By Trevor Busch
MLA recall legislation could soon become a reality for Alberta voters if the UCP moves on a policy resolution approved by party membership at their virtual AGM in mid-October.
The policy resolution was put forward by the Taber-Warner UCP constituency association on Oct. 16-17, and passed with 71.8 per cent of the membership in favour. Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter is in full support of the idea that was brought to the table by members in his home riding.
“Absolutely, I’ve always been a proponent of recall legislation. I think the value to recall is that you don’t have to wait four years. If your legislative member is not doing what you need him to do, or her to do, this is an opportunity to be able to enact recall. To say, ‘You know what, I’ve hired you for four years but if you’re not going to do what I need you to do, we might bring recall in and take you out before then’.”
The UCP’s virtual AGM debated policies and governance issues, with a focus on constituency associations, preparing for elections, fundraising, the nominations of candidates, and setting out rules for reviewing the current leader. Members voted on 30 policies submitted by various constituency organizations. Taber-Warner’s resolution suggested recall be initiated in cases where an MLA is out of touch with the interest, needs and issues of their constituency. According to the resolution, recall should be triggered if 51 per cent plus one of total voters are in favour of forcing the Chief Electoral Officer to hold a by-election. It was also argued that potential recall legislation, if enacted, would increase the motivation of elected members to more effectively represent their constituents as well as helping to mitigating pressure from party whips.
“We certainly have to figure out what the thresholds are going to be,” said Hunter, who also serves as associate minister of Red Tape Reduction. “I know for sure that this is actually in all-parties committee right now trying to be able to figure out what those thresholds should be now. So stay tuned, I think that’s going to be quite an exciting thing.”
Recall legislation has some past precedent in Alberta. The Social Credit government of Premier William Aberhart passed a Recall Act in 1936 as one of their first legislative acts. But when Aberhart announced intentions to attend the coronation of King George VI in 1937 with taxpayers to foot the bill, negative reaction was swift in a cash strapped, Depression-era Alberta.
Residents of Aberhart’s riding, Okotoks-High River, initiated a recall petition which was later endorsed by the SC constituency association. However, to prevent the optics of having a sitting premier potentially removed from office by the voters of his own riding, the Social Credit government quickly repealed the legislation with Aberhart claiming fraud and intimidation with regard to the petition signatories.
While today’s Alberta is quite a different political animal than the controversies of 80 years ago, Hunter reinforced that accountability to constituents should still be key for any elected member.
“I know in my constituency association this was talked about a lot, and I think it’s exactly what we need to be doing. Accountability to people, accountability to our constituents, that is what we have to be able to do, and if we don’t deliver that then maybe our job should be on the line.”.