Bill 51 would allow greater say in government priorities – NDP say it opens door for louder voice for wealthy UCP supporters

by Stephen Dafoe

The UCP government has put forward Bill 51, the Citizen Initiative Act, which the UCP says would strengthen democracy by giving Albertans a greater say in government priorities and initiatives. The proposed Act allows any eligible Alberta voter to bring forward an initiative for consideration by the government.

“Following the last federal election, I committed to doing everything within our power to fight for a fair deal for Alberta, and to give Albertans a bigger say over major issues,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a media release Tuesday. “Specifically, I committed to introducing a law to empower voters to put big issues on the agenda through citizen initiative legislation. The introduction of Bill 51 is another promise kept, and is a historic democratic reform for our province.”

Like the UCPs recall legislation, presented Monday, the Citizen Initiative Act would require Albertans to grab their clipboards and get signatures on a petition. In the case of Bill 51, they would have 90 days to collect 10 per cent of the eligible voters in the province for legislative and policy initiatives, or 20 per cent for constitutional initiatives. On the latter, it would also need support in each of two-thirds of Alberta’s constituencies.

Elections Alberta would need to verify the signatures.

After the required conditions are met, the legislative and policy initiatives would go to a committee of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for consideration. Successful constitutional initiatives would follow processes outlined in the Referendum Act.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) was quick to applaud the proposed legislation. “Albertans deserve the right to hit the eject button on bad laws,” said CTF Alberta Director Franco Terrazzano. “If legislation belongs to the people, then the people should have a direct ability to introduce legislation or repeal bad laws and citizen initiative gives us that ability.”

As with the Recall Legislation introduced Monday, limits on how much Albertans and third parties, including political action committees, can spend on promoting or arguing against the initiative would be set in the regulation.

Alberta’s NDP Opposition took a dim view of the proposed Act. NDP Critic for Democracy and Ethics, Heather Sweet said the Premier was elected to listen to Albertans.

“Instead of taking the time to hear from families and businesses on jobs, on healthcare, on parks and on protecting the Rocky Mountains, he says it’s not his responsibility to listen; it’s the responsibility of Albertans to launch a massive province-wide campaign to get his attention,” Sweet said. “All Albertans should be deeply concerned that this bill opens the doors for Jason Kenney’s wealthy friends to have the loudest voice in our democracy.”

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