EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — The next session of the Alberta Legislature officially began on Tuesday, with the UCP government releasing the Speech from the Throne and tabling its first piece of legislation.
The speech is called A Blueprint for Jobs, as Premier Jason Kenney says getting Albertans back to work remains the main focus of his agenda.
Kenney says the government is “obsessed” with creating jobs, and hopes to boost the economy by building on policies such as cutting business taxes and reducing red tape.
The Job Creation Tax Cut — which the opposition NDP calls a corporate handout — is touted in the speech, with Kenney saying they are on track to achieve one of the lowest corporate tax rates on the continent.
The government will also continue with the Skills for Jobs Agenda, to boost the chances for Albertans to join trades careers.
In addition to all of this, the Blueprint for Jobs will unveil a $6.4 billion commitment to the 2020 Capital Plan, which will also strengthen infrastructure.
The speech also notes a need to restore investor confidence, and a new “investment promotion agency” will be established, using funds set aside in the 2019 budget.
This agency aims to expand the province’s profile in key capital markets around the world, similar to trade missions undertaken in the past year by Kenney and members of his government.
There is also mention of continued commitments to the Indigenous Opportunities Corporation and also an effort to invest directly into companies and Indigenous groups in order to bolster economic growth.
Speech previews Thursday’s budget
In terms of budget promises, before the 2020 financial plan is unveiled on Thursday, the speech notes the government’s second key priority is “getting our fiscal house in order”, by reeling in debt and reducing the amount of money spent on interest payments.
This will include working with the public service to contain costs, while protecting frontline services.
However, there is a promise that health care, education, community, and social services and children’s services budgets will not be affected, with funding either being maintained or increased “to record high levels”.
Further on health care, there will be an additional $140 million for mental health and addictions supports.
On education, the UCP is promising to introduce a choice in education act to ensure parents have the final say on what kind of education will be given to their children.
Recommendations on the ongoing curriculum review will also be implemented, including “depoliticizing the curriculum” and putting more focus on standardized testing.
Bill 1, aimed at protecting critical infrastructure, tabled in legislature
Along with various economic goals laid out in the speech, the first taste of legislation is outlined in the speech and also Bill 1 was tabled in the legislature after the reading.
This bill is around protecting critical infrastructure and comes in the wake of expanded protests in opposition to pipeline protests and including actions such as rail blockades.
It would introduce harsher penalties for protests, such as minimum fines and jail sentences of six months — with these consequences increasing if an offender is arrested multiple times.
“To send a clear signal that we will not tolerate this,” said Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer. “Not in Alberta. Not now. Not ever.”
Kenney said while the government supports freedom of expression, including protesting, these demonstrations cross a line.
“Blocking railways, roadways, commuter trains, and critical infrastructure is simply and plainly illegal.”
Kenney said billions of dollars are at risk because of the protests, and this would end up hurting not just Alberta but the country as a whole.
One expert said this type of legislation is needed, because a distinction does have to be made between proper and effective protests, and protecting public safety.
“Railways are dangerous places,” said Dr. Kelly Sundberg, an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University.
“We need to have laws that deal with civil disobedience or civil unrest or civil protest when it endangers the environment or the lives of people — including the protestors themselves.”
Sundberg said the rule of law does need to be maintained through these situations, which he outlined as the philosophy of society accepting and supporting the decisions set out by lawmakers in legislatures and parliament, while also preventing people from taking the law into their own hands.
“I fully empathize and I support reconciliation with our First Nations people,” Sundberg said. “We have a very dark history that we have to come to terms with, but by ignoring the rule of law today is not solving the breach of law and breach of ethics of yesterday.”
Coming bills teased
The government is also promising further legislation that was teased on Monday by Kenney, including giving Albertans the ability to put important issues — such as the carbon tax and equalization — to a referendum.
A new recall act will allow voters to removes elected officials if they break promises, and legislation will be introduced to replace the federal parole board with a provincial one that covers provincial inmates.
Further legislation will also take aim at human trafficking to protect survivors, toughen sanctions on impaired drivers, and prevent sex offenders from changing their names.
In total, the throne speech noted that the government’s “overarching goal is to make life better for Albertans.”