Stettler County Council agrees no formal letter to be sent on Bill 20

Some members of the County of Stettler council are concerned about the provincial government’s proposed changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA), but the municipality won’t formally speak against it. Council decided this during a discussion at their May 8 regular meeting.

During the council request for information part of the agenda, Reeve Larry Clarke requested councillors discuss the UCP government’s proposed Bill 20, Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, which some Albertans feel is controversial; the bill has been described as granting Premier Danielle Smith and her UCP cabinet unprecedented power to dismiss elected municipal councillors and quash municipal bylaws.

Reeve Clarke said he was concerned when he first read the proposed bill. “It didn’t catch me very well when I read it that day,” said the reeve, who noted he contacted Drumheller Stettler MLA Nate Horner to discuss it.

Clarke related Horner told him to identify parts of the bill the County of Stettler was concerned with, but Horner also said, “…(Bill 20) was intended for the big cities.”

Clarke said he had an issue with that approach, as Bill 20 affects all municipalities, “…and it is bothersome.” The reeve pointed out though that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), a lobby group that represents rural municipalities, has already issued a letter with its concerns about Bill 20.

Coun. Les Stulberg observed that Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver will re-examine Bill 20. “I mean, they got the message,” said Stulberg, referring to outcry over the bill.

Coun. Justin Stevens stated he understood the bill’s intent but added it may go too far, depending on who is in government in the future.

“I was very disappointed when this came out, but the following week one of our urban counterparts voted in favour of letting non-citizens vote in municipal elections,” said Stevens, referring to a recent City of Calgary resolution.

Stevens added he dislikes most of Bill 20 but acknowledged some bad municipal decisions may demand oversight.

Stevens further noted, though, that he felt Bill 20 lays the groundwork for overreach as he has no idea who will be in the position to wield this authority in the future; Stevens further stated the cabinet making these decisions behind closed doors lacks transparency.

Coun. James Nibourg questioned how the provincial government can commit overreach into municipal affairs when all municipal authority comes from the provincial government; Nibourg observed most of what’s in Bill 20 can already be done by the Government of Alberta.

He saw a benefit to Bill 20: some ministerial decisions could instead be made by the cabinet as a group. “So there is some good in this bill,” said Nibourg. “I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bath water in this case.

“But I do think we need to understand that this is a clarification of their responsibilities and role already. They have that power.”

While Nibourg noted that once authority is granted it can sometimes be difficult to reclaim, the County of Stettler is well-run and has nothing to fear from Bill 20. “The County of Stettler, it’s not going to affect us,” said Nibourg.

Coun. Ernie Gendre agreed with Nibourg but said he also was wary of who wields this authority in the future.

Coun. Stulberg reminded his peers that after the last municipal election it was discovered a newly-elected Calgary alderman had a criminal background, and there was a public outcry for an ouster.

Reeve Clarke stated that municipal mistakes are one thing but the way Bill 20 is written allows the governing party to change municipalities they may not like; Clarke stated that authority concerned him.

Coun. Stevens stated there are already ways such as recall or petitions that the public can use to address a councillor or bylaw they have issue with and stated he also was concerned about the premier’s cabinet removing a councillor, “…just because we disagree with them.”

Nibourg noted he understood where Bill 20 was coming from because municipalities aren’t constitutional bodies and councillors, “…(are) not politicians.”

Stevens observed the provincial government was requesting feedback on Bill 20 and he asked if the County of Stettler council should send a formal letter; he suggested the decision-making for any council removal or quashing of bylaws be made public.

Coun. Nibourg balked: “I’m not so sure we need to go down that route,” said Nibourg, who reminded council RMA already wrote a letter outlining its concerns with Bill 20.

Reeve Clarke responded since he already spoke to the MLA he felt obligated to respond to him and noted that while the province keeps pointing out dysfunctional municipalities like the City of Chestermere, Clarke said he was concerned that Bill 20 lumps municipalities together.

Councillors seemed to verbally agree the reeve would respond to MLA Horner and the County of Stettler’s concerns about Bill 20 could be inferred through the RMA letter already issued.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.