Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen: Kenney’s democratic reforms are obsolete on arrival

In product design, there is a concept known as planned obsolescence. Basically, it’s the idea of designing a product with an artificially limited lifespan so that it becomes functionally useless over time, forcing the consumer to purchase a new model. Anyone who has ever purchased a smartphone, only to find a year later that it can’t hold a charge or operate the latest operating system, has experienced planned obsolescence.

With Bills 51 and 52, the Kenney government is taking the concept of planned obsolescence to the next level. Instead of designing a product that loses its functionality over time, this government has designed products that won’t work in the first place.

We encourage you to take a long, hard look at Bill 51, the Citizen Initiative Act, and Bill 52, the Recall Act. We have, and the problems are glaring.

Under Bill 51, the government has set both a high threshold for the number of signatures required to force a referendum, as well as a short timeline to gather the signatures.

Suppose you wanted to bring forward a referendum on a basic legislative matter, like Daylight Saving Time. You would have to gather the physical signatures of about 283,000 Alberta voters in just 90 days.

Now imagine you want a referendum on a constitutional matter, for example, property rights. Now you would have to collect more than 566,000 signatures in just 90 days. However, that still isn’t good enough to meet the bill’s requirements because you would also need to meet thresholds from various constituencies around the province. But wait, there’s more. The law also prevents you from seeking a referendum on any one issue more than once every five years.

For a government elected on streamlining regulations, this bill is overly bureaucratic.

Bill 52, the Recall Act, might even be worse. In addition to imposing many of the same problems as Bill 51, this bill goes even further by potentially stretching out the process. A recall effort can’t even begin until 18 months following the election, and the process itself can potentially take another year and three months – that’s 33 months into a 48-month term. It also leaves angry voters with ineffective representation for up to two years and nine months, which is simply not acceptable.

Another flaw in the Recall Act is that it requires an extra step to get rid of an MLA when compared to other elected officials. This extra step includes a vote in order to have a vote – offering an MLA the potential for up to six months of reprieve prior to a by-election, something that is unfair, unnecessary, and needs to be scrapped.

With these flaws and many others in mind, we are planning to put forth amendments to both Bills 51 and 52.

These amendments are meant to be constructive. We believe that both Citizen Initiated Referenda and MLA Recall are important policies, and we want them to work in the real world.

In fact, we believe the entire concept of grassroots democracy is based on the idea that regular people, rather than political insiders, can be trusted to make the right decisions for ourselves and our families.

With Bills 51 and 52, we see the government throwing up a wall of bureaucracy and regulation to manage and delay public input in our democratic institutions.

We see the government instituting policies on promises that “something is better than nothing” and “we can fix the bugs later.”

That’s exactly the kind of sales pitch you expect from the purveyors of planned obsolescence. But this government forgot something: For planned obsolescence to succeed, the product must work in the first place. Bills 51 and 52 won’t work. They need to be fixed.

Our message to the grassroots of the conservative movement is this: If you care about democratic reform, citizen-initiated referenda, or MLA recall, please call your MLA and demand changes.

Albertans deserve better.

This column was jointly authored by independent Alberta MLAs Todd Loewen (Central Peace-Notley) and Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat). The two were ousted from UCP caucus in May.

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