Layers, Levels, and Legislation

Elections, Elections, and more Elections. As a citizen it sometimes can become overwhelming keeping track of all the different elections, especially when several occur within short periods of time. In fact, some may even lose interest altogether in exercising their democratic right. 

Between March 1, 2012 and May 31, 2012 a provincial general election will be called in Alberta. As an Albertan you will be asked to vote for a political candidate that you feel will represent your best interests and whom you believe will provide Alberta with the best responsible government. While this may be obvious to all, actions speak louder than words. 

Voter turnout is simply calculated by dividing the number of voters who cast ballots by the number of eligible voters in the election. During the last provincial election, in 2008, Albertans set a new record –low- with a 40.6% voter turnout. This low voter-turnout is not new or surprising since over the past two decades voter turnout for provincial general elections has been steadily declining and has fell by 33%. 

In July 2008 a research report was released by Leger Marketing entitled “Elections Alberta Survey of Voters and Non-Voters”. The report classifies the reasons for non-voting into 3 categories: Distracted (non-voters who wanted to vote but had to attend to other commitments; Disassociated (non-voters who did not want to vote), and Displaced (non-voters who were unable to vote due to administrative problems and technicalities). Each classification can be further broken down into specific responses:

Reasons for Not Voting – Alberta Research Survey 

Distracted (42%) 

  • Didn’t have time / Too busy 16% 
  • Out of town 15%
  • Forgot 7% 
  • Sick / Unable 3% 
  • Too far / No transportation 1% 

Disassociated (27%) 

  • Not enough information about parties / candidates 10% 
  • Not interested / Don’t care 4% 
  • Didn’t like candidates 4% 
  • Didn’t think it would make any difference / Result a foregone conclusion 4% 
  • Don’t know much about politics / Don’t like politics 3% 
  • Didn’t know who to vote for 2% 

Displaced (31%) 

  • Didn’t know where to vote / Not on voters list 6% 
  • Polls closed too early / Poor hours of operation 4% 
  • Other 9% 
  • No reason 5% 
  • Don’t know / No response 7% 

The distracted and displaced accounted for 73% of non-voters while the remaining 27% were disassociated. Amongst the disassociated, most non-voters claimed not to have enough information about the political parties, policies, or candidates, and very few were simply not interested. Researching and knowing all the details about the political parties, their policies and what certain candidates do can be daunting, frustrating, and time consuming, in particular, if a person is unfamiliar with the different layers, levels, and legislation that make up our systems of government. 

In Canada, we have three layers to government: the Executive branch, the Legislative branch, and the Judicial branch. The Executive branch consists of two parts: the cabinet and the bureaucracy, these two parts carry out the business of government. The Legislative branch debates and creates the laws. The Judicial branch enforces those laws. There are three levels of government: federal, provincial, and municipal. Each level of government possesses certain roles and responsibilities and may in some circumstances overlap. Lastly there are three parts of legislation that give each level of government its authority. All three levels of government find their roots in sections 91, 92, and 92.8 of the British North American Act of 1867. 

The federal government (Parliament of Canada) is granted authority under section 91 of the British North American Act (1867) over the following areas: federal taxation system; federal debt; federal employees and officials salaries; unemployment insurance; the postal service; 

military and national defense; federal courts and penitentiaries; census and statistics; weights and measures; currency and coinage; interest rates; criminal laws; insolvency and bankruptcy; patents and copyright; land reservations; immigration; fisheries; navigation and shipping; regulation of trade and commerce. 

The provincial government (Provincial Legislative Assemblies) are granted authority under section 92 of the British North American Act (1867) over the following areas within their geographical boundaries: provincial taxation system; provincial debt; provincial employees and officials salaries; hospitals; asylums, charities; provincial courts and prisons; property and civil rights within in the Province; laws respecting non-renewable natural resources; forestry resources and electrical energy; management and the sale of provincial land and natural resources; and the exportation of non-renewable resources and forestry; and municipal institutions. 

Provincial governments are granted authority over municipalities and cities within the province by section 92.8 of the British North American Act (1867). All the powers that municipality (or a city) possesses are entirely up to the Provincial government. In fact, the power of the federal the government to deal directly with the municipality (or a city) is somewhat limited unless the Provincial government gives permission. Most municipalities (or cities) across Canada are very restricted in what they can and cannot do and all fall under the guidance of the Provincial government. 

In Alberta, the provincial legislation that governs municipalities is the Municipal Government Act. The Municipal Government Act clearly defines the purposes, powers and capacity of the municipalities. The purpose of any municipal government is to provide good government services and facilities that are necessary/desirable for all/part of the municipality, and develop and maintain safe viable communities. 

All municipalities are corporations that are granted authority by the Province to pass and enforce bylaws relating to: the safety, health and welfare of the citizens within that municipality; for the protection of people and property; to deal with nuisances like unsightly property; transport and transportation systems; businesses; business activities and persons engaged in business; services provided on behalf of the municipality; public utilities; wild and domestic animals; regulate and prohibition regarding any development, activity, industry, business; provide a system of licenses, permits, and approvals; the municipal taxation system; and the establishment of fees, rates, fares, and tariffs. 

By knowing what each level of government is responsible for and where they derive their authority, a disassociated non-voter may be transformed into a well-informed voter who can attribute credit or hold accountable the appropriate government officials for the appropriate successes and failures. 

While exercising your democratic right by casting your individual vote may appear, at least to 4%, that it does not make any difference, it is the process of casting one’s vote that enshrines the very principle of democracy. Democracy comes from two Greek words: “demos” meaning people and “kratia” meaning to rule, that is, the idea that people should rule themselves. The democratic process operates on the will of the many and not on the will of a few. While as a group, we decide who has the authority to make decisions on our behalf regarding our country, province, and municipality, it is up to us individually to exercise that right.



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