With the next provincial election expected to be a little more than one year away, Alberta’s MLAs will return to the Legislative Assembly for the new session on Thursday.
This session will mark the first time that Premier Rachel Notley and Official Opposition leader Jason Kenney will publicly face each other in debate. Expectations are high. But while both leaders are talented debaters and skilled politicians, don’t expect high-minded debate. Thick partisan rhetoric and talking points will continue to dominate the discourse in this Legislative session.
And with one year left until the next election, much attention will be paid to the provincial budget.
With the province’s economic fortunes improving, expect pipeline-champion Notley to boast about her government’s decision to weather the recession without making the deep funding cuts to health care and education that the opposition conservatives have called for.
The decision not to impose deep budget cuts was smart, but the government still faces a significant revenue shortfall. A decades long over dependence on revenue from natural resource royalties to pay for the day to day operations of public services needs to be addressed to provide long-term financial stability for Alberta.
While it is unlikely that this issue will be addressed in this Legislative session, Albertans deserve an honest discussion about our low levels of taxation and the role taxes play in funding the public services Albertans depend on each day.
The final year before the writ is dropped is typically seen as a period where governments conduct house-keeping and tie up loose ends as they prepare to enter full re-election mode. Here is a look at some of the legislation that the NDP government is expected to introduce in this spring session of the Legislature:
- The NDP are expected to lead their legislative agenda with an act that will implement some of the initiatives recommended by the Energy Diversification Advisory Committee last month.
- The government will introduce supports for economic diversification initiatives including the renewal of existing tax credits and the creation of new tax incentives, including an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit.
- With the federal government planning to implement the legalization of marijuana this year, the Alberta government is also expected to introduce two bills creating a regulatory framework and rules around the creation of a tax structure for the cannabis industry.
- The government is also expected to introduce legislation addressing some of the recommendations from the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship review of the Lobbyists Act. The all-party committee reviewed the act last year and submitted recommendations in July 2017.
- Following the introduction of a private members’ bill related to Henson Trusts by Calgary-Currie MLA Brian Malkinson last year, the government is expected to introduce a bill related to discretionary and non-discretionary trusts as assets when determining individual eligibility for the AISH program.
- Recognizing the role of Alberta grown food, the government is expected to proclaim an annual Local Food Week.
- And after numerous recent natural disasters, the government is expected to introduce a bill expanding the authority of the enforcement of evacuation orders and creating a Municipal Emergency Management regulation to define the responsibilities of municipalities under the Act.
Jean’s departure is not a surprise. His lack of critic role in the United Conservative Party caucus after his defeat to Kenney in the party’s 2017 leadership race signalled that Jean was likely looking to depart the provincial scene.
A former Member of Parliament, Jean took over the thankless role of leader of the Wildrose Party as his party was teetering on the brink of the abyss following the mass floor crossing of most of the party’s MLAs in late 2014. To most people’s surprise, he led his party to win 21 seats in the 2015 election.
A by-election will be called in Fort McMurray-Conklin within the next six months.