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Should municipal politics include party affiliations, UCP asks

Posted on November 30, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers

The provincial government is asking Albertans about whether party affiliation should be noted on local elections ballots, but councillors in the region are saying “nay.”

The province is in the midst of multi-year process to update election law for local councils and school boards, toward potential changes before the next round of municipal elections in late 2025.

That comes after widespread reports this fall that conservative advocacy groups are arranging slates to gain control of local boards. Take Back Alberta has been vocal about replacing school board trustees they oppose.

In southeast Alberta, two local elected leaders who have dabbled in conservative party politics aren’t sold on the idea of listing political allegiance or being approved by parties at other levels of government to run locally.

Robin Kurpjeweit has served two terms on Cypress County council and last spring seriously considered, but didn’t, seek the United Conservative nomination for MLA of Cypress-Medicine Hat.

That was eventually won, as well as the election, by Justin Wright, who previously ran unsuccessfully for a Medicine Hat city council seat.

Kurpjuweit sees some potential value in candidates aligning with each other on issues, such as slates, but isn’t sure federal or provincial politics jives with the nature of municipal governance.

“We’re not talking about curriculum or social policies (at the local level),” he told Southern Alberta Newspapers. “We’re talking about getting roads built.”

However, Kurpjuweit adds, some alignment between candidates could provide voters a clearer picture of issues and priorities, and lead to greater action once in office.

“How do you campaign on getting this project or that project done, when your ability to deliver on your promise is limited by the people you’re elected with?” he said.

In Alberta, mayors and reeves don’t have much more power of authority than councillors, and getting any bylaw, policy or budget passed requires a majority vote of seven, nine or more council members.

Cypress County uses a ward system where candidates compete head to head, and the reeve is elected by council vote.

In Medicine Hat, the top eight vote-getters earn council seats (32 candidates ran in 2021), and a separate mayor’s race is won by the candidate with the most votes.

The Alberta Municipal Affairs survey, which is open until Dec. 6, also asks whether mayoral races should be subject to runoffs.

The Alberta Municipalities lobby group for urban cities is opposing the question asking if, “The electoral ballot should be amended to allow political parties to be listed by municipal candidates,” and provides space to describe potential problems and benefits.

In Medicine Hat, Darren Hirsch ran for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 provincial election between terms on city council. He told Southern Alberta Newspapers he wasn’t in favour of candidates aligning with provincial parties.

“Basically we should be representing citizens not the directions of a political party, any political party on the issues,” he said.

Two other Medicine Hat city councillors, Shila Sharps and Alison Van Dyke, told Southern Alberta Newspapers they consider their work non-partisan, and pointed the the AB Munis resolution to oppose party affiliations on ballots.

“We’re encouraging all Albertans to complete the surveys,” Andrew Knack, a director and Edmonton city councillor, said during a press event. “Many Albertans may be unfamiliar with the Acts … but they are vitally important to how politics take place across the province.”

An online survey open until Dec. 6 also asks Albertans their views related to voter eligibility and voters lists, rules for postponing elections and alternative voting methods.

That is related to the Local Authorities Elections Act.

Another separate survey involves the Municipal Government Act for sitting council members and pertains to training requirements, the use of closed meetings, disqualification rules, financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest legislation.

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