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Taxpayers Need Return Policy for Politicians

Colin Craig

Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians came with a return policy?

Just imagine if taxpayers had a legal tool that could be used to remove a politician from office in the event they broke a major campaign promise, performed poorly or surprised taxpayers with an unpopular tax increase.

Fortunately, such a tool exists and it has been in place in British Columbia for decades. It’s time for Alberta to follow B.C.’s lead and pass something known as recall legislation.

For those who aren’t familiar with recall legislation, it allows voters to start a petition in a politician’s constituency, collect signatures from a majority of voters and then have that politician removed from office, forcing a byelection.

Think about all of the uses:

A bunch of MLAs have crossed the floor to sit as independents or with another party. Surely some off their constituents were fine with this decision, but if others were upset, recall legislation would be the perfect tool.

What about tax hikes? Do you think Premier Notley would have moved ahead with her surprise carbon tax – something she didn’t campaign on – knowing that some of her party’s MLAs could have had their seats recalled by angry voters?

What about the debt? If voters had recall, would they have used it after Premier Notley unveiled a plan to triple the province’s debt in just four years? Premier Redford’s “sky palace” didn’t sit well with taxpayers either – would that have led to a recall?

It’s hard to look back and ponder how recall may or may not have been used by voters, but certainly we can think of examples across the political spectrum that would have made politicians think twice about their actions.

Unfortunately, taxpayers have had no legal course of action to obstruct bad decisions. Speaking out – calling and emailing MLAs – certainly helps, and it’s important, but it’s not as powerful as recall.

Opponents of recall legislation sometimes suggest it’s an ill-advised idea as “voters would use it irresponsibly” … but the facts suggest otherwise.

British Columbia voters have had recall legislation since 1995, and there have been 26 attempts to recall MLAs, but only one of them was successful (kind of). Former B.C. MLA Paul Reitsma resigned right near the end of the recall process, after it was clear the petition had more than enough signatures to recall him. However, there have been some other close calls.

Some pundits also believe that former premier Gordon Campbell would have lost a few MLAs had he not quit after bringing in a harmonized sales tax – just months after promising not to during the province’s election.

More than anything, recall serves as a deterrent to politicians thinking about bringing in policies that upset a majority of the electorate.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of recall legislation is that it’s a hit with voters. In 1991, before passing recall legislation, British Columbia held a referendum and asked voters if they wanted the tool – 82 per cent voted in favour.

Given the tool is a hit with voters, and politicians are always looking for ideas that appeal to voters, why not give your MLA a call and tell them you support recall?

Colin Craig is the interim Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.