The provincial government has opened two surveys to gather feedback on potential changes to the Municipal Government Act and the Local Authorities Elections Act. These acts set our rules about how municipal elections are run in Alberta. The surveys are open until December 6, 2023.
The changes that the provincial government are proposing have implications for the health of our democracy and the effectiveness of municipal politics. Read on to find out what you need to do to make sure that Calgary’s Future and our supporters can continue to make our city better.
What are the surveys asking about?
The surveys ask for your perspective on things like voter eligibility, voter lists, voting accessibility, councillor training, private meetings, financial disclosures and more.
But there are also questions about the involvement of political parties at the local government level and run-off elections for mayoral races. That’s the part that’s really important.
Are there political parties in municipal elections?
Currently in Alberta, candidates in municipal elections run on independent platforms and are not associated with political parties.
This approach comes with many democratic advantages. For one, it encourages voters to evaluate each candidate’s unique platform, without the judgement that comes from associating someone with a particular party.
It also allows City Councillors to vote explicitly for what’s best for their ward. Political parties force their members to vote according to certain predetermined policies. Without political parties, Councillors can advocate directly for the members of their constituency without having to abide by the ideological pressures that political parties impose.
Is it a good idea to involve political parties in municipal elections?
No, it’s not a good idea to bring political parties into municipal elections.
Municipal politics work best when they promote the grassroots advocacy and community involvement that’s necessary for our city to function effectively. Introducing political parties to municipal politics in Calgary would exclude important perspectives from City Council that do not fit party ideologies. That would be really bad!
When interviewed by Livewire Calgary, Ward 12 Councilor Evan Spencer said: “It’s critical that people in a neighbourhood feel that their elected representative is an open conduit for conversation, and not somebody just parroting lines up the political spectrum.”
Evans went on to point out that party allegiances would create massive barriers for municipal politics, stating that “large parts of each municipal constituency would feel disconnected due to ideological lines.”
Keeping municipal politics free from political parties promotes open dialogue, encourages collaboration, and allows our communities to advocate for their interests most directly and most effectively.
The bottom line is that we can get way more done if we keep municipal politics free from political parties.
What about run-off elections for mayoral races?
In most run-off elections, a candidate must win a plurality (the most votes) AND the majority of votes (more than 50% of votes) to be certified as the winner.
In races with multiple candidates (such as municipal elections in Alberta), it is often difficult for one candidate to earn more than 50% of the votes. Currently, our municipal elections are decided by a plurality of votes rather than a majority.
A run-off election is a second election between the top two candidates when no candidate receives a majority of votes in the initial election. Run-off elections are problematic for a variety of reasons.
Why would run-off elections be bad for mayoral races in Alberta?
Introducing run-off elections for mayoral races in Alberta would be bad for a number of reasons.
Run-off elections create unnecessary waste. Why? Because voters are expected to return to the polls if the first place candidate doesn’t break 50% of the total vote. Think of all of the resources required to hold an election and collect votes. Now imagine how much it would cost to repeat that process multiple times. That’s a lot of wasted taxpayer money!
Run-off elections are undemocratic by design. Run-off elections are not promoted as well as general elections. They are less accessible because fewer resources are invested in them. Because of this, run-off elections suffer steep voter drop off which affects the democratic process.
Voter drop-off is particularly high among underrepresented groups like students, racial and cultural minorities, voters with disabilities, and voters with low-income backgrounds. That means a small, non-representative group is likely to make outsized decisions that affect the rest of the community.
In 2021 there were 27 candidates who ran for Mayor in Calgary. That many candidates makes it extremely unlikely for a single candidate to get 50% of the vote. If we introduced run-off elections into our system, we’d be almost guaranteed to require multiple rounds of voting.
Saying “No” to run-off elections will save taxpayer money and keep our election process more democratic.
What can we do to protect municipal politics to keep them non-partisan, democratic, and fair?
We need to keep municipal politics as open, democratic, and collaborative as possible.
That’s why it’s so important for all of us to take the provincial survey and submit responses that protect municipal politics from being influenced by provincial political parties.
When you take the survey below, pay special attention to questions 8 and 9 regarding political parties and municipal elections.
Question 8 reads: “The electoral ballot should be amended to allow political parties to be listed by municipal candidates.” To keep municipal politics collaborative and free from political party involvement, answer “Strongly disagree” for this question.
Question 9 reads: “Could there be any issues or challenges with listing political parties on the electoral ballot for local elections?”
To keep municipal politics grassroots, collaborative, and highly democratic, consider writing:
- Listing political parties on the electoral ballot for municipal elections will cause large parts of each municipal constituency to feel disconnected due to ideological differences.
- Listing political parties on the electoral ballot for municipal elections will create unnecessary partisan conflict in our municipal elections.
- Listing political parties on the electoral ballot for municipal elections will alienate City Councillors from their constituents by introducing party discipline.
Question 14 reads: “In a municipal election with more than three candidates for Mayor or Reeve, there should be a runoff election.” To keep municipal politics fair and free from political manoeuvring, answer “Strongly disagree” for this question.
Question 15 reads: “What issues or challenges might exist with adopting a runoff election system for municipal Chief Elected Officials (Mayor or Reeve)?” To keep municipal mayoral elections free from dark horse candidates and third choice mayors, consider writing:
- Municipal elections with more than three candidates are common and we should not be punishing candidates with diverse views by adding unnecessary complexity.
- Run-off elections suffer voter dropoff and are therefore less democratic.
- Run-off elections produce unnecessary waste, cost more taxpayer money, and favour political games over the will of electors.
- Elections should select the candidate with the most support from electors, not everyone’s backup choice.
*Ready to take action to keep municipal politics collaborative and free from political parties?