Angry Alberta legislature sitting ends with cross-party fight over room booking

EDMONTON — The fall sitting of the Alberta legislature has wrapped up, delivering 16 bills and a budget while serving up acrimony, controversy and a dash of pettiness.

Premier Jason Kenney’s government wrapped up the eight-week session in the early hours of Thursday morning.

In that time, it passed its first budget featuring an $8.7-billion deficit and plans to ratchet back or freeze spending in some areas to balance the books by 2023.

There was legislation to fire election commissioner Lorne Gibson, who had been investigating Kenney’s United Conservative party for fundraising violations and had already levied more than $200,000 in fines.

The government rewrote the rules on farms so that small operations will no longer have to follow employment standards or have workplace insurance.

Rules were also passed giving the province power to use billing rules to get more new doctors to practise in underserviced rural areas.

Government house leader Jason Nixon said the pace of change was rapid and will continue.

“Since we formed government seven months ago, 162 of our (election) platform commitments have been met or are substantially underway,” Nixon said.

“We’ve been accused by some of doing too much, but I think that is exactly what Albertans elected us to do.”

The government found itself at loggerheads with public sector unions.

It announced it will seek wage rollbacks in current wage arbitration talks with some unions, while thousands of health care support workers, nurses and lab technicians were told they may soon be losing their jobs as the government works to reduce costs.

NDP house leader Deron Bilous said Kenney campaigned to protect frontline health care, not cut it. And he said Gibson’s firing paints a disturbing motif for the first year of the UCP government.

“Cuts, lies and corruption. That’s the Jason Kenney way,” Bilous said Thursday.

The government overhauled or ended some legislation passed by the previous NDP government, and question periods were often acrimonious and insulting.

The UCP called the NDP the worst government in Alberta history for ballooning the debt to $63 billion, while the NDP called Kenney the most corrupt premier in Canadian history for firing the election commissioner.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley was even kicked out of the chamber for refusing to apologize for accusing the government of misleading the public over the bill that ousted Gibson.

The question period back and forth often devolved into name-calling and insults. The NDP accused the government of being corporate toadies. The UCP mocked the NDP for losing the last election and becoming Alberta’s only one-term government.

Speaker Nathan Cooper tried to turn down the temperature by organizing last week a vote among legislature members to name some fun “award winners,” including best MLA and most promising new legislature member.

Two NDP members won awards even though NDP member Richard Feehan announced on Twitter that the entire NDP caucus refused to participate, saying: “This is the UCP giving awards to themselves.”

Both sides also accused each other Thursday of breaking a deal to share the legislature’s media room for their wrap-up news conferences. The room was booked by the UCP but it was set to let the NDP use it, until a debate erupted over who would go first.

In the end, the NDP moved off site and both Bilous and Nixon dismissed suggestions of pettiness.

“The frustration is in this government. I think Albertans were flabbergasted when the government went and fired the chief (election) investigator,” said Bilous.

Nixon said politics is politics. “I can tell you this: the constituents of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre did not send me up here to go out of my way to spend my whole time trying to figure out how to find common ground with the Official Opposition.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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