Conversations around the notion of introducing party affiliations into municipal elections in Alberta have become louder in the last few weeks.

Statements from Premier Danielle Smith and Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver have given the impression that legislation to add some kind of party system to local elections.

McIver’s address at the recent Alberta Municipalities Spring Municipal Leaders Caucus prompted a response from Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn.

One of McIver’s remarks that Thorn took umbrage with was a claim that party affiliations are essentially already in place in local politics.

“We’ve heard rhetoric that it’s around third-party supporters or advertisers that don’t get disclosed. That’s something we were pretty vocal about when we did the Local Authorities Elections Act, we said ‘Make changes to this, this is not going to work right.’ There are other tools, if that’s what we’re trying to fix. Change the Local Authorities Elections Act.”

Should these changes be put in place, she’s concerned voters would no longer feel the need to put in the time to learn about candidates and would instead just vote along party lines.

“We want people to engage with who those candidates are, what they want to do and vote for what resonates with them. My concern about putting a party beside someone’s name is we stop voting for people and we start voting for labels, and I don’t think that makes municipal government effective.”

It’s unclear whether parties on municipal ballots would align with existing provincial or federal parties, but Thorn thinks it would be a flawed system either way.

“Is it going to be that it’s the ‘Okotoks UCP Party,’ or the ‘Okotoks ABC Party and the Okotoks XYZ Party.?’ If that’s the case, and every community is going to have different parties, what’s the intent? What is it solving, how is that going to help people understand? That’s a piece that the minister did highlight, that we’re not 100 per cent certain that there will be an alignment with the parties we know or if they’ll have to be something different, and if it has to be something different, how is it solving the problem you say you’re trying to fix?”

If these municipal parties do end up sharing names with provincial or federal parties, Thorn would point to issues of candidates having to tow the party line, which she doesn’t see as a good fit for municipal representatives.

“It’s not about a party line, it’s about ‘What is the best thing for the community as a whole?’ My concern with parties is do we start worrying more about what the party thinks is important versus what is best for the community. Sometimes those things aren’t aligned.”

In September of last year, Alberta Municipalities released a report they had commissioned from Janet Brown Opinion Research, showing that a survey conducted among 900 Albertans showed that 68 per cent of respondents preferred municipal candidates running as individuals.

Another nine percent said they weren’t sure, and 24 per cent said they should run as members of a party.

According to Thorn, there has been some consultation with municipalities about this possibility over the years, and as far as she knows, a majority were against the idea.