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Calgary city councillors not keen on aligning to party politics

More negatives than positives if the province were to do it, said Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp.

Lukewarm is perhaps the best response some Calgary city councillors gave to the prospect of having political parties at the municipal level.

Maybe that’s too generous.

The province has opened up two public surveys on local elections and councillor accountability as they gather feedback on potential changes to the Municipal Government Act and the Local Authorities Election Act.  Those surveys will be open until Dec. 6.

The province said that municipal councils are an important part of democracy and have a direct impact on all Albertans. After every municipal election cycle, they do a review to see if changes to the system are warranted.

“We review local election laws regularly to make sure the rules continue to strengthen transparency and accountability in our local elections and elected officials,” said Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, in a prepared media release.

While the surveys ask about things like voter eligibility, voter lists, alternative voting methods, along with councillor training, private meetings, financial disclosures and more, it also asks questions about the involvement of political parties at the local government level.

Cities in other parts of Canada already have some semblance of parties, and Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said there are merits. It already exists to a degree on council, he said.

“Everybody says that they’re not affiliated with a party. Everybody knows on city council, what party lines you’re affiliated with,” McLean said.

McLean said the questions come in during campaigns. He said people could put out a blue sign and vote orange, for instance.

“That’s where you would identify your candidate maybe in the election process, not once you’re elected,” he said.

On municipal issues, McLean said he agreed there should be some independence. He’s not really interested in seeing a party whip prior to council votes.  He foresaw this playing out as slates rather than a direct connection to a political party.

Hard no

When asked if he would support political parties at the municipal level, Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer was pretty clear.

“No. Absolutely not,” he told LWC.

Spencer said the neighbourhood or ward level is the lowest order of government, but a place where voices are gathered, aggregated and “turned into advocacy.”

“I think it’s critical that people in a neighbourhood feel that their elected representative is an open conduit for that conversation, and not somebody just parroting lines… up the political spectrum,” he said.

“That’s a massive barrier because there that immediately means that half of a constituency potentially immediately feels disconnected due to ideological lines.”

Spencer also said that it’s a weak argument that some have posed that council races are messy, with too many candidates and some winners only getting between 20 and 30 per cent of the vote.

A party system would potentially eliminate those people who are known characters in a community who are stepping forward to stand up for neighbours.

“They are viable because they’re not across the board running against a machine,” Spencer said.

“It allows for people that genuinely care about where they live to have a fighting chance to be the elected representative for their neighbours.”

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said that having parties at the local level would give her pause. Pause enough, perhaps not to run again in the next municipal election. She said she has major concerns with it.

“Municipal politics is literally municipal politics. You should be running grassroots campaigns to serve your constituents in your ward or serve Calgarians as a whole,” Sharp said.

“I think it would be a game changer. I mean, if they pass something like that, I don’t know if I’d actually be willing to put my name down to be a leader of a party on a municipal level.”