Alberta’s Bill 20 to Shake Up Local Election Rules

The Government of Alberta has tabled Bill 20: Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, 2024. [“Bill 20”] in an effort to strengthen accountability measures in local elections and municipal government while also introducing changes designed to encourage accelerated housing development.

The much-anticipated legislation introduces the potential for local political parties, changes the contribution rules for third party advertisers and municipal candidates, and amends various voting procedures designed to increase voter confidence in local elections. These changes will have a profound impact on the 2025 Municipal Elections in Alberta and should be carefully considered by any individual or group who may be active in those elections.

Bill 20 proposes to make changes to two pieces of municipal-related legislation:

  1. The Local Authorities Election Act [LAEA]
  2. The Municipal Governments Act [MGA]

Changes to the LAEA

  1. Introduction of Local Political Parties

    The amendments would allow for the registration of local political parties that could subsequently endorse a candidate or slate of candidates. The party affiliation would then appear on the ballot next to the candidate’s name.

    These local political parties would not be affiliated with any federal or provincial political party and will, at least initially, be limited to Edmonton and Calgary.

    Those who are interested in creating a local political party will need to wait to see what the regulations will look like to determine exactly what will be permitted. Bill 20 provides a long list of matters that will be addressed including how parties are to be structured, financed, and operated.

  2. Changes to Special Balloting Rules

    A special ballot allows for an elector to vote even if they cannot vote at advanced polls or on election day. Currently, a special ballot can only be requested for specific reasons, such as physical disability, absence from the municipality, or for election workers.

    Bill 20 seeks to expand the availability of the special ballot by allowing electors to apply to vote by special ballot for any reason. This will provide additional flexibility for those with scheduling conflicts or other restraints.

  3. Changes to Contribution Rules

    Bill 20 would permit Alberta-based unions and corporations to make contributions to local candidates, a practice currently prohibited for municipal campaigns. Bill 20 would also impose an aggregate limit of $5,000 per year for each contributor. Currently, the donation limits are applied on a candidate by candidate basis, rather than an aggregate. The onus will lie with the contributor to ensure they do not over-contribute.

    Bill 20 also provides for a significant reduction in donation limits to third party advertisers who conduct regulated activities during the regulated period (May 1, 2025 – Election Day). Currently, donations up to $30,000 are permissible, but the changes would see this amount reduced to $5,000.

  4. Vouching

    Vouching is the process by which one elector confirms that another elector is the person they claim to be. Under the current LAEA, an elector can forego identification requirements if another elector vouches for their age, residence, and identity.

    Bill 20 would remove the ability to vouch for a person’s age and identity, vouching would be limited to confirming another elector’s address. In effect, electors would be required to provide identification at the polls, rather than have another elector vouch for them.

  5. Changes to Voting Tabulation Procedures
    Bill 20 provides that electronic tabulators will no longer be allowed for elections. Instead, votes will be compiled the ‘old-school’ way, by manual count.

    Additionally, where the margin of victory in an election is less than 0.5%, there is a mandatory recount. Previously, recounts were done on a discretionary basis.

Changes to the MGA

Bill 20 broadens accountability measures for local councillors, provides additional powers to the Provincial Cabinet to intervene on municipal matters if required, and provides for some housing development changes.

  1. Broader Accountability Measures for Local Councilors

    Orientation training is now mandated for incoming councillors. The current reading of the MGA provides that a municipality must offer orientation training, but there is no requirement for a councillor to attend training. Bill 20 adds the language “each councillor must attend” orientation training.

    There are also expanded opportunities for councillors to recuse themselves when in a real or perceived conflict of interest. The current rules are limited to financial matters, but Bill 20 will include situations where a private interest is engaged (financial or otherwise). A councillor is not obligated to disclose the nature of the private interest, though the obligation to disclose pecuniary interests remains.

    Bill 20 will also shift the onus when a Councillor is disqualified by requiring that they vacate their position unless a court order is obtained to remain. Presently, a disqualified councillor who refuses to vacate must be compelled by the courts to leave their position.

  2. Additional Cabinet Powers

    Cabinet would be given the ability to appeal or amend a municipal bylaw and would allow Cabinet to direct a municipality to take specific action to protect public health or safety.

    Bill 20 also offers more robust powers to the Cabinet to remove municipal councillors where it is in the public interest to do so. This would expand and streamline current powers, where the Minister of Municipal Affairs can remove a sitting councillor through the municipal inspection process, which the Government says is too restrictive and lengthy. Cabinet would also have the power to call a referendum on whether a councillor should be removed.

  3. Housing Development
    The Government is seeking to make changes that will incentivize the additional residential housing supply.

    Bill 20 provides for more access for public hearings on planning and development matters by requiring a digital option for meeting attendance, while also limiting and streamlining approvals by prohibiting extra hearings where not legislatively required.

    Bill 20 also allows multi-year property tax incentives for residential property development. Currently, the MGA only allows incentives for non-residential properties.

    The government will also make non-profit subsidized affordable housing exempt from property taxation.


The Bill passed its first reading on Thursday, April 25, 2024. If passed, the legislative amendments are anticipated to come into force in late 2024 and early 2025.

Political participants of all types are encouraged to familiarize themselves with these changes in advance of the upcoming election cycle. Ongoing monitoring and advice will be necessary for those seeking to form local political parties as the prescribed regulations are developed.

Municipalities will also need to pay careful attention to the revised operational requirements prescribed by the MGA and be mindful of the additional mechanisms for provincial intervention.

If you have questions about these or related matters, please contact Steven Dollansky or Ralph Lang.