EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the spring sitting of the legislature will focus on health care and a plan to double the number of surgeries done in private facilities.
Kenney says the aim is to boost the number of private operations to 30 per cent from 15 per cent over two years, but notes they would all be paid for by the public health-care system.
“This is one way of getting more surgeries done more efficiently and more quickly to reduce surgical wait times,” Kenney told reporters Tuesday as his government launched a new session of the legislature with the speech from the throne.
“One hundred per cent of the surgeries that will be funded through this initiative are publicly insured. No one has to get out their credit card.”
Kenney said the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated existing inefficiencies and drawbacks in the health system, including Alberta having the fewest number of intensive care beds per capita.
The throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani in the house, outlined that the government will be introducing measures to increase the number of intensive care bed spaces and recruit more specialized health professionals.
Lakhani said there will also be legislation and plans to boost the economy and help consumers.
The 2022 provincial budget, to be introduced Thursday, will feature a natural gas consumer rebate program to help Albertans cope with rising utility costs.
The speech said there will be law-and-order changes to further combat human trafficking and hate crimes, and changes to make police more accountable to communities.
The government will boost prenatal benefits to mothers on income support.
There will be legislation to promote changes to rules allowing companies to test new financial products and services to capitalize on emerging technology, such as data storage and cryptocurrency.
The government will continue with work on environmental objectives, such as net-zero carbon emissions in the oilsands and investment in carbon capture utilization and storage technology, along with investments to make Alberta a global hub for clean hydrogen.
It will also follow through with a bill to have teacher misconduct allegations investigated by an independent body rather than the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
The budget is expected to deliver a tonic of good financial news after years of massive multibillion-dollar deficits, given that Alberta’s wellspring oil and gas revenues have been soaring of late.
Lakhani said while the government works to build the future, it will also celebrate those who have come before, with a hat tip to Canada’s monarchist roots.
Bill 1, the signature legislation of the session, will honour Albertans by marking the Queen’s 70-year reign.
The bill will see outstanding Albertans recognized and 7,000 medals handed out.
Some government buildings and other infrastructure will be renamed to honour past Alberta leaders. The Terrace Building, on the legislature grounds, will be renamed for Cree Chief Poundmaker. Ammolite, the sacred Blackfoot stone, will be formally recognized as Alberta’s official gemstone.
The Opposition NDP says while the budget may suggest better times, the benefit is not filtering down to Alberta families.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley has called for Kenney to reverse inflation de-indexation decisions that have resulted in Albertans paying more in taxes and vulnerable Albertans getting less.
The NDP says UCP policies have also led to higher utility bills, property taxes, school fees, tuition costs and camping fees.
On health care, Notley said one reason the system teetered on the brink of collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic was because of rushed decisions by Kenney’s government that led to jammed emergency wards and overwhelmed intensive care units.
“Now, rather than acknowledging their failed, incompetent leadership, they’ve decided to use those failures instead as justification to carve up and hollow out our health-care system,” said Notley.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2022
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press