Alberta government hails 'productive' legislative sitting while Opposition decries anti-democratic tactics

The house is now adjourned until Oct. 28

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The spring sitting of the Alberta legislature wrapped up Wednesday night, bringing to an end a legislative period described by the government as productive but also characterized as anti-democratic by the Opposition New Democrats.

MLAs rose just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, bringing to an end a sitting that saw 13 new government bills, nine of which had received royal assent as of early Thursday, as well as a budget that delivered a narrow surplus back in February.

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Those bills include Bill 11, which laid the groundwork for a new, independent provincewide police agency, Bill 17, which establishes the Canadian Centre of Recovery Excellence as a Crown corporation, and Bill 19, which changes how Calgary calculates its local utility franchise fee.

“We are really doing what we were asked to do by Albertans when we got elected,” said Government House Leader Joseph Schow in an interview, calling it a “productive” sitting.

The four bills that as of Thursday morning had yet to receive the sign-off from Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani are among the government’s more controversial pieces of legislation.

They include Bill 18, which requires hundreds of provincial entities, including municipalities and universities, to secure provincial approval before entering into or renewing a deal with the federal government.

Bill 20 gives cabinet streamlined powers over municipal councillors and the bylaws they pass while also reintroducing corporate and union donations to local elections, banning electronic vote tabulators, and imposing political parties on civic elections in Calgary and Edmonton, despite the government’s own survey showing strong opposition to doing so.

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Bill 21 pushes the province’s fixed election date from May to October in an effort to avoid last spring’s scenario, where a campaign unfolded amid an emergency situation.

And Bill 22, which sets the stage for the province’s reorganization of the health-care system.

Schow said those bills are expected to receive royal assent later Thursday evening.

They were also the subject of time-allocation measures by the government, which limited debate to one hour at each stage of the legislative process, a move Schow defended as being necessary to get through the legislative agenda.

Official Opposition House Leader Christina Gray
Official Opposition House Leader Christina Gray discusses the spring session of the Legislature during a press conference, in Edmonton Thursday May 30, 2024. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Opposition House Leader Christina Gray characterized that strategy as “absolutely ridiculous” when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“There is no legislature or Parliament across the Commonwealth, where you see that little amount of debate,” she said. “This is not how the legislature is supposed to run.”

The government ran out of time to introduce its Bill 23: the Miscellaneous Corrections Statute Amendment Act, 2024.

It was added to the order paper at the start of the week and aims to correct an error in Bill 16 — the Red Tape Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, 2024 — that resulted in a page being left blank in the printed copy of the bill that is given royal assent.

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“There’s nothing new in Bill 23 whatsoever. It is effectively a clerical thing we’re fixing,” Schow said, adding the bill will return in the fall.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, speaking on Wednesday on what she expects to be her final day at the legislature in the role, chastised the government for sloppiness.

“One might argue the red tape was reading the bill the second time to make sure all the pages were there,” she said. “They didn’t do that. That’s on them. They can bring it back and fix their sloppy legislative draftsmanship in the fall.”

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Decorum inside the legislature also emerged as an issue, with each party trading accusations of intimidation and division.

Gray accused the government of showing consistent entitlement throughout the past months, and of ramming through legislation it did not run on in last May’s election.

“The theme of this session has been a government feeling entitled to do things that will benefit themselves, whether that’s sole-source contracting, appointing partisans into the independent office of the Ethics Commissioner, ramming through legislation that they know Albertans across the province have huge questions and objections to.”

The house is now adjourned until Oct. 28, though Schow said a decision has not yet been made on whether the government will prorogue the legislature and begin a new session with a throne speech, or if the current session will continue in the fall.

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