The Town of Okotoks is calling for the proposed Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act to be repealed.

Also known as Bill 20, the proposed legislation has drawn criticism for several changes it would introduce to municipal elections and governance, including the power for the provincial Cabinet to remove elected councilors, and to require municipal bylaws be amended or repealed.

At their May 13 meeting, Okotoks Town Council discussed the possibility of writing to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver to voice their displeasure with the bill.

A draft letter was included in the council agenda, though Mayor Tanya Thorn suggested it be amended to convey a stronger opposition to the bill.

"We have a democratic process, and this bill is undermining it. It is amassing power in one level of government, and we do a really good job here of trying to engage with the public, get back to the public, and represent the public. This bill completely and totally will undermine all of that," said Thorn at the May 13 meeting.

She outlined what she believed to be a hypocritical statement from Minister McIver when he first announced details of the bill.

"I think the hypocrisy of the minister's statement of this one when he was asked 'What if cabinet gets it wrong or the public disagrees?' His comment was 'Well that's why we have elections, you cannot vote for us next time.' I find it interesting that we can be removed as an elected official at the municipal level if it's not in the public interest but at another level, i.e. the province, you have to wait for the election to decide to have them removed. I won't even get into the hypocrisy of that."

The letter specifies a few aspects of the bill that are of concern to town council, including the ability for Cabinet to remove councilors and force a bylaw to be repealed or amended, as well as "Enabling the Cabinet to impose a provincial supervisor on a municipality to oversee its operations and finances without clear criteria or accountability."

It also calls into question the consequences of these rules being in place.

"This creates an environment where Councilors are more accountable to provincial leaders than to their constituents. The provision allowing the Cabinet to remove a Councilor without an independent, publicly reported inspection, and without clear criteria for what constitutes "public interest," is particularly troubling."

Bill 20 would also make changes to municipal elections, including the reintroduction of corporate and union donations, adding political parties to municipal elections starting in Calgary and Edmonton, and removing the use of electronic voting machines and tabulators.

These changes are also mentioned in the town's letter.

"Although the Province aims to reduce red tape, this Bill introduces considerably more, resulting in increased costs for taxpayers and additional burdens on municipalities. Minister McIver, you mentioned there are no challenges with tabulators in elections, which leads us to question the necessity of their removal," the letter partially reads.

It concludes with a request that the bill be repealed.

"The Town of Okotoks is disappointed that the provincial government continues to disregard public and municipal input, eroding public trust in government. The lack of regulations, short implementation timeframe, and insufficient input will undoubtedly result in unforeseen consequences, putting local democracy at risk. Given the fundamental flaws in this legislation and the lack of comprehensive discussion, we request that this legislation be repealed. Let's start over and develop a new approach with meaningful feedback and input from those most affected by the legislation."

It should be noted that the proposed bill has since been amended in a few ways, including giving cabinet the power to call for a public vote to remove a councilor rather than ordering the removal outright, and putting requirements in place before cabinet can order the repeal or amendment of bylaws.