Richard Starke, the remaining PC MLA in Alberta, says recall legislation, as proposed by UCP Leader Jason Kenney, is not good for democracy.
Whether it’s called populist Pablum or democratic drivel, one thing is certain, a few of the democratic reform promises made by United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney can best be defined as bad policy.The democratic reforms announced by Kenney on Valentine’s Day deserve little love, particularly his plan to allow voters to fire MLAs between elections and to ban elected MLAs from switching parties without an election.Richard Starke, the only remaining Progressive Conservative MLA in the Alberta legislature, recently posted a stream of 20 tweets condemning recall legislation in particular, something he has spoken about passionately in the legislature back in 2016, when recall legislation was put forward as a private member’s bill that thankfully went nowhere.“Populist parties sell people on keeping elected officials on a short leash with a choke chain,” wrote Starke, a retired veterinarian and the soon-to-be retired MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster.Reached at his constituency office Friday, Starke says when you peel back the onion-like layers of policies like recall legislation expect metaphorical electoral tears.Starke points to the case of Covina, Calif., a city of about 50,000 in the Los Angeles area, as a prime example of why recall legislation is a bad idea.In July 1993, the entire Covina city council was recalled by angry voters after councillors raised municipal utility taxes by six per cent to make up for a $2.3-million budget deficit.A new election was held and most of the newly elected city councillors were leaders of the recall movement. Once the new councillors got into office, however, they discovered that if they didn’t increase taxes they would have to shutter the library, shut down the parks and recreation department and lay off 77 city workers.By the time a new election had been held a year had passed, the deficit had increased and the new councillors concluded that they had to raise taxes by 8.25 per cent to keep vital city services running.That sparked yet another recall petition — which thankfully was not successful.“To suggest that recall legislation is going to provide better accountability and sound political decisions is false,” said Starke. “Recall legislation is folly.”Starke says Peru provides an even starker example of the problems with recall legislation. In that South American country, “over 5,000 democratically elected authorities in 747 municipalities (46 per cent of all Peruvian municipalities) were recalled in the period between 1997 and 2013.”Recall can also run amok. In Peru, over 5,000 democratically elected authorities in 747 municipalities (46% of all Peruvian municipalities) were recalled in the period between 1997 and 2013. #ableg #abpoli10/20— Richard Starke (@RichardStarke) February 19, 2019Then there’s the cost. As a 2003 report by British Columbia’s chief electoral officer pointed out, even though no petitions in that province have been successful, bureaucracy had to be increased to ensure people were available to administer the recall legislation.Worst of all, however, recall legislation leads politicians to fear doing the right but unpopular thing.Kenney is also vowing to ban floor crossings. But as Starke points out, Winston Churchill crossed the floor twice — leaving the British Conservatives for the Liberals in 1904, only to rejoin the Tories again in 1925 and he was one of the greatest political leaders of all time. Floor crossings are a part of our British parliamentary democratic system.“I kind of have to smile,” chuckles Starke. “I think how people view floor crossings depends on whether you’re getting a crosser or losing a crosser.”In politics — unlike in life — it’s always much better to receive than to give when it comes to elected representatives!By contrast, in late 2014, virtually the entire Opposition Wildrose party crossed the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives. Many of those floor crossers paid with their jobs in the May 5, 2015, election that swept the Alberta NDP into power. Voters ultimately get to decide. Forcing party defectors to face a byelection rather than joining a new party is just a costly waste of taxpayer dollars.Kenney is also planning to establish a set election date — not this wobbly three-month set election time-frame we have now. That’s a good plan.That we are ostensibly into the fourth week of Alberta’s provincial election campaign and the election hasn’t even officially been called yet is, however, just a tiny example of the unintended consequences of some democratic reforms.As one of the chorus of voices who advocated for a set election date long before former premier Alison Redford passed the Election Amendment Act on Dec. 6, 2011, I can admit now that the outcome has not been all positive.Currently, an election must be held between March 1 and May 31. Since a campaign in Alberta is 28 days, that means the NDP government and the opposition parties have been easing into this campaign one month prior to March 1. If Premier Rachel Notley decides that the election will be in late May, Albertans will have endured four months of campaigning. Having a particular day will hopefully limit the length of time that the governing party can game the system. THREAD: Five Reasons Recall is a Bad Idea The UCP has rolled out their 8-part Democratic Reform package.That’s positive. Albertans deserve to know each party’s policies before the election. Changes to our democratic process are fundamental and important. . #ableg #abpoli1/20— Richard Starke (@RichardStarke) February 19, 2019Kenney also announced that a UCP government would get big money out of Alberta politics by imposing a $30,000 limit on how much a donor can contribute to political action committees, or PACs. That’s a good plan.We like the idea of keeping our politicians on short leashes, but in practice it leads to bad, short-sighted governments.Ultimately, plans to bring in recall legislation should be recalled.Licia Corbella is a Postmedia opinion firstname.lastname@example.org