Throne speech: Kenney promises jobs, an improved economy and direct democracy as Alberta legislature returns
EDMONTON -- The Alberta government returned to the legislature on Tuesday with a throne speech promising continued action on job creation and improving the economy as well as a series of democratic reforms including recall on all election politicians in Alberta.
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Lt.-Gov Lois Mitchell read the speech to legislators which outlined the government's goals for the year ahead.
"In our one hundred and sixteenth year as a province, Alberta faces some of the biggest challenges we have ever met," reads the speech.
"Doing so will require that my government take strong measures to renew our economy, bring order to our finances, and secure a fair deal for Alberta."
The opposition New Democrats gave some of their throne speech tickets to Albertans, who the party says have been hurt by changes to health and education funding and failed UCP job policies.
Notley said the changes are having a major impact on people's lives and she wanted to give Kenney a chance to look those people in the eye.
"This session should be about undoing the damage that has been done,” said Notley.
She added the speech sets up a further shift to an American-style health care system without addressing the province's urgent economic needs.
“We see nothing here that will focus on jobs. What we do see is a premier that is doubling down on the cruel cuts that hurt health care and education and the Albertans that rely on it," she said.
The province says job creation remains a central priority and will introduce a long-term jobs plan that focuses on skills and education to make Alberta "the freest, fastest-moving and lowest-taxed province."
It's also pledging $6.4 billion towards its 2020 Capital Plan with the goal of boosting provincial infrastructure.
“Ours is a government obsessed with job creation. That’s why we’ll introduce our Blueprint for Jobs, which builds on policies brought in last year to keep business taxes low, cut job-killing red tape by one-third, and stand up for our energy sector," Kenney said.
Jobs have proved a tricky issue for the Kenney government as provincial unemployment remains high at 7.3 per cent.
Since October, Edmonton has had the fourth, second, first, and second-highest monthly unemployment rates of any major Canadian city. Calgary has ranked third, fourth, fifth and sixth in monthly rates over the same time.
In the wake of the Teck mine cancellation, Kenney is pledging to make the province a more active direct investor, saying Alberta will "do what is necessary" to better its economy.
“Like the government of the late Premier Lougheed, Alberta is prepared to invest directly and support companies and Indigenous groups, when necessary, to assure the future of responsible resource development," the speech reads.
Kenney also pledged to create a new investment promotion agency that would expand Alberta's profile to investors.
The government is also seeking to create jobs through a program designed to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to start new businesses in Alberta.
Kenney's government will table its second provincial budget on Thursday, Feb. 27.
The premier says a second bill will be introduced in the coming days that would allow the public to pose questions on provincial referendums.
“If there are questions that people think politicians or the legislature are not willing to address or to take on, the Citizens Initiative law, which we will introduce in the days to come, will empower the people of Alberta to put on the ballot a vote on critical issues about our future,” Kenney said Monday.
The government is also promising to introduce fixed dates for both provincial elections and budgets as well as introducing a recall bill that would allow constituents to remove elected officials from office between elections, including not just members of the legislative assembly, but also councillors, mayors and school board trustees.
British Columbia is the only other Canadian province with recall legislation in effect, and in B.C., the rules only apply to MLAs.
The province is also looking to remove "big money" from elections by creating a $30,000 limit on donor contributions to politicla action committees. It also plans to ban governments from advertising in the run-up to an election and forbids them from using "tax dollars for partisan ads at any time."
However, the Governor General, acting on the advice of the prime minister, would not be bound by law to pick anyone on the list.
Senators can keep their job until age 75.
The province is also introducing Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act.
The bill allows the government to levy heavy fines and possibly imprison anyone unlawfully interfering with infrastructure including pipelines, highways, utilities and oil and gas production facilities.
"The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, would protect essential infrastructure from damage or interference caused by blockades, protests or similar activities," Bill 1 reads.
It forbids anyone from "willfully destroying or damaging essential infrastructure" as well as "obstructing, interrupting or interfering" with the use of the same infrastructure.
The law also applies to telecommunication lines, dams and mines. Individual offenders face a fine of $1,000 for a first infraction and up to between $10,000 and $25,000 for future violations.
The bill raises legal questions about constitutionality, given the competing rights between businesses and protesters.
"There has to be some way of balancing the co-existence of those rights and interests," said Eric Adams with the University of Alberta law school.
Adams notes there's little, if anything, in the bill that would be made illegal that isn't already against the law.
"The public might ask politicians 'what are you doing about that?’ and in this case, the Alberta government wants to have an answer," he said.
Adams also noted the bill could also face challenges for interfering in areas of federal jurisdiction like roads and railways.
With files from the Canadian Press