Can Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP just toss us a bone here?
Can’t they just give us one of the most basic and simple of their election promises without making a mess of it?
I really have tried hard to love them. I have been critical, but have made every effort to maintain optimism with the UCP and give them the benefits of the doubt. I kept hoping that they would suddenly wake up and realize who elected them and why. I am quickly losing all hope.
Their chance to win old Wildrosers like me back was Bill 52, the Recall Act. And they have failed miserably.
Recall legislation should have been a no-brainer for the UCP government. It was a clear promise in the 2019 election campaign. It was always a key plank in the Wildrose Party which took a leap of faith and joined Jason Kenney’s PCs in a merger in order to form the UCP. It was taken for granted that such a basic democratic policy would be implemented by the new party once it formed the government. It was even in the UCP’s founding principles to coax hesitant Wildrosers to the alter.
It took two years before the Tories even tabled recall legislation. They can’t pretend that this is untested ground. There are many jurisdictions with functional recall policies which could be studied and emulated. This is not a complex policy and it should have been implemented in the first session of the legislature after the last election.
The Western Standard has previously reported on a schism within the UCP caucus between the former Wildrose and PC tribes over recall, with the latter wanting the legislation watered down. As it turns out, the old Tories won.
What we got from the UCP with Bill 52 is an insult to Albertans’ collective intelligence. In modeling the bill after British Columbia’s recall legislation, the UCP purposely created a process which would never be used. BC has had recall legislation for nearly 30 years but because the bar to trigger a recall election was set at such an impossible height, not a single attempt to recall a politician has met (formally) with success. Are we really to believe that in 30 years of volatile politics, that not a single MLA warranted being recalled? Many efforts were made over the years to invoke recall in BC but the bar proved impossibly high to surpass.
In 30 years, only one MLA’s constituents have gathered enough signatures to force a recall, but the politician in question resigned first.
It is certainly understandable why the bar need to be set reasonably high with recall legislation. We don’t want to see recall petitions beginning the day after an election. The 18 month cooldown period in Bill 52 wisely accounts for that. We don’t want to see recall attempts made every time people become mildly annoyed with their representatives either. The point of recall is to give voters a way to fire an elected official should they have done something so unforgivable that citizens simply can’t wait until the next election to do so. This doesn’t happen often, but it has happened before and voters should have a mechanism with which they can change their minds.
Where Bill 52 misses the mark is the unreasonably high bar for triggering a recall. A person or group trying to invoke a recall election would have to get physical signatures from 40 pre cent of eligible voters within a 60 day period. Anybody who has actually done formal petitioning knows that this is simply impossible.
In most provincial elections, only about 50-60 per cent of voters actually cast a ballot. A bar of 40 per cent of total eligible voters means that in most constituencies, a recall petition would require the signatures of more people than actually voted for all candidates and parties combined.
Online petitions are easy enough and they mean little. It is understandable that for something as important as recall that petitioning should be done in hard copy on paper with the name and the address of every person signing. To get these signatures is very hard work though. Just getting the 100 official signatures to run in a federal election is a couple of days’ work for a dedicated person. Not everybody is willing to share their personal information with somebody at a door and not everybody is home. Just imagine what it would take to get 16,000 or so signatures within one little provincial constituency within 60 days, because that is where the bar is set.
To set the bar at 50 per cent of those who actually came out to vote in the last election would be much more realistic as opposed to 40 per cent of all eligible voters. As Mayor Nenshi pointed out in response to Bill 52, we often don’t even get 40 per cent of the population out to vote in a municipal election. The old Wildrose Party’s recall policy accounted for this. The UCP policy wonks know this and it is clear that they intended to create a policy that would never actually be functional.
Adding insult to injury, the Tories even added an entirely new bar that isn’t even required in British Columbia. If constituents manage the mammoth task of gathering the signatures required, then a special vote is held first to remove the MLA from office. Only after that passes, is there a by-election.
Of course, this second hurdle doesn’t apply to municipal and school board politicians who get recalled. It only protects provincial MLAs.
Premier Kenney’s UCP has been steadily bleeding support to the Wildrose Independence Party as they continue to underwhelm on their key election promises. I imagine that latest abandonment of Wildrose principles will see the the new Wildrose gaining a few more points in the polls.
Sometimes, it truly seems like Kenney and his UCP are trying to give Notley another term.
There are only two possible answers as to why the UCP put out this useless bill. Either they don’t actually support grassroots accountability measures – despite their election promises – or they do actually fear that the legislation will be used against them. Neither of those reasons instills confidence in this government.
The bill has only gone through first-reading in the legislature. There is still time to amend and make it functional. Let’s hope that the UCP is listening for a change and fixes this bill before they weaken themselves even further in the eyes of their conservative base.
Former Wildrose MLAs like Drew Barnes should try to amend the bill, and if they fail to secure these changes, vote against it.
I fear that the UCP is going to do the same with their referendum policies if indeed we ever get one.
Getting the UCP to fulfil their main election promises shouldn’t be like pulling teeth.
Cory Morgan is the Podcast Editor and a columnist for the Western Standard