Alberta Legislature Gets to Work

Blog, Healthcare & Welfare, Marco Navarro-Genie

The Alberta government’s legislative agenda for the new session of the Legislature was announced this week. What should we expect from it?

The government’s plan includes an education bill (reincarnate), a bill to amend electoral law and a bill to amend municipal electoral rules as well as one with guarantees for buyers of new homes.

But it may be the subthemes in and around some of the proposed bills that are likely to dominate the debate during. The Leader of the Official Opposition, Danielle Smith, has already served notice to the Redford government, for example, that her team will be looking closely into the questions of health, finance, and ethics. In that very context, they will be watching the pension issue as well as the commission of inquiry on healthcare wait times and queue-jumping.

The dynamics in the Legislature will be different than they have been in a while, but not necessarily because, as some claim, the main contenders are female. They will be different, mainly, because there is a more robust and more motivated opposition. There is greater strength, will, and commitment to keep the government’s feet to the fire, to press them on their many electoral promises.  There is also quite a bit packed in the legislative programme for just a few weeks, promising long hours of debate. By mid-November, fatigue will likely set in and tempers will be tested in spades.

The potential for fireworks to explode will rise depending on what the commission of inquiry reports on queue jumping in healthcare. If the commission is allowed to do its job, there will likely be some serious surprises.

The opposition parties will be going for the Conservative governments Achiles’ heels of fiscal responsibility and transparency. Already in a deficit position, which in essence breaks one of the many election promises, the government is very likely to find itself in a greater fiscal hole than it already is given that Redford’s predictions about oil prices continued as they were far too optimistic.

Danielle Smith will be eager to make her parliamentary mark. She will be on the floor of the chamber for the first time since she was elected leader of her  party, facing the premier for the first time in the chamber.  That will offer some dangers and some opportunities for Smith.

She will have the opportunity to show herself to be ministerial. Smith has the intellect and the capacity to challenge the premier and to follow the many details in numerous portfolios.  But she has to do so while appearing generous and keeping far away from appearing to be obstructive. Obstructionism, or its appearance, is what did in Mario Dumont’s Action Democratique’s opposition in Quebec.

The premier’s challenge will be to deal with the government’s business without being or appearing to be smug and overly-entitled.  Such attitude did not serve her well during the last election campaign. The premier will also have to develop strategies to bring her own backbenchers in and to manage them with more skill than she has so far demonstrated.  Excluded backbenchers are more likely to cross floors.

With the greater Wildrose presence, Liberals and New Democrats are disadvantaged in that they will have less time to intervene on every issue in the Legislature. But they should turn that disadvantage into strength if they play it right. Instead of becoming involved in everything, they might cherry-pick and concentrate their attacks on issues where the government is weakest and where they see greater interests among their constituencies.

All in all, it will prove to be a different and more exciting parliamentary session, one that will test the mettle of both the leaders of the two larger parties.