The province has introduced legislation that proposes to move Alberta’s set election date from May to October. According to the government, the proposed date change is so that elections do not coincide with the spring and summer wildfire, drought and flood seasons.

The proposed changes to The Election Act, if passed, would set a new election date: the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following the election day of the last general election.

This would mean the current provincial election scheduled for May 31, 2027, would occur on October 18, 2027. 

"A set election date in the fall would decrease the likelihood of cabinet officials dealing with the challenge of a natural disaster during the election period," the province stated.

The province cited that since flood, drought and wildfire emergencies are most likely to happen during May and June, using the Slave Lake fire of 2011, the Calgary and area floods of 2013, and the Fort McMurray fire of 2016 as examples, the proposed change, one of several, would ensure that in emergencies, they can, 'respond to keep Alberta families and communities safe.'

"When an emergency strikes, we need to be able to pull together quickly. We need to be sure that, no matter which region of the province is affected by an emergency, we can have an all-hands-on-deck approach. Emergencies will happen in the future, but we can be better prepared for them when they come and that’s what we’re proposing to do," Premier Danielle Smith said. 

Bill 21, known as the Emergency Statutes Amendment Act, 2024, also proposes a series of other amendments to other acts. 

Other proposed changes include amending the Emergency Management Act, which would, 'ensure Alberta’s government can, when needed, assume authority over local emergency response efforts in situations where additional provincial oversight and support is required.'

Circumstances where this enhanced authority may be assumed include where a local authority specifically asks for more assistance, as well as when a local authority’s council or staff may no longer be able to respond due to the overwhelming and sudden nature of the event; or where the event spans several jurisdictions and requires enhanced provincial coordination of resources.

"In addition, to ensure the province has the best and most comprehensive information available to provide the right support at the right time, additional amendments would require local authorities to report more information to the province during a state of local emergency," the province added.

That could include reporting on the nature of an emergency, the powers the local authority intends to use during the state of local emergency, as well as actions already taken in response to the emergency. Others include resources utilized, the status of evacuation orders or alerts and the establishment and location of reception or registration centres.

The province underlined that local authorities would continue to be responsible for the day-to-day emergency planning and management within their jurisdictions unless the situation needs a provincial response.

"The proposed changes would clearly define provincial authorities and would help foster coordination during particularly challenging situations."

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, Mike Ellis said that the proposed amendments are meant to provide clearer mechanisms for government intervention and enhancing co-ordination efforts.

Other acts that are being proposed to be amended include changes to The Water Act, which would, 'allow government to take key actions if an emergency is declared.'

Changes include determining the priority of water use in the area, as well as directing water licence holders to change if, when or how they can divert water for use, allowing temporary low-risk water transfers between major water basins, and exempting certain drought or flood mitigation activities from authorizations to speed up the process.

The government is also looking to expand the authority of the designated directors under the Water Act to make water available for priority uses in an emergency more efficiently and reduce administrative delays. 

"The proposed amendments could only be used if a water-related emergency is declared under the Water Act and would only apply to the geographic area designated within the emergency declaration. These changes would only be used as a last resort to help government act quickly if an emergency was declared."

Proposed changes to the The Forest and Prairie Protection Act would, 'enhance the province’s discretionary authority to conduct emergency wildfire response on all provincial lands, both inside and out of the Forest Protection Area.'

"Currently, emergency response in municipalities outside the Forest Protection Area is managed by local authorities and resources unless and until they request provincial assistance. If passed, these changes would help ensure that, when large or multi-jurisdictional wildfires occur, Alberta’s government can step in to support and potentially lead response efforts."

The government added that the proposed changes would also clarify the Alberta government’s authority to construct fireguards and allow the removal of buildings or structures in emergency situations when required by wildfire suppression efforts.

"Additionally, the act would be amended to include Metis Settlements and clarify that the government can take action to fight wildfires on any provincial lands, including Metis Settlements. Furthermore, amendments would require municipalities to report critical information to the province to make sure the government can provide the appropriate support at the right time."

Following the government's announcement Irfan Sabir, Alberta NDP Critic for Justice, Public Safety and Emergency services, issued a statement saying that Bill 21 is another example of the government attempting to centralize power.

"This legislation shows a deep level of distrust of the work of municipal leaders, emergency responders and frontline heroes to keep Albertans safe during a crisis. It shows contempt for their decision-making abilities and a lot of hubris," the statement read.

Sabir added that the UCP was, 'overriding its own fixed election law and unilaterally extending their mandate an additional six months without first seeking it from Albertans.'

"This is a government that has an incredibly exaggerated sense of their own value and their own power. Danielle Smith said during the election that Albertans were her bosses, but it is clear now that she intends to be the boss of everyone."

Thursday's announcement comes on the heels of continued controversy over another bill the province introduced, Bill 20.