Carbon tax, desk-thumping on agenda in upcoming Alberta legislature session

Jason Kenney has appointed a panel to come up with ways to reduce spending in the budget this fall

\Alberta Premier Jason Kenney attends a photo opportunity with Ontario Premier Doug Ford at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Friday, May 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government heads to the legislature this week to make noise with an ambitious legislative agenda while trying to keep a hush on daily affairs.

Kenney has promised what he calls a “spring of renewal” in the first sitting since his United Conservatives beat Rachel Notley’s NDP in the April 16 election.

He and his 62 fellow UCP caucus members are to be sworn in as legislature members Tuesday, followed by a throne speech Wednesday and introduction of a bill that would abolish the provincial carbon tax by May 30.

The UCP won a majority on a platform to galvanize Alberta’s oil- and gas-based economy with cuts to taxes, rules and regulations.

Kenney has appointed a panel to come up with ways to reduce spending in the budget this fall. The Opposition is warning Albertans to brace for big cuts to health and education.

The spring of renewal could also be called the season of repeal as Kenney has promised to roll back signature pieces of legislation enacted by the NDP.

Besides eliminating the carbon tax on home heating and gasoline bills, he has said the UCP will reduce the minimum wage for youth, change rules for overtime and holiday pay and restore mandatory secret ballots for union certification votes.

Corporate income tax is to be cut to eight per cent from 12 per cent by 2022.

Government house leader Jason Nixon said the plan is to introduce and pass between 10 and 12 bills in the sitting. It’s to run until the end of June, but could go into July if the NDP decides to delay passage of any bills.

“The Opposition is welcome to filibuster all they want … the legislative session will be primarily around platform promises and we’re not going to bend on that,” Nixon said last week.

A filibuster — delaying legislation through endless speeches and other procedural motions — may well be in the cards.

Notley is staying on as official Opposition leader and her 24-member caucus has many former cabinet ministers who know their way around debate.

Notley has said the NDP recognizes the UCP won a mandate to kill the carbon tax, but the bill on labour issues is another matter.

“Should it … do something like roll back youth wages and roll back the minimum wage, should it be something that guts overtime for working people, should it be something that goes directly at unions with respect to their free speech, then, yeah, we’ll dig in,” said Notley.

Her government raised the minimum wage by one-third to $15 an hour, which some employers say is crippling business. Kenney has proposed reducing the wage to $13 an hour for those 17 and under.

Another debate may be a noisy one on keeping quiet in the house.

Kenney is expected to move to ban the tradition of legislature members banging on their desks to show their approval.

Kenney, a former federal MP and cabinet minister, has said desk-thumping, cross-aisle heckling and shouting are unseemly and undignified.

Nixon confirmed change is coming.

“I suspect you’ll see a standing order that changes desk-thumping not to be allowed in the house,” he said.

Notley said the silence edict is a House of Commons affectation that doesn’t respect the legislature’s traditions or the nature of vigorous debate.

“In Alberta, we have pounded on the desks as long as I remember and I see no need to transport Ottawa traditions into our legislature,” she said.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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