Alberta legislature to resume sitting Tuesday: Here's what you need to know
The next session of Alberta's legislature, and the first led by Premier Danielle Smith, will begin Tuesday.
It will be the first time government members are in the legislature since it was prorogued in May, save a special sitting in September to mark the accession of King Charles III.
The Fourth Session of the 30th Legislature will open with the speech from the throne delivered by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Government House Leader Joseph Schow outlined the United Conservative Party-led government's legislative priorities to reporters Monday, saying caucus is focused on tackling the "inflation crisis."
"In this session of the legislature, our government will take real and tangible action to not only help Albertans make it through this difficult inflation time," he said.
"But also, for the first time, to stop Ottawa from infiltrating our province's jurisdiction with laws and policies that prevent Alberta from thriving."
Here's what new bills Smith and her cabinet have said Albertans can expect in the coming months.
Schow confirmed Bill 1 of this session would be the "Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act" and be introduced on Tuesday.
"This legislation will enable us to protect Albertans from federal laws, policies and practices that harm our economy or our jurisdiction," Schow added.
In his view, the bill would give Albertans peace of mind to "freely contribute and participate in Confederation as proud Canadians."
"It will send a clear message that we will defend and promote our province's prosperity and constitutional jurisdiction.
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Last week, during a televised address to Albertans, the premier pledged the legislation would allow the province to ignore any federal laws it considers unconstitutional.
"This legislation is designed to be a constitutional shield to protect Albertans," Smith added. "So that when Ottawa implements a policy or law attacking our economy or provincial rights, our government will not enforce those unconstitutional measures in Alberta."
The move has been heavily criticized, with Edmonton federal Liberal cabinet minister Randy Boissonnault saying "constitutional squabbles" are not priorities he hears from constituents.
Alberta's lieutenant-governor said in the summer she could not guarantee she would sign off on a sovereignty act.
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REPEAL OF BILL 21
Health Minister Jason Copping has previously said the province is drafting legislation to repeal Bill 21, which allowed it to end its contract with physicians without their say.
In 2020, then-health minister Tyler Shandro used the provision to unilaterally cancel the master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association, citing the fiscal toll compensation was taking on the provincial coffers.
That started a fight with doctors, which ultimately led the AMA to pass a non-confidence vote against Shandro and a $255-million lawsuit for violating doctors' Charter rights.
Schow said the repeal and other amendments agreed upon by the AMA would help improve primary care and get more resources to health-care practitioners.
He also teased amendments to the justice system to make courts more efficient and improve Albertan's safety. Changes to the police act will also help provide officers with more tools to prevent crime and protect communities.
VACCINE STATUS AS HUMAN RIGHT
A key pillar of Smith's leadership campaign was to amend the province's human rights act to include vaccination status to prevent the discrimination of Albertans "on the basis of a medical choice."
At her first press conference after being sworn in as premier, Smith was asked why she thought unvaccinated people faced an "extreme level" of inequity and that vaccine choice was on par with issues around race, gender or sexuality.
"I don't take away any of the discrimination that I've seen in those other groups that you mentioned," Smith said. "But this has been an extraordinary time in the last year in particular.
"I want people to know that I find that unacceptable, that we are not going to create a segregated society on the basis of a medical choice," Smith added.
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When asked if amendments to the human rights act defending vaccine choice could be expected, Schow deferred comment to the premier several times.
"We discussed in great detail in cabinet and caucus the priorities for Albertans right now, and it's pretty clear: it's affordability, it's access to healthcare and defending Alberta from Ottawa."
RE-INDEX INCOME TAX AND BENEFITS
The finance minister has said Albertans can expect legislation to both re-index income tax brackets and benefit payments for seniors and the severely handicapped.
Three years ago, the government de-indexed the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, saying it was unaffordable during the economic downturn. With a projected surplus at the end of this fiscal year, the benefit can be re-indexed.
"That's going to be part of our affordability measure broadly," Minister Travis Toews has said. "It will consist of a combination of additional tax relief and some targeted support to those who are really feeling it right now (due to rising inflation)."
A broader cost of living support package is also expected to be introduced during the fall sitting to help Albertans with utility bills and pause gasoline taxes.
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UCP SIMPLY FIXING PAST MISTAKES: OPPOSITION
Christina Gray, NDP house leader, responded to Schow's remarks saying the Opposition was prioritizing "the real issues" facing Albertans.
On Friday, the Opposition released an alternative speech from the throne, saying the government must focus on improving the economy, making life more affordable and improving public healthcare.
The NDP promised to release a new investment framework, showing how the province can better incentivize private sector investment, create jobs and grow Alberta companies — in both "traditional sectors" and "new opportunities."
Gray said the NDP would oppose the sovereignty act as it would "destroy jobs" and "stifle" the provincial economy.
"We are already hearing from chambers of commerce, from energy companies, it is putting a chill on investment at a time when we cannot afford it," Gray added.
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Much of the UCP's legislative agenda, like re-indexing AISH, is simply fixing mistakes the province made earlier in its term, Gray said.
"There was common ground when AISH was originally indexed when we were government, and all parties in the legislature voted in support of that," Gray explained. "Shortly after the election, the UCP broke their promise."
"Today, families are further and further behind because that indexing was turned off for three years," she added.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Alex Antoneshyn, CTV News Calgary's Nicole Di Donato and The Canadian Press
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