Legislature winds down as Alberta opens for summer
With the legislature adjourned, government house leader Jason Nixon reflected on the spring session, with eyes toward the final stage of Alberta’s summer reopening plan.
The spring session began on February 25 with the budget, and, for the first time, the sitting was interrupted due to the pandemic. In that time, the government passed 23 bills. It also passed government motions that created the Select Special Committee on Real Property Rights, a referendum question on equalization and a call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hold off on filling two vacant senate seats until Albertans can elect nominees.
“Eighty-three per cent of the United Conservative Party platform will be completed as of today,” Nixon said. “So I think that, frankly, is the biggest accomplishment.”
Nixon said it is “likely” the government will prorogue and come back with a throne speech in the fall, although a decision hasn’t been finalized.
If the government decides to prorogue, it would wipe out several private member’s bills, including NDP Leader Rachel Notley’s Bill 214, Eastern Slopes Protection Act, although Notley is first up in the private member’s bill draw this fall, she told reporters.
There are currently 16 bills awaiting royal assent.
“This was an extraordinary session during an extraordinary time,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a news release. “Never has Alberta faced so many challenges at once: the pandemic, a devastated economy, the energy price collapse and the biggest vaccination program in our history.”
Nixon said he hopes he never has to go through another sitting marked by a global pandemic and caucus drama but added he is excited about economic recovery as health restrictions are lifted.
“We’re in a very different spot than when we got in our cars and drove up [to Edmonton] in February,” Nixon said, adding that he will be visiting “several rodeos” over the summer.
Notley meanwhile, said the NDP will be working on a respectful, “thoughtful approach to public safety” for marking the Calgary Stampede, which kicks off July 9.
NDP mostly unimpressed with government bills
Opposition house leader Christina Gray noted that the government brought in at least 29 closure motions to limit debate.
“We’ve seen a lot of very bad bills over the last three and half months,” Gray said.
She took particular aim at the Freedom to Care Act, Public Lands Amendment Act, Metis Settlement Act and COVID-19 Related Measures Act — which eliminates Covid liability for long-term care homes.
Outside the dome, Notley slammed the premier for the “Alohagate” and Sky Palace scandals, a lack of action on the economy and the loss of $1.3 billion spent on the cancelled Keystone XL deal with TC Energy.
Gray did highlight a rare moment of co-operation between the Opposition and government in passing the Employment Standards (COVID-19 Vaccination Leave) Amendment Act at a lightning pace, bringing in three hours of paid vaccination leave for workers.
The house seating chart changed too. Before the start of the spring session, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn was ousted from caucus after becoming one of several MLAs who were caught travelling to tropical destinations over Christmas while Albertans were told to stay home. Constituents and local governments also accused him of being MIA in his riding even when he was in the province.
The Independent corner got larger when MLAs Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes were voted out of the caucus for opposing public health restrictions (Loewen had also called for Kenney to resign).
Since then, Barnes and Loewen have been active in the house, proposing 11 amendments to bills and holding their former party boss to account.
The duo accused the premier of going against grassroots party members’ will when the government voted down amendments that would lower the threshold for citizen-initiated referenda and MLA recall.
The pair, whose constituencies are on opposite ends of the province, plan to spend their summer campaigning in favour of the October 18 equalization referendum.
“To succeed, this referendum has to be about demanding fairness for Albertans. That is a recipe for success,” Loewen said. “It cannot and must not be a political rehabilitation project for the least popular premier in Canada. That is a recipe for failure.”