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Alberta's recall bill sets bar so high no MLA needs to lose sleep

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The Alberta Legislature, in its current, shrouded state. Image credit: David J. Climenhaga

Laws that let voters recall representatives with whom they've grown dissatisfied have an undeniable appeal, even as they threaten to unleash constitutional mayhem and make some jurisdictions all but ungovernable.

So it was one thing for Jason Kenney to promise to implement this hardy perennial of Alberta's aspirational politics when his new United Conservative Party was storming along atop the polls on its way to a strong majority.

It was another thing entirely for Kenney in the present circumstances, deeply unpopular personally, his party lagging the NDP in several polls, and a few of his MLAs potentially vulnerable to recall.

Kenney's justice minister, for example, the man who introduced the bill yesterday and the only UCP MLA in Edmonton, defeated his NDP opponent by only 715 votes. It's highly doubtful Kaycee Madu could repeat that feat today.

But under pressure from his supporters to keep this promise and mocked by his NDP opponents for not daring to keep it, Kenney obviously felt he had something to prove.

Cynically, he opted for the traditional political response to demands for recall legislation. To wit, Bill 52, the Recall Act, sets the bar for recall so high -- 60 days to collect verifiable signatures from 40 per cent of the voters in a riding that could have a population well over 50,000 people -- it's doubtful it can ever be successfully used.

NDP Democratic Reform Critic Heather Sweet summed up the bill as "virtually impossible to use in the real world."

In the unlikely event a petition were successful, there would still have to be a recall vote. Only one recall petition is permitted per MLA per term, and it can't happen until 18 months after a general election and six months before the next one.

In British Columbia, where a similar law's been on the books since 1955, petitions have been started 26 times, but have only met the threshold a half a dozen times. Of those, five were rejected by Elections B.C. and the targeted politician quit before the vote in the sixth. In other words, no Alberta MLA from any party needs to lose any sleep over this nonsense.

But Kenney can go around saying that, thanks to him, Albertans can now hold their politicians accountable, never mind that they can't really, and that he's kept his promise. Indeed, that's pretty much what he did say in yesterday's news release.

If you view this as a betrayal of the UCP base, I suppose it's faintly ironic that this bill was tabled on the Ides of March. But, really, it's just politics as usual pretty well everywhere.

The UCP did introduce one interesting twist -- extending a recall mechanism to municipal elections with a more generous timeline and no need for a recall vote.

This may have been a sop to some of the right-wing groups in Calgary that have a hate on for Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

It may not have occurred either to the government or to the likes of the market fundamentalist advocacy group previously known as the Manning Centre that if they try to use this, they and their funding are bound to become the focus of any fightback campaign.

Once they think about that potential, it seems likely they'll reconsider such thoughts and revert to sniping and whinging on social media, which may not be as effective but are less likely to encourage members of the public to think too deeply about, say, the dark sources of some of their money.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the secretive self-described "tax watchdog" once headed by Premier Kenney himself, has been lobbying for the inclusion of municipal politicians in the B.C. legislation. News releases making such demands, it is fair to say, are an excellent opportunity to raise funds from gullible members of the public.

The potential for mischief in smaller municipalities, though, is greater, and may not always be to the liking of conservative parties or their auxiliary groups.

In the unlikely event a recall threatened a politician such as Kenney, of course, that would be the end of the legislation for another 84 years.

That's how long it's been since Social Credit premier Bill Aberhart's 1936 recall law threatened Aberhart's own seat in Okotoks-High River. The act was efficiently repealed in 1937.

Eight private member's recall bills have been proposed in Alberta since 1993, blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out, but cooler heads have prevailed each time.

Teachers' union mounts legal challenge of arbitrary transfer of pension management

The Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) has gone to court to argue Finance Minister Travis Toews's ministerial order transferring management of the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund (ATRF) to Crown-owned Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) is unreasonable and should be overturned.

The terms and conditions imposed in the order are inconsistent with the Teachers' Pension Plans Act, the ATA argues in documents filed Wednesday and noted in a news release on Friday.

"Teachers were very concerned that investment management for their pensions was required to be transferred from ATRF to AIMCo with no option by ATRF to select other investment managers," ATA President Jason Schilling said in an affidavit. "This decision was made without any consultation with the Association when teachers make more than half of the contributions to the fund. Pension benefits for services after 1991 are not guaranteed by the government so teachers bear half the risk of any shortfalls or deficiencies."

The legal move will keep the unpopular effort by the UCP Government on the front burner and draw attention to the perception AIMCo's management of other public pension funds has fallen short of expectations.

The ATA is both a professional association and union for Alberta's approximately 46,000 public, separate and francophone schoolteachers.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: David J. Climenhaga

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