Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn is among the municipal leaders of Alberta speaking out against the recently announced Bill 20.

The Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 20), announced last week by the provincial government, would introduce parties into local elections in Alberta, and allow for the Cabinet both to require a bylaw to be amended or repealed by a municipal government, and to remove an elected municipal councillor.

During the announcement, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said municipal parties would not be affiliated with existing provincial or federal parties.

Thorn, who has been vocal in her opposition to a party system in municipal elections, sees the system as redundant.

"Creating new parties, I'm not exactly sure how that is going to educate the electorate any more than if they would just go and read a candidate's platform. A majority of people that run, at least in Okotoks, have all created campaign material and website and have spoken at forums indicating 'These are the things that are important to me, here's what I believe,' which is really what a platform is. By not having any alignment now with a federal or provincial party, I don't see how that's going to make it any more clear to a resident who is already not doing their homework. To me, political parties are the easy way to say 'Oh they're the conservative candidate so I should vote for them,' or 'Oh, they're the NDP candidate so I should vote for them,' instead of figuring out who is the person you're voting for and if that person actually represents you."

Additionally, she's concerned that though municipal parties won't have ties to federal or provincial parties, they'll still be clear proxies for federal or provincial equivalents.

Thorn also doesn't fancy the idea of councillors feeling they have to tow a party line.

"Parties, I think, further divide us. Right now, when you get elected as a municipal council, there is this mentality that whoever else is at the table, you're going to work with these people to try and move things forward because you need to find a way, but if you run as a party and you get three of the seats and the other party has four, or if you get three with one party and three with another and one with another, how do you actually get anything done if you're saying 'Well this is what my party believes,' instead of working together to find the best solution? I think it undermines the efficiency and effectiveness of municipal government."

When announcing the many amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act that Bill 20 would bring, McIver also clarified that parties would only be introduced in Calgary and Edmonton at first as a pilot project.

Following the 2025 municipal election, parties may or may not be introduced province wide.

The choice to test the system in Calgary and Edmonton also raised red flags for Thorn.

"They're the ones they have the biggest contention with, both Edmonton and Calgary have been fairly outspoken about things they're frustrated with when it comes to the provincial government, so in my opinion, this is all about politics and trying to garner more power. I don't say it lightly, but it's an assault to local democracy."

She's frustrated that the goal of the pilot program hasn't been made clear.

"Okotoks municipal council, we've done pilot programs and we've always said 'Here are the things we're looking at the determine if this works' before the pilot ever starts. The minister's response was 'Well, we're going to wait and see what the outcomes are, then we'll determine what we're going to measure to determine if it was successful.' They don't even know what they want to measure or what success will look like. If they do this and it results in a bunch of candidates that get elected that either weren't affiliated with a party because they can still run as independents, or a party that maybe isn't aligned or doesn't see the world in the same way as the provincial government, does that mean that it's not successful? And what happens then?"

Bill 20 would also allow for the provincial cabinet to remove municipal councillors and require municipalities to amend or repeal certain bylaws.

The day after the announcement was made, Thorn reposted a clip of McIver from the announcement on her X account, commenting "The hypocrisy in this statement is truly unbelievable."

In the clip, McIver addressed a question about transparency with the process of removing councillors, should the province use that power.

McIver responded to the question, saying they would have to provide the reasoning behind the decision to the public. He reasoned that voters would keep the cabinet accountable by voting them out if they didn't like the decision to remove a councillor, come the next election.

Thorn expanded on her point, saying the hypocrisy lies in McIver invoking voters as the apparatus that keeps government officials accountable while responding to a question about the province removing municipal officials who had been voted in.

"If my community doesn't like something I do, I have to run on an election every four years. If you are really dissatisfied with what council is doing or what I'm doing, then you've got an election. Don't vote for me. So, it's okay if the province makes a decision the public doesn't like, you can get rid of them in four years, but if a municipality does that and does something the province doesn't like... the cabinet of 31 [MLAs] gets to decide whether the bylaws or elected officials that our community chose is appropriate. What's the point of a municipal council then?"

While political parties won't be integrated into any municipalities outside of Calgary and Edmonton in next year's election, municipalities will have to prepare for other changes.

Bill 20 would eliminate the use of electronic voting machines and tabulators, which Thorn believes will create added costs to local governments to facilitate manual vote counting.

Donations to election campaigns from corporations and unions would also be allowed again, albeit with limits.

Thorn sees all of these changes as contrary to what municipalities and Albertans at large have communicated to the province.

"They've heard resoundingly from Albertans that they didn't want them to put in political parties and that they didn't want those changes made. They did it anyway. They put out a survey in the fall around changes to the Local Authorities Elections Act. They didn't put any of the things that I know there was a lot of support for into that. There are things in here that were never part of that survey. So, consultation? They're not interested in consultation in my opinion. If you really wanted to do consultation, then let's talk about it before you put it in a bill and get everybody up in arms and stressed out about what's happening. We're already, here in Okotoks, planning for the next municipal election, and this bill has totally derailed what that plan is, and the bigger the municipality, the more lead time you need to plan for the next election, and they're messing with that right now."

The Okotoks Mayor did highlight aspects of the bill she saw as positive changes, including councillors having to go to court to dispute disqualifications rather than the municipality having to dispute it, recall petitions being verified provincially rather than by the respective municipality's CAO, and the addition of criminal record checks for municipal candidates.

Still, Thorn views the broader changes to municipal elections and governance in Bill 20 as a disservice to Albertans.

"To me, this is an affront to democracy, and I don't say that lightly... If the province doesn't like me, should the province get to choose if I continue to represent this community when I've been chosen by the community? That really is the question. At the end of the day, it really comes down to what problem is that they're trying to fix because this is throwing an awful lot at the window for problems that I don't see."