Social Credit introduced recall laws in Alberta in 1936 and repealed them in 1937 when Premier William Aberhart faced a recall challenge in his own riding.

Wildrose Recall Bill would let 20% of voters overturn a fair and democratic election

A private members bill proposed by Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose Party MLA Leela Aheer would allow 20 percent of eligible voters – a significant minority of eligible voters – the ability to overturn the results of a previously held fair and democratic election.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview

Leela Aheer

Bill 206: Recall Act, which passed first reading on Nov. 26, 2015, would create an MLA recall mechanism that could force a by-election in a provincial constituency if 20 percent of eligible voters from the previous election sign a petition demanding so.

If we were to have recall laws in Alberta, the threshold for overturning the results of a general election should be much higher than the 20 percent of eligible voters proposed in Ms. Aheer’s private members bill. A small minority of eligible voters should not have the power to overturn the results of a fair and democratic election.

The 20 percent requirement proposed in Bill 206 is also much lower compared to any previous recall proposals in Alberta.

Private members bills proposing the creation of recall laws in Alberta’s recent history have all come from opposition MLAs and all called for a significantly higher percentage of voters to sign the recall petition. Three private members bills introduced by Liberal MLAs in the 1990s called for recall to be triggered with the signatures of 40 percent of voters. A private members bill introduced by a Wildrose MLA in 2010 lowered the bar to 33.3 percent.

The only province with recall laws, British Columbia, requires signatures from more than 40 percent of eligible voters. B.C. adopted recall laws after it was approved through a province-wide referendum in 1991.

Even when Alberta briefly had MLA recall laws, from 1936 to 1937, signatures were required from 66.6 percent of voters to trigger a by-election.

One reason behind the low percentage in this bill is that it could make it easier for the conservative opposition to target and trigger by-elections in rural constituencies represented by NDP MLAs. In rural ridings where NDP candidates were elected in tight races, the low 20 percent threshold in Ms. Aheer’s Bill 206 would equal almost the same amount of votes received by Wildrose candidates in the recent election.

  • In Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley, only 3,278 signatures would be needed to trigger a recall by-election under Bill 206. The Wildrose Party candidate earned 3,147 votes in that riding and NDP candidate Marg McCuaig-Boyd earned 3,692 votes.
  • In Lesser Slave Lake, NDP candidate Danielle Larivee was elected with 3,915 votes compared to the Wildrose candidate’s 3,198 votes. Twenty per cent of eligible voters would equal 3,812 votes.

Of course, Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLAs could also become targets of the recall laws, though it is unlikely the NDP majority – like the previous Conservative majority – would ever support this bill.

In my opinion, Albertans had an opportunity to vote in a general election seven months ago and cast their ballots for candidates with the understanding they would serve as MLAs for the next four to five years. As the results of the 2015 election proved, when we are motivated by tired and arrogant governments, Albertans can be trusted to elect a new government. In 2019, Albertans will once again have an opportunity to cast their ballots and choose who will represent their individual constituencies.

A brief history of recall laws in Alberta

1936: Bill No. 76 of 1936: A Bill Providing for the Recall of Members of the Legislative Assembly was introduced by the Social Credit government and passed after their surprising win in the 1935 election. The bill required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election.

1937: The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River constituency.

1993: Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Gary Dickson introduced Bill 203: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill was defeated in a 42-34 vote in the Legislature.

1995: Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici introduced Bill 224: Parliamentary Reform and Electoral Review Commission Act, which would have created a commission to study a handful of issues, including recall. The bill passed first reading but was never debated.

1996: Lethbridge-East Liberal MLA Ken Nicol introduced Bill 206: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. This bill was defeated in a 37-24 vote in the Legislature.

1997Bill 216, Recall Act was introduced by Edmonton-Manning Liberal MLA Ed Gibbons but was never debated in the Legislature. If passed into law, the bill would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

2010Calgary-Glenmore Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman introduced Bill 208: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 33 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. Reached second reading but was not debated further.

2015: Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer introduces Bill 206: Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election if 20 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

36 thoughts on “Wildrose Recall Bill would let 20% of voters overturn a fair and democratic election

  1. Dana Sharp-McLean

    20% seems a rather low threshold to trigger a by-election. And the costs associated with these by- elections would not be insignificant. On balance, seems quite undemocratic.

    Reply
  2. Barry

    20% seems sufficient due to the fact that half the time there is only a 40% eligible voter turnout which means 50% of the people that did vote have a chance to realize there mistake and correct it with a by-election.
    There was a lot of misled people during the last election campaing

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Voter turnout in the previous election is irrelevant. If we are going to have recall in Alberta, it should require more than 20% support from eligible voters.

      Overturning the results of a fair and democratic election should not be easy.

      Reply
  3. Grant G

    More Wildrose games. 20% is waaaay too low to overturn an election result. Shame on Aheer for this undemoctatic Bill.

    Reply
  4. Kerry Lanny

    Brian Jean is rich. Will he pay for all the unnecessary byelections? Each byelection would cost $250,000.

    http://www.calgarysun.com/2015/05/13/alberta-taxpayers-cant-afford-another-costly-byelection-in-calgary-foothills-and-they-shouldnt-have-to

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/jim-prentice-should-pay-for-calgary-foothills-byelection-says-taxpayers-group-1.3067568

    Brian Jean should do the honourable thing and cover the $250,000 cost himself if he thinks this is a good idea.

    Reply
  5. David

    We have elections approximately every four years and there are actually many good reasons for this.

    A government should be judged on its complete record and it takes time for a new government to implement its plans. Also there are economic ups and downs that can last for a few years, so we should not just judge a government on how things are going at one particular moment, but over a full economic cycle. Also, good governments should be able to focus on governing and not have to be in perpetual election mode.

    I might support recall if the government did something terrible and the threshold was very high, like 50% or 2/3’s, but 20% is ridiculous. Is this an early April fools joke?

    It is funny how the losers of elections sometimes propose things like this. People who do not like the results should not demand another election right away. There is a term for these people – sore losers. If the official opposition wants to be taken seriously, they should not act like sore losers.

    Reply
  6. Enlightened Savage

    Thanks for this, Dave. I wrote about the 20% threshold Wildrose was championing a year ago, using the 2012 election results as an argument against.

    Having gone through the 2015 results and looking at them through the lens of Bill 206 having been theoretically in force, there are 3 MLAs – all of them Wildrose – who could have been immediately recalled on May 6th provided the candidate who finished in second place ponied up $5,000 and tracked down their voters to sign the recall petition. This essentially gives campaigns a “Mulligan”, to use the golf term: Our GOTV could have been better, the voters now know who formed government, let’s take another shot at it.

    Further, another 72 MLAs could have been recalled immediately if all those citizens who voted for their opponents got together and signed a recall petition. That’s without any engagement from anyone who didn’t show up on Election Day.

    This isn’t a way, as Aheer claimed on the radio this morning, to hold MLAs accountable in between elections. It’s a way for well-organized and well-funded parties to try and take seats and momentum away from their opponents, and to target and eliminate MLAs they find irritating. It creates a culture of fear similar to the US “Primary” system, where rather than actually governing, MLAs will have to constantly be fundraising and glad-handing, worried that they’ll be subject to recall at any moment. And while they’re in Edmonton trying to do the people’s business in relative obscurity, the person gunning for their job is going to be raising money, whipping local voters into a froth and door-knocking all over the place.

    Set the bar at over 50% of eligible voters. If an MLA has gone so completely off-the-rails that they obviously need to be replaced, 55 to 60% signing the petition should still be achievable.

    26 of the people sitting the Legislature right now got less than 20% of eligible voters to mark an “x” next to their name. Not a single one got a majority of eligible voters. But we shouldn’t let an MLA elected by a plurality of 35 or 40% of eligible voters be summarily fired, lose their salary and have to fight for their job again because 20% didn’t like the job they were doing, or because the runner up has cash left over and a good voter ID list.

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Barry. Voter turnout from the previous election is irrelevant. If we are going to have recall in Alberta, it should require more than 20% support from eligible voters. Overturning the results of a fair and democratic election should not be so easy.

      Reply
  7. Érnie

    Looks like the left-wing Dave Cournoyer is again afraid of basic democracy. Albertans have tired of socialism Dave…

    Reply
  8. Barry

    Yes 20% does seem low but I hate seeing the economics and heritage of our province being destroyed while someone thinks they’re doing a good deed. Maybe they should raise the percentage and make the constituency pay for the by-election with donations and keep government money out of this so it won’t effect the tax payer one bit and nobody can complain.

    Reply
  9. David Foster

    Dave, you have some fair criticism of the details of the bill but you have to admit also that recall legislation has been a success in BC. Over the past 20 years only a couple of BC MLAs came close to being recalled and they both resigned before the by-election could happen. It’s a way to deal with an MLA who has acted irresponsibly and become widely unpopular.

    Reply
  10. Jerrymacgp

    Recall is a threat to good governance. From time to time, MLAs might be called upon to vote on matters in which the greater good of the province as a whole is at odds with the narrow parochial interests of their own constituency. Recall would punish them for doing so, and could threaten the health of our democracy, by making our elected representatives afraid to make the tough choices.

    All in all, it’s a bad idea.

    Reply
  11. David

    Again, some the right wingers are very sore losers! The (Progressive) Conservatives governed Alberta for many years without recall legislation and this did not seem to be a big issue. Now right after a left wing party finally gets in, some of the bitter the right wingers just can’t seem to accept it.

    Reply
  12. Rural gal

    What is the mechanism? Do we have to live with an MLA or cabinet minister of whatever party when the person is not doing their job? If you are an employee who was hired and not doing your job, you get recalled ( fired) and the search goes out for a better candidate.
    20% may be too low but I do not believe that it is democratic when a person elected to do a job for us refuses to their job! Letting them collect a salary for 4 yrs just does make sense.

    Reply
    1. Chris

      Define “not doing their job.” That’s the crux of all recall legislation, and many who support recall often confuse “not doing their job” with “not doing what I approve of.” If a legislator can be shown to literally not being doing their job, there should (and are) policies in place to punish/fine/censure that legislator. And the court of public opinion can and will put pressure on that person to resign. No recall is required.

      Reply
  13. Ryan

    It’s a good thing there’s this thing called an amendment. If the NDP don’t want it, they won’t pass it, but there’s nothing stopping them from passing it to second reading and then amending it to 30 or 40%. If the percent is all that can be nitpicked over then arguments against recall are intellectually bankrupt.

    Reply
  14. Maria

    I have no problem with a recall vote if this is the wish of 50% of eligible voters – irrespective of how many people actually do vote. Given the significant cost of a by-election, it is surprising that the ‘fiscally responsible’ Wildrosers would even consider allowing a few thousand people to trigger such an expense. Alternatively, 20% would be fine if all the signatories paid for the by-election in full, including paying the expenses of all candidates. Now that would be treating taxpayer money with respect.

    Reply
  15. Bert

    This is just a Wildrose stunt. We already have the opportunity to recall elected representatives it is called an election and it worked very well a few months ago. In it 100% of the eligible voters had the chance to make their choice known. They did it by secret ballot without being harangued or intimidated by someone holding a clipboard.

    Many of the complaints coming from people on the right sound very high principled but really are not. “They are not doing their jobs” , “They haven’t done anything”, “They do not listen to the people”, “They are not democratic” all come down to the same thing viz. “They are not doing what I want”. Some of us have gone a lifetime with a government not doing what we wanted, now it’s your turn. Suck it up. In the immortal words of Richards and Jagger “ You don’t always get what you want but you just might find you get what you need.”

    Reply
  16. Ray Lariviere

    While the NDP deep thinkers advises the thousands of Albertan constituents that lost their jobs to go find work in BC………………..

    Reply
    1. Stephen

      I don’t remember opponents of the PC regime demanding recall the last time the world price of oil collapsed. They had more sense than the Wild Men (and women) of today’s official opposition.

      Reply
  17. Phoebe

    The NDP brought in recall legislation in BC, those crazy extremists!! And Notley was working for them at the time. Don’t bother to bring up those details though!

    Reply
    1. Stephen

      Phoebe,
      BC’s recall law was a “gift” of former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm, widely regarded as one of the worst premiers the province has ever had. His government put recall on the ballot in tandem with the 1991 provincial election. There was no debate on it to speak of and voters, rather predictably, endorsed what seemed, superficially, to be a good idea. The NDP, elected in 1991, really had no choice but to draft and implement a recall law, even though the referendum technically wasn’t binding on the new government. As most informed observers of BC politics predicted, the recall law was mainly used by political opponents of the governing party to re-fight the previous election–not what most voters had in mind when they absentmindedly voted yes in the referendum. Fortunately, BC’s recall law is written in such a way that the threshold for deposing an MLA is sufficiently high to prevent such abuses. For more information, see chapter 7 of BC Politics and Government by Howlett, Pilon, and Summerville (2010), pp. 119-122.

      Reply
  18. Kevan

    My response is simple, this ndp government is horrible, they have yet to instill any hope to out of work albertans, they are in fact about to put more albertans out of work!and has this government even bothered to check the environmental impacts of their green initiatives? Check the impact to windmills haves on migratory birds, my personal opinion is to have ndp leave

    Reply
  19. Josh

    In reading the comments above it seems that many would support recall legislation to help prevent the most egregious abuses of power by our elected officials and remove them from power if necessary. So why on earth should we expect 50% or more of the eligible voters to support a recall if in many cases that number exceeds the actual historic voter turnout for a constituency?

    Reply
    1. Steve

      Josh I agree that the voter turn outs are poor but to remove a duly elected member should not be easy . You would have to get voters engaged and make them get involved by whatever means . Other wise we would be in a perpetual by election cycle between elections .

      Reply
  20. Steve

    A recall mechanism is something that should be put into place in our electoral system to prevent abuses of govt and obvious bad management to continue. Having said that this mechanism must be above repeal at the whim of the sitting govt. This recall mechanism must not be directed at the govt et al but at individuals perceived to be acting contrary to the citizens in their particular riding . This mechanism must take into account the entire enumerated eligible voters and then a clear majority such as 60% of the eligible voters must by signature on a petition show intent to recall by way of by election to recall a sitting member of the legislature. If a clear majority of voters province wide want to call the premier into recall then this petition of 60% of eligible voters province wide must be sent to the chief electoral officer and he/she must present this to the executive of the party that the premier represents giving the responsibility to them to call an immediate leadership review and replace the premier within 60 days. And call a by- election in the premiers riding. Should the premier loose this by election then replacement is automatic if on the other hand they survive the by election the party in power must replace them by leadership review within 60 days but they may remain as a sitting member of the legislature

    Reply

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