Premier Alison Redford has told reporters that her government will approve Alberta’s 2012/2013 budget before the next provincial general election is called. The budget is expected to be introduced shortly after MLAs return to the Assembly on February 7, 2012. The election must take place between March 1 and May 31, based on Alberta’s new ‘fixed-election period.’
In previous years, including 1997 and 2008, the Assembly only briefly returned for a sitting before elections were called.
A Spring sitting of three to four weeks would put the Progressive Conservatives in a position to force their greatest perceived threat, the Wildrose Party, to make some firm commitments on the public record about what they would cut from the provincial budget. The Wildrose have been weakened in the polls since the departure of Premier Ed Stelmach and the PCs will do their best to frame Danielle Smith‘s party as a disgruntled fringe group of angry and outraged conservatives.
Albertans can expect the PCs to use the Spring sitting of the Assembly to saturate the media airwaves with spin about how great their provincial budget will be. Think of it as Phase 1 of the PC Party election platform.
A full Spring sitting would also allow retiring Finance Minister Ron Liepert to table and implement one budget before the next election. Minister Liepert was appointed to the Finance portfolio in late 2011 and will not be seeking re-election (some political watchers have suggested that Minister Liepert could be hired as Premier Redford’s post-election Chief of Staff)
Holding a Spring sitting will also give the many PC candidates set to be nominated at the end of January a months to knock on doors and organize before the vote is called. The PCs are scheduled to select their candidates for the Senate Nominee election on February 10 and 11.
Meanwhile, the other opposition parties are continuing their preparations for a Spring election.
The NDP are close to nominating a full-slate of candidates (they have nominated 73 candidates in 87 constituencies) and plan to make regulating Alberta’s expensive energy prices one of their key election issues. NDP leader Brian Mason is the only current party leader with experience leading a party through a previous election.
The Liberal Party, veering toward the political right under Tory MLA-turned-Liberal leader Raj Sherman, will be without two key staff members when the Assembly returns on February 7. Communications Director Brian Leadbetter announced earlier this month that he would be departing for a new position with the Parkland School Division and Chief of Staff Rick Miller is leaving to peruse a candidacy in Edmonton-Rutherford. Mr. Miller served as the MLA for that constituency from 2004 until 2008, when he was narrowly defeated by now Health & Wellness Minister Fred Horne.
The Liberals are far behind in the nomination process, having only chosen candidates in 23 out of 87 constituencies. Some Liberal insiders have suggested that the Official Opposition party will likely fall short of nominating a full-slate in the upcoming election.
The Alberta Party has nominated 11 candidates and only plans to focus resources on a handful of those when the vote is called.