An annual event, politicos patiently lined up to listen to the Queen’s representative sit on a throne and read a speech (and then afterward network at a giant cocktail party under the Rotunda’s giant marble dome).
Typically, these speeches are used to present vague feel-good messages about the government’s legislative agenda during that session of the Assembly. With Premier Ed Stelmach having announced that he will resign in September 2011, there is little doubt that most of the real political action overt the next eight months will take place outside the Assembly. As the experience in the provincial cabinet was parred down with the departure of leadership candidates Ted Morton, Doug Horner, and Alison Redford, this government’s Legislative Agenda is appears to be as decisive as a lame-duck. Its only saving grace may be the Provincial Budget, to be presented by Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove on Thursday, February 24.
The government legislation prepared for the Spring Session (announced via media release last week) presents a mostly light agenda, including house-keeping amendments in the Livestock Industry Diversification Amendment Act, Alberta Investment Management Corporation Amendment Act, Securities Amendment Act, Rules of Court Statutes Amendment Act, Corrections Amendment Act, and the Victims of Crime Amendment Act.
Bill 1: The Asia Advisory Council Act,, tabled immediately following today’s Throne Speech, proposes to create what its title suggests, a council to advise on Asian trade. A watered down Education Act is expected to be tabled during the spring sitting and debate on the Bill is not expected to be concluded until the Fall sitting, when a new PC leader/Premier will decide its fate.
The most interesting piece of legislation presented by the government in this session may be the Alberta Land Stewardship Amendment Act, which the government hopes will quell dissent by rural landowners concerned that government is encroaching on their property rights. The property rights issue, spurned by the development of transmission line corridors and the passage of Bills 19, 23, 30, and 50, has drawn thousands of rural Albertans to town hall meetings over the past four years. The Liberals and NDP have tried to hone in on the issue, but the Wildrose Alliance appears to have shown some short-term success in making it one of their key political wedge issues.
Health care was the issue that defined the 2010 fall sitting of the Assembly which ended last November. Emergency debates, the ejection from the PC caucus of outspoken Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman, the allegations of a smear campaign started by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, and the forced resignation of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett made for some of the most exciting political Albertans had seen until Premier Ed Stelmach’s resignation announcement in February 2011.
Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky will do his best to keep the health care file under control during this political season. He has started off fairly well with the announcement that the provincial budget, to be tabled on February 24, will include the promised 6% increase in health care funding. He has also deflected some criticism of the AHS Board of Directors by appointing five new members, including former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill, who all seem like appropriate choices. His biggest challenge will to actually prove that patient care can be improved under his guidance.
On the surface, the governing PCs will be talking about a Legislative agenda, but in reality their attention will be focused on choosing a new leader. It may be the hottest leadership contest in the province, but they are not the only party having to face the reality of a fairly fluid political environment.
The Liberal Party and Alberta Party are also in the midst of their own leadership contests. Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has non-chalantly mused that he may seek the leadership of a political party, but that he is not yet sure which one (Watch the video of Dr. Sherman’s interview with CHAT TV) and Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman defused rumours that she was crossing the floor to the Alberta Party by announcing that she will seek the leadership of the Liberal Party.
With leadership contests in full-swing until Fall 2011 in three of the province’s five main political parties, Albertans may have to wait until 2012 to see another solid Legislative hit the floor of their Assembly.