The Petition

What is a Petition?

A petition is a formal request to those in authority for an action to be taken. The Alberta Municipal Government Act provides citizens with the ability to petition their municipality to, among other things, create a new bylaw. Only electors of a municipality are eligible to sign the petition, and a minimum of 10% of the population is required for it to be valid.

From the date of the first signature, a timeline begins:

  • SIGN (60 days). Up to 60 days are provided to acquire at least the minimum number of signatures in order for the petition to be accepted (10% of the entire population, NOT of just those that can vote).
  • VALIDATE (45 days). Once the petition is presented to the municipality, its administration has up to 45 days to confirm that the petition is valid.
  • DRAFT (30 days). Once the petition is validated, the Council is informed and within 30 days a bylaw is drafted according to the petition’s wording. At least first reading is passed. Council could choose to pass the rest of the readings and put the bylaw on the books that same day. However, as was the case for Westlock, Council will typically set a date for a town-wide vote (plebiscite).
  • PLEBISCITE (90 days). Town Council sets the date for a town-wide vote (plebiscite) within the next 90 days. The result of the vote will determine if the bylaw is enacted or not.
  • BYLAW (30 days). Upon a successful “Yes” vote, Council must within 30 days pass the bylaw, and it becomes enforceable.

The Neutrality Team’s Petition

The issue of municipalities violating neutrality in public places isn’t unique to the Town of Westlock. Many other municipalities across Canada have wrestled with this issue and created Crosswalk and/or Flag policies to address them. Knowing we were dealing with an antagonistic Town Council, the Westlock Neutrality Team identified the key elements from these policies and included them in the language of the petition.

In late July 2023, the Neutrality Team began a petition requesting that Council “make a bylaw ensuring that crosswalks and flags on public property remain neutral“. It included additional wording to ensure there was no ability to misinterpret or alter the intention of the petition:

  • Crosswalks would only be painted in the standard white striped pattern between two parallel lines.
  • Only the national, provincial, and municipal flags would be flown.
  • There would be no decorations on Town crosswalks or displaying of flags supporting “political, social, or religious movements or commercial entities”.
  • No grandfathering of any existing crosswalks or flags that contravene the new bylaw would be authorized.

Why Crosswalks and Flags?

Including crosswalks was to address the immediate violation that Westlock Town Council permitted. As the Neutrality Team investigated how other communities across Canada were dealing with similar issues, flagpoles came up as another important topic. So, in an effort to pre-emptively address another area where neutrality could be threatened, flagpoles were included in the petition.

Petition: SUCCESSFUL!

The Westlock Neutrality Team needed at least 492 signatures. By mid-September 2023, after canvassing the community and going door-to-door, they had successfully garnered over 700! The petition was then presented to the Town of Westlock office for verification. Town administration had up to 45 days to authenticate whether there were enough valid signatures. On the 45th day, they finally confirmed that the petition was indeed valid.

The validation of a binding petition forced the same Town Council that violated neutrality to draft a bylaw that would restore it. At a council meeting on November 27, 2023, councilors took turns expressing their displeasure but acknowledged their obligation to pass first reading of the bylaw. They were then required to set a date within the next 90 days for a town-wide vote (plebiscite) where the citizens of Westlock, not Council, would decide its fate. They opted for the latest possible date of February 22, 2024.