Alberta Municipalities responded to the provincial government's proposed Bill 20, calling it a "power grab."

The organization represents towns, cities, and villages across the province.

Their president, Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam, shared the organization's findings and concerns after analyzing the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 20), which was unveiled by the provincial government last week.

If the bill were to pass, Bill 20 would affect municipal elections and municipal government in a few ways.

Parties would be introduced into local elections in Calgary and Edmonton as a pilot project, and possibly provincewide after that.

Bill 20 would also allow the provincial cabinet to remove municipal councillors, and to require a municipality to repeal or amend a bylaw.

Alberta Municipalities’ statement, delivered by Gandam earlier this week, condemned the proposed bill as an attempt by the province to undermine municipal government.

“Bill 20 is an attempt by the provincial government to grab more power and wield more control over how people choose to live in their own communities. If passed, the proposed legislation will fundamentally redraw the blueprint of our local democracy and alter how people’s local needs are met and who represents them.”

The ability for the provincial cabinet is something Alberta Municipalities fears will cause a “chilling effect,” due to the confidential nature of cabinet decisions.

“The fact that cabinet decisions are confidential means that the public can never truly know why these decisions were made. Our association is speaking out about this because some of our members fear repercussions if they disagree openly with the provincial government.”

The organization also criticized the bill’s restoration of corporate and union donations to political candidates.

Gandam said candidates who run independently would be put at a pronounced disadvantage compared to party candidates backed by corporate money.

“If the bill passes in its current form, local government elections will end up being about what influential corporations and unions want, not about what voters want. Essentially, Bill 20 puts local governments up for sale to the highest bidder. We know this doesn’t sit well with Albertans, who have repeatedly said that “big money” has no place in local politics.”

Gandam also referred to recommendations Alberta Municipalities has offered as alternatives to a local party system, including limiting donations to $2500 per candidate, shoring up disclosure policies for third-party advertisers, and requiring candidates to confirm their understanding of the role set out for councillors in the Municipal Government Act. 

According to Alberta Municipalities, Albertans have stated they don’t want to see the amendments laid out in Bill 20, and the Province has acknowledged that.

“They have freely admitted that 70 per cent of Albertans don’t want to see political parties in local elections. They have said that 98 per cent of communities won’t see it, as Calgary and Edmonton are the only places where the idea will be piloted. I’m not a mathematician, but I know this pilot project will affect more than 2.4 million Albertans. That’s half of all Albertans.”

More details on Bill 20 are expected to be released in the coming months, with many of the changes to local elections planned to be in place in time for the 2025 municipal election.