The old adage 'Time is Money' will ring true when the next municipal election rolls around.

Cochrane town council is firing off a letter to Municipal Affairs minister Ric McIver expressing concern over what's expected to be a $125,000 hit to taxpayers to run the 2025 municipal election.

It also wants to add $25,000 annually to the election reserve because of the heightened possibility of byelections.

These are the only quantifiable financial costs at this point from changes made to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA) by Bill 20. Others may follow as more details unfold on how they will be regulated. 

In its letter, council will seek a clarification of the intention of allowing "political parties" to run slates of candidates, initially in Edmonton and Calgary. It also wants more details on the province's added ability to limit non-statutory studies for building and development permits.

While providing administration's report to town council, CAO Mike Derricott explained the prohibition of electronic ballot tabulators means future counts will be done by hand, something that is more labour intense and subsequently more expensive. The town will also be required to prepare a permanent electors register. Estimated to cost $50,000 apiece, they add $100,000 to the 2025 budget.

"Sometimes if you switch systems, maybe take more time, you're saving money. In this case, it's actually the opposite; it takes longer and costs more to do that," Derricott told council.

The potential for byelections has increased with the Alberta cabinet being given the authority to force a vote by the public on whether a councillor they deem unfit to do their job should be dismissed.   

The town wants to know how much, if any of these costs, will be offset by the provincial government. Mayor Jeff Genung says it's something Municipal Affairs minister Ric McIver told him is being considered.

Mike DerricottTown CAO Mike Derricott. (file photo)

Derricott says don't hold your breath.

"I think it would be fair to say that at minimum, we have not had any firm commitments and are likely skeptical that there will be a meaningful program that would cover the cost for all municipalities to switch to manual vote tabulating."

While not commenting on the cost and who should pay it, Councillor Morgan Nagel praised the foresight shown in moving to a manual vote count.

"As we look to the long-term future, I think cyber security is incredibly important," says Nagel. "We have seen things in recent years where suspected international activists have shutdown entire pipelines in countries and there's been a looming threat to financial systems and stuff like that. I just think as the world looks to the next 50 to 100 years in a world of AI, I think paper ballots is a good way to protect democracy in Canada. Even though it sounds crazy, I think it's a good idea."

Councillor Patrick Wilson agreed with Nagel but insisted a letter to the minister to indicate it's not reasonable for the town to bear the cost of the change being imposed by the province.

While the public version of the town budget indicates reserves are being built for the 2025 election, no specific cost is mentioned.

A revision to the local elections act opens the door to like-minded candidates to run as a slate in municipal elections. This will be piloted in Edmonton in Calgary, and already one such slate is in the works in Edmonton. Mayor Jeff Genung says it has been poorly explained by the province.

At a deeper level, council in general disliked the ideal of encouraging partisan politics at the municipal level.

CAO Derricott agreed, saying there's reasonable concern that this will be "the sharp edge of the wedge that starts a change in process."

"This is a change to some of the things that I think make local government the most effective and practical order of government, in that those that sit at a bench, like yourselves as elected officials, are unburdened by partisanship and that can act in the best interest of the community in all that they do. There's broad concern that switching this to a more party-based or politically charged and motivated environment would erode some of the best parts of what we observe at the local government level."

Councillor Tara McFadden is concerned the town will lose control of how it manages development by allowing the province to limit a municipalities' ability to require non-statutory studies for building and development permits.

"Our community cares greatly about what development is going to look like, what our community growth is going to look like, and I believe all of us value that public engagement piece and that opportunity to reflect our priorities. I would certainly have significant concern with anything that is going to limit our ability to engaged with our public and reflect our priorities."

The town will also be impacted by the requirement to offer a fully interactive digital option for public hearings on planning and development and the province's ability to restrict councils from holding extra hearings when not required by legislation.

The town currently doesn't have the technology in place.

Criminal record checks

Updates to the LAEA allows municipalities to require criminal record checks of candidates to be submitted when filing nomination papers. Nominations would not be accepted without the criminal record check being completed.

Even if a person has a criminal record, it does not disqualify them from running for office, but the information would be made available to the public.

Councillor Susan Flowers lead the charge on this one, questioning why it doesn't currently exist when many companies, including the town, and volunteer organizations already require criminal checks.

Council agreed and favoured adding criminal checks to the revised municipal election bylaw currently being developed. The revised bylaw requires council's approval prior to January 1, 2025, when nominations open for council and mayor.