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Mayors that might be: the unintended consequences of Bill 20

A speculative look at what Bill 20 could mean in the future
Tim Shoults, Publisher

One of my favourite writing genres is historical alt-fiction. Classics like The Man in the High Castle imagine a world in which the Axis Powers win the Second World War and America is divided between Nazi and imperial Japanese rule, or Harry Turtledove’s epic series of novels about the Confederate States of America winning the Civil War, leading to two world wars fought on the North American continent. (I won’t give the spoiler on Canada’s fate in that series.)

Please indulge me in a little near-future speculative alt-fiction closer to home.

The year is 2027. The new Take Back Edmonton municipal party took control of Edmonton city council by a narrow 7-6 margin after the 2025 elections, but Mayor Kerry Diotte (a former city councillor, mayoral candidate and Conservative MP) has become increasingly unpopular by mid-term. Now he’s butting heads with newly elected NDP Premier Naheed Nenshi.

Nenshi, armed with the powers granted to the province by his predecessor, orders a recall vote for the embattled mayor. The recall vote goes 60/40 against Diotte, and Edmonton is going back to the polls for a new mayor, in a vote won by … former premier Rachel Notley, who comes out of political retirement to flip control of city council to the Edmonton Democratic Party.

(Yes, I’m sure they’d be more clever about these names in real life…)

That sounds like a strong enough majority – but turnout is sparse, as it usually is during mid-term municipal votes. About 20 per cent of eligible voters vote in the recall. Sixty per cent of 20 per cent means that 12 per cent of the voters just caused the course of Edmonton’s politics to change in mid-stream.

A bit far-fetched? Perhaps. But truth is often stranger than fiction in municipal politics. Just look at the gong show in Chestermere, for instance. (I won’t bore you with the details, but if you know, you know.)

The point of this tall tale is to point out the unintended consequences of Bill 20, with the amendments announced this past week by Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver. If you bring party politics to the big cities and give the premier the power to send her (or his) opponents at the municipal level back to the polls in an election cycle that puts municipal elections and provincial ones about 18 months off from each other, this is the possible result.

It wouldn’t be unlike the mid-term elections in the United States, where a newly elected president often goes from facing a co-operative Congress to a belligerent one in mid-stream. If you’ve followed any of the goings-on down there in the past year or so, you know how well that works.

It’s a good idea when looking at a proposed law that changes how a government controls something is to imagine it used by someone you don’t agree with. Otherwise, speculative fiction could become uncomfortable future reality.

Tim Shoults

About the Author: Tim Shoults

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