Friday Focus Oct 8th 2021: Municipal Matters

Voting in the 2021 Municipal Elections is already underway. In ten days, Albertans will elect new municipal governments. This often under-appreciated order of government’s importance cannot be understated. For this Friday Focus, I’ll dive into what provincial governments can do to empower municipalities and how the UCP uses a phoney referendum to tip the scales of the municipal elections. 

Municipalities Matter

Municipalities know what their citizens need and are held accountable by voters, just like any other order of government. Therefore, limiting municipal governments’ power is anti-democratic. It’s merely just an indirect way of silencing the voters who elect them.

Recognizing this, the Alberta Liberals were the first party to call for city charters to give Edmonton and Calgary more autonomy. The NDP eventually followed our lead by implementing very limited city charters. However, these deals did relatively little for cities. Even that was too much for the UCP, who ripped up the city charter deals and massively slashed funding to municipalities.

City charters are not the only way successive Alberta governments have let down municipalities. A few examples are unfair revenue sharing, downloading problems such as homelessness and infrastructure costs, and unpredictable provincial funding models that make budget management unnecessarily tricky. Provincial governments expect municipalities to do a lot of the work in building this province. They should have the power and resources to do so.

Rogue Referendum

The UCP isn’t just failing to support cities. They are now meddling in their elections. You may have heard about the provincial referendum questions on this year’s municipal ballot. The question of abolishing equalization has me seriously concerned. This insular, selfish and parochial move could not be less Canadian.  In Canada, we understand we are stronger together. Actions like this referendum weaken us as a nation and weaken Alberta’s ability to negotiate with our partners in Confederation.

However, there is an even more sinister reason why the equalization question has been included on municipal ballots. It is being used as a red meat issue to drive the UCP base to the polls and vote for conservative-leaning candidates. In effect, the UCP is using this referendum and the senate selection vote as a cynical, taxpayer-funded get-out-the-vote tactic.

Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on these schemes, Kenney should simply do what I’m about to do right now: please get out and vote in this municipal election. Show Jason Kenney and the UCP that you care about municipal politics by showing up and voting on October 18th. Or vote in an advance poll. The advance polls are open until October 10th. 

Have a happy Thanksgiving, stay safe and remember to vote.