Does Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver have any idea how many Albertans could be denied the right to vote in the next general election because of the United Conservative Party’s planned changes to provincial voting rules in Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, 2024?

A demonstrator at Saturday’s Enough is Enough rally in Edmonton tallies up some of the UCP’s more anti-democratic bills and reaches a conclusion (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If he does – and you’d think he would – nobody’s bothered to ask him about it yet.

But according to University of Alberta political Scientist Jared Wesley, the number could be anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 eligible voters – all to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by making it impossible for neighbours and co-workers with ID to vouch for people they know at a polling station. 

“Bill 20 is aimed at a bunch of boogiemen,” Dr. Wesley tweeted Friday. “From fake voters to rogue councillors to unlawful bylaws – not one shred of evidence. Just fear and feelings.”

The bill’s targets may be boogiemen, as Professor Wesley asserts, but despite Mr. McIver’s claims that it’s just been put on the legislative agenda to make it a little easier for the government to exercise powers it already has in an emergency, the goal is understandable if not particularly palatable. 

It’s clearly intended to give the UCP the power to influence who gets to vote, and if municipal voters ignore their wishes anyway, to overcome the democratic will of progressive voters in Alberta’s big cities. 

University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is right in line with the NDP Opposition’s accusation the UCP is trying “to control everything, everywhere, all at once,” which was a good line the first few of times it was used, but is not a very effective way to attack an example of genuinely undemocratic government overreach. 

On Thursday, in reaction to some of the features of the bill that aroused the ire of municipal councillors in the UCP’s rural heartland, Mr. McIver introduced some amendments that don’t really change the additional powers the bill will give the government. 

Those changes would no longer allow cabinet to fire a municipal councillor in absentia during a secret cabinet meeting – it would only be able to disrupt said councillor’s ability to get anything done by ordering a vote to remove them from office. Better, I guess, but not much. 

As for provisions that would allow the cabinet to veto municipal bylaws, a few vague stipulations will be added to give the impression of due process. It would still be an undemocratic decision made in secret.

As the president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta complained Friday, the amendments won’t stop the province from intruding into the legitimate authority of municipal governments. 

Rural Municipalities of Alberta President Paul McLaughlin (Photo: Ponoka County).

With no clear definition of the public interest or provincial policy, Paul McLaughlin told The Canadian Press, the law could be used to let the cabinet interfere with municipal decisions for any old reason or whim. 

Warning the government has “empowered a monster,” he argued the bill might give some future government – an NDP one, presumably – “the largest baseball bat you can imagine. 

Seasoned observers of Alberta politics will understand that it’s the monster that has armed itself with a big bat that we actually need to worry about. 

The CP also quoted Edmonton-Gold Bar NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt that as a result of the legislation, which is certain to be passed by the government majority in the House, UCP MLAs will need to brace themselves to start taking angry calls for municipal taxpayers mad about local issues like pothole complaints and cat bylaws – a possibility noted in this space back on May 7

“This government has created 1-800-hate-my-councillor,” Mr. McLaughlin agreed. “They’re going to be inundated.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. 

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In a Substack column published on May 7, Dr. Wesley outlined reasons the UCP’s voter ID restrictions are a bad idea. Among them: That it could block up to 50,000 Alberta citizens who are entitled to cast a ballot from voting and, at the same time, it would not prevent non-citizens from voting.

“Fact is: non-citizens qualify for most forms of photo ID, including driver’s licenses. A federally issued passport is the only form of photo ID that proves you are a citizen,” he wrote. “So voter ID won’t solve that imagined problem, either, unless you want the federal government to verify who’s eligible to vote in Alberta elections.”

What’s more, Dr. Wesley said, most voters don’t support the idea. “According to the government’s own survey, only 30 per cent of Albertans favour measures like Bill 20 that would ban vouching. Forty-six percent want to keep it. This level of support is likely rooted in the fact that over 100,000 Albertans have vouched or been vouched for in previous elections.”

Why would the UCP government want to do that? Well, Dr. Wesley answered that question in another Substack published on May 3. “Voter ID laws like those included in Alberta’s Bill 20 are designed with a primary objective in mind: limiting the types of people allowed to cast ballots so the government can win elections.”

In other words, so the UCP can pick who gets to vote.

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  1. No doubt the UCP got the idea from our neighbours in several red states. These types of measures have worked well suppressing the votes of minorities

    1. Probably, but the Harper government tried this federally (and failed), so it’s not alien to the Canadian context. So given the UCP’s full frontal assault on democracy, can we now dispense with this nonsense that Alberta produces “ethical oil”?

    2. Or maybe they got the idea after a chat with Mr. PP, who tried this kind of policy once back in 2014 when he was Stephen Harper’s minister of state for democratic reform. He also wanted to end vouching which estimates showed, would disenfranchise up to 100,000 voters, mostly students, seniors and aboriginals.

  2. It is absolutely appalling how the UCP are running the province. What’s also very disturbing is how people can still defend the UCP, regardless of how bad they are. How did the Enough Is Enough rallies go? I see a photo of one from Edmonton. Perhaps a future blog detailing what went on is possible?

    1. I think that continued support happens for a couple reasons. 1. They are afraid to try anything different (once a Conservative, always a Conservative) and 2. they aren’t actually keeping track of everything that this party is doing in the province and thinking about how all these ‘connected dots’ will affect them. And I think I have to add a #3 to that, they’ve grown up with the idea that they have been victimized by Ottawa (and everybody else who just doesn’t appreciate them!) and so, they like the continual fight that the UCP has with everyone who doesn’t jump for them. Somebody is getting even on their behalf.

      Once again, the example of my Alberta born mother who hasn’t lived here for 60 years and we can’t have a discussion about Alberta politics because she instantly reverts to the ‘Alberta is getting screwed by Ottawa so why should that provincial government do ……’. I think the fact that the NDP have any kind of presence in this province is a testament to change through human migration.

  3. How frightening to think that Albertans think everything is fine with the UCP, according to Janet Brown’s latest poll for the CBC. As the media always remind us, Janet Brown is never, ever wrong.

  4. If an election were held tomorrow, Smith and the UCP would most likely win. The logical conclusion form this is that the majority of voters in Alberta approve of what she is doing to democracy. Apparently, Albertans long for an autocratic ruler. Fingers crossed the next leader of the ANDP is not as timid and prone to half measures as the last.

    1. Jaundiced Eye: If an election were held tomorrow, Danielle Smith and the UCP would most likely win. The way that would happen is by Danielle Smith being her same old dishonest self, and the media not scrutinizing her, or the UCP, for their many major missteps, and very costly failures. This is what happened in the last provincial election in Alberta. The lies and major mistakes that Danielle Smith is doing will have to catch up to her. Will Danielle Smith last an entire term as premier? That isn’t going to happen. It can’t, because her lies don’t seem to advance her tenure in politics.

  5. Voter suppression at its best! Do Albertans actually realize that? Or care?

    Albertans should be ashamed of the authoritarian actions their elected UCP.

    1. There are lots of Albertans who are embarrassed by this fiasco, namely a majority of voters in Edmonton and a significant minority in Calgary. It’s because of the potential power of these voters that the UCP has taken these steps. They are trying to hamstring progressive voices and votes here. It’s scary that it may work.

    2. In order to feel shame, one must have self awareness. Utter lack of self awareness is a requirement for modern “conservatives”, otherwise their heads assplode.

  6. Bill 20 is a legislative tool to undermine democracy and free elections and municipal representation and decisionmaking. The intent is to rule the province from above, bypass municipal powers and have absolute control over every decision from what time we can cut our lawns to how much ID we need to vote. What will it matter? Our vote will be meaningless. Why would Smith do this? Ask history’s authoritarians why they did what they did. Or ask Putin.

    1. Ask David Parker, too. He’s much closer. Barry Cooper might have something to say, as well.

  7. Ric McIver has always struck me as an opportunist in the most extreme.

    During the ill-fated premiership of Allison Redford, McIver played the role of the sheriff over Redford’s excesses concerning the renovation of the infamous Sky Place. It was McIver who declared that he stopped Redford from pillaging the treasury for her “expensive Italian drapes” and other opulent furnishings. It’s a good we have McIver to stand in the way of corruption. Haaaarrrummph! Haaaarrrummph!

    From there, McIver became one of Jason Kenney’s hapless flunkies, and now he finds himself doing Queen Danielle’s dirty work, dismantling what little there is of Alberta’s kind of democracy. McIver has never struck as a person of higher values and principles. In other words, Lenin called his type a “useful idiot” and it shows. Given the growing outcry over the impact of Bill 20, it appears that anyone, regardless of their place on the partisan lines, has a bone to pick with this piece of legislation. While urban official resent this obvious act to usurp their elected offices, even those who are in rural government are mindful that they will be under the boot of the UCP and its whims. Things could start getting personal if someone in the UCP decides some rural official is not loyal enough, or hasn’t done enough.

    Bill 20 is an action to remake Alberta as a unitary state, democratic institutions be damned.

    1. Just Me: Ric McIver isn’t the only opportunist in the UCP. There are others. The ones that didn’t support Danielle Smith, or her undemocratic Sovereignty Act, are all comfortable in the UCP now, and seem to be fine with what she is doing. Maybe, as opportunists, they are waiting for Danielle Smith time as UCP leader to come to an end, so one of them can take over.

  8. I was born in Canada, and have lived my entire life in Canada, which makes me a citizen by birth. I’ve lived in Alberta since 1985, and in Grande Prairie since 1988. But I don’t have a passport and have no immediate plans to get one. So, does this mean I won’t be able to vote in the next civic elections?

    Federally, I’ve been on Elections Canada’s permanent voters’ list ever since they started using our tax returns to maintain it. But Elections Alberta doesn’t use that system, and municipalities don’t either. If we have to prove our citizenship to vote in a municipal or school board election, we’re going to see long lineups at polling stations while people present their documentation to the polling station staff.

    Once again, the UCP government is bringing forth a draconian solution in search of a problem: there is zero evidence that people ineligible to vote are voting in our low-turnout civic elections.

    1. Jerry: You can’t use your Canadian passport as voter ID in Alberta. Too Canadian. DJC

        1. Doug: You are incorrect. The right to vote is tied to citizenship. “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein,” says the Charter. Nothing there about having to have a physical address. Identification procedures, including documentation and vouching are methods by which citizenship and residency in the jurisdiction are established. DJC

          1. Doug: The feds allow vouching. The relevance of the passport to this discussion is that it establishes one’s citizenship. The UCP proposes a “solution” to non citizens voting that doesn’t exclude non-citizens but would exclude many citizens. The entire history of this kind of thing in North American has been about voter suppression – in other words, preventing entitled voters who are judged unlikely to support your party from voting. This is undoubtedly part of the reason for the UCP initiative. DJC

  9. You have to wonder whether the UCP’s trying to solve problems that really don’t exist is a sign of incompetence or a way to create excuses for them to try create more favorable conditions for those they want to win. Maybe some of both, but I do feel that their flimsy arguments are more a sign of the latter.

    They no doubt have noticed voter suppression laws being used with some success in the US and the previous Federal government’s attempt to do the same.

    This may make it difficult for people who have recently moved or who don’t drive to vote, but as already pointed out non citizens can get easily drivers licences and other valid Alberta ID which have never indicated citizenship. So this approach seemed flawed from the beginning.

    Perhaps the UCP is using municipal politics as a test run for voter suppression on a larger scale. After all the last provincial election was uncomfortably close for them as are recent polls too.

  10. OK, so 70% of Albertans think Bill 20—and 18, and 22—are wrong, bad, worse than useless and a direct threat to our right to make decisions for ourselves.

    So what? It’s the other 30% who are the target audience. You know, the guys who mutter “Don’t want them votin’ in MY town!” “Them (doctors/teachers/nurses/insert name of professional class of your choice) waste too much tax money.” “Damn AHS can’t tell me to get the jab. Human rights! Freedom!!!”

    As long as David Parker and his apostles are happy, Danielle Smith will stay in power.

  11. one can only wonder what these control freak UCP will do next. The only thing missing is the jackboots and SS uniforms…democracy in Alberta? forgetaboutit!!

  12. How very American of the UPC. removing voters from the rolls makes it easier for some party to be elected without have the necessary votes, because a whole lot of people didn’t get to vote. Nice work UPC Can hardly wait for Ch. 2 of this story.

  13. I’m sure Putin would be able to give a rather in depth historical and material explanation of the rise of authoritarian governments in the west he has a rather strong grasp of history.

    He’s also the elected leader of the Russian Federation, unlike Zelensky Who has now illegally and unilaterally extended his mandate in violation of the Ukrainian constitution.

    But yes, ask him, I’m curious what he would say.

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