albertans want to "keep their communities as the last area free of political vitriol," Alberta Municipalities President Tyler Gandam said during a press event on Feb. 22.

"The Government of Alberta has been rubbing many Albertans the wrong way with its efforts to promote political parties in local municipal government and school board elections," Gandam said.

"Alberta municipalities members are deeply troubled by the idea that local elected officials might put the interests of their political parties ahead of those of the group that matters most – their constituents."

Gandam said rumblings about bringing party politics to local government culminated in two surveys conducted by the Government of Alberta on the changes to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act. Results of these surveys were not shared by the government, but were released as part of a freedom of information request filed by Postmedia.

The results of the survey question on political parties in local politics show that 70 per cent of respondents are opposed to the idea.

The results of the governments survey are consistent with one conducted by pollster Janet Brown for Alberta municipalities September of 2023 which found 68 per cent of Albertans "are opposed to the introduction of partisan politics at the local level." Gandam said.

Gandam said ABmunis message to the provincial government and special interest groups pushing for an expansion of political parties to the local level is unwavering and clear: "Listen to regular Albertans who have repeatedly said they simply aren't interested."

The provincial government has said allowing political parties in municipal elections could improve voter turnout, and make fundraising opportunities easier. In cities like Vancouver and Montreal, which already have party politics, election turnouts are comparable to those in Alberta, Gandam said.

"No one has clearly explained what real precede problems the introduction of political parties to municipal elections would fix. While political parties serve a purpose at the national and provincial level, due to differences in scale, they are unnecessary at the community level." The current norm of collaborative, non-partisan councils is what residents expect, and what would be lost if candidates voted in blocks along party lines, Gandam said.

Krista Gardner, director of towns west with ABmunis and councillor for the Town of Calmar, said some county representatives she has spoken with were quick to shrug off the impact party politics would have on their council because they "would all be the same anyway."

"I think that that's part of the problem is that we want to have people who are voting their conscience to make that specific, the direction of what your actual community wants. And so you need to go there as an individual and decide on each issue."

At a conference for Alberta's Mid-City Mayors in January, Gandam said he and others spoke with Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, who said the input of the mayors and municipalities would be taken into consideration in making any legislative changes.

Details of the proposed changes to legislation governing local politics have not yet been released.


About the Author: Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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