Central Alberta’s five rookie Wildrose MLAs quickly got down to business in their first real working session of the legislature.
Newly elected in April’s provincial election, the politicians represent most of Central Alberta apart from Tory veterans Mary Anne Jablonski, MLA for Red Deer North, and Cal Dallas, MLA for Red Deer South.
In the six-week fall session, the Tory government passed legislation that protected whistleblowers, created a single regulator for oil and gas projects, reformed Alberta’s election finance laws, protected home buyers and extended the workers’ compensation coverage to first responders for post traumatic stress disorders.
Ten bills were passed and the opposition put forward more than 110 amendments and only two amendments were passed.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle said MLAs are expected to know every single part of the bills in order to put forward good amendments and she expected a little more cooperation in the house. Towle said she fought hard to cover volunteers in the whistleblower legislation.
“I think (the governing Tories) thought this is 15 essentially rookie MLAs coming into the house and we were going to fumble,” said Towle, noting the session gave the new MLAs a clear picture of what is required. “I don’t think we did that.”
Rick Strankman, MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, agreed calling the session “frustrating,” “sobering” and “a raucous.”
“It was like watching trained animals perform as requested,” said Strankman.
“I just can’t get an understanding to what the thinking is there. Maybe there’s some method in our presentation that wasn’t correct but we never got those requests from them saying you guys need to change the color of your suit or something to get better respect.”
Dallas said although some would describe the fall session as “raucous,” he did not find it much different than the last two or three sessions.
“But I certainly wish there were more policy questions during the course of Question Period but there wasn’t,” said Dallas, who is also the minster of international and intergovernmental relations. “That’s under the control of the Opposition in terms of the kinds of questions they choose to advance to the government.”
Dallas said the government set about with an important legislative agenda and successfully concluded the agenda.
“We had some good debate,” said Dallas. “There was good debate on a number of bills … We could go through all those bills but I would say mission accomplished for bringing some important pieces of legislation to the assembly and working through the system.”
The 17-member Wildrose official Opposition is the largest since 1997 when the Liberals had 18 members in the house. Today the 28th legislative assembly consists of five Liberals, four New Democratics and 61 Tories.
“I thought it went extremely well,” said Joe Anglin, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. “I know there’s lots of criticism … It’s new not just to the rookies. It’s new to the veterans. I think that’s what made it rocky in a way.”
Anglin ranked third in his caucus behind Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and Wildrose house leader MLA Rob Anderson in addressing the assembly.
Part of the role as a member of the official Opposition is to hold the government accountable, said Anglin, so when a minister spends money, they look at the numbers. He points to Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli who was revealed by opposition parties to have submitted improper expense charges including billing the government for flying relatives first-class to the Olympics in London.
“We ask tough questions,” said Anglin.
“That’s not personal. This is not their money. This is public taxpayer’s dollars… It is personal for the taxpayers. It is their money.”
Anglin said they brought the copies of the paperwork that showed some MLAs were using taxpayers money and they wanted the government to answer for it.
“That’s our job,” said Anglin. “And I am very proud we did it. That’s our job. The veterans never saw it coming.”
Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox said he was very humbled to be in the chamber and called the session interesting.
He was one of the lead critics on Bill 4, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, and put forward 21 amendments that were all voted down.
“We carried the debate about 60 per cent of the time,” said Fox, who had never been to the legislature before orientation in the spring.
“That equates to about 60 hours of debate.
“The next closest to us was the government at 14 hours. It was very exciting to be part of it and getting the voice of our constituents out there in the legislature.”
Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe said failure to get more than two amendments through was disappointing. But he said, the good news is some of the points they made to improve “some of these absolute awful bills” are on record. Rowe said it’s a completely different ball game in the chambers with 26 members in opposition.
“They can’t totally ignore us,’ said Rowe.
“We have a great research team that puts all those amendments together…. They are just not used to it. They have an effective opposition that won’t back down.”
The Advocate was unable to reach Jablonski.