Calgarians at city hall on Monday, April 22. Photo: Alejandro Melgar

A week of big change for Calgary city hall

Say goodbye to party-free elections.

On weekends, The Sprawl sends out an email newsletter called Saturday Morning Sprawl. Subscribe here so you don't miss a dispatch! Here is this week's edition.

This was a big week in Calgary municipal politics—not just because of what was happening inside city hall, but more significantly what was announced outside of it.

Let's start with what happened inside city hall. The hearing on citywide rezoning kicked off with gusto on Monday morning, with council chambers packed and overflowing outside. By Tuesday, the fanfare and big crowds dissipated. Then it became gruelling, as it inevitably must with some 800+ speakers who get to speak for five minutes each.

There are highlights and lowlights of such proceedings—and some memorable one-liners. "Really, Calgary is just going through puberty," one speaker said on Thursday, explaining the growing pains of a young city.

If you want to know what all the fuss is about, I recommend listening to (or reading) the latest Sprawlcast, The Rumble Over Rezoning, if you haven't already.

The hearing has been much more civil than I expected, at least in the initial days—in large part because speakers with different perspectives have been staggered, which is new for Calgary public hearings. Previously speakers from one side would often speak consecutively, giving the impression that "everyone" thought a certain way.

Mixing it up means people have beeen challenging each other’s ideas as the hearing has unfolded. It also means that if you tune in online, you've been able to get a mix of perspectives in a shorter amount of time, rather than having to hear people hammering away on the same points one after another without interruption.

On Monday evening, at one point, an elderly speaker observed, “So many eloquent speakers. I'm embarrassed to stand here before you.” This was after a pro-rezoning speaker; she went on to argue against the rezoning.

It's a little thing, sure. But these days, I'll take the little things.

There are also big things happening. Some very big things. Specifically, the provincial government's Bill 20, tabled Thursday in the legislature.

The days of party-free municipal elections in Calgary are over. Bill 20 will introduce municipal political parties into next year's elections in Calgary and Edmonton (but nowhere else in Alberta). Bill 20 also gives cabinet sweeping powers to remove municipal councillors and amend or reverse municipal bylaws as it sees fit.

There are little to no guardrails on these new cabinet powers. Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver suggested on Thursday that public opinion and the news media would be the guardrails when it comes to cabinet removing a municipal councillor.

"l'll tell you what I believe the most important and legitimate guardrail is: that the announcement will have to be made publicly," said McIver, a former Calgary councillor. "And the public, both directly and through the media, will say, 'How did you come to this deliberation?'"

If the public doesn't like cabinet's decision, McIver continued, "cabinet would be at great risk of being held accountable" in the next provincial election.

I believe the public will hold us accountable in the greatest way possible — the next general provincial election.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver

There is a lot to dig into here—a lot—and I mean to dig into it, so stay tuned.

It's worth mentioning that one of the guardrails McIver is touting, the news media, is deteriorating rapidly. So if you value independent journalism and the work The Sprawl does for Calgary, please support it, dammit! Now's the time to strengthen what little journalism is left in this province.

If you've supported us in the past, we'd love to have your support once again. And if you're a reader and/or listener who appreciates our work but has never supported it—it's not too late! We'd love to have you on board.

Thanks for considering it and have a good weekend!

Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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