Two new UCP laws aim to give conservatives a leg up in elections

While the Alberta NDP gear up for the next election and work on selecting Rachel Notley’s successor, the UCP are getting ready too—with a batch of legislation this month that aims to give conservatives an advantage in Calgary and Edmonton’s next municipal elections.

Bills 18 and 20 will give Premier Danielle Smith and Minister Ric McIver (pictured) even more powers over municipalities, while also stacking the deck for conservative candidates. Image from the Government of Alberta Newsroom.

The Smith administration announced Bill 18, the Provincial Priorities Act, earlier this month, and quickly drew criticism for clauses in the bill that would let the province block federal funding to cities and defund research at universities that the government doesn’t agree with. Shaun Fluker has written a comprehensive explainer on Bill 18 for the University of Calgary’s law faculty blog.

But there was even more direct meddling with municipalities to come, in Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendments Act, which the UCP tabled on Thursday.

Much of the coverage running up to Bill 20’s announcement has focused on the UCP’s desire to enact political parties at the municipal level. And while a number of municipal elected officials were pulling their figurative hair out online over the thought today, that’s not really what this bill does.

There is a provision around political parties in the draft legislation, but it’s not so much about establishing them as identifying them. Through some mechanism yet to be announced, candidates in Edmonton and Calgary’s next municipal elections will be able to list their party affiliation on the ballot.

Either way, it’s a subtle shift in the rules that is likely to benefit conservatives. There is a dedicated set of conservative voters in this province who do indeed vote blue no matter who; that phenomenon doesn’t seem to be mirrored on the left. I’m not going to call this political parties policy a lethal attack on democracy, but it does put a thumb on the scales.

What’s more egregious in Bill 20 are the return of corporate donations to municipal campaigns and a new mechanism that would allow the UCP cabinet—behind closed doors, and without ever having to give a reason—to fire any city councilor they want. That mechanism would let them overturn city bylaws, too.

The colloquial understanding of government in Canada is that we have three levels, municipal, provincial, and federal, and the tug of war between the three of them serves as a check and balance. But that was never really true. Municipal governments have always been subordinate to their provinces, and what autonomy they do enjoy comes from convention, not legislation.

It’s hard to predict whether the Smith administration would risk the public outcry involved with wielding Bill 20 to turf Amarjeet Sohi, or Jyoti Gondek, or some other municipal politician they dislike. 

What is easy to predict is that Bill 20’s ballot and donation changes will give the conservatives a leg up in Calgary and Edmonton’s next city elections that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Anyone hoping to run against them is going to have to work that much harder.


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