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Danielle Smith and photos of Alberta driver's licenses
Jason Fanson | The Canadian Press

Mountains or Molehills: Is Bill 20 Designed To Distract Us from Real Problems?

Critics argue Bill 20 addresses a nonexistent problem, potentially making Alberta elections less accessible

Many Albertans are having a tough time, with food costs increasing daily and housing and rental costs soaring, all while income stagnates

In addition, many Albertans can’t find a doctor, and wait times to see health professionals are long.

And then there is the drought, water shortages, wildfire evacuations, and the worries that the Oilers will lose the Stanley Cup.

It’s almost too much to handle!

And what’s our provincial government up to?

Well, lately, they have all been concerned about election fraud.

Say what?

Yep, while Albertans go into debt and wait for doctors and ration water, Alberta wants to protect us from the rare possibility of election fraud.

Talk about making mountains out of molehills!

The provincial government’s proposed Bill 20 is now being sold to Albertans “to improve elections and avoid election fraud.”

The proposed Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, Bill 20, would allow Smith’s cabinet to fire mayors and councillors and overturn any by-laws they don’t like. 

If that’s not heavy-handed enough, it will also introduce party politics to municipal elections and give Smith’s cabinet the power to postpone elections if they decide to.

The bill would now, among other changes, require citizens to have voter ID cards to be eligible to vote.

Preventing voter fraud is the reasoning given by Premier Danielle Smith. 

However, critics say it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

And really, is this something that valuable tax dollars should be spent on?

Is Voter Fraud a Problem?

Elections Alberta has reported only seven cases of voting irregularity since 2013.

That’s hardly a reason for panic.

In an article published in The Conversation, University of Alberta political scientists Jared Wesley and Alex Ballos say Bill 20 could make elections less accessible and undemocratic

“Most Canadian jurisdictions have taken the route of expanding the franchise and making voting easier for eligible citizens. However, Alberta is following the path of many Republican-led U.S. states that have seen a degradation of voting rights in recent decades,” say the authors. “They have done so under a similar guise as the UCP: claims of restoring electoral trust.”

Bill 20, if it passes, would do away with the process of vouching and require every eligible voter to have a voter ID card.

Vouching allows one voter to vouch for another who may need a fixed address, lack up-to-date ID with proof of residency, or is a student or mobile worker.

Fewer People Will be Able to Vote

“Denying eligible Canadian citizens their right to vote is a dangerous precedent that fundamentally undermines a cornerstone of democracy: accessibility,” according to the article authors.

A 2023 government opinion survey found that 46 percent of Albertans want to keep the vouching system in place, while only 30 percent want to ditch it.

Based on evidence, and public opinion, Alberta’s electoral system seems to work well and is not plagued with fraud and irregularities. 

Which makes you wonder about the real reasons behind Bill 20.

A Distraction? 

Press release photo from the Alberta Government on Voter's rights
In other voting news, the Calgary City Council voted to allow non-citizen permanent residents to vote in civic elections. The UCP government responded quickly, with Danielle Smith saying, “In my mind, only Canadian Citizens should be able to vote in Federal, Provincial and Municipal elections” | Alberta.ca

The provincial government planned to go much deeper with its proposed bill than voter ID cards.

In its original version, the bill would have allowed the province to scrap municipal bylaws it doesn’t like.

It also would have given the provincial government the power to remove local councillors at will, councillors that Albertans elected to represent them at city hall.

It sure looks like a power grab on the part of the province.   

The government announced in late May that it would strike some of these measures from the bill after facing widespread pushback from municipalities.   

Still, Bill 20’s intent is troubling. 

Why is Smith’s government rushing to pass unpopular laws that Albertans don’t want, experts say are anti-democratic, all to fix a problem that their own data shows isn’t even a real issue?

Maybe the government wants to distract Albertans with petty little things so we forget about the big-picture issues they are not addressing.

Essentially, they want us to look at the molehills, not the mountains.

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