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Former UCP MLAs join forces to push changes to government bills

Two MLAs who were kicked out of the UCP caucus last month are working together to compel the government to change proposed legislation for recall and citizen initiatives.

Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes want thresholds lowered on recall act

Alberta MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes were expelled from the UCP caucus over allegations they divided the party and undermined government leadership. (Government of Alberta)

Two Alberta MLAs who were kicked out of the UCP caucus last month are joining forces to compel the government to change proposed legislation for recall and citizen initiatives. 

Recall legislation gives people the power to oust an MLA from their seat. Citizen initiatives allow a voter to propose a referendum question that people can vote on, but they have to reach a threshold in the number of signatures they collect within in a certain time period.

Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes now sit as independent MLAs in the legislative assembly. 

Barnes and Loewen were originally elected as Wildrose MLAs. They joined the UCP when the Wildrose merged with the Progressive Conservatives to form the new party in 2017.

They say Bill 51, the Citizen Initiative Act, and Bill 52, the Recall Act, have thresholds that are too difficult for citizens to meet, so they plan to introduce amendments when both bills reach the committee of the whole stage of debate. 

Bills 51 and 52  involve issues beloved by the grassroots of the Wildrose Party: recall legislation and referendum questions initiated by voters. 

Barnes said Alberta's proposed recall legislation is based on the law in British Columbia. Since 1995, there have been 26 attempts to recall MLAs in B.C. The only time an MLA was removed was when the individual resigned while the petition was being verified by Elections B.C. 

The bill under consideration in the Alberta legislature would require a petitioner to collect signatures from 40 per cent of eligible voters in a constituency within 60 days. If a petition is successful, a recall vote must be held to determine whether the MLA loses his or her seat. Critics say those criteria make it nearly impossible to recall an MLA. 

Barnes said they are still determining what thresholds and timelines to propose in their amendments. 

The NDP has also proposed changes to the recall bill. But Barnes said they lack credibility on the issue since they voted against recall bills when they were in government. 

The move is the first time the two MLAs have worked together to challenge the government's agenda since they were voted out of the UCP caucus on May 13.

"We've agreed to work together on some things and there's some things I'm sure we will stay apart on," Loewen told reporters at the Alberta legislature.

"Obviously, as independents, we have that opportunity to either join together when we feel the need is right and to go our own ways when we have to do." 

Since the UCP formed government in 2019, both men say they grew increasingly disenchanted with Kenney for his alleged refusal to listen to caucus and for what they felt were overly prescriptive public health restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Barnes has spoken out against the government for months. Loewen called for Kenney's resignation in a letter published online early on May 13. They were expelled from the caucus later that day. 

Loewen and Barnes said they have received widespread support from their constituents since leaving the caucus. 

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