Alberta throne speech promises economic growth, return to ethics and three Rs

EDMONTON — Premier Jim Prentice’s government promised Monday to move Alberta to a more prosperous, responsible economy and back to the basics on ethics and education.

EDMONTON — Premier Jim Prentice’s government promised Monday to move Alberta to a more prosperous, responsible economy and back to the basics on ethics and education.

“Nine weeks ago we put Alberta under new management,” Lt.-Gov. Don Ethell read in the throne speech to open a new session of the legislature.

“The decisions we make in the next five years must lay the foundation for our (long-term) prosperity and success.”

The speech outlines the priorities and goals for the government and its new leader.

Prentice was elected to head the Progressive Conservative party and become premier in September and was one of four successful PC members who won seats in the Oct. 27 byelections.

Earlier Monday, Prentice, Education Minister Gordon Dirks, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and backbencher Mike Ellis were sworn in as members of the legislature.

Prentice has promised to build Alberta’s economy while addressing an acute shortage of schools and care beds that has strained resources in a rapidly growing province.

The throne speech reiterated and advanced specific goals the government has to fix those ills, starting with a sound budget that takes into account the vagaries of oil.

“A budget tied to volatile energy prices imperils our fiscal resilience over the long term,” read Ethell.

“We must align spending with a realistic assessment of the financial capacity we can sustain responsibly.”

Prentice has already acknowledged that Alberta’s budget, still heavily reliant on oil revenues, is strained given that oil prices have been hovering around US$75 a barrel. The government budgeted it to be $20 higher.

Full details on where Prentice wants to take the economy are expected to be delivered in the next two weeks. But the throne speech did say there would be low taxes and no sales tax.

Ethell said the government plans to continue to expand its oil markets by pushing for pipelines to tankers on East, West and Gulf coasts and by working to reduce trade barriers within Canada.

The government is also promising to deliver five-year and 25-year plans to build infrastructure and to protect the environment by fostering renewable resources and taking steps to clean up oilsands tailing ponds.

Prentice was elected after former premier Alison Redford quit in an emerging scandal over lavish travel and office expenses. He has promised a more ethical government and has said he will table a bill this week to, among other things, limit excessive severance payments, strengthen conflict-of-interest guidelines and eliminate sole-source contracts except in extreme circumstances.

Bill 1 of the session is expected to protect property rights. The PCs under former premier Ed Stelmach provoked the ire of many rural residents with legislation they felt gave the government the right to take their land for public use with little compensation and no legal recourse.

Alberta parents and school officials have also been locked in heated debates over how students should learn. Some parents have said schools have gone too far with new teaching methods to the point that students lack basic math and language skills.

Ethell’s speech made clear that those days are over.

“This government will work to ensure that the basics of literacy and numeracy are the foundation of all student learning,” he said.

The session began with the legislature building under tight security. On the weekend, the government announced new measures following the recent shooting on Parliament Hill.

The iconic front doors of the legislature are now closed and locked. Visitors must pass through a side entrance, where they are subject to security screening and bag searches.