Didsbury Town Council has resoundingly said 'no' to political parties in local elections. In a council motion passed earlier this week, it was voted unanimously to support Alberta Municipalities’ efforts to keep political parties out of local elections.

"Both Alberta Municipalities [ABmunis], the group representing cities and towns of all sizes across Alberta—including the Town of Didsbury, and Rural Municipalities of Alberta, the group representing rural municipalities including Counties, are speaking against changes being proposed by the Alberta UCP government. These changes include the addition of political parties to municipal government. It appears the majority of Albertans are also opposed," a release from the town stated.

The town added that responses to the Government of Alberta’s online survey show that 70.3 per cent of Albertans disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that, 'the electoral ballot should be amended to allow political parties to be listed by municipal candidates.'

All seven members of council agreed with the majority of Albertans.

"It is especially important at the municipal level, that elected representatives are representing the people of the community, and only the people of the community," noted Mayor Rhonda Hunter. "The current system of nonpartisan politics in municipal government creates a platform for healthy dialogue and debate amongst elected officials that benefits the people we serve in our communities. The interests of the community as a whole are priority—not meeting or following party lines."

Deputy Mayor, Curt Engel added that for communities like Didsbury, it is duly important to understand the implications of the potential changes. Engel made the motion for council to send a letter to Alberta Municipalities, confirming their support of the group’s advocacy efforts, and to share with the public information about the proposed Government of Alberta changes and Didsbury Council’s stance on the topic.

Last month, the President of Alberta Municipalities, Tyler Gandam, said that local governments should be safe spaces for conversation and dialogue among neighbours without what he believes is the divisiveness or vitriol that is observed at provincial and federal political levels.

"Alberta Municipalities members are deeply troubled by the idea that local elected officials might put the interests of their political parties ahead of those of the group that matters most to their constituents," he added. 

In her monthly Mayor's Note, Rhonda Hunter, also underlined that multiple surveys in past years have illustrated that residents are not keen on politics entering the municipal realm.

"...There is no clear understanding of why this idea is even being pursued. ABmunis has presented that political parties would create an environment where all issues are discussed in private by party members resulting in a whipped vote versus the current system which encourages debate and openness to changing your mind based on public hearings and council discussion."

Hunter added that as per ABmuni's view, political parties could contravene the Municipal Government Act (MGA) which requires a councillor to consider the interests of the municipality as a whole and not the interests of the party's success in decision-making.

Late last year, the government had encouraged Albertans to participate in an online survey which the province said would, 'help inform potential changes to the two acts [Local Authorities Elections Act and the Municipal Government Act].'

"The Local Authorities Election Act survey asks questions related to how local elections are conducted, including advance voting, voter eligibility and the involvement of political parties at the local level. The Municipal Government Act survey asks questions on topics related to the accountability and transparency of locally elected officials, including disqualification rules, monetary conflicts of interest, disclosure of information and required training for councillors."

Since then, the government said that they gathered feedback to help inform potential legislative changes that would improve accountability and maintain public trust in local elections and elected officials in Alberta's local governments.

Potential changes to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act were previously expected to be addressed in the legislative spring session, which began at the end of February.

Currently, the Local Authorities Election Act does not allow party affiliation to be listed alongside a municipal candidate's name on a ballot. 

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