The Recall Petition Process and What Comes Next

Tuesday, March 14th, 2023 | 2021 Election, Alberta, Calgary, Politics

By way of the agenda for the March 14 City Council meeting, we have our first glimpse at what The City of Calgary’s Recall Process will look like.

If you are holding out for #RecallChu the picture is grim.

The most noticeable obstacle is the comically large threshold the Province has set of 40% of the population that must sign a recall petition for it to be successful. While we’ve known this threshold for a while, because there was no list of electors provided for the 2021 election, this is the first time we know exactly how many people this equates to in Ward 4: 35,784.

For comparison, this is 6,161 people MORE than the 29,623 who voted for ALL council candidates in the ward this past election.

But the task is even more difficult because the threshold is 40% of the ward POPULATION but the only people who may sign the petition are registered ELECTORS. This means while there was a voter turnout of 47% in Ward 4, for a petition to be successful it must actually be signed by 57% of the electors.

If you couldn’t get them to vote for anyone during a well-publicized election, where will you find this extra 10% to sign your petition against one specific person?

The second major obstacle to a recall petition is that all signatures must be collected in person (no digital collection allowed) and only within a 60-day period. For comparison at the rate that my campaign volunteers and I collected the names of supporters via door knocking it would have taken multiple 60-day periods to collect enough names.

This means that the only way for a petition to be successful is if it has a MASSIVE volunteer effort – greater than all councillor campaigns in the ward during the election combined. I’d estimate you’d need at least twice the number of volunteers as those who participated in ALL Ward 4 campaigns. And you’d need them working together, in a coordinated way.

What could happen next?

Given the above, I’m not confident any group can mount a successful petition against the current Ward 4 councillor. However, it is not impossible if a large group of volunteers come together to coordinate their actions BEFORE a petition is launched. That is where I expect things are likely to go off the rails though.

This is because another large obstacle in the petition process is that only one person may launch a recall petition against any incumbent and it can only be done once every election cycle. Plus once the City approves their paperwork the 60-day clock starts ticking.

I fully expect an overzealous volunteer with their heart in the right place could do exactly this and inadvertently start that clock without a full and realistic plan, thereby significantly decreasing the length of time available to collect signatures. I’m not sure how you would gauge this, or even if it is something you’d want the City to gauge, but there is nothing in the City’s process to determine the viability of any recall petition application. It is simply: if one person has the right pieces of information on a sheet of paper the clock starts on everybody’s single chance at a recall.

This takes me to the final point: if I were to be especially pessimistic, I can see a scenario where supporters of the current councillor do exactly this on purpose. It is a tactic that is not illegal but that most would likely agree would be unethical. And given how we ended up in the position where a recall petition is being discussed as the last option available, I don’t think that would not be a terribly surprising step to see happen. And given the process rules outlined by the province and the process outlined by the City there’s nothing anyone could do about it.

April 22, 2023 is the first day someone can submit a recall petition. We all wait to see what will happen.