Wildrose MLA proposes recall legislation for Alberta

The Wildrose Party is trying for the third time to pass legislation that would give Albertans the power to keep their MLAs accountable in between elections.

B.C. is the only Canadian province with recall legislation, and it's never successfully been used there

Under the proposed law, a recall petition could not begin until 18 months after an election. A successful petition would require physical signatures of eligible voters in a riding equalling two-thirds of ballots cast in the last election. (Getty Images)

The Wildrose Party is trying for the third time to pass legislation that would give Albertans the power to keep their MLAs accountable in between elections. 

Bill 201, known as the Election Recall Act, would give Albertans the ability to recall their MLAs and force a byelection.

Mark Smith, MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, introduced the private member's bill.

Mark Smith represents the electoral district of Drayton Valley-Devon. (Legislative Assembly of Alberta)

"I said if.. I could wave my magic wand, and if there was one law I could introduce into our democratic system, it would be recall, because I believe, at the heart of it, we are elected to be the representatives to our constituents," he said.

In order for a recall to proceed, physical signatures of eligible voters in a riding equaling 66 per cent of ballots cast in the last election would be required, and a petition could only be started 18 months after an election.

Petitioners would have to pay a $5,000 fee to prevent frivolous petitions, and then would have 60 days to collect physical, witnessed signatures from eligible voters in a constituency.

"Recall should never be easy, but it should be doable," Smith said.

If successful, the recall petition would force a byelection where the unseated MLA would be eligible to run, and an MLA could only be recalled once in a term.

On Monday, Sandra Jansen, PC MLA for Calgary-North West, suggested the bill was a waste of time.

"While Alberta's dealing with a serious economic crisis, low commodity prices, increasing debt and unemployment, the 'right' people are making us relive a political issue that was dealt with in the 1930s by the Social Credit Party," she said.

B.C. experience

British Columbia is the only Canadian province that currently has recall legislation in place, though it has never successfully been used there.

The legislation was introduced in 1991 by the provincial NDP, but was not proclaimed until 1995, said Gary Mason, national affairs reporter based in Vancouver for the Globe and Mail

Mason said that over the past 20 years, there have been roughly two dozen applications for recall, though "most of them have failed miserably."

The closest one to succeeding dates back to 1998, when NDP MLA Paul Reitsma was accused of writing letters to newspapers under false names, praising himself and attacking his political opponents, Mason said.

Reitsma resigned before the recall effort could run its course.

Threshold is key

In general, the most onerous part of the process is trying to meet the required threshold, Mason said.

In B.C., 40 per cent of all eligible voters in a riding must sign on to the application, which in some cases exceeds the actual historic voter turnout for a constituency, he added. 

"The important thing about recall legislation is that the threshold has to be reasonable. It can't be too onerous, and it can't be too easy," Mason said.

"It's a weapon at the disposal of voters who have an MLA that has done something egregious. It can't be something that they can use easily and gratuitously."

With files from Alberta at Noon


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