Changes to election law should be made independently: councillor

· The Pulse
By and

Coun. Andrew Knack hopes Premier Danielle Smith's directive to review the law governing local elections will address problems that arose from amendments made in 2020.

In her Aug. 4 mandate letter to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, Smith asked for a review of the Local Authorities Election Act and recommendations "for any necessary amendments to strengthen public trust in and the integrity of our municipal election laws."

The premier's call to revisit the act stood out to Knack, the councillor for Ward Nakota Isga, who also sits on the board of directors for Alberta Municipalities. The legislation definitely needs a review, Knack told Taproot.

"We've heard from, even within Edmonton, the City Clerk's (office) and how the last changes for the 2021 election made it very challenging for the clerks to administer the election as well as they would like," he said.

Bill 29, or the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, was introduced by then-municipal affairs minister Kaycee Madu. It changed the rules for municipal and school board elections, allowing people to donate up to $5,000 for as many candidates as they like and no longer requiring candidates to disclose their donors before election day. The bill also changed the rules around election advertising.

Alberta Municipalities criticized the changes back in 2020, and said the bill "demonstrates a lack of respect for the role of municipal councils, our democratic mandate, and Alberta's voters." Knack himself expressed disappointment at the way the UCP government, then under Premier Jason Kenney, handled Bill 29.

When McIver and Justice Minister Mickey Amery review the Local Authorities Election Act, Knack said he hopes they find a way to avoid a situation where elected representatives are making changes to election laws. He said the ideal way to do that is to go through an independent citizen panel, similar to how Edmonton made changes to its ward boundaries in 2020.

"The way I would hope that they would be looking to make any changes is the same way that most other municipalities operate, which is (to) bring in independent Albertans, who have no ties to any parties or things like that, and let them sit at the table to come up with recommendations that can be accepted," he said.

Coun. Andrew Knack stands at a podium, his hand raised, as he takes his oath of office

Coun. Andrew Knack, who was re-elected in 2021 as the councillor for Ward Nakota Isga, was critical of the changes made to the Local Authorities Election Act in 2020. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Smith also asked McIver to ensure the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board and its Calgary counterpart are "serving the needs of their urban and rural residents effectively and fairly without unnecessarily interfering with the autonomy of small and mid-sized municipalities."

Knack said he doesn't have concerns about that directive, as he's heard McIver talk about the strength of the EMRB numerous times.

The mandate letter asked the minister to protect "the province's constitutional right to oversee the governance of Alberta's municipalities without federal interference."

Knack said there are times when it makes sense for the city to work with the federal government, and he hopes the minister will approach municipalities as equal partners and not as mere creations of the province.

"One can try to argue that technically we are a creation of the provincial government, but if you want to be really effective in achieving the goals that matter to both Albertans and Edmontonians, we need to be partners the same way the province wants to be true partners with the federal government," he said.

The municipal affairs mandate letter is one of few among the 24 to refer to Edmonton by name. Here are some directives that refer specifically to the city:

Public Safety and Emergency Services

  • Smith called on Mike Ellis to immediately implement the Safe Streets Action Plan that the UCP ran on, "including adding at least 100 new patrol officers for Calgary and Edmonton, and assessing whether more officers are needed."
  • She also asked him to explore the continued deployment of sheriffs in Edmonton, Calgary, and other communities to "assist with patrols and street-level law enforcement."

Transportation and Economic Corridors

  • Smith directed Devin Dreeshen to expand and improve major highways and roadways in the greater Edmonton area, including Anthony Henday Drive.
  • She asked him to explore cost-sharing arrangements with the private sector and/or municipalities to support investment in transportation, "including public transit, heavy rail and bridge infrastructure that better connects the Calgary and Edmonton airports to their downtowns, regional communities to Calgary and Edmonton, and Calgary to the province's Rocky Mountains parks system."
  • Dreeshen is to examine the feasibility of a "province-led Metrolinx-like model for commuter rail service" to connect the Edmonton International Airport to downtown Edmonton. "Part of the feasibility study should include the use of hydrogen-powered trains," Smith added.