Alberta Municipalities warns against introducing local political parties

If no one wants it and it wouldn’t work anyway, then there’s no good reason to do it.

That was the crux of Alberta Municipalities’ argument against the introduction of political parties to local elections, something that Albertans have heard rumors about for the last six months, said Alberta Municipalities President Tyler Gandam during a press conference on Thursday morning.

“There’s clearly little support for the provincial government’s plan to introduce divisiveness into local governance,” he said.

Late last year, the Government of Alberta conducted two public surveys into its proposed changes to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act. While the province has received the results of these surveys, it has yet to share the information with Albertans.

Gandam said a reporter’s freedom of information request at the end of last month revealed that more than 70 per cent of the respondents opposed the idea. The results echoed the 68 per cent that pollster Janet Brown learned during her survey for Alberta Municipalities in September 2023.

A resolution expressing opposition to the idea received 95 per cent of the vote at Alberta Municipalities’ annual convention later that month. The organization represents municipalities where more than 85 per cent of people live in the province.

“While this may come as a surprise to some Albertans, it is consistent with what Albertans and our members have been saying for months,” Gandam said.

“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. Alberta Municipalities objects to the idea and opposes it for many reasons.”

Political parties may serve a purpose at both the provincial and national levels due to differences in scale that don’t exist at the community level, he said. He listed three reasons, the first of which was that no one has clearly explained what problem the introduction of political parties to municipal elections would fix.

“The current municipal government model ensures that local elected officials selected by most voting residents stand for the best interests of their residents and businesses,” Gandam said.

“Today’s model enables mayors and councilors to debate and vote on issues from independent points of view, be open-minded and freely collaborate with all council colleagues to find solutions to their community’s complex problems. This is what residents expect and want.”

These norms would be lost in a party system, as shown by the politics practiced at the provincial and federal levels.

He added that doing so would likely do nothing improve voter turnout, and party-based councilors would need to balance the interests of the political parties they represent with those of their constituents, further reducing the effectiveness of municipal leadership.

“Local governments should be safe spaces for conversation and dialogue among neighbours without the divisiveness or vitriol we are seeing at the provincial and federal levels,” he said.

He added that Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver told him during the Alberta Mid-Sized Cities Mayor’s Caucus conference in Canmore a month ago that he would take all the input into consideration.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh