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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Burton

Municipal Political Parties are Here (Kinda): Bill 20 Review Part 1

By: Courtney Burton and Stewart Maier


In February, Blue Rock Law previewed the potential for the Government of Alberta to introduce the concept of “political parties” at the municipal level: Is the Scuttlebutt real? Will we see municipal political parties in the future? (bluerocklaw.com).  Now, with the introduction of BILL 20: MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2024 (“Bill 20”) on April 25, 2024, in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, it appears that local political parties in Alberta are indeed on the horizon. Bill 20 proposes significant changes to the Local Authorities Elections Act (“LAEA”) and aims to revamp how local elections are conducted in Alberta.


Bill 20 (in its current form) proposes several reforms aimed at changing local elections in Alberta. The Bill introduces changes to third party advertising and other donation and finance changes, removes the requirement for candidates to file financial disclosures before election day, and mandates the review of accounts for candidates with significant financial contributions or expenditures by professional accountants. Additionally, Bill 20 would introduce political parties on a pilot basis in upcoming Calgary and Edmonton municipal elections, along with provisions outlining potential disqualifications for municipal councillors under certain conditions.


It's important to note that this is just the beginning of the legislative process for Bill 20. As discussed in detail below, Bill 20 will undergo further review and debate in the Legislative Assembly, with further discussions and assessment scheduled before any potential enactment. The implementation of Bill 20 will also depend on the future drafting and approval of associated regulations. These regulations will provide detailed guidelines on how the provisions Bill 20 will be applied in practice.


This initial overview focuses on the introduction of local political parties under Bill 20. Subsequent posts from Blue Rock Law will delve deeper into the other aspects of Bill 20, providing a breakdown of the legislative and procedural shifts poised to reshape municipal governance in Alberta.


The most relevant (and hotly debated) change to LAEA modified by Bill 20 are the provisions granting the Government of Alberta the authority to introduce, define, and regulate local political parties.  While specific regulations are pending, the following summary will discuss generally what is a “local political party”, and what rules under Bill 20 will govern them:


Definition of local political parties and slates


Under Bill 20:

  • Local Political Party: An organization whose primary purpose is to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more candidates in a local jurisdiction and supporting their election. It is distinct from national or provincial political parties and cannot be registered under national or provincial election laws. It also cannot be affiliated with any party registered under such laws or be a slate itself.

  • Slate: Bill 20 does not provide a direct definition of “slate” but refers to the forthcoming regulations for a detailed definition. Generally, however, a slate would be understood as a group of candidates who are running together under a common platform or banner in an election.


Local political parties and slates can be closely connected in electoral processes, especially where regulations allow their involvement. A local political party can endorse individual candidates or entire slates, participating actively in the local electoral landscape. This endorsement aligns candidates with the party's goals and policies, potentially enhancing their visibility and appeal to voters.


Local political parties would register with the local jurisdiction in which they intend to operate. This involves submitting a written notice to the local jurisdiction, which must include the full name, address, and contact information of the party, the names and addresses of the financial institutions used as depositories for campaign contributions, and the names of the signing authorities for each depository. The local jurisdiction is then responsible for maintaining a register of candidates and local political parties that includes this information. 


The Bill 20 Fact Sheet published by the Government of Alberta: Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act Fact Sheet (alberta.ca) has indicated that local political parties will initially operate strictly in Calgary and Edmonton as a pilot project for one election cycle, before the province re-evaluates its effectiveness in 2029.


Ballot Designation


Ballots for municipal elections will also need to change in order to reflect the concept of local political parties.  The "ballot designation" language in Bill 20 describes the way a candidate's affiliation with a local political party or a slate is represented on the voting ballot. Specifically, the ballot must list any local political party that endorses a candidate and any slate that a candidate is part of. This ensures that voters can see the affiliations and endorsements of candidates clearly when making their choices in an election.


Registration and Regulation


Here is where the devil will be in the details.


The detailed rules about campaign finances for local political parties, including how much money they can receive and spend, will be set out in the future regulations. Bill 20 specifies the need for local political parties to register and comply with financial regulations similar to those for individual candidates. These rules, including contribution limits and disclosure requirements, will be specified in further regulations. This legislative framework aligns with common legislative practices where specific details are often contained within subsidiary regulations rather than the primary legislation itself to allow for adaptability and detailed governance


Restrictions on Local Jurisdictions


Under Bill 20, municipalities would be required to accept the formation and operation of local political parties and slates without imposing restrictions. If you have been following the media coverage of Bill 20 like we have, you will know that introducing the concepts of local political parties is not without controversy.  Pursuant to the new Bill 20, municipalities in Alberta (like the City of Calgary) cannot prevent the formation of local political parties or slates, thus ensuring that they can participate freely in local elections:


“the local jurisdiction shall not prohibit or restrict the formation of a local political party or slate or the participation of local political parties or slates in election activities in the local jurisdiction”

NEXT STEPS


The legislative journey for Bill 20 is just beginning, with further debates and review scheduled before possible enactment. Bill 20 will still need to proceed through: second reading (debate), committee stage (detailed review), third reading (final debate), and royal assent (coming into force).  Looking forward, the Legislative Assembly will sit for 15 days in May before it breaks until the end of October.  There will be five days of committee meetings during that time.  We can expect that the Government of Alberta will work to push Bill 20 towards royal assent before the end of May.  In the event that Bill 20 doesn’t become law prior to when the Legislative Assembly reconvenes at the end of Fall 2024, there may not be enough time for local political parties and candidates to react to the new legislation, given that the campaign period for the 2025 municipal election kicks-off on January 1, 2025. 


Furthermore, it's important to acknowledge that even upon Bill 20’s potential enactment, the finer details of local political party structures will remain contingent upon the subsequent drafting and approval of associated regulations. As such, stakeholders will need to await the unveiling of these regulatory details.


So, we, like others, will watch the legislative process of Bill 20 unfold with bated breath. We will closely monitor the unfolding legislative process with keen interest and our upcoming posts will dive into the other important aspects of Bill 20.



For those seeking clarity or wishing to engage in discussions on Bill 20 or broader public policy matters in Alberta, we encourage reaching out to our Government Relations and Public Policy team at Blue Rock Law.

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