Braid: UCP considers political parties for city elections as Gondek council takes heat

Response from sitting councillors across the province may not be positive, but Calgary council is churning out arguments for radical change

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Many Calgarians would welcome blowback to the most unpopular, dysfunctional city council on record.

Right on cue, the province has dramatic change in mind.

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The UCP is actively considering a party system for municipal councils.

“The issue is being examined as we speak,” says a senior official in Premier Danielle Smith’s office. “Legislation in the spring is possible but no final decisions are made yet.”

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Municipal Minister Ric’s McIver’s department asked in a survey last fall if municipalities and Albertans in general want a change from the current, non-partisan system.

“Municipal Affairs is currently reviewing the overall results of the engagement,” spokesperson Scott Johnston said.

“We will review all feedback as we consider options for updating the Local Authorities Election Act.”

Response from sitting councillors across the province may not be positive. They’re already comfortably elected under the current system.

But Calgary council is churning out arguments for radical change, even among its own members.

Andre Chabot of Ward 10 is one of six who regularly oppose Gondek and her obedient majority.

Andre Chabot
Calgary Ward 10 Councillor Andre Chabot speaks with media outside council chambers on June 20, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia

“I’ve always been against the idea of parties before, but now I’m not so sure,” he says.

A party system “might actually result in candidates getting elected that are more reflective of the desires of the public.”

Chabot is concerned, however, that a party system might cut the number of people who can run, especially if parties nominate candidates.

There would be many details to work out. But the fact that a long-serving councillor would even consider such a radical change shows how dysfunctional council has become.

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Nearly 70 per cent of Calgarians disapprove of both council and Mayor Jyoti Gondek, according to Marc Henry’s ThinkHQ survey last December.

Gondek’s council majority staggers on with aggressive, unpopular measures — the ridiculous bag law, spending money in areas that aren’t even city business, bucking a motion from rebel councillors to cut two points off the 7.8 per cent tax hike.

Calgarians had no idea what they were getting when the 2021 election installed 10 new council members.

The voters certainly weren’t alerted to unprecedented tax hikes that will hit four years running by the time they’re done.

Ward candidates offered the usual hodgepodge of campaign ideas and promises with no cohesion.

Gondek won support with admirable talk about social harmony and fighting racism, and then turned out to have a much wider, unexpected agenda.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek
Mayor Jyoti Gondek Photo by Dean Pilling /Postmedia Network

A party system could have alerted the city to much of the trouble.

Parties run on election platforms. They say what they plan to do, and what they won’t do. If a promise is broken later, voters know exactly who to blame.

As council stands now, six councillors, including Chabot, routinely oppose Gondek’s majority, but still take much of the heat for what’s going on. A party system would make it very clear who’s responsible for policies and decisions.

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Vancouver and Montreal are the only two major cities with partisan councils. Their parties are city-specific, not mere clones of provincial parties.

The most recent Vancouver election brought a new party called ABC (A Better City) into power, with seven seats on the 11-member council.

The public was fed up with earlier alignments and voted in a specific platform.

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Pollster Henry, who used to be former Mayor Dave Bronconnier’s chief of staff, points to one problem with municipal parties.

“Frankly, political parties are stifling when it comes to representing communities,” he says.

“A political party has to have a city-wide view. That means community voices tend to get lost in the mix.”

For Henry, the problem isn’t the system, it’s this council. And the solution is the next election (which unfortunately doesn’t come until Oct. 20, 2025.)

Meanwhile, Premier Smith doesn’t shy away from deep structural reform when she thinks it’s needed. Now she’s considering a profound change to civic politics.

Calgary council sure is asking for it.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid 

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