This afternoon, Alberta Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani delivered the Speech from the Throne, detailing the agenda of the new Danielle Smith led UCP for the upcoming legislative session.
Defying expectations built over many months – arguably over many years – the text was notably low-key, the messages carefully measured and clearly targeted at tempering the roughest of edges.
The 4th Session of the 30th Legislature marks a fresh start for a UCP government beset by the unexpected (an oil price crash, a global pandemic, economic slowdowns, supply chain collapse), major political fumbles, caucus divisions, replacement of its founding leader accompanied by steadily falling polling results along the way.
The Speech included little that was new. The Premier herself issued a series of spoilers with major announcements during the preceding weeks leaving little for the breaking news headlines. Premier Smith’s formal legislative agenda reflects most strongly a pivot to everyday Albertans’ cost-of-living concerns, including a host of measures announced last week to reduce the bite of inflation with a promise of more to come. Noting that Albertans expect their government to use our vast resource wealth to assist those in need, ensuring affordability has become the major theme of the Smith government.
Following the dismissal of the Alberta Health Services Board and the appointment of Dr. John Cowell as Administrator, the Speech repeated the commitments of the UCP government to decrease ambulance response times, increase the use of surgical facilities and add more frontline professionals to meet the full scope of Albertans healthcare needs.
And although taking Alberta’s grievances with Ottawa as its third major theme, the Speech largely delivers longstanding messages on federalism. Ottawa has overstepped and Alberta intends to fight the intrusion with every means at its disposal. But, Canadians should be reassured, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act is not about separating from Canada nor about diminishing the rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples.
While it includes no talk of debt repayment or additional funding for the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund, the Speech also features considerable continuity of UCP policy on the economy, energy, innovation and inter-provincial trade barriers. It must also be mentioned that the Speech did not include any mention of amending the Alberta Human Rights Act to protect those who are not vaccinated.
There will be disappointment among the strongest Smith supporters, but today’s Throne Speech delivers on many of the major concerns and priorities of everyday Albertans, delivers a message of continuity and normality to investors and businesses and gives the opposition New Democrats nothing new upon which to campaign against the UCP government.
The Premier reiterated her commitment to working with and listening to caucus colleagues and ensuring MLAs are active players in determining UCP priorities and the game plan.
With an election campaign already effectively underway, the Speech formalizes Smith’s outreach to all Albertans and a determined effort to leave the drama of the past far behind. The success of this strategy is TBD but underwritten by the province’s very strong Treasury there is precedent for winning over Albertans in a similar fashion more than once in our past.
And finally, even with all of that said, we expect the short legislative session to include no shortage of fireworks and drama. Rachel Notley’s New Democrats have voiced their opposition to virtually all of the measures put forward by Premier Smith and will use every tool in the toolkit to prevent legislation from being passed.
In closing out the Throne Speech, Smith called on all members of the legislature, no matter their political stripe, to work together to address the day-to-day challenges facing Albertans. As we write this note, the press conference following the introduction of Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act suggests that is unlikely to happen.
The polling results make it clear. Albertans are worried and tired and looking for leadership and support on what matters most today. The winner of the May 2023 provincial election will be the leader and party seen as most able and committed to addressing on the day-to-day with grand schemes – UCP or NDP – parked well to the side and government made boring all over again.
Bill 1 Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act
Introduced following the Speech was Bill 1, Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. This was a major component of Smith’s leadership campaign, however the contents are more moderate than many had expected. Smith characterizes the Bill as a “constitutional shield” that will strengthen Canada’s federation by protecting the jurisdiction of Alberta – and by extension other provinces – from overreach by Ottawa. The legislation will not challenge the decisions of Canada’s highest court and will respect the treaties and rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples. The Premier argues passage of the legislation will make Canada stronger and more prosperous.
Specific policies targeted by the Act will include carbon policy potentially applied to fertilizers used on Canadian farms, limitations imposed on Alberta’s capacity to develop and transport its energy resources, limiting the rights of legal firearm owners, interfering in the delivery of provincial healthcare, education and childcare and inappropriately invoking emergency powers.
If passed, Bill 1 would permit the Government of Alberta to not enforce any federal measure or policy determined to be an unconstitutional intrusion into an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. The provincial government will be required to introduce and pass special measures in the legislature to combat specific federal policies and actions. The Premier has committed to introducing such measures thoughtfully and selectively and plans to move forward with specific measures in the Spring Legislative Session.
Smith made certain to note the Bill will not undermine the rule of law but rather uphold and restore the intent of Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and called on other provinces to follow suit.
The response of the Official Opposition was swift and clear. The New Democrats called a Division on the introduction of the Bill meaning the guests sitting on the floor were required to sit in their seats for 15 minutes while members voted. It is convention that the First Reading of a new Bill is passed without opposition.
Round-up of government priorities
- Implementing targeted inflation-relief and affordability measures to support all Albertans
- Extending the energy price protection and reviewing the electricity-pricing system to look at lowering costs for power transmission and distribution
- Providing additional support for food banks and helping low-income Albertans with the cost of transit
- Providing additional support and indexing benefits for vulnerable Albertans
- Indexing personal income taxes
Jobs and the economy
- Creating conditions to grow industries, businesses and job opportunities
- Enhancing trade infrastructure and agreements
- Reducing barriers to interprovincial trade for agriculture and food production
- Continued leadership in hydrogen and petrochemicals and development in helium, lithium, liquefied natural gas, geothermal energy and minerals
- Providing clear and environmentally responsible direction for developing tourism amenities such as campgrounds, trails and other attractions
- Developing strategies to address labour market gaps
- Enhance funding to engage with minority communities and support anti-racism initiatives
- Improving health care delivery and outcomes
- Restoring local decision-making closer to point-of-care and directing more resources to frontline care
- Improving EMS response times and cut emergency wait times
- Improving access to primary care and address staffing challenges, especially in rural areas
- Reducing wait times for surgeries
- Expanding supports for mental health and addictions, including for schools and families
Standing Up for Alberta
- Address Alberta’s rights under the Canadian constitution
- Accessing federal funding, without strings, to meet Albertan’s needs, values and priorities
- Pushing back against federal programs that create hardships for farmers and ranchers
- Developing stronger relationships with other provinces and territories for areas of cooperation and mutual economic prosperity
Authored by Tim Moro, Natalie Sigalet, Jessica Conlin, and Eliza Snider from H+K’s team in Edmonton and Calgary.