Part two of the Fall sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly begins today for a short two-weeks of business. Aside from the two-day speech driven sitting held last month, this will be the first time that new Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford and her cabinet will gather in the Assembly to present a legislative agenda and field questions from Opposition MLAs.
I have yet to see the details, but the Edmonton Journal is reporting on a new Environics survey, taken between November 4 and 8 that showed the governing Progressive Conservatives with the support of 51% of decided voters across the province. The survey showed the Wildrose Party in second place in Calgary with 21% and the NDP in second place in Edmonton with 21% (which matches a growing narrative on the federal political scene). The survey sticks the Official Opposition Liberals in fourth place province-wide and at 16% in the two largest cities.
When the Assembly reconvenes today, the Government is expected to introduce a series of new pieces of legislation when the Assembly returns today. Here is a look at a few laws that are expected to be debated:
Fixed elections: Rather than setting an actual fixed election date, the Government is expected to introduce legislation setting a series of fixed election months when elections would expected to be held. As the federal Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper taught Canadians earlier this year, fixed election date laws are merely a suggestion. Our parliamentary system of government allows an election to be called whenever the Assembly is dissolved or if the government loses the confidence of the Assembly. Meanwhile, with an election expected in early 2012 (regardless of fixed election months), Elections Alberta is warning that at least 300,000 Albertans are still missing from the official voters list.
Drunk Driving Legislation – The Government is expected to introduce legislation lowering the allowed blood alcohol level for drivers and increasing penalties for drunk drivers.
Judicial Inquiry: The once promised judicial inquiry into the intimidation of health care professionals will not happen. Instead, the Government is expected to expand the quasi-judicial investigative powers of Health Quality Council of Alberta. Some political watchers have suggested that instead of holding an actual judicial inquiry, the PCs may appoint a prominent retired judge, such as former Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Allan Wachowich. Mr. Wachowich’s strong family connections to the Liberal Party would make the process difficult for Liberal leader Raj Sherman to criticize. Dr. Sherman has made calls for a judicial inquiry his central issue since being kicked out of the PC caucus late last year.
Paying politicians: The un-dying issue of how the salaries of our elected officials continues. This time, the job may be handed to Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski. Allowing an independent body of the Assembly to decide salaries may be a good way to handle this sensitive issue, but I could not help but remember a comment made by Speaker Kowalski in June 2008. When asked about the expected $1,000,000 severance he could collect for having served as an MLA and cabinet minister since 1979, Speaker Kowalski told the media not to worry, because “I’ll never collect it,” “I’ll die in office.”
While they are unlikely to receive much attention during the short fall sitting, four pieces of legislation introduced earlier this year by Opposition MLAs have yet to reach third reading:
Bill 204 – Justice System Monitoring Act (Heather Forsyth)
Bill 205 – Municipal Government (Delayed Construction) Amendment Act, 2011 (Dave Taylor)
Bill 208 – Health Statutes (Canada Health Act Reaffirmation) Amendment Act, 2011 (Brian Mason)
Bill 209 – Tailings Ponds Reclamation Statutes Amendment Act, 2011 (Laurie Blakeman)