EDMONTON — A spring sitting that was dominated by the Trans Mountain pipeline and debate over an abortion bill has wrapped up at the Alberta legislature.
The three-month sitting saw Premier Rachel Notley’s government pass legislation that gives it sweeping power to regulate, and if necessary reduce, oil and gas exports in order to maximize profit.
Notley made little secret that the legislation could be used to curtail vital gasoline and jet fuel shipments to British Columbia in order to fight back against B.C. Premier John Horgan’s opposition to the pipeline.
Last week, the federal government announced it would buy the pipeline to ensure the existing line is doubled.
Notley acknowledged the bill was extraordinary but necessary, and said it remains at the ready if her government needs it.
“We gave Albertans greater control over their energy resources with a bill that has held the federal government’s feet to the fire and has helped keep the B.C. government in check,” Notley told reporters Thursday soon after the house business was adjourned.
The session was also marked by another big deficit budget and a mass walkout by the Opposition United Conservatives to protest a bill that gives better protections to women and staffers being harassed at abortion clinics.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney and his 25-member caucus walked out on debate and votes on the bill 14 times, saying that civil court protections should suffice against protesters and that Bill 9 was nothing more than divisive game-playing by Notley’s NDP.
Kenney did not speak to reporters Thursday, but house leader Jason Nixon said walking out of the house fulfilled the UCP’s core mandate as Opposition to hold the government to account.
“Each piece of legislation is handled different. On this case, we made our position and our statement was clear by walking out of the house,” said Nixon.
“I believe the UCP opposition did an excellent job holding the government to account this session … including Bill 9.”
Notley and other party leaders said a mass walkout was an abdication of the UCP’s basic responsibility as legislators.
Alberta Party house leader Greg Clark said if the whole caucus was to abstain, Kenney should have been in the house to lead it.
“Jason Kenney should have been in the house,” said Clark. “Leaders have to lead.”
Notley said navigating difficult bills, managing opposing views in caucus and working and talking with voters and constituents is part and parcel of politics.
“What they did here was they ran away from a fundamental element of that formula,” she said. “It doesn’t speak well to the overall commitment to the democratic process.
“I think it was a cowardly version of standing up and voting against women. But rather than just being honest and voting against women, they paired the vote against women with an act of cowardice.”
The government also passed the fiscal 2018 budget, which avoided deep cuts to jobs or services but also an $8.8-billion budget deficit with projections of a $96-billion debt by 2024.
Notley’s government has run up a string multibillion-dollar deficits, leading to credit warnings and downgrades. But Notley said they will stick to the path of getting the budget balanced by 2024.
Alberta Liberal leader David Khan said Notley’s government has a credibility gap on the fiscal file.
“They’re betting on the revenue of the Trans Mountain pipeline,” said Khan.
“We’ve got to look at the fiscal gap between our revenue and our spending.”