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'Too much work, too little return': Calgary council to discuss recall legislation

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Calgary city councillors will debate a process to initiate recall petitions this week, which could potentially see those same councillors ousted from their jobs.

Many political observers believe mounting a successful recall campaign aimed at a civic politician is nearly impossible.

"It isn't very realistic, but it wasn't designed to be. It was designed to have a very high threshold," said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.

"There are two major motivations for recall legislation – one is symbolic. That was to be able to say that you shouldn't have to wait between elections, that councillors should be responsible to the voters throughout.

"The other is as a failsafe – if nothing else works, then you have this slim possibility."

Most election analysts believe Ward 4 councillor Sean Chu is the most likely to face a recall.

Chu has rejected repeated calls to step away from city council after it surfaced that he had been accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in 1997, when he was a police officer.

Chu was never criminally charged, but a review of the case by Calgary’s police commission found officers mishandled the investigation.

The woman involved in the incident, who uses the moniker H.H. to protect her identity, does not believe that a recall petition will have any effect on Chu’s standing as a councillor.

"I think it's window dressing. I think it's a completely unrealistic bar to reach in any set of circumstances," she said, adding she believes politicians should face a vetting process before election rather than the threat of a post-election recall.

"I think that it needs to be similar to when lawyers become a judge on the bench. They have a system where they have to declare criminal cases against them, legal cases against them. And there's a box that says, 'is there anything in your personal or work life that would embarrass you if you were appointed to that position?'

"I think there needs to be something similar for people in elected positions as well."

Political strategist Stephen Carter has been asked if he would consider mounting an "oust Chu" petition.

"There's no way I'm going to run the 'recall Chu' initiative. It's too much work, too little return. "It's just too impossible to do," said Carter.

"It's too hard to get the number of signatures required in the time allotted. And even if you made the time allotted, essentially a full election cycle, I'm not sure you could get the number of election signatures.

"More people than would vote are going to have to sign up for this. It's just – it's unreasonable and unrealistic to actually see recall happen."

Under provincial legislation,for a municipal recall petition to succeed, it requires at least 40 per cent of the population of a ward to provide a signature.

The signatures also need to be witnessed with a signed affidavit and be verified by elections officials. The signatures can only come from eligible voters which, in reality, makes the threshold much higher.

Preliminary data given to city councillors shows the necessary thresholds vary from ward to ward based on the demographics of the area.

The highest threshold is in Ward 5 in the city's northeast, where it would require 99 per cent of eligible voters to sign a recall petition.

In the case of Ward 4, 57 per cent of eligible voters would need to sign.

In the 2021 election, which also featured two plebiscites, 46.38 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls, but no ward saw over 40 per cent of voters cast a ballot for its councillor.

"It's almost impossible, we're talking about more people participating in the petition, than voted in the last election," said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams.

"It is a very, very high threshold – virtually insurmountable.

"Unless, of course, you've got really good organization on one hand, and a groundswell of opposition on the other."

Recall legislation was passed by the UCP government in 2021. Its rules say a petition cannot be collected within the 18 months following an election or the 60 days preceding one.

That means that on April 22, Calgarians could begin the process to try and oust a civic politician by forcing a special election.

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