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OPINION: Recall Legislation is truly affront to Democracy

To date, The Village of Ryley is the first and only community in Alberta to successfully recall a municipal official

The recent news of a recall petition targeting Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek has sparked debates across the province of Alberta.

While some herald it as a precedent-setting event, it's essential to recognize that such efforts are not entirely novel. The small community of Ryley, Alberta, set the stage back in early 2023 when it successfully ousted former Mayor Nik Lee through a similar recall process. Nik Lee's trajectory from elected official to recalled mayor is a cautionary tale. Elected in 2017, Lee's tenure was short-lived due to his disqualification in 2019 for failure to pay municipal taxes. However, in a surprising turn of events, he made a comeback in 2021 and was appointed mayor. Despite the hopes of the community, Lee's leadership proved controversial, marked by a significant increase in the village's budget and growing dissatisfaction among residents. Faced with this untenable situation, the people of Ryley took matters into their own hands, collecting the necessary signatures to initiate a recall petition and ultimately ousting Lee from office.

The Recall Act, enacted in April 2022, empowers citizens to remove elected officials, be they MLAs, municipal representatives, or school trustees, through petition. Eligible voters can initiate a recall process 18 months after an official's election if they believe the individual is failing in their duties. In the case of municipal officials, petitioners must gather signatures representing 40% of the municipality's population within 60 days.

In the context of Calgary, where the population is substantial, the threshold for triggering a recall is daunting. Requiring over half a million signatures—equivalent to 40% of the population—is no small feat. To put this into perspective, in the last 2021 municipal election, just over 386,000 Calgarians cast their votes, highlighting the substantial challenge of meeting the required signature threshold.

As the recall petition targeting Mayor Gondek prepares to ramp up, various voices have emerged, offering predictions and perspectives on its implications. Some experts speculate that Gondek will likely survive the recall, albeit with her reputation tarnished. Others argue that the bar set by the 40% threshold is too high, making successful recalls unlikely. Still, others suggest that the mayor should preemptively resign to spare herself and the city the embarrassment of a recall campaign.

However, amidst these debates, I find myself taking a different stance. I view recall legislation as a threat to the fundamental principles of democracy. While it is understandable to hold elected officials accountable for their actions, recall petitions represent a departure from established democratic norms. They undermine the integrity of the electoral process by allowing for the removal of duly elected officials outside of scheduled elections.

Supporters of the recall against Gondek often point to instances where politicians fail to deliver on campaign promises or enact unpopular policies. Yet, such instances are not unique to Calgary but rather reflective of broader political realities. Elected officials may face challenges and constraints that necessitate adjustments to their positions over time. While it is reasonable to hold them accountable for their actions, recall petitions are not the appropriate means of doing so.

Instead of resorting to recall petitions, citizens should engage with their elected representatives through constructive dialogue and civic participation. Elections provide a mechanism for holding officials accountable, allowing voters to reassess their support based on their performance in office. Ongoing engagement and scrutiny are essential components of a healthy democracy, ensuring that elected officials remain responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents.

As the recall petition unfolds in Calgary, In the coming 50 or so days - as of the time of writing - my focus will be singular. Will any current Calgary Councillor step forward and declare their willingness to sign the recall petition?

To those councillors sitting in the chamber, discontent with the mayor's decisions, I pose this question: Are you prepared to publicly declare your intention to overturn a duly-elected leader, thereby contravening the will of the people in the last election? Failure to do so renders your performance in the Council merely performative, and casts doubt on your commitment to effecting real change in Calgary.

Regardless, this recall effort amounts to nothing less than an assault on the fundamental principles of democracy and the integrity of every municipal leader elected into office.

Ultimately, the implications of recall legislation extend far beyond individual cases. They represent a broader challenge to the foundations of democracy and the principles of elected leadership. As we navigate the complexities of governance, it is imperative that we reaffirm our commitment to democratic values and reject attempts to undermine them.

In the coming days and weeks, as the recall petition gathers momentum, the eyes of Alberta will be on Calgary's city council. Their response will not only shape the outcome of this particular recall but also set a precedent for future challenges to democratic governance.

Recall legislation poses a threat not only to elected officials but to the very essence of democracy itself. Its implementation undermines the electoral process and diminishes public trust in democratic institutions.

As we navigate the complexities of governance, let us reaffirm our commitment to democratic principles and reject attempts to subvert them.


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