The two-day sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly has come and gone with little fan fare. Despite the continental shift in the Assembly seating plan – the entire back row of the Tory caucus was sitting in the front bench this time last year – little appears to have actually changed over the past 48 hours. Here is a look at some of the issues that briefly made the news over the past two days and may pop up again when the Assembly reconvenes at the end of November:
Redford’s Maiden Speech
Premier Alsion Redford delivered her maiden speech in the Assembly since entering the Premier’s office earlier this month. Billed as a speech about the ‘global economic crisis,’ the new Premier’s words sounded more like a Speech from the Throne that a government would use as a pre-election platform (minus the Lieutenant Governor).
Premier Redford’s speech covered a wide range of pre-election issues including balancing the provincial budget by 2013-2014, eradicating the provincial debt, and supporting the construction of an oil pipeline through British Columbia to the Pacific coast. Some media outlets reported that her speech also included the continued commitment towards building more than 1,000 continuing care beds, but failed to mention that they would be constructed through public-private partnerships (P3s) and remove the caps on costs for seniors housing (visions of the Chartwell Colonel Belcher come to mind).
Liberals: Sherman accuses Liepert of giving lobbyists insider information
Liberal leader Raj Sherman came out swinging with allegations that former Energy Minister and now Finance Minister Ron Liepert and his staff were part of a back room deal that gave energy industry lobbyists an unfair advantage in applying for $310 million in taxpayer dollars.
From the Liberal media release:
Emails obtained by the Official Opposition via FOIP indicate that Liepert’s Executive Assistant worked with Williams Energy and Minister Liepert to amend the language of Williams’ press release announcing their successful bid to benefit from the new regulations prior to Cabinet making any decision. Other emails show that Williams lobbyist Lorraine Royer knew of the policy change as early as two weeks before the government announcement and was corresponding with Jay O’Neill, former Director of Communications for the Ministry of Energy (and now Director of Communications for Premier Redford).
In the background of this issue is an ongoing feud between Dr. Sherman and Minister Liepert that began while they were both PC MLAs last year. Dr. Sherman was Parliamentary Assistant to Minister Liepert while he served as Minister of Health & Wellness from 2008 to 2010.
NDP: Notley owns the affordable housing issue
Last week she called out the government after it was revealed that children in the care of the province are spending nights in homeless shelters, and this week Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley tackled the Tories about cuts to affordable housing subsidies.
NDP leader Brian Mason held a different kind of media conference this week, adding new evidence to an old story about government plans to increase privatization in health care. The media conference was less about the present and more about positioning the NDP as the main critic of new Health & Wellness Minister Fred Horne in the future.
Wildrose: This transmission line ain’t no CBC’s Heartland
On October 19, new Energy Minister Ted Morton sent a letter to the Alberta Utilities Commission asking for the suspension of three controversial electrical transmission line developments currently in the application process. On October 21, the Alberta Utilities Commission released a media notice announcing the suspension of the three applications.
Only hours later, Premier Redford’s office declared that there had been a miscommunication, stating that one of the three proposals, the Heartland Transmission Project, was not meant to be suspended. Premier Redford ordered the supposedly arms-length commission to proceed, drawing criticism from Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman, who’s party has used the controversial projects as a wedge issue in traditional Tory voting areas.
Redford and Griffiths: Schools and Hospitals before Professional Sports Arenas
Premier Redford disappointed supporters of the proposed Katz Group Arena in Edmonton by reiterating her stance that the provincial government will not give additional money to the City of Edmonton to fill the estimated $100 million gap in funding. Premier Redford told the Edmonton Journal that “from the perspective of the provincial government, Albertans right now care about health care and education.” These comments echo those of Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, who told the Journal on October 12 that “when it comes to the province’s limited resources we need to focus on schools and hospitals.”