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Most Albertans oppose party politics in municipal elections: survey

Nearly seven in 10 people surveyed said municipal candidates should run as individuals

The provincial government wants to hear how potential voters feel about injecting party politics into municipal elections.

How much support there is for municipal election candidates waving a party flag is among the topics the government is seeking feedback on in a pair of online surveys launched this week.

A 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.

Specifically, the question seeks feedback on: “The electoral ballot should be amended to allow political parties to be listed by municipal candidates.” Respondents have a variety of choices ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree with neutral and don’t know also offered.

A survey prepared for Alberta Municipalities found 68 per cent of respondents preferred to see municipal candidates run as individuals. Twenty-four per cent were in favour of candidates having a party affiliation and nine per cent were not sure.

“It’s certainly not a call that is coming from the general public,” said Janet Brown, whose company Janet Brown Opinion Research surveyed 900 Albertans ages 18 and from Aug. 29 to Sept. 12.

“The most compelling reasons why people do not want political parties at the political level is they’re worried that municipal representatives will start voting along party lines and not necessarily in the best interests of their communities,” said Brown on Tuesday.

Of those surveyed, half strongly agreed and 31 per cent somewhat agreed that municipal representatives who represented a political party would vote along party lines and not in the best interest of the municipality. Sixty-nine per cent strongly or somewhat agreed the change would make municipal governments more divisive and less effective.

Six in 10 agreed that high-quality candidates would be discouraged from running for municipal office if political parties were involved.

However, 52 per cent strongly or somewhat agreed it would be easier to know what municipal candidates stood for if they campaigned under a party banner. Forty-five per cent strong or somewhat disagreed.

“What party you belong to is kind of a shorthand for where you stand on the issues,” she said.

That could be a benefit in a municipal elections where there often large slates of candidates, such as Red Deer where 30 candidates ran for eight council seats in 2021.

Among those who support parties in municipal politics is the notion being part of a larger political machine may mean candidates are more accountable will toe the party line and not make “renegade decisions.”

Forty-four per cent agreed, while 55 per cent disagreed with the notion that being part of a political party would make elected officials more accountable.

Another knock against the idea of bringing party politics into local elections is that it could discourage candidates from throwing their hat into the ring.

Brown said there is an argument to be made that municipal politics traditionally have been more attractive to women candidates.

“I think there is something about party politics that’s particularly unappealing to women. The process of winning a party nomination is very different from the process of winning an election and for a lot of potential candidates it’s that nomination process that turns them off.”

The prospect of municipal election candidates running under a party banner has been getting a lot of attention lately.

A resolution was passed at the Alberta Municipalities fall conference to lobby the province to refrain from introducing partisan politics in local elections.

Last month, Lacombe city council voted to direct administration to send a letter to McIver outlining concerns with amending the Local Authorities Election Act to allow for more political party influence at the local level. The letter also asks the rationale and desired outcomes for introducing party politics into municipal elections.

Brown believes the impetus is coming from conservative circles.

“It really seems to me all of the energy around this idea of political parties at the municipal level is coming from the conservative side of things. I think the reason for that is the conservatives are just frustrated.”

While conservatives have a proven track record getting their candidates elected at the federal and provincial levels, conservative candidates have frequently fallen flat with municipal voters.

“I think conservatives are looking for some way they can co-ordinate their efforts to do a better a job of getting conservative candidates elected locally.”

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