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Alberta’s next election, initially scheduled for May, will now move to October.

This change comes with Bill 21, the Emergency Statutes Amendment Act, introduced in the legislature on Thursday. Other changes in Bill 21 are set to improve how the provincial government responds to emergencies, such as floods, droughts, and wildfires. 

“In Alberta, the likelihood of floods and wildfires is highest between May and July,” said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

She cited numerous examples, such as the Slave Lake fire in May 2011, the “devastating floods” in June 2013, the Fort McMurray wildfire in May 2016, and last year’s record wildfire season in Alberta, which began in early May. 

“We need to be able to assure that no matter which region of the province is affected by an emergency, we are able to have an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Smith.

Alberta’s last election was held on May 29, 2023, but the election period began on May 1. Five days later, severe wildfires forced Smith to activate the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee and declare a state of emergency.

Over 45,000 Albertans, including electoral candidates — who had to pause their campaigns, were displaced from their homes.

Thanks to an election occurring during an emergency crisis, ministers were restricted in what they could do during this procedure due to election protocols. For example, Smith, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis, and Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen were subject to daily fines of $5,000 because they were forced to use government resources during a campaign period to battle the wildfire crisis.

Smith said they decided to pay the fines as collaborating effectively with municipal, provincial, and federal governments took precedence. 

“Emergencies will happen in the future. Facing them again is a virtual certainty, but we can be better prepared for when they come,” said Smith.

The majority of Canadian provincial jurisdictions hold their elections in October. 

Additional amendments will be required to the Elections Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Alberta Senate Election Act to align with the proposed election date.

Despite a reporter trying to get Smith to attribute the increased fires to climate change at the press conference, she would not.

“Of all the fires so far this year, and we’ve had about the same as last year, all but one were human-caused,” Smith confirmed.

Before Bill 21, the Alberta government had no immediate authority to intervene when fires crossed jurisdictional lines.

While many jurisdictions, such as Calgary and Edmonton, have sophisticated fire-response infrastructure, smaller jurisdictions, such as towns and hamlets, don’t have the appropriate resources to handle fires that can quickly spread out of control.  

“I can’t foresee that there’s going to be very many municipalities who are going to oppose this move. In fact, we’ve been hearing the opposite. When we’ve had these major catastrophes in the past, whenever the post-mortem is done, it’s always: ‘Why didn’t the province step in earlier? Why wasn’t the province proactive?’” said Smith.

The province has more tools at its disposal than any municipality. For example, Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada with night vision helicopters actively fighting fires, according to Loewen. 

“That’s the envy of North America right now,” he said.

Alberta also has drone technology that monitors fires throughout the night with thermal imaging.

Bill 21 not only amends the Election Act but also modifies the Emergency Management Act, the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, and the Water Act.

These amendments will clarify and extend the provincial government’s powers to manage emergency responses more effectively across all provincial lands and prioritize water usage for public health, safety, livestock welfare, critical infrastructure, and environmental protection.