Premier Jason Kenney says recall legislation should act as an emergency break glass policy and that’s why the benchmarks are high for forcing out an MLA, municipal councillor, or school board trustee.
Last week, the province tabled the Recall Act and the Citizen Initiative Act, which would allow Albertans some influence into policy discussions and to weigh in on the job their elected representatives are doing.
To recall an elected official, Albertans would have 60 days to gather signatures from 40 per cent of eligible voters in their constituency for MLAs. For elected municipal officials, the Albertan would need signatures from electors that represent 40 per cent of the population in the municipality or ward, while for school board trustees, 120 days will be given to gather signatures from 40 per cent of eligible voters in that school district or ward.
If the recall petition goes through, the voters in that MLA’s constituency would then vote to determine if they should be recalled. If the vote is successful, the MLA would be removed, and then a byelection would be held to choose a new representative.
A petition cannot begin until 18 months after the respective election.
“I believe in our representative democracy where we elect people to make decisions, and typically over a four-year time horizon,” said Kenney.
“But if a representative does something that’s just totally out of line, totally egregious in terms of breaking major campaign commitments or ethical violations, we do think there should be a kind of emergency break glass opportunity for the voters to force a by-election. And that’s what that’s about,” he said.
Kenney said it’s based on similar legislation in British Columbia. When asked about how high the thresholds are for removing an MLA, and whether this bill is more symbolic than pragmatic, Kenney said it’s about balance when considering the legislation.
“We committed to consult with Albertans on it through a legislature committee and that we did that as well, so it’s exactly the bill that we promised and it is workable,” he said.
“I don’t think we want a situation where any special interest can come along and just gather a couple of 1000 votes and try to undo the results of an election that would create chaos and instability. And that’s not what we’re looking for. I’ve always said that the thresholds for things like recall and initiative should be high enough that they prevent the kind of frivolous campaigns by special interest groups, but low enough to allow something to be triggered if there actually is widespread public demand.”
The Citizen Initiative Act would allow any eligible voter to bring forward an initiative for consideration.
They would have 90 days to gather the signatures of ten per cent of voters provincewide for legislative and policy initiatives and for constitutional and would need that level of support in each of two-thirds of Alberta’s constituencies.
Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell admits it is a high threshold, but believes it is prudent.
“Here’s a way to test your support on anything policy or constitutional driven. In Alberta there are 2.6 million eligible voters, so for policy 260,000 signatures would be needed, and constitutional changes would need over 500,000 signatures (20 per cent),” said Rowswell.
“Again that’s not easy — it’s a lot of people to get signatures from. A lot of people believe that because they believe something, that others do too.”