top of page
  • Writer's pictureCourtney Burton

Is the Scuttlebutt real? Will we see municipal political parties in the future?

By Courtney Burton


Last week, there was a surge of media attention surrounding proposed changes to how election campaigns are conducted at the municipal level in Alberta.  Specifically, the opportunity for political parties at the municipal council level.


In Fall 2023, the Government of Alberta conducted an online survey with respect to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act, which asked respondents to comment on what changes they would like to see to these two pieces of legislation.  One of the questions in the survey had to do with whether or not political parties should be listed next to municipal candidates. More recently, certain results of the data from this survey was released in the media following freedom of information requests. However, the Provincial Government is still formally considering the results: Local elections and councillor accountability engagement | Alberta.ca


In light of the scuttlebutt surrounding this topic, let’s discuss the feasibility of political parties for the upcoming local election in Alberta, and the hurdles to get there.


The media has last week refreshed the conversation surrounding potential changes to municipal politics that could potentially be forthcoming in 2024 that permit political party formation at the municipal letter.  This would mean a change to status quo (at least since the 2018/2022 amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act) which allows candidates of municipal elections to only directly raise funds from individuals ordinarily resident in Alberta while corporations, unincorporated organizations, trade unions or employee organizations are restricted from raising funds for candidates. Currently, the maximum contribution amount is $4,000 per individual. 


Certain advocacy groups have responded in opposition to the idea of political parties in municipal elections.  Alberta Municipalities, an advocacy group, among other things, for municipal governments in Alberta, has indicated that their membership is not supportive of the idea of allowing municipal political party formation.


We haven’t seen anything formal from the Provincial Government yet on this topic.  So amid the swirl of rumors and posturing, we thought it was important to digest the legal substance of the conversation.


What legislation will be introduced/amended?


Right now, there are too many questions to know for sure. We suspect that if something is forthcoming from the Provincial Government, it will likely include amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act.  This legislation is designed to regulate municipal elections, covering various aspects such as campaigning, voting, and the counting of votes.  Again, it is much too early to know for sure, but changes (if they are forthcoming to permit the formation of municipal political parties) would likely involve amendments to areas related to candidate nominations, campaign financing, and electoral structure. Specifically, sections dealing with candidate nomination processes would need to be updated to include provisions for party nominations alongside individual nominations. Additionally, campaign finance sections would require adjustments to account for party fundraising, contributions, and spending limits. There might also be a need to introduce sections to govern party registration, party governance, and the role of parties in the electoral process.  While the current text of the Local Authorities Election Act primarily focuses on individual candidates and their campaigns, the introduction of local political parties would necessitate a broader framework to ensure transparency, fairness, and accountability within the municipal electoral system.


What is the process to introduce/amend legislation?


To take our assumptions discussed above to the next level of analysis (as a reminder, we haven’t seen anything formal indicating that a process of this nature has been initiated), to introduce and pass a bill to amend the Local Authorities Election Act in the Alberta Legislature, the process would involve several key steps:


  • First Reading: The bill is introduced, and its title and purpose are read out. This stage is generally a formality without debate on the bill's content.

  • Second Reading: The bill is debated in principle. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) discuss the general idea behind the bill, but not its specific details. Following the debate, a vote is taken. If the bill passes, it moves to the next stage.

  • Committee Stage: The bill is examined in detail by a committee. This can involve reviewing the bill clause by clause, hearing from experts or stakeholders, and making amendments. The committee then reports back to the Legislature.

  • Third Reading: The bill is debated in its final form, incorporating any amendments made during the committee stage. This stage focuses on the final content of the bill. Following this debate, another vote is taken.

  • Royal Assent: If the bill passes the Third Reading, it is sent to the Lieutenant Governor, who gives Royal Assent. Once Royal Assent is granted, the bill becomes law.


When is the Legislature next in session:


The Legislative Assembly of Alberta 2024 Sessional Calendar is publicly available here: sessionalcalendar.pdf (assembly.ab.ca)


If the Local Authorities Election Act is to be amended, or a new piece(s) of legislation to permit local political parties is introduced by a bill, then it will first be previewed when the Legislative Assembly is in session for the “First Reading”.  This doesn’t mean that the Provincial Government may not also issue a statement or press release regarding its intentions, or that Albertans may hear about more concrete proposals via some other avenue.  


When are we likely to see something concrete on this issue?


Assuming any amendments to existing legislation (or new legislation) is proposed as a Government Bill (as opposed to a Private Members Bill), then we would expect the Provincial Government will be engaged in stakeholder consultations to gather input and feedback. This may include meeting with industry representatives (e.g. Rural Municipalities of Alberta, Alberta Municipalities), engagement with non-for-profits and advocacy groups, discussions with experts, and online surveys and feedback forms. 


While the possibility of such a shift to permit political parties at the municipal level has garnered attention and stirred debate, the actual implementation remains speculative, pending formal decisions and legislative amendments. Despite the recent scuttlebutt, we are still in a holding pattern to see what changes (if any) will be forthcoming that may permit the formation of municipal political parties.  We will be closely monitoring the evolving discussion and any formal proposals as they emerge.

Comments


bottom of page