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Municipal leaders are calling for guardrails around recall. They say the process is becoming personal

Tyler Gandam, president of Alberta Municipalities and the mayor of Wetaskiwin, Alta., is among the municipal leaders seeking change to recall legislation. (Janet French/CBC - image credit)
Tyler Gandam, president of Alberta Municipalities and the mayor of Wetaskiwin, Alta., is among the municipal leaders seeking change to recall legislation. (Janet French/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government is considering changes to recall legislation, as municipal leaders warn that some citizens are abusing the process.

Some voters have "weaponized" campaigns to recall mayors and councillors, said Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam, who is also president of Alberta Municipalities, an advocacy organization.

"There should be some basic ground rules on why a person is being recalled," Gandam said Friday.

A United Conservative Party government law came into effect in April 2022 that allows a voter to apply to recall an MLA, councillor, or school trustee.

To initiate a recall petition, a voter who lives in the jurisdiction represented by the mayor or councillor must notify the municipalities chief administrative officer (CAO) and pay a $500 fee. Once the CAO acknowledges the application, the initiator has 60 days to collect the signatures of 40 per cent of the electors in the politician's constituency.

There are recall blackout periods for 18 months after election day, and from Jan. 1 on the year of an election.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver is aware of 11 attempts to recall a civic politician since then, press secretary Justin Brattinga said Friday.

Citizens have started petitions against six councillors, including one campaign last year that successfully ejected a councillor in Ryley, Alta., a village about 75 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

Voters have initiated five recall campaigns against mayors, including an unsuccessful attempt to remove the mayor of Medicine Hat, Alta., and an ongoing campaign against Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

Gandam is the target of a recall campaign in Wetaskiwin, which, he said, was sparked by his support for a homeless shelter in the community.

Gandam considers many of the campaigns as a distraction, waste of resources and a misuse of the law, he said, adding that he is happy to hear the provincial government is considering amendments.

"If somebody does have a concern, [or] a member of council has done something so egregious that something needs to be done or looked at, at least there's some oversight with that to not just pay your $500 and start a smear campaign, or to try to bolster your position for an upcoming election," he said.

The 40 per cent threshold to achieve a recall may be hard to achieve in large cities, but it's much easier in small town, said Smoky Lake Coun. Evelynne Kobes.

She is among those pushing provincial politicians for change, despite there being no recall campaign in her town. Campaigns, she said, are dividing some small communities and creating an atmosphere of toxicity and fear.

"It's very personal, because you know everybody," Kobes said. "We live in places where you walk down the street and you pretty much say, 'Hi,' to everyone."

Evelynne Kobes is a councillor in Smoky Lake, north of Edmonton. She says recall campaigns are turning personal and toxic in smaller communities.
Evelynne Kobes is a councillor in Smoky Lake, north of Edmonton. She says recall campaigns are turning personal and toxic in smaller communities.

Evelynne Kobes, a councillor in Smoky Lake, Alta., north of Edmonton, says recall campaigns are turning personal and toxic in smaller communities. (Janet French/CBC)

Kobes supports the idea of recall for political leaders who are acting unethically or inappropriately, she said. But no guardrails exist to prevent people from using recall as a personal vendetta, or protest an unpopular decision.

Putting the CAO in charge of administering a recall petition, validating the signatures and deciding whether a politician has been recalled is also awkward because the mayor and councillors are their bosses, she said.

McIver, the municipal affairs minister, agrees the regulations put CAOs in a "terrible position," he told CBC News Friday.

"It's relatively new legislation and there are some shortfalls there that we are going to have some discussions on to see if we can improve on those," McIver said.

He has heard complaints that the threshold for recall is too high, while others complained it's too low, he said.

The province will revisit the 40-per cent requirement "carefully and with sensitivity," McIver said.