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Western Canada: Alberta withdraws parts of controversial new legislation

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Hi everyone, Mark Iype in Edmonton today.

It seems that the flood of complaints from local politicians across Alberta, from communities large and small, from rural and urban areas, has made a difference.

This week, the Alberta government rolled back parts of its new legislation that had angered many of those politicians – particularly the cabinet’s unfettered power to unilaterally fire mayors and city councillors.

Under amendments to Bill 20 introduced on Thursday, the Cabinet could only oust elected municipal officials if it ordered a recall.

“I am pleased that we can provide more clarity in the legislation, as at least some municipalities have requested,” said Local Government Minister Ric McIver in Parliament.

The government stressed that it wanted feedback from local authorities, and McIver said the amendments were the result of those discussions and complaints.

Of course, local politicians have expressed concerns about the power the province is giving itself and the lack of consultation on the bill since it was first introduced last month.

Tyler Gandam, president of Alberta Municipalities, told The Canadian Press that there had been no meaningful discussions beyond a few phone calls.

“We have communicated a number of concerns we had about Bill 20 and have not yet had an opportunity to sit down with the province and talk about it,” Gandam said Thursday.

A meeting with Prime Minister Danielle Smith and McIver is planned for next month.

Another amendment introduced this week curtails the government's proposed authority to repeal local ordinances it deems distasteful. Under the changes, Cabinet can still repeal ordinances, but only those deemed unconstitutional, beyond municipal jurisdiction or contrary to provincial government policy.

Paul McLaughlin, chairman of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said he believed the amendments were too vague and would allow the government to justify its cabinet's intervention with almost any reason.

“You've given power to a future monster,” he told the Canadian Press. “I don't know who the future monster is, but you've inadvertently armed these people with the biggest baseball bat you can imagine.”

The law is just one of numerous government measures that critics say are aimed at increasing cabinet influence over matters that are not always within the provinces' jurisdiction and often take place behind closed doors.

These include another bill introduced this month that would give the province emergency powers over local authorities in times of crisis, and the appointment of an ethics commissioner who has clear ties to the ruling party and once sought the nomination for the United Conservatives.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter, written by the BC Editor Wendy Cox and head of the Alberta office Mark IypeIf you are reading this on the Internet, or someone else forwarded it to you, you can sign up for this and all Globe newsletters. Here.